Our Top Ten motorsports stories of 2009

1- Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009. This is simply an incredible, amazing achievement. Associated Press just named Johnson their Athlete of the Year. I've known champions in many forms of racing, and there's always something which sets them apart from their competitors; a focus and fearlessness not apparent in others. NASCAR is a tough sport, and to see someone like Johnson, from Southern California, soft-spoken and polite, win these four titles proves drivers don't have to be outwardly wild, angry, upset, whatever; sometimes nice guys do finish first.

2- Brawn Grand Prix didn't exist in 2008 in the Formula 1 circus, but in its first year of competition, 2009, team driver Jenson Button won the World Driving Championship and Brawn won the coveted manufacturer's title in an unprecedented attack on the series. Button was considered a-soon-to-retire F1 driver with few wins and certainly no championships. Ross Brawn, formerly the genius behind Ferrari's string of championships with Michael Schumacher, took over the Honda team when the Japanese maker dropped out of the sport in '08, switched to Mercedes engines and proceeded to dominate F1. Next year, the team will be known as Mercedes Grand Prix, the first time in over 50 years Mercedes has used their name as the title of a race team; the company left racing for many years after a privateer Mercedes crashed into the main grandstand at LeMans, killing some 80 people.
2009-12-24-brawngpbuttonsmiling.jpg Jenson Button on his way to the F1 world championship

3- Danica Patrick will run in NASCAR and IndyCar this coming season. The most-popular driver in IndyCar, the only woman to ever win an IndyCar race, will drive a limited Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Rick Hendrick. Earnhardt has been NASCAR's most popular driver seven years in a row. American racing's best-known names on the same team will be good for all motorsports. Patrick will open her NASCAR season at California Speedway the third week of February. She plans to compete in the entire IndyCar series.

4- Rick Hendrick has the strongest, most dominant team in NASCAR Sprint Cup. He counts drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon among his stable, and co-owns a team with Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Hendrick is one of the country's biggest car dealers, focusing on Chevrolet and Honda. He's had his challenges, too. In 2004, a plane crash claimed the lives of 10 Hendrick relatives and associates, including his son, an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. Hendrick has also had leukemia. But he's won four consecutive NASCAR titles with Jimmie Johnson, and each one of his drivers is a serious contender for next year's championship.

5- Tony George, who ran Indianapolis Motor Speedway for several years, and whose family saved the track from becoming a housing development in the 1950s, was fired from his top position by his own family and board of directors. Apparently due to his pouring never-ending millions into the Indy Racing League, being in-charge when the most-embarrassing F1 race in history ran at Indy (just six cars started), watching the Indy 500 lose customers and TV viewers, and working out a deal to put most IndyCar races on an unknown cable channel called Versus, they'd had enough. Now bean-counters run the place, and it remains to be seen if they have the passion for racing Indy needs. One more thing: George didn't get along with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, but with George gone, it's possible the USGP will return to the track in 2011.
2009-12-24-danicapatrrickblackorangecar.jpg Danica Patrick is bringing her magic to NASCAR

6- Michael Schumacher is returning to F1, at least for the upcoming season. He'll be paid about $10 million for the year, and the 7-time world champion of driving will be with the Mercedes team, formerly Braun GP and the current world championship team. Schumacher's appearance will excite F1 fans worldwide, who want to see if he can regain some of his former glory. And Schuie will be working again with Ross Brawn, who strategized the driver's world championships at Ferrari (last one in 2004). Danica Patrick signing a NASCAR deal and Schumacher's return are the most important driver stories of the year, so far.

7- In 2012, IndyCar will introduce an entirely new, wingless race car to the series. A consortium of top IndyCar people, owners and officials, are funding the car's development. No outsider has seen it yet, but there are no wings, front or rear, and it's described as looking like a Stealth fighter. Crucial is the development of a new turbocharged engine which will be able to get (they hope) as many as ten miles per gallon, while current cars achieve between one and three mpg (these cars run on ethanol, not gasoline). The whole idea is a spec car which is less expensive to buy and maintain than the current racers. This could be a big boost to the sport's popularity and introduce a new generation with the 'green' theme.

8- Trying to connect with their fans and make new ones, after almost three decades of NASCAR holding their Sprint Cup awards ceremony in New York City, this year they moved the celebrations to Las Vegas. And let the public buy tickets to certain events, another first. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was NASCAR's NYC host, a fit that never seemed completely right. You don't hear a lot of "southern" spoken near the Hudson River. But NYC is the media center of the world, guaranteeing lots of TV appearances for drivers (Jeff Gordon even co-hosted 'Regis and Kelly' and has an apartment in NYC), and many of the sport's largest sponsors have their headquarters in New York. We'll see if it worked.
2009-12-24-jimmiejohnsonand4trophies.jpg Jimmie Johnson and his four NASCAR Srpint Cup championship trophies

9- Formula 1 is nothing if not dynamic, during the racing season and off. The sport has made rules changes for 2010 which most of the drivers like, especially those to the points system, which instead of awarding points to the top eight drivers in a race, will award the top ten. The points have also been changed to favor race winners. Refueling during races is banned, a good safety move. There will be 13 teams, 26 cars, starting in F1 in 2010, some of the highest numbers ever.

10- This past year was the first NHRA ran a full season with their shortened track, done to slow the cars. The change was made in mid-2008 after several injuries and deaths in professional drag racing. The ¼-mile, 1320 feet, is now 1,000 feet for the fastest professional classes. It's worked, but now 5 second races are in the 4's and all the old records no longer count. Many think the cars will eventually be made to go just as fast as they did in the full ¼. Word is NHRA is considering mechanical or electrical governors on the cars among other solutions to get them back on the traditional ¼-mile.

Green light given to Rome grand prix

Formula one commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone has given the green light to plans to host a grand prix on the streets of Rome in 2012 or 2013, according to race organiser Maurizio Falmmini. An F1 world championship event in the Italian capital has been in the planning for approximately 18 months and Flammini has revealed that a deal has been struck with Ecclestone which should bring the plans to life. "The agreement with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to give life to the Rome grand prix has already been done and signed," said Falmmini. "The appropriate course still has to be defined."The Italian grand prix is currently held at the historic and evocative Monza circuit and there were concerns that Rome would replace the circuit, which has been a regular feature on the F1 calendar since 1922.But, the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno said: "We think the Rome grand prix would be very important and we are in favour of it. "And it's not true that it is an alternative to Monza. "Monza is a grand prix on the circuit, and the grand prix of Rome is integrative to that of Monza, it's not a replacement."We have calculated that there will be an income of €1bn [£900m] a year with this grand prix and Rome needs to renew its tourist appeal. "Not only the past, archaeology and monuments, but also the future, something which is aimed at families and youngsters."

Michael Schumacher timeline - how his career unfolded

Michael Schumacher celebrates after winning the Italian grand prix in 2006. Photograph: Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images
1969: Born on 3 January in Huerth-Hermuelheim, Germany.
1973: Makes his racing debut in a kart race.
1987: Wins German and European kart championships.
1988: Finishes fourth in German Formula Ford championship and second in the European series in first year of car racing.
1990: Wins first major single-seater title, clinching the German Formula Three crown. Steps up to sportscars, driving for Mercedes.
1991: Makes Formula One debut for Jordan in Belgium, qualifying seventh before retiring. Poached by Benetton for the rest of the season.
1992: Takes first grand prix win in Belgium on his way to third in championship.
1994: Wins title, with eight wins to his name, after controversial last-race clash with Damon Hill.
1995: Retains world crown, taking nine victories.
1996: Moves to struggling Ferrari and manages three wins on his way to third in championship.
1997: Wins five races but is stripped of second in the championship for attempting to take out title rival Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez.
1999: Breaks his leg at Silverstone when easily leading the championship.
2000: Finally wins Ferrari's first world title since 1979, amassing nine wins on the way.
2001: Another nine wins and another title, setting a new record for all-time victories on the way.
2002: Wins championship in record time, setting a new mark of 11 victories.
2003: Wins title by a point after six victories, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five championships.
2004: Breaks his own record for wins in a season to take title No7.
2006: 10 September - Announces his retirement at end of 2006 season after winning Italian grand prix.
2009: 29 July - Announces he plans to make a shock return to Formula One with Ferrari, deputising for Felipe Massa until the Brazilian is recovered from injuries suffered in the Hungarian grand prix.
11 August - Announces he will not make a Formula One comeback due to a neck injury sustained in a motorbike accident in February.
23 December - Signs a one-year contract to drive in 2010 with Mercedes GP, ending three years in retirement.

India racing drivers struggling to make a mark

CHENNAI: Indian motor sport
switched gears in 2009, but rarely, if at all, into overdrive. While the election of Vijay Mallya to the World Motor Sports Council of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) following a fairly successful season for his Formula One team Force India grabbed the headlines, Indian racing drivers and riders did not make much of an impact on the big stage. A second Indian, after Narain Karthikeyan, in a Formula One team remains a distant dream though the possibility of India hosting a Grand Prix race in 2011 could become a reality despite the current roadblocks to the project and the consequent pessimism, if not cynicism. The 2009 season was disappointing for India's two top Formula racing drivers, Karun Chandhok and Armaan Ebrahim, participating in the GP2 and Formula-2 series respectively, as they struggled to mark their presence. While Chandhok, who turns 26 January 19, finished 18th with 10 points, 20-year old Ebrahim came away with seven points while surviving a 250 kmph crash in June. For Chandhok the sands of time are fast running out. In his third consecutive GP2 season and driving for a Portuguese outfit, the Ocean Racing Technology, he had just one podium finish, a third in the sprint race of the British Grand Prix. His best qualifying position was a fifth in Turkey. In comparison, team-mate Alvaro Parente finished eighth with 30 points with one win in Belgium where he started from pole position. As for Ebrahim, he had his share of bad luck as he had to deal with an under-performing car. Though he did not lack in pace in the highly-competitive Formula-2 field, the fact was that he could not produce big results. On his part, Karthikeyan, who will be 33 on Jan 14, represented Team India in the A1 Grand Prix series and delivered one podium and seven top 10 finishes. In between, he drove an Audi in the high-profile Le Mans series that he is likely to continue next year. His third season in the cash-strapped A1 GP was a nightmare as Team India had no sponsors and he missed seven of the 19 starts. When viewed in this context, his overall performance was nothing to be scoffed at. Down the line, the trio of Ashwin Sundar (20), Aditya Patel (21) and Akhil Khushlani (20), had international stints. Sundar and Patel, both from Chennai, drove in the Volkswagen touring car series in Germany, but were never in the frame as they struggled to come to grips with the machine and also the tracks. Khushlani from Hyderabad finished sixth in the Formula BMW Pacific championship driving for E-Rain Racing team with a best of third place in Malaysia besides fourth in Indonesia and Japan. Supported by Red Rooster Racing, he did show some impressive pace, but finished behind two of his three rookie team-mates. Among the two-wheeler riders, 25-year-old Dilip Rogger, undoubtedly the best in the country, had a miserable year with just one outing in Germany before a crash in the National championship race in Coimbatore ended his season. Meanwhile, Krishnan Rajini and Preetham Dev Moses, both sponsored by Red Rooster Racing, ventured in the Asian and Malaysian series, but neither made a big impression. In Rallying, Team MRF's campaign in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) was far from impressive as their two-car team of Katsu Taguchi and Gaurav Gill was left in the shade by Australian Cody Crocker who won his fourth consecutive championship in a Subaru. However, Arjun Rao Aroor (co-driver Musa Sherif) won the championship in the Malaysian series close on the heels of Lohitt Urs who took the honours in the 4x4 category earlier. On the home front, the calendar was packed with events and disputes, notably in the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) that was launched with a new sponsor in Bharat Petroleum and promoter, India Mines Group - Pro-Sports Promotion. An otherwise well-run INRC suffered from protests, one of which Gill survived, apart from a poor start, to win the title (provisional) for MRF who overcame a stiff competition from Red Rooster Racing. Red Rooster's hopes were dashed after their lead driver Vikram Mathias had a couple of non-finishes. Team TVS swept the honours in the two-wheeler Rallying with KS Aravind topping the leaderboard with a fine run in the concluding round of the series in Bangalore. The JK Tyre National Road Racing championship also had its share of disputes before Ashwin Sundar took the crown after winning an appeal in the appellate court. It was no different in the Rotax Karting championship where Vishnu Prasad and Ameya Walawalkar are tied on points in the senior section with a court hearing on formers appeal pending. Parth Ghorpade (juniors) and Tarun Reddy (micro) took the honours in their respective categories.

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Formula One Betting: Serious concerns over new boy Jaime Alguersuari

Ralph Ellis tells us why the expected debut of Jaime Alguersuari, who will become the youngest-ever driver in F1 aged just 19, has riled the likes of Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"The other drivers see it as less than funny, and not just out of jealousy that a rookie hasn’t had to do his time before getting a chance. Even some of the sport’s other “youngest ever” stars are appalled. That’s because for them, it’s a safety issue. An F1 track is a dangerous enough place to be without a learner driver among them."

At this time of year - and especially in a recession - it's tough for young kids leaving school or University. Interview after interview ends with the verdict: "Sorry, but we wanted somebody with more experience." Which ends with the obvious question: "If nobody will give me experience, how do I get some?"

Well welcome to the kid who's bucked that particular problem. Jaime Alguersuari will sit on the starting grid of a Grand Prix race in Hungary despite having never driven his Torro Rosso car in anything other than a straight line before.

The 19-year-old from Barcelona will become the youngest driver in Formula One history, assuming, of course, that everything goes OK in the next two days of practice and qualifying. Backed by big sponsorship from petroleum giant Repsol, he won the British Formula Three title last season but to step into an F1 seat brings a whole new meaning to the phrase 'fast-tracked'.

He tried to win over journalists by starting his press conference in Hungary explaining how to pronounce his name. "I know it's a little bit tough," he laughed. "My name is 'Heimi Al-gay-shuari'.

The other drivers see it as less than funny, and not just out of jealousy that a rookie hasn't had to do his time before getting a chance. Even some of the sport's other "youngest ever" stars are appalled. That's because for them, it's a safety issue. An F1 track is a dangerous enough place to be without a learner driver among them.

"It's wrong. He's too young," says Ferrari's Felipe Massa. "When I came into Formula One I was only 20. I was too inexperienced and made mistakes. But at least I had done a whole winter of testing. He's never driven an F1 car, or he has in a straight line or whatever, but it's not good for him and it's not good for everybody else."

And Lewis Hamilton put it into perspective. "In 2006 when Juan Pablo Montoya left McLaren I was going to replace him in China, Japan and Brazil. I'd done only straight line tests and it would have been the worst move of my career. It eventually took me eight days of strong, core testing before I felt comfortable in the car."

So that's enough advice not to back Alguersuari to win in Hungary, even at a mind boggling 870.0! The big issue is what influence his presence on the track could have on the top drivers.

The warm temperatures at the Hungaroring should give Jenson Button, who is 3.5 favourite, every chance of extending his 21 lead over Sebastien Vettel this weekend, especially with new innovations added to his Brawn car. But with a twist of the unknown added every time one of the top drivers moves to overtake a learner, I'm more inclined to lay that.


Five things you might not know about Jaime Alguersuari

1. Born in Barcelona in March 1990, his dad is a Mr Fixit for Formula Three racing who helped set up the World Series.

2. As a teenager he spent a year at boarding school in Ipswich to improve his English - his dad's idea to prepare him for press conferences after winning races!

3.He started karting at the age of eight, and had four wins in four races to be Spanish junior karting champion at the age of 13

4. He's a decent golfer with a handicap of five

5. He's also a part time DJ, and together with friends helps organise an electronic music festival in Ibiza every year

The Total 24 hours of Spa qualifying

Welcome to the 61st edition of the Total 24 hours of Spa, the main event of the FIA GT Championship. The circuit offers challenging corners as well as spectacular scenery and usually difficult weather conditions making it one of the toughest endurance races. After three rounds, the Vitaphone Racing Team currently leads both the Teams and Drivers championships. The team has three Maserati MC 12 cars on the grid and are hoping to repeat the success of last year when they finished first and second.

The Total 24 hours of Spa

The Corvettes are in hot pursuit with Saleen, Nissan and Ford challenging for those elusive points at the end of the 24-hours on Sunday afternoon.

GT2 provides the traditional battle between Ferrari and Porsche. Porsche is ahead coming into the Belgian race but with BMS Scuderia Italia competing with two Ferrari F430’s they will be up for the fight, especially after their podium finish at Le Mans.

The G2 and G3 classes feature a whole host of talented drivers including 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve in the Gravity Racing International Mosler MT900 competing in G2. Phoenix is racing an Audi R8 LM and is up against three Porsches from Jetalliance and PMB Motorsport.

Porsche have been dominant in G3 and Muhlner Motorsport is looking for a fifth win. Hoping to stop the Porsche winning ways will be Matech GT Racing with two Ford GT cars, Barwell Motorsport with an Aston Martin DBRS9 and two BMW Alpina B6 GT3 cars from Sport Garage.

Other championship racing at Spa this weekend will include; Cooper Tires British F3 International series, Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo, GT4 European Cup but they are racing with the Dutch GT4 championship and the Formul’Academy Euro Series.

Total 24 Hours of Spa Qualifying

There were three qualifying sessions for the Total 24 Hours of Spa which apart from fifteen minutes at the start of the first session were run entirely in the wet.

Qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps was dominated by the Maserati’s who have one-two-three on the grid for the race. Alex Muller claimed his second pole in a row with Alessandro Pierguidi in second and Andrea Bertolini third.

Joining the Maserati on the second row in fourth was the no 8 Sangari Corvette Z06, the third row comprises of no 3 SRT Corvette and the no 40 VDS Racing Ford GT.

Gianmaria Bruni claimed pole in GT2 in the no 50 AF Corse Ferrari F430. This brought his impressive tally of poles to seven and put him ahead of the no 55 CRS Racing Ferrari F430 of Tim Mullen and the no 59 Trackspeed Porsche 911 of Jorg Bergmeister.

Phoenix Racing was fastest in G2 with their Audi R8 driven by Marcel Fassler. In G3 Matech GT Racing with Thomas Mutsch driving set the fastest time. by Melissa Warren www.girlracer.co.uk

Hungarian Grand Prix 2009

Hungarian Grand Prix 2009

Louise Goodman has a lot to answer for. In 1997 Damon Hill overtook Michael Schumacher's Ferrari on turn one of the Hungaroring then led the race right up until the last lap... in an Arrows.

Goodman may consider her news-breaking good old-fashioned journalism: she reported in the closing stages that Damon had a problem - but really it was her worst moment and we can never forgive her for that.

As Damon nursed his stricken Arrows home, Jacques Villeneuve, in his Williams, pounced and pinched the win in the final corners. Damon finished second.

The Hungarian race, however, has been very kind to the Brits. Nigel Mansell secured a great victory in 1989, and both Damon and Jenson Button scored their maiden F1 victories there, but how much do you know about Hungary and its F1 history? Have a go at our quiz and find out


New Subaru Impreza WRX STI

If the regular Subaru Impreza leaves you feeling underwhelmed, the addition of three letters - STI - on the tailgate totally transforms things. We've finally got behind the wheel of the eagerly-awaited all-new Impreza STI at Fuji Speedway in Japan to see how this icon of the performance car world matches up to the previous model's reputation as one of the quickest, grippiest, best-value cars on the planet. Subaru has certainly taken a radical new direction: it's only available as a five-door hatchback, the base versions of which have been criticised for their insipid looks.
STI version is the utter opposite of the dull Impreza hatch, with its wide wheelarches, aggressive spoilers and multiple vents. While the essentials remain the same - turbocharged four-cylinder 'boxer' engine, permanent four-wheel drive, close-ratio six-speed gearbox - there are more driver aids - including stability control for the first time - and more power. When it goes on sale in March 2008, it's going to have to beat the Mitsubishi Evo X due at the same time while Subaru also says it's raising its game to tempt Audi and BMW buyers.
Our Fuji Speedway drive in Japan centred around the Japanese-spec STI, which sticks with a 2.0-litre engine with 304bhp; we will be getting a 2.5-litre 296bhp engine in the UK. There's no doubting the raw power of the turbocharged flat-four powerplant, at least once its turbo is spinning above 3000rpm or so. The STI remains one of the quickest-accelerating cars this side of a supercar, with an estimated 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. However, the 2.0-litre engine suffers from a lack of low-down torque; we hope and expect that the 2.5-litre engine will have better response at lower revs.
A new feature for the STI is Subaru's Si-Drive - a dial that lets you switch between engine response programs. Comprising normal, sharp and super sharp, the settings progressively speed up throttle reaction times to suit your mood and driving style. The six-speed gearbox is basically the same as before but its shift action is faster and lighter; a good thing, as the old STI gearbox's mechanical feel wasn't very appealing. When it comes to stopping, the Brembo brakes certainly don't lack power. But we were disappointed to feel just how unsettled the STI can become during hard braking on the Fuji circuit.Watch our video roadtest of the Subaru Impreza STI
Imprezas are all about grip, and four-wheel drive remains a major contributor to the STI's uncanny levels of purchase on the tarmac. The tyres will eventually start squealing in protest, but only at very high cornering speeds. As before, the STI allows you to dial in how the torque is directed to the front and rear axles via a Driver's Control Centre Differential which now incorporates a switchable auto mode for the first time. Pulling the control switch all the way back does noticeably reduce understeer but the tendency for Impreza's nose to push wide around corners remains an annoying feature.

For the first time ever for an Impreza, the STI incorporates a stability control system. Heresy? Not really. It boosts safety in extremis and you can still switch if off, or even to a half-way 'Traction' mode that delays its onset to increase driver feel. The steering is rather lighter than many performance cars but you always feel utterly confident that the STI will get you around bends. And there's a surprising amount of body roll for such a performance-orientated car, the result of some soft suspension settings that improve the ride quality over the previous STI. Overall noise is also a good deal more subdued now.
Oh dear. For a car that Subaru says it wants to compete on quality with Audi and BMW, the cabin feels like a car that costs half its price, not surprising with the regular Impreza starting at £12,495. There are swathes of hard, low-rent plastic in the cabin, which is a shame as the instruments and overall design are quite attractive. The five-door layout boosts practicality and there is a decent sized boot, complete with folding seats for the first time. The longer wheelbase of the new Impreza, and the wider body, make room inside much better. Two types of front seat are on offer: standard leather-and-Alcantara seats or optional deeply bucketed and very supportive Recaro items.

Economy and safety

You don't buy an Impreza STI if you're worried about fuel consumption as it's always been terrible. While there are no official figures yet, Subaru claims that the new STI will be fractionally more frugal than the last one but that was certainly no miser at 25.9mpg. As for safety, the four-wheel drive system certainly offers excellent grip, and finally the STI moves into the modern age with curtain airbags and stability control for the first time.
The MSN Cars verdict: 4/5

First, the good news: the all-new STI remains a titanically fast performance car with astonishing grip. Its design is also just aggressive enough to please existing enthusiasts, without being too over-the-top. And it's a good deal more practical, more refined and rides better. But the new STI doesn't represent the great leap forward we had hoped for. Despite all the driver aids, the STI remains a stubborn understeerer, while its straight-line braking is rather wayward. Regular performance hatches may not be as quick, but they've caught up with Subaru in terms of the fun factor. We'll have to wait and see if the larger-engined UK version, due in March 2008, can iron out the problems.

Ratings out of five: Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Ride & handling
Fuel economy
MSN Cars verdict
Need to know
Petrol engines: 2.5-litre turbocharged
Power (bhp) : 296
Torque (lb/ft): 300
0-62 (secs) : 4.0 (est)
Top speed (mph) :160 (est)
Combined mpg: n/a
CO2/tax: n/a


Since its launch in 1973, the Honda Civic has been one of the most popular compact cars sold in America. Its success can be attributed to its consistently high level of fit and finish and an impressive reputation for reliability and low running costs. High fuel economy, environmental awareness and engaging performance have also played a large role in making the Honda Civic a top choice for many Americans.

The current Civic is the best yet. It is the most powerful and the most fuel-efficient, and comes in a wide range of models. It is also the most radically designed Civic to date, inside and out. For small car shoppers looking for a used vehicle, the Civic is again a smart choice, as its long production run and wide range of models make it easy to find what you want.

All trims but the Si are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 140 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. Driving enthusiasts might want to take a look at the Civic Si. Offered in both coupe and sedan body styles, the Si is powered by a high-revving 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out 197 hp. It comes exclusively with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission.

The Civic GX is powered by a 113-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that runs on clean-burning compressed natural gas. The Civic Hybrid features Honda's latest Integrated Motor Assist system, which consists of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine and a 20-hp electric motor. Total output is 110 hp. The Hybrid comes exclusively with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and its EPA-estimated fuel economy is 40 mpg city and 45 mpg highway.

In reviews and road tests, our editors found the Honda Civic to be a well-rounded car. Inside, this Civic has a dramatic-looking interior that features a two-tier dashboard layout. A digital speedometer sits on top of the dash, while the tachometer sits underneath. Honda has tuned the coupe to feel sportier than the sedan. Both are fun to drive, with quick steering and impressive handling. The 1.8-liter engine won't overwhelm anyone, but it provides enough power for comfortable city driving. The Hybrid gets fantastic fuel mileage, and the GX is impressively clean, but both suffer from slow acceleration.

The current Honda Civic represents the eighth generation of this popular car, first introduced for the 2006 model year. All current body styles and trim combinations were available that year, except for the Si sedan, which debuted for '07. The following year saw a limited-edition Mugen Si model and the addition of a leather upholstery option. For '09, the LX-S and DX Value Package trims debuted along with a minor exterior refreshening.

Previous to the current model was the seventh-generation Honda Civic, which was sold from 2001-'05. There were coupe and sedan body styles as well as a two-door hatchback. Honda offered its typical mainstream trims -- DX, LX and EX -- plus a few specialty trims such as VP, HX, SE and Hybrid. The hatchback came only in the Si trim. Most models had a 1.7-liter engine good for 117 hp or 127 hp (EX). The Civic Hybrid mated an 85-hp 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine to a 13-hp electric motor and offered the best fuel economy of the lineup. The Civic Si produced 160 hp from its 2.0-liter engine. At the time, we commented favorably about the car's fuel-efficient engines, roomy interior and top safety scores but were disappointed by the limited availability of antilock brakes.

Sold from 1996-2000, the sixth-generation Civic was in many ways a refinement of the style and technology found on the previous generation. Coupe, sedan and hatchback body styles were available. Sedans were offered in DX, LX and EX trim levels. Engine choices were a 1.6-liter good for 106 hp in the DX and LX or 127 hp in the VTEC-equipped EX. There was also a higher-fuel-economy coupe, the 115-hp HX. Honda didn't release an Si trim until 1999. Based on the coupe body style, the Si was powered by a high-performance 1.6-liter engine tuned to put out 160 hp.
Honda's VTEC technology first appeared in the fifth-generation Civic, which was sold from 1992-'95. The Civic VX featured a fuel-efficient 92-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder with VTEC-E. More powerful was the 125-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine found in the Civic Si and EX sedan trims. First sold only in hatchback and sedan body styles, the fifth-gen Honda Civic got two coupe trims in 1993, the DX and EX. The lower CX and DX trims each had a 70-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

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NASA Selects New Astronauts for Future Space Exploration

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle
NASA Selects New Astronauts for Future Space Exploration

After reviewing more than 3500 applications, NASA has selected nine men and women for the 2009 astronaut candidate class. They will begin training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, in August.

“This is a very talented and diverse group we've selected,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations. “They will join our current astronauts and play very important roles for NASA in the future. In addition to flying in space, astronauts participate in every aspect of human spaceflight, sharing their expertise with engineers and managers across the country. We look forward to working with them as we transcend from the shuttle to our future exploration of space, and continue the important engineering and scientific discoveries aboard the International Space Station."

The new astronaut candidates:

Serena M. Aunon, 33, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Indianapolis, Ind. Aunon holds degrees from The George Washington University, University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston, and UTMB.

Jeanette J. Epps, 38, of Fairfax, Va.; technical intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency; born in Syracuse, N.Y. Epps holds degrees from LeMoyne College and the University of Maryland.

Jack D. Fischer, Major U.S. Air Force, 35, of Reston, Va.; test pilot; U.S. Air Force Strategic Policy intern (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Boulder, Colo., but considers Louisville his hometown. Fischer is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael S. Hopkins, Lt. Colonel U.S. Air Force, 40, of Alexandria, Va.; special assistant to the Vice Chairman (Joint Chiefs of Staff) at the Pentagon; born in Lebanon, Mo. Hopkins holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Stanford University.

Kjell N. Lindgren, 36, of League City, Texas; University of Texas Medical Branch-Wyle flight surgeon for NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation Programs; born in Taipei, Taiwan. Lindgren has degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado State University, University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota, and UTMB.

Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, 30, of Cambridge, Mass.; born in Farmington, Conn.; principal investigator and fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT and conducts research trips to the Congo. Rubins has degrees from the University of California-San Diego and Stanford University.

Scott D. Tingle, Commander U.S. Navy, 43, of Hollywood, Md.; born in Attleboro, Mass.; test pilot and Assistant Program Manager-Systems Engineering at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Tingle holds degrees from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) and Purdue University.

Mark T. Vande Hei, Lt. Colonel U.S. Army, 42, of El Lago, Texas; born in Falls Church, Va.; flight controller for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, as part of U.S. Army NASA Detachment. Vande Hei is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Stanford University.

Gregory R. (Reid) Wiseman, Lt. Commander U.S. Navy, 33, of Virginia Beach, Va.; born in Baltimore; test pilot; Department Head, Strike Fighter Squadron 103, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, based out of Oceana Virginia. Wiseman is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

Behind a Court Battle Over Mayfield’s Suspension, Questions on Nascar’s Drug Policy

Even if Jeremy Mayfield can continue racing, the legal victory may prove Pyrrhic. The driving team that he owned has collapsed, sponsorship money his dried up and his career is in shambles

Jeremy Mayfield, suspended by Nascar, insists that two positive drug tests were false.Even before its season-opening Daytona 500 Sprint Cup race, Nascar started naming names of those attached to positive tests, and it has suspended eight crew members so far. But it was not until May that there was a drug-related suspension of a driver — Jeremy Mayfield, a 17-year veteran with five career wins in the top-tier Cup series.

The case has become like a multicar pileup at the speedway; you can’t take your eyes off it.

The increasingly salacious elements of the story and the stigma of the drug commonly referred to as crystal meth have dominated the news and taken the focus away from Nascar’s program, which many specialists in the field of drug testing have derided as less than ideal.

While applauding the intent, they say the plan lacks a full and specific list of disallowed drugs, fails to establish precise penalties, does not have a formal medical exception standard and is without a clearly established appeals or arbitration process.

Many of those elements are playing out in the Mayfield case.

Known in Nascar circles more for his outspokenness than racing success, Mayfield, 40, sued the organization in May after he was suspended for failing a drug test. Nascar, which by practice does not disclose the exact drug detected, countersued. Mayfield sought a temporary injunction to restore his driving privileges, his lawyers arguing in court that he never used recreational drugs.

On July 1, a judge determined that the chance of a false positive was “quite substantial” and ruled in Mayfield’s favor, lifting the suspension. That day, Nascar confirmed published reports that Mayfield had tested positive for methamphetamine.

The case became messier last week when Nascar said that Mayfield, who had offered to be retested, had failed a second test for meth. Among the new result and other papers filed by Nascar to persuade the court to lift the injunction was testimony from Mayfield’s stepmother that she had observed him ingesting the drug some 30 times over seven years.

In an interview with ESPN, Mayfield cast his stepmother as the person who “shot and killed my dad.” (His father’s shooting death in 2007 was ruled by a medical examiner as self-inflicted.)

Mayfield and his lawyers contend that the two positive tests may have been caused not by meth but by his use of Adderall for attention deficit disorder and Claritin-D for allergies. He said about a half-dozen of his urine samples had been evaluated by an independent lab and showed no traces of meth.

Nascar stands by its open-ended suspension of Mayfield.

“What we’ve been told is methamphetamine is America’s No. 1 drug problem,” said Ramsey Poston, a Nascar spokesman. “It’s highly addictive and dangerous.”

Nascar was founded 52 years ago by Bill France Sr., and the France family has operated the business unilaterally ever since. No drivers’ union exists to negotiate through collective bargaining drug detection methods and penalties.

For two decades, while other pro sports leagues as well as the N.C.A.A. and the United States Olympic Committee were developing and fine-tuning testing programs, Nascar simply declared that the misuse and abuse of any drug constituted a violation. Testing was initiated only by “reasonable suspicion.” The approach was sufficient to ensnare some drivers.

But after Aaron Fike of the truck series was arrested in July 2007 with heroin and then disclosed to ESPN the Magazine in April 2008 that he had taken the drug before a race, Nascar adopted testing measures more in line with other sports, with a few exceptions. Last year, it announced that all drivers, crew members and officials would submit to preseason baseline tests, followed by random screenings throughout the race schedule. According to Poston, all drivers will be tested three to five times a year.

“It’s a broad, sweeping policy that makes it the best policy in sports,” Poston said in a telephone interview.

Yet several drug testing experts interviewed for this article found fault with various aspects of the program. Nascar provides its teams with a minimal list of banned substances largely by categories — amphetamines, barbiturates — instead of identifying each prohibited drug. Some experts have urged Nascar to spell out more exacting penalties for violations, which so far have been open-ended and indefinite in length, and to more formally accommodate exceptions on drugs for therapy.

According to Don Catlin, the founder of the U.C.L.A. Olympic Analytical Lab, Nascar should recognize that “there are drugs that go both ways — for nefarious purposes and for a therapeutic use.”

Poston says waivers for forbidden drugs are granted for necessary medicinal purposes. David Black, a forensic toxicologist, administers Nascar’s testing program through his lab, Aegis in Nashville. “They just need to be in touch with Dr. Black and they work it out,” Poston said.

Gary Wadler of the New York University School of Medicine, who helped compile the roster of prohibited drugs for the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he considered Nascar’s program “woefully adequate.” He said Major League Baseball and the N.F.L. “are light years ahead of where I believe Nascar is.”

Not having a defined list of banned substances renders the program “inherently unfair,” said Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor of health policy and a longtime adviser on drug policy to sports organizations.

Because sports leagues have a financial incentive not to sideline stars, Yesalis said third-party administering of testing provided more integrity to the process.

Mayfield’s lawyer Bill Diehl accused Nascar of singling out his client, a midlevel driver on the Sprint Cup circuit who has not won a race since 2005. “It’s all contrived, made up,” Diehl said.

In a motion filed Monday in United States District Court in Charlotte, N.C., Mayfield’s lawyers contended Judge Graham Mullen properly ruled when he granted the injunction July 1.

Even if the court allows Mayfield to continue racing, the legal victory may prove Pyrrhic. The driving team that he owned has collapsed, sponsorship money has dried up and his career is in shambles.

image gallery about apolli 11

In an unpiloted test launch on July 8, 2009, from Wallops Flight Facility in VA, the Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) reached an altitude of 1 mile before separating as planned.

A view of the MLAS after separation, with drogues and parachutes deployed, seen from a NASA helicopter.

The MLAS test vehicle features fixed fins and drag plates to inexpensively simulate deployable fins or other aerodynamic devices that would be used on an operational launch vehicle.
A rendering of the four major structural components. From top, they are the foreward fairing, the crew module simulator, the coast skirt and the boost skirt.

The four major structural components being positioned for assembly. At center, the boost skirt with the peak of the motor cage assembly visible above the gold rim. In the foreground, clockwise from top, is the forward fairing, crew module simulator, and coast skirt.

The bullet-shaped forward fairing of the MLAS. The vehicle weighs more than 46,000 lbs and is 33 feet, 5 inches tall.

An illustration of the sequence of events during the MLAS test launch. Simulating an emergency event on the launch pad, the demonstration began at 7 seconds after launch with boost skirt separation, vehicle reorientation, and stabilization followed by crew module simulator separation from the fairing, stabilization, and parachute recovery of the crew module simulator.

Workers attend to the crew module in the foreground while the lower sections of the test vehicle take shape in the background. The point of separation between the larger boost skirt and the coast skirt is the metallic strip visible just above the orange ladder.

A technician at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility works inside the boost skirt of the MLAS vehicle.

In the control room, before launch.

For the first time, RCom to provide novels via SMS

Reliance Communications (RCom) will launch India's first mobile novel, Deaf Heaven, written by Pinki Virani. The novel will come in a set of 90 SMS messages priced at Rs. 30, through a special SMS subscription pack.

"Subscribers will receive the entire novel over a series of SMSes spaced over a period of 30 days. Every day, the subscriber will get to read the novel through three SMSes," said Krishna Durbha, Head, Reliance Communications.

The book will also be launched as an adult audio mobile book. The audio book, which will be available in English, has 60 minutes of audio content. The digital rights of the literary content will be owned by the author.

Meanwhile, Reliance has signed deal with a U.K. based mobile marketing company 3rd Space Services to launch advertising funded videos on its mobile platform.

3rd Space will supply mobile video content to RCom. The content will include 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire', Bollywood songs and films along with the other content on every data-enabled handset in the Reliance network.

RCom customers will be able to access free content online in return of watching an advertisement embedded within the video. The concentration will be on bringing in Indian and International advertisers.

"Our tie-up with 3rd Space will not only increase the viewership but will also enhance the revenue of both the companies. Our initiative will act as a launch pad for ad-funded videos in India," said Durbha.

Value Added Services (VAS) is a growing segment and comprises up to seven percent of the total telecom revenue of the Indian operators. The revenue sharing arrangement is dominated by the operators, as 70 percent goes to the operator; the aggregator gets 25 percent while the content owner receives the rest.

The handset-based novel is part of RCom's strategy to increase VAS revenues opportunities in metro and Section A and B cities. The target is 20 percent revenue from VAS and data services. Here, F1 Racing will be launched live on R-World, talks with publishers and authors are in progress of increasing VAS based on literary content.

"We want to grow the VAS market beyond Bollywood and are looking to launch poetic works like shayari through audio books," said Durbha.

Vroom with a Kremlin view

Petrolheads get a rare chance to see the beasts of Formula One up close in Moscow this weekend.

While Russia lacks a presence on the F1 circuit, the Bavaria Moscow City Racing event transforms the streets around the Kremlin into a Muscovite Monte-Carlo, with three top teams - McLaren, Williams and Red Bull - sending cars and drivers to race around a 4.5 km route lapping the Kremlin walls.

And with experienced F1 drivers David Coulthard, Heikki Kovalainen and Kazuki Nakajima taking the controls, there's every prospect of some top race action.

Coulthard, who amassed 535 points from his 247 races in his pro career, appeared in Moscow last year and is looking forward to coming back.

"I'm delighted to be bringing a Formula One car here, especially since in Russia there is no F1 race at the moment," he said. "It's a great chance to show the audience what these cars can do. I'm looking forward to making a lot of noise and putting on a big show."

Russia, of course, has a proud autosport tradition of its own, and that will be represented at this festival of speed as well.

 © RIA Novosti

The "KAMAZ-master" rally team, which has enjoyed eight Paris-Dakar rally triumphs, is sending top drivers Vladimir Chagin, Sergei Savostin and Eduard Nikolayev.

Shagin added: "Rally and Formula One may have little in common but we share the most important thing - a love of motoring.

"A show on this scale is a big celebration for all the drivers and show off our skills to a Russian audience. We'll do everything possible to entertain the crowds."

The F1 racing runs from 2 pm to 5 pm, with the cars on a route along Kremlinskaya and Moskvoretskaya embankments, Ulitsa Mokhovaya and Manezhnaya Ploshchad.

Spectators can gather around the course free of charge, though tickets for the grandstands at the finish line need to be pre-ordered.

Webber wins first F1 race after taking German GP

Nuerburgring, Germany: Red Bull's Mark Webber won his first Formula One race on Sunday after overcoming a penalty to take the German Grand Prix.

The Australian beat teammate Sebastian Vettel by 9.2 seconds despite a drive-through penalty for bumping Brawn GP's Rubens Barrichello out of the start while defending his pole position.

Webber's euphoric screams were heard over the team radio after he crossed the finish line in his 132nd race.

"It's an incredible day for me. I wanted to win so badly," Webber said.

It was the second straight 1-2 for the Austrian team and third overall after nine races.

Felipe Massa gave Ferrari its first podium finish of the season by coming third ahead of Nico Rosberg of Williams.

F1 leader Jenson Button of Brawn GP finished fifth to take his overall total to 68 points, while Vettel moved into second with 47 points and Webber is third with 45.5 points. Barrichello has 44 points after finishing sixth.

Webber's victory continued a momentum shift toward Red Bull after Button had looked set to run away with the title following its sixth wins in the first seven races. It was the first time this season that Brawn GP failed to finish on the podium.

It was an orderly start except for Webber's attempt to keep Barrichello from speeding up the inside toward the first corner.

WINNER TAKES ALL: Red Bull driver Webber of Australia celebrates victory after the German F1 GP.

With the front-runners tangled up, reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton reached the turn first but ran wide and subsequently dropped into last with a damaged rear tire. The McLaren driver would finish 18th.

After the completion of the first pit stops and Webber had performed his penalty, Barrichello led by nearly three seconds.

Button, who had been held up trying to pass Massa for a number of laps, was nearly 10 seconds behind Webber in third while holding the same advantage over Vettel.

But Webber led by more than 30 seconds over the Brawn GP cars after his final pit, holding on to be the seventh winner from pole this season with both Barrichello and Button on three-pit strategies.

Massa had started from eighth, while Rosberg used an extra long opening stint to make up ground after starting from 15th spot.

Fernando Alonso finished seventh for Renault and Heikki Kovalainen took eighth for McLaren, snapping a four-race streak out of the points to end its worse run in nearly two decades.

Force India failed to get its first point despite Adrian Sutil starting seventh as Kimi Raikkonen again acted as the German driver's bogeyman.

Sutil, who ended 15th, was forced to return to the pits immediately after exiting after tangling with the Ferrari driver, who would retire as a result of the bump. Raikkonen knocked Sutil out of Monaco last year with nine laps to go and a points finish beckoning.

Piquet's future remains uncertain

Nelson Piquet's future with Renault remains uncertain after team boss Flavio Briatore said he could not confirm who would be driving his second car at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Piquet was surrounded by rumours that he could be dropped after the German race, having failed to score the necessary points that would have contractually guaranteed his slot with the team.

But despite Piquet expressing confidence over the weekend about his future, Briatore declined to confirm the future of his Brazilian driver following the Nurburgring event.

"I don't know," he told AUTOSPORT when asked about if Piquet would be driving alongside Fernando Alonso at the Hungaroring. "Maybe I am in the car myself..."

Nelson Piquet

Piquet wrote on his Twitter feed after the German race that he had been told by Renault that he would be given the same performance updates that Alonso had on his car in Germany for the Hungarian race - suggesting that he will remain on board,

"The team have promised that me and Fernando will have the same car for the next race," he wrote.

Renault's third driver Frenchman Romain Grosjean has been most strongly linked with a step-up to an F1 race seat if Piquet is dropped, although he has struggled for form in GP2 since his big accident at the Monaco Grand Prix support race.

Brazilian Lucas di Grassi has also been linked with the drive, but he made it clear on Tuesday that he was fully focused on winning the GP2 crown.

F1 race arrival to India by 2011

India's date with high-profile Formula One race is delayed by another year to 2011, Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi said on Thursday but refused to give any reason for it.

"Formula One will be held in India in 2011. Berni (Ecclestone, Formula One supremo) and GP Group are working on this plan," he said.

Kalmadi, who had been saying that F1 race will be held in Greater Noida in 2010, however, did not give any reason for the delay.

"I don't know," he said parrying an answer to the queries regarding reasons for the delay.

This followed after President and CEO of Formula One Management Bernie Ecclestone said last month that the Indian Grand Prix will only be inserted in the 2011 season.

IOA signed a deal reportedly for 10 years in June 2007 to host F1 in Greater Noida and the site for the race track was surveyed by Hermann Tilke who has designed most new F1 tracks over the past decade including Sepang, Bahrain, Shanghai, Istanbul, Singapore.

Kalmadi expressed happiness that Olympic sports is on the rise in India after the Beijing Games and fine showing by the country in the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune in October.

"We won the first individual gold, won bronze in boxing and wrestling in Beijing. It is not about only one or two disciplines. Our youth did well in the recent Commonwealth Youth Games by finishing on top. So, Olympic sports are beginning to do well," he said at a function to celebrate '700 Days to go for the 2010 Commonwealth Games'.

German GP: Nick Heidfeld preview

Cologne, 08.07.2009 -- At 9.25am on Friday 10th July, the great moment will arrive: Tamas Simon from Hungary will meet Nick Heidfeld in front of the BMW Sauber F1 Team Motorhome the Nurburgring where he will present him with the new helmet that the F1 driver will wear to compete in the German Grand Prix.

The 'Helmet Designer' competition for Nick's fans was organised by his official website (www.nickheidfeld.com) during the month of June, with entries being sent in online. Nick and his personal helmet designer Jens Munser chose Tamas Simon's idea from over 9,000 that had been submitted in this way.

"This helmet stood out from all the rest. In fact, as soon as I saw it, I thought that it was a likely winner," says Nick. "My immediate response was just 'Wow!'. I'm really looking forward to seeing this special design realised on my new helmet."

For his part, Tamas is excited about meeting up with Nick Heidfeld, not least because this will be his first ever visit to an F1 race. "It's a great honour to have designed this special helmet for Nick," he said. "It's difficult to sum up the feeling in words."

After Sunday's race, the helmet will be auctioned off in aid of the RTL charity 'Wir helfen Kindern' as part of this year's telemarathon fundraising event. Nick Heidfeld will launch the bidding on Friday 10th July at the Golf Grand Prix evening event to be held in the new Eifeldorf at the Nurburgring. Thereafter, bids can be submitted for the helmet by e-mail to auktion@spendenmarathon.de .

The story so far - BMW Sauber's mid-season report

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009

BMW Sauber’s fall from grace this season has been well documented. Having finished ‘best of the rest’ behind Ferrari and McLaren in 2008, the German-Swiss team were hoping to take another step forward in ’09 and fight for the title.

However, they have been sorely disappointed and with few signs of imminent improvement currently languish near the foot of the table with eight points. Here’s the story of their campaign so far…

BMW Sauber
World championship points: 8
Best qualifying result: 4th (x1)
Best race result: 2nd (x1)

2009 was meant to be BMW Sauber’s year. In 2006 they wanted points and got them, in 2007 the goal was podium finishes and they got two, and in 2008 their hopes for a maiden victory was satisfied by Robert Kubica in Canada. This season was to be their best chance yet to fight for the world championship, but instead of tasting glory they’ve plummeted down the order, with an average of just one point per race leaving them eighth in the standings.Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.09. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday 19 June 2009.

During pre-season testing the F1.09 had looked quick and reliable, with drivers Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld publically extolling its virtues. There were even mutters that the team were playing down their performance to take the frontrunners by surprise in Melbourne. As the season got underway, however, the car’s inadequacies became clear for all to see.

The best they could muster in Australia was tenth and 14th, while the Brawns and Toyotas stole the headlines. And aside from Heidfeld’s lucky podium in Malaysia, the team have clocked up just three other top-ten finishes. It’s all a far cry from where they were this time last year, when they had 74 points after eight races.

BMW Sauber have since admitted that they missed a trick by focusing on KERS (which they have now abandoned) over aerodynamics. They were slow coming up with their own version of the Brawn/Toyota/Williams double diffuser and were hit hard when the FIA declared the device legal. To their credit, the team have taken considerable steps to halt the decline, and BMW Motorsport director Mario Theissen has stridently refused to write-off their 2009 campaign.

At the recent Turkish Grand Prix, where they ran their first version of the two-tier diffuser, there were some signs of a change for the better, with Kubica scoring his first points of the season. But the intensive and ongoing development has so far failed to make enough of a difference. The drivers’ confidence in their steed has steadily waned and at the last race at Silverstone they both finished a lap down. Kubica and Heidfeld want more pace and they want it now.

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

Battle of the team mates - Robert Kubica v Nick Heidfeld
Qualifying: Kubica (6-2)
Race: Heidfeld (5-3) Kubica retired in Malaysia and Monaco
Points: Heidfeld 6, Kubica 2

Last year Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were competing for points and podiums - in 2009 the duo has struggled to make it into the top ten. In light of his storming performance in 2008, many expected Kubica to upstage Heidfeld again. But the reality has played out very differently. Kubica’s larger frame left him at a disadvantage in a car designed around KERS and while he has enjoyed more qualifying success, it’s Heidfeld who has performed better on Sundays, clinching the team’s only podium and two further top-ten finishes to the Pole’s one. But with the car struggling so much, it is hard to determine who really holds the advantage. Rather than beating their team mate, by far the biggest challenge both face over the coming races will be to eek more out of the F1.09.

Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.09. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009

In summary - with a world of work left to make the F1.09 even half the car its predecessor was, should BMW Sauber shelve their 2009 campaign and focus on 2010?

The German Grand Prix Preview - Advantage Vettel and Red Bull?

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren on the drivers parade. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

The German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring should provide a true indication of the state of play as the Formula One season reaches its exact midpoint, provided that the weather does not intervene in the form of lower than normal temperatures or rain.

The signs are that it will be cool, with the ambient temperature failing to exceed 18 degrees Celsius (making it very similar to Silverstone’s), and showers likely at some time each day. In other words, conditions likely to favour the Red Bulls on Sebastian Vettel’s home ground.

The German is in ebullient form after his second victory of the season in Britain, and has more new parts on his Red Bull RB5 to exploit as he goes for triumph in front of countrymen who already see him as the heir apparent to Michael Schumacher.

“I'd say it's like a soccer match when you play on your home ground,” Vettel says. “You always give 100 percent, but in a home race you're even more motivated, because at home you feel comfortable.

"Not far from the Nurburgring, in Kerpen, I got a lot of kart experience which is why I have many friends in this region. During the 90 minutes of the race I do not think about which country I'm in, because I am concentrated on racing. But before and after, this is special because being at home is the best place to stay."

Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

Brawn, however, have not been idle since their home turf defeat.

"We’re looking forward to returning to the race track and the Nurburgring should be a good circuit for our car and play to its strengths,” team principal Ross Brawn says. “We have several new aerodynamic parts from Silverstone which were not used in qualifying and the race due to the issues that we faced there, along with additional improvements scheduled for this race, which should position us well going into the weekend.

“Whilst coming away with third and sixth placed finishes from Silverstone was still a good outcome from our home Grand Prix, we would be the first to admit that the result did not meet our expectations. However, we have always said that we would have a fight on our hands to maintain our excellent run of results at the start of the season and everyone at the factory and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth is looking forward to that challenge.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/24 (Right) and Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29 battle for position. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

“As a team, we have a good history of going away from a race, thinking about the outcome, identifying where we need to make improvements and then coming back stronger. As the home Grand Prix for Mercedes-Benz, we will be hoping to come away from the weekend with a successful result."

Jenson Button would like nothing more than to resume his championship challenge by returning the favour and denying Vettel the chance of winning at home.

"The Nurburgring is a tricky circuit but there are two key characteristics which should be good for our car,” he says. “It is a relatively slow circuit with a lot of medium-speed corners which are one of the strengths of the BGP001. The Nurburgring is also one of the heaviest braking circuits on the calendar so you need a car which will be good through the four heavy braking zones.

“With the extra week's break, everyone at the factory and at Mercedes has been working extremely hard in preparation for the German Grand Prix to get the best package for the race and we're looking forward to showing what the car can do at the Nurburgring after a disappointing weekend by our standards at the British Grand Prix.

Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

“My last stint at Silverstone showed that the pace of the car is really competitive so we're confident that we can turn it around at this race. I'm sure we will see a really intense fight with our closest competitors and hopefully a great race for the fans."

Ferrari, Williams and Renault all have high hopes of challenging for the podium, as have BMW Sauber and Toyota, both of whom will be racing on home ground (Toyota are based in Cologne). All of them also have aerodynamic upgrades.

McLaren, racing in Mercedes-Benz’s backyard, are realistic about their chances. “The last time we raced at the Nurburgring was in 2007, and I remember I had a tough afternoon battling through from the back of the field to finish just outside the points,” Lewis Hamilton recalls. “It’s a fantastic circuit; fast and flowing with some good spots for overtaking. And it’s in a fantastic part of the world too; deep in the forests of western Germany, where the fans seem to live and breathe Formula One. It’s always an amazing party atmosphere whenever we race in Germany.

“While we aren’t expecting any major upgrades for this weekend, I’m still looking forward to the race. It’s an honour to be part of the Silver Arrows and, while our results haven’t recently shown it, we’re still pushing incredibly hard and are all hopeful of moving closer to the front before the end of this difficult season.”

The ‘new’ Nurburgring circuit mixes high and low-speed corners with heavy braking areas. About 60 percent of the track is run under full throttle, placing heavy demands on the engine, and it also requires excellent aerodynamic efficiency. Characteristically the circuit is grippy, but promotes understeer so drivers and engineers often struggle to achieve the right aerodynamic balance between the sections where maximum speeds reach 300 km/h and the slow and medium-speed parts which require high downforce.

Bridgestone’s tyre choice might help Brawn in the low temperatures; as in Australia, China and Bahrain the Japanese company will bring their medium and super soft slicks, together with their intermediate and wet rubber.

Nurburgring - a Formula One set-up guide

The Nurburgring has a reputation for being a 'complete' circuit in the sense that it includes a wide variety of corners. There are high-speed sections, medium-speed chicanes, and some very slow corners with high traction demands. The cars will have to meet all of these challenges this weekend. Overtaking is difficult but possible into the first corner and the chicane at Turns 13 and 14. However, the weather is a constant concern and no matter what the season, rain and cool conditions are an ever-present threat in the Eifel mountains. Renault explain how they plan to tweak their R29 for the German Grand Prix…
Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R29. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Nurburgring demands some of the highest downforce levels of the season, not only for the numerous high and medium-speed corners, but also to maintain good stability under heavy braking for the first corner and the slow chicane of Turns 13 and 14.

As Renault driver Fernando Alonso explains: "The left-right chicane of Turns 13 and 14 is probably the best overtaking opportunity as it's one of the biggest braking zones of the lap. If you are following another car closely, you can pick up a good slipstream on the approach and make a lunge down the inside. We take it at about 100 km/h in second gear and you need to be aggressive with the curbs to straight-line the chicane as much as possible and carry speed through the corner."

Renault R29. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009

Chassis balance
Corners such as Turns Five/Six, Eight/Nine and 10/11 in particular demand a neutral handling balance to avoid compromising the optimum line through the second corner in the sequence, and the engineers will often work through the weekend to dial out understeer in the medium-speed corners.

A quick, responsive change of direction is required in both the slow-speed section at the start of the lap, and through the quicker corners. Mechanical grip is particularly important through Turns One to Four, but cannot be achieved at the expense of aerodynamic performance around the rest of the lap.

Renault mechanics. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

Alonso explains: "The run through Turns One to Four is not very exciting for the drivers, but we spend a lot of time in them and that means that any mistake is likely to be very costly, especially in qualifying. We need to be precise with our braking and keep the car under control all the time as too much understeer, oversteer or a missed apex will put you out of shape for the following corners. The car balance is never perfect at such low speeds either, so we are always fighting understeer in the very slow corners, and a nervous rear end when we accelerate away."

Tyre performance will, as always, be a critical performance parameter for all teams this weekend with Bridgestone providing the super-soft and medium compounds from its 2009 range. Ambient conditions will play a role in determining which compound is the preferred tyre for the race as we often experience cool temperatures at the Nurburgring.

Wear on the brakes is not a major concern. None of the braking zones are particularly severe and there is no reason to think that wear levels on the discs and pads should be abnormally high as a result.

Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R29. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Silverstone, England, Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Nurburgring is not a circuit that presents the engines with any extreme challenges, and its overall impact is further reduced by the fact that the circuit is situated at altitude, some 500m above sea level. This has the effect of reducing engine power by approximately five percent, while also reducing loads on certain engine components such as the pistons.

The engine is at full throttle for just over 64 percent of the lap - a value slightly above the season average of approximately 62 percent. The longest single period at full throttle barely exceeds ten seconds, so the main challenge for the engine team is ensuring strong performance from low revs so the engine launches well out of the slow corners, particularly Turn Seven which leads onto the uphill drag to Turn 10.

As Nelson Piquet explains: "We approach Turn Seven downhill in seventh gear at almost 300km/h before braking and downshifting to third for the hairpin. It's really important to stay online and hit the apex through this corner so that you can apply the throttle early on the exit to carry as much speed on the long drag back up the hill towards the high-speed chicane of Turns Eight and Nine."

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29. Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Practice Day, Silverstone, England, Friday, 19 June 2009

The circuit includes a number of elevation changes, but none are sudden enough to cause the engine systems any concern. The only note of caution is finding the best line through some of the bumpier corners, and particularly the chicane, to avoid spending too much time on the rev limiter, which is potentially damaging for the engine.