Hulkenberg refuses contract extension, Webber walks out of FIA conference, Sutil to return to Force India, Ecclestone refutes he’s being replaced,

Indian GP attendance down 1/3rd: The drivers gave a thumbs-up to the 5.14 kilometre track enjoying the challenge of the layout and the teams and media hailed the clean paddock and the facilities sported a completed look that was not the case last year. However, no one could avoid the dip in the numbers of fans, the most important constituent of any sport, as 65,000 of them turned up for Sunday’s race down from last year’s 95,000.

Mr. E is of course not worried, “First races are always high and the second year goes down. If the third year isn’t going up, then it’s something to worry about”, he jocularly observed “We have a [another] competitor here. What’s the name of that game? Cricket?”, suggesting F1 has a way to go to make an impression on the Indian sporting psyche.

Indian motor sports federation chief Vicky Chandhok reiterated the same three-year cycle and predicted a bigger turnout in 2013. “Formula One is like this only. This is the trend everywhere. From third race onwards, you’d see some kind of stability. Overall, it has been a huge improvement from last year”.

The much maligned ‘King of good times’ Indian businessman however cast a more critical eye over the matter, suggesting the moderate turnout is due to logistic issues and affordability in the land of glaring social inequality. He thought last year was abnormal because, “it was a novelty, first ever Formula One in India etc”.

Mallya thinks there may be more fundamental problems for the organisers, “It is quite a drive from Delhi and people’s apprehensions are also about parking. If you don’t have a car pass, you could be a long way from the entrance gates. “The traffic also is a consideration…the third is hotels. If you look around here, there are many new hotels of a very high standard but [we need] more for middle class and upper middle class people. For an average person, it’s pretty expensive,” he said.

According to Mallya, the 100,000-plus capacity would only be brimming with fans next year, if the race is better promoted, “I think that some more marketing and some more road shows will bring more of an audience in here.” (Reuters)

Lotus is up for sale: The rumours in the paddock this week were that Lotus had not paid their staff and Proton were close to doing a deal to buy out the Genii owned F1 team. All of this was flatly denied by Lotus and is highly unlikely as the Asian car manufacturer is around $10bn in debt. What is more likely is that Proton would sell their ailing Lotus road car division and trying to bundle it up with a deal for investment in the F1 team.

Kimi stays and Grosjean too: Raikkenon has obviously been paid and has confirmed he will be staying at Lotus next year. “I think my return to Formula 1 has gone pretty well and the team has done a very good job all year so far. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be fighting for the Drivers’ Championship this season when you look at where the team was in 2011, so it has been great to be on the podium so many times and to score points on a regular basis. I feel very comfortable with Lotus F1 Team and we share the same philosophy of racing. Continuing with the team was an obvious choice for me and I’m looking forward to making another step forward together next year.” Positively gushing by kimi’s usual standards.

Eric too is delighted, “Kimi has made an exceptional comeback to Formula 1. From the first time he sat in the car this year it was clear he had lost none of his pace or technical feedback and we have been rewarded by a focused and motivated driver all season. For Lotus F1 Team to be fighting for such strong championship positions this year is in no small part attributed to Kimi’s talent and experience of racing. It was a natural conclusion for us to confirm that we will be harnessing his abilities for next season.”

He also suggested that Grosjean will be staying and an announcement is imminent.

Webber walks out of FIA press conference: Mark Webber risks being reported to the stewards for a penalty after walking out of the podium drivers press conference. Following the official questions, not one journalist asked Webber a question as they focused only Vettel and Alonso. Webber got up and left toward the end. Matteo Bonciani, F1’s media delegate  told Bilde “He apologised and I accepted.” Red Bull’s Dr. Helmut Marko was very quick to o defended Webber, “Mark actually had an early flight and was running late so because the last question was not for him, he got up (and left).”

Hulkneberg refuses contract extension: Britain’s Paul Di Resta looks certain to stay with the team in 2013, after speculation about a move to McLaren or Mercedes came to nothing, but the other seat appears uncertain. “I offered an extension to both drivers. I hear from the media that Nico has signed with Sauber. Well, if he has then good luck to him,” said Mallya. Asked whether he could replace the highly rated Hulkenberg with someone of a similar stature, Mallya smiled. “Yes absolutely, why not? Never forget I always have the potential of considering Sutil again. Sutil is always quick. So there are many options.

If this is the case it could squash Jamie Alguersuarie’s hopes of an F1 seat next year, unless he replaces Petrov at Caterham.

Mallya also confirmed that Sahara will be putting up their final $33m for the team to spend next year. They acquired 42.5% of Force India in 2011 and the payments were to be made over three years. “Now we’ve got to take a decision on how we are going to spend it because if I now want to start challenging Lotus and Mercedes and go up into the top five, we need some better tools and better equipment.” Sahara have taken money from some 20m Indian small investors totaling $4.6bn that they have to repay and lodge with authorities by the end of November.

Ecclestone replacement: Bernie played down the fact that CVC have appointed headhunters to find his successor amid the ongoing Gerhard Gribkowsky bribery scandal. When asked by the Indian Telegraph if there was a link between the 2 he replied, “No, no. For the purposes of our IPO, potential investors need to know ‘what if’ … it’s normal (practice), I’ve been told.” Is this the first time someone is actually keeping Bernie in the dark?

Electric power for F1 cars in pit lane: Part of the FIA’s ‘green’ 2014 rules state that the F1 cars must be powered only by electricity in the pit lane. Whilst Ecclestone now concedes he has given up on trying to veto the arrival of the V6’s  are coming, he was adamant when speaking to Formula 1 business journalist Christian Sylt: “The electric in the pit lane will not happen”. – just like the V6’s Mr. E. Maybe the tide has turned!

Caterham and Renault joint venture: I’ve picked this up but as yet there are no further details, Fernandes has agreed a deal with Renault the french car manufacturer to build to road going sports cars.

Vettel Stats:  Vettel has previously won 4 races in a row, but not in the same season. He won the last 2 races of 2010 and the first 2 of 2011. The only F1 drivers to have managed more than 5 consecutive wins are:-

Alberto Ascari 9* 1952 Belgian Grand Prix 1953 Belgian Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher 7 2004 European Grand Prix 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher 6 2000 Italian Grand Prix 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix
Jack Brabham 5 1960 Dutch Grand Prix 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix
Jim Clark 5 1965 Belgian Grand Prix 1965 German Grand Prix
Nigel Mansell 5 1992 South African Grand Prix 1992 San Marino Grand Prix

(This page will update throughout the day as new stories develop – check back later)

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