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The 2008 News Review, Part One - January to March 05 Jan 2009

Nick Heidfeld (GER) makes the first run in the BMW Sauber F1.08. BMW Sauber F1.08 Launch, BMW Welt, Munich, Germany, Monday 14 January 2008. World © Sutton McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton A message from Damon Hill on the car of Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams FW30 Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 19 February 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA108 leads Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2008.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, 16 March 2008 (L to R): Max Mosley (GBR) legal adviser to FOCA with Jean-Marie Balestre (FRA) President FISA. United States Grand Prix (West), Long Beach, 15 March 1981. World © Phipps/Sutton

As we welcome in the New Year, we take time to reflect on the past 12 months and the year that was 2008. Even before the season got underway there were plenty of Formula One stories grabbing the headlines - Lewis Hamilton’s new McLaren deal, the unveiling of the car that would win the 2008 constructors’ title, and Williams’ celebrating their 30th anniversary were just a few of them…

January:
BMW Sauber set out ambitious aims for the season ahead, announcing they are targeting a maiden win. Ferrari also get their ’08 campaign underway with a bang, becoming the first team to unveil their new challenger, at their Maranello base in Italy. The F2008 is the 54th single-seater Ferrari have built to contest the Formula One world championship.

Championship rivals McLaren are not far behind, launching the MP4-23 at a special ceremony at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. That same day, driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates his 23rd birthday and describes his new car as ‘the coolest birthday present you can get’. Super Aguri reveal their launch will be held in February.

Honda announce that former Williams racer Alex Wurz is to become the team’s test and reserve driver, whilst Japanese rivals Toyota launch the TF108 at their German base in Cologne. Force India reveal that Giancarlo Fisichella will join Adrian Sutil to form the team’s 2008 race line-up, alongside reserve driver Vitantonio Liuzzi.

The majority of teams gets back to business testing at Jerez, but BMW Sauber choose to launch their ‘08 challenger at their Munich facility before giving the car its test debut at Valencia. Things run less smoothly for Super Aguri, who miss vital Jerez track time waiting for parts to arrive from England.

McLaren announce a five-year extension to their contract with star driver Hamilton. The new agreement will run up to and include the 2012 season and takes the length of the team’s relationship with Hamilton to a total of 15 years. The British driver also celebrates clinching the coveted Hawthorn Memorial Trophy.

FIA President Max Mosley confirms that changes to the stewarding system at Grands Prix (with three designated stewards coordinating with FIA representative Alan Donnelly) will make for speedier decision making. In track news, Singapore reveals that ahead of the first-ever night race, the drivers will get to sample driving the track in the dark during the second Friday practice and qualifying.

February:
Huge crowds attend a Barcelona test but the atmosphere is marred after Hamilton is subjected to racist abuse by a small number of spectators. In response, the FIA launch an anti-racism initiative. Marko Asmer and former Honda tester Christian Klien join BMW Sauber to form the team’s test line-up, whilst Renault sign former Super Aguri racer Sakon Yamamoto as a development driver.

Force India launch their maiden season in style, unveiling the VJM01 at a spectacular ceremony in Mumbai. Super Aguri, however, announce they are to postpone the launch of their 2008 car until March’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix and subsequently pull out of two multi-team tests.

On track, McLaren try out some unusual looking front rim shields at Jerez testing, while in Barcelona Williams unveil a special livery, commemorating their 30th anniversary. The design features handwritten messages from each of the team’s seven world championship-winning drivers - Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

McLaren executives are questioned by Italian investigators as part an ongoing legal enquiry into 2007’s ‘spy scandal’ affair, but subsequently express their ‘extreme displeasure’ at reports claiming important evidence was found at their factory.

March:
Bridgestone reveal they plan to make their extreme wet-weather tyres distinguishable from the standard wet rubber by marking the extremes with the same painted white line used to mark their softer dry compound. Following uncertainty about the team’s future, and ahead of the season opener in Melbourne, Super Aguri announce they have been bought by the Magma Group.

A week later, Red Bull chief Dietrich Mateschitz confirms he and co-owner Gerhard Berger have put Toro Rosso up for sale and hope a new owner will be in place for the end of 2009. There are changes afoot at Ferrari too, with Jean Todt relinquishing his CEO role.

It is announced that former world champion Michael Schumacher is among the committee members of the FIA’s newly-formed Motor Sport Safety Development Fund, the body which will distribute $60 million from McLaren’s ‘spy scandal’ fine, for the benefit of motorsport worldwide.

A lucky enthusiast buys a slice of Formula One history after snapping up the Red Bull driven by David Coulthard at the 2007 British Grand Prix on eBay for €210,050, in aid of the Wings for Life charity. As March draws to a close, the news breaks that Former FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre has died, aged 86.