Bottas, Nasr now key to 2017 F1 ‘silly season’ (7th Update)

Felipe Nasr
Felipe Nasr's F1 career could be over. IndyCar here he comes?

UPDATE (GMM) Felipe Nasr's chances of staying in F1 next year have nose-dived.

Amid the economic situation in Brazil, the Sauber driver's sponsor, Banco do Brasil, has announced its withdrawal from the sport.

"Banco do Brasil recognizes Felipe Nasr's talent and is proud to be the sponsor responsible for his entry into formula one," it announced.

"But due to budget constraints and marketing strategies, it was necessary to review the investment in the category at this time," Banco do Brasil added.

In Abu Dhabi, Nasr denied his sponsorship issues are related to his struggle to hang onto his Sauber seat.

"I do not think about this option," he said when asked about the possibility of exiting F1 after two seasons.

And when asked if his manager Steve Robertson is in talks with Manor about the only other vacant cockpits for 2017, he told Globo Esporte: "I don't know.

"He'll be here this weekend so you can ask him."

11/21/16 (GMM) Felipe Nasr's future remained uncertain on Monday, as Sauber extended its deal with Marcus Ericsson into 2017.

"The second driver … will be announced in due course," the Swiss team said in the Ericsson announcement.

Nasr has run into trouble with his backer Banco do Brasil, but there have also been signs of unrest with team management including boss Monisha Kaltenborn.

However, Bernie Ecclestone has been actively looking for a seat for Nasr, with his countryman Felipe Massa retiring after Sunday's Abu Dhabi grand prix.

Asked if a Brazilian driver is important for F1, Ecclestone admitted to Auto Motor und Sport: "We need one.

"Until now, we've always had one at the front for decades."

As for where Nasr might slot in for 2017, the Briton answered: "Which teams still have empty seats? Sauber and Manor. So he will not have much success there."

11/12/16 (GMM) Monisha Kaltenborn has admitted it is not certain that Felipe Nasr will stay at Sauber beyond 2016.

Earlier, we reported that the Swiss team was likely to keep the Brazilian alongside Marcus Ericsson next year, but team boss Kaltenborn admits there have been tensions.

"Yes, we lived through times of stress," she told Brazil's Globo.

One point of contention, Kaltenborn admitted, was recent reports that Sauber may have actively sabotaged Nasr's car.

"Do you think we would be crazy enough to give up the fight for a better place in the championship and all the financial implications that has?" she bristled.

Kaltenborn said talks with Nasr are taking place, but one problem may be his sponsorship backing by Banco do Brasil.

"The bank's situation is not quite the same as before," she revealed. "It's a state enterprise and the situation is different now."

It is not believed that former Sauber driver and Haas refugee Esteban Gutierrez will return to the team in 2017, but one leading candidate may be the Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein.

Kaltenborn said: "We have drivers interested in us but I would also say that Felipe is one of the drivers on our list."

11/02/16 (GMM) Force India has hit back at suggestions the team has already decided the identity of Sergio Perez's teammate for 2017.

With Nico Hulkenberg heading to Renault, reports early this week suggested the Silverstone based team has now inked a deal with Esteban Ocon.

Frenchman Ocon, 20, is obviously a contender thanks to his ties to engine supplier Mercedes, but Force India deputy Bob Fernley says a decision has not been taken.

"There is a long list of candidates," he told Brazil's Globo.

Indeed, a key player on the 2017 market is Felipe Nasr, who would come with substantial backing from Banco do Brasil and the specific support of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Globo said Fernley, team boss Vijay Mallya and other key Force India figures will sit down to discuss the 2017 selection this week.

"Felipe Nasr is on the list," Fernley confirmed. "Vijay, myself, Andrew Green and Otmar Szafnauer will analyze the names one by one.

"We will all give our opinion about who we think is the best package. They should be fast, experienced and help the group to grow," he explained.

"We are seeking a consensus solution, which doesn't always happen in the first meeting. Personally, I don't think we will decide the other driver straight away."

Technical boss Green also told Globo that current Sauber driver Nasr is in the running, but so too is "everyone who is out of contract".

"We are fourth in the constructors' championship with one of the smallest budgets in F1," he boasted.

Also on the list is the well-backed Jolyon Palmer, whose father Jonathan is among the best connected officials in British motor racing.

"He'd love to continue with Renault, he's put a lot into it this year, he's very bullish and enthusiastic about it," Palmer snr told The Sun newspaper.

"But if that doesn't happen, then of course there's no doubt Force India is a great team. So that's certainly something that we are pursuing," he admitted.

The others on the list are Kevin Magnussen and the powerfully sponsored Esteban Gutierrez and Marcus Ericsson, while Mercedes' other junior Pascal Wehrlein is understood to not be rated highly by Force India engineers.

Another dark horse for the seat is GP2 leader Antonio Giovinazzi, but Force India's Green played down the likelihood of a rookie being signed for 2017.

"I prefer drivers with some experience in F1, especially with the new regulations for 2017," he said.

Nasr in Austin in the hapless Sauber
Nasr in Austin in the hapless Sauber

10/24/16 (GMM) Reports that Felipe Nasr is in pole position to secure the vacant Force India cockpit for 2017 are gaining strength.

Even after the Brazilian rejected the rumors in Austin, the Brazilian broadcaster reported on Sunday that Nasr's switch from Sauber to replace the Renault-bound Nico Hulkenberg is all but guaranteed.

The rumors said the deal had the direct involvement of F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who with the retirement of Felipe Massa wants a Brazilian on the grid.

However, in conversation with Brazil's Globo, the Banco do Brasil-sponsored Nasr continued to fend off the reports.

"I have no connection with the team," he insisted.

Nasr even denied that his well-known manager, Steve Robertson, had had talks with Silverstone-based Force India.

"No, because he would have told me, so I can only repeat my answer."

When asked why his manager would not be in contact with Force India, given the fact Hulkenberg is leaving the team ranked fourth in the constructors' championship, Nasr answered: "I don't know. Do you have his number? Talk to him.

"To my knowledge, there is no connection with this team," Nasr added.

Asked if he is interested in Force India in theory, the 24-year-old said: "Sure, it's a very coveted seat. But I repeat, to this day I do not know anyone on my (personal) team who has spoken to Force India."

Force India deputy Bob Fernley also played down the strong Nasr rumors.

"This (US) grand prix and the next one in Mexico are perhaps the most important to us in terms of sponsors. In fact, at this moment, we are not thinking about drivers to replace Hulkenberg.

"After Mexico we will return to England and from there Vijay (Mallya) will choose Sergio Perez's teammate for 2017 from the options that we have," he said.

When asked if Nasr is on the shortlist, Fernley answered: "To avoid speculation, I do not want to name any names.

"But I know that our car is generating interest from many drivers, which means we are doing a great job."

Fascinatingly, when told that Nasr, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are obviously among the available drivers, Fernley interjected: "And Giovinazzi too."

Antonio Giovinazzi, 22, is the current GP2 championship leader, who recently signed a Ferrari test deal.

But Globo reports that the young Italian, who is managed by Eddie Irvine's former manager Enrico Zanarini, may be in talks about joining Mercedes' young driver camp.

Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas

10/23/16 (GMM) Valtteri Bottas will be the next piece of the 2017 driver puzzle to slot into place.

Authoritative media sources, including Auto Motor und Sport and Denmark's Ekstra Bladet, report that the Finn has definitely signed a new deal to stay at Williams.

Sources say the contract, for just one year rather than the two that Williams ideally wanted, will be announced ahead of the Mexican grand prix next week.

Bottas, whose new teammate will be the Canadian teenager Lance Stroll, had been linked with Renault but Auto Motor und Sport said engineers at the Enstone based team are actually pushing for Kevin Magnussen to be retained.

Force India also has a key vacancy for 2017 following Nico Hulkenberg's Renault switch, and the Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are in the running.

"There are a few vacancies and we are negotiating with several teams," confirmed Mercedes' Toto Wolff.

He confirmed that Mercedes' role as a customer engine supplier will "play a role" in the outcome of the talks, adding: "I believe that both – Pascal and Esteban – deserve a place in formula one.

"So we will try to make them stay in formula one with an opportunity to develop."

Indeed, Wehrlein is believed to also be in the running at Haas, with team boss Gene Haas indicating in Austin that Esteban Gutierrez's future is not secure. [Haas runs Ferrari engines – so this will not happen]

And at Force India, one surprising rumor is that Sauber's Felipe Nasr is a candidate.

Auto Motor und Sport said Nasr, whose Banco do Brasil sponsorship is currently at Sauber, has Bernie Ecclestone's blessing because he wants at least one Brazilian on the 2017 grid. [But not an American for the USGP? He still hates America]

But Nasr played down the reports.

"There's nothing really. I have no connection with them," he told Portuguese language media in Austin.

"It's a very desirable seat, but what I'm saying is that I specifically did not speak to them."

Lance Stroll
Lance Stroll – has check will drive

10/17/16 (GMM) Lance Stroll will definitely be at Williams in 2017, according to multiple authoritative media sources.

One of them is the Finnish broadcaster MTV, adding that the British team's current driver Valtteri Bottas will almost certainly be his teammate.

But some other outlets are less sure, including Finland's Ilta Sanomat, amid rumors Bottas is still the first choice to join Nico Hulkenberg at Renault.

"It's difficult to talk about Valtteri's situation," said former F1 driver Mika Salo.

"Lance Stroll will be there, and Williams would probably like to keep Valtteri, but (Lance's father Lawrence) Stroll has bought half of the team so it may be him who chooses who is in the other car," he added.

When asked his opinion of Stroll, who is the new European F3 champion, Salo said: "He is not a bad driver. He has won a lot of races this season and the F3 championship.

"He deserves a place but he may not want Valtteri as his teammate," he added.

The German publication Speed Week reports that confirmation of Stroll's contract may be delayed until late October, when he turns 18, in deference to Williams' alcohol sponsor Martini.

10/13/16 (GMM) Valtteri Bottas is now the key to the conclusion of the 2017 driver 'silly season'.

That is the claim of Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, even though it might be said that Force India's Nico Hulkenberg is another key figure.

But widespread reports say the German has found a way out of his Force India contract and is set to sign a three-year deal to switch to Renault.

Force India, however, thinks Hulkenberg would be unwise to go.

"It would be foolish to force a driver to drive for us if he doesn't want to," said sporting boss Otmar Szafnauer.

"But I think Nico would be ill advised to go. We are fourth in the championship — and where is Renault?"

Meanwhile, it is believed that Renault's other main preference for 2017 is Valtteri Bottas.

That is despite the fact that the Finn looks set to stay with Williams, but apparently the two sides are arguing over the duration of his deal, with Bottas wanting only a one year deal.

The anti-American Haas team is eyeing Magnussen's check according to reports
The anti-American Haas team is eyeing Magnussen's check according to reports

So with a longer-term Renault contract on the table, Bottas could join Hulkenberg in also leaving his current team.

It would be a big blow to Williams, according to an unnamed team boss.

"They would have a real problem," the boss is quoted as saying. "There are no real team leaders among the drivers who are still available."

There are some attractive options with sponsorship to offer, however, including Felipe Nasr, Esteban Gutierrez, Jolyon Palmer and the Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon.

And even the mainly unsponsored Daniil Kvyat is being linked with Force India and Sauber, while Kevin Magnussen is reportedly on Haas' short list.

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