Latest F1 news in brief – Friday (Update)

Bottas knows his job is secure as long as he plays slave to teammate Hamilton
Bottas knows his job is secure as long as he plays a good slave to teammate Hamilton

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.


  • Bottas 'not worried' about 2020 seat
  • Managers say Alonso could return in 2020
  • Lauda not in Abu Dhabi – Marko
  • Sainz Jr. to test McLaren next week
  • Haas protests Force India over $60m payment
  • Vandoorne hopeful about F1 future
  • F1 considers new tire rules for 2019
  • Russian sponsor leaves F1 with Sirotkin
  • Hamilton to sport number 1 on W09 in Abu Dhabi – New
  • Wolff confirms Mercedes reserve role for Esteban Ocon – New
  • Laurent Mekies makes debut with Ferrari – New

Bottas 'not worried' about 2020 seat

(GMM) Valtteri Bottas says he is not worried he could lose his seat after 2019.

The Finn is all signed up for next year, but Mercedes could be holding the seat open for Force India refugee Esteban Ocon for 2020.

Ocon, the top Mercedes junior who looks set to be a 'super reserve' for all the Mercedes-powered teams next year, insists he has been given "no assurances" for 2020.

But Bottas at least admitted he has to up his game, calling 2018 with Mercedes "my worst formula one season".

"For sure the first season with Williams was difficult, but you can't compare that to now," he said.

"2017 felt different to this. I was the new guy and still I remember how disappointed I felt here a year ago," Bottas said in Abu Dhabi.

"Looking back now, I realize I did win a few races. So I'm even more disappointed now," he added.

At the same time, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff sounds bullish about Ocon's future, which would seem to suggest that the seat for 2020 is up for grabs.

Asked if he is worried, Bottas said: "No. In formula one there is all sorts of talk, and it's only natural that every driver wants to use every opportunity.

"But it's not my job to worry about that. I have an excellent relationship with everyone on the team, including Toto. We hide nothing from one another.

"If next year I achieve my goals and the goals of the team, then everything will be fine. If not, the team will rightly decide that I am not performing well enough.

"That's the way it should be in sports," said Bottas.

Managers say Alonso could return in 2020

Alonso and his manager Abad. Alonso will be too old to return
Alonso and his manager Abad. Alonso will be too old to return

(GMM) Fernando Alonso's managers say it is possible the Spaniard will return to formula one in 2020.

Disenchanted with the category, Abu Dhabi is the 37-year-old's last grand prix for now, as Alonso will focus on the Indy 500, Le Mans and some other "iconic" races in 2019.

"Maybe next year by April or May I will be on the sofa and desperate to find a way to come back. But it's not the initial idea," he said on Thursday.

Alonso's manager Luis Garcia Abad agrees that the double world champion is not "retiring".

"In terms of Fernando's relationship with formula one, it's 'see you later' rather than goodbye," he is quoted by Marca.

"It's the end of something but you can never say never," Garcia Abad added.

Also commenting on Alonso's 'open door' approach to his F1 exit is Flavio Briatore, who still oversees the management of the McLaren driver's career.

"He could go back in the future," the former Renault boss told El Mundo newspaper.

"Nobody has said that this is a goodbye. Provided he has a car with guarantees, he can return and be competitive," Briatore said.

"What is clear is that he could not continue like this, arriving at races without a chance. It is nonsense," he charged.

The flamboyant Italian said that for 2019 at least, F1 is losing a great.

"Some of the others are children who if they didn't wear the team's overalls in the paddock, nobody would know who they are," said Briatore.

"Formula one without Fernando is like football without Cristiano Ronaldo."

Lauda not in Abu Dhabi – Marko

(GMM) Niki Lauda is not in Abu Dhabi for the F1 finale.

Earlier, we reported that despite the Mercedes team chairman's closest paddock friends saying Lauda had targeted a comeback, he is in fact not well enough to be in Abu Dhabi.

The 69-year-old had a lung transplant in early August and is currently in rehabilitation after a long stay in hospital.

"He's doing much better, but he just does not yet have the strength to be here," Red Bull official Dr Helmut Marko, a close friend of Lauda's, told the German broadcaster RTL.

Sainz Jr. to test McLaren next week

Carlos Sainz Jr. gets to sample the slug McLaren next week
Carlos Sainz Jr. gets to sample the slug McLaren next week

(GMM) Carlos Sainz Jr. will get his McLaren career off to an early start.

Both Renault and Red Bull, who have contracts with the Spaniard, have apparently released Sainz to test the 2018 McLaren next week in the post-race Abu Dhabi test.

But the 24-year-old says he is still focused on rounding out the season in yellow.

"I'm not thinking about it (the test) yet," Sainz said in Abu Dhabi.

"I have a formula one race ahead of me, and when that is the case, you have only that in mind. I want to race and finish the year well," he insisted.

"I'm sure that from Monday, even late on Sunday, I will have the thought to try the McLaren and see what the car is like," Sainz said.

He says he has had a good season with Renault.

"To be fourth in the world championship was the big goal and we are there, so it's a step forward compared to last year," said Sainz.

"Not so much in terms of performance, but in terms of the team it has developed a lot and I am proud to have been part of it."

Some say McLaren is a big step backwards for Sainz, but the Spaniard said he is joining one of the most decorated teams in F1 history.

"You only have to look back six years to find a team that was winning races, so I trust the team a lot, especially with the changes that have been made recently.

"It is a team that wants to win again and you can feel that. From the moment they saw that I could be free for next year they showed interest in me, so I am looking forward," Sainz added.

Haas protests Force India over $60m payment

Steiner steaming mad
Steiner steaming mad

(GMM) Haas has lodged an official protest against the Force India team.

According to Auto Motor und Sport, the dispute is all about money — and up to a whopping $60 million.

Haas, the small American outfit, is pointing out that when Lawrence Stroll bought the Force India assets earlier this year, a whole new team entry had to be created.

However, Stroll and Liberty Media agreed that the team would still be eligible for its official prize money, even though that normally would not be granted to a 'new' team.

So the Haas protest is the allegation that 'Racing Point Force India' has broken the F1 rules by not actually building the pink-colored cars it races.

Haas boss Gunther Steiner met with Liberty's Chase Carey in Abu Dhabi, saying afterwards: "We talked about many things, but I can't tell you exactly what."

But he admitted to Ekstra Bladet newspaper that the issue of prize money and Force India has not yet been resolved.

"No, unfortunately not," he said. "We are not making any progress at the moment."

Vandoorne hopeful about F1 future

Vandoorne will be a Mercedes video game player, er...we mean simulator driver
Vandoorne will be a Mercedes video game player, er…we mean simulator driver

(GMM) Stoffel Vandoorne is hopeful about his future in formula one.

That is despite the fact that Abu Dhabi is his last race with McLaren prior to switching to Formula E for 2019.

Vandoorne has been signed by Mercedes' new works team in the all-electric category, but he will also stay in touch with F1 through work in the world champion team's simulator.

"It's an interesting role for me," the 26-year-old is quoted by Het Laatste Nieuws in Abu Dhabi.

"I am sure that I will be able to contribute some new ideas. It will also be nice to see the differences with McLaren.

"It is still the only team that I have worked with in formula one," said Vandoorne, whose did not flourish in F1 despite his ultra-promising junior career.

And so Vandoorne is hopeful that Mercedes is a better place for him.

"Mercedes will know exactly what I am capable of," he said. "Then you never know what will happen in the future, but it's good to be prepared for anything.

"For me it was important to be linked to a manufacturer, so when I had the chance to go to Mercedes, I did not hesitate," Vandoorne continued. "When they do something at Mercedes, they do it properly."

F1 considers new tire rules for 2019

Wolff tells Whiting this talk is premature
Wolff tells Whiting this talk is premature

(GMM) Team managers have met with FIA race director Charlie Whiting in Abu Dhabi to talk about tires.

The meeting follows the Grand Prix Drivers' Association meeting recently in Brazil, when the drivers complained directly to Pirelli that the current tires do not allow them to attack in the races.

And so, according to Auto Motor und Sport, the teams meeting with Whiting was about the possibility of rule changes for 2019 designed specifically to address the tire problems.

One proposal is that drivers should be free to choose whatever tires they want for the race.

But a voice at a small team objected: "The races will be even more boring if the top teams have the freedom to choose the most robust tires on offer."

Another idea is for at least two compulsory pitstops per driver.

A further suggestion is that a 'points system' for the tires be introduced. Each compound would be assigned a certain number of points, with drivers needing to meet a minimum points score per race in order to comply.

"Too complicated," one team manager said.

Another voice, from inside the Mercedes camp, said the tire regulations talk is premature.

"We will have new cars and new tires next year," he said. "Let's see how that affects the racing before we introduce more new things."

Russian sponsor leaves F1 with Sirotkin

Sergey Sirotkin devastated
Sergey Sirotkin devastated

(GMM) Sergey Sirotkin's sponsor is driving away from formula one for now.

The Russian driver is gutted that Williams has decided to sign up Robert Kubica instead of him for 2019.

Sirotkin is backed by Russian banker Boris Rotenberg's SMP program.

"We have decided not to continue our involvement in formula one," Rotenberg said on Thursday.

"We were very unpleasantly surprised by Williams' level of competitiveness and the development of the car this season," he added.

"In these conditions, Sergey did everything he could and we are pleased with his work, so now we'll think about how his career will continue."

Sirotkin did not hide his disappointment.

"It's hard for me to believe what has happened," he said.

"I was told by the team on Wednesday night, but clearly there were meetings with SMP before that. And it was clear that they probably did not want to continue.

"So I already knew the direction it would go in so I could prepare for this step by Williams, but it's still a difficult moment for me," Sirotkin, 23, added.

"I always believed that we can turn things around and that I may be able to keep my place, but nothing changed in the team and so my place is gone," he said.

Sirotkin lost his job as a Formula One driver but is leading a Sky Sports F1 online vote for the driver of the season by a significant margin.

As of Thursday, Sirotkin boasted a staggering 74,900 votes compared to five times world champion Lewis Hamilton, winner of 10 races this year for Mercedes, who was in second place on 42,600.

Hamilton to sport number 1 on W09 in Abu Dhabi

Hamilton is #1
Hamilton is #1

World Champion Lewis Hamilton has brought the number 1 back to Formula 1 after a four-year absence at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton has used 44 as his permanent number since the revised scheme was introduced ahead of the 2014 campaign.

World Champions have the option to use the number 1 – which Sebastian Vettel took up in 2014 – but Hamilton has retained 44 in his title-defending campaigns in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Hamilton wrapped up the 2018 title at last month’s Mexican Grand Prix, with his fifth title drawing him level with Juan Manuel Fangio, and behind only Michael Schumacher on the all-time list.

Hamilton appeared on track during Friday practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sporting a gold helmet, with the red number 1 attached in place of his usual 44.

Hamilton’s engine cover still carried number 44 while he is officially entered into this weekend’s event under his usual number, meaning 44 will be used on timing screens and graphics, as per usual.

Mercedes confirmed that “Lewis has requested and been given permission to run number 1 on the nose at this final race of the season because he’s World Champion."

Mercedes ia slao assessing Hamilton's engine during FP1 after the problem that affected his race at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The team revealed that a "failure in the variable inlet system caused unstable combustion" and that hardware changes have been made, with the engine (PU3) being trialled today; data will be reviewed following Friday evening's second session.

Wolff confirms Mercedes reserve role for Esteban Ocon

Ocon will warm the bench in 2019
Ocon will warm the bench in 2019

Esteban Ocon will take up the role of Mercedes’ Formula 1 reserve driver in the wake of missing out on a 2019 race seat.

Ocon has been backed by Mercedes since his 2015 title-winning GP3 season and stepped up to a Formula 1 race seat with Manor mid-2016, before joining Force India.

Mercedes believed it had an agreement with Renault over Ocon for 2019 but the manufacturer instead opted to sign Daniel Ricciardo to partner Nico Hulkenberg.

Options elsewhere receded and Ocon was left without a drive for next season, though he will remain connected to Formula 1 through his new position with Mercedes.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff confirmed on Friday that 22-year-old Ocon will take up the role of third and reserve driver for its Formula 1 team next year.

Wolff explained that Ocon will be “very close" to the works team in 2019 and will conduct simulator duties.

He added that Ocon could be in line for a handful of outings during tests, but stressed that this was not confirmed.

Ocon’s departure from Force India has not yet been confirmed though Lance Stroll’s switch is expected to be announced in the coming days.

Laurent Mekies makes debut with Ferrari

Laurent Mekies when he was with FIA
Laurent Mekies when he was with FIA

Ex-FIA man Laurent Mekies is attending a Formula 1 race with Ferrari for the first time and has been confirmed as the team's new sporting director.

Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has now confirmed Mekies will be Ferrari's first sporting director since Massimo Rivola left the role in 2016.

"Laurent is perfectly matching the strengths that are requested as a sporting director and that is why he is going to take this role next year," Arrivabene told Autosport.

"We need to win enough to win the championship," he said when asked to explain what it meant.

"Of course then it depends on the performance of the other teams.

"The habit to win is very simple: if you are doing one-two then it doesn't have to be an exceptional event it has to be habit.

"That way it changes your mentality from a fighter to a winner."

Arrivabene baulked at the suggestion that six wins this season and five this year suggest Ferrari is not scoring enough victories.

He said it is "not correct" that mistakes are to blame for its trophy-less run continuing.

"We started the season in very good shape," said Arrivabene. "From Monza we were not there with the car.

"I don't want a point a finger on the team or the driver.

"If we're losing we're losing together. If we're winning, we're winning together."

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