Latest F1 news in brief – Sunday

  • Lauda (R) says Vettel will retire at Ferrari
    Lauda (R) says Vettel will retire at Ferrari

    Lauda plays down Vettel talks confusion

  • Kubica set for Friday practice in Malaysia
  • Bottas to get 2018 contract before Monza
  • Mercedes to decide team orders 'race by race'
  • Renault deal for McLaren 'impossible' – Prost
  • Hamilton 'humbled' to equal Schumacher tally
  • Alonso: 11th 'like pole position' for McLaren
  • Gasly still hopeful over 2018 race seat

Lauda plays down Vettel talks confusion
(GMM) Niki Lauda has played down the confusion about whether Mercedes came close to signing Sebastian Vettel for 2018 and beyond.

At Spa, Ferrari ended the uncertainty about Vettel's future by saying it has agreed a new three-year contract with the championship leader.

The news came just 24 hours after Vettel said there would in fact be no news about his future for at least two weeks.

"Yeah, I didn't think it's the right time so I didn't rush or push," he said. "But things came along fairly quickly and in the end we decided to go for it and make the call."

More controversial was Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda's claim that the German camp actually negotiated with Vettel until June.

"Only when it became clear that he wanted to stay with Ferrari did we break off the negotiations," said the F1 legend.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, however, denied it.

"There were no contract negotiations with Sebastian. At all. Zero," he said.

"I don't know what Niki was asked, but in the end we're all in the paddock and we all ask each other 'How are you?' 'What are you doing?'" Wolff explained.

Indeed, Lauda didn't see what all the fuss was about when asked why his account of the Vettel talks differed so fundamentally from Wolff's.

"It was clear that he's staying there. He'll retire there," he told Bild newspaper.

"I don't understand all the excitement. Of course I talk with Vettel but there were no negotiations," Lauda clarified.

"We always assumed that we would stay there. The question was only for how long."

Kubica set for Friday practice in Malaysia

Kubica getting another shot
Kubica getting another shot

(GMM) Robert Kubica could be set for another outing in Renault's 2017 car.

Recently, the Pole caused a stir with an impressive performance in the post-Hungarian GP test.

But Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul said it was not enough to be sure that the former BMW driver is really ready to return to F1 six years after his near-fatal rallying crash.

"We don't have all the answers that we potentially wanted to get from that test," said the Frenchman.

"In a perfect world we would want to do more of this type of test to see if he can race again at the level that he and we could have wanted. It may or may not be possible," Abiteboul added.

Speed Week reports that Kubica might indeed be given another chance to prove himself in a few races time, in Friday free practice ahead of the Malaysian grand prix at Sepang.

For now, Abiteboul is not giving anything away.

"I don't want to create speculation and I don't want to put on the team that we have some obligation to go further because there is an interest from the public to see Robert back.

"We would all like Robert to be back, but it has to make sense," he insisted.

Bottas to get 2018 contract before Monza

Things are looking up for Bottas
Things are looking up for Bottas

(GMM) Valtteri Bottas is set to be the next piece of the 2018 driver puzzle to slot into place.

With Ferrari's current lineup staying next year, the path is now clear for Finn Bottas to ink a new single-year contract with Mercedes.

"It goes without saying that Valtteri is staying," team boss Toto Wolff said at Spa.

"It's only about the details of the contract. The paperwork. In my view, the chances that he will stay in the team are very large," the Austrian added.

Sources report that Bottas' 2018 deal will be announced ahead of next weekend's Italian grand prix at Monza.

Mercedes to decide team orders 'race by race'

Wolff and Lauda will always have Bottas move over for Hamilton
Wolff and Lauda will always have Bottas move over for Hamilton

(GMM) Mercedes will take a race-by-race approach to the issue of team orders for the remaining nine grands prix of 2017.

In Hungary, Lewis Hamilton lost precious points to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel as the Briton honored an agreement to return a place to his teammate Valtteri Bottas.

"Some people said we are naive in Budapest," team boss Toto Wolff told Kronen Zeitung newspaper at Spa.

"But our rule is that both drivers have the same chance for the title — and both drivers know what we keep our word. That is important for our team spirit."

However, that policy was devised over the last few years — when the only drivers challenging for the title were wearing silver.

"Of course we don't want to lose the world championship by being too sporting," Wolff admitted. "The fact is that there is no fairness trophy.

"Formula one is harder than that so we will have to adapt our principles," he said.

What that could mean in practice is that, on a race by race basis, Mercedes will make decisions from the pitwall based on maximizing the team's title chances.

"We have been thinking about this a lot lately," said Wolff, "and I can say that we want to keep full freedom for our drivers.

"It is impossible to fully anticipate what will happen and plan every scenario, but Ferrari has a real advantage in Sebastian being the clear leader, with Kimi covering him.

"In recent years we have not taken this approach, and so as each situation arises in the race, we will make decisions depending on how they may affect the outcome of the championship," added Wolff.

Renault deal for McLaren 'impossible' – Prost

Alain Prost confirms McLaren stuck with Honda power
Alain Prost confirms McLaren stuck with Honda power

(GMM) Renault has played down the chances it might supply engines to McLaren next year.

As the British team struggles with Honda, Mercedes and Ferrari have already made clear they will not be leaping to McLaren's rescue.

So at Spa, rumors emerged that if McLaren does split with Honda, the only option could be Renault.

"I can confirm that there has been discussion with McLaren," said Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul.

The spanner in the works, however, is that FIA regulations forbid manufacturers from supplying to more than three teams — and Renault is fully subscribed with its works team plus Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

Of course, a Renault deal would be freed up if Toro Rosso makes the switch to Honda — and that would also keep the Japanese carmaker in F1.

"It doesn't really affect us whatever engine Toro Rosso takes," said Red Bull's Christian Horner. "We just need to know pretty quickly what the situation is — within the next couple of weeks."

For its part, McLaren is therefore pushing hard for a Toro Rosso deal and even willing to produce a gearbox for the junior Red Bull team.

But if Toro Rosso doesn't make the switch, Renault advisor Alain Prost says it is "impossible" that a McLaren-Renault deal can happen.

"As McLaren have problems with the Honda engine, they asked us," Prost told the Belgian news agency Sporza.

"But it's impossible for Renault to have another team."

Hamilton 'humbled' to equal Schumacher tally

Hamilton equals and will soon break the record of another Aldo Costa car driver - Michael Schumacher
Hamilton equals and will soon break the record of another Aldo Costa designed car driver – Michael Schumacher

Lewis Hamilton described equaling Michael Schumacher's all-time record of pole positions as "very humbling" after he led the way during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Hamilton dominated Q3 at Spa-Francorchamps, setting the quickest ever lap of the circuit to wind up with a 1:42.553, 0.242s clear of Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton's lap was the 68th pole of his Formula 1 career, achieved at his 200th Grand Prix, meaning he draws level with Schumacher atop the list.

"It's a special day, definitely," explained Hamilton.

"To be honest, I knew that it was on the horizon, and at some stage I'd be getting that 68th pole, but I really hadn't thought about it much – it could come soon, take a long time.

"Now being there it's very… it's an unusual place to be.

"I came here in 1996, my first Grand Prix, watching Michael come by out of Turn 1 and the engine just roared, vibrating, shaking my rib cage, it was incredible.

"It was when my love for the sport took another step.

"Now I'm equaling him on poles, so it's very surreal, it's very much a humbling experience knowing Michael is such a legend.

"It's an incredible feat he's achieved and I feel very proud to be up there with him."

Hamilton trails title leader Vettel by 14 points ahead of the race.

Alonso: 11th 'like pole position' for McLaren

Alonso thinks McLaren has best chassis but worst engine
Alonso thinks McLaren has best chassis but worst engine

Fernando Alonso labelled 11th place on the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix as "like pole position" for McLaren-Honda, as he narrowly missed out on a spot in Q3.

McLaren used slipstreaming tactics in qualifying, with Stoffel Vandoorne positioning his MCL32 perfectly to enable Alonso to gain a greater top speed along the Kemmel Straight.

The tactics meant Alonso was fifth-fastest through the speed trap, but a loss of power in the final sector forced the Spaniard to abandon his effort, and he finished 11th.

"In the end, today was a positive day for us, if you look at the overall performance," said Alonso.

"We were 1.5 seconds from P1 in Q2, and this for us is like pole position.

"However, at the end of the lap, because of an issue we didn't manage to make it into Q3, but it could have been possible today.

"The team did a great job and we tried to take benefit from Stoffel's penalty to help the other car take some slipstream on the straights.

"But, at the wrong time – in the last attempt in Q2 – we had a problem with the deployment, and I lost six tenths between Turns 11 and 12, so I aborted the lap because it was no longer possible to improve.

"We'll start from P11 tomorrow – which here in Spa is a bit of a surprise for us anyway – and maybe being on new tires and choosing the compound is better than starting 10th."

Vandoorne will start from 20th on the grid after sustaining a 65-place grid penalty for an array of power unit component changes.

Gasly still hopeful over 2018 race seat
Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly says he is still hopeful of making the step up to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso next year, as he waits for news over his future.

Gasly, a long-term member of Red Bull's junior scheme, claimed last year's GP2 title, but Toro Rosso opted to retain Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat for another season.

Red Bull has already taken up the option to keep Sainz Jr.'s services for 2018, while Kvyat has also been tipped to stay, with Franz Tost saying there is "no necessity to change something".

Gasly, though, remains optimistic that he can graduate to Formula 1 next season.

"At the moment, it's looking good, but until I will have signed the contract, nothing will be done," said Gasly in a video interview with GPUpdate.net.

"We're talking with Helmut [Marko] every weekend, all the time I see him.

"Of course, after winning GP2 last year, the only target at the moment and the only thing I'm thinking about is to be on the Formula 1 grid.

"For me, that's my life and my dream and it's the only car I want to drive next year!

"I will do my best and hopefully I will be on the grid."

Gasly referenced a positive relationship with Red Bull chiefs and says he is continuing to grow stronger due to brand's approach to its young driver scheme.

"It's getting better year after year, so that's a positive thing," Gasly said of his relationship with Red Bull.

"Of course, they put a lot of pressure, because you need to be excellent in everything you do – on track and off track. You just need to keep pushing all the time.

"I think, in a way, it's really good, because mentally it makes you much stronger. I really feel that mentally, compared to like three or four years ago, I'm much stronger now than before.

"I think in the end the outcome is worth it if you make it; you're stronger as a person but also as a driver and it can only be better for your results."

Gasly currently holds fourth position in the Super Formula championship.

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