Latest F1 news in brief – Tuesday

  • Some think DTM convert Wehrlein not fast enough for F1
    Some think DTM convert Wehrlein not fast enough for F1

    Doubts surround Wehrlein 'fitness' story

  • F1 return now 'more likely' – Kubica
  • Grosjean not complaining 'good sign' – Haas
  • Ferrari boss drops more hints about Formula E involvement
  • Abiteboul: Renault focused on reliability
  • McLaren expects to be 'exposed' in China
  • Wolff: Mercedes getting homework done

Doubts surround Wehrlein 'fitness' story
(GMM) Pascal Wehrlein could miss the entire China-Bahrain double header in the next two weeks, as a bizarre story about his physical fitness continues to unfold.

The Mercedes-backed German sat out the 2017 season opener in Melbourne, citing a lack of fitness in the wake of his winter back injury following a rollover crash at the race of champions event.

He was replaced by the Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi, who impressed. The Italian will now race again in Wehrlein's place this weekend in China.

This is "to ensure that Pascal will be back in the cockpit in best physical shape at the earliest possible opportunity", Sauber announced in a statement.

But that could be next weekend in Bahrain "or the Russian grand prix", the Swiss team admitted.

"For me the most important is that I can train intensively to ensure a 100pc performance from my side as soon as possible," Wehrlein said.

But some are not buying the 'fitness' story. Former British racing driver and TV presenter Tiff Needell said on Twitter: "Wehrlein doesn't think he's fit enough?! Do you think Giovinazzi ever thought 'but I'm not fit enough'."

Needell's cynicism is not isolated. La Gazzetta dello Sport, an authoritative Italian sports daily, said Sauber's announcement was "a day after Wehrlein said he wanted to at least do Friday practice" in China.

Germany's Auto Bild said Wehrlein, 22, was in the Mercedes F1 simulator on Monday.

The major German daily Bild, as well, does not know how to interpret the Wehrlein story.

"He has now trained for two weeks (since Australia) to be fit," correspondent Lennart Wermke said. "He is supervised by Josef Leberer, once the physio to the great Ayrton Senna.

"But according to Sauber, the ambitious Wehrlein is voluntarily not racing?

"Will Wehrlein be fit enough for Bahrain? Or is there something more to this?" Wermke added.

Wehrlein's career is overseen by Mercedes, whose boss Toto Wolff said: "I feel for Pascal, because he has had all the bad luck.

"Now he needs to build up his fitness and come back strong. I have no doubt that when he's back in the car, he'll prove he's still the same Pascal."

F1 return now 'more likely' – Kubica

Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica

(GMM) Robert Kubica says a return to F1 is now "more likely" than at any time since his serious rally crash in early 2011.

The Pole, now 32, was in the midst of a promising F1 career with BMW and then Renault when, while contesting a rally in the winter, he crashed and almost severed his wrist.

Kubica returned to motor racing at rally's highest level, but was unable to drive a single seater due to the limitations on the movement in his arm and hand.

But he is now shaping up to race in the premier LMP1 class at Le Mans in 2017, saying a potential return to formula one someday is no longer a distant dream.

"I am not thinking of returning for now," he told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, "but it is not a closed chapter for me.

"It is now much more likely than it was two years ago," Kubica added. "Perhaps one day my patience will be rewarded.

"I will not say anything until it is sure."

Grosjean not complaining 'good sign' – Haas

Gene Haas
Gene Haas

(GMM) Owner Gene Haas says he is happy the American team is in among the action in a closely-fought midfield in 2017.

Winter rumors suggested Haas could actually be fighting backmarkers Sauber and McLaren this year, but Romain Grosjean qualified a 'best of the rest' sixth in Melbourne.

But Haas says that midfield pack is close.

"Two seconds behind the top are five teams within half a second," he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

And so while many expected the Ferrari-linked to strike F1's typical 'second season syndrome', Haas said he is happy with the 2017 car.

"It is a car without weaknesses and a very strong engine," Haas said.

And he smiled: "Grosjean complained less about the car than usual in Melbourne. That's a good sign."

The 64-year-old, who also co-owns a Nascar team, also sounds happy in formula one, even in the wake of Bernie Ecclestone's departure and the arrival of Liberty Media.

Recently, Ecclestone's successor Chase Carey said his goal is to make every grand prix like the 'Super Bowl'.

Haas said: "It does not have to be a Super Bowl. But I do think that a grand prix weekend should have more. It should be a festival for the whole family.

"A kind of Oktoberfest with racing," he added.

As for the small Haas operation that works closely with Ferrari and Dallara, meanwhile, Gene Haas says he is happy to keep the team small in the future.

"We do not want to become too big," he said. "Size means bureaucracy."

And as for goals for 2017, Haas revealed: "We want to be at the front end of the midfield and score regularly.

"Realistically the first six places are filled by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. Behind them is the race for seventh to tenth places."

Ferrari boss drops more hints about Formula E involvement

Sergio Marchionne eating his words
Sergio Marchionne eating his words

Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne a year ago said the idea of an electric Ferrari was “almost an obscene concept."

But last November he conceded that Ferrari entering the Formula E electric car racing series is a possibility.

Now he’s on the record as stating that Ferrari being involved in Formula E is a necessity for the Italian firm. That necessity is not due to the need for a pure electric supercar but rather hybrids, technology for which could be honed in Formula E competition.

“We need to be involved in Formula E because electrification via hybridization is going to be part of our future," Marchionne said in an interview with Auto, the FIA’s official magazine. “Hybridization is crucial to Ferrari."

Ferrari will need hybrids to meet stricter fleet average emission targets due in coming years. There’s also the possibility that in the future cars will need to be emissions free to enter certain cities, which Ferrari could achieve with plug-in hybrid technology.

Part of Marchionne’s desire to join Formula E is probably also so Ferrari doesn’t look like its lagging rivals in the technology race. McLaren is already supplying the high-performance electric motors for Formula E and major automakers such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz are already committed to the sport or have expressed interest in doing so.

Abiteboul: Renault focused on reliability

Hulkenberg in the Renault
Hulkenberg in the Renault

Renault's short-term focus is on improving the reliability of its power unit, before introducing any performance upgrades, according to Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul.

Renault completed fewer laps than only Toro Rosso and McLaren across pre-season testing, as an ERS issue, which initially showed up on the dyno, hindered its program.

Renault declared that this was addressed prior to the season-opener in Australia, where it became clear that the manufacturer had reverted to its 2016-specification MGU-K.

Matters were made worse when Jolyon Palmer crashed in practice, causing significant damage to his car, before the Briton endured a brake problem in the race and retired.

Nico Hülkenberg, meanwhile, narrowly missed out on a point in 11th.

"At short-term, the main point is reliability," said Abiteboul.

"We didn't have any ERS but we did experience other issues [in Australia] – most notably Jolyon's brakes in the race – so we clearly have work to do.

"The big positive we take from Melbourne is that we have the pace to be where we want to be: fight for points. If we do everything right, we will fight for fifth in the championship by the end of the season.

"The performance of the power unit seems to be delivering at the level we expected and we know there is more to come.

"In due course, we will revert to the 2017-specification MGU-K, and we will also introduce upgrades, but this will only happen if we achieve the reliability level we need."

Renault also supplies power units to Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko recently outlined Renault's plans to introduce a major upgrade in Canada, following an initial update package in Spain.

McLaren expects to be 'exposed' in China

Say cheese
Say cheese

McLaren chief Eric Boullier says he expects this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix to further "expose the weaknesses" of the team's Honda-powered package.

McLaren and Honda, in the third year of their second partnership, endured another tough pre-season, characterized by a lack of reliability and performance woes.

In Australia, matters improved slightly, with Fernando Alonso managing to qualify 13th, and holding a points-paying position for the majority of the race, before retiring.

However, on reflection, the two-time World Champion expressed fears that McLaren-Honda would likely be Formula 1's slowest team "in normal conditions".

Given the vast differences between the Albert Park and Shanghai tracks, the latter featuring much longer straights, McLaren Racing Director Boullier is also realistic.

"Shanghai is known to be an unpredictable weekend for a number of reasons: it's tough on cars, tires and power units and the weather is often precarious," commented Boullier.

"But I can predict that we won't be as fortuitous with our pace, compared to our rivals, as we were in Australia.

"The characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit are very different from Melbourne, and its long, fast straights will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did.

"However, we will of course attack the race with our usual fighting spirit, and the most important thing will be to ensure reliability with both cars before focusing on performance."

Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa is also braced for a difficult weekend.

"We expect the Chinese Grand Prix to be even more challenging," he said.

"The race is always a bit of an unknown due to the changeable weather conditions, which affects the set-up and balance of the car.

"The track itself also places a lot of stress on the power unit with its slow- and medium-speed corners, and two very long straights.

"Once again we will work together with McLaren to ensure we do our best and extract the most from our package.

"It's a long season and we are looking for progress at every race."

Wolff: Mercedes getting homework done

Wolff watching Ferrari kick their butt in Melbourne
Wolff watching Ferrari kick their butt in Melbourne

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the outfit has been "getting our own homework done" over the break between the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix, after losing out to Ferrari at the season-opening round.

Mercedes dominated Formula 1 from 2014-2016, following the introduction of 1.6-litre V6 turbo power units, winning 51 out of 59 Grands Prix and storming to successive 'double' titles.

However, for 2017, overhauled aerodynamics and wider Pirelli tires posed another major technical challenge, and Ferrari has ostensibly emerged as a real threat to Mercedes' hegemony.

Sebastian Vettel put his Ferrari between the Mercedes drivers during qualifying at Albert Park, before pressuring pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton in the opening stages of the race.

Hamilton pitted early, amid concerns over tire life, and rejoined the action in traffic, while Vettel pumped in quick times to emerge ahead after stopping five laps later.

Vettel and Ferrari cruised to victory, their first since late-2015, with Hamilton finishing almost 10 seconds adrift in the runner-up spot, followed closely by new team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

"As a group and as individuals, we are all on a personal development slope in this team," said Wolff, as he discussed Mercedes' start to the season.

"We try to improve every single day.

"On that particular day [race day] in Melbourne, Ferrari were better, so we now have to work out how we can improve again to beat them.

"The last three years were an outlier in Formula 1 and you need to be careful to manage your own expectations.

"If you think you are going to cruise to victory in the future, based on a track record of success, you'll be proven wrong very quickly.

"You need to put the finger in the wound, identify your weaknesses and then respond.

"We achieved a double podium in the first race of a brand new set of regulations – a strong result by any standard.

"But that doesn't mean we can be satisfied because there are still many areas where we can be better. We have been focused on these during the past week.

"It's not a case of looking at the competition for inspiration but of getting our own homework done to maximize our performance.

"Australia was a weekend full of lessons, now we go to China ready and excited for another battle."

Mercedes trails Ferrari by four points in the standings.

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