Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • Ecclestone invited to Bahrain
    Ecclestone invited to Bahrain

    Prince invites Ecclestone to Bahrain GP

  • Former F1 drivers to get paddock passes
  • Ferrari to shine in China too – Alesi
  • Massa doubts Alonso will quit McLaren in 2017
  • Only DRS makes passing possible now – Massa
  • Drivers will cope physically in 2017 – Massa
  • Massa tips Stroll to improve in 2017
  • Huge pressure on Schumacher's shoulders – Villeneuve
  • Haas has 'best drivers possible' – Steiner
  • Allison gives credit to 'very quick' Ferrari
  • US Grand Prix boss says F1 should buy race circuits

Prince invites Ecclestone to Bahrain GP
(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone will attend his first race of the 2017 season in Bahrain next month.

It is not unusual for the 86-year-old to skip some of the early-season 'flyaway' grands prix, but his absence was felt particularly in Australia as it was the first race since he was ousted as F1 chief executive.

But Auto Motor und Sport reports that the Briton will be in Bahrain, the third round of the season, having been invited by the Crown Prince.

Recently, the Bahraini prince attended Ecclestone's surprise farewell party, organized by Flavio Briatore.

When asked in Melbourne what it was like to be at a grand prix with Ecclestone no longer running the sport, Red Bull boss Christian Horner smiled: "How do you know he's not still in charge?

"I think in the role that he has, he's still going to be in a position to contribute," added Horner, referring to Ecclestone's new role as chairman emeritus.

"I'm sure he'll be at some forthcoming events and I think hopefully the new owners can use him constructively and beneficially to build on the good work that's already been done."

Former F1 drivers to get paddock passes
(GMM) Former F1 drivers will find it much easier to attend grands prix in future.

In the Bernie Ecclestone era, even though they had entertained the spectators as the 'gladiators' of the past, former F1 stars were among those who found it hard to get paddock passes.

"There are times I would have come to a race," one former F1 driver said. "But it was just so much hassle getting a pass."

Those times are now ending, according to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

The report claims new F1 owner Liberty Media will make paddock passes available to any former drivers who want one.

But a source said former drivers who take up the offer will have to understand their role as "an ambassador for the sport", making themselves available for interviews and autographs.

Ferrari to shine in China too – Alesi

Can Vettel go 2-for-2 in China?
Can Vettel go 2-for-2 in China?

(GMM) Jean Alesi thinks his former F1 team, the great Maranello marque Ferrari, is finally ready to challenge for the title.

The Frenchman, whose only win for the Italian team was in 1995, said Ferrari's decade-long wait for a world championship could now be over.

"The step into the new regulations was very unclear," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "There were a thousand doubts about what Mercedes or Red Bull would do.

"But after Australia, I now expect Ferrari to confirm that performance in China. The ease with which Vettel followed Hamilton in the race was astonishing, while Hamilton had no chance to follow Vettel.

"When a car is good from the beginning, the development is also easier," Alesi added.

However, former F1 team boss Flavio Briatore thinks it is a little early to say Ferrari will definitely fight for the 2017 crown.

"We will get a clearer picture in China," said the Italian.

"The Ferrari victory was great, but Melbourne is a special circuit and I still expect big things from Red Bull and Mercedes. In an ideal case, we will have a three-way fight for the championship."

Another former Ferrari driver, Italian Ivan Capelli, is also cautious about Ferrari's Melbourne showing.

"I think the victory had a lot to do with Mercedes and Red Bull taking a step back with their suspension," he said.

And former Toyota and Renault driver Jarno Trulli concluded: "Ferrari's initial position is right, but each of the top three teams has all the resources they need to develop efficiently through the season."

Massa doubts Alonso will quit McLaren in 2017

Alonso likes his big paycheck and won't quit
Alonso likes his big paycheck and won't quit

(GMM) Felipe Massa does not think his old Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso is poised to quit McLaren-Honda and F1.

Spaniard Alonso is obviously frustrated amid the current McLaren-Honda situation, and his old friend Mark Webber thinks it is possible he will quit mid-season.

There are even reports in Spain that Alonso could leave the British team this year to return to Renault.

"We are getting enormous pressure from the team and from the drivers," Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa admitted, according to the German news agency DPA.

But amid that high pressure, Massa does not think Alonso will walk away.

"I think the first thing to understand is that he has a contract," he told the Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.

"If he leaves now, he'll be stuck until next year, and for what? We also can't forget that he has a huge contract. So he will stay there and fulfil it, although it's true that anything can happen," Massa acknowledged.

"But if he's thinking of moving to a competitive team, that's not for this year. Stop in the middle? I don't think so, but as I said, nothing is impossible."

Only DRS makes passing possible now – Massa

As predicted by AR1 the day the rules were announced, Massa says you can't pass in F1 if not for the DRS artificial crutch
As predicted by AR1 the day the rules were announced, Massa says you can't pass in F1 if not for the DRS artificial crutch. F1 is 99% car, 1% driver

(GMM) Felipe Massa thinks F1's controversial drag reduction system (DRS) is the only thing providing a glimmer of hope about overtaking in 2017.

Renault's Nico Hulkenberg said after the 2017 season opener last weekend that the new, faster cars this year have made overtaking "almost possible".

"It's a lot harder to get past now, but that was clear as soon as they changed the rules," F1 veteran and Williams driver Massa told the Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.

"But it depends on the track. Australia is always a difficult circuit to pass on, so it will not always be like that," he added.

At the same time, he thinks that while the extra downforce in 2017 has exacerbated the problem, the DRS system was introduced some years ago to solve that very issue.

However, new F1 sporting chief Ross Brawn has spoken about wanting to rid the sport of 'artificial' elements like DRS.

"It (overtaking) was always like this until they invented the DRS," said Massa. "In the old days, the position you started was more or less where you finished if you didn't make a mistake or have a problem.

"So it will not be the same as it was in the past, because of DRS. But if we didn't have DRS, nobody would pass anyone," he added.

Drivers will cope physically in 2017 – Massa
(GMM) Felipe Massa thinks F1 drivers will be tested physically in 2017.

That is despite the fact that the sport's new era, characterized by the much faster cars of 2017, kicked off with every driver except the recently-injured Pascal Wehrlein coping physically in Australia.

But F1 veteran and Williams driver Massa said Melbourne was not the best example of what is to come this year.

"There will be harder circuits," he told the Brazilian broadcaster Sportv. "Australia is not very difficult on the physical side.

"But in Malaysia it will be very hot, for example," he said. "There are circuits on which we will feel it on the physical side, and if you get tired, the chance to make a mistake is greater.

"I finished the race in Australia well, but without doubt it's harder than before," added the 35-year-old.

"But if you look at the drivers, everyone is training. Most of the drivers are very professional — maybe (Lewis) Hamilton a little less," Massa laughed.

Massa tips Stroll to improve in 2017

Massa knows Stroll can'
Massa knows Stroll can't get much worse

(GMM) Felipe Massa has tipped his rookie teammate Lance Stroll to bounce back after a tough start to the teenager's F1 career.

Having secured his Williams debut amid suggestions of being a wealthy 'pay driver', 18-year-old Stroll had a difficult winter with F1's much faster cars for 2017 and then more troubles in the season opener in Melbourne.

But 35-year-old Massa, whose own F1 debut season at the age of 21 was similarly less than smooth, said he is doing what he can to help Stroll adjust.

"He's 18," the Williams driver told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv. "I remember when I was 18 and the mistakes I was making.

"Eventually you find out that you just needed time. For sure he will improve during the championship," Massa added.

"He has ended up not having a great start, including what happened in testing. But he has to have patience and time.

"I'm passing on all the information to him, everything I see, to help him learn and to understand. I've known him since he was 8 years old," Massa added.

"So I have all the affection to help him to develop and have a strong partnership during the season," Massa said.

Huge pressure on Schumacher's shoulders – Villeneuve

Mick Schumacher
Mick Schumacher

(GMM) Jacques Villeneuve has tipped a bright future for Mick Schumacher if the young German can "deal with the pressure".

The 1997 world champion has a unique perspective on the youngster's rise to F1, having dueled wheel to wheel with Mick's famous father Michael Schumacher some 20 years ago.

But not just that, Villeneuve also made his way to F1 with a famous father in his baggage, in the shape of the late F1 legend Gilles Villeneuve.

"I have not met Mick yet but I am very curious to do so," the French Canadian told the Cologne tabloid Express.

"We are both sons of very successful fathers, but the pressure on him is even much greater than it was on me. First, because his father was world champion so many times — and not so many years ago.

"And second, because the fans and the media are seeing a fully qualified driver with the best qualities, but he is not that yet. So Mick has a very big load on his shoulders," Villeneuve added.

So when asked what his advice for the 18-year-old Schumacher would be, Villeneuve said: "Just that he should do his thing.

"If he has a passion for the sport and can deal with the pressure, many doors will open for him."

Schumacher moves from Formula 4 to the top junior category European F3 this year.

Haas has 'best drivers possible' – Steiner

Anti-American Gunther Steiner will never hire an American driver
Anti-American Gunther Steiner will never hire an American driver

(GMM) Team boss Gunther Steiner has defended Haas' 2017 driver lineup.

Ahead of the season, the new American outfit replaced ousted 2016 driver Esteban Gutierrez with Renault refugee Kevin Magnussen.

The Dane joins existing Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who qualified sixth in Melbourne. But Magnussen had a much less impressive start, and neither finished the race.

But Haas boss Steiner told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet: "I feel we have the best driver pairing we can get in our position.

"We have two very good drivers," he added. "Good people, good racers. Now we just need to see how good the car is, and what we can get out of it."

Steiner said Swiss-Frenchman Grosjean alongside Magnussen also works well from a chemistry point of view.

"We all know that Romain is very emotional," he said. "Everyone can tell that from the radio communication. Kevin is much less emotional. He is Scandinavian, but as individuals they are very different as well.

"But I see no problems between the pair of them. My hope is that they will push each other," Steiner added.

After Australia, team owner Gene Haas said he is also happy with the new pairing, even though Magnussen made costly mistakes in qualifying.

"They are an interesting pairing," said the American. "Qualifying showed that.

"Kevin really wanted to put in a good lap and was willing to push the car to achieve it.

"We don't know how fast he would have been because he made a mistake, but I think Grosjean needs to be pushed and I think Kevin will be able to do that," Haas added.

Allison gives credit to 'very quick' Ferrari

James Allison when at Ferrari
James Allison when at Ferrari

James Allison has given credit to former team Ferrari after it beat new employer Mercedes to victory at last weekend's season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Allison began a second spell at Ferrari back in 2013, but parted ways with the Italian operation midway through 2016, before linking up with Mercedes ahead of the 2017 season.

Lewis Hamilton gave Mercedes pole position at Albert Park, but was hounded by Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari early on and made an early stop as his Ultra Soft tires dropped away.

Hamilton came out in traffic, while Vettel pumped in quick lap times up front, enabling him to rejoin the track just ahead of his rival when he pitted for fresh tires some five laps later.

Allison, who officially started work at Mercedes during pre-season testing in Barcelona, praised Ferrari for its efforts and has predicted a close title battle throughout the campaign.

"If it wasn't already clear after qualifying, then it's certainly clear now [after the race] that this is going to be a season of very small margins," said Allison, as he reflected on the event.

"Credit to Ferrari, they had a very quick car and we just weren't quite good enough to stick with them.

"We won't panic. It's race one of a long season and we scored some very good points with both cars.

"We'll be determined to make sure those small margins go our way next time."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted directly after the race that Ferrari simply "had the strongest package" on Sunday afternoon, talking up its ability to follow other cars more easily.

"They put us under pressure from the beginning and that's how we lost it," he said.

"We had the feeling that the tires were not lasting, and we were worried about the undercut possibility, for Sebastian, so we decided to pit Lewis with all the risks.

"We knew that we would come back out behind [Kimi] Räikkönen and [Max] Verstappen, and that's what happened, and they [Ferrari] played it very well.

"You lose a lot of tire grip and downforce when you are following [other cars], and Ferrari was the strongest package [in the race] because they.

US Grand Prix boss says F1 should buy race circuits

Bobby Epstein knows COTA will lose its shirt once the $20 million government subsidy it gets drys up.
Bobby Epstein knows COTA will lose its shirt once the $20 million government subsidy it gets drys up. He would sell COTA in a heartbeat

U.S. Grand Prix promoter Bobby Epstein says it would make sense for Formula One's new American owners Liberty Media to buy some circuits as part of their long-term strategic plans for the sport.

The Circuit of the Americas co-founder and chairman whose Austin, Texas, track is the country's sole purpose-built F1 facility, said he would be happy to do a deal "at the right price".

Speaking ahead of tickets for the October 22 race going on sale this week, he added, however, that there had been no discussions with Liberty.

"I do think it makes a lot of sense for them to own some circuits. It would have to be part of any long-term strategy for them," said Epstein, whose race is the only U.S. round on the current calendar, in a telephone interview.

"I see a lot of logic and business reasons for them to own some circuits."

Formula One's previous business model, which the new owners have said they want to change, has been based on television revenues and circuits paying significant hosting fees with an annual escalator.

Austin's annual fee has been reported at around $47 million, with $36 million coming from state subsidies based on a formula for calculating how much economic activity the grand prix generates for Texas.

COTA drew a record three-day crowd of 269,889 last year, thanks mainly to singer Taylor Swift holding her long-awaited first concert of the year on the Saturday night.

This year's race has Justin Timberlake lined up as the headline act.

"I think all of the circuits struggle under the current environment," said Epstein. "If they (Liberty) change it and help the circuits survive, are they better off owning the circuits than making concessions?

"Are they actually giving up profitability by not owning the circuits? If they (the circuits) are going to make money from an F1 race, then F1 might as well own that profit."

Several of Europe's oldest circuits, such as Silverstone which has been looking for a buyer, struggle to make money while Germany is off the calendar this year for financial reasons.

Liberty completed their takeover in January, ousting 86-year-old supremo Bernie Ecclestone and replacing him with Chase Carey, who has appointed Sean Bratches as managing director for commercial matters.

Asked directly about the possibility of Liberty buying circuits, Bratches said only that there were "a number of different models that can be pursued".

Formula One is seeking to expand in the Americas, with talk of adding street races in U.S. "destination cities" like Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles and New York and treating each race like a Super Bowl with events through the week.

Epstein said Austin had pioneered that formula since the debut race in 2012.

He said the circuit now wanted to establish an all-year Formula One presence and estimated 50,000 people a year could be drawn to the circuit by an interactive garage experience.

"Watch parties", where fans gathered for broadcasts of other grands prix, and track tours were also popular.

Epstein suggested COTA could become the "brand-building headquarters for F1" in North America and a permanent home while other races came and went.

"Since you can't move this circuit, and you can't duplicate it, it can always be counted on to be there," he said. "I think the goal would be let's get the show on the road"

"You can rotate it (Formula One) through different cities so that you are continuing to expose the sport.

"It's not likely that anyone else is going to build and spend that kind of money on a permanent course in the United States." Reuters

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