Latest F1 news in brief – Saturday

  • Ross Brawn
    Ross Brawn

    Brawn ready to 'fight' as pecking order unfurls

  • Sauber replaces Wehrlein with Giovinazzi
  • Mercedes removes trick suspension voluntarily
  • McLaren can win without Honda – Coulthard
  • Ecclestone hopes for strong Ferrari in Australia
  • Lauda hails 'pink' F1 sponsor publicity coup
  • Stroll to get five-place grid drop for gearbox
  • McLaren-Honda lifted by improved reliability
  • Brown: Progress in 2017 will be 'gradual'
  • Honda engine rebuild to take 'two months'
  • Jos Verstappen fears for Vandoorne career
  • Alonso rules out quitting amid Honda crisis

Brawn ready to 'fight' as pecking order unfurls

Will Vettel put Ferrari on pole?
Will Vettel put Ferrari on pole?

(GMM) Ross Brawn says he will be keeping an eagle-eye on the track in 2017, starting with this weekend's Australian grand prix.

In Melbourne, bold new regulations producing much faster cars are having their maiden competitive outing, but Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton looks set to dominate.

That is despite the fact that, in the winter, Ferrari arguably looked quicker, while hopes were high that Red Bull's Adrian Newey would ultimately ace the new rules.

Red Bull's Christian Horner said: "I think, being realistic, the performance we've seen so far from Lewis, he's the absolute favorite."

Indeed, Mercedes' Toto Wolff said the British driver is in "a league of his own", ahead of any rival team but also new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo said: "We are in a group behind Lewis with Ferrari and Bottas."

Ferrari chief Maurizio Arrivabene said the Italian team will not do any "panicking" as a result of practice so far, while Mercedes' Niki Lauda warned that any assessment of Bottas is also too early.

"Bottas drove well," said the F1 legend.

"Nobody can expect that he straight away beats the world-world-world champion who has been in the team for years."

It is also possible that the pecking order could change slightly on Saturday, when Ferrari might unveil a brand new 'qualifying mode' for its engine.

"Let's see where we stand when everyone's trousers are pulled down," said Sebastian Vettel.

Intently watching the entire saga unfold is F1's new sporting chief, Ross Brawn, who indicated that Liberty Media is ready to act for the good of the sport.

"If we see things this year that we don't think are great for the sport, we'll be fighting our corner and we'll be fighting at every level," he said.

"You can rest assured that we will be working with the teams, working with the FIA, to find solutions if we don't think the racing is as good as it could be."

Sauber replaces Wehrlein with Giovinazzi

Pascal Wehrlein was slower than even his teammate Ericsson on Friday
Pascal Wehrlein was slower than even his teammate Ericsson on Friday

(GMM) Pascal Wehrlein will sit out the rest of the 2017 season opener in Australia.

The German got FIA medical clearance to participate in Friday practice following his winter back injury.

But Sauber announced early on Saturday that it has "decided to replace" the 22-year-old for qualifying and the race with Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi.

"My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit," Wehrlein said.

Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn said: "We have great respect of Pascal's openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him."

She said Wehrlein will travel to China in two weeks.

Mercedes removes trick suspension voluntarily

No wonder Ferrari moved ahead on Saturday
No wonder Ferrari moved ahead on Saturday

(GMM) Mercedes has "voluntarily" removed its controversial suspension system for the Australian grand prix.

It follows Saturday's news that, following complaints about the active suspension-mimicking technology from Ferrari, the FIA told Red Bull to take off a similar system.

But Auto Motor und Sport says that while Mercedes' version is technically legal, the team "doesn't want to take any risks in the first race".

Mercedes decision is also "because the system has no advantage in Melbourne", correspondent Michael Schmidt added.

Another theory is that the technology is so complex, and so close to the borders of the regulations, that there is a risk the stewards may ultimately declare it illegal after the race has been run and won in Australia.

An FIA source said: "If we had the slightest doubt, we would have to communicate these doubts to the stewards. What do you think they would decide?"

McLaren can win without Honda – Coulthard

David Coulthard (L)
David Coulthard (L)

(GMM) Former McLaren driver David Coulthard has hinted the great British team must contemplate dumping Honda.

There are claims that despite the millions in sponsorship brought by Honda, not to mention the free engine supply and manufacturer support, McLaren is nonetheless considering reverting to a customer engine deal with Mercedes.

Coulthard, who drove for McLaren for almost a decade, traced McLaren's current three-year predicament back to the philosophy adopted by the now ousted team supremo Ron Dennis.

"This situation is a result of the mantra expressed by Ron Dennis that to win a championship, you have to be aligned with a manufacturer," Coulthard told the Telegraph.

"Well, Red Bull have shown most recently that this need not be the case. They won four world titles as a customer. What you do need is a manufacturer that gives you winning engine potential," he added.

McLaren's current deliberations may also be related to its desire to hang onto Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard's contract is up and former F1 driver Johnny Herbert told the Times that the current situation "might be the breaking point for Fernando".

Asked by Spain's El Confidencial newspaper if McLaren switching to Mercedes might influence his decision to stay in 2018, Alonso answered in Melbourne: "I don't know."

Ecclestone hopes for strong Ferrari in Australia

Raikkonen's Ferrari
Raikkonen's Ferrari

(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone is not in Melbourne, but from a distance he made clear his fingers are crossed for a strong Ferrari in the 2017 season opener.

"I really hope they will be strong," said the former F1 supremo, who according to La Gazzetta dello Sport is currently in Brazil, the native country of his current wife.

Ecclestone, 86, did not always make the long trip to Melbourne, but his absence is being felt this weekend as the era with his successors in place begins.

"I'm fine. There's no problem," he told correspondent Andrea Cremonesi when asked how he is dealing with the start of F1's push into the future without him.

"The new owners have a different idea of how the sport should be run, and they have every liberty to implement it. I wish them all the best," said Ecclestone.

"I don't see myself as a retiree," he added. "I'm not outside formula one as I'm still an advisor or honorary president."

But he doesn't have an active role, either, although he is willing to offer Liberty some early advice.

"It's necessary to work closely with the race organisers," he said. "The grands prix have to be promoted better. And formula one has to be more affordable. The ticket prices have to go down."

It's a slightly odd admission from Ecclestone, who was notorious for driving race fees sky-high. He also admitted he is no fan of successor Ross Brawn's idea of a non-world championship race to trial new race formats.

"We've talked about it before and I haven't changed — today's format works," he insists. "Modern formula one is the result of the journey it has been on."

Ecclestone always said he didn't think Brawn had a role at the top of F1, and now he adds: "Brawn was a key part of Benetton and Ferrari winning, but that was a different thing to now.

"Let's see the facts before we judge him," he added.

Finally, Ecclestone returned to the theme that one of the best things for F1 right now is if Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel fought for and won the 2017 title.

"It's true that at the time I wanted Alonso and then Vettel to be at Ferrari," he said. "Because I know how important it is for the sport that Ferrari is competitive."

But he denies that he pushed for the 2017 rule changes to attack Mercedes' position of dominance.

"The rules weren't made for or against anyone," Ecclestone insisted. "Mercedes has dominated because they did their job better than the others.

"Now let's see how things look in Australia."

Lauda hails 'pink' F1 sponsor publicity coup

Esteban Ocon in his pretty pink car and his pretty pink helmet
Esteban Ocon in his pretty pink car and his pretty pink helmet

GMM) Niki Lauda has hailed the publicity coup pulled off by Force India and its new major sponsor.

It is believed Austrian water company BWT paid $20 million to have the Silverstone based team paint its 2017 cars and the drivers' helmets pink.

"I don't feel good in pink," admitted 20-year-old team driver Esteban Ocon, "but I like the car."

It was a diplomatic response, and more politically correct than comments made now by F1 legend Lauda.

"For the first time my daughter Mia really likes a car, because the car reminds her of princess Lillifi.

"It could also be used as the safety car in the rainbow parade," the Mercedes team chairman joked to Austrian radio ORF, apparently referring to a gay mardi gras.

"Now we should move the discussion to a more politically correct subject," Lauda added.

But he concluded: "This company (BWT) knows what it's doing, because we are all adding to the advertising effect."

Finally, when asked if McLaren would paint its cars pink for a sponsor, executive Zak Brown was quoted by Germany's "Not for the money I hear they paid."

Stroll to get five-place grid drop for gearbox
Lance Stroll will be hit with a five-place grid penalty for the Australian Grand Prix, with Williams mechanics forced to change his gearbox after a heavy crash in final practice.

McLaren-Honda lifted by improved reliability

Vandoorne's McLaren Honda
Vandoorne's McLaren Honda

Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa says the manufacturer was lifted by its improved reliability during practice for the Australian Grand Prix, following a troubled pre-season period.

McLaren-Honda completed the fewest laps of any team across the eight days of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, amid a litany of reliability issues, which impacted on-track time.

The operation made gradual gains on Friday at Albert Park, with Fernando Alonso finishing running in 12th position overall, while Stoffel Vandoorne collected 17th spot, amassing a combined 84 laps.

"Today we were able to show certain advances from Barcelona regarding reliability, completing FP1 and FP2 without any major issues," said Hasegawa

"For tomorrow's qualifying, we still have some more room for improvement with mapping for better drivability, and of course, we are not satisfied with our current position.

"We will work hard during FP3 together with McLaren to find the best set-up."

Alonso was also buoyed by the increased running, but remained wary of the deficit McLaren faces to the leading teams, as he finished 2.380s behind Lewis Hamilton.

"There's definitely more to come, and we still need to keep working because we're quite far away from the frontrunners in terms of lap time," he commented.

"Every time we were on track today, though, we learned something.

"We were also able to test some new components, and they seem to be working fine, which is positive.

"There's still a lot more to come from us, and we need to maximize our potential."

Vandoorne, competing at Albert Park for the first time, noted the gains made on every run he completed in the MCL32.

"It's very difficult to predict where we'll qualify: I'm not really looking at the lap times at the moment; it's more about the feeling, for me," he said.

"I'm still finding time in the car on every lap, feeling more comfortable, and I'm happy that the set-up changes are going in the right direction.

"I made a big improvement from FP1 to FP2, so hopefully tomorrow will be another step forward."

Brown: Progress in 2017 will be 'gradual'

Brown hides behind a wall to avoid embarrassment
Brown hides behind a wall to avoid embarrassment by his slugs

McLaren-Honda Executive Director Zak Brown says the partnership's progress in 2017 will be "gradual", rather than expecting to make any substantial leap forward at a specific point.

McLaren is entering its third year since reuniting with Honda but endured a troublesome pre-season period, with its MCL32 lacking reliability and performance.

Fernando Alonso, who previously lambasted Honda's issues, admitted McLaren was braced for a "difficult" season-opening event in Australia, in the wake of its testing struggles in Spain.

Alonso placed 12th in the second practice session in Melbourne, with team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne back in 17th, and Brown conceded that gains will be gradual, rather than seismic, in 2017.

"Yeah, it is just that," Brown said when asked by whether a step-by-step approach was most realistic for 2017.

"Race-by-race, [if] we can get a little bit more power, a little bit more speed, and not compromise reliability, then just every race if we can just improve upon [that].

"I don't think there'll be a step change at any one Grand Prix, it'll just be a gradual progression as the game plan.

"We've got various upgrades throughout the year but nothing substantial where we'll come out at a Grand Prix [with something] significantly different to what we have."

Brown also believes McLaren has achieved most of its aims with the MCL32 chassis, following positive feedback from Alonso and Vandoorne.

"Everything Fernando and Stoffel have told us is that they love the feel of the car," he said.

"It's very good at high speed, [but a] little hard to tell until you're at maximum speed [with the engine] exactly what you have.

"But we hit the majority of our internal targets, so we're happy with our chassis."

Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa cut a cautiously optimistic figure following the opening pair of practice sessions on Friday.

Honda engine rebuild to take 'two months'

"The difference in power with our rivals is big," Honda's F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa
"The difference in power with our rivals is big," — Honda's F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa

(GMM) Honda has acknowledged the need to rebuild its hapless 2017 power unit.

Amid rumors works partner McLaren is considering dumping its Japanese partner, reports say Honda is starting work on a major upgrade.

"The difference in power with our rivals is big," Honda's F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa is quoted by Spanish newspapers including El Mundo and El Pais.

"To improve we have to achieve more efficient combustion and change the hardware of the current power unit," he added.

"We are working on it, but we will not be able to put it in the car for two months."

Hasegawa's news comes as an increasingly frustrated Fernando Alonso piles the pressure on, amid the threat of his expiring McLaren-Honda contract.

"The change of regulation is a golden opportunity to catch Mercedes, so we needed to be much better," he said in Melbourne.

"If last year we were fighting for Q3, this year anything but the top 5 or 6 is no reaction," Alonso added.

"Personally I am well prepared and I feel that I am very fast. I attack the corners but I lose 200 meters in a straight line which is very frustrating."

But Alonso was also highly critical of the media, saying reporters are "trying to exaggerate the situation".

"It is very easy to say McLaren-Honda is going to be last, that both cars will retire on the first lap. All of this nonsense is increasing day after day," he said.

Jos Verstappen fears for Vandoorne career

Jos (R) had better worry about his own son's career if his teammate Ricciardo keeps beating him
Jos (R) had better worry about his own son's career if his teammate Ricciardo keeps beating him

(GMM) Jos Verstappen has added to the widespread criticism of McLaren's hapless works engine partner Honda.

The former F1 driver, and father of Red Bull sensation Max Verstappen, might already be frustrated that Mercedes and Ferrari have emerged in 2017 ahead of his son's camp.

"So far we meet expectations, with Mercedes in another class," Verstappen, in Australia for the 2017 season opener, told the Belgian news agency Sporza.

"Behind them is a battle between Ferrari and Red Bull. Whether the Renault engine is better than last year, it's too early to say," he added.

As for the McLaren-Honda situation, Verstappen admitted he feels sorry for Stoffel Vandoorne, the highly-rated 24-year-old rookie.

Asked if he has the patience to wait for Honda to improve in F1, Vandoorne said: "If I think that I have been waiting three years to debut in F1, then definitely!"

But Jos Verstappen said the McLaren-Honda situation is not ideal for Vandoorne.

"I really hope for Stoffel that he can stay in F1 after 2017. What can he do? Perform as well as his teammate Fernando Alonso.

"He is a great talent but I fear that he will have a bad year. Honda is now entering its third season and they're getting worse. I really don't understand what they've been doing," he added.

Alonso rules out quitting amid Honda crisis

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso losing 200 meters on the straights

(GMM) Fernando Alonso has ruled out calling it quits amid the McLaren-Honda crisis.

Asked how he is coping with a third consecutive year with an unreliable and uncompetitive Honda power unit, he told Corriere della Sera: "I have the answer — you work hard.

"I am going? Where would I go? What would I do at home? Watch television on the couch or cook dinner?

"The solution is to work hard and demand a response from the team," Alonso added.

The 35-year-old's contract runs out this year, but the faster cars of 2017 mean Alonso is dropping many hints that he will definitely not retire.

"The fact is that for four years we drivers drove horrible cars. But now the situation has improved," said Alonso.

As for the possibility of a third world title, he added: "I am more than ready. I train harder than ever. In the corners there is no one faster than me."

Some might say Alonso has made bad decisions since winning his titles over a decade ago, while others say it was bad luck.

"Speaking of bad luck with everything I've experienced would not be right," he insisted. "My choices? If I had a crystal ball, I would have guessed better which car to take."

Now, Alonso is still one of the highest paid drivers in F1, but how much would he give up in exchange for a Mercedes engine?

"Not one cent," he insists.

"This is not my question. It is a matter of projects. As we can see, they were wrong in Japan so we have to figure out what is missing and change course."

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