Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • Marko is fairly certain Mercedes will want Vettel - both are German
    Marko is fairly certain Mercedes will want Vettel – both are German

    Mercedes 'interested' in Vettel – Marko

  • Stroll debut 'could be dangerous' – Villeneuve
  • Kubica rules out F1 return for now
  • Liberty to sell paddock passes to the public
  • Klien tips Raikkonen to shine in 2017
  • 2017 'not huge challenge' for drivers – Berger
  • McLaren must keep up 'motivation' – Hakkinen
  • Bottas unlikely to beat Hamilton – Symonds
  • Massa confirms Williams 'competitive'
  • Test results put pressure on Ferrari – Hakkinen
  • Back injury 'all good' for Melbourne – Wehrlein
  • 'Shark fins' staying in F1 for now

Mercedes 'interested' in Vettel – Marko
(GMM) Sebastian Vettel will be on Mercedes' list when the great German team comes to thinking about the 2017 driver lineup.

That is the view of Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko, who brought the German driver into F1 and guided him to four world championships.

Vettel subsequently switched to Ferrari, but although hopes are high for 2017, the great Italian team's results have not been up to scratch until now.

"Vettel is one of the best and the smartest in the field," 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve told Germany's Auto Bild.

"But 2017 will be a decisive year for him."

However, some think Vettel was actually equaled or even bettered on a personal level in 2016 by his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen.

"Frankly, Sebastian's results from 2016 did not reflect his class," former boss Marko insisted. "There were some races where he would have done much better if he just wasn't unlucky.

"Now, he will definitely try to be successful and in the end decide what will be the best for him personally," he added.

Marko thinks Mercedes signing Valtteri Bottas only for 2017, amid the expiring contracts of Vettel and Fernando Alonso, will have been no coincidence.

"Mercedes will be interested in them for 2018," he agrees.

Stroll debut 'could be dangerous' – Villeneuve

Lance Stroll (L) - His dad bought half the team so his son could drive
Lance Stroll (L) – His dad bought half the team so his son could drive

(GMM) Jacques Villeneuve has changed his tune about the F1 debut this weekend of his 18-year-old Canadian countryman Lance Stroll.

Earlier, the 1997 world champion defended Stroll's arrival at the highest class of motor racing at such a young age.

But he now tells Germany's Auto Bild: "He's so smart and talented, but I'm sorry — at the age of 18, he's too young for formula one.

"What Williams is doing is absolute madness. Stroll has a wild driving style and this could be dangerous," Villeneuve said ahead of the 2017 season opener.

But Stroll will make his debut in Melbourne on Sunday, moving Villeneuve to suggest that the teen will have to rely heavily on the help of his experienced teammate.

"Williams needs him (Felipe Massa) more than ever," said Villeneuve.

"I guess Felipe knows already that he's going to be like a driving instructor for Stroll."

Williams technical boss Rob Smedley said recently the team will give Stroll time to get up to speed in F1, and the youngster agrees that he will need to adjust.

"I have no expectations for this first race," he told the Journal de Montreal in Melbourne.

"Finishing in the points would be nice, but I think it will take me half a season to understand how it really works.

"If it happens before that and I get good results from the start, I will be the first to be satisfied," Stroll said.

Kubica rules out F1 return for now
(GMM) Robert Kubica said he accepts that returning to F1 will for now remain a closed topic.

The Pole's promising F1 career ended abruptly ahead of the 2011 season when he partially severed his wrist, but he is now shaping up to take on the top category at Le Mans in 2017.

Not just that, 32-year-old Kubica has reportedly been turning out "amazing performances" in an F1 simulator recently, according to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Asked if that means a F1 comeback might be on the cards, Kubica answered: "I cannot rotate my forearm, so I have to get my strength from my shoulder.

"There isn't room in a F1 cockpit for that. I hate to say it to you and to myself, but for now I cannot (return). But I don't think about it. We'll see," he added.

Liberty to sell paddock passes to the public

Liberty wants to give fans access to the sacred F1 paddock
Liberty wants to give fans access to the sacred F1 paddock

(GMM) F1's new owners Liberty Media have followed through on a promise to start opening up the paddock to the public.

In the Bernie Ecclestone era, the now ousted 86-year-old fiercely guarded the sanctity of the paddock and the elusive 'passes' that provided rare access.

This approach has been criticized by some, including German motor racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck.

"When the fans see how everything is sealed off, I can only say 'No wonder they leave F1 behind'," he told the German business magazine Sponsors.

However, as recently as last week, Ecclestone has been defending that philosophy.

"In F1, we have been running a five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint," he told the Mail on Sunday.

Ecclestone hinted at the new approach to be taken by Liberty, saying "They have an American culture and at an American race everyone is in the paddock and the pits".

Indeed, it appears that Liberty is already changing tack.

The company announced ahead of the Australian grand prix that a new initiative called 'F1 Experiences' will give fans the ability to buy paddock access.

"We want people to experience the thrill of this exhilarating sport and that is what the program will deliver," said Liberty's F1 commercial chief Sean Bratches.

But there is already resistance to Liberty's new approach.

One source told us a team sponsor thinks it will "devalue the currency" of F1, as paddock passes "are at the heart of most deals".

"Although they will still get them (passes), they won't be anywhere near as valuable because anyone will be able to buy access," the source added.

But Liberty Media seems determined to push ahead, with new F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn telling Auto Bild: "It's a fact that people need to get more for their money."

Klien tips Raikkonen to shine in 2017

Kimi Raikkonen - is he now too old?
Kimi Raikkonen – is he now too old?

(GMM) One former F1 driver has picked a surprising dark horse for 2017 glory.

Ex Red Bull driver Christian Klien says Kimi Raikkonen, who won his only title ten years ago, could be a perfect match for the more aggressive cars of 2017.

"I think the new cars will really suit him," the Austrian told Krone newspaper.

Indeed, as Sebastian Vettel often struggled for patience and results in 2016, Raikkonen regularly looked the most competitive Ferrari driver.

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve told Auto Bild: "Kimi drives as he talks — cool, controlled and focused only on what is important.

"Maybe he's a bit slower than Vettel, but Kimi almost always gets the most out of the car."

However, Klien is less optimistic about the likely form of another Finn, Mercedes' new recruit Valtteri Bottas.

"Bottas will be unimpressive against Hamilton in the first year," he predicted.

2017 'not huge challenge' for drivers – Berger

Gerhard Berger
Gerhard Berger

(GMM) The beginning of the new era of formula one will not solve all of the sport's problems.

That is the view of F1 legend Gerhard Berger, who is just beginning work as the new boss of the premier German touring car series DTM.

But he was asked by Austria's Krone newspaper to comment on the beginning of the new F1 regulations, with the much faster cars to make their race debut in Australia this weekend.

"I don't think it will be a huge extra challenge for the drivers, although the best guys may stand out a bit more," said Berger.

"But overtaking will be harder, because the braking zones are shorter. I just think that although the new aerodynamic regulations are in the right direction, it's still too complicated and too engine-dependent," he added.

Berger also hit back at the paddock perception that Ferrari may now have pushed its nose ahead of the formerly-dominant Mercedes.

He insisted: "Mercedes remains the benchmark. I think they have approached it very elegantly and skillfully by leaving Ferrari at the front (in the winter).

"Whether they are three or five tenths in front, I don't know.

"I think Ferrari has taken a great step forward, but I doubt they are as good as they look," Berger added.

He is more bullish about Red Bull, the team owned by his former sponsor and long-time Austrian friend Dietrich Mateschitz.

"A new set of regulations with the mastermind Adrian Newey, for me this is the guarantee of success. They will put together the whole puzzle at the last second and it will be down to the engine factor — whether the Renault is strong enough to attack the Mercedes.

"We will find out," said Berger.

McLaren must keep up 'motivation' – Hakkinen
(GMM) McLaren-Honda must be focused in order to emerge from its dire current situation.

That is the advice of Mika Hakkinen, the team's 1998 and 1999 world champion who has actively returned to McLaren for 2017 as a partner ambassador.

With the blame being put squarely on hapless works engine partner Honda, McLaren had a dire winter and could line up towards the back of the Melbourne grid this weekend.

But Hakkinen told Turun Sanomat newspaper: "I believe McLaren will turn around the situation, even though it's not going to be easy.

"But it's not going to get better by worrying. It is going to take a lot of hard work, team spirit, motivation and problem solving," the Finn added.

"Eyes need to be open to find the right people to correct the errors. But they are certainly already there in the team and working on it," said Hakkinen.

Bottas unlikely to beat Hamilton – Symonds

No one seems to think Bottas can beat Hamilton
No one seems to think Bottas can beat Hamilton

(GMM) It is "a lot to ask" if Valtteri Bottas' fans are expecting the Finn to beat Lewis Hamilton in 2017.

That is the news from Pat Symonds, the now-retired technical boss who knows Bottas well after working with him at Williams for the past few years.

Bottas has now moved to Mercedes to replace the suddenly-retired Nico Rosberg, but Symonds would be surprised if he can instantly starting beating Hamilton.

"I think it's difficult to say how Valtteri will go," he is quoted by Turun Sanomat newspaper.

"Valtteri is a very talented driver. It's good that he is already familiar with the power unit, because that is particularly important these days.

"But it must be said that Lewis is a class act and with him so comfortable in the team, I suspect that it is a lot to ask for Valtteri to beat him, as it would be for anyone," Symonds added.

But what will stand Bottas in good stead, Symonds said, is his work ethic.

"That's for sure," said the Briton. "Valtteri's work ethic is fantastic.

"With Williams, he was at the factory whenever we needed him, and he did everything for the benefit of the team. Sure, he had his off weekends, although not many, but there were some. But he is calm, quiet and has a truly Nordic-style.

"But in 2015 we saw that Valtteri was emotionally affected when Ferrari made contact. His concentration was affected. So if he has trouble with Lewis, that could happen again," added Symonds.

Massa confirms Williams 'competitive'

Massa says Williams is on pace - to lead the mid-pack
Massa says Williams is on pace – to lead the mid-pack

(GMM) Felipe Massa has confirmed the paddock perception that Williams looks set to be 'best of the rest' behind F1's top three teams early in 2017.

Many observers believe that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are clearly leading the field, with a gap then to the well-known British team Williams.

Brazilian driver Massa confirms: "I think testing for us was good.

"In fact after 2016 and how it went for Williams, I had a big concern about how it will be in 2017 especially with the big change in regulations," he told Globo.

"So I was not 100 per cent calm, especially because I decided last September that I would stop racing and so I was not very interested about how the car would be this year.

"I think Barcelona helped me to get an idea that we definitely have a competitive car," said Massa. "We are not the best team, but we can fight to be the third best team in the championship and fight for podiums."

Test results put pressure on Ferrari – Hakkinen

The pressure is in Vettel and Ferrari
The pressure is in Vettel and Ferrari

(GMM) Toto Wolff has denied claims Mercedes adopted a strategy to "bluff" its way through the recent winter test season.

Interest in the 2017 pecking order is almost unprecedented, amid the big rule changes and the perception Ferrari has closed the gap and perhaps even passed Mercedes.

But former F1 chief Eddie Jordan actually thinks Ferrari was "trying to pretend" it was the 2017 favorite during the winter.

"I hope I'm wrong," he told the Times.

But if Jordan is right, former champion Mika Hakkinen thinks that strategy is a mistake.

"In the tests I think Ferrari has really put pressure on itself," he told the Finnish broadcaster MTV.

"If at the first race it doesn't go as well as the tests, it's really tough to cope with that drop in the season. The effect can be negative and it can lead to hasty decisions," Hakkinen added.

F1 legend Gerhard Berger thinks Mercedes was actually hiding its game in testing.

"Mercedes didn't show anything in Barcelona," the new DTM series boss told Sport Bild. "Still, they are close to Ferrari and Red Bull.

"They want to make the series more exciting, so they will be driving politically during the season. But I think Ferrari has done a good job and is closer," added Berger.

Mercedes chief Wolff denies Berger's claim.

"We do not bluff, we just did our program. How good we really are, we will know at the earliest after qualifying," he said.

Back injury 'all good' for Melbourne – Wehrlein

Wehrlein says his back is good. He should beat his ride-buyer teammate Ericsson
Wehrlein says his back is good. He should beat his ride-buyer teammate Ericsson

(GMM) F1 doctors on Thursday gave Pascal Wehrlein the green light to race in Australia, following a back injury that marred his pre-season.

"The back is all good now," the Sauber driver is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport in Melbourne.

Wehrlein missed the first Barcelona test but returned without major issue for the final days of running before Melbourne.

The German said: "I was in Austria again after the tests and got back to full training."

However, Wehrlein admits his winter program was affected, conceding recently that he could be behind the eight ball for the opening races of 2017.

"The situation is how it is," he said on Thursday. "I have to cope with that. But it should not be an excuse that I missed the first test week because it was my fault. The laps from the second test week must be enough."

'Shark fins' staying in F1 for now

The Mercedes Shark fin at least looks racy
The Mercedes Shark fin at least looks racy

(GMM) F1 fans will have to get used to the look of the 'shark fins' in 2017.

New F1 chief Ross Brawn hinted recently that the unseemly appendages should be banned as soon as possible, but that would require unanimity up and down pitlane.

FIA race director Charlie Whiting confirmed in Melbourne: "There is a very high chance that the issue will be settled for next year.

"Quite a lot of people think the fins are unsightly," international reports quote him saying, "but personally I don't mind them."

Meanwhile, it seems any lingering threat of race protests in Melbourne this weekend has receded.

There are reports Mercedes and Red Bull had to make changes to controversial suspension layouts prior to travelling to Melbourne.

"We are not going to have problems," Whiting confirmed.

"We checked the design of various teams in Barcelona and we will check the others here. But we have no complains about what we saw."

The last remaining spat is between Mercedes and Red Bull, with the latter accusing the reigning world champions of illegally using oil as fuel for a power boost.

"We're not worried about it," said Whiting.

"In Barcelona we analyzed the oil systems on different cars to ensure they comply with the rules."

Whiting also said F1 will take a decision next month about the introduction in 2018 of the controversial Halo system, and confirmed rumors that DRS zones may actually be extended later in 2017.

"After China we will understand if we need to respond," he said.

Leave a Reply