Latest F1 news in brief – Wednesday

  • Paul Hembery
    Paul Hembery now head of Pirelli Latin America

    Hembery taking step back from F1

  • Late start could affect early races – Wehrlein
  • Bottas not sure Ferrari 2017 'favorite'
  • 'Intense' midfield battle in 2017 – Haas
  • Too early to comment on Hamilton – Bottas
  • Overtaking much harder in 2017 – Massa
  • Allison can 'turn the page' with Mercedes – Wolff
  • Boullier plays down 'huge' McLaren-Honda problems
  • Teenager Stroll hits back at criticism
  • Ferrari must be 'unbeatable' again – Marchionne

Hembery taking step back from F1
(GMM) Paul Hembery will be seen in the F1 paddock less often in 2017.

Since Pirelli has been F1's official tire supplier, the Briton has been the Italian marque's prominent chief.

But he has now been named the new boss of Pirelli Latin America, although Pirelli said he will continue to oversee the "coordination of motor sport activities".

However, the more prominent Pirelli F1 official in the paddock will now be Mario Isola, who is "head of car racing".

Isola told reporters in Barcelona that Hembery will continue to have an important F1 function, including liaising with the FIA and FOM.

"I think this will remain Paul's responsibility, including working with the F1 Commission and so on. I would be glad if he will continue to deal with these issues, and I'll do the rest," he smiled.

Late start could affect early races – Wehrlein

Pascal Wehrlein in the Sauber
Pascal Wehrlein in the Sauber

(GMM) Pascal Wehrlein started to put his back injury into the past as he got up and running with his new team Sauber in Barcelona.

The German missed the opening test last week following his race of champions rollover crash, but he said he suffered "no pain" after returning to the wheel on Tuesday.

"Of course you feel a bit tired after the first day, but I have no pain," Wehrlein said.

"Tomorrow morning I will be back in the car."

The 22-year-old admitted, however, that having sat out half of the already limited winter test program may affect him early this season.

"The first races will surely be a bit hard," Wehrlein said. "Everything is new to me — the team, the car, the engine, the tires.

"But after a few races I should be back where I want to be."

Bottas not sure Ferrari 2017 'favorite'

Bottas knows Mercedes is sandbagging. The question is whether Ferrari is doing the same
Bottas knows Mercedes is sandbagging. The question is whether Ferrari is doing the same

(GMM) Valtteri Bottas is not willing to back new teammate Lewis Hamilton's claim that Ferrari is the new "favorite" for 2017.

"Just on times it looks like Ferrari might be the favorite, and maybe we're very close with Red Bull behind," Mercedes' Hamilton said after the final test kicked off in Barcelona on Tuesday.

Mercedes newcomer Bottas, however, is not so sure.

"It's too early to say who is the favorite," the Finn is quoted by Bild newspaper.

"Certainly, we are not exactly where we want to be, but there's still a bit of time until Melbourne.

"Ferrari is strong, you can't underestimate them, but also Red Bull," added Bottas.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel is playing a cautious game too, also declaring it "too early" to make any claims about the pecking order.

"We don't know where we are, it's still too early," the German told Italian television Sky.

"For now the testing is going well but we have a lot of work to do.

"It's nice to know that so many people support us, but we are still going step by step."

And Daniel Ricciardo, driving for Red Bull, was smiling and looking confident in Barcelona, despite the fact his car is currently looking third best.

"Ferrari looks fast, that's true. But I am convinced that Mercedes will be at least at the same level and Williams are also there, I think. We should be around there somewhere too," said the Australian.

"We're not quite on the Ferrari and Mercedes level, but we're close enough. Melbourne will be very interesting," he smiled.

The well-known father of Ricciardo's teammate, however, is not so sure Red Bull is ready to challenge the top two.

"It will definitely be a good year," Jos Verstappen told the Dutch broadcaster L1, "but I think we have to wait another year for a real assault on the world title."

'Intense' midfield battle in 2017 – Haas

Gene Haas
Gene Haas

(GMM) Gene Haas thinks the F1 midfield will be a closely fought competition in 2017.

The American team owner lends his surname to the small, Ferrari-linked F1 outfit, which for 2017 has replaced the hapless Esteban Gutierrez with Kevin Magnussen.

"Kevin is a unique personality," Haas said in Barcelona, according to Sportbox.

"He is both aggressive and calm and I think an excellent complement to (Romain) Grosjean.

"I think he will work well with Grosjean and bring us more points than we had last year."

Haas was also asked where his team slots into the likely 2017 pecking order, and said the midfield will be a tight battle.

"I see the situation this way: the three top teams are Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull, within one second. From fifth and 15th place it can be as little as a few tenths, so it could be a very intense year," he added.

Too early to comment on Hamilton – Bottas

Bottas gets the lowdown on Lewis Hamilton from Rosberg
Bottas gets the lowdown on Lewis Hamilton from Rosberg

(GMM) Valtteri Bottas has admitted there is currently no heat in the rivalry with his new Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

In the past few years, the relationship between Hamilton and the now retired Nico Rosberg was strained at best and at times notably acrimonious.

But triple world champion Hamilton said in Barcelona when asked about his new pairing with Finn Bottas: "There are no games. I like that.

"I feel we already have a better working relationship than I ever had with any teammate."

When asked about Hamilton's comments, Bottas responded: "It's very nice of him to say, but it's too early.

"It's only testing, so we've only worked together for a few days. But in general it was a good start."

Indeed, Hamilton said he hasn't even looked at Bottas' telemetry data yet — a subject he routinely raises as a point of contention.

"I have not looked at all at his data. Maybe when we go to the first race I will, but so far no," the Briton is quoted by Finland's MTV broadcaster.

Finally, Bottas said he is yet to speak properly with Rosberg, having earlier said he wants to learn as much as he can from the former Mercedes driver.

"We talked for no more than 20 seconds and 'How are you?'," he revealed.

Overtaking much harder in 2017 – Massa

Just as predicted when the new F1 rules were announced, passing will not be very difficult
Just as predicted when the new F1 rules were announced, passing will not be very difficult says Felipe Massa

(GMM) Felipe Massa says overtaking will be harder for F1 drivers in 2017.

Having called off his retirement to return with Williams this year, the Brazilian impressed with the fastest time and an incredible 168 laps as the final Barcelona test began on Tuesday.

"Not bad for an old an ex-retired driver," he joked on Twitter.

But it was Williams' overall pace that caught the attention of many on Tuesday, including Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, and F1 legend Alain Prost who said the sport should "take notice" of his former team.

Hamilton even said he would like to see the Grove team join the battle with Mercedes, but Massa smiled: "I think we want this more than Lewis does!

"We will see. The Mercedes is incredibly fast and I doubt that we are on par. What I can say is that it was a very positive day and the people on the team are looking a lot happier than last week," he added.

As for the F1 'show' this year, however, Massa is not so sure the sport will be as much fun for the spectators as it will be for the drivers.

After following the clearly less competitive Sauber for several laps on Tuesday without being able to pass, he said: "This is the new formula one.

"Overtaking is very difficult. I was 1.5 seconds faster than the Sauber but I could not pass.

"Behind me was (Renault's) Hulkenberg, and he was faster than me but had no chance to overtake," Massa added.

"I think we will see less overtaking this year than in the last seasons."

Allison can 'turn the page' with Mercedes – Wolff

James Allison
James Allison

(GMM) James Allison has emerged in the Barcelona paddock wearing Mercedes colors for the first time.

The highly rated engineer missed much of the 2016 season after his wife suddenly died and his relationship with Ferrari soured.

Now, he is basically replacing the Williams-bound Paddy Lowe as Mercedes' technical chief.

"His skills and personality perfectly complement the team," team boss Toto Wolff told Italy's Corriere della Sera.

"We share the same spirit. For a long time we thought he was the right man for our type of organization, but he was not available.

"He comes from a terrible period with his family tragedy and last year in which Ferrari did not meet the expectations of president Sergio Marchionne. But he is very motivated and we will help him turn the page," Wolff added.

Just as Allison leaves, Ferrari seems to have surged in performance, and Wolff does not disagree.

"Yes," he said, "although I still don't know who will be our strongest rival. But Ferrari is proving to be very fast.

"Red Bull is still difficult to judge but they will be there," Wolff added.

On the other hand, someone who isn't 'there' – in the paddock – in 2017 is F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

"Bernie took this sport to global levels," Wolff said. "It's strange without him, but we will have to get used to it."

Ecclestone has been ousted by the new Liberty Media era, and already there are fans in the Barcelona paddock and teams being allowed to post video to social media.

It is also said that Liberty wants to stop the huge bonuses being paid to the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes.

"We are yet to speak about it," Wolff insists. "The new owners are still in the learning phase."

Boullier plays down 'huge' McLaren-Honda problems

Eric Boullier thinks McLaren car is good
Eric Boullier thinks McLaren car is good

(GMM) Eric Boullier has moved to play down the severity of the rift between McLaren and Honda.

Reports from Barcelona on Tuesday said "huge" pressure had opened up between the two sides as Honda grapples with engine problems for the third consecutive year.

But McLaren boss Boullier said McLaren and Honda are sticking together.

"We have a contract," he said. "A long term contract, and we want to build on it even if it is not ideal times.

"Seriously, we don't think about these things. Even if there are difficulties, a separation is absolutely not an issue."

And while he admitted that every McLaren-Honda fan is right to be "losing patience" with the situation, Boullier said the current problems are not as bad as 2015.

"It seems complicated to the outside world," the Frenchman is quoted by Germany's Auto Bild, "but internally, two problems are always the same.

"We know we can solve this problem. We must be able to rely on our partner, and we do.

"For Australia we will have a new engine and we hope that all the problems are solved. What I don't know yet is if we can have it (the new engine) this week," he is quoted by Spain's El Pais.

Some reports, however, insist that separate to Honda's problems, the new McLaren chassis is also not handling well around Barcelona.

"I read some articles and I think of Donald Trump and his 'fake news'," Boullier smiled.

"We have a good car, even though the McLaren here is not the McLaren you will see in Australia.

"But the forecasts at the moment are that we will probably have to change some engines in the first races," he admitted.

Teenager Stroll hits back at criticism

Lance Stroll
Lance Stroll

(GMM) Lance Stroll insists he is "ready" for formula one.

However, the pressure is already piling on the 18-year-old rookie's young shoulders, following three mistakes including a crash in winter testing so far.

With his billionaire father, some think the Canadian is a 'pay driver' who is not ready for the much faster and more difficult new-generation cars of 2017.

"I know I'm ready," he protested to the Journal de Montreal newspaper in Barcelona.

"I won championships before I arrived here. I have no doubt that I deserve my place in F1."

But some fans see Stroll as the 'new Pastor Maldonado', with a mocking and Maldonado-like Has Stroll Crashed website already up and running.

Stroll insisted: "To get a super license, you must have earned the 40 points necessary, and I did that.

"People have a right to their opinion but I don't read what they say. My job is to drive a racing car.

"I worked hard to get here."

But even drivers who have supported Stroll's right to be in F1, like triple world champion Lewis Hamilton, have said 2017 is the worst possible time for a rookie to debut.

"I don't think that way," Stroll responded. "For sure I lack experience, but I feel good even though the cars have an exceptional amount of grip and are faster in the corners than before.

"F1 is the pinnacle of motor sport and I have prepared myself accordingly. I have no concerns about my ability to perform," he said.

Ferrari must be 'unbeatable' again – Marchionne

The new Ferrari is fast
The new Ferrari is fast

(GMM) Sergio Marchionne says Ferrari "has to" return to the famous team's Schumacher-like glory years.

Until now, the Italian team has kept an awkward silence ahead of the 2017 season, but the new red car is performing well and Lewis Hamilton thinks Ferrari is even the "favorite".

"It's nine years that we haven't won (the title) — this would be the tenth," president Marchionne is quoted by Italy's La Repubblica.

"It will end. There is still room to correct the problems. Ferrari has to go back to being unbeatable, as when (Michael) Schumacher was here," he insisted.

Marchionne's newly declared optimism coincides with the results of winter testing, with most experts thinking Ferrari could be at least on par with Mercedes this year.

The 64-year-old said at the Geneva motor show: "The new car is reliable, credible. It is a huge step forward.

"I've been following the results of the Barcelona test and things are going well. The drivers (Sebastian) Vettel and (Kimi) Raikkonen are happy," said Marchionne.

"Objectives? Winning for sure, but when it happens I cannot say. But I'm happy with how the car goes — it's a better car than last year, and not just because they have changed the rules but with how it was designed and put on the track," he insisted.

Marchionne was also asked about F1's new Liberty Media era, after the end of the long Bernie Ecclestone reign.

"We must be very grateful to Bernie Ecclestone for what he did for the sport. But we should not talk about him in the past — he is still alive," He said.

"As for the new people who have come into the sport, as I understand it the fans are being considered much more. (Ross) Brawn? He is a great manager with a lot of experience."

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