Latest F1 news in brief – Friday

  • Rosberg questions Baku safety
    Rosberg questions Baku safety

    Senior F1 drivers question Baku safety

  • Verstappen's father Jos not in Azerbaijan
  • Sainz admits Red Bull door 'a bit closed'
  • Pirelli announces Malaysia compounds
  • Vettel: Ferrari 'full of winning people'
  • Alonso trusts McLaren over teammate
  • Hulkenberg praises 'massive' team step
  • Jackie Stewart Supports F1's Move Into New Markets

Senior F1 drivers question Baku safety
(GMM) Senior F1 drivers have questioned the safety credentials of the sport's newest venue.

What became clear on Thursday as the teams, drivers and engineers checked out Baku's street circuit on foot and by bike is that it is totally unique — lined with walls and barriers but incredibly high speed.

Bernie Ecclestone said he was happy.

"Baku is a good city and we haven't had any complaints on anything," Azerbaijan's Trend news agency quoted him as saying.

But there were some grumbles from Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, who questioned whether the FIA had fudged its numbers when it comes to Baku and safety.

"I really trust the FIA," championship leader Rosberg said.

"There are given rules they have to make tracks, so I would hope that they stuck to them. I'm doubting it a little bit, looking at those corners," he added.

He may be referring to the ultra-narrow section past an old city wall, which at 7 meters wide is some 5 meters narrower than FIA rules actually require.

And McLaren's Button said some of the run-off areas at a track where top speeds are tipped to top 350kph are notably lacking.

"We work so hard on safety, improving circuits all the time and we come here and we have corners that don't have any run-off at all," said the 2009 world champion.

Rosberg agreed: "There is a massive accident to be had. That's not great."

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, however, rebuked a reporter for raising questions about safety, particularly when it comes to the pit entry at Baku.

"Actually I don't understand why this is the second question of the same nature," said the German.

"I think it looks exciting. Pit entry looks a challenge, but again I think that's why we're here."

But even official Baku ambassador Fernando Alonso admitted that organizers and the FIA might have some tweaks to make for 2017.

"There are some corners that probably we will talk about," said the Spaniard.

"In terms of safety I think the FIA ran many simulations to make the run-off safe enough. Obviously some of them are enough, some of them maybe they look small but it's always better than Monaco — it can't be any worse than that," added Alonso.

Verstappen (L) with his engineer Xevi Pujolar has moved to Monaco to avoid high Dutch taxes
Verstappen (L) with his engineer Xevi Pujolar has moved to Monaco to avoid high Dutch taxes

Verstappen's father Jos not in Azerbaijan
(GMM) For the first time in his 27-race formula one race career, Max Verstappen will be without his famous father Jos this weekend in Baku.

De Telegraaf, a Dutch newspaper, reports that although the former Benetton and Minardi driver is usually at the side of his 18-year-old son, Jos decided to skip Azerbaijan.

The news follows reports shortly after Max's move up from Toro Rosso last month that Verstappen senior, 44, would now take a small step away from his son's career.

"Max is fine," Jos is quoted as saying.

"Everything goes smoothly and the team is very happy with him. It's the next step in his development.

"It's good for him to occasionally go about his work without his father there," Verstappen added.

Indeed, Max – whose 23-year-old girlfriend Mikaela is a lower-category racing driver – has already moved out of his father's home in Belgium, and currently lives in Monaco.

Sainz Jr. stuck on the 'B' team
Sainz Jr. stuck on the 'B' team

Sainz admits Red Bull door 'a bit closed'
(GMM) Carlos Sainz is not ruling out staying with Toro Rosso in 2017.

The impressive Spaniard has always targeted a move up to the senior team Red Bull, but last month he watched his teammate Max Verstappen get the call.

And now, reports are doing the rounds that Red Bull Racing has locked in its current driver lineup, completed by Australian Daniel Ricciardo, for not only 2017 but also 2018.

"I see they want to keep Ricciardo and Verstappen," Sainz, 21, told the Spanish broadcaster Movistar in Baku.

"The door at Red Bull seems a bit closed, but it does not change my plans," he insisted. "I will keep trying because in formula one you never know what can happen."

Indeed, Sainz has even been linked with potential moves to either Renault or Ferrari for 2017, even though on Thursday he said it is too early for that kind of "silly season" talk.

"I know that Red Bull are happy with me so there is no reason why I cannot continue in Toro Rosso next year," he said.

"We will have to wait a little longer until the summer. There are important races coming up and I want to do well. Then we'll see.

"But there is no doubt that I want to go to a big team soon," Sainz admitted.

As for this weekend, Sainz said the street layout in Azerbaijan – with its incredible, 2 kilometer straight – is not likely to suit Toro Rosso's 2015-spec Ferrari engine.

"This is the worst circuit for Toro Rosso," he said.

"There is no 120 or 130kph corner, which is the best for us, and any team without a Mercedes is going to lose time on that straight," Sainz added.

Meanwhile, Italy's Autosprint reports that Renault has opened talks with current Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen about a two-year deal starting in 2017.

Pirelli F1 tires
Pirelli F1 tires

Pirelli announces Malaysia compounds
Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli has announced its compound choices for the Malaysian Grand Prix, with the yellow-marked Soft, white-marked Medium and orange-marked Hard to be used.

Pirelli has allocated two sets of Hards for the race, with a set of Softs for qualifying.

For the 2016 season, each driver receives 13 dry-weather sets per event, with Pirelli selecting two sets for the race (only one of which must be used), and a set of the softest compound, only for use in Q3.

Drivers are free to select any combination of the chosen compounds for the other 10 sets.

Pirelli's 2016 tire choices so far:

Australia – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Bahrain – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
China – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Russia – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Spain – Soft / Medium / Hard
Monaco – Ultra Soft / Super Soft / Soft
Canada – Ultra Soft / Super Soft / Soft
Azerbaijan – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Austria – Ultra Soft / Super Soft / Soft
Britain – Soft / Medium / Hard
Hungary – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Germany – Super Soft / Soft / Medium
Singapore – Ultra Soft / Super Soft / Soft
Malaysia – Soft / Medium / Hard

Vettel says Ferrari is full of winning people, but they lost Aldo Costa to Mercedes. Now Mercedes wins everything and Ferrari nothing.
Vettel says Ferrari is full of winning people, but they lost Aldo Costa to Mercedes. Since then Mercedes wins everything and Ferrari nothing.

Vettel: Ferrari 'full of winning people'
Sebastian Vettel has hit back at suggestions that Ferrari has forgotten how to win Formula 1 races after its latest strategic mistake at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel jumped the Mercedes drivers off the line to lead the early stages of the race, but pitted twice, while Lewis Hamilton pulled off a one-stop plan to steal the victory.

Vettel claimed Ferrari's most recent victory in Singapore last year, but remains confident that the outfit will ultimately return to winning ways, on a consistent basis.

"I don't know about other teams, but I disagree when it comes to us," said Vettel, when asked about comments that Ferrari is missing the ingredients required to win.

"I think in the end the mentality is responsible for if you win or not. Every day you can choose 150 different reasons; first of all, if you are competitive enough or not – that's one of the main reasons.

"But in terms of mentality, I see a team full of winning people… there's a desire to win from everyone involved, so this is one of the things that makes me very confident we will start winning, sooner or later.

"We have a very, very strong team. We can be stronger. There is stuff that we can learn and we will always have to learn. But I haven't seen a winner that has learned all the lessons in life."

Vettel said Ferrari's updates mixed with a clean weekend allowed it to display its potential in Canada.

"I think everything we brought to Canada… there was a lot of talk about the turbo update, and it did make a difference, so that was good," said Vettel, as he discussed recent progress.

"But it was a clean weekend for us. If you look at the weekends before Canada, they were a bit messy; in particular in qualifying, we weren't able to release the pace of the car.

"In this regard, Canada was strong. We qualified where the car belongs and we had a trouble-free race, so we were able to put Lewis under pressure because the speed was there."

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso

Alonso trusts McLaren over teammate
Fernando Alonso says he would be "happy" with either Jenson Button or Stoffel Vandoorne as his team-mate at McLaren-Honda in 2017, as the outfit holds off making a decision.

Alonso has one season remaining on his three-year deal, but Button's will expire at the end of the campaign, with GP2 champion and current reserve Vandoorne pushing for promotion.

"Whatever the team decides, l will be happy with," Alonso told Sky Sports.

He added: "I want to give my best for the team and if they take a decision for Jenson or for Stoffel [for the 2017 season] it's because they think it's the best."

Alonso and Button teamed up for McLaren and Honda's reunion, with McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis describing them as "the strongest" pairing available.

Alonso reckons McLaren should consider their current relationship.

"In the last two years I have been working with Jenson fantastically well and that's probably something they need to think [about] as well," he commented.

Vandoorne, who stepped in for the injured Alonso at the Bahrain Grand Prix and scored points, has made clear that he wants to make the step up in 2017.

"[2017 is] definitely the time where I want to be in Formula 1," Vandoorne, who is combining his F1 duties with a race seat in the Japan-based Super Formula, said in February.

"Hopefully that will be with McLaren… that's where I would very much like to be. But, if there's no space here, if there are any other options, then I have to consider them."

Nico Hulkenberg's Sahara Force India car
Nico Hulkenberg's Sahara Force India car

Hulkenberg praises 'massive' team step
Nico Hulkenberg is hopeful that Force India's points-scoring run will continue at this weekend's European Grand Prix, thanks to its recent "massive step" forward.

Force India introduced a major upgrade package at the first European round in Barcelona and, after a slow start, logged double points finishes in Monaco and Canada.

As the Formula 1 field prepares for an all-new race at Azerbaijan's Baku City Circuit, Hulkenberg sees no reason why the outfit cannot build on its recent results.

"It's a new venue, no data, no knowledge and no previous laps here," Hulkenberg explained during Thursday's driver press conference, as he discussed Force India's chances.

"But I think that we've made a massive step since Barcelona.

"Our upgrade was a really big change to our game and since then we've been points-scoring contenders at every track, so I'm confident that we can keep it up."

Hulkenberg was unable to carry out any virtual laps ahead of the event.

"I think it's different from team to team," he said, when asked about preparations.

"Some teams have a simulator, they have the track already, but we don't, so for us it's starting from scratch and having to learn the track – those opening laps are going to be crucial.

"We need to discover the track, find the limits and get the lines, etcetera.

"Correlation from the simulator sometimes is really good and sometimes not so good, but in the end we all need to come here, do the real thing, learn and work from there."

Jackie Stewart Supports F1's Move Into New Markets
Formula 1’s ongoing move away from its traditional home of Europe and into new markets has an unexpected supporter, triple world champion Jackie Stewart.

The Scottish driver, who coined the nickname "The Green Hell" for Germany’s legendary Nordschleife (the old 14-mile track layout of the Nürburgring) told SBD Global it is important for the sport to grow beyond one region of the world. Stewart, who competed in F1 from ’65-73, does not like to see traditional European race venues such as Monza, whose future as host of the Italian Grand Prix remains in doubt after this season, lose their spots on the schedule. But he is also aware that technological advances, especially in the areas of communication, travel and media, have made it easier for F1 to enter new markets.

"People are doing business in an entirely different fashion today than they were before," he said. "I think the world is changing and I think there are countries now that nobody has ever heard of but since they’ve got Formula 1 people want to go to those countries."

Destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi have indeed received a boost in tourism and global exposure since F1 added them to the list.

But Stewart also acknowledged that the series, which has pushed into several new markets since the late ‘90s, made "some errors" along the way. South Korea, India and Turkey, for example, all spent millions on new racing facilities only to be squeezed out by F1’s tough economics.

Despite those failures, Stewart believes F1 has never been more popular than it is now.

"It’s been good for the sport," he said. "It’s a bigger thing with more appeal than it has ever had before. Some countries that can’t afford to have [a grand prix] won’t have it. There are other countries who would be desperate to have it."

Jackie Stewart

JOINING THE CIRCUIT: A country that falls into that category will make its debut on the F1 calendar this weekend. Azerbaijan will host the European F1 Grand Prix this Sunday on a temporary street in the capital of Baku. More than 100 million people will see the coverage of Sunday’s race, Baku City Circuit Exec Dir Arif Rahimov said. Organizers hope the media exposure will translate into a boost for tourism. Rahimov said that of the more than 30,000 tickets that have been sold for the inaugural race weekend, 30% have been purchased by foreigners.

Space constraints make it difficult to expand capacity going forward, but organizers are already looking to increase capacity by 5-10% for ’17. Azerbaijan signed a 10-year deal with the company of F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone and is thought to pay an annual hosting fee of $50M.

While not confirming any numbers, Rahimov told SBD Global that he and his team expect to cover the race's operational costs within the next three-to-four years, but the government will continue to subsidize the event.

"Probably about 90 or 100 percent of the F1 events are somehow subsidized by the governments," he added. "It's not straightforward to be profitable in Formula 1. There is so much more that it brings to the country than direct profits to the promoter. They bring tourism. They give the country exposure. So there is a lot of indirect income that a country gets by hosting an F1 race. That's why the government subsidizes the promoters."

Azerbaijan has been repeatedly accused of human-rights violations and as a result F1 received some flak for staging a race in the former Soviet nation. Rahimov, however, said those criticisms have had no real impact on the event itself. "I don’t think it has really damaged our reputation that much," he said. "I doubt this has been any problem for us. Some people are expressing their opinions and they may differ from reality." HJ Mai/Sports Business Daily

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