Latest F1 news in brief – Friday

  • As he traditionally does, Vettel has finally named his new car - Margherita
    As he traditionally does, Vettel has finally named his 2016 car – Margherita

    Vettel hopes Margherita wears crown in 2016

  • Wolff's season hits snag at paddock gates
  • Mercedes shakes up drivers' F1 garage crews
  • Drivers say Honda not McLaren's only problem
  • Toro Rosso drivers eye Kvyat's Red Bull seat
  • Toro Rosso's Sainz survived Cepsa departure
  • Massa admits Williams not in title fight
  • Sainz refuses to join F1 rule criticism 'negativity'
  • Magnussen backs Friday outings for Ocon
  • 'Afraid' drivers should quit F1 – Villeneuve
  • Whiting plays down Red Bull's 'halo' alternative
  • Secret tire debut leaves F1 teams angry – report
  • NEC and Sahara Force India extend partnership for the 2016 F1 season

Sebastian Vettel in Melbourne
Sebastian Vettel in Melbourne

Vettel hopes Margherita wears crown in 2016
(GMM) Sebastian Vettel's 2016 car is named after a crown-wearing queen, not a pizza.

"It is not about pizza," the German insisted to Bild newspaper, after international reports said Vettel's traditional female name for his Ferrari – 'Margherita' – was a nod to his favorite topping.

"Margherita was an Italian queen, and we hope that at the end we can also put a crown on this car," he added.

Vettel is not the only one hoping.

"We have one goal before us," Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne said at the Modena university on Thursday. "To bring the title back to Maranello.

"I don't know when it will happen, but I want to assure you that we will try to do it right away."

The Italian team's intentions are at least clear, as it emerged in Melbourne that Ferrari spent more development 'tokens' on its radically improved power unit than any other manufacturer over the winter.

Even Bernie Ecclestone, who mere days ago slammed the sport he runs, has changed his tune and now expects Ferrari to challenge Mercedes' dominance.

"It was what I believed was going to be the position this year but I can see I was wrong from the results of testing and some other information I've been happy to receive concerning Ferrari," he told F1 business journalist Christian Sylt.

"I'm confident that we are going to see some good racing this year," Ecclestone was quoted as saying by City A.M.

But former F1 team owner Eddie Jordan rubbished any suggestion that Mercedes' position at the top of the tree is going to be suddenly challenged.

"That's just dreaming," he told Auto Bild, "just like the assumption that suddenly Honda is going to do wonders for McLaren. Bullsh*t!

"Mercedes' lead is immense," Jordan insisted.

Wolff laughs at gaff
Wolff laughs at gaff

Wolff's season hits snag at paddock gates
(GMM) The start of Toto Wolff's 2016 campaign hit a roadblock even before he entered the paddock gates in Melbourne.

Germany's Auto Bild noticed that the Austrian only gained entry in Albert Park with a race-by-race FOM pass — not the full-time credential befitting any other team boss.

The report said Wolff simply filed his application for the permanent pass too late, but a cynic might say it is Bernie Ecclestone's revenge amid the latest political turmoil.

Wolff vetoed a supply of Mercedes engines for Red Bull, is standing against the most radical of rule changes for 2017, and according to the F1 supremo is wielding way too much power in F1 at present.

Ecclestone admitted to City A.M. and F1 business journalist Christian Sylt that a definite "problem is the control that Ferrari and Mercedes have".

Indeed, many see 85-year-old Ecclestone's entire reign as under threat, but former F1 team owner and paddock sage Eddie Jordan insisted: "No one should write Bernie off.

"He is an extremely clever guy who is up to every trick. But he was weakened by the Munich trial. And my impression is that he does not have the full backing of CVC.

"For me it was a shock that he did not manage to bring in the alternative engine, despite the initial support of the FIA.

"Mercedes and its political partners Ferrari were simply too powerful, and Bernie will fight with everything he has. Whether it will be enough is the most interesting question for me," Jordan added.

Rosberg not happy about crew shakeup
Rosberg not happy about crew shakeup

Mercedes shakes up drivers' F1 garage crews
(GMM) Mercedes has mixed up the crews of mechanics and engineers working on the German team's two sides of the garage.

Bild newspaper claims it is a ploy to bring better harmony to the silver ranks, as the fierce rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg threatens to spill into and infect the spirit of the double world champion team.

The report revealed that, ahead of the Melbourne season opener, Mercedes took the 15-man crews working for Hamilton and Rosberg respectively and switched some of them to the opposite side of the garage.

Rosberg apparently backs the move.

"The rivalry between me and Lewis is not just about us drivers," he said. "It can get to the point where it is too much. That's why this is a good idea."

The new McLaren is just low
The new McLaren is just low

Drivers say Honda not McLaren's only problem
(GMM) It is not just the Honda engine that is holding McLaren back, champion drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button revealed in Melbourne.

Until now, the official line has been that while the Woking based team has produced one of the very best cars in the field, it is Japanese engine partner Honda that is struggling the most.

"We have improved but it was not enough," Button said in Melbourne ahead of the 2016 season opener.

"Reliability is much better but there is still work needed with outright power and overall downforce."

The 'downforce' comment is an obvious reference to McLaren's chassis, and teammate Alonso agrees: "Reliability has been very strong, which is good because now we can work on the overall power between races."

But he added: "We are still far away aerodynamically in order to fight competitively."

At the same time, Ferrari is openly charging for the world championship in 2016, despite Alonso having fled the Maranello team because he doubted it could challenge Mercedes.

Asked if he regrets the move now, the Spaniard said: "If they win the championship then probably yes, because I had a contract last year and this year with them. But that is a big if."

Verstappen wants a Red Bull seat
Verstappen wants a Red Bull seat

Toro Rosso drivers eye Kvyat's Red Bull seat
(GMM) The 2016 Toro Rosso could be the perfect tool for its drivers to make their case for a move to the premier team Red Bull Racing for 2017.

Jan Lammers, a former F1 driver from the Netherlands, thinks the car might be so good that even engine supplier Ferrari could be feeling nervous.

"They will have to be careful," he told De Telegraaf newspaper, "because if Toro Rosso is a threat to the factory team, Ferrari could decide to reduce power through the software."

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari's lead works driver, admits that Toro Rosso is looking particularly strong for 2016.

"I think we are closer (to Mercedes) than last year, especially in the race," the German said in Melbourne. "Then I think Toro Rosso has made a massive step."

If true, both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen are desperate to prove to their paymasters that they should be promoted to the main Red Bull team.

"My goal is to do well at my team and get to Red Bull for 2017," Spaniard Sainz, who is getting over the flu in Melbourne, told Spain's El Mundo newspaper.

And teammate Verstappen has even been linked with a switch to a non-Red Bull camp for 2017, like Ferrari.

"I like to work with Red Bull and see no reason to change," the Dutchman insists. "They gave me the opportunity to make my debut in formula one and I should be loyal."

It appears that the seat they are eyeing at Red Bull is Daniil Kvyat's, with Dr Helmut Marko telling Auto Bild that Daniel Ricciardo has "a bulletproof contract with us for 2017".

Felipe Massa thinks it will be a close fight between Verstappen and Sainz.

"They have a nice car, at least it looks that way, so it may be a good season for Sainz," he said. "He is a very good driver.

"People talked more about Verstappen last year, but I do not think any less of Sainz."

Carlos Sainz Jr.
Carlos Sainz Jr.

Toro Rosso's Sainz survived Cepsa departure
(GMM) Carlos Sainz says he is happy to have survived the departure from Toro Rosso of the major Spanish sponsor Cepsa.

Many believed the Red Bull-backed Sainz's arrival at the Faenza based team last year was also linked strongly to the presence of Cepsa, the Spanish oil multinational.

That branding is gone for 2016, but Sainz told El Mundo newspaper in Melbourne: "It helps to have support, but I know that if I'm here it is not because of money.

"I came to the team by my merits only and I'm still here," he added.

Massa knows Williams not fast enough
Massa knows Williams not fast enough

Massa admits Williams not in title fight
(GMM) Felipe Massa has acknowledged that Williams will not get involved in the title fight between Mercedes and Ferrari in 2016.

Although with a much smaller budget, the British team finished third overall for the past two years and had targeted a step forward this season.

But Robert Doornbos, a former F1 driver, thinks Williams' 2016 car is not a race winner.

"When I saw it in Barcelona it didn't look great," he told the Dutch broadcaster Ziggo Sport Totaal, "especially in the corners where it was very nervous and with understeer."

Doornbos thinks Williams can aim for fourth or fifth overall this year, and even team driver Felipe Massa acknowledges that no higher than third is realistic.

"I would like to be wrong but I think the title fight will be between Hamilton and Rosberg," Massa told Brazil's Globo.

"Our fight, it seems, will be with Red Bull and Force India, in the group behind Mercedes and Ferrari, but I am confident that we can develop," he added.

Another issue for 34-year-old Massa, as he begins his 14th consecutive season in F1, is that his Williams contract expires at the end of this year.

"I'm happy doing what I do and I want to continue in formula one for a few years," he told Spain's El Mundo.

"There are big changes in the rules next year and I feel like an important part of the team for these changes."

Doornbos thinks it is also a crucial year for Valtteri Bottas, who according to rumors only missed out on the move to Ferrari this year when he began to compare unfavorably to the former long-time Ferrari driver Massa.

"Bottas needs to be careful," said Doornbos, who drove for Minardi and Red Bull.

"He is missing some momentum in his career now so the Finn really needs to beat him (Massa) in order to save his career," he told Ziggo Sport Totaal.

Carlos Sainz Jr.
Carlos Sainz Jr. stays positive

Sainz Jr. refuses to join F1 rule criticism 'negativity'
(GMM) Carlos Sainz Jr. has refused to join the criticism of the latest rule changes in formula one.

In Melbourne, not only is the controversial new 'musical chairs' qualifying set to make its debut, but so too is a further clampdown on pit-to-car radio communications.

Many have not been shy to let their opinions be heard.

Referring to the new qualifying format, Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko said: "What if there is a red or yellow flag or it's raining?

"Now, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Saturday, you're out," he told Austria's Kleine Zeitung newspaper.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel added: "I hope at least that in the end the fastest driver is still at the top. Otherwise it's pretty questionable from a sporting point of view."

Renault driver Kevin Magnussen is also concerned about the actual spectacle of qualifying.

"I'm worried that it will get boring towards the end because people will be happy with their times and not want to use another set of tires," he is quoted by Denmark's BT newspaper.

And he also thinks the new radio clampdown could hurt F1.

"I agree with the idea that it should be harder to drive in formula one," said Magnussen. "But with the new rules we will be putting so much energy on the information on the steering wheel.

"Before, we just got a message from the pits and we could just focus on racing hard," he added. "So it could have the opposite effect than what they want."

Toro Rosso driver Sainz, however, is refusing to join the widespread criticism, preferring instead to at least give the new rules a chance.

"I don't want to criticize," he told Spain's AS newspaper, "because too many people are doing that and there is too much negativity right now about F1.

"I don't like that whenever I open a newspaper or a website about F1 and the first things you read are just negative," said Sainz.

"So I'll give the changes they are making a chance, both the qualifying and the radio and the other things, and we'll see what happens.

"If it doesn't work I'll be the first to say it, but first you have to at least see if it helps or not," he added.

Kevin Magnussen
Kevin Magnussen

Magnussen backs Friday outings for Ocon
(GMM) Kevin Magnussen has backed Renault's decision to give new third driver Esteban Ocon some Friday practice outings in 2016.

Ocon, the 19-year-old reigning GP3 champion, is 'on loan' to Renault from Mercedes' junior program, with Magnussen confirming he and Jolyon Palmer will have to make way in some Friday practice sessions later this year.

"It is not decided yet" which sessions Ocon will do, "but basically it's cool that Renault gives a young and good driver like Ocon a chance," Magnussen is quoted by BT newspaper.

And he told another Danish publication, Ekstra Bladet: "I think you have to earn your chances in formula one, and Ocon has done that."

However, Ocon is very close to new Renault team boss Frederic Vasseur, and Magnussen was signed on a mere one-year contract for 2016.

But Magnussen, 23, insists: "I plan to stay at this team for many years."

2016 could be a difficult season for Renault, with Magnussen admitting: "There are two things that are essential in formula one – downforce and power – and we are lagging behind in both."

But he said he is delighted to be back in F1 after the end of his McLaren adventure.

"I was close to giving up on the F1 dream and was starting to make a plan B," said Magnussen, "and of course that wasn't nice. But I never gave up completely."

Washed up Jacques Villeneuve
Washed up Jacques Villeneuve

'Afraid' drivers should quit F1 – Villeneuve
(GMM) Jacques Villeneuve has slammed F1 drivers who are calling loudly for the introduction of the 'halo' cockpit protection system.

The story has split the driver camp, with Daniel Ricciardo telling Nico Hulkenberg recently to stop being a "hero" by arguing against the radical safety concept.

"I read that and it made me smile," Hulkenberg hit back in Melbourne. "He has his opinion and I have mine and he should respect that."

Indeed, Hulkenberg said his opinion is so strong that he would gladly give up many of today's safety advances in order to drive the F1 monsters of the past.

"Yes," he told Germany's Auto Bild. "Despite the much greater risk of injury that the drivers had back then."

Hulkenberg is not alone.

Former Manor racer Roberto Merhi told El Mundo newspaper that "drivers know from the beginning that this is a risky sport".

And 1997 world champion Villeneuve, an avowed 'purist', scolded those who are balking at one of the last remaining risks of being a grand prix driver.

"If they are afraid, they should go and race touring cars," he told Le Figaro.

"Yes, we must strive for safety, but there are limits we should not exceed. Risk-taking is inherent in F1. It's part of the beauty of the sport.

"For me, halo is too much. I see it that these drivers earn millions and yet they do not want to take any chances. Too bad.

"Do the moto riders ask to ride inside a bubble? This is why they are increasingly respected and admired compared to formula one drivers," Villeneuve, now an outspoken F1 pundit, added.

Red Bull Halo
Red Bull Halo

Whiting plays down Red Bull's 'halo' alternative
(GMM) F1's governing body is determined to push ahead with the controversial 'halo' cockpit protection system.

That is despite not only the opposition of some drivers, but also the efforts of Red Bull to develop a more 'elegant' alternative to the Mercedes-devised concept that was given its debut by Ferrari over the winter.

"We are continuing to develop the halo system so that we can introduce it in 2017," F1 race director Charlie Whiting is quoted as saying by Speed Week in Melbourne.

Photos of Red Bull's alternative concept have come to light, depicting a transparent 'windscreen' rather than the halo's central element right in front of the drivers' view.

"There is a different approach from Red Bull," confirmed Whiting, "but the development is not as advanced. And we will not slow down on something that we believe is promising to wait for something else."

Lewis Hamilton, however, has said that if 'halo' is introduced, he will refuse to have one fitted to his car.

Whiting responded: "Wearing a helmet is not voluntary. HANS is not voluntary. So I can hardly imagine that we will make halo voluntary.

"In terms of safety, we will not compromise," said the FIA official.

Secret tire debut leaves F1 teams angry – report
(GMM) F1 teams are reportedly angry that Pirelli introduced a new tire late last year without telling them.

Germany's Auto Motor und Sport said it emerged during a technical meeting between the teams and Charlie Whiting in Melbourne that the new tire made its secret debut in Brazil last November.

Reportedly, it was the new multi-layered tire that Pirelli intended to try at the Abu Dhabi test two weeks later.

But on the basis of the secret running in Brazil, the concept – where a special rubber layer replicates the old tire grip 'cliff' – was sidelined.

"We are no longer sure what we tested in Abu Dhabi," one unnamed team technical boss said in Melbourne.

The story has apparently only come out after a Pirelli engineer working for Lotus last year accidentally forwarded an email to the Enstone based team.

Auto Motor und Sport said the teams are angry.

"The tire supplier is obliged to communicate technical modifications of the tires to the teams and the FIA," said correspondent Michael Schmidt.

"The question is whether this scandal will have consequences."

That aside, the meeting on Friday reportedly went well, with Pirelli agreeing to produce bigger, faster and more durable tires for 2017, even though the final contracts with the FIA are yet to be signed.

NEC and Sahara Force India extend partnership for the 2016 F1 season
NEC Corporation, a leader in the integration of IT and network technologies, NEC Mexico and the Sahara Force India Formula One Team announced today the extension of their partnership for the 2016 season. NEC will continue as the team’s Premium ICT Partner with the relationship focused on opportunities that include the installation of NEC technologies at Sahara Force India’s headquarters in the United Kingdom as well as the use of the NEC logo on the engine cover of the team’s VJM09 car, the drivers' suits, helmets and team clothing.

NEC’s involvement in the pinnacle of motorsports remains a natural fit with the ties between technology and Formula One growing ever closer. Advanced technology solutions power the sport at all levels, whether it’s a supercomputer perfecting the car’s aerodynamic efficiency, or a complex IT solution underpinning the trackside operation. Technology truly is a cornerstone of the sport and an essential ingredient for success on and off the track.

Dr. Vijay Mallya, Team Principal and Managing Director of Sahara Force India: “It’s a pleasure to have NEC continue as our Premium ICT Partner. The Formula One environment is full of high technology and we share NEC’s passion for pushing the boundaries with innovative technology solutions. Extending this partnership reinforces NEC’s commitment to these values and further demonstrates NEC’s position as a global player supporting all areas of business. We look forward to working together throughout 2016 as we build on the success of the partnership so far."

Takayuki Morita, Executive Vice President of NEC Corporation: “NEC is excited to build an even stronger relationship with Sahara Force India this season. We are eager to further contribute to the prestigious events that Formula One offers globally."

Yukio Hioki, General Director of NEC Mexico: “NEC is pleased to continue participating in Formula One, as our brands mutually base their success on leadership, precision, technology and the power of innovation. We are honored to support the team alongside powerful partners such as TELMEX, TELCEL, America Movil, Inter and Banamex."

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