Latest F1 news in brief – Wednesday

  • Lauda understands Schumacher blackout
    Lauda understands Schumacher blackout

    Lauda understands Schumacher information blackout

  • Kovalainen predicts 'difficult' start for Haas
  • F1 success driving 'huge' car sales – Zetsche
  • Ferrari will snap up 'slightest mistake' – Lauda
  • Police investigating Hamilton's NZ trip
  • Webber expects Button retirement talk in 2016
  • Merhi says Mercedes 'strongest' again
  • Qualifying not enough to improve F1 – Berger
  • Troubled Mallya set to sit out Melbourne
  • Ecclestone Calls For CVC To Make Its Plans Public

Lauda understands Schumacher information blackout
(GMM) Niki Lauda has backed the decision of Michael Schumacher's family to safeguard the privacy of the F1 great.

Lauda, the Mercedes team chairman and triple world champion, admits the total lack of information about Schumacher's condition has led to wild tabloid speculation, which is "not good".

"The family protects him and I understand that completely," Lauda told the German broadcaster Sky. "But it means that all those who would like to know something, do not."

Lauda said he has no inside information.

"I often think of him," he revealed. "But unfortunately I have no contact. We all just hope, hope, hope."

But Lauda admitted the total information blackout has led to unhelpful media speculation about Schumacher, so "The question is whether some kind of middle ground in terms of communication" can be found.

Heikki Kovalainen
Heikki Kovalainen

Kovalainen predicts 'difficult' start for Haas
(GMM) Heikki Kovalainen thinks F1's new American team Haas will have a "very difficult" debut season.

Haas, however, has entered the sport with a lot of confidence.

"Generally, this race in Australia can throw up some surprises," team driver Romain Grosjean, who has switched from Lotus, told France's Auto Hebdo.

"I think overall, we are not far from playing in the middle of the grid.

"We will try to score points as quickly as possible," he also told a French-language AFP report, "and from then we will aim higher: top five, wins."

Kovalainen, a former McLaren and Caterham driver, admits Haas' Ferrari connections will help.

In contrast, he told the Russian source Championat, "Caterham started from scratch and it was a disaster!"

Kovalainen continued: "I don't know all the details about their program but I think it will be very difficult. Starting in formula one is not easy if you do not have huge resources.

"Take Red Bull for example," he explained. "They had a lot of resources and it still took them years to put together the right team."

Kovalainen also commented on the latest safety innovation in F1, the so-called 'halo' concept, that could make its debut next year amid controversy.

"I don't like the look of it," admitted the Finn, "but I also do not like people dying.

"I think now is the right time to explore options, but this concept specifically, in my opinion, is not right.

"'Halo' looks bad and I'm not sure it is sufficient enough protection. Perhaps we should go for a closed cockpit, like jets. Or some kind of solution integrated in the chassis design," he added.

A happy Dieter Zetsche
A happy Dieter Zetsche

F1 success driving 'huge' car sales – Zetsche
(GMM) Success in formula one is translating perfectly into Mercedes' road car sales.

That is the claim of Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, with the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reporting that growth in Mercedes' sales has been 20 per cent since the start of the new 'power unit' era.

"Last year we sold more cars than ever," Zetsche said.

"It is difficult to scientifically correlate our efforts and successes in motor sport and the business side, but I am totally convinced that it was not by accident that in the last three years our brand has achieved a great boost that has translated to huge sales," he added.

Team boss Toto Wolff, however, has gone on the record this week to question the size of the current F1 calendar, featuring an unprecedented 21 grands prix.

But Zetsche seems happy, explaining: "There are hundreds of millions of viewers of each race worldwide, and this is only comparable to events like the world cup or Olympics.

"The difference is that they take place every four years and yet we have 21 races this year. It is a great platform and therefore extremely important to us."

The car maker sold 1.57 million units in '13, 1.7 million in '14 and 1.87 million in '15. In '15, Mercedes "recorded record sales in China and set a record for total units sold in a year."

The example of Mercedes "confirms the reasons that bring major manufacturers to the circuit," even ones facing difficulties such as Renault and Honda. Mercedes surpassed Audi in '15 as the second int'l "premium" car brand, behind BMW. In Europe, Mercedes'

'15 sales were a 10.5% increase on the previous year, compared to 10.2% for BMW and 5.4% for Audi.

In China, Mercedes' sales improved by 32.6% in '15, while BMW recorded a 1.7% increase and Audi's sales in China fell 1.4%.

Niki Lauda knows Ferrari's only wins will be when Mercedes makes errors
Niki Lauda knows Ferrari's only wins will be when Mercedes makes errors

Ferrari will snap up 'slightest mistake' – Lauda
(GMM) Ferrari is now within an uncomfortable striking distance of Mercedes' dominance, according to Niki Lauda.

"I see clearly that Ferrari is catching us with great strides," the F1 legend and Mercedes team chairman told the German broadcaster RTL.

"I suspect they have moved to within two, three tenths of us. That's a dangerously small lead now."

Mercedes has utterly dominated the 'power unit' era so far and many expect a third consecutive installation in 2016, but Lauda thinks the gap is now close to insignificant.

"The slightest mistake from us regarding strategy or tires and that two-three tenths is quickly gone," he said.

Sebastian Vettel, the lead Ferrari driver, would seem to agree, declaring in his last European interview before addressing the media in Melbourne that the only goal for 2016 is the title.

"I see it very positively that the expectations are high," he told Sport Bild.

"My goal is very clearly to be world champion and to win races. Anything else is for me not good enough."

As for whether Ferrari really has closed the gap on Mercedes, Vettel warned: "That question can only be answered halfway seriously after a few races.

"But as a driver you always have to believe in yourself and your chances."

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

Police investigated Hamilton's NZ trip
(GMM) On his trip 'down under', Lewis Hamilton found himself in hot water even before setting foot on Australian soil.

A Mercedes spokesman confirmed that the world champion has been in New Zealand this week for personal reasons rather than any official duties.

Indeed, he was at Sky City casino in Auckland when he tweeted that staff treated him "like dirt".

He then went on 'Snapchat' to giggle at the amount of Chinese people on a domestic flight, before hiring a Harley Davidson and taking a video 'selfie' with his mobile phone whilst riding.

It is the 'selfie' that attracted the attention of local police, with reports in New Zealand quoting a spokesman as confirming authorities were "reviewing the footage".

"If there is clear evidence that a mobile phone has been used to record this footage … then this would be deemed as an offence," the police said.

Reportedly, they concluded that the evidence was insufficient.

Briton Hamilton, however, seems unperturbed about the negative attention his New Zealand escapade has been attracting in the days before the 2016 season opener.

"Want to hear something funny?" he told his Snapchat fans. "Every time I post something on here and people get upset, they contact Mercedes.

"But do I look like I'm bothered? I'm having a great time."

Will 2016 be the last for Button?
Will 2016 be the last for Button?

Webber expects Button retirement talk in 2016
(GMM) Before even a single lap in the 21-race grand prix calendar has been logged, Jenson Button's future in formula one is already being discussed.

In part, that is because McLaren supremo Ron Dennis kicked off the week of the 2016 season opener by admitting openly that Stoffel Vandoorne could make his debut for the Honda-powered team next year.

On F1's official website, Dennis said he will therefore get together for contract talks with Button, the most experienced driver on the grid, "during the course of the year".

Not only that, 36-year-old Button openly admitted late last year that he almost called time on his 16-season F1 career.

"There was a turn mentally with his decision to retire," Mark Webber, who retired at the end of 2013 and switched to Le Mans, told the Sun newspaper.

"The next phase is not sorted for him yet. He's certainly in the last part of his career and I hope the car's tidy and he has a half-decent weapon to fight with, but then there'll be a call around Monza for that letting go," the Australian added.

"He's a real pro and had a phenomenal career but there's nothing worse as an athlete than being asked when you're going to retire," said Webber.

And Martin Brundle, another former F1 driver, said it is also awkward to observe Button's teammate Fernando Alonso struggle at McLaren-Honda at present.

"I suppose it is like watching two boxers who should have retired but Jenson seems to handle it better than Fernando," he said.

Roberto Merhi says Mercedes fastest.
Roberto Merhi says Mercedes fastest.

Merhi says Mercedes 'strongest' again
(GMM) Although the action begins in Melbourne this weekend, Roberto Merhi is still not ruling out a role in formula one in 2016.

"It is what it is," the former Manor racer told Spanish radio Cadena Cope, referring to the team's decision to replace him for 2016.

"I am just happy I was lucky enough to have got a year in the world championship."

However, Merhi is still training hard and says he has "not ruled out" a last minute role.

It could be that he is still eyeing his old seat at Manor, with Indonesian reports suggesting rookie Rio Haryanto is trying to put together a budget to guarantee the entire season.

Haryanto's manager Piers Hunniset is quoted by the Jakarta Post: "We will find a way to have him stay through the season."

Meanwhile, when asked to comment on the start of the 2016 season, Merhi admitted he is not expecting the pecking order to have changed much over the winter.

"Realistically, I think F1 is the same as in the last two years, with Mercedes strongest," he said.

Merhi said Ferrari is next-best, although he questioned the retention of Kimi Raikkonen as Sebastian Vettel's teammate.

"I don't know what to tell you," said Merhi, referring to Raikkonen. "Today he is no longer the best driver."

A leading F1 correspondent, however, does not quite agree, even though most are assuming Raikkonen will struggle to keep his Ferrari seat for a fourth consecutive season in 2017.

"I admit that after the winter tests I changed my position a little," Michael Schmidt, a leading German journalist, wrote in a column for Turun Sanomat.

"The tests showed that Kimi seems to really like this new Ferrari. In Mercedes' analysis of the test, Raikkonen had not only the fastest individual laptimes, but he was also the best in the long runs," he added.

Gerhard Berger says Mercedes will dominate
Gerhard Berger says Mercedes will dominate

Qualifying not enough to improve F1 – Berger
(GMM) Gerhard Berger is yet another pundit who believes Mercedes will once again rule the roost in 2016.

"Well, it looks as though not much in the balance of power has really changed," he told the Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung.

"Ferrari is likely to be a little closer, winning a race here and there, but on the whole I feel that Mercedes has always left something in the drawer," said the former Ferrari and McLaren driver.

"We must also hope that Nico Rosberg can carry on his form from the end of last season," Berger added.

Where 2016 could be closely contested, the 56-year-old Austrian argued, is the midfield, with Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams and Force India all close together.

"But it is exactly this closeness that we need at the top, in the fight for the world championship," he said.

Berger said the changes to the qualifying system will not be enough to fix F1's issues.

"The qualifying format was not the problem," he insisted. "Please don't misunderstand me, as the new qualifying could make something more exciting.

"But all these little details, like whether the start time of the race is right, I am not a fan of. MotoGP for example races at the same time and this is an example of hardcore racing at its best.

"The real problem with F1 is the agreements. All the contracts are valid until 2020, which means everyone must agree if they want to change something," said Berger.

"And all the teams agreeing something is not possible."

He also said blaming Bernie Ecclestone is not right, as "With or without Ecclestone, as long as those agreements exist, nothing can be changed".

What will probably change in 2017, however, is the introduction of a 'halo'-style system for better protecting the drivers' exposed heads.

Asked if that is a step too far for an increasingly sterile F1, Berger said: "Safety must not and cannot be described as excessive. We cannot forget that last year a driver (Jules Bianchi) died.

"Safety is never enough. But is it all too perfect? Overregulated? Absolutely yes.

"The average consumer does not want to read and re-read 1000 different rules every year," he insisted.

As for whether 21 races is too many for F1, Berger answered: "That is a lot, but one grand prix more or less will not make a difference.

"The races should just be more exciting. That is all that matters."

Vijay Mallya
Vijay Mallya

Troubled Mallya set to sit out Melbourne
(GMM) Force India deputy Bob Fernley has hinted that team owner Vijay Mallya will likely skip this weekend's 2016 season opener in Melbourne.

The Indian media is searching furiously for the former billionaire's current whereabouts, after he left the country amid his legal troubles over the Kingfisher airlines debt.

Mallya has said through an official statement and his Twitter account that he is not an "absconder", and is believed to be staying at his palatial home in rural England.

His next move, however, has been anyone's guess.

Reuters reports that authorities have summoned Mallya, 60, to India for official questioning on Friday relating to loans that have not been repaid to 17 banks.

But also taking place on Friday is official practice for the season opening Australian grand prix in Melbourne.

Fernley, who handles the day-to-day running of Silverstone based Force India, indicated to the Daily Mail that Mallya will not be in Australia.

"It has always been Vijay's position that he will comply with the Indian legal process," he said.

Bernie Ecclestone wants to hear CVC's plans
Bernie Ecclestone wants to hear CVC's plans

Ecclestone Calls For CVC To Make Its Plans Public
F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone says that until CVC Capital Partners decides what it wants to do in terms of its stake in F1, "the sport is effectively in limbo," according to PITPASS.

The private equity firm bought F1 in '06. Since then, CVC, which has sold off some of its holding but still retains a 35% share, "has raked in" around $4.4B in dividends, while its remaining stake is said to be worth around $3B.

Now Ecclestone is calling on the private equity firm "to make its plans public, admitting that the uncertainty is holding the sport back."

Ecclestone: "I'm hoping that (CVC co-Chair) Donald Mackenzie will decide if he wants to dispose of the company or not. Because if not we will be running it perhaps in a different way than we do today and we can make a lot of improvements." PITPASS

GRAND PRIX reported Ecclestone, 85, has been "openly critical of the hands-off approach" of FIA President Jean Todt, and the fact the competing teams and manufacturers "cannot agree a way forward."

Ecclestone: "I have been running things with my hands tied behind my back a little bit. I'm still running the company like a public company. There are lots of things I would love to do which I haven't done because CVC has been very clear that the company has to be run like a public company." GRAND PRIX

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