Latest F1 news in brief – Wednesday

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.

03/09/16

  • Bernie still playing hardball with Monza
    Bernie still playing hardball with Monza

    Austin back on track, Monza still in trouble

  • Boss Boullier warns against McLaren 'expectations'
  • F1 trio question 'celebrity' Hamilton's focus
  • Hamilton 'aggressive' with Melbourne tire choice
  • Mercedes proposes 20hp boost for engine rivals
  • Struggling Sauber will race in Australia – source
  • Formula One Commentator Murray Walker Returns To TV Screens At 92
  • Force India Co-Owner Vijay Mallya Facing Money Laundering Charges In India
  • Whiting: Watkins Glen would be 'wonderful' for F1 New
  • Honda 'not yet' on schedule – Boullier – New

Tax breaks put Austin back in the black
Tax breaks put Austin back in the black

Austin back on track, Monza still in trouble
(GMM) The US grand prix in Austin looks to be back on track.

Although now a popular stop on the annual calendar, the race's October date was given mere provisional status due to a funding dispute between organizers and the Texas government.

But F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Forbes two weeks ago: "I think Austin will happen this year. (Bobby) Epstein is confident. He knows the money is coming."

Indeed, race promoter Epstein is now tipped to confirm during a press conference on Wednesday that the 2016 US GP definitely going ahead.

A report in the Associated Press quoted a 'person with knowledge of the decision' as saying Wednesday's news will be an announcement that the race is going ahead.

Another news agency, Reuters, is reporting similarly, with Epstein quoted as saying: "We haven't paid a dime yet. But watch this space."

And on social media, the Circuit of the Americas also hinted that the uncertain times are coming to an end, hinting: "Let's have a talk tomorrow morning."

And on Facebook, a photo of the sun emerging from behind dark clouds was captioned simply: "Onward."

In previous years, track officials said they were promised $25M per year for 10 years from the state's portion of the Major Events Trust Fund. But control of the fund was transferred to Gov. Greg Abbott's office last year, and "the future of the race was thrown into doubt when the state slashed" nearly $6M of funding from the race.

The track, however, got a financial boost in February "when it reached a settlement with local officials to drastically reduce its property tax appraisals," saving more than $10M by some estimates.

The latest news about Italy's endangered grand prix at Monza, meanwhile, is not quite as positive.

La Gazzetta dello Sport said Ecclestone is currently locked in troubled negotiations with Sias, the historic circuit's operator, as well as the automobile club Aci.

"It is a dangerous impasse for Monza," the authoritative sports daily said, "but less so for the Italian grand prix, as Imola is in the frame."

Eric Boullier warns McLaren Honda still slow
Eric Boullier warns McLaren Honda still slow

Boss Boullier warns against McLaren 'expectations'
(GMM) Eric Boullier says he does not want McLaren-Honda to set any firm targets for 2016.

But Fernando Alonso, the team's Spanish race driver, clearly does not agree, as he set a couple of clear objectives on Tuesday during a visit to the site of June's inaugural grand prix in Azerbaijan.

"The objective in 2016 is to finish all the races in the points and to be fighting for the podium in the second half of the season," he is quoted as saying by Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.

His boss Boullier appears to have a different view entirely, however, with Spanish reports quoting him as refusing to set out a clear goal for 2016.

"If you ask me for that, I cannot say anything," the Frenchman said.

But Boullier said that, at least internally, McLaren will have a better idea of its situation once the season begins in Australia.

"From there we will know where we are and what we want to achieve," he said.

"At this stage we don't want to talk without knowing as we are unable to make accurate predictions. We do not want to create false expectations," Boullier insisted.

Even the pundits are finding McLaren-Honda's current situation difficult to gauge, after the woeful performance at the start of the new works collaboration last year.

"Judging by their statements in the winter, they have found almost 2.5 seconds compared to last year," former F1 driver Robert Doornbos told the Dutch broadcaster Ziggo Sport Totaal.

"Well, I haven't seen that. I was at the track in Barcelona last week and the engine did sound better. But they are not going to win grands prix this year," the Dutchman added.

Playboy Lewis Hamilton
Playboy Lewis Hamilton

F1 trio question 'celebrity' Hamilton's focus
(GMM) A trio of former F1 drivers have considered whether world champion Lewis Hamilton's increasing global celebrity will hurt his bid for a fourth title in 2016.

Some, like current GPDA president Alex Wurz, think the Mercedes driver's off-track antics – his 'rock star' or jet-set lifestyle and amateur forays in the worlds of fashion and music – are simply good for Hamilton.

"As long as he's performing, it's good," the former Benetton and Williams driver told the March edition of F1 Racing magazine.

"He has chosen to show off his wealth and planes and lifestyle and he is very calculating, for in doing so he is establishing his position as a global star. I think it has no influence," Wurz added.

Others are not so sure.

An unnamed team boss said: "Lewis is lucky he has Rosberg as his teammate. He wouldn't be able to get away with that stuff if it was Alonso or Vettel or Ricciardo in the other car."

Indeed, 1996 world champion Damon Hill said he was not surprised when, after wrapping up the title early last year, Hamilton's string of defeats to his teammate Nico Rosberg coincided with a spate of heavy partying.

"Last year, at one point he Tweeted he was here, there and everywhere between races, and I thought 'Bloody hell, that would wipe me out'.

"That was before a grand prix, and sure enough, Nico beat him," Hill said.

Another F1 veteran, David Coulthard, also questions whether Hamilton spreading his focus beyond the actual track could eventually catch up with him.

"It seems crazy to question whether Lewis can win another title, given that he's won the last two, but you have to ask where his energy is going," the former McLaren and Red Bull driver told the Mirror.

"Is this the year that (lifestyle) is going to take its toll?" Coulthard wondered.

But there are those who think Hamilton can successfully manage keeping on top of his game in F1 and diverting his attention elsewhere, particularly in an era where the cars are less physically demanding to drive.

"If it was having an effect, I think he would change his lifestyle and raise his game," an insider told F1 Racing.

"You have to keep coming back to the fact that he is just a phenomenal talent, and he knows he is. So he knows he just has to get that back and he is there again."

Tire choices by driver
Tire choices by driver

Hamilton 'aggressive' with Melbourne tire choice
(GMM) It may be the teams, and not the drivers, who are in charge of the extra freedom on tire selection in 2016.

On Tuesday, Pirelli revealed the choices made for each driver's car for the Australian grand prix, after the rules were changed to allow a custom selection from among three different compounds now taken to each race weekend.

It makes interesting reading.

Both Ferrari cars, for instance, have chosen identical tire allocations, but world champion Lewis Hamilton will have one extra soft tire and one less medium compared to his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

Fascinatingly, it means Hamilton is the odd one out among all the likely victory contenders in Melbourne, with Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen all selecting the exact same tire combination.

La Gazzetta dello Sport calls it a "very aggressive" strategy for Hamilton, while Auto Motor und Sport said the Briton is "playing poker" in his battle against Rosberg.

Indeed, only two other teams – Sauber and Haas – have two drivers with different tire selections for Melbourne.

But Auto Motor und Sport correspondent Michael Schmidt said Mercedes and Force India confirmed that it is the engineers, not the drivers, who made the tire decisions for Melbourne.

And Force India team manager Andy Stevenson said many teams will be playing it safe for now.

"In the first four races there are no differences between Nico (Hulkenberg) and Sergio (Perez)," he said.

"With a little more experience, and depending on the track and the tires offered, we may operate the drivers more individually" in future, he added.

Mercedes is so confident they will bury their competition again in 2016 they proposed a 20 HP increase for everyone else. That means they will only have 80 more HP instead of 100
Mercedes is so confident they will bury their competition again in 2016 they proposed a 20 HP increase for everyone else. That means they will only have 80 more HP instead of 100

Mercedes proposes 20hp boost for engine rivals
(GMM) A surprising proposal by Mercedes could help solve the issue of Mercedes' seemingly endless domination in the new 'power unit' era.

As many predicted a third consecutive season of regular silver-colored one-twos this year, the so-called 'Power Unit Working Group' was this week meeting in London.

The group has been tasked with tabling proposals for the future of the engine regulations at the Bahrain grand prix in early April, with the headline problem being the big performance difference between Mercedes and the other three power unit suppliers.

Germany's Auto Bild Motorsport claims that a proposal made by Mercedes is that Ferrari, Renault and Honda be allowed to turn up their 'fuel flow' by a factor of 2 per cent.

With Mercedes standing still, that would give the trailing three almost 20 extra horse power, and potentially satisfy the F1 Commission's demand for 'performance convergence'.

If Sebastian Vettel was in charge, however, the Ferrari driver would probably scrap the current restrictions on fuel flow and usage altogether.

"As a sportsman, I think formula one should be about who can drive his car the fastest, not who is best at saving fuel," the German told Sport Bild in a pre-season edition.

Monisha Kaltenborn unable to pay staff.
Monisha Kaltenborn unable to pay staff.

Struggling Sauber will race in Australia – source
(GMM) Sauber will race in Melbourne next weekend, notwithstanding the financial cloud that hangs over the struggling Swiss team.

Boss and co-owner Monisha Kaltenborn confirmed earlier that "part of the February salaries" of the more than 300 staff at Hinwil are yet to be paid.

"Two thirds of our employees have not received the February wages," Sauber spokesman Robert Hopoltseder has now revealed to the Swiss broadcaster SRF.

But a source told the Zurich newspaper Tages Anzeiger that Sauber's participation in the season opening Australian grand prix next weekend is not in doubt.

After that, however, Sauber's future is "extremely uncertain", the source warned.

Sauber spokesman Hopoltseder admitted: "As was the case in recent years, these are difficult times."

But Michael Stauble, a commentator for Swiss television, said the current situation for Sauber is in fact new.

"Wages not being paid over a longer period is unique in Sauber's history," he said. "So the situation is very serious.

"If I look beyond 2016, I am anxious and worried about Sauber."

Murray Walker
Murray Walker

F1 Commentator Murray Walker Returns To TV Screens At 92
F1 commentator Murray Walker "is returning to screens with the new Channel 4 coverage of the sport this season," according to Kevin Eason of the LONDON TIMES.

At 92, Walker "remains as popular as ever, even though he retired from commentating a decade ago."

David Coulthard, the former McLaren driver who heads Channel 4’s coverage this season, "persuaded Walker to return to carry out interviews with some of the stars of F1."

Although the BBC handed the broadcasting contract to Channel 4 at the end of last year to save money, "the new line-up for this season has a familiar feel to it."

Ben Edwards "moves from the BBC to be lead commentator, accompanied by Lee McKenzie, who continues as chief reporter."

Pundits "will include" former Williams development driver Susie Wolff and former Red Bull driver Mark Webber.

Coverage "will be anchored by" former X Factor USA presenter Steve Jones. London Times

Vijay Mallya
Vijay Mallya

Force India Co-Owner Vijay Mallya Facing Money Laundering Charges In India
The future of two Formula One teams have been "plunged into doubt as the sport lines up for the new season plagued yet again by money worries," according to Kevin Eason of the LONDON TIMES.

Force India co-Owner Vijay Mallya is facing a "major legal battle after the Enforcement Directorate, a government agency in Mumbai, lodged a money laundering case against him that could drag in details of his team’s finances."

Meanwhile, Sauber disclosed that it has been "unable to pay full wages" to its staff for the last month.

The Swiss team is "blaming the huge expense of preparing for the start of the season." However, this is a "rocky start" to the season for a team that seems to have spent years "scrapping for survival."

Problems could be even "more serious at Force India where Mallya has been a high-profile figure" since he bought the team in '08.

Force India co-Owner Subrata Roy is "already in jail in India after the authorities investigated his Sahara group of companies, and now Mallya is facing legal challenges in his homeland."

Employees who lost their jobs in the Kingfisher grounding in '12 "lit the fuse" last week by writing an open letter in which they accused Mallya of having "blood-stained hands" and laying the blame for the airline's failure "at his door." London Times

Watkins Glen's NASCAR races are popular
Watkins Glen's NASCAR races are popular. The France Family has pumped a lot of money into the track

Whiting: Watkins Glen would be 'wonderful' for F1
Charlie Whiting, Formula 1's Race Director, reckons Watkins Glen would be a "wonderful" track to add to the sport's calendar, after visiting the track on Tuesday.

Whiting travels to Watkins Glen – located in New York state – every three years for a track inspection, and his latest stopover coincided with recent resurfacing work.

"I think that the track looks marvelous," Whiting explained to gathered local television networks in a video published on Watkins Glen's social media channels.

"I am really, really impressed with the work. It has been done to a very, very high standard."

Whiting suggested that Watkins Glen, which hosted the United States Grand Prix from 1961-1980, is capable of staging a Formula 1 race again, providing it can overcome usual hurdles.

"I think it is one of the most charismatic circuits in the US," he said.

"There are newer ones like [current United States Grand Prix host venue] the Circuit of the Americas, but it hasn't got the character that this track has got.

"I think it would be an absolutely wonderful circuit for Formula 1 cars to race on, but we all know [joining the calendar] it is not quite as simple as that.

"As far as circuits in the US go, I think this is right up there."

Will Jost Capito make a difference at McLaren
Will Jost Capito make a difference at McLaren

Honda 'not yet' on schedule – Boullier
(GMM) Honda is running behind schedule so far in 2016, McLaren team boss Eric Boullier revealed on Wednesday.

After the disaster of 2015, Boullier seems happy with the management change at Honda, although the impending arrival at McLaren of Jost Capito might be reason for him to be nervous.

"I did not hire him," Boullier told Auto Motor und Sport, "so you would have to ask Ron Dennis.

"But his experience will help the McLaren Group, of which McLaren Racing is only a part. He has experience with major manufacturers, which can be helpful in the relationship with Honda," he added.

Indeed, in the paddock, almost no one questions whether McLaren can still make fast racing cars.

When asked about the new MP4-31, Boullier says: "From the McLaren side we are on schedule. For the engine, not yet. But at Honda there are good signs of progress.

"We could at least start to develop the car in the second week of testing, which was not possible last year," he added.

But the most pressing question is whether Honda can start to make big progress this year.

"The car is not yet where we want it," Boullier admits. "The engine has not yet reached the numbers that were planned for 2016."

Fernando Alonso, however, is sounding notably upbeat, predicting podiums later this season. "I think that should be possible," Boullier concurs.

He says more power – "30 horse power" – is coming for Melbourne through software, while Honda has an aggressive plan for deploying its 'tokens'.

Is the McLaren the best chassis in F1? Don't tell that to Mercedes and their Aldo Costa designed marvel
Is the McLaren the best chassis in F1? Don't tell that to Mercedes and their Aldo Costa designed marvel

"I'm not saying we will beat Mercedes," said Boullier, "but we can improve massively."

And he agrees with Alonso that McLaren can truly aspire to having the very best chassis on the grid this year, perhaps by the European race season.

"So far we have kept all that we have promised him," said Boullier, referring to the reasons for Alonso's optimism.

"He looks at the simulation, what we are planning, and that they are now completely transferrable to the track."

It has been suggested, however, that Alonso's lofty optimism and setting of clear targets for 2016 is a sort of ultimatum to the McLaren-Honda project, amid rumors he might not continue to wait for progress.

Asked if the Spaniard is a ticking bomb, Boullier responded: "(There is) no additional pressure. We want to win, not just Fernando. McLaren must win.

"If Honda can reach a certain level this year and we have one of the best cars in the field, Fernando will have fun again," he added.

"I was hired by McLaren to ensure that we put the best car on the circuit. The car is my responsibility. For the engine, I cannot (promise)."

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