Latest F1 news in brief – Monday

  • Dieter Zetsche pans Ecclestone's criticism
    Dieter Zetsche pans Ecclestone's public criticism of F1

    F1 figures hit back at Ecclestone

  • Tost's podium target 'not possible' – Sainz
  • Sauber falls behind in February staff salaries
  • Vettel yet to name 2016 title contender
  • Massa wants new nose 'as soon as possible'
  • Alonso still not ruling out Mercedes move
  • Alonso to decide future after trying 2017 cars
  • Grosjean praises Haas for quick fixes
  • Palmer: Pre-season 'a little bit disastrous'
  • Haryanto feels 'well prepared' for debut

F1 figures hit back at Ecclestone
(GMM) Bernie Ecclestone is taking flak amid F1's tumultuous beginning to another world championship season.

World champion Sebastian Vettel, a traditional ally of the F1 supremo, questioned the decision to shake up the qualifying format mere days before the circus heads for Australia, agreeing it demonstrates a lack of "leadership".

The Ferrari driver is not alone.

Mercedes president Dieter Zetsche hit out at Ecclestone's recent characterization of F1 as a sport that is not worth spending money on a ticket.

"I don't understand how someone who is not only the CEO but partial owner of that product talks that way about this product," he said.

"At the Geneva motor show I was not going on the stage to say I would never drive a Mercedes and customers should better not do it," Zetsche added.

There are those who argue that while Ecclestone deserves the credit for building the F1 brand over the past decades, the sport might now need a new era.

"I think he has done a fantastic job for the sport since he came in," former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo told Motor Sport Magazine.

"But it's not reasonable to ask a man of his age to completely change his mentality. And there needs to be a change in mentality, in many areas," he insisted.

And while 85-year-old Ecclestone often criticizes Jean Todt's low-profile and hands-off approach to F1, the FIA president also wonders if the sport needs to turn a corner.

When asked about Ecclestone's latest criticisms, Todt told Auto Bild: "My style is to speak directly with him.

"I like Bernie. He is an extraordinary man. He is 85, and I have just had my 70th birthday, yet he still leads formula one with a great passion.

"But he also has his own style," the Frenchman added.

Todt said he thinks F1 is still "a great sport, which makes a great contribution to the automotive industry. But we are seeing a new and different movie to before.

"Soon there will be cars that drive autonomously. Will a 12-year-old still sit for two hours to watch cars race? I think we need to communicate F1 better to the people," he said.

Carlos Sainz Jr. tells his boss to forget about podiums
Carlos Sainz Jr. tells his boss to forget about podiums

Tost's podium target 'not possible' – Sainz
(GMM) Carlos Sainz Jr. has questioned his boss's target of a podium finish on merit in 2016.

The Red Bull junior team's chief Franz Tost declared recently: "Realistically, I expect that we can achieve a podium this year after getting so close to it last year".

Indeed, Toro Rosso has switched from Renault to the more powerful, 2015-specification Ferrari engine, although it will not be developed throughout the season.

Max Verstappen says that is why it is important that the Faenza team has a fast early start to 2016.

As for Tost's podium prediction, however, teammate Sainz is quoted by El Mundo Deportivo: "I think the chance of a podium is low.

"Under normal circumstances, I don't think it's possible," said the young Spaniard.

"Mercedes and Ferrari are on another planet, and Williams and Red Bull should be behind them. We aspire to be the fifth team on the grid, so from 9th or 10th it is not easy to reach the podium.

"To do that, the circumstances would need to be abnormal," Sainz insisted.

Monisha Kaltenborn struggling to pay staff
Monisha Kaltenborn struggling to pay staff

Sauber falls behind in February staff salaries
(GMM) Sauber is entering yet another F1 season under a financial cloud.

A year ago, it was the Giedo van der Garde saga that almost derailed the struggling Swiss team.

Now, the Swiss newspaper Blick reports that Sauber has fallen behind in its wage payments to its more than 300 staff at the Hinwil factory.

"Yes, it is true," boss and co-owner Monisha Kaltenborn confirmed.

"Part of the February salaries are still due, which I really regret," she explained.

Kaltenborn continued: "Right now is the most cost-intensive period (of the season). And there have been technical problems with the transfer of a big sponsorship amount from abroad."

She told her unpaid staff: "We will get the current problems under control and out of this unfortunate situation soon.

"We will keep fighting, just as we have in the past years," added Kaltenborn.

But 2016 could turn out to be harder than ever for Sauber, as while the team is using Ferrari's 2016 power unit, it is the new Haas outfit that is more closely aligned to the fabled Maranello marque.

Alain Prost's own Ferrari-powered customer team collapsed some 15 years ago, and he told Speed Week he definitely would not try again in today's era.

"It is important that you have a strong partner, a manufacturer, behind you," said the F1 legend and Renault ambassador.

"The rules need to be changed so that the small teams have more of a chance. With the current situation it is not possible," Prost said.

Haas, however, is receiving widespread praise for cleverly entering F1 with so close an alignment to Ferrari.

"They have pursued an entirely different concept than we did," said Prost, referring to his eponymous team. "There's a lot of support from Ferrari.

"It is practically the B-team of the Scuderia, which is a much more comfortable situation for them," he added.

Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari has made a big step forward
Sebastian Vettel says Ferrari has made a big step forward

Vettel yet to name 2016 title contender
(GMM) Sebastian Vettel says he is yet to give a personal name to his 2016 car, which will carry the hopes of the entire Ferrari team and much of the wider F1 world.

"No, not yet," said the German when asked if he has decided what the successor to last year's 'Eva' – the Latin form of the Biblical Eve – will be called.

"Together with my mechanics we will come up with something before the first race," Vettel smiled.

It is not just the fans who are hoping Ferrari can challenge Mercedes' dominance this year, but also president Sergio Marchionne who has set his targets very high.

"I think first of all that my own expectations are always higher than those externally," Vettel told the German broadcaster RTL.

"On the other hand it is very positive that you hear that expectations are very high — it means in a way that people have confidence in us.

"My goal is clearly to win races and be world champion. Anything else is not good enough, which goes not only for me but I think the whole team," he added.

After the mere eight days of official pre-season running, the general impression is that while Mercedes has been sandbagging, Ferrari's less reliable new car may actually be tantalizingly close to setting the pace.

"I think there is still a lot to do, but the base is very good — we have made a big step forward," Vettel agrees.

"I think we are in the position that we want to be, with our goal of course to win the world championship."

Whether Ferrari and Vettel can do that is the million-dollar question.

"It will be like 2015," Sauber's Felipe Nasr predicted in an interview with Sonntagsblick. "The title for Hamilton but maybe Vettel ahead of Rosberg this time."

His teammate Marcus Ericsson, however, said: "I bet on Vettel, before the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg."

Ericsson's 'bet' may be based on Ferrari's impressive pace in the final Barcelona test, which left Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in first and second places.

And Raikkonen's best time, according to Williams' Valtteri Bottas, was very good.

"They will be fast," the Finn told Ilta Sanomat newspaper.

"It will not be easy to beat them, but I still see Mercedes as stronger than Ferrari," he added.

Felipe Massa wants the new Williams nose ASAP
Felipe Massa wants the new Williams nose ASAP

Massa wants new nose 'as soon as possible'
(GMM) Felipe Massa has confirmed that Williams is hoping to get a new nose and front wing up and running as soon as possible.

With the British camp's current short nose strongly resembling the pioneering version of 2015, technical boss Pat Symonds hinted that the plan is to introduce an even more aggressive version within the first few races of 2016.

Brazilian driver Massa confirmed that more changes are coming in Australia.

"Changes in the bodywork – the rear – we should use in Australia, plus a few (other) small details," he told Globo Esporte.

"An interesting change is the front wing, but we still need to pass the crash test to make sure we can use it. So hopefully we can do that as soon as possible because it is good for the car," Massa added.

Despite not having the third-biggest budget, Mercedes-powered Williams finished the 2014 and 2015 seasons third overall.

Massa identifies the aerodynamics as the area with the most room for improvement.

"We have improved, but we still can improve more," he said.

"The car we have now has more downforce, but we did not expect it to still be the fastest on the straight. This shows that there is still work for us to do to improve the car with downforce," added Massa.

As for a prediction of the pecking order for Melbourne, he revealed: "Well, if I had to make a bet, I would put Mercedes in front of Ferrari.

"Then I think we have a great chance to be third. Of course it is always difficult to be sure, but anyway it would already be a positive result even if definitely we want more."

Fernando Alonso (L) will be an old man before a spot is open on the Mercedes team
Fernando Alonso (L) will be an old man before a spot is open on the Mercedes team. Why would Hamilton or Rosberg ever leave when they are winning everything?

Alonso still not ruling out Mercedes move
(GMM) Fernando Alonso is still refusing to rule out a future move to Mercedes.

Although fully committed to the remaining two seasons of his McLaren-Honda contract, the Spaniard began his 2016 campaign by revealing he almost switched from Ferrari to Mercedes last year in a swap deal involving Lewis Hamilton.

"You always want to be where the best car is, and that's Mercedes," he has now told Spanish radio Onda Cero.

"I am now where I try to be happy. And yes, I'm happy," Alonso insisted.

His comments about being 'happy' at McLaren are almost certainly in reference to his previous situation at Ferrari.

"(Luca di) Montezemolo told me that drivers like Prost, Lauda and Senna all asked him if they could go to Ferrari. He did not understand that I asked to leave."

The start of the new McLaren-Honda project last year, however, was nothing short of utterly disastrous, but Alonso says his car is definitely better for 2016.

"What we are behind is between 30 and 80 horse power," Alonso said. "There is no 100 or 200hp deficit to Mercedes.

"The engine last year had serious structural flaws," he revealed. "This year our Achilles heel will again be the power as I do not think we can recover all of the lost ground.

"But this season will be different and we started well, not to get victories but it will be very different from last year.

"I am very motivated and willing to do the best season of my life. The car was born well with some limitations, but I am told there will be major improvements," he added.

Where he also wants major improvements is in the regulations, as he warns that he may have exhausted his desire to drive the current generation of cars by the end of his McLaren tenure.

"I still have several years at the highest level – two at least – and then we will see," he told the Spanish broadcaster TVE.

"The F1 cars now are too slow," Alonso said plainly. "It has taken the pleasure of driving.

"They are extremely slow cars, with hard and difficult to understand tires with extremely high pressures to further reduce grip.

"Driving is now different and more boring, with audiences continuing to go down as you cannot cheat them. So I hope we can find the right direction for the sport," he added.

Alonso may move down to go-karts in 2017
Alonso may move down to go-karts in 2017

Alonso to decide future after trying 2017 cars
McLaren driver Fernando Alonso says that he will decide on his Formula 1 future after sampling the sport's 2017 cars, with substantial technical changes planned for next season.

Bodywork changes have been approved by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council, which – mixed with bigger tires – should see lap times improve by four to five seconds on most circuits.

Alonso, who will be 36 by the time his current McLaren contract expires at the end of the 2017 season, is planning to think more about his future after trying next year's cars.

"The [current] cars are too slow, they've taken all the joy out of driving," Alonso told Spanish broadcaster TVE at a ceremony to mark 15 years since his debut in the sport.

"In any case, I still have a few years left at the top level, two more at least and then I'll see what my body says. I'm curious to see what the cars will be like in 2017, I'll get into one and then think about the future.

"I don't know what I'm going to do after 30 years at the wheel, but when I stop, it's over, no turning back.

"Before that, I'd like to do Le Mans and go back to karting, which I've always loved."

The precise details regarding Formula 1's 2017 regulations have yet to be defined, with a sizeable deadline extension of April 30 recently approved by the WMSC.

Romain Grosjean in the Haas-Ferrari
Romain Grosjean in the Haas-Ferrari

Grosjean praises Haas for quick fixes
Romain Grosjean has paid tribute to the Haas workforce for carrying out quick fixes that led to the new outfit's most productive day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

After a relatively smooth opening test, Haas endured a torrid start to the second gathering, with Esteban Gutiérrez hitting just 24 laps in two days and Grosjean suffering brake-by-wire issues.

Grosjean's troubles with the BBW system, supplied by Ferrari but developed by Haas, led to two off track excursions during Thursday's running, while his engine also cut out late on.

But Friday marked a significant improvement, as Grosjean racked up 66 laps, and noted a much improved feeling with the brakes, before stepping aside for Gutiérrez, who added 25.

"Our final day was very different from the previous days," said Grosjean.

"The guys did an amazing job [on Thursday night] to understand the problem with the brake-by-wire. They got it solved. It was a big relief to be able to drive the car and drive it well.

"There are still a few places where we can improve massively, but we're working on it."

Haas team boss Guenther Steiner reckons the squad is now in a solid position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, which takes place in a fortnight's time.

"It was definitely a better day than the previous three days," he said.

"We made a lot of progress. We sorted our problems from [Thursday's running] with our brake-by-wire and got some laps in. This was our last day testing before Australia.

"We're as well prepared as we can be at this moment."

Jolyon Palmer in the Renault
Jolyon Palmer in the Renault

Palmer: Pre-season 'a little bit disastrous'
Jolyon Palmer has admitted that pre-season preparations for his rookie campaign have been a "little bit disastrous" as he suffered the bulk of the reliability issues at Renault.

Initial software struggles restricted Palmer to only 79 laps across the opening test, the least mileage of any driver, while gearbox and hydraulics problems affected his run plan at the second test.

Despite comfortably surpassing his week one lap count in the second group session, Palmer conceded that his experience at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was far from ideal.

"[It's been] more frustration," Palmer commented.

"In the end we managed to get a little bit of performance running in which was good, but every day has been something going wrong, such as the hydraulic problem which cost a couple of hours."

When pressed on his time at the wheel, Palmer said: "It's been a little bit disastrous, to be honest.

"[Restricted mileage] is not what you want as a rookie trying to turn up to Melbourne and do a good job."

Palmer was nonetheless encouraged by Kevin Magnussen's running in the RS16, the Dane having completed 509 laps across four days at the Spanish Grand Prix venue.

"It's good because if he does the same laps as me we're in trouble; he had four trouble free days.. I wish I had four trouble free days, but it's unlucky," Palmer added.

"I'm pleased for the team because at least Kevin has given us a direction and a good understanding, and we can work a lot [before the first race] with what he's done."

Rio Haryanto in the Manor
Rio Haryanto in the Manor

Haryanto feels 'well prepared' for debut
Rio Haryanto says he feels "really well prepared" for his Formula 1 debut with Manor Racing, despite a troubled final day of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Haryanto lost the majority of the final morning due to technical problems, completing only an installation lap just before the lunch break, adding pressure for the afternoon session.

Haryanto went on to complete 58 laps, clocking a 1:25.899 on the Ultra Soft tire, almost a second adrift of team-mate Pascal Wehrlein's effort with the same tire on Thursday.

"It was a bit of a whirlwind to be honest but I feel really well prepared after the many test items we covered," Haryanto said of his final test day in the Mercedes-powered MRT05.

"I think we've brought the car to a really good place since we launched it 11 days ago so I'm excited to see how we stand versus the competition. I can't wait to be on track in Melbourne.

"My thanks to the whole team for giving me the best start to my Formula 1 debut. We've had a lot of very long days and nights at the track but I'm sure it will be worth it."

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