Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • Raikkonen in the Ferrari with Halo installed
    Raikkonen in the Ferrari with Halo installed

    Ferrari debuts Halo at Barcelona test

  • Magnussen happier at Renault than at McLaren
  • Alonso 'happy' at improving McLaren – Boullier
  • Wolff plays down Alonso driver swap claims
  • Todt 'still friends' with stricken Schumacher
  • Heat on Pirelli as tire pressures rise
  • Qualifying format still unknown for Melbourne
  • Barcelona pre-season testing: Day 3 line-up
  • Rosberg confident after race simulation
  • Renault Hopes Formula 1 Participation Will Push Car Sales

The Halo is far better than nothing
The Halo is far better than nothing

Ferrari debuts Halo at Barcelona test
Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen has publicly debuted a prototype of the 'halo' head protection system, which could be added to the sport's regulations ahead of the 2017 campaign, during pre-season testing.

Raikkonen ran with the device, which wraps around the cockpit of the SF16-H in the form of three struts, at the start of the penultimate day of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Raikkonen says the visibility of Formula 1's proposed halo head protection system "was OK" according to Ferrari, after becoming the first driver to try it during pre-season testing.

Assessing the results, Andy Mellor, the FIA's lead researcher for the Global Institute for Road Safety on this project, said to Autosport: "It's very impressive that although the structure is positioned close to the driver's helmet to provide protection from all angles, it is still able to prevent the wheel from contacting the helmet.

"In the very short distance available a huge amount of energy is absorbed and the wheel is successfully redirected."

The FIA prototype was made out of steel, while Ferrari's is made of carbon fibre.

The key concern, however, is – and remains – visibility.

Speaking in the FIA's monthly magazine Auto, Mellor added: "We need to avoid creating any blindspots as that would introduce an unacceptable additional risk during racing.

"We are looking to achieve a structure that provides a full panorama of forward and sideways binocular vision, allowing only very small areas of monocular vision restricted by the structure."

Increasing head protection has been a key topic of discussion in Formula 1 in recent years, with the urge for improvements accelerated by the deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson.

At last week's meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission is was concluded that some form of cockpit protection would be introduced for 2017, with the 'halo' the preferred choice.

"It's the preferred option because with the short amount of time, this solution can be implemented without having any negatives, or unknown negatives," the GPDA Chairman Alex Wurz explained.

"It's the swiftest solution. Everyone in the industry agreed that it should be swift."

Kevin Magnussen happier at Renault - of course, he is driving and not warming the bench
Kevin Magnussen happier at Renault – of course, he is driving and not warming the bench

Magnussen happier at Renault than at McLaren
(GMM) Kevin Magnussen appears a happier man in 2016, in the wake of his ill-fated McLaren adventure.

"I can feel that he fits in really well in this team," his mother Britt said in the Renault motor home in Barcelona.

"It's as if the good old Kevin is back," she added.

Indeed, Magnussen admits to struggling in the last couple of years, following the high pressure of his 2014 debut at McLaren, his replacement by Fernando Alonso last year, and his unceremonious ousting late in the season.

Kevin confirmed to BT newspaper: "I've always been a big fan of McLaren, but I fit in better at Renault. It is also that McLaren is a big team on the way down, while Renault is coming up and it's a great atmosphere."

According to another Danish newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, he continued: "It was hard to be a new driver at a team (McLaren) with a lot of expectations and a lot of pressure.

"It's something else to be with a team that you feel is coming up.

"You can feel there is more money and it's being built up with more people rather than less and less money," Magnussen explained. "It goes in a different direction here than at McLaren and it's very motivating," he added.

Continuing to contrast Renault with McLaren, he said: "Renault and Enstone are better at finding problems.

"McLaren was really good at solving problems – Renault is as well – but I think McLaren sometimes had a hard time finding them. When they did, they were solved quickly."

Finally, Magnussen predicted that Renault will make rapid progress this year and beyond, despite the fact it might struggle initially on the cusp of the points.

"We need to improve in many areas," he told the Danish broadcaster TV2, "but until now the team has not had the money to develop.

"Everything should be up and running again now, and then we will catch up."

Alonso happy because he is going to be a father
Alonso happy because he is going to be a father

Alonso 'happy' at improving McLaren – Boullier
(GMM) Things are finally looking up at McLaren.

While some analysts believe the Honda power unit is still easily the least powerful in the field, it seems the Japanese carmaker may finally have turned a corner for 2016.

Gone – reportedly to the relief of bosses Eric Boullier and Ron Dennis – is the bumbling former chief Yasuhisa Arai, replaced by the more realistic Yusuke Hasegawa.

"He is a nice guy, an excellent engineer and someone with whom we can work well together," Boullier is quoted by Speed Week at the final Barcelona test.

"He has a lot of experience in racing, which is good for our common project."

Jenson Button also sounds happy, declaring dramatically after Wednesday's Barcelona running that "This is the biggest improvement in the power unit that I've felt in the last 14 months."

Nevertheless, there continue to be rumblings about the happiness or otherwise of Fernando Alonso, amid rumors he may now be eyeing the out-of-contract Nico Rosberg's Mercedes seat.

Asked if the Spaniard is happy, Boullier insisted: "He is happy to feel more power in the engine, and tomorrow (Thursday) he will be even more happy as we will have even more power."

Still, it is rumored that Alonso's target of podiums in 2016 and having 'the best chassis in the field' by the European season may in fact be an ultimatum.

As for Alonso's podium prediction, Boullier said: "I cannot tell if the goal will be points in every race or even podiums, because we have no idea where the others are.

"We also still have a lot of potential to get out of the car. All I know is that it will be better than last year."

Alonso caught in another lie. He was fired by Ferrari because they hired Vettel and he won't admit that and now Wolff has called him out for false claims he had an option to go to Mercedes. Alonso is at McLaren because no one else wants him for the kind of money he gets paid
Alonso caught in another lie. He was fired by Ferrari because they hired Vettel and he won't admit that and now Wolff has called him out for false claims he had an option to go to Mercedes. Alonso is at McLaren because no one else wants him for the kind of money he gets paid

Wolff plays down Alonso driver swap claims
(GMM) Toto Wolff has played down reports Fernando Alonso almost replaced reigning champion Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes last year.

Alonso had made the claims on Spanish radio, revealing talks took place when he was still a Ferrari driver about trading places with Mercedes' British star.

"It was tried. Yes, yes, there was this offer," the Spaniard said.

Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, played down Alonso's claims.

"We should be careful what is said in the media," he is quoted by the Mirror newspaper.

"There was some interest expressed but we were in negotiation with Lewis at the time. What I said to Fernando was that while we were negotiating with Lewis, we wouldn't talk to anyone else. And we stuck to that commitment," Wolff insisted.

It might be argued that Alonso's claims about his interest in joining Mercedes are aptly timed, as he struggles with McLaren-Honda in the same year that Nico Rosberg's Mercedes contract is set to run out.

As for the impending talks with Rosberg, Wolff said: "I want to see how the season pans out."

But it is believed the 2015 swap between Mercedes and Ferrari was touted because neither the drivers nor Mercedes had the appetite to pair Hamilton with Alonso.

Hamilton told Britain's Sky in Barcelona: "I don't care who I race against.

"I'm happy with what we have here," he added. "We've already raced together in the same car and got a result so it's not like anything else needs proving."

Finally, the reigning triple world champion played down suggestions his Barcelona test form suggests he may still be struggling to match Rosberg's pace.

"What can I say?" Hamilton answered. "This is just testing."

Todt (R) still friends with Schumacher
Todt (R) still friends with Schumacher

Todt 'still friends' with stricken Schumacher
(GMM) Jean Todt says he is still friends with Michael Schumacher, even in the wake of the seven time world champion's serious head injuries.

Little is known about the highly-confidential condition of Schumacher today, more than two years after he fell whilst skiing in the French alps.

But Todt, once the boss at Ferrari during the Schumacher reign and now FIA president, said the sad fate of the 47-year-old German is still "difficult to comprehend".

"I remember how worried I was after he left Ferrari and started racing motorcycles. So I was glad when he came back to F1 with Mercedes," he told Germany's Sport Bild.

On the Ferrari days, Todt looks back with fondness, saying Schumacher was the key to that success.

"When things go bad, the Italians tend – as we have seen in recent years – to blame each other. The chassis people say it is the engine. The engine people say it is the chassis. Or we do not have the right driver.

"With Michael, I solved at least one of these problems," he said.

Actually, Todt said the Ferrari savior might easily have been Ayrton Senna, as the great Brazilian expressed interest in joining Ferrari in 1994.

"He wanted to come to Ferrari and Ferrari wanted him," he told Auto Bild Motorsport.

"I had a long meeting with him (in 1993) and I was fascinated by the sound of his voice — he spoke very slowly and extremely clearly."

But Todt said Ferrari already had Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger under contract, to which Senna replied: "In formula one, contracts have no value."

Todt disagreed, but "I called him again to make him an offer for 1995, but he declined as he had already decided on Williams".

And so Ferrari snapped up Schumacher for 1996.

"To me he was the only driver at the time who could make Ferrari world champion again. It was the combination of talent, dedication, loyalty. And he was a reference for the engineers."

Today, Todt says it is up to Schumacher's German successor, Sebastian Vettel, to take Ferrari back to the top.

"When I came to Ferrari," said Todt, "on a scale from one to ten, it was a three. But when Sebastian came it was a seven and he has made progress quickly."

As for his relationship with the great Schumacher today, Todt frowns.

"My relationship with him has changed of course, but I still have a relationship with him," he insists. "I'm still his friend.

"And my relationship with Corinna and the family has become much more intense. I feel a responsibility to stand by them."

Heat on Pirelli with new compounds
Heat on Pirelli with new compounds

Heat on Pirelli as tire pressures rise
(GMM) The heat is back on Pirelli as a new F1 season looms.

For the sake of the racing, the official supplier has added a new layer to its compounds for 2016 to limit the tires’ effective lives and force pitstops.

The rules have also been tweaked so that three compounds instead of two can be used by drivers every weekend, and the new 'ultra soft' has been turning heads in Barcelona.

Still, world champion Lewis Hamilton sounded unimpressed on Wednesday.

"These tires are not particularly good," said the Mercedes driver.

"Actually I wish we had last year's tires because these aren't as good," he added.

Auto Motor und Sport, the specialist German source, thinks it knows why.

In the third year of stable regulations, the 2016 generation of cars have more power and downforce, and yet laptimes are no faster compared to a year ago.

"The reason is the high pressures prescribed by Pirelli," reported correspondent Michael Schmidt.

Following some tire blowouts mid last year, Pirelli got the FIA's support in mandating high minimum tires pressures that the teams must obey.

For 2016, it is believed the pressures are on average 5 PSI higher than at the same time last year.

"It's like driving on eggshells," one unnamed driver is quoted as saying.

Charlie Whiting
Charlie Whiting

Qualifying format still unknown for Melbourne
(GMM) The 'will it, won't it' saga of the ever-changing qualifying format for 2016 continued in Barcelona on Wednesday.

The F1 Commission recently agreed a tweaked 'musical chairs' format for the new season, but Bernie Ecclestone said it would be delayed until May so his software writers could catch up.

However, team bosses met with Charlie Whiting on Wednesday and a new solution was agreed that can reportedly make its debut on time in Australia.

It will see Q1 and Q2 switch to the one by one, 90-second 'musical chairs' elimination, before the final eight runners duke it out for pole as per the old format.

But just as that news broke, some insiders were claiming that the deal is still not done.

And that is not just because Friday's World Motor Sport Council meeting in Geneva will have to rubber-stamp it, but because the strategy group and F1 Commission may need to be reconvened to agree the latest tweak.

According to SID news agency, McLaren-Honda chief Eric Boullier agreed that Wednesday's meeting was "not a final decision".

"It was just a discussion," he added. But he said his belief is that, as it stands, qualifying will be 'musical chairs' in Q1 and Q2, and "Q3 the same as before".

"Date of introduction unknown," the Frenchman admitted.

Even the FIA did not want to talk about the debut date of a tweaked qualifying format in 2016, although spokesman Matteo Bonciani suggested it was only ever Bernie Ecclestone who spoke about a delay.

"We never communicated anything to the contrary," he is quoted by the German news agency SID.

What is clear, however, is that frenzied discussions are taking place. Indeed, even the drivers were convened for a rare meeting with F1 race director Charlie Whiting after the sun set in Barcelona on Wednesday.

Sergio Perez was quoted by DPA news agency as saying afterwards: "We are not very happy with these changes.

"The new system seems very complicated for the audience and for us. We believe that the qualifying we have had until now was right," the Force India driver added.

Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, spoke for others who are concerned that the precise qualifying format is not known just two weeks before heading to Australia.

"Obviously it would be nice to know," said the Renault driver. "It would make it easier for everyone to prepare.

"We will just have to see what happens. We can give our opinion, but it's not up to us."

Above Hamilton admits he is struggling to keep pace with Rosberg this year. Why? Because Mercedes has already decided who will be the 2016 F1 champion
Rosberg and Hamilton will again split duties for Mercedes on Thursday. Above Hamilton admits he is struggling to keep pace with Rosberg this year. Why? Because rumor has it that Mercedes has already decided who will be the 2016 F1 champion

Barcelona pre-season testing: Day 3 line-up
The second pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya continues on Thursday and below is the driver line-up.

Running will take place from 09:00 to 13:00 and from 14:00 to 18:00 (CET).

Nico Rosberg (am), Lewis Hamilton (pm)

Kimi Raikkonen

Felipe Massa

Red Bull
Daniil Kvyat

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg

Jolyon Palmer

Toro Rosso
Max Verstappen

Felipe Nasr

Fernando Alonso

Pascal Wehrlein

Romain Grosjean

Rosberg knows no one is going to beat the Aldo Costa designed Mercedes on a regular basis. Ferrari may get a few wins like last year
Rosberg knows no one is going to beat the Aldo Costa designed Mercedes on a regular basis. Ferrari may get a few wins like last year

Rosberg confident after race simulation
Nico Rosberg says he feels "well prepared" for the Australian Grand Prix after carrying out a race simulation during pre-season testing.

Mercedes again split its running in Barcelona on Wednesday, with Lewis Hamilton driving in the morning, and Rosberg in action in the afternoon.

Rosberg spent his latest four-hour allocation working through long runs in preparation for the opening race of the season later this month.

"It was another useful day of testing," Rosberg explained.

"I did a full Melbourne race simulation and I feel well prepared now.

"The team have done a great job so far both in the factory and here on track. The car feels great out there and I haven't had a major problem yet. I hope this will continue."

Hamilton finished the day second fastest with a Soft-tyre effort, splitting Williams driver Valtteri Bottas and Renault's Kevin Magnussen, who both used Super Softs.

"Reliability is our strength at the moment; the strength within the team has grown even further. It's really motivating for the season," Hamilton commented after his half-day.

"The car was good, we did some lower fuel running but some work needs to be done balance-wise.

"Getting onto the softer tyre was a good experience, but we've got some work to do still."

Renault Hopes Formula 1 Participation Will Push Car Sales
The head of the Renault-Nissan alliance said that owning a Formula One team "is key to selling cars in emerging markets," according to Peter Campbell of the FINANCIAL TIMES.

Renault-Nissan Chair/CEO Carlos Ghosn said that the high-speed racing series is a "vehicle for awareness" in countries such as India and Brazil, and defended ownership of Renault's Formula One team as a "business" decision. Renault and Nissan have an alliance under which each is "run independently but share management, manufacturing and elements of the supply chain."

In a speech at the Geneva motor show on Tuesday, Ghosn described the deal as "a partnership that works."

Carmakers are "seeking ways to boost sales in emerging markets amid falling margins in traditional heartlands" such as Europe and the U.S. Costs of pushing or expanding in new markets where there is little brand awareness "can be prohibitive."

Ghosn said, "We now have strong presence in China, India, Brazil, Russia, Iran, Middle East. All countries where Formula One is very popular."

He said that it was important to own a team "not just because we are racing lovers and we love sports cars but because it is a business."

Ghosn did not emphasize "the importance of winning Formula One races." Rather he indicated that Renault's participation was enough to increase its exposure, and key to the company's drive in emerging markets "for the next five to six years" FT

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