Latest F1 news in brief – Tuesday

  • Nasr admits scoring points near impossible
    Nasr admits scoring points near impossible

    Nasr admits points will be difficult in 2016

  • Drivers not unanimous in supporting 'halo' concept
  • Marko praise means Renault step 'huge' – Berger
  • Hamilton must be 'driver' not 'rapper' for 2016 title
  • Final test will show Mercedes strength – Arrivabene
  • Alonso found 'happiness' at McLaren-Honda
  • Alonso confirms near Hamilton-Ferrari swap for 2015
  • US GP hopes buoyed as Austin lowers tax bill
  • King retains Manor development role
  • Barcelona pre-season testing (2): Day 1 line-up
  • Ericsson eyes consistent points finishes

Nasr admits points will be difficult in 2016
(GMM) Sauber is targeting the midfield in 2016.

Last year, the Swiss team finished a lowly eighth in the constructors' championship, and late on Monday it became the last team to unveil its new car for 2016.

It is notably similar to its predecessor, but driver Felipe Nasr, whose sponsor Banco do Brasil is Sauber's main backer, said the C35 is in fact a "new concept".

"I hope that the car is born well," the Brazilian, ahead of the Ferrari-powered machine's Barcelona debut on Tuesday, was quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.

Designer Mark Smith says the C35 is based on a "slightly different aerodynamic philosophy", with boss and co-owner Monisha Kaltenborn declaring that the plan for 2016 is "to clearly improve".

"Obviously, there's a certain position we'd like to achieve. But, to start with, it's important to become established in mid-field. Only then are we going to focus on individual positions," she added.

Nasr agrees that Sauber's expectations for 2016 should be kept in check.

"To be regularly in the points would be a good target for us," he said. "Each team will be taking a step forward and I expect that the midfield will be very close.

"Driving in the top 10 will already be a big challenge."

There are three Ferrari-powered customers in 2016, but only Sauber and Haas will share the 2016-specification power unit with the works team.

The closely Ferrari-aligned Haas, therefore, has been singled out as a particular rival.

"With their resources, they can develop well and catch up quickly, even if it is difficult for any new team to come into formula one and master all the operational issues," said Nasr.

Hulkenberg wants to keep his head exposed so something like a flying wheel could hit him in the head and kill him just like happened with Surtees' son
Hulkenberg wants to keep his head exposed so something like a flying wheel could hit him in the head and kill him just like happened with Surtees' son

Drivers not unanimous in supporting 'halo' concept
(GMM) Not every driver is on board with F1's plans to cover the cockpits.

After Grand Prix Drivers' Association chief Alex Wurz declared recently that "all the drivers hope that passing the additional head protection will be a formality", the FIA duly cleared the path for its introduction in 2017.

During last week's Barcelona testing, however, Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg made clear his opposition.

"It's just a personal thing. I don't like it. For me, it (the F1 cockpit) should be open," said the German.

His comments follow a period late last year when teams were provided with a mock-up of the proposed 'halo', designed initially by Mercedes, in order to get driver feedback.

"I think maybe it was Nico Hulkenberg who said he wasn't really for it," Daniel Ricciardo told the Sunday Age newspaper, "but I think most of the other guys are (for it) so we'll see what happens."

The Red Bull driver said other drivers who were formerly opposed to covering the cockpits were convinced by the deaths last year of Jules Bianchi and Indycar's Justin Wilson.

But there are others, like Hulkenberg, who would prefer F1 stick to its roots.

"For me, safety is obviously on the agenda, but it is not a massive concern," Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer told PA Sport.

"I think IndyCar is quite different to formula one in that point of view," he said.

"A car (in IndyCar) hits the wall on the outside and all the debris has nowhere to go apart from back on the circuit. If you have an accident in formula one … by and large if you hit a wall you are quite a long way from the track.

"I think we need to be careful not to go away from what formula one has always been, which is an open cockpit," Palmer added.

Dr Helmut Marko
Dr Helmut Marko

Marko praise means Renault step 'huge' – Berger
(GMM) Rare sounds of praise for Renault are emerging from the Red Bull camp ahead of the 2016 season.

Last year, the strained relationship between the two parties broke down completely, meaning Red Bull lost its title sponsor Infiniti and had to re-brand its customer supply of turbo V6 power as 'Tag Heuer' for the new season.

But Dr Helmut Marko, formerly the chief critic of Renault's slow progress in the 'power unit' era, is now sounding much more positive.

"The car is fantastic as expected," he told Germany's Auto Bild, "but I am especially satisfied by the work Renault has done over the winter.

"In terms of reliability and responsiveness of the Tag-Heuer Renault, they have done a step," Marko said.

Some analysts, however, question whether Renault has actually upped its game in pure horse power, but Marko said the marque's improvements are in fact "finally reflected in laptime".

Marko's comments are sure to raise eyebrows.

"If Helmut is praising Renault, then the step on the engine side must be huge," said former F1 driver and long-time Red Bull supporter Gerhard Berger.

And not only that, Marko said Renault is planning to take another big step forward after the first handful of races in 2016.

"There is a major performance update planned" for Canada, he told Auto Bild.

"Then, podiums on our own steam will even be possible," said Marko.

I'm cool dude
I'm cool dude

Hamilton must be 'driver' not 'rapper' for 2016 title
(GMM) The outcome of the 2016 world championship will depend in large part on whether Lewis Hamilton is sufficiently focused.

That is the view of Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion and now an outspoken pundit, who thinks this year's battle could once again be a two-horse race between the silver-clad Mercedes drivers.

"To understand whether he (Hamilton) or Nico will be most competitive, first we will have to see if Hamilton's head is more with the rappers than on the track, as happened in the final races of last season," he said.

"We will have to see if he feels like a driver again," Villeneuve, speaking at the launch of Italian broadcaster Sky's F1 coverage for 2016, added.

Quoted by La Repubblica newspaper, Villeneuve was also critical of Fernando Alonso, arguing that the Spaniard priced himself out of the market for a more competitive seat in F1.

In moving to the struggling McLaren-Honda project, 44-year-old Villeneuve argued, "He made a risky choice, but we can hardly say 'Oh poor thing' given that he earns 30 million a year.

"Of course, few drivers would say no to that kind of money, but Alonso paid the price for his arrogance when he was angry with Ferrari.

"Although he says he made the right choice, it is impossible that he really thinks that. Vettel has already done better than him because he brought peace to Ferrari," he insisted.

As for whether Sebastian Vettel can really challenge his silver-clad rivals in 2016, Villeneuve is not sure.

"In my opinion," the former Williams driver said, "the Silver Arrows were never really pushed to the maximum last year. Definitely Ferrari will have made progress, but the first thing will be to see what level Mercedes is at."

And he thinks Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen can also not be written off.

"He may be the surprise of the season," said French Canadian Villeneuve. "Last year he received a lot of criticism but he is a more serious and stronger driver than before."

Villeneuve does not, however, rate Red Bull's chances, particularly because of Daniel Ricciardo.

"He suffers a lot because of the pressure," he charged. "As soon as he became the first driver, he disappeared."

Maurizio Arrivabene is smoking something if he thinks Mercedes will show their full hand this week. They didn't show their full hand last year until the first race
Maurizio Arrivabene is smoking something if he thinks Mercedes will show their full hand this week. They didn't show their full hand last year until the first race

Final test will show Mercedes strength – Arrivabene
(GMM) Ferrari's hopes for 2016 rest on the progress Mercedes has been able to make over the winter.

That is the claim of Maurizio Arrivabene, the Ferrari team boss, amid media reports even the innovative new white and red SF16-H car might not be enough to prevent Mercedes from winning a third consecutive championship this year.

"The question is not 'How good are we?'" Arrivabene told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

"It is rather 'How strong is Mercedes?' As they are still the best on the field.

"If we can stay for a moment in the language of football," the Italian continued, "they have the ball and we have to catch them on the wrong foot."

Arrivabene said Ferrari's engineers and drivers have no doubt the new car is good, "but we still lack the comparison with Mercedes under identical conditions.

"I guess in the next four days of testing, we will get a clearer picture of where we stand and where we still need to work," he added.

But Arrivabene said that, despite Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne having set the target of winning in Melbourne, the 21-race world championship will be played by the main protagonists as a long game.

"As in all businesses, it is your leader who sets the goals," he said. "The president has given us everything we asked for so it is right that he expects the best.

"What matters is the result at the end of November, but it is obvious that a good start would give us a boost," added Arrivabene.

Fernando Alonso happy at McLaren where he is a backmarker
Fernando Alonso happy at McLaren-Honda where he is a backmarker. He says Mercedes is running their own championship

Alonso found 'happiness' at McLaren-Honda
(GMM) Fernando Alonso insists that, although ultimate success in F1 has eluded him for a decade, he has found "happiness" with the McLaren-Honda project.

Some, however, see the Spaniard's situation vastly differently, after he left Ferrari amid apparent acrimony only to find a vastly less competitive alternative.

But Alonso, 34, scoffs at the retirement rumors.

"Never," he insisted to Cadena Ser radio when asked if he had even considered it.

"I never thought about retirement or a sabbatical. I do not think I am the most talented on the grid, but I think I am one who has worked the hardest to get the results in these 16 years.

"A withdrawal or a year out is unthinkable for my character," Alonso said.

He said an elusive search for a winning car is particularly common in the world of formula one.

"In sport only one can win, and in F1 winning is very predictable — very early on you know you can or cannot win, which is cruel."

It might be said that after early success, Alonso's luck took a steady decline for the worst, first as he narrowly missed the title at Ferrari and now amid the deep McLaren slump.

Alonso disagrees.

"I don't think luck changes, it's just the nature of sport, with only one winner.

"At Ferrari we were close and now at McLaren we are starting a project that is still some way off. We are trying to improve, you always want it more or faster but my motivation is intact.

"Success is very temporary, it (the goal) is to find happiness in what you do because that way you perform better and better. I have found that in recent years," said Alonso.

That is not to say that 2015 was not frustrating for Alonso, as his desperate radio calls about Honda's "GP2 engine" and "embarrassing" situation showed.

"It was very hard," he said. "Frustrating, because you had no chance. We left the pits knowing that after 10 laps we would lose cylinders, or that the batteries would not last.

"I was not angry. The project was at an early stage and we all needed to pull in the same direction to mature it. And that's what we're doing."

Asked if he will have a car capable of being on the podium in 2016, Alonso answered: "We'll see.

"We are coming from a very low base so our need for improvement is great. To be up there, our improvement has to be huge."

He denies reports that Honda's horse power deficit to Mercedes is still 200hp.

"200 is impossible," said Alonso. "We will have less power for sure, between 30 and 80, but not 200.

"The feelings from the car are already good although I noticed there are improvements to do. But Mercedes is in another championship.

"I don't think we are far from a podium, although I would be surprised if we achieve this straight away, as in the first races we will not have everything in place."

That much was clear on the final day of the first Barcelona test last week, when Alonso's tally of 3 laps for the entire day reminded the F1 world of the team's woeful 2015.

"The last day of the week was very bad," he admits. "To change an engine takes three to four hours, and to repair what happened with us took eleven hours.

"I think F1 now is very complex to understand."

Asked if he likes F1 less today than when he won his titles, Alonso nodded: "Yes because the cars are slower. The aerodynamics now are very strict and the car weighs 120 kilograms more.

"But it has always been more of a championship for engineers than for drivers."

And yet, he insists he has never felt more supported by the fans.

"The audience and the popularity of F1 has fallen in all countries," Alonso said, "because the races are a bit boring and there is less interest. But for me I feel more love from the people."

Fernando Alonso still in denial Ferrari sacked him
Fernando Alonso still in denial Ferrari sacked him

Alonso confirms near Hamilton-Ferrari swap for 2015
(GMM) Fernando Alonso says he almost switched to Mercedes last year in a move that would have involved Lewis Hamilton replacing him at Ferrari.

As it became clear during the 2014 season that all was not well with Alonso and Ferrari's relationship, rumors emerged that the Maranello team and Mercedes might do a sensational driver swap.

"It was tried. Yes, yes, there was this offer," Alonso told Cadena Ser radio.

"There were the circumstances for this idea but in that moment Ferrari didn't want it. We were in full negotiations to renew with me until 2019, so in the end Ferrari did not convince me and I went to McLaren-Honda," he said.

"I don't know if Hamilton knew about it," said Alonso.

As for why he didn't stick around at Ferrari to reap the fruits of the fabled team's current resurgence, the 34-year-old explained: "I did not want to stay at Ferrari to be third until 2019.

"They were changing times at Ferrari and I still say that it was the right moment to close a wonderful story for me," Alonso said.

US GP hopes buoyed as Austin lowers tax bill
(GMM) Hopes are increasing that the embattled US grand prix will in fact take place in October.

Currently, the popular Austin race is marked as "subject to confirmation" on the 2016 calendar, after the Texan government reduced its annual contribution to the race fee from $25 million to less than $20 million.

But F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Forbes at the weekend: "I think Austin will happen this year.

"(Race chief Bobby) Epstein is confident. He knows the money is coming," Ecclestone told the F1 business journalist Christian Sylt.

The reason for Ecclestone and Epstein's buoyed mood may have been explained on Tuesday, in a report by the local Austin newspaper American Statesman.

It explains that the Circuit of the Americas has reached an agreement with local authorities to lower the paper value of the venue by a staggering $180 million.

The report estimated the tax saving at about $13 million.

Officials declared in a statement: "Circuit of The Americas is glad to have this matter resolved and looks forward to a bright future as a contributing member of the community."

Jordan King's check was only big enough to be a test driver
Jordan King's check was only big enough to be a test driver

King retains Manor development role
Jordan King will retain his role as Manor's development driver in 2016, the team confirmed ahead of the second pre-season test in Spain.

King, 22, joined Manor at the start of 2015 and sampled Formula 1 machinery for the first time during the post-race tire test in Abu Dhabi.

King will also continue to compete in the GP2 Series for Racing Engineering, having finished 12th overall in his rookie campaign last year.

"Spending time trackside with the team last year was really important for me and for where I want to get to," King commented.

"I saw all the processes and techniques that go into running an F1 team, plus I got a good grasp of how the tires work as well as the data.

"So when I got the chance to drive the MR03B in the Abu Dhabi test, it felt like I'd had a massive head-start and I was really confident.

"I racked up 300km in that test and loved every second in the car. But what I want to do now is race one and I'm flat out working to achieve that.

"Continuing in the development driver role with Manor is key to that progression.

"I'm excited to be working with Dave Ryan, Pascal [Wehrlein] and Rio [Haryanto] for the first time, as well as the guys I'm more familiar with."

Barcelona pre-season testing (2): Day 1 line-up
The second four-day pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is upon us and, to keep you up to date with who is in action, here 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

Valtteri Bottas

Red Bull
Daniil Kvyat

Force India
Nico Hülkenberg

Kevin Magnussen

Toro Rosso
Max Verstappen

Felipe Nasr

Fernando Alonso

Rio Haryanto

Esteban Gutierrez

Marcus Ericsson hopes the new Sauber will bring consistent point finishes
Marcus Ericsson hopes the new Sauber will bring consistent point finishes

Ericsson eyes consistent points finishes
Marcus Ericsson is hopeful that Sauber's new C35 package will enable the team to fight for points on a regular basis in 2016, after its 2015 efforts faded away.

Sauber began the 2015 season with a sizeable 14-point haul in Australia, but added just 22 more over the remaining 18 Grands Prix amid a lack of development.

Ericsson, who continues as part of an unchanged driver line-up alongside Felipe Nasr, is optimistic of a more consistent challenge for the top 10 positions this year.

"The battle for positions is getting fiercer," Ericsson began.

"But I'm convinced that, with the new car, we're going to take a step forward so that we can finish in the points with greater consistency and under our own steam.

"Last year we managed a good start. In the second half it was a harder struggle for us to score points.

"This season I'd like to see us being in contention for points and fighting on a level where speed is decisive. I know that everyone at the factory is working very hard in this direction."

Nasr was a little more hesitant about setting goals, but nonetheless expects progress.

"It's difficult for me to predict how the positions behind the top teams are going to pan out this season – and where we'll be able to line up in that part of the field" he said.

"We're going to put innovations on the grid, but so are our competitors, and their efficiency remains to be seen. It's hardly possible to make any predictions under these circumstances.

"The whole team has been working very hard to explore areas in the car that we can improve. That's why I'm confident that we've made progress [over the winter].

"The season will show what positions we'll be able to achieve with it."

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