Latest F1 news in brief – Friday

  • German Haug pumps up German Wehrlein
    German Haug pumps up German Wehrlein

    Manor wise to sign Wehrlein – Haug

  • '50-50 chance' of Ferrari-Mercedes battle in 2016
  • Renault's Bell looks to repeat Mercedes success
  • Verstappen to drive 2016 car in simulator
  • Andretti hopes 21-race F1 calendar here to stay
  • Bottas more prepared for F1 rumors now
  • Magnussen must brush off Vasseur comments – pundit
  • Vandoorne to drive in Japan's Super Formula
  • 'Engine parity would improve F1' – Key
  • Wehrlein to use number 94 in Formula 1
  • New McLaren passes FIA crash tests
  • Mercedes-Benz pays to place junior drivers Wehrlein and Ocon in F1
  • Losing to Mercedes is damaging the Ferrari, Honda, and Renault brands

Manor wise to sign Wehrlein – Haug
(GMM) Manor has made a wise choice by signing up Pascal Wehrlein for 2016.

That is the view of Norbert Haug, a German broadcaster and the former Mercedes competition chief.

This week, the German marque announced that its new DTM champion Wehrlein is graduating to F1 for 2016, with Mercedes making a contribution to Manor's budget.

But it was believed the amounts offered by other candidates including Rio Haryanto, Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who are all still in the running for the second seat, were considerably higher than Wehrlein's purse.

"Pascal Wehrlein is a much better investment for Manor than a so-called pay driver who brings many more millions," Haug told the German-language motorsport-magazin.com.

"Should he manage to score one or more championship points, that can be worth tens of millions in itself," he added.

Haug also said the back of the grid will be a good place for Wehrlein to learn about F1 in a lower-pressure environment.

Could the next step after that be a move to the works Mercedes team?

"If Mercedes did not trust in Pascal's potential to develop towards a place in the factory team, he would not have been supported as third driver and now as DTM champion into F1 with Manor," Haug said.

"But to assume from that that one of the two race drivers (Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg) will be replaced by Wehrlein would be wrong," he added.

Wehrlein, 21, also does not hide that his ambitions lie further up the grid.

"Of course I want that," he told Kolner Express tabloid, when asked about his desire to eventually race for Mercedes.

"But I think Mercedes in its current situation has the ambition to win all the races and championships, and therefore cannot afford to put a rookie in the car. So it's very important for me right now to gain experience," Wehrlein added.

Can the Ferrari engine challenge the Mercedes engines in 2016?
Can the Ferrari engine challenge the Mercedes engines in 2016?

'50-50 chance' of Ferrari-Mercedes battle in 2016
(GMM) The jury is out as to whether Ferrari can take on Mercedes for the 2016 world championship.

What is clear is that, after two consecutive seasons of Mercedes' dominance in the new 'power unit' era, Ferrari is at least determined to close the gap.

"Ferrari have not held back over the winter," read a report at F1's official website, including an analysis by the well-known technical illustrator Giorgio Piola.

He claims Ferrari has made "modifications to almost every component" of its power unit since the last race, "indeed only the MGU-H remains in the same position as in 2015."

As the German broadcaster RTL announced that Mercedes' Niki Lauda is staying on board as a television pundit in 2016, sport director Manfred Loppe said he is hoping F1 puts on a good show this year.

"After the confident statements by Sebastian Vettel, we look forward to a long and exciting season, as when Vettel promises something, he usually delivers," said the RTL chief.

Former F1 driver Christian Danner agrees that Ferrari will have been working hard over the winter.

"All in all, I would say the chances are 50-50 that the reds will be on par with Mercedes this year," he said.

"I can imagine a three-way battle between Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel," Danner added.

But according to Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport, Mercedes has also pushed hard with development as it prepares to charge for a third consecutive triumph.

The report said the new silver machine will have new suspension, a higher nose, a slimmer rear and smaller radiators.

"In fact," wrote Gazzetta, "the car has been substantially revised in every detail", including a "completely new" engine.

Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost thinks it will be enough for Mercedes to dominate once again.

"Mercedes was so far ahead that they will once again drive rings around everyone," he told Auto Bild.

Bob Bell
Bob Bell

Renault's Bell looks to repeat Mercedes success
(GMM) Bob Bell has set to work on turning the near-collapse of the Lotus team into a Mercedes-style success story.

With the new title of chief technical officer, the Irishman has arrived at Renault from Manor, but within memory of having led Mercedes' now-dominant technical project.

He was also instrumental to the success of the last Renault works project a decade ago, but acknowledges that times have changed.

"At Mercedes, the task was similar to now" at Renault, Bell told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

"The essence of the team at Enstone still knows how to build good race cars," he added, "but we live in a different era to 2005.

"What is important now is to create the right foundation for long-term success. We're not looking to the next race, but one and a half years ahead," said Bell.

The 57-year-old will be the intermediary between Renault's two technical directors, Nick Chester (chassis) and Remi Taffin (engine).

"I will have more influence (than in the past) on engine development," Bell explained, "even if I am not an engine engineer. But both sides must be linked together.

"I have to make sure both sides are marching in the same direction, and that the resources are distributed correctly between them," he added.

Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen

Verstappen to drive 2016 car in simulator
(GMM) Max Verstappen has been at Toro Rosso's Faenza headquarters this week as the team prepares for 2016.

He told his website verstappen.nl that teammate Carlos Sainz was also there, as he met for discussions with team management.

"(We talked) about our goals, the concept with the car, the progress and the new parts of the car. There was a lot to talk about and it all looks exciting," said the young Dutchman.

Verstappen also had a seat fitting, and on Friday will move on to Red Bull's UK facility to 'drive' the 2016 car in the simulator.

"The simulator is close to reality, so I'm curious but we will then have to wait to see how it goes on the actual circuit.

"It was an intense few months, in which I have prepared physically," he said. "Hopefully we can score a lot of points."

By 'intense', Verstappen may be referring to the undoubtedly busy scenes at Faenza following the eleventh-hour deal to switch from Renault to Ferrari power for 2016.

Reports in Italy suggest Toro Rosso will be ready to roll out the STR11 on the first day of Barcelona testing, but it will be in a blank interim livery.

A more official reveal will reportedly then take place on February 29, the day before the start of the final Barcelona test.

USGP spokesperson Mario Andretti (L) hopes Bernie agrees to lower F1's fee by $6 million - which equals the cuts in government welfare COTA incurred
USGP spokesperson Mario Andretti (L) hopes Bernie agrees to lower F1's fee by $6 million – which equals the cuts in government welfare COTA incurred

Andretti hopes 21-race F1 calendar here to stay
(GMM) F1 legend Mario Andretti has his fingers crossed that the US grand prix in Austin goes ahead as planned.

The October race has been given only provisional status on the 2016 calendar, amid a funding dispute between race organisers and the Texan government.

"After all the investment to make this very attractive facility, we need this grand prix," Andretti, the 1978 world champion and a naturalized American, said.

"Interest in the US is growing, especially now that there is an American team, but I think F1 needs the US in equal measure," he told the Spanish daily El Pais.

"When you look at each team's sponsors, you see that all of them are global and most would have business there (in the US)," Andretti added.

Another cloud is hanging over the historic Italian grand prix at Monza, as La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that the latest meeting between Bernie Ecclestone and race chiefs Angelo Sticchi Damiani and Ivan Capelli in London did not go well.

A further meeting is reportedly now scheduled for the end of February.

Some in the pitlane would heave a sigh of relief if the bursting 21-race calendar is reduced in size, but 75-year-old Andretti thinks more races is a good thing.

"It is an extra burden for the teams," he said, "but they have to appreciate that it is all more exposure for the brands.

"It is wonderful for F1 because it means demand is incredible, the drivers are willing to do more races so I think it's not a bad thing at all."

Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas

Bottas more prepared for F1 rumors now
(GMM) Valtteri Bottas says he is now more prepared for when intense speculation takes center stage in his F1 career.

After a steady and impressive first few seasons in the sport, the Finn found himself in the middle of global intrigue last year amid rumors he might replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.

Ultimately, 26-year-old Bottas is staying put at Williams, but he has admitted that the speculation was an unwelcome distraction in 2015.

"In reality there is a lot more to formula one than driving," he told Finland's Ilta Sanomat newspaper.

"Maybe now I can deal with similar situations better."

Asked if the F1 media and the sport's intense rumor-mill is the worst aspect of the sport, Bottas answered: "Well, yes maybe.

"However, I am a sports person, I like the sporting and driving side and I want to win the world championship, so it's just part of the sport," he added.

Kevin Magnussen - has check will drive
Kevin Magnussen – has check will drive

Magnussen must brush off Vasseur comments – pundit
(GMM) A Danish racing driver has urged Kevin Magnussen to brush off news that he was actually only Renault's second choice for 2016.

One of new team boss Frederic Vasseur's first public acts at Renault was to announce that he actually wanted his new GP2 champion, Stoffel Vandoorne, to race this year.

"He has a contract there (at McLaren) and they did not want to let him go," said the Frenchman, who worked with Vandoorne at his GP2 team ART last year.

Some commentators have mused that Vasseur's comments were an odd way to welcome Magnussen to Renault, but one pundit says the Dane should just brush it off.

"It's a test of Kevin's psyche," Jason Watt, a Dane and former F3000 driver, told Ekstra Bladet newspaper.

"The reality is that he does need to be mentally strong. A comment like that would irritate Kevin, but he would be foolish to pursue it further," he said.

"He just has to swallow it. It might just have been said to give Vandoorne a boost, as I don't think it's a coincidence that the words were spoken (by Vasseur) to the Belgian press," Watt added.

2016 McLaren reserve and Belgian Vandoorne, 23, will race in the Japanese open wheeler series Super Formula this year, it was confirmed by Honda on Friday.

It also emerges that Esteban Ocon, Renault's third driver who remains part of Mercedes' development program, will replace the Manor-bound Pascal Wehrlein in the German touring car championship DTM in 2016.

Stoffel Vandoorne
Stoffel Vandoorne

Vandoorne to drive in Japan's Super Formula
McLaren test and reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne has secured a seat in the Japan-based Super Formula series for 2016, the Belgian confirmed on Friday morning.

Vandoorne, 23, stormed to last year's GP2 crown, taking seven wins, but was unable to progress to Formula 1, with McLaren keeping Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

Vandoorne sampled Super Formula machinery in November, and confirmed on social media on Friday that he will contest the upcoming campaign with Honda's Dandelion team.

Honda returned to Formula 1 for 2015 as McLaren's engine supplier.

James Key
James Key

'Engine parity would improve F1' — Key
Toro Rosso technical chief James Key says that engine parity would be a clear way of improving the racing in Formula 1, as the sport's bosses edge closer to a decision over regulation changes.

Formula 1 last year outlined proposals to significantly increase the speed of cars, and make them more dramatic-looking, predominantly through revised aerodynamics and wider tires.

As discussions continue over the exact changes, Key has expressed his view that Formula 1 produces a better show when the field is closely matched, and feels engine parity would help to provide it.

Formula 1 is set to scrap the controversial engine token development system for the 2017 season, in a bid to allow Ferrari, Renault and Honda to catch up with current pace-setter Mercedes.

"It's how close the cars are on the grid. If you have a grid of 22 cars covered by a couple of seconds, you get tons of racing," Key explained in a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports.

"Some circuits encourage this – Bahrain in 2014 was an absolutely cracking race. If you look at qualifying, the front to the back was some of the closest it's ever been because that type of stop-start track brought that grid a little bit closer together and then the strengths of cars play out in different ways.

"So the thing that makes it most exciting is to have less of a gap from front to back, which means you've got less performance differences and it's more down to the driver.

"To achieve that, one of the things you need is engine parity."

Key is hopeful that Formula 1 will settle on sensible changes for 2017.

"The ingredients are there but I guess the reason there's still much to understand and clarify is because it's a complicated process," Key added, as he looked ahead to next year.

"On the one hand, you want a car that's quicker, and on the other hand you want to make sure the racing's still good. It's all of those compromises that need to be fully understood, I suppose.

"Hopefully whatever the end result is we will have addressed all those enough."

Pascal Wehrlein will be #94
Pascal Wehrlein will be #94

Wehrlein to use number 94 in Formula 1
Manor's Pascal Wehrlein will use #94 as his permanent race number in Formula 1.

Wehrlein, whose Formula 1 graduation was announced on Wednesday, used the number during his time in the DTM, a championship he won in 2015, with #94 referring to his birth year of 1994.

Wehrlein is therefore set to use the highest car number on the grid, taking over from Williams driver Valtteri Bottas (77). Roberto Merhi and Adrian Sutil previously raced with #98 and #99 respectively.

Fellow rookie Jolyon Palmer will debut at Renault with #30.

F1 driver race numbers:

3 – Daniel Ricciardo
5 – Sebastian Vettel
6 – Nico Rosberg
7 – Kimi Räikkönen
8 – Romain Grosjean
9 – Marcus Ericsson
11 – Sergio Pérez
12 – Felipe Nasr
14 – Fernando Alonso
19 – Felipe Massa
20 – Kevin Magnussen
21 – Esteban Gutiérrez
22 – Jenson Button
26 – Daniil Kvyat
27 – Nico Hülkenberg
30 – Jolyon Palmer
33 – Max Verstappen
44 – Lewis Hamilton
55 – Carlos Sainz Jr.
77 – Valtteri Bottas
94 – Pascal Wehrlein

McLaren tweet
McLaren tweet

New McLaren passes FIA crash tests
McLaren's new Formula 1 car, the Honda-powered MP4-31, has passed the FIA's mandatory crash tests ahead of pre-season testing, the team announced on Tuesday.

McLaren follows on from rivals Haas F1, Manor, Renault and Sauber in publically confirming that it has homologated its car, which is required before hitting the track.

McLaren is set to launch its 2016 challenger on February 21, with the two tests taking place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from February 22-25 and March 1-4.

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button continue as team-mates for a second season, with reigning GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne acting as the outfit's reserve driver.

Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz pays to place junior drivers Wehrlein and Ocon in F1 for 2016
Continuing a long tradition of nurturing racing talent, Mercedes-Benz is pleased to have secured Formula One roles for two of its brightest young stars – Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon – during the 2016 season.

With a full-time race seat at Manor Racing for Pascal and the role of Third Driver at Renault Sport F1 Team for Esteban, both Mercedes Juniors will continue learning during the 2016 season with the continued long-term backing of Mercedes-Benz.

Pascal Wehrlein

Having established his reputation within the German motorsport community by taking the 2011 ADAC Formel Masters Series title, Pascal Wehrlein (21, Germany) saw his stock rise further after finishing runner up in his debut season in the Formula 3 Euro Series.

Pascal then made the leap into DTM with Mercedes-Benz – becoming the youngest debutant in the history of the series in 2013, the youngest race winner in 2014 and the youngest Champion in 2015.

From September 2014, Pascal combined his DTM campaign with an official role as MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team Reserve Driver – performing test duties for the Silver Arrows in Barcelona, Spielberg and Abu Dhabi the following year.

Esteban Ocon
Esteban Ocon

Esteban Ocon

After an impressive karting career, Esteban Ocon (19, France) quickly established himself as one to watch in single-seater racing – finishing third in the 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup before clinching the FIA Formula 3 European Championship (2014) and GP3 Series (2015) titles in consecutive seasons.

With his career backed by Mercedes-Benz since the beginning of the 2015 season, Esteban was confirmed as a fully-fledged Mercedes Junior at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that year – sealing the 2015 GP3 Series title just 24 hours later.

During the 2016 season, Esteban will combine his role as Third Driver for the Renault Sport F1 Team with a race seat in the Mercedes AMG DTM Team.

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
We're delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016. Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula One program presented ideal opportunities to achieve that. It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula One on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as Champions of their respective series. But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program. Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.

Losing to Mercedes is damaging the Ferrari, Honda, and Renault brands
If Ferrari fails to win a title in the next few years it will be "a tragedy", according to chairman Sergio Marchionne.

Ferrari has not won a drivers' title since 2007 and not won a constructors' championship since 2008. The longest championship drought in the team's history was between constructors' titles in 1983 and 1999, but even though the current losing streak is shorter Marchionne is concerned it is damaging the brand.

"If we were to string together victories in F1 then it would improve our brand," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I was speaking with one of our car dealerships and we agreed that the results of 2015 helped bring back credibility to the brand. If we were to somehow fail to win a title over a 10-year span it would be a tragedy."

Mercedes has dominated the last two seasons in Formula One and last year won 16 races to Ferrari's three. Marchionne said Mercedes got a head start on Ferrari under the regulations, but is reluctant to attribute blame within his team.

"[Mercedes' dominance] is because as soon as the rules were implemented they understood them immediately, while we took our time. But I don't want to criticise the past. From what I saw we didn't have the engine to win and the power unit wasn't good enough."

Yet Marchionne is confident his team will improve in the future and took the opportunity to praise team principal Maurizio Arrivabene.

"When we cleared our ranks. We won because we brought focus back to the team and began to do the things that are really important. Maurizio Arrivabene's arrival helped a lot."

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