Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • Sergio Perez

    Force India ends Perez-to-Renault rumors

  • Teams still arguing over Pirelli tire test
  • Vettel 'dangerous' to Mercedes' title charge – Lauda
  • McLaren at Honda's HQ for 'crisis talks'
  • Bianchi's father cannot watch Japanese GP
  • 'Always hope' despite latest Schumacher reports
  • Lotus' struggles laid bare, no news on Button retirement
  • Mercedes car not designed for Singapore – Lowe

Force India ends Perez-to-Renault rumors
(GMM) Force India has ended speculation it may lose Sergio Perez and his Mexican backing to the new Renault works team in 2016.

Reports this week suggested the 25-year-old could be set to replace the Haas-bound Romain Grosjean at Enstone.

But at Suzuka ahead of the Japanese grand prix, Force India said Perez is staying put.

"I've always said I want to establish myself in a team and it's the right moment to announce my commitment for the future," the former Sauber and McLaren driver said.

Speaking to reporters at Suzuka, Perez admitted that Renault was a "serious option" for 2016, but he is ultimately "very happy" to stay at Silverstone for a third consecutive year.

"You always listen to other options and offers, so if Renault come they are an attractive team, but at the moment I knew that the best for me is staying here," he insisted.

Pirelli F1 tires
Pirelli F1 tires

Teams still arguing over Pirelli tire test
(GMM) F1 teams are reportedly still arguing over whether Pirelli's new 'ultra soft' compound for the 2016 season will be tested in Abu Dhabi after the November season finale.

Paul Hembery said in Singapore that a two-day session at the Yas Marina circuit has been lined up, as Pirelli aims to introduce a fifth tire compound next year.

But some teams, including Force India, are arguing that a two-day test is excessive, according to Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

Team manager Andy Stevenson said the issue of who pays for the test is a sticking point.

"We pay for our tires," he said, "so why should we also bear Pirelli's development costs?"

The report said that if the Abu Dhabi test is ultimately shelved, so too will be Pirelli's new fifth compound.

Vettel will be down some 100 HP to Hamilton at the fast Suzka track so won't have a chance
Vettel will be down some 100 HP to Hamilton at the fast Suzka track so he won't have a chance unless the Mercedes blows up

Vettel 'dangerous' to Mercedes' title charge – Lauda
(GMM) Ahead of the Japanese grand prix, Niki Lauda has admitted to some concern about Mercedes' mysterious performance slump just days ago in Singapore.

Theories – some wild – about the reason for the usually-dominant German team's slip behind Ferrari and Red Bull are still circulating, as it is believed even Mercedes is still not entirely sure.

Team chairman and F1 legend Lauda, however, denied the reason could be Pirelli's new higher tire pressure rules, particularly after Lewis Hamilton was almost disqualified over the controversy at Monza.

"No. We have always used the pressures imposed by Pirelli and the FIA, just like everyone else," the great Austrian told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.

And what about the theory that Mercedes' new engine specification is producing so much torque that it is burning out Pirelli's tires?

"No, it was neither (of those theories), believe me," Lauda insisted.

Whatever the reason, some believe the 49-point gap between Hamilton and Ferrari's chasing Sebastian Vettel could now be bridged before the November finale.

Asked if he is worried, Lauda answered: "Theoretically no, because we have the advantage over Ferrari. I still believe our car is the strongest.

"49 points is a good margin," he added, "but we cannot be distracted. The championship is as open as it was before, as you have to be careful about everything.

"But what Vettel did forces us to open our eyes, as a guy like that is dangerous. And Ferrari is back to being the team that we all know," said Lauda.

Ron Dennis
Ron Dennis

McLaren at Honda's HQ for 'crisis talks'
(GMM) McLaren is holding so-called 'crisis talks' ahead of struggling Honda's home grand prix in Japan.

This week, team boss Eric Boullier has been at Sakura, the Japanese carmaker's F1 base, almost 500 kilometers from the Honda-owned Suzuka track.

With Honda struggling so obviously, there is plenty to talk about.

Writing for the Telegraph, Daniel Johnson said he had even heard that supremo Ron Dennis had warned the recent meeting of the strategy group that engine development restrictions could push Honda out of the sport.

McLaren-Honda clearly have Bernie Ecclestone on their side.

"I think this is putting off other manufacturers," the F1 supremo told Forbes. "100 per cent.

"If Honda had come in and blasted away, people would have said 'If they can do it, we can do it'. Now it's the other way round. They say 'If they haven't done it, what chance have we got?'"

At the Honda meeting, chiefs will also have discussed the income situation for 2016, with McLaren reportedly to lose key backers as well as millions in official prize money.

But the German-language Speed Week said McLaren may have met with a potential Chinese sponsor last weekend in Singapore.

McLaren-Honda, meanwhile – and F1 at large – looks set to lose the 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who appears to have tired of his situation following reports the Woking team wants him to forgo a contracted pay-rise.

And the jury is out as to whether Fernando Alonso can maintain his own patience for much longer.

"We are still in our pre-season testing," the Spaniard is quoted by the Marca sports newspaper this week. "This should not be (the case) in the fourteenth race, but we are a little bit behind."

Alonso's predicament is on the lips of many paddock dwellers, including Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who told Spain's AS newspaper that he misses going wheel-to-wheel with one of F1's greats.

"Fernando is a great," the Australian agreed, "and he has had an incredible career in F1.

"He is one of those drivers who always wants to win, so I really feel bad for what is happening this year, which is not normal for someone like Fernando.

"I know they (McLaren-Honda) are trying to build for the future," Ricciardo added, "but it's tough for a champion like him."

Bianchi's father cannot watch Japanese GP
(GMM) One year on, as F1 returns to the scene of the first ultimately-fatal crash since Ayrton Senna's in 1994, Jules Bianchi's father admitted he will not be watching the Japanese grand prix.

"No," Philippe Bianchi told France's RMC in an exclusive interview. "Since the accident, I have not watched the races.

"I was in Hungary (for the sport's tribute to Bianchi) but that is the only time I have looked. But the Japanese grand prix, no — it's too difficult, just one year after the accident.

"It's unbearable," the grieving father said.

For 2015, F1 has arrived at Suzuka amid a new debate about safety, with Mr. Bianchi saying he would back moves to close the cockpits of the F1 cars.

And a bigger removal vehicle – presumably so that crashed cars can be recovered without it entering the actual track – has been placed at the ill-fated marshal-post 12 for this weekend's action.

Philippe said he has not watched footage of his son's terrible crash.

"I don't want to see it yet. I don't feel like it's the right time. I will definitely watch it one day but for now, I don't want to," he insisted.

He said he also has no contact with the sport's governing FIA, who after the Bianchi crash declared in a report that excessive speed by Bianchi contributed to the crash.

"I have not seen the pictures so I can hardly comment," said Mr. Bianchi, "but the only thing I can say is that it seems very curious, even a little funny, that a formula one driver is criticized for going too fast.

"From what I know, from what I heard, I find that a bit odd."

Philippe said it is too painful for the Bianchi family itself to be placing potential blame for Jules' fate, and so he revealed: "There are people whose job is to deal with that."

Assigning potential liability, he said, is not the priority for now, so he denied that it is the "new fight of his life".

"Today, the fight of my life is trying to rebuild a life without Jules. It was a busy year of hope and despair at times, but hope always got the upper hand because there was life.

"Then, two months ago, life stopped."

He thanked Bernie Ecclestone for insisting the Bianchi family be present in Hungary for the tributes, and also the many F1 drivers who travelled to Nice for Jules' funeral.

"The only one missing was Fernando Alonso but I talked with him in Hungary," said Philippe. "He was so affected that it was too hard for him to come."

Michael Schumacher reported to be a little over 100 lbs and wasting away as a vegetable
Michael Schumacher reported to be a little over 100 lbs and wasting away as a vegetable

'Always hope' despite latest Schumacher reports
(GMM) The late Jules Bianchi's father has urged the world not to lose hope about the recovery of F1 legend Michael Schumacher.

Updates about the condition of the great seven time world champion have been scarce since he left hospital to return home to Switzerland more than a year ago.

International reports in the last 24 hours, however, have said that the former Ferrari and Mercedes driver now weighs less than a mere 45 kilograms, cannot walk or talk and has limited consciousness.

But as he gave an interview to France's RMC on the one-year anniversary of his son's ultimately-fatal Suzuka crash, Philippe Bianchi told the Schumacher family and the wider world not to give up hope.

"We unfortunately experienced a painful tragedy as well, and like us they (the Schumacher family) showed their strength and have never let go of Michael.

"I have no news about him so I can't comment on anything because we don't always know what the sources (of the Schumacher news) are. For what I can say, it is to not let go.

"So long as Michael is still there, he fights. He is the greatest champion that formula one has known.

"Jules was very touched by the accident that happened to him (Schumacher) and today I pray that he can get through it, as he is still there and there is always hope," Philippe added.

Lotus' struggles laid bare, no news on Button retirement
(GMM) Lotus' financial woes were laid literally bare at Suzuka on Thursday.

Crates of equipment were laying wet in the paddock, the hospitality unit was completely empty as the struggling team was locked out, and there were rumors the Mercedes engines for the black and gold cars were not yet even at Suzuka.

Amidst it all, driver Romain Grosjean held his own umbrella as – without a hospitality unit to house the assembled media – he conducted his press duties in the rain.

Still, the Frenchman was smiling, probably helped by the fact that he is almost certainly departing for Haas-Ferrari in 2016.

"I am pretty pleased with my choice," said Grosjean, explaining that an announcement is coming "soon", probably next week.

For now, he is suffering with his other colleagues of the Enstone team as it waits to hear if it will be bought out by Renault.

Grosjean said Lotus' rivals have been making the struggle a little easier.

"It is quite nice to see the hospitality you get in the paddock when you are running out of food. The other teams have been opening their doors," he revealed.

Mechanics, meanwhile, are now seriously behind in their work to prepare his black and gold car, but Grosjean said: "As long as they catch up by tomorrow, I'm happy."

Meanwhile, hordes of reporters packed the room on Thursday for the FIA press conference, where Jenson Button had been tipped to announce his retirement.

The McLaren-Honda driver said: "You are going to have to wait for a little while, I'm sorry to say.

"We're in good talks, the team and myself. That's it."

Paddy Lowe making excuses - it's HP and everyone knows it
Paddy Lowe making excuses – it's HP and everyone knows it

Mercedes car not designed for Singapore – Lowe
(GMM) Mercedes sounded a little wiser on Thursday about its mysterious performance slump of Singapore.

Although just a few days of head-scratching and analysis have passed since arguably the team's worst performance of the 'power unit' era, technical chief Paddy Lowe sounded sure Singapore was the culmination of a multitude of small factors.

Firstly, he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport that the W06 is not designed for street tracks like Singapore.

"The aero characteristics of our car is for efficiency," Lowe said, "so that's maximum downforce with as little drag as possible. That is why we are so strong on circuits like Suzuka and Spa.

"And that's why we find tracks where only maximum downforce is required more difficult," he added, explaining that because Red Bull for instance is down on power, they have a completely different approach to car design.

Lowe said Mercedes' designers divide the 19 current circuits into 3 categories: street tracks Monaco and Singapore, high-speed tracks Spa and Monza, and 'the rest'.

"We have optimized our car for the rest," he revealed, adding that the second priority is the fastest tracks.

"Since wind tunnel time is limited, you have to decide where you put your priorities," said Lowe, who thinks Mercedes also made setup mistakes in Singapore.

"Singapore was also our weakest circuit last year," he recalled.

And finally, he thinks top teams Ferrari and Red Bull brought specific upgrade packages to Singapore, while Mercedes did not.

At Suzuka, however, the silver-clad team has new front and rear wings and engine cover.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who won in Singapore, said on Thursday that Mercedes' struggle last weekend was a surprise.

"It was a big surprise to see Mercedes struggling, which I don't expect to be the case here," he said at Suzuka. "Again, it would be a big surprise."

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