Latest F1 news in brief – Thursday

  • 2013 GP2 champion Fabio Leimer can have an F1 ride, if he buys it

    Leimer race seat depends on 'millions' – report

  • F1 still in talks with key broadcaster
  • Hamilton trust damaged by Mercedes gaffe – pundits
  • Ferrari could take on Mercedes in Canada – Surer
  • Slump due to 'technical' reasons – Maldonado
  • Honda still targeting podium in 2015
  • Ex-Diageo chief walks away from F1
  • Ferrari/Haas: the loophole

Leimer race seat depends on 'millions' – report
(GMM) Fabio Leimer's formula one dream could be back on track.

With the 2013 GP2 title in his pocket, the 26-year-old Swiss was disappointed to find the door to F1 closed, despite his millions in backing.

"The formula one system is sick," Rainer Gantenbein, Leimer's wealthy backer, had declared to Blick newspaper.

But then, last winter, Leimer was linked with Manor, the outfit that emerged from the ashes of the Marussia collapse.

He had also planned to race this year in the top Japanese series Super Formula, but the deal fell through for financial reasons.

"However, we are already working on solutions for the coming season, which we can finance ourselves," Leimer said early in 2015.

On Wednesday, Manor announced that Leimer has been signed up as an official reserve driver. It is believed he has travelled to Montreal.

In a statement, the backmarker team said Leimer will be "on standby to deputize for a race driver in the event that they are unable to take part in race weekend activities".

He will also drive in some Friday practice sessions this year.

Undoubtedly, insiders will link the news with the race-by-race deal currently in place between Manor and its Spanish race driver Roberto Merhi.

Merhi also drives in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, and is not believed to be bringing any significant sponsorship backing to the Manor seat.

Media reports have suggested the 24-year-old is being paid only in the form of his air travel and hotel accommodation.

The Swiss newspaper Blick has followed Leimer's road to F1 closely in recent years, and hopes the Manor opportunity could finally lead to a race seat.

"Whether that happens probably depends on the millions that Leimer can bring," admitted the newspaper's long-standing correspondent Roger Benoit.

F1 still in talks with key broadcaster
(GMM) Crucial negotiations between Bernie Ecclestone and Germany's free-to-air F1 broadcaster appear to have advanced.

We have reported recently that, with the German grand prix already gone in 2015, the country's terrestrial television broadcaster RTL may also be eyeing the F1 exit.

The Hamburger Morgenpost and Kolner Express newspapers claimed talks were underway as RTL pushes for a reduction in its huge annual fee, believed to be about $50 million per year currently.

Writing in Forbes, F1 business journalist Christian Sylt said the RTL deal has traditionally been the sport's "biggest pay-day" — even more lucrative than any relationship with an actual race host.

"This (RTL relationship) alone has generated $1.4 billion in revenue," Sylt claimed.

It is now rumored talks between Ecclestone and RTL have advanced in recent days.

A spokesman for RTL told the German sports business publication Sponsors: "The fact is that nothing has been signed. We are still in talks."

A pouting Lewis Hamilton pats himself on the chest
A pouting Lewis Hamilton pats himself on the chest

Hamilton trust damaged by Mercedes gaffe – pundits
(GMM) Two respected pundits think the relationship between Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton was damaged by the Monaco strategy gaffe.

After an extra pitstop cost Hamilton a sure victory in the Principality, team boss Toto Wolff apologized but said both sides would be able to move on.

"Trust is a key value within our team," he said. "One race doesn't tip that over."

Two pundits, however, are not so sure.

"The next time Mercedes come over the radio and tell Lewis Hamilton to come into the pits, expect him to be a little more than wary in his response," former long-time McLaren and Red Bull driver David Coulthard, now a commentator for British television, told the Telegraph newspaper.

"It will be extremely tricky to manage," he predicted. "An instruction from the team does not necessarily have to be obeyed, but if as a driver you start doubting every call then the fundamentals of how formula one works start to break down."

And Marc Surer, a former Swiss F1 driver now involved with the German broadcaster Sky, thinks there are already signs of distrust between Hamilton and Mercedes.

Indeed, he thinks the very fact Hamilton initially questioned the wisdom of keeping his used tires on for the closing laps in Monaco was precisely what led to the ill-fated pitstop.

Hamilton, therefore, "shares responsibility" for the gaffe, Surer told Sky.

And he explained: "As we have heard in several radio messages, Lewis has frequently doubted instructions given by the team.

"So I think that the problems now will be even a bit bigger than they were before."

Surer said Monaco proved that Mercedes is missing the input of a respected and trusted figure like Ross Brawn.

"Yes. In such situations, Ross Brawn was always good at relying more on intuition than computers.

"And Hamilton never once doubted the decisions of the team" when Brawn was in charge of strategy, Surer added. "Now, the level of mistrust has grown."

Ferrari beat sandbagging Mercedes in Canada.  Never.  Mercedes has plenty of power in hand.
Ferrari beat sandbagging Mercedes in Canada? Never. Mercedes has plenty of power in hand.

Ferrari could take on Mercedes in Canada – Surer
(GMM) F1 pundit Marc Surer thinks Ferrari could be set to take on Mercedes this weekend in Canada.

Reports this week suggested an engine performance upgrade for the Italian team could move it within 15 horse power of dominant Mercedes.

And Speed Week separately reports that Ferrari's works oil partner Shell has developed a new fuel that will also be debuted on the long straights of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

"We do not stand still," team boss Maurizio Arrivabene is quoted by SID news agency. "We have a few things in the pipeline."

Surer, a former Swiss F1 driver who now works for the German broadcaster Sky, thinks Canada could be a good venue for Ferrari.

"There are a lot of straights," he said, "where the Ferrari is actually even slightly faster than the Mercedes.

"And the use of the softest tire compounds also plays into their hands," added Surer. "But this track also gives an advantage to the drivers who brake latest, like (Lewis) Hamilton."

Also tipping Mercedes' championship leader Hamilton to bounce back strongly from the Monaco strategy blunder is fellow double world champion Mika Hakkinen.

He told Germany's Sport Bild: "Lewis will emerge from that race even stronger.

"He knows full well that he was not beaten on that day."

Another former champion, Jacques Villeneuve, also thinks Hamilton will emerge in Canada in a fighting mood, similar to the way he hit back after the collision with Nico Rosberg at Spa last year.

"Nico woke up the sleeping giant that day," Villeneuve said, "and Lewis will want to destroy him more than ever now."

But Surer noted: "I think Nico proved in Barcelona that he is not inferior in speed to Hamilton, and that on a good day he is able to beat him."

Slump due to 'technical' reasons – Maldonado
(GMM) Pastor Maldonado says "technical" reasons explain his current slump.

Earlier, as the Venezuelan struggles to finish races in 2015 and throw off his growing reputation as a 'crasher', Lotus chief Matthew Carter warned that Maldonado's millions in PDVSA backing do not make him "untouchable".

The 30-year-old is among just four drivers who are yet to score a single point this season.

"In terms of results it has not been an exceptional period," Maldonado admitted in the latest edition of Italy's Autosprint magazine.

"But I went through a very difficult technical crisis at Williams, and it has been equally difficult at Lotus.

"And that has not allowed me to express my potential and has affected the results," he insisted.

"I have had technical problems that have stopped me so many times in practice, qualifying and the races.

"We saw what happened in Monaco, and I also had problems there last year. These are details that the viewers forget quickly, but they have a great impact on a driver's season," said Maldonado.

Undoubtedly, the man who willingly wears the number 13 in grands prix has been unlucky in 2015, but he also made the call to leave Williams late in 2013 just as the Grove team was poised to surge up the grid.

"The reason we made the decision to go to Lotus was based not only on the results of 2013," he argues, "but a much longer period of 4-5 seasons.

"And what we saw was a team that is always able to make a competitive car," said Maldonado, referring to Enstone based Lotus, who nonetheless slumped in 2014.

"It is not a team with the potential to win all the races, but it is able to do the maximum possible with the resources it has.

"Last year we saw Williams become the second team in the championship, but in life you also have to try new experiences and so I have not regretted my choices.

"Of course I would always like to be fighting for the podium," he acknowledged, "but as a driver I have developed so much in this period with Lotus."

Honda targeting podium? As if Mercedes and Ferrari are not going to improve their cars?
Honda targeting podium? As if Mercedes and Ferrari are not going to improve their cars?

Honda still targeting podium in 2015
(GMM) Honda still has its sights on the podium in 2015.

After a highly unreliable and uncompetitive start, the new works collaboration with McLaren netted its first points last time out in Monaco.

McLaren-Honda is openly expecting to struggle on Montreal's long straights this weekend, but the collaboration is also pushing ahead with improvements.

Team boss Eric Boullier touched down in Canada with his luggage full of new car parts, and Honda has spent a couple of its in-season performance 'tokens' for a power boost.

Speed Week reports that the upgrades are not just to the internal combustion engine but also the turbocharger.

Honda's F1 chief Yasuhisa Arai said: "In winter testing, many unexpected difficulties arose and we lost a lot of time because we were not running.

"But now we have an engine that has been improved so much that we could almost speak of a new power unit. We firmly believe that we will be in the points regularly.

"Ideally, we would have been targeting a podium in the summer," said the Japanese.

Arai said it has been difficult for McLaren-Honda to live up to the hype of its iconic past.

"Everyone still thinks of the old McLaren-Honda, winning 15 of the 16 races in 1988, and it put a lot of pressure on us.

"Nevertheless, we are still looking to be with Ferrari and Williams in 2015, and the medium-term objective must be to catch up with Mercedes," he added.

Ex-Diageo chief walks away from F1
(GMM) A supposed threat to Bernie Ecclestone's reign appears to have ended.

Late last year, reports began to emerge that Paul Walsh, the former Diageo chief, was being lined up as the sport's new chairman.

The reports speculated that Walsh intended to "marginalize" 84-year-old Ecclestone, or at least "rein in" the diminutive Briton.

To which Ecclestone replied: "He would be unique if he could do that. First he's got to be appointed, hasn't he?"

But in the days before Christmas, F1's owner CVC did indeed officially appoint Walsh to the board, as he became a non-executive director.

However, Mark Kleinman, the City Editor of Britain's Sky, now reports that Walsh in fact never took up the role.

And the December press release about Walsh's appointment has now been removed from the CVC website.

CVC did not comment.

The development comes at an interesting time, with the sport as a whole considering if the current regulations are hurting formula one's appeal.

But the current governance system is frustrating Ecclestone deeply, as he thinks it was better when he and Max Mosley ran F1 in a less democratic fashion.

"Would I like to change something? I would like to change a lot of things!" he was quoted last week by the French broadcaster Canal Plus.

"Now with Jean Todt it is very democratic. He wants to please everyone. And when you have competitive teams, it is impossible to keep everybody happy," Ecclestone added.

Ferrari/Haas: the loophole
Using a perfectly legal interpretation of the regulations, Ferrari – through its association with the new Haas team that will enter F1 next year – has potentially given itself almost unlimited combined wind tunnel/CFD resource in 2015, while all its rivals are bound to the strict limitations laid down in the regulations.

Just as with its recent fuel flow interpretation, Ferrari has cleverly got around the intent of the rules, though in this case with the full prior approval of the FIA. It has left rival teams up in arms behind the scenes, but powerless to do anything more than complain.

As a concession towards those complaints, the FIA sent its aerodynamics consultant Marcin Budkowski down to the Maranello wind tunnel – his former place of work – between the Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix to inspect the situation. Amid wild rumors of Ferrari aero personnel working in Haas-liveried clothing, Budkowski was sent down to take a look. Nothing untoward was found. He gave the team a clean bill of health.

The crucial loophole here is that Haas – which enjoys a technical partnership with Ferrari – is not officially a competitor until 2016. The regulations, which restrict wind tunnel time to a maximum of 60 tunnel hours and 65 runs per week and an inverse CFD teraflop restriction, specify that the restrictions apply to the team and ‘any agent or subcontractor of the team’. But Haas is neither of those things; it is a team in its own right, albeit not one yet subject to any tunnel restrictions, which only come into play once it has entered the championship.

The concern of rival teams is that if Haas had, say, been provided with a wind tunnel model of Ferrari’s current car, any aerodynamic findings made by Haas during its unrestricted tunnel time, with its unrestricted CFD usage, might find their way onto the current Ferrari. These concerns were intensified when Ferrari showed up for the Spanish Grand Prix with a massive aerodynamic upgrade that encompassed changes to most of its car’s surfaces – including the front wing, floor, sidepods, diffuser and rear wing endplates.

A Ferrari spokesman was keen to dismiss such fears, saying, “As is allowed under the existing regulations, we are allowing Haas to use the wind tunnel in Maranello. But we do not have a shared wind tunnel program. In aerodynamic terms we are two completely separate entities. The use of the wind tunnel is separate; there are separate models and parts and also the personnel are completely different. We do not share staff. We were visited by Mr. Budkowski on behalf of the FIA. They have confirmed that everything is in order and we are well within the regulations."

The Ferrari-Haas shared tunnel program was given full prior approval by the FIA’s Charlie Whiting. There is a general will among F1 that the American Haas team, as an entrant from a country that F1 needs to engage with, should be a credible and competitive entity immediately. To have it following in the wheel tracks of the last three new teams to enter – Caterham, Marussia and HRT – at the back of the grid would probably be counter-productive.

The tunnel/CFD restrictions have been written into the regulations as an attempt at cost control. However it does mean that the tunnels, which in many cases have cost their teams as much as £50 million to build, are only running at around 20 per cent of their capacity. Which is a poor return on investment of such an expensive asset. Hiring out tunnel time to other teams is a good way of recouping some of that investment and is perfectly legal.

While rivals believe Ferrari has circumnavigated its way around the intent of the regulations and is benefitting in 2015 from hugely increased aerodynamic simulation, Ferrari insists it has done nothing wrong and the FIA has found no breach. Meanwhile, it’s arguably in F1’s immediate interests that no breach is found.

Where does that leave us in the longer term? This could be much more than a storm in a tea cup. It could potentially open a Pandora’s boxful of ruses by other big teams as a way of getting around the wording of the restrictions. What if Red Bull was to get Renault – on account of Renault not being a team – to put its name to a second Red Bull tunnel group? Or if McLaren were to get Honda to do the same? Or Mercedes to get pretty much anyone they want to put a name to the same? Will this turn out to be the crucial move towards customer cars being permitted?

Let’s see how this one develops. Mark Hughes/Motor Sport Magazine

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