Latest F1 news in brief – Monday

  • Last year the Austrians came, they heard the boring F1 cars, and they 'ain't' coming back
    Last year the Austrians came, they heard the boring F1 cars, and they 'ain't' coming back

    Mercedes expecting two-horse race in 2015

  • Verstappen heads to Monaco with bruised backside
  • Red Bull struggling to sell Austria GP tickets (Exciting F1 'scream' is gone)
  • Honda engineer admits no F1 wins in 2015
  • Ferrari not only attractive team – Bottas
  • CVC 'worst thing ever' for F1 – journalist
  • Tire debate returns to F1 paddock
  • F1 changes yet to clear hurdles
  • Verstappen welcomes Strategy Group decisions
  • 'No plans' yet for Button's McLaren future

The only horse race there will be in 2015 are the 2-horse Mercedes 1-2 parade
The only 2-horse race there will be in 2015 is the 2-horse Mercedes 1-2 parade

Mercedes expecting two-horse race in 2015
(GMM) Niki Lauda says he always knew 2015 would be a tougher challenge for Mercedes.

The German outfit utterly dominated last year, but so far in 2015 Ferrari has put up a fight.

"The higher you climb," the F1 legend and team chairman told Kolner Express newspaper, "the thinner the air."

Barcelona winner Nico Rosberg, however, said he is not expecting any other teams to intervene in Mercedes' title push.

"No," he told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. "Just us and Ferrari."

Lauda continued: "It quickly became clear to us that Ferrari had found 40 horse power more compared to last year.

"So we had to develop faster as well in order to maintain our competitive edge."

The strategy appeared to have worked in Spain recently, as Mercedes' Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton easily finished first and second.

Lauda said: "The victory in Barcelona was important because I know from experience that whoever is quick there is quick everywhere."

The great Austrian said he is also particularly happy for the pole and race winner Rosberg.

"Until Barcelona, Lewis was driving like an extra-terrestrial, and I thought it would be impossible to beat him. But Nico recovered and managed to break Lewis' run.

"That's good news for him and also for us," said Lauda.

Rosberg has won the past two Monaco grands prix, but Hamilton will be determined to resume his run of top form this weekend in the Principality, Lauda warned.

"He (Rosberg) has to go there and be on pole again," he said, "because if Lewis is on pole, it's over."

Verstappen heads to Monaco with bruised backside
(GMM) Max Verstappen is heading to Monaco with a bruise on his backside.

With F1 taking a weekend off between the Spanish and Monaco grands prix, the Toro Rosso driver headed to Valkenburg in his native Holland to participate in a Red Bull-sponsored soap box derby.

The 17-year-old sat at the wheel of a miniature 'car' dressed up like his Toro Rosso and headed cautiously over the jumps, constantly tugging on the handbrake.

The final 'jump', however, damaged the car and clearly rattled Verstappen's backside and knees.

"It was a hard landing!" he smiled, according to De Telegraaf newspaper, "but I finished the course and have nothing broken. This was the main aim for me.

"Of course I thought carefully about the risks — I deliberately drove a little slower on the straights," he admitted.

Verstappen is now heading to Monaco for his first F1 race in the fabled Principality.

"It looks good," he said. "A place in the top ten should be possible for us."

Helmut Marko says many fans are not returning to the Austrian GP this year because the exciting 'F1 scream' is gone
Helmut Marko (L) says many fans are not returning to the Austrian GP this year because the exciting 'F1 scream' is gone

Red Bull struggling to sell Austria GP tickets (The exciting F1 'scream' is gone)
(GMM) Red Bull is struggling to sell tickets for next month's Austrian grand prix, official Dr Helmut Marko admits.

Last year, the sport's return to the rejuvenated 'Red Bull Ring' was a widely-proclaimed success.

But as the energy drink company now complains loudly about the sport's current regulations, Marko revealed: "Although we are doing a lot of effort with (promotional) events such as the one in Vienna, we are lagging far behind last year" in terms of ticket sales.

"This shows the problems that all the (race) organizers have at the moment," he told APA news agency.

F1's decision-making Strategy Group met last week and vowed to make some changes to improve the show, but they cannot be ratified until the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in July.

When asked why organizers are struggling to sell tickets, Marko said: "There is a lack of (engine) sound, but that is not all.

"The cars are too much like a Playstation game," he insisted. "The drivers are getting out and they don't even have red cheeks — they're too easy to drive.

"So there is less difference between the best and the less-good drivers, and the audience knows it. And if you were to paint our car red, hardly anyone would be able to tell the difference with a Ferrari.

"We need more freedom."

So although the Strategy Group is pushing for some changes, it has been made clear that the basic turbo V6 infrastructure is being left fundamentally alone — including the restrictions on fuel use and flow.

But Marko argues: "When this whole 'power unit' change came, a downward spiral began.

"These power units are not suitable for formula one, but as they are so difficult and complex, it will also be impossible to use them in road cars too," he added.

Honda engineer admits no F1 wins in 2015
(GMM) One Honda engineer has broken ranks and admitted the Japanese marque will not power a McLaren driver to victory in 2015.

Despite the difficult, uncompetitive and unreliable birth in 2015 to the new works McLaren-Honda alliance, the 'graphite-grey' outfit has been a near-perfect picture of optimism.

Drivers and bosses are refusing even to rule out race wins, with Honda's F1 chief Yasuhisa Arai saying last week that catching up to Mercedes by season end remains the target.

But when asked if Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be in a position to win races in 2015, Honda engineer Ryo Mukumoto admitted categorically: "No.

"And next year it will also be difficult," he is quoted by the Spanish sports daily Marca.

"For a new team it is difficult to win the first race when the others have been working much longer. In 2016 we will try to win a race, but there are no guarantees in the world of motor sport," said the Japanese.

Mukumoto's goal for McLaren-Honda in 2015, therefore, is more modest.

"Our goal is to approach the third team at the end of this season. If we succeed, it will be a great achievement," he said.

He revealed that Honda still has much to extract from its troublesome 2015 'power unit'.

"We are not close to the limit," said Mukomoto. "We are still improving, but it is not simple. We fight, but we are still far away.

"We cannot take it to the limit as other teams can. Our engineers have managed to extract 70 per cent of the power so far."

This season, therefore, is as much about learning for the future than achieving actual results, he suggested.

"We have to gather experience," said Mukomoto, "because our engine is new. We cannot make comparisons with the other manufacturers.

"Before using this design we did several investigations," he added. "I must admit that some did not work, but when we use our tokens it will be much better."

Bottas
Bottas

Ferrari not only attractive team – Bottas
(GMM) Valtteri Bottas has played down talk of an impending switch to Ferrari, by insisting driving for other teams in F1 is also attractive.

The impressive Finn is increasingly linked with the fabled Italian outfit, who have already warned existing driver Kimi Raikkonen that he will only race in 2016 if he performs this year.

Bottas and his managers, however, have moved to cool the speculation, and now the 25-year-old insists there are other teams also worth driving for in F1.

"Ferrari is a mythical brand with a special attractiveness," he is quoted by Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport, "and its red color has become part of the legend of formula one.

"However, in the world championship there are other iconic brands, like Mercedes and Williams," said Bottas.

It is interesting that Bottas mentioned Mercedes, as that team is headed by one of his managers, Toto Wolff.

But he also named Williams, the once-great and resurgent British team that brought him into formula one and turned Bottas into one of the hottest properties on the grid at present.

"Mercedes is still ahead," said Bottas, "but the gap is smaller now. Ferrari is closer to them but even Williams has room for improvement."

CVC 'worst thing ever' for F1 – journalist
(GMM) According to one of the longest-serving and most influential F1 journalists of all time, the great Gilles Villeneuve would have "hated" the sport today.

Five races into his new formula one career, Manor rookie Roberto Merhi said recently that, unlike the other category he races in – Formula Renault 3.5 – competing at the pinnacle of motor sport is mostly about saving tires and fuel.

"That is something I really don't like to hear," Nigel Roebuck, who for decades has attended and written about grands prix for the most illustrious publications, told Spain's El Confidencial newspaper in an interview.

"Until very recently, any manufacturer wanted its tires to be the best and most durable they could possibly be. And now? Really I don't understand it," he said.

"I don't blame Pirelli, but I am surprised that they are trying to sell you and I tires for our cars with this philosophy. It seems now that 'poor' tires are very deliberately made to benefit 'the show'."

Bernie Ecclestone ordered and still enjoys the 'Pirelli philosophy', but it would not have worked for an iconic driver like Gilles Villeneuve, who was always on opposite lock and pushing beyond the limits of his car.

"He would have hated it," Roebuck agrees. "What we have today was not his idea of competition. Caring about the tires, watching the fuel levels … Jesus!"

It seems now that many influential F1 figures have recognized the need for change, but much of the power is now in the hands of the so-called Strategy Group.

It was formed after Ecclestone successfully broke up the teams alliance FOTA and offered key voting power to top teams like Ferrari and Red Bull.

"Insiders get the impression that they don't care at all about Sauber, Lotus, Force India," said Roebuck.

"There are two things wrong with F1 today," he continued. "CVC is possibly the worst thing that ever happened to formula one, as so much money is not put back in. That's the first thing.

"And second, the top teams are not interested in helping the others. The business has become very selfish and we could end up with only five teams on the grid," Roebuck warned.

Paddy Lowe clueless what F1 fans want
Paddy Lowe clueless what F1 fans want

Tire debate returns to F1 paddock
(GMM) After a low-profile period for F1's official supplier, suddenly "tires" and "Pirelli" are being talked about again.

Following the days of tire explosions and disintegrations a couple of years ago, Pirelli chief Paul Hembery admitted last week that he is enjoying not being the "bad guy" anymore.

But beneath the surface, discontent remains.

Since the beginning of the 'power unit' era, when Pirelli took a much more conservative turn, lap times have blown out as drivers whispered about "concrete" tires.

Drivers who have recent experience of life both on Pirellis and with Michelin in prototype sports car racing, like Mark Webber, speak with joy about how they can push on every corner of every lap with their French rubber.

Michelin piped up last week, saying it was considering applying to be F1's sole supplier from 2017.

It triggered an immediate rebuke from Bernie Ecclestone, who predicted the French marque would make a "rock-hard tire" rather than a show-inspiring product like Pirelli.

Allan McNish, who raced Michelin-shod cars both at Le Mans and in F1, hit back: "Everyone has their view.

"(But I) can't say this is my experience of the last … 18 years," he added on Twitter and Facebook.

However, Ecclestone does have his influential allies when it comes to backing Pirelli in F1.

Paddy Lowe, a team boss at reigning world champions Mercedes, thinks that notwithstanding what some drivers say, the Italian marque has improved the spectacle of formula one "a great deal".

"I think we've seen far more exciting races since Pirelli came into formula one," he said.

Lowe acknowledged that drivers are complaining about not being able to push throughout the race, "But I think that's been an element (of F1) in the past.

"It may be a slightly bigger element at the moment, but it also adds to the skill necessary from the driver. So it's still all part of an exciting package," he added.

F1 changes yet to clear hurdles
(GMM) Time will tell how much last Thursday's meeting of the Strategy Group will actually change the direction of formula one.

The group – featuring the top teams, Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA – met in England amid ever-loudening voices calling for urgent measures to turn around flagging audiences, disinterested sponsors and struggling teams and promoters.

Afterwards, it announced that teams will be able to choose their own tire compounds from next year — but Pirelli immediately voiced its doubts and concerns.

Also getting the green-light was faster and louder cars for 2017, with a six second per-lap boost to be achieved through aerodynamics, higher revs, fatter tires and lighter cars due in part to the return of in-race refuelling.

"It was a good meeting," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"We want to build the fastest cars in the world and now we will. That was the best moment: when everyone raised their hands to vote for building the fastest cars of all time."

However, before any of the changes can be set in stone, they will have to pass through the World Motor Sport Council, which will not meet until mid-July in Mexico.

Wolff acknowledged that reintroducing refuelling, for example, is in fact still being looked at.

"Refuelling was banned because of cost and because the pitstops were taking too long," he told the BBC. "But we want to re-explore it and see if we can make pitstops for fuel and tires happen in the same time it takes to change the tires now.

"(But) if it's too expensive, we won't do it."

The fact that the notoriously-divided teams are still in the discussion phase is causing some to wonder if the changes will in fact ever see the light of day.

"Basically, nothing was decided," F1 legend Gerhard Berger told Germany's motorsport-magazin.com, "but this is not surprising.

"Everything will remain as it is," he predicted.

Verstappen welcomes Strategy Group decisions
(GMM) Former F1 driver Jos Verstappen has backed the decisions taken last week by the Strategy Group.

Comprised of the top teams, Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, the decision-making body last week responded to calls for change by announcing a raft of proposals to make the cars faster and louder and the races more spectacular.

"This is what F1 needs," said former Benetton and Minardi driver Verstappen, whose 17-year-old son is the impressive Toro Rosso driver Max.

"It will benefit the show."

Among the proposed changes are the return of in-race refuelling, and the freedom for teams to freely choose the two tire compounds they take to each race.

"I'm happy with it," Toro Rosso rookie Max Verstappen also told De Telegraaf newspaper.

"These changes will give the teams more opportunities to make a difference. Strategy will be even more important.

"As a driver, at the moment you have to be saving so much during the race with efficient driving, so it will become more 'real racing' again," he added.

Father Jos agrees: "The fuel and the free choice of tires will absolutely make the races more exciting.

"Now, you only have to think about tire stops, but there will be much more to it (in the future).

"The teams will have much more influence as there are more variables, increasing the probability of errors and therefore the likelihood of surprises and a better spectacle," Verstappen added.

Button knows he may as well retire then drive the backmarker Mercedes-Honda another year
Button knows he may as well retire then drive the backmarker Mercedes-Honda another year

'No plans' yet for Button's McLaren future
(GMM) Just five races into 2015, attention is already returning to the issue of Jenson Button's future.

Kimi Raikkonen may be a few months older, but 35-year-old is the oldest driver on the grid.

Last year, he survived McLaren's protracted dithering over its driver choice for 2015, but it is believed the British team signed only a one-year extension with the 2009 world champion.

At the same time, the Woking outfit has two drivers knocking loudly on the door — reserve Kevin Magnussen, and the increasingly impressive McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne, who is the overwhelming favorite to win this year's GP2 title wearing McLaren colors.

For the moment, however, team boss Eric Boullier is quiet when it comes to 2016.

"There is no plans," he told the BBC, "no discussion so far."

However, he said it would be premature to write off Button, particularly as some have been surprised the veteran Briton is comparing well against Fernando Alonso so far in 2015 — despite a retainer some three times smaller than the Spaniard's.

"People consider Fernando as one of the best drivers and they are right," said Boullier. "But it is underestimating Jenson a little bit.

"Jenson is a great driver and there is a very good working relationship between them. From that balance you can see both are talented enough to match each other and emulate each other a little bit," he added.

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