Latest F1 news in brief – Wednesday

  • Like many fans, Barrichello (L) is so bored by the new F1 formula he falls asleep watching the races

    Renault still hitting back at Red Bull

  • China buys Pirelli
  • Hamilton says new Mercedes deal now close
  • Alonso expecting 'tough' return in Malaysia
  • Lotus slammed for latest 'bank account development' driver
  • Barrichello 'fell asleep' during 2015 opener
  • Gastaldi says F1 will be back in Germany
  • Is Mercedes' advantage damaging for F1?

Renault still hitting back at Red Bull
(GMM) Renault has continued to hit back amid suggestions its turbo V6 'power unit' is the only reason for Red Bull's 2015 struggle.

The French marque's F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul on Tuesday blasted Red Bull designer Adrian Newey, accusing the Briton of "lying" about the RB11's only weakness being its engine.

However, Abiteboul does not deny Renault's own problems.

"Having a winning engine on its own merits is not something that will happen this year," the Frenchman is quoted by Italy's Autosprint.

"We can do a better job on the engine," Abiteboul admitted, "but it is not something that happens in one winter."

But after making the "lying" comment to France's Auto Hebdo, Abiteboul ensured Renault's message is loud and clear this week in the form of an official statement.

In the wake of scathing criticism from Newey, Christian Horner and Dr Helmut Marko, he urged the two sides to "work together" to solve the issues "both within the power unit and the chassis".

"Our figures have shown that the laptime deficit between Red Bull and Mercedes in Melbourne was equally split between drivability issues, engine performance and chassis performance," said Abiteboul in a Malaysia race preview.

"It is therefore the overall package that needs some help and we have been working with the team to move forward."

John Watson, a former F1 driver and long-time commentator and pundit, said the French camp is right to hit back so stridently against Red Bull's sniping.

"Renault are spending a fortune supporting the technology and the hardware to enable Red Bull to continue the success they have enjoyed," he told the Guardian.

"If I was Renault I would feel pissed off that Christian (Horner) has bit off the hand that's feeding him. The relationship seems to be disintegrating very rapidly.

"The public sniping is inappropriate and counterproductive," added Watson.

China buys Pirelli
(GMM) China has bought F1's official tire supplier Pirelli.

State-owned China National Chemical, or Chem China, has secured control of the Milan-based company valued at over EUR 7 billion.

According to Forbes, the deal "will put 140 years of Italian tradition and research and development at the service of the huge Chinese market".

Pirelli chief executive Marco Tronchetti Provera, however, will keep his role.

"But the new paymaster," explained Forbes correspondent Marcel Michelson, will be a man who "reports to China's State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission, headed by Zhang Yi who sits on the central committee of the communist party".

Hamilton says new Mercedes deal now close
(GMM) The end of Lewis Hamilton's protracted negotiations with Mercedes over a new deal beyond 2015 may finally be close.

The reigning world champion has conducted his own talks with the German marque, amid swirling rumors of contact with Ferrari, and reports Hamilton recently bought one of the Maranello marque's rare and expensive LaFerrari supercars.

But the 30-year-old Briton told Sky Sports on Tuesday that he is hoping his new deal will finally be done before this weekend's Malaysian grand prix — a home race for Mercedes' title sponsor Petronas.

"I mean, it's going back (and forth) between the lawyers so I hope it is done before the weekend," Hamilton confirmed.

"That would be great, but if not (it will be done) in due time."

London's Times newspaper estimates the new Mercedes deal at an incredible $55 million per year for Hamilton, while the Telegraph said it could even be as much as $60m, making him easily the highest paid driver on the grid.

However, the latter report cited "senior sources" who said an announcement is in fact "not expected this weekend".

Alonso expecting 'tough' return in Malaysia
(GMM) Fernando Alonso has admitted he is expecting a "tough weekend" in Malaysia.

The Spaniard is undoubtedly right.

As he watched the season opener on TV from his home in Dubai almost two weeks ago, Alonso's McLaren-Honda substitute Kevin Magnussen qualified dead last and then broke down even before he got to the grid.

Reports say the car's new Honda engine is up to 200 horse power down, with McLaren boss Eric Boullier admitting it might be two years before Mercedes can be caught.

That will not be the only reason Alonso, 33, might find Sepang "tough". His replacement at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel, was best of the rest behind the dominant Mercedes in Australia.

And Alonso – who has not raced since Abu Dhabi last year – is returning to action in hot, humid and often wet Malaysia, known to be probably the toughest race physically for the drivers.

He has spent more than a month recovering from his mysterious Barcelona testing crash, which caused him to lose consciousness and suffer concussion along with retrograde memory loss.

"I've been working hard on my fitness," Alonso said on Tuesday, "and I feel good and ready to go this weekend.

"The heat in Malaysia is always very tough for the drivers but I've been focusing on this in my training and I'm definitely prepared for all of the weather conditions that we can face in Sepang."

Finally, Alonso will face a veritable media storm outside of the cockpit, with his first official appearance of the weekend set to be the FIA's press conference on Thursday.

Earlier that day, he will already have had his medical checks, including the cockpit extraction test, and F1 doctor Jean-Charles Piette's thorough cognitive and reaction exam.

But then the grilling from journalists – who have spent the past weeks amid high speculation about the Barcelona crash and Alonso's medical condition – will begin.

Indeed, McLaren has admitted interest in Alonso's return in Malaysia will be "unprecedented".

In a note to media, the British team urged journalists to ask Alonso about his "accident, recovery and return" only on Thursday.

"In the interests of expediency," McLaren added, "Fernando and the team kindly request that all remaining media opportunities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday be used for questions about the race weekend and the world championship.

"We will politely decline to answer further questions on the matter after Thursday's session," said the team.

Alonso admitted: "The weekend will be tough, but I'm looking forward to getting into the MP4-30 for the first time in a grand prix and getting back to racing."

Lotus slammed for latest 'bank account development' driver
(GMM) Lotus is once again taking criticism after naming another 'development driver'.

A month ago, the Enstone team signed up Carmen Jorda, a 26-year-old female driver, to attend races, work in the simulator and even test the new E23 car.

But after never rising above 28th place in her three GP3 championship campaigns so far, Lotus' decision was roundly slammed.

"Carmen Jorda couldn't develop a roll of film let alone a hybrid F1 car," Rob Cregan, Jorda's teammate in 2012, said on Twitter.

Jorda dismissed the widespread criticism as "jealously".

But now the same sort of criticism has returned, after Lotus said on Tuesday that another development driver in 2015 will be Adderly Fong, a 25-year-old, Canadian-born Hong Kong driver.

In a statement, the team said the news moves Fong "closer to his career goal of becoming the first Chinese formula one driver", as he will attend grands prix and work on the simulator.

Lotus also said Fong is "an ideal candidate to help build towards a resurgence at Enstone".

At the end of 2014, Fong made an appearance for Sauber in Abu Dhabi's Friday practice session.

But it is believed Fong's backers 'bought' that outing, and the same skepticism has now followed Tuesday's Lotus news.

"Of course it would be good to have a Chinese driver in formula one," F1 veteran and long-time British commentator Martin Brundle is quoted by Speed Week.

"But the fact is Fong has been hired for his money."

Daily Mail correspondent Phil Duncan agrees, pointing out that between Jorda and Fong, they have contested a combined five GP3 seasons and never won a single race or pole.

Taki Inoue, remembered as an average 'pay driver' in F1, remarked on his humorous Twitter profile: "It seems bank account development driver is getting popular in F1."

Barrichello 'fell asleep' during 2015 opener
(GMM) A trio of former F1 drivers are hoping the 2015 season opener was just a blip.

In Australia, Sauber battled for survival in court with Giedo van der Garde while Manor never left the pits, before the smallest field in recent memory set the scene for what Daniel Ricciardo called a "boring" race as Mercedes utterly dominated.

Afterwards, Red Bull threatened to quit in protest of the technical regulations, leaving F1 experts and pundits to wonder if the fundamentals of the sport are broken.

"I tried to watch, but I got to a point when I couldn't stay awake," Rubens Barrichello, the longest-serving driver in F1 history, admitted to Brazil's Globo.

Former Renault driver Nelson Piquet jr added: "I didn't see the race, but I heard about it and it was a shame that only 15 or 16 cars started.

"It's a shame formula one is at that level. We want it to be back again when it was competitive, with many very strong cars."

Finally, former McLaren driver and long-time commentator John Watson told the Daily Mail: "The sport, whether it is the governing body, the FIA or CVC, need to sit down and say 'What are we doing? What are we trying to achieve?

"'And are we achieving it?'"

Gastaldi says F1 will be back in Germany
Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi believes that the German Grand Prix will return to the F1 calendar, despite being unable to fulfil its obligations this year.

The World Motor Sport Council officially confirmed that promoters had not been able to reach an agreement over holding the event at the Hockenheimring in July, after original host the Nurburgring confirmed late last year that it would not be able to commit to staging the grand prix as part of the rotation system that had been in place for several years.

With the Hockenheimring's new owners struggling to reach an agreement with the sport's commercial rights holders on a deal to host a 'replacement' event this summer, the race was officially scratched this weekend. While it means a break in the run of German grands prix that stretches back to 1960, no decision has been made on the 2016 event, due to be staged at Hockenheim as per the alternating venue arrangement, and Gastaldi remains confident that the event will be back on the schedule.

"It's not looking promising for this year, but I'm sure we'll be back in 2016," the Italian insisted, "It is, of course, a shame for everyone, especially all the German fans who wanted to come see F1, but these things happen sometimes in the commercial world. For the team we know we have 19 races – 20 races makes for a long season so we still have a pretty full season even if one race is dropped."

Is Mercedes' advantage damaging for F1?
Formula 1 needs close competition to fascinate people as fans are bored by the lack of competition. That is the view of several experts, insiders and drivers.

While agreeing that Mercedes cannot be blamed for having built a dominant car with a superior power unit inside, many believe that the form of domination not seen in recent decades, massively hurts Formula 1.

Former Formula 2 champion and commentator Andy Soucek was shocked by the difference between Mercedes and its rivals.

"I did not like it and I did not enjoy it. We all knew that Mercedes would dominate this year but we saw how far away Red Bull Racing and McLaren are, and although Ferrari is better this year, not much better," insisted Soucek.

Force India driver Sergio Perez thinks the problem is that long before the season kicked off, it was clear that Mercedes was going to dominate.

"It’s sad," said Perez, "when already at the start of the season it is clear how superior Mercedes will be. It’s not good for the fans to spend a lot of money for their tickets to see a competition."

Double champion Mika Hakkinen does not want to blame Mercedes for doing a superior job, but conceded it robs the excitement fans want to get from the sport.

“Sure, in the eyes of some viewers it is boring, but that’s not Mercedes’ fault."

Even the always-smiling Daniel Ricciardo admitted that the Mercedes dominance kills the spectacle of Formula 1.

"I feel a bit for the fans," said Ricciardo. The first race "was a boring race."

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel also conceded that the current situation is not ideal for the fans.

“For sure it’s not great for the people", said Sebastian.

The question is now what Formula 1 needs to do to make the on-track action spectacular. Red Bull’s Christian Horner called on the FIA to intervene an equalization mechanism. This could result in very different solutions. Many other motorsport series use such systems to boost less competitive outfits and handicap the leading teams. On the other hand, FIA could also investigate what the real technical strengths of Mercedes are and try to control them.

“Mercedes, take nothing away from, they’ve done a super job: they’ve got a good car, a fantastic engine and they’ve got two very good drivers," said Horner. "The problem is the gap is so big. You end up with three-tier racing and I think that’s not healthy for Formula 1."

However, Mercedes’ Toto Wolff does not want to hear from any moves which could result in shrinking of their competitive advantage.

“If you come into Formula 1 and you try to beat each other, or perform on the highest level, and equalization is what you need after the first race, and you cry out after the first race, it’s not how we’ve done things in the past and not how we’ve moaned."

“There is this wall in Jerusalem where you can stand in front and complain. Maybe I should go there."

Red Bull seems to be in a weird situation as their possible allies Ferrari and Honda are a bit reluctant to set the political field of Formula 1 afire.

"Our job is to attack Mercedes on the track," said team boss Maurizio Arrivabene, "not to change the rules." F1 technical

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