Latest F1 news in brief – Friday

UPDATE Updates shown in red below.


  • Jenson Button pondered move to Toro Rosso

    Button considered Toro Rosso move – Horner

  • Renault 'frustrated' by low-profile F1 success
  • 'Ridiculous' to question Vettel greatness – Hill
  • Maldonado can survive without Chavez – Brundle
  • Two second gap makes Red Bull 'worried' – Surer
  • Marussia yet to agree TV coverage deal for 2013
  • Valsecchi prefers Lotus over backmarker race seat
  • Petrov to try rallying in 2013
  • New Jersey back on track for 2014 – promoter
  • McLaren's Jenson Button is 'shrewd operator', says Red Bull principal New
  • Why McLaren with Honda makes sense New
  • Mercedes confident of no pitfalls in 2013 New

Button considered Toro Rosso move – Horner
(GMM) Jenson Button considered switching to Toro Rosso at the end of 2008, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has revealed.

Ultimately, after Honda announced its shock departure from the sport, Ross Brawn led a management buy-out of the Brackley based team, and Button went onto become 2009 world champion.

But before the Brawn rescue deal materialized, Button's management was scrambling for a seat.

"Last minute he got a deal but I remember his management were asking us whether even Toro Rosso had a drive," Horner is quoted by the Daily Mail.

Horner made the comments whilst admitting Button, 33, has impressed him "enormously" since becoming champion and then switching to McLaren.

"The team went from Lewis (Hamilton)'s team pretty much exclusively … maybe the relationship (between McLaren and Hamilton) had run its course.

"What factor Jenson played in that, I have no idea."

Renault 'frustrated' by low-profile F1 success
(GMM) Renault has admitted it is "frustrated" its world-beating efforts in formula one are going largely unnoticed.

For the past three seasons, despite having pulled out of F1 as a constructor, the French engine supplier has been a crucial part of Red Bull's title successes.

But operating chief Carlos Tavares admitted: "We are frustrated by the lack of recognition we get for beating the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes.

"It is true that I think we deserve better," he is quoted by

"It is clear that we must create a bigger buzz around what we do."

In 2013, Red Bull's title sponsor is Infiniti, the luxury arm of the Renault-linked carmaker Nissan.

Renault also supplies engines to Lotus, Williams and Caterham.

'Ridiculous' to question Vettel greatness – Hill
(GMM) It is "ridiculous" that so many in formula one question the true ability of reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel.

That is the view of Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion turned television pundit for British broadcaster Sky.

"I find it a bit ridiculous," 52-year-old Hill, when asked about the widespread view that Vettel is not yet an all-time great, is quoted by Speed Week.

"I mean, in his first 100 grands prix, he won 26 — more than one in four. What else does he need to do?

"Maybe some of it is because of his age. But if we already know what records he has broken, then one must inevitably ask the question — what will his record be in ten years?

"Of course Vettel has an optimal environment with Red Bull, and with Adrian Newey probably the best designer in the business.

"But the titles in 2010 and 2012 were definitely not a walk in the park.

"I can imagine him having the momentum for the world championship for another three or four years. I see no reason why Sebastian is not the favorite for the title in 2013 and beyond," added Hill.

Maldonado can survive without Chavez – Brundle
(GMM) Pastor Maldonado can probably survive in formula one even without Hugo Chavez.

That is the view of former F1 driver turned respected British television commentator Martin Brundle, whilst musing the consequences of the death of the late Venezuelan president.

Until Chavez's death early this week, Maldonado enjoyed the personal backing of the controversial leader, with his Williams seat secured by the multi-million dollar sponsorship of the state-controlled oil company PDVSA.

But now, with Venezuelan elections looming, it is possible Chavez's ruling socialist party will lose power altogether.

"There are few 27-year-olds whose livelihood is determined not only by the whim of a kindly oligarch, but by the political machinations of an entire country," noted Telegraph correspondent Oliver Brown.

Brundle, however, thinks the situation is slightly less dramatic for Maldonado.

"He became a national hero for winning the Spanish GP last year and I think that has been good for Venezuela and good for his sponsors, so why would they want to run away?" he told Sky.

Damon Hill partly agrees, but pointed out that "in this day and age, a driver needs more than just ability".

In fact, the 1996 world champion is now looking for just that kind of support for his son Josh, who this year has stepped up to European F3, one of the last hurdles before F1.

"You need a South American country; we're looking for one," Hill joked to Reuters.

"Chile, Argentina, any one will do."

Two second gap makes Red Bull 'worried' – Surer
(GMM) The faces of Red Bull chiefs became notably "worried" as the winter pre-season period wrapped up recently.

That is the claim of Marc Surer, a former F1 driver turned German-language commentator.

Indeed, as the final test week concluded in Barcelona, Mercedes sped to the top of the time sheets, whilst Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel languished two seconds too slow.

"The faces of the (Red Bull) bosses looked worried," Surer said in an interview with T-Online.

"They were missing two seconds to Mercedes, and that's a lot, even if Vettel was carrying a lot of fuel.

"They seemed surprised by how quickly Ferrari but especially Mercedes could go."

So why the sudden problem for Red Bull?

Throughout the test period, every driver and pundit in the paddock was predicting another strong season for the reigning champions, particularly with the rules remaining basically the same as in 2012.

"Red Bull was holding back the newest parts, so that the competition could not copy them," Surer explained.

"But they didn't work; the car didn't become faster."

Another possibility is that Red Bull's game of bluff is working just as planned.

Niki Lauda, Mercedes shareholder and chairman, told the German broadcaster RTL: "I am delighted that we showed at the last test that we are quick.

"But I also know that the value of testing is extremely limited, because we do not know whether and to what extent the other teams have been bluffing."

So yet another possibility is that Red Bull's formerly struggling rivals have simply caught up.

"Everyone is closer together because there have been no rule changes," said Lauda.

"So if you had a slow car, you try to catch up, while if you are Red Bull, you have more difficulty to develop your car because you were already at the top.

"We have a good car, no doubt," the famous Austrian told Brazil's O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.

"But to know where we are compared to Red Bull, we need to wait for the first race."

Marussia yet to agree TV coverage deal for 2013
(GMM) It is possible Marussia will be notably missing from next weekend's coverage of the 2013 season opener.

That is because Bernie Ecclestone is yet to agree a new Concorde Agreement with the backmarker team.

The F1 chief executive said recently that he has agreed bilateral financial deals with every team, Marussia included.

But, apparently, that deal does not include provisions for images of the Marussia car and driver to be broadcast on television.

Asked by ESPN whether it is a crucial missing element for Marussia just a week before opening practice in Australia, team boss John Booth answered: "No.

"It's vital for Bernie because he won't be able to film us without it."

A team spokesperson confirmed that talks are now taking place.

"Nothing is signed yet," agreed Booth, "but it's getting pretty close now."

Valsecchi prefers Lotus over backmarker race seat
(GMM) Davide Valsecchi, the reigning GP2 champion, insists he would rather be Lotus' reserve driver than a racer for one of F1's slowest teams.

A look at the standings of last year's GP2 championship shows that drivers Italian Valsecchi beat to the title – Esteban Gutierrez, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde – have successfully made the step up to the F1 grid for 2013.

But 26-year-old Valsecchi, struggling with fewer sponsors, has to be content with the reserve role at Lotus, having admitted recently that he received offers to race, but only if he could meet those teams' sponsorship needs.

Asked how he is enjoying his new job, he told Russian website "Fantastic.

"Last year I won the GP2 title, now I'm making the first steps in F1.

"I will try to learn as much as possible from Kimi Raikkonen, and eventually become a driver the team will hopefully choose (to race) for next season."

Asked if he is disappointed that those he beat last year – Luiz Razia, Gutierrez, Chilton and van der Garde – were all offered race seats before him, Valsecchi smiled: "Good question!

"No. I didn't have the opportunity to race; this is the only opportunity I had, and for this I say thank you to Lotus.

"Some of my colleagues of GP2 are now with Marussia and Caterham. First, to get there you need a huge budget, which is impossible to find in Italy.

"Secondly, Lotus is one of the best teams. A top team.

"If the question is whether it is better to be chasing with one of the last teams or to be a backup driver with Lotus, maybe opening up something really worthwhile for the future, I would have chosen the second option in any case," he insisted.

Petrov to try rallying in 2013
(GMM) Vitaly Petrov has revealed he might fill the gap in his formula one career with some rally outings in 2013.

Having debuted with Renault in 2010, the Russian moved on to Caterham last year but has dropped off the grid for 2013 due to flagging sponsorship support.

"My main interest is for 2014, when I will try to return to formula one," the 28-year-old is quoted by

"This year, I might do some rallying. Maybe some rallies in Finland or Russia."

Petrov clarified, however, that he is "absolutely not" talking about the world rally championship.

New Jersey back on track for 2014 – promoter
(GMM) New Jersey is back on track for a grand prix in 2014, promoter Leo Hindery has announced.

The Manhattan-skyline street race was due to make its debut on this year's calendar, but the organizers fell behind on road repairs and obtaining event permits.

Hindery told Sports Business Daily: "I think that Bernie (Ecclestone) made absolutely the right decision (to delay)."

But he added: "We are back under construction.

"We have the consents in place that we didn't have last fall, and we will quite comfortably put the race on, now probably in the mid-year of 2014 with (Ecclestone's) support."

F1 chief executive Ecclestone, however, indicated that New Jersey's problems were not only to do with approvals, or the repair and asphalting of the roads.

"It's a problem for the people that started this, and I think it's basically a financial problem," he said.

McLaren's Jenson Button is 'shrewd operator', says Red Bull principal
Red Bull's team principal, Christian Horner, has praised "shrewd operator" Jenson Button for building a powerbase at McLaren

Friends and advisers urged Button not to join McLaren in 2010, fearing he would be blown away by his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton. But over their three seasons at the Woking-based team Button outscored Hamilton – and in the end it was the unsettled Hamilton who left to join Mercedes.

Horner said: "Probably to everybody's surprise Jenson went to what was perceived as Lewis's team and he did give them something to think about.

"The team went from Lewis's team pretty much exclusively – Jenson was the driver, certainly in 2011, that seemed to have the upper hand. The two of them seemed very equally poised throughout last year.

"Jenson is a pretty shrewd operator and probably knew that in terms of out-and-out pace he wasn't as quick as Lewis. But by using other skills that he had, he knew he could compete and beat him. He certainly seemed to morph the team around him and it will be interesting to see [what happens] this year as he is very much the de facto team leader.

"Jenson has impressed me enormously since that difficult year where he didn't know whether he was going to have a drive or not after Honda pulled out [in 2008].

"I remember his management were asking us even whether Toro Rosso had a drive in the winter of 2008. He came back and delivered in 2009 [winning the world championship with Brawn] and then jumped ship [to join McLaren]."

The new season, which starts in Melbourne on Sunday week, probably represents the best chance for Button, 33, to win a second title. The Australian Grand Prix could not be a better place to start for he won there in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

He says: "Australia is such a special race for all of us. You get to the end of the year every year in Brazil and there are not many people smiling in the paddock. But at the first race it's all fresh, new, exciting. Every single person in the paddock is smiling.

"It's a great place to start the season – beautiful setting, the Aussies are big fans of sport in general. I've obviously had a good car to achieve what I have but we won in 2010, when we didn't have such good cars. Maybe it suits my style, maybe I'm more relaxed, more prepared. It's a race that I really enjoy, plus the atmosphere and surroundings of Melbourne."

Regarding his world title prospects, Button added: "We [McLaren] haven't won the world championship since 2008 and I haven't won it since 2009. It's four years and we want to get it back. We're going to do everything we can to do that.

"But I think everyone apart from Sebastian [Vettel, the world champion] is probably saying the same thing. Fernando [Alonso] had a great year last year but didn't win the world championship so Ferrari will be saying, 'This is an important year for us. It has been a long time.'

"Even if you win the first race, it doesn't mean you're going to win the world championship, as I proved last year. It's about staying calm, focusing on the fine details especially because there aren't any regulation changes. You can't slip up through the year.

"We can't have a year like last year, in terms of reliability issues, mistakes, having an inconsistent season. Everything has to go to plan, to be smooth, because I don't think people are going to be making big mistakes.

"It has to be a very clean season, and to do that we have to stay relaxed, really pull together, and focus on every single detail about the car and the race weekend. We can't slip up." The Guardian

Why McLaren with Honda makes sense
There has been a lot of speculation in recent days about Honda and McLaren reviving the famous partnership, which brought domination of F1 in the later 1980s and early 1990s.

It began towards the end of last season, but has grown in intensity recently. This is probably due to the fact that attention is now focusing on the major engine changes in 2014 and McLaren has every reason to want to move away from Mercedes, despite having an option to use their new generation hybrid engines in 2014 and 2015.

In the last few years Mercedes has withdrawn as a shareholder and major investor in the McLaren team, poached Lewis Hamilton and has been busy doing the same with technical director Paddy Lowe. That’s not one body blow, it’s a pummeling.

To say that there is no love lost between the two would be putting it mildly.

On top of that they will be aware that the 2014 Mercedes engine will be precisely what Mercedes wants it to be from their own chassis design point of view. The customers, like McLaren, will have to make do with what they are given.

For a team with McLaren’s self-esteem, the loss of Hamilton and this customer status is too much; they have to act to restore their pride.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh did little to dampen the Honda speculation when he told SKY, “There’s a lot of speculation and I’ve heard Porsche, Hyundai, Honda, all those sorts of names. I hope for Formula One that these manufacturers come back – we need them in the sport. In the longer term, who knows what’s going to happen."

Yesterday at the Geneva Motor Show there was a lot of discussion about this subject. Speaking there to Rolf Ganter, the senior automotive analyst from UBS, he sees the market conditions for Honda to return to F1 as highly favorable,

“Honda is not so well known in Europe; they are focused on Asia and the US. But F1 engagement could bring them back to the European table," he said.

“And don’t forget what is happening now with the Japanese producers. Look at the currency; how much the Japanese yen weakened – around 20% versus the dollar and the euro. And that puts these companies on a more competitive situation. This means that they can make more profit on their cars or put in more features or even sell the car cheaper.

“Honda was always famous for having high revving engines and for them it’s a good place to be back in Formula 1. As a stock I like it and as a company I like it and I think it would make sense."

Another compelling reason to return is that the 1.6 liter hybrid turbo engine is core business for Honda, where 2.4 liter V8s are not. Few manufacturers are making production V8 engines any more.

However, Honda is well aware that Formula 1 is a cruel business: if you are winning and doing well, it can boost your brand image globally, as it did for Honda in the Senna and Prost era with McLaren.

But if you are doing badly, as Honda did from 2006 to 2008, it can actually damage your brand image. You are then spending millions to damage your brand, as Jaguar did for example, and that makes no sense at all. Honda was not cut out for team ownership, but partnership with a top team like McLaren is different.

Arguably since the Honda team withdrew from F1 it’s model range has lost some of its glamour and sportiness and this would be restored by fighting at the front of F1 again.

History suggests it would be an engagement with a finite time period, Honda doesn’t tend to stick around for more than seven or eight years, but F1′s global footprint these days matches their key markets and supplying engines is much cheaper than running a team.

From a business perspective it makes sense. And as business is usually the driver for all decisions taken around F1, there is likely to be more than a grain of truth in it.

One final note – if a McLaren Honda partnership were lined up, sources say it would not happen before 2015 for logistical reasons. This would leave Mercedes supplying its engine to McLaren in 2014, knowing that Honda engineers would be crawling all over it from later this year onwards.

They would be very uncomfortable about that. James Allen

Mercedes confident of no pitfalls in 2013
Mercedes is confident it has a far more compliant and predictable car in 2013 and can therefore avoid the pitfalls of last year's inconsistency.

The team looked strong during 2013 pre-season testing, with Nico Rosberg ending the final 2013 Barcelona test at the top of the timesheets.

Last year it had also headed to Melbourne optimistic about its early form, only for tire and reliability issues to leave it struggling to score points.

Technical director Bob Bell admits that, while Mercedes was aware it could get caught out last year, this year it is optimistic of capitalizing on its winter momentum.

"Last year we looked reasonably competitive at the end of the winter testing," Bell explained, "but I think we knew from what we knew about the car, and the way it was behaving, that it wasn't rock-solid, that we could get caught out.

"This year we're a little bit more confident that at least that the car's behaving more like we'd expect it to.

"[We have a] better understanding what it's doing well, what it isn't doing well, and that gives us a little bit more cause for optimism regards a more consistent season."

Bell insisted however that Mercedes would maintain a cautious approach after getting 'stung' by its experiences in 2012.

"I think we're naturally cautious; we're not taking anything for granted," he said.

"We know what we did wrong last year in terms of managing our program the development car and there were other infrastructural reasons that we were struggling a little bit with in the second half of the year.

"Sustained pace of development is crucial these days in F1 and of course we have to prove that on tracks.

"We've learnt from [last year], we're pleased with the progress we've made, but we really need to demonstrate that we can maintain that over the course of the season.

"We've made a lot of changes to the organization, the way we do our jobs in the last 12 months and I'm reasonably optimistic that that's settling down now and that we can deliver."

Leave a Reply