Third is good but we still want to push Ferrari, says Claire Williams

Claire Williams says that her team can’t be too dissatisfied with the start of the season despite coming into it with ambitions to lead the chase of Ferrari.

The Williams has clearly been the third best car this season, although Valtteri Bottas did at least hold off the Ferrari of a delayed Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain last weekend to claim fourth spot.

“Those words frustrating and disappointing all come into play,” the deputy team principal told this writer. “But I think we’ve got to remember where we are and where we’ve come from. As much as last year was fantastic, especially at the tail end of it, Ferrari deserve to be in the position where it is, and we’ve just got to take the fight to them. We’re still third. Yes Mercedes are far ahead of us, but McLaren and Red Bull – two bigger teams with bigger budgets than us – are still behind us.

“We’ve just got to capitalise on these races, and I think we’ve done that in the four opening rounds, got the points we’ve needed to stay P3 in the championship, and we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got a strong development path in order to move forward. We’ve got an upgrade package for Barcelona, and then for the race after that.”

Williams was full of praise for the efforts of Bottas in Bahrain: “Valtteri did an amazing job to keep Vettel behind him for so many laps. It was fantastic. But you spoke to him afterwards and he was totally calm about it, and said it was easy! It was great for the team to have fought with Ferrari and come fourth, it was a real uplift for everybody.

“Felipe had a disappointing race from the start, as he had a gremlin with a sensor on the engine and had to start from the pitlane. And then he had an incident with Maldonado which meant he had some crash damage, which affected his pace throughout the race. But he still scored a point.”

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Grosjean says he “hated” 2014 Lotus but he’s smiling now

After being out of the points for nearly 11 months Romain Grosjean made it two scores in eight days when he followed up seventh in China with the same result in Bahrain.

The Frenchman agrees that the Lotus E23 has put the smile back on his face following a dreadful 2014 season.

“I’ve had it since Day One,” he told this writer. “At least I can understand the car, I can play around with it, I can push hard, and it makes such a big difference to last year, where it was doing whatever it wanted, so I really hated it.”

He agreed that the double points finish was a big boost: “It’s good for all of our guys, and myself as well. I think we worked hard, we deserved them. The [Bahrain] weekend didn’t start in the best way, I had really a lot of struggle, and the first time we had a good car was qualifying. They did a good job to guess the set-up and go for it in the race. I’m very happy with that. A lot of tyre management of course, but it’s good to score some more points.

“Everything was on target. Having a new set of options would have helped the second stint, we should have managed to keep one from quali, as Red Bull did and other top guys. But the strategy was perfect, so that was good.”

Grosjean expects the close battle with Red Bull Racing to continue.

“In China in the race they were less quick, here they were quicker. It’s good to fight with them, and also in qualifying Sauber is quite quick as well, so there is a good group around who we can fight with.”

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Horner says RBR interested in Ecclestone ‘parity’ engine plan

Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner says he’s open to the idea of two types of engine competing in F1 from 2017.

Bernie Ecclestone wants to introduce a cheaper engine for the struggling midfield teams – potentially a V8 or twin-turbo V6, in either case with KERS – which would race alongside the current hybrid V6s.

Intriguingly, if the idea gains support it could open the door for Renault to make a version of such an engine. Given the ongoing problems with the Renault hybrid V6 that could potentially give Red Bull Racing an alternative future path, and a chance to level the playing field, depending on how the FIA manages parity between the two types of engines.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Horner told this writer. “We ought to have a good look at it and explore the pros and cons, to be honest with you. It’s happened before, and you might get certain engines competitive at different tracks, and it might move things around a bit. It’s certainly worth a good debate.

“It’s certainly interesting. I would think Renault would certainly consider it – it’s more of a question for Renault than it is for me. But I would have thought they would certainly consider it.”

The biggest challenge is how the FIA would ensure that there’s far competition between the two types.

“There are all kinds of permutations that clever engineers can come up with, but first of all let’s have a look at the concept. These days simulation is very accurate, we can simulate what the outcome could be, and then decisions could be made on an informed basis rather than guessing.”

Asked what the odds were on F1 ending up with two engine specs in the future Horner said: “No idea. Ask me in a month…”


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Force India backs Ecclestone’s push for low cost ‘parity’ F1 engine

Force India supports Bernie Ecclestone’s plan to introduce a budget ‘customer’ engine that will run in competition with the current works hybrid V6s.

As outlined here yesterday Ecclestone supports the idea of making available a cheap V8 with KERS (or even a V6 twin-turbo with KERS) that independent teams could use at a much lower cost than current customer engine deals.

“I think the principle of maintaining the V6 hybrid is absolutely correct and proper,” Force India’s Bob Fernley told this writer. “From the manufacturers’ point of view it’s very beneficial both for their marketing and technical programmes. I don’t see any doubt that the hybrid has a long term future in F1.

“What Bernie is looking at is that the independent teams will be offered a ‘parity’ engine, possibly a V8 with KERS, at a half of the price at least of what we are paying today. Of course, as an independent team to be able to cut our costs down by half and have parity with the V6s is attractive. It doesn’t disadvantage us, we’re still putting on a great show.

“If say Cosworth brought in a V8 with a KERS system it would be a very, very good unit. The advantage to that is we’ve got an independent supplier, and there’s nothing wrong with that for the health of F1. I think Cosworth and Renault are the two operations that can do it.

The obvious drawback is that there will be a debate on how the FIA can ensure parity, but Fernley does not see that as a problem.

“At the end of the day the teams cannot survive on the current cost base. So I think Bernie’s initiative has got tremendous merit. Whether it causes a few issues in terms of discomfort in determining where parity is… Well there is already discomfort between where Mercedes are and where Renault are! You’re always going to have that.

“I don’t think it devalues F1. We run with different chassis, so why can’t we run with different engines? We’ve done it in the past, and sometimes it’s been successful and sometimes it hasn’t, but we haven’t got parity today.”

Fernley says there has been no move from the current suppliers to reduce the prices they charge the independent teams for the current engines: “At the moment it’s not on the table and it’s not something that the manufacturers want to consider.

“The only other thing that’s been on the table is to reduce costs, but not have a parity engine. Why would we want that?”


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Ecclestone believes teams can run “cheap” engines in 2017

Bernie Ecclestone says that F1 engine options for 2017 remain open, despite Toto Wolff stating last weekend that all four current manufacturers want to keep a version of the current V6 for any new 1000bhp rules.

Ecclestone had been talking about a V8/KERS package, and that remains on the table as a cheaper option for struggling teams. There have also been suggestions that a ‘budget’ twin-turbo V6 with KERS could be made available to teams as a possible alternative.

In either case the idea is that these low-cost customer engines would run alongside their works counterparts. In other words we could have something like half the grid using the budget engines (assuming the likes of Williams and Haas stick their regular deals). It brings up the difficult question of how the FIA would ensure some form of parity.

“It depends what we’re going to do,” Ecclestone told this writer. “Toto does a lot of talking, but no action, if you know what I mean. It’s no good talking about, ‘This is what I’d like.’ They are one team.

“I never wanted to go back to V8s, I wanted to set up a single engine to be in F1, which they could run for let’s say 10% of what these manufacturers spend. It would be a different regulation, which would be cheaper. If the manufacturers then decide this would be a good thing, then that’s OK. Or if they want to supply [current] engines at a realistic price to the teams, then good.”

Asked about how two types of engine could compete in parallel he said: “We used to run turbos with normally aspirated engines before. You can do either.”

How the likes of Mercedes or Ferrari would react if they face stiff competition from a good team equipped with a ‘budget’ engine remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the discussions could also be seen as a way of putting pressure on the manufacturers to lower the prices for the current engines. Costs went up considerably in the move from V8s to the hybrid last year, and midfield teams feel that they are funding the R&D of the works operations.

“You never have everybody happy. At the moment they are doing a very good R&D project supporting by the teams that are paying. That engine will never be used in any car or a boat or anything. It was never designed to do that. Just the regulations were put out, the engineers got hold of it, and said this is what they can do. They’ve done a super job, but it has to be cheaper.”


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Bahrain was first “clean race” with Red Bull, says Kvyat

Dany Kvyat says he has learned a lot from his ninth place finish in Bahrain after his first untroubled race of the season.

Kvyat retired in Melbourne and Shanghai, and while be finished in Malaysia his race was compromised by brake issues. Last weekend he charged up from a lowly 17th on the grid.

“The recovery was not too bad I think, starting from there,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, the first laps. I think we all more or less managed the race on our strategy. So a good recovery, and these kind of races put a little bit of a smile on my face. We finished, we ran solid, we got a lot of information and feedback from the car. So this time we can look at where we can improve.

“It’s very important because in China and Australia I couldn’t learn much, unfortunately. Here I would say it’s probably the first quite clean race from a reliability point of view, and now we can start moving forward from here on.”

Asked what promises he wanted from Renault he said: “I think we don’t want any promises, we just want to see progress itself. We both as a team and the engine side want to improve, working with Renault, improving our chassis, me analysing the race and understanding where I can pick up the pace. It’s a long process, many things are happening and going on, and hopefully we will come up with something.”

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Button and Alonso see Monaco as chance for McLaren

Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both agree that the Monaco GP could give McLaren Honda its best opportunity for a good result in the near future.

It goes without saying that outright power is less critical in the principality than elsewhere, but the fact that the MP4-30 chassis is consistent, and inspires confidence, is also important.

“I think already in Barcelona you will see a good step,” said Button when asked by this writer. “But we’ve got a lot happening before Monaco with the car, so hopefully there will be a good step, not just with the power, but also with the aerodynamic grip. I’ve got a good feeling about it.

“There are a few areas where the car needs to be stonger right now for Monaco, if we’re going to go there tomorrow, but it will be an interesting place to drive this car, defintely. It’s such a tricky circuit to find the limit, and if you have a car that you are confident in, it makes a massive difference.

“I remember Jean Alesi in a Prost doing a really good job round there because he had confidence in the car and the balance was there. It worked for him and it gave him confidence, and that’s a thing that you need around there. You need it anywhere, really. Most drivers are talented, but it’s a real mental game, especially at Monaco, because it’s so unforgiving.”

“Lower power effect circuits will help us at the moment,” said Alonso. “So Monaco is the first circuit that we may enjoy a little bit better result. We’ll see. I think we need to think race-by-race, and Barcelona at the moment is the first step.”

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