Dennis on blocking Red Bull’s Honda deal: “Someone had to take a clear decision”

Ron Dennis admits he decreed that Honda could not supply Red Bull in 2016 – but the McLaren boss insists that the Japanese manufacturer was fully behind the decision.

Red Bull tried to get a Honda deal after failing with Mercedes and Ferrari, but despite help from Bernie Ecclestone, McLaren vetoed the idea.

Dennis says the possibility of Honda expanding to a second team came too late, and that the biggest issue was making enough parts given the pace of development.

“We sat with Honda and absolutely analysed where we were,” said Dennis when asked by this writer. “And absolutely analysed where we were, and would it enhance our ability to become competitive faster or not by bringing in another team, such as Red Bull, who would pressurise the system even more?

“Based on the current supply structure, where we are on the engine, the time before the first Grand Prix [of 2016], it was very, very clear that the decision really was that it wasn’t possible physically to push the suppliers up the supply chain to increased production, because we didn’t know what we wanted them to make.

“Our engine programme will be late next year because we want to take the maximum amount of time to make parts. How many parts do you make, bearing in mind there is a lot more freedom now. Anyone can design a new engine next year, everybody is designing a new engine.

“The more engines you have to make, the more your supply change gets stressed, because you have to develop components and then commit to how many you’re going to make – a lot of what you make in an R&D capacity is scrap. Just having increased the budget into F1 Honda could see no real economic logic at this stage to embrace another team.”

Dennis says he made the final call: “Someone had to take a clear decision, and as it needed someone to take a decision, I took one, and therefore took the understandable flak. But it was fully supported by Honda. We didn’t have the capacity to engage another team, but someone had to stand up and say this is not going to happen. It wasn’t me countering a desire of Honda, this was me taking responsibility for the decision, which goes with the job.”


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Renault’s F1 future in balance as talks with Ecclestone continue

Renault’s future in F1 remains in the balance, and the French company has yet to commit to purchasing Lotus.

The clock is ticking given that Lotus is in court on December 7, and the team faces the prospect of going into administration.

What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future short term, or middle term future over the weekend,” said Renault Sport’s Cyril Abiteboul. “But there will be an announcement very likely in the course of next week.

We always said that we would like to do that after the season, the season is ending on Sunday, around at the start of December. So that is what we will do, we will make an announcement then. Later he told the BBC: Pulling out of F1 completely is on the table if we don’t manage to convince the board that F1 is a meaningful investment for Renault. 

Renault has always made clear that the deal to purchase Lotus and turn it back into a works team depended in large part on the financial numbers, and specifically on how much FOM money Bernie Ecclestone was willing to commit. However it’s understood that he has changed his mind on the original offer made to Renault.

Ecclestone is keen to have Renault back as a works player and saviour of the Enstone team, but even keener for Renault to maintain its role as engine supplier to Red Bull.

Sources have suggested that Ecclestone originally agreed a figure on the basis that Renault remained with RBR – in effect subsidising the team’s supply – but then discovered how much Red Bull has agreed to pay for the French engine on top of that. His view is understood to be that Renault would in effect be being paid twice for the same thing.

Senior executive Jerome Stoll, who is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Renault Group, as well as President of Renault Sport, has met with Ecclestone in Abu Dhabi to discuss the situation, and it’s understood that they will talk again on Saturday morning.

One complication for Renault is that by signing a 2016 contract with Red Bull the company is now obliged to be present in F1 next season, and one of Ecclestone’s key problems – finding an engine for RBR – has been solved. That has potentially weakened Renault’s hand in any negotiations, even if the future of Lotus remains under threat.


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FIA adjusts tyre checking procedures after Massa controversy

The FIA has changed its procedures for measuring tyre temperatures and pressures on the grid in the wake of Felipe Massa’s exclusion in Brazil.

The move follows an internal investigation of Massa’s tyre issue by the team, the results of which were shared with the FIA by Pat Symonds.

One of the key issues for Williams was that no senior personnel were aware that Massa’s right rear tyre had been checked on the grid by FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer and his assistant Kris de Groot, and the team knew nothing of any discrepancy until an official message came from the FIA some way into the race.

Henceforth any FIA tyre check on the grid will have to be witnessed by the car’s race engineer, who will thus clearly be made aware of any issues. This is similar to the way car weight checks are carried out, when team members can observe and log any figures.

This will also resolve another key issue – the anomaly that allows the FIA to record that a car is “unsafe” before the start, given that the checks are in place at Pirelli’s request, and yet the car is allowed to start the race. This became a major talking point with Mercedes at Monza, as well as in the Massa case.

Now if the FIA records illegal numbers the team will still have the option to take the car off the grid, change its tyres, and start from the pitlane. The driver will thus head into the race with a legal car and thus won’t be wasting his time by running under the threat of an exclusion, although there could still be a penalty for the grid issue.

Meanwhile the Williams investigation indicated that the reading recorded by the FIA’s infra red gun was affected by heat reflected by the tyre blanket, and that the logged figure of 137C was not the true temperature of the tyre itself.

Although the FIA has not officially accepted that as an explanation it will adjust is tests in future by ensuring that when the temperature is checked the blankets are opened sufficiently, and the gun aimed into an are not shaded by the blanket, so that there is no risk of heat reflection having an impact.

The teams themselves also have the option to make sure that they are happy that the blankets are fully open when any test is conducted.

Williams explored the phenomenon of heat reflection by using a thermal imaging camera on a tyre in a blanket, which demonstrated what happened when the blanket was partially unwrapped. As the blanket was opened, the tyre temperature dropped dramatically.

What we’re seeing is a heat reflection in exactly the same way that you get a light reflection,” said Symonds. “That reflection is occurring where the tyre is closest to the blanket, the reflection coming off the blanket. Where you are well away from that heat source you don’t see the reflection, so therefore the reading is good.”

Symonds also confirmed that had the team been informed on the grid in Brazil that a tyre had potentially been overheated – as happened on the Friday of the 2015 Russian GP weekend when a set was effectively ruined by a blanket issue – it would have reacted.

Bear in mind this was a safety thing. If they really felt the car was unsafe, they should have told us straight away. If we had a tyre blanket controller failure, like we had in Russia, we would have taken the car off the grid, because we would not have felt safe to start the race.”


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Mercedes and McLaren to run reserves in Pirelli test

Only six of the 10 F1 teams will run their 2015 race drivers on Tuesday’s Pirelli tyre test in Abu Dhabi.

Pirelli requested from the start that teams utilise their race drivers – or failing that a third driver who has extensive experience of this year’s tyres – in order to get good feedback.

Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso have all nominated both race drivers, while Williams, Force India, Sauber have one apiece. Mercedes will rely on Pascal Wehrlein, McLaren on Stoffel Vandoorne, and Lotus on Jolyon Palmer – arguably the only one of the three who properly fulfil Pirelli’s requirement for a third driver who has done a lot of miles this year.

Sauber, Force India and Manor have taken the opportunity to sell the seats (in the first two cases only for half the day) in order to offset the cost of the test, which has to be covered by the teams. Pirelli is only paying for the hire of the circuit.

Although obviously teams could yet change their plans the full list that Pirelli is currently working from is as follows:

Mercedes: Pascal Wehrlein

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo, Dany Kvyat

McLaren: Stoffel Vandoorne

Williams: Valtteri Bottas

Force India: Nico Hulkenberg, Alfonso Celis

Toro Rosso: Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen

Lotus: Jolyon Palmer

Manor: Rio Haryanto, Jordan King

Sauber: Marcus Ericsson, Adderly Fong


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Red Bull ready to announce 2016 engine plans, says Horner

Christian Horner says that Red Bull Racing will announce an engine deal for 2016 “in the coming days.”

Although he wouldn’t be drawn on the identity it is now clear that Red Bull has finally agreed to stick with Renault, on the basis that the French manufacturer is accepting outside help on development.

Mario Ilien’s input was offered, and rejected, last year, but the Ilmor boss is now expected to play a role.

“Next year will be a transition year,” said Horner. “We have an agreement with an engine for next year which hopefully will be confirmed in the coming days. It will have a development path ironically in a way of what we were trying to achieve 12 months ago, and then we’ll see how that goes.

“Then the manufacturers are under pressure to come back by the 15th of January with an affordable, available engine that addresses all of the current issues. If that doesn’t happen then I believe that the independent engine will be brought into play. So we’ll wait with interest to see what comes back on the 15th of January.”

Asked if he was confident that the development would pay off he said: “It’s difficult for me to say at the moment without announcing what our engine plans are, but yes I believe we should be in a better position.”

Renault cannot build a “bespoke” engine for Red Bull, so any engine development will also be useful to the works Enstone team. However Horner says he isn’t worried about another team sharing any benefits.

“I think in the scale of things we don’t fear another team having the same power unit.”

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Stroll confirmed as Williams development driver

Williams has confirmed that Lance Stroll has left Ferrari to join its Young Driver Development Programme, as had been rumoured for some time.

The team says that the 17-year-old Canadian will be “fully immersed” into Williams, in the same way that Valtteri Bottas was when he first joined in 2011.

His programme will include “extensive simulator time, work placements in several departments throughout the factory, as well as specific training in the fields of race engineering and marketing.” Meanwhile he will continue to race in European F3.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams said: “At Williams, we are committed to using our resource and expertise to help talented young drivers to reach their potential. We have a track record of success in this area, having supported Valtteri Bottas in his growth from a development driver role to a race driver and one of the most respected talents in Formula One.

We have identified Lance as a promising talent for the future and we are happy to provide our support to his development as a driver. We look forward to working with Lance in 2016 and to the success he can achieve in the future.”

Stroll added: “I cannot wait to start working with Williams and very much hope we can achieve great things together in the coming years. It’s a very exciting and crucial time in my short motor racing career. Reaching F1 was always the ultimate goal, I suppose ever since driving a go-kart my father had bought me for my fifth birthday.

Williams has a long history of nurturing young drivers at the start of their F1 careers. David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Nico Hülkenberg and most recently Valtteri. This element was something that was important to me in making the decision to join Williams.”


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Alternative engine rejected by F1 Commission as manufacturers promise own ideas

The FIA has confirmed that the controversial plans for an alternative “client” engine for 2017 did not gain approval from the F1 Commission yesterday, as had been expected.

Given that a majority was required it was always likely that the votes of the teams would stop the alternative plan, which is being championed by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone.

Instead the manufacturers have agreed to tackle the key issues that the alternative engine was supposed to address. They have to submit a proposal by January 15, with the first meetings on the subject taking place in Abu Dhabi this week.

Significantly manufacturers will have to supply a minimum number of teams, if required.

Regarding the alternative engine plan, the FIA noted: “The meetings acknowledged the four credible Expressions of Interest made for the manufacture and supply of a less expensive alternative customer engine.

“The F1 Commission voted not to pursue this option at this stage – however, it may be reassessed after the Power Unit manufacturers have presented their proposal to the Strategy Group.”

The latter reference makes it clear that the alternative idea could yet be revived if the manufacturers do not come up with answers.

The new proposal will seek to address the issues that the alternative engine was aimed at, most importantly cost and guaranteed supply.

It could be argued that such an outcome is exactly what Jean Todt and Ecclestone wanted in the first place, and that the threat of the alternative engine has in effect done its job.

The FIA noted: “The parties involved have agreed on a course to address several key areas relating to Power Unit supply in Formula One. These areas are:

– Guarantee of the supply of Power Units to teams
– The need to lower the cost of Power Units to customer teams
– Simplification of the technical specification of the power units
– Improved noise

“The manufacturers, in conjunction with the FIA, will present a proposal by 15 January, 2016 that will seek to provide solutions to the above concerns.

“The proposal will include the establishment of a minimum number of teams that a manufacturer must supply, ensuring that all teams will have access to a Power Unit.

“Measures will also be put forward to reduce the cost of the supply of hybrid Power Units for customer teams, as well as improving their noise.

“All stakeholders agreed that the developments will aim for the 2017 season at the earliest, and 2018 at the latest.

“The first meeting between the FIA and the Power Unit manufacturers on this topic will be held this week at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.”


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