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Merhi and Sainz Jr lined up for Caterham race seat

Spanish Renault 3.5 stars Carlos Sainz Jr and Roberto Merhi are both in the frame to make their F1 debuts with Caterham before the end of the season.

It’s believed that they are both likely to be given an opportunity to drive the car occupied by Andre Lotterer this weekend.

As noted here some time ago Sainz came into the frame around the time of the British GP when Red Bull discussed putting him in the Caterham for the rest of the season. Caterham uses a Red Bull gearbox, while team advisor Colin Kolles did a similar deal to put Daniel Ricciardo in an HRT in 2011. However it was decided to allow him to concentrate on Renault 3.5.

Merhi, who won the 2011 Euro F3 title before spending two years in the DTM with Mercedes, has been in the Caterham motorhome at Spa this weekend.

Sainz and Merhi currently lie first and second in the Renault 3.5 series. The championship has three more weekends to run, none of which clash with Grands Prix.

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Rossi last to find out that he would not do Belgian GP

Alexander Rossi was in philosophical mood after missing out on his F1 race debut, and preferred to look on the positives of having had the chance to drive for Marussia in FP1 at Spa before handing the car back to Max Chilton.

He also revealed that he found out after the world at large that he would not be driving for the rest of the weekend. The team management told the media during FP1 and the news was quickly circulated, but Rossi himself was not informed until he got out of the car at the end of the session.

“It was a bit of a surprise but at the end of the day there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “There’s no point complaining or anything, it’s just the way it goes, and we’ll be back very soon.

“I don’t think it’s as hard as you would expect, because it came so quickly and it went away the same way. I don’t think it had probably sunken in quite yet that I would be racing. It was just a Friday morning session, which is nothing new for me. I am quite disappointed not to be able to race this weekend, but that’s the sport we are involved with.”

Rossi said just being considered for a race seat had been a boost: “I think if anything it’s raised my profile in the States quite a bit, which is nothing but a good thing.”

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Rossi loses chance as Chilton returns to race seat

Alexander Rossi will not after all make his F1 race debut in Spa after Marussia apparently sorted out its contractual issues with Max Chilton.

Rossi was allowed to participate in FP1 and at least get some mileage in the car before the Englishman took over again for FP2. Rossi finished the session in 20th place, ahead of the Caterhams

I can’t go into too much detail on the individual instances but we are running an F1 team here,” Marussia chief executive Graeme Lowdon told the BBC. “There are a large number of commercial agreements that are involved and sometimes it just happens we reach a stage where for contractual reasons it’s not appropriate for a driver to be in the car and we took that action.

“These things happen. It’s the drivers’ jobs to be flexible. Both Max and Alex are professional drivers who will take this in their stride. This is just a reflection of how the industry has to work sometimes.”

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Lotterer set for Spa debut with Caterham at 32

Audi WEC star Andre Lotterer is set to make his F1 debut at Spa this week in the Caterham usually driven by Kamui Kobayashi.

The team will probably make an announcement tomorrow pending official confirmation of his FIA Superlicence, after documentation was delayed in transit.

The initial deal will be for one race, and it remains to be seen whether it is extended, or what Kobayashi’s future with the team will be.

The opportunity comes some 14 years after Lotterer first tested a works Jaguar R1 as a teenager, and as such he will presumably set a record for the longest gap between testing and racing an F1 car.

Lotterer has been given dispensation by his TOM’S team to miss this weekend’s Super Formula race in Japan.

It’s understood that there is no sponsorship attached to the German, and his role is to provide extra feedback. He has strong connections with Caterham advisor Colin Kolles, for whom he drove in LMP1. Lotterer’s close pal James Rossiter, who also has Kolles connections, has also been in the Caterham frame.

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Max Verstappen confirmed for Toro Rosso seat in 2015

Red Bull has confirmed that Max Verstappen will drive for Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2015.

He will partner Daniil Kvyat, which means that Jean-Eric Vergne will be out of a job.

Verstappen’s father Jos raced in F1 from 1994 to 2003, competing in 106 GPs. His mother Sophie Kumpen was a karting star in her own right.

The Belgian-born Dutchman, who turns 17 on September 30, was signed as Red Bull junior driver only last week, having turned down overtures from Mercedes. He is currently lying second in the European F3 series in his first season in car racing.

He said: “Ever since I was seven years old, Formula 1 has been my career goal, so this opportunity is truly a dream come true.”

Team boss Franz Tost said: “We consider Max to be as one of the most skilled young drivers of the new generation and we believe he has the necessary maturity and mental strength to take on this challenge successfully. This year he has already demonstrated how well he can cope under difficult conditions. For example, at the Norisring and Nürburgring, he showed extraordinary determination and the ability to withstand pressure before going on to win. Bearing in mind that Scuderia Toro Rosso was created with the aim of bringing young talent from the Red Bull Junior Team into Formula 1 and to educate them, it will now be up to us to provide Max with a competitive car, which will enable him to have the best possible start to his Formula 1 career.

“With this in mind, I would also like to thank Jean-Eric Vergne for all his hard work. He has produced strong performances, but unfortunately he was also hindered by some reliability problems, especially in the first half of the current season. We hope that we have resolved these problems and that he will be able to end the second half of this season on a high note and thereby show that he still deserves another opportunity in Formula 1.”

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Montezemolo addresses Ferrari driver speculation

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has played down suggestions of any driver changes at the Maranello team for 2015.

Fernando Alonso is rumoured to be exploring other options as he searches for a competitive package, while inevitably there are question marks over Kimi Raikkonen after his disappointing season.

“We are lucky to have two great champions, who are working with the whole team to get back to being competitive again,” Montezemolo said on the Ferrari website. “Of course, as is the case every summer, there is unfounded gossip about alleged problems with senseless rumours bandied about, such as the ones relating to Alonso’s contract or those of drivers’ salaries. We know that the summer heat always produces silly stories.

“Our drivers must now relax in order to return in top form. The season is still long and we need Fernando and Kimi to be in great shape. And on the subject of Kimi, I wish him all the best as he is soon to become a dad.”

Meanwhile do Montezemolo insisted that changes instigated by team principal Marco Mattiacci will pay off.

“We are making in-depth changes on both the organizational side, in our approach and culture. We have taken important decisions and have made significant progress, even if, at the moment, the results of all this work are not always visible. The aim is to get back to being as competitive as we were before in the shortest possible time, while at the same time putting everything in place so that we can embark on another winning cycle.

“As for our sport in general, we are pleased to see that all the major players share the views we first put forward regarding the need to revamp Formula 1. We have proposals aimed specifically at improving the show, starting with more straightforward regulations, which put the spectators first, especially the younger generation.”

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Perez keeps five-place grid penalty after new hearing

Sergio Perez still has the five-place grid penalty imposed after the clash with Felipe Massa in Canada, despite the FIA holding a new hearing today.

Perez was given a chance to present his case, which was backed up by telemetry from Force India. However the Austrian GP stewards decided to confirm the decision made by their Canadian counterparts.

The stewards revealed that Perez contended that “in defending his position he exercised his right… to use the whole track.” However the stewards said that “the defence of his position occurred in the braking area,” adding that the rules state that “any right to defend by using the whole track must occur prior to the braking area,” and that thus Perez “was not entitled to defend his position in the manner that he did.”

Perez insisted that despite his disappointment, he wanted to move on.

“We went to show all the evidence that we had, the data, the line, the pictures that we couldn’t show in Montreal,” he said. “So for that reason we felt very confident that we had the proof. The stewards looked to be quite sensible and agreed to an extent in everything I said there, but in the end the situation didn’t change at all.

“It’s a bit disappointing, but it’s time to move on. For tomorrow it will be a big pain to be five places back at a track which is so small and where it’s so difficult to overtake.”

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Maldonado denies any rift with Williams

Pastor Maldonado has played down talk of a rift between himself and Williams – and he insists that he will still be in F1 next year.

Doubts have been cast over the future of PDVSA-backed drivers after some problems in Venezuela.

“Rumours about my relationship with Williams and vice versa are completely false,” he wrote in a series of Tweets. “There is a good relationship between driver and team. We have been working hard day and night to improve our performance and results. Unfortunately this is F1, there are good years and bad, I think we’re not the only ones who have gone through difficult times in terms of results.

“Similarly, we have shown that even after non-competitive performance we did not give up and won’t give up until the last race.

 “About my future – I will be in F1 next season proudly representing Venezuela. Hopefully good news soon.”

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Mark Webber: “We did the lap when it counted…”

Mark Webber secured his first pole of 2013 at Suzuka, but the Aussie admitted that the achievement was a little hollow given that for once his team mate Sebastian Vettel had some bad luck.

The German had KERS problems in Q3 and yet was still able to give Webber a run for his money and take second place.

"It's a great track, we all enjoy driving here and the laps weren't too bad,” said Webber. “Seb had a problem in qualifying, I still did a phenomenal lap, but it's a bit of a hollow pole. People were trying all sorts of tyres, scrubbed, new, but we did the lap when it counted. It's a nice farewell to have the pole on my last time here.”

Webber now has to get his start right on Sunday after consistently having problems this season.

"I haven't been too bad at starts, the clutch has been good all weekend, so it should be OK. I'll focus on myself, try to find some gaps for myself, but Seb, Lewis and the Lotus will be challenging. I'm hoping for a clean race, from me, from the pit stops, we have enough experience, so it should be OK.”

Webber is hoping to end his season on a high: “I just have to look forward, It's tough to see the results I lost and you can frustrated for. It takes energy is you look back. Tomorrow we'll have a great chance and I'll think it's my last time in Suzuka when I'll come out of the last corner. It's a great circuit, the car is working great and it was a nice day, and let's hope it lasts another 24 hours, in India and until the rest of season.”

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Maria de Villota 1980-2013

The tragic news emerged while the F1 cars were running in Suzuka on Friday afternoon that Maria de Villota has been found dead in a hotel room in Seville. She was 33.

The daughter of former F1 driver Emilio, she competed in F3, GTs and touring cars before getting her first experience of powerful single-seaters in the Superleague Formula in 2009.

She had a chance to test an old Renault F1 car at Paul Ricard in 2011, and that let to a testing deal with Marussia the following year.

Sadly on July 3 that year she was involved in a freak accident at Duxford Aerodrome which saw her strike the back of the open tail gate of a truck. She suffered terrible injuries and lost her right eye.

Her subsequent recovery and determination to rebuild her life offered a shining example to people in any walk of life, and she continued to champion the cause of female racing drivers.

She had written a book about her experiences, and was in Seville for its launch.

FIA President Jean Todt said: “Today is a tragic day for motor sport. My deepest condolences go to the de Villota family. María was a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motor sport and a tireless campaigner for road safety.

“Above all she was a friend I deeply admired. Through her courage, strength and determination she transformed her personal misfortune on the track into a powerful message for road safety that was heard at race tracks and beyond around the world. María was a beloved member of the FIA family. Our thoughts go to her family today.”

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