No surprises as Haas confirms Ferrari-focussed Grosjean

As expected Haas F1 has confirmed Romain Grosjean as its first signing for the 2016 season.

The Frenchman has walked away from a potential future as the key man in a revival of the Renault works team to align himself with Ferrari – and put himself in the best possible position to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Maranello in 2017. Grosjean is well known to Ferrari technical director James Allison from their Enstone days.

Gene Haas has long been adamant that he wanted a driver who had raced in 2015, and did not want to end up with two guys who drove in 2014 and had been on the sidelines since. Nico Hulkenberg turned down the chance, and will stay at Force India. Meanwhile Esteban Gutierrez still looks set to get the other seat as Haas says he will take one of the Ferrari reserves.

We wanted an experienced driver capable of developing our car and our race team into one that can score points and better itself each race and each season. We found him in Romain Grosjean,” said Haas. “I’ve been involved in motorsports for a long time and learned early on the most crucial component is the driver. Romain has strong credentials and he will be an important asset to Haas F1 Team.”

What Gene Haas and everyone at Haas F1 Team is building is impressive, and I’m very proud to be a part of it,” said Grosjean. “Formula One is incredibly competitive and the only way to succeed is by finding new ways of doing things. This is a new opportunity with a new team that is taking a very different approach to Formula One. I believe in their approach and they believe in me. While I am committed to giving my absolute best to my current team in these last five races, I am very excited for what the future holds at Haas F1 Team.”

 Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “In addition to being an experienced Formula One driver, Romain is very technically minded. He gives strong, specific feedback as to how the car performs. As we develop our car in testing and throughout the season, his insight will be crucial.”


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Red Bull engine supply saga “critical” as Ferrari offers 2015 engines

Red Bull’s engine supply situation has reached a “critical” stage according to team boss Christian Horner.

With Mercedes having already turned down an approach from Red Bull it’s now clear that Ferrari is now only offering 2015 engines, as opposed to the 2016 customer units that will be supplied to Haas and Sauber.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that Toro Rosso also requires an engine, and due to its lower level of resources the Italian team needs to finalise the design of its 2016 contender at an earlier stage.

The current situation is quite critical, because as we sit here, we don’t have an engine,” said Horner. “The important thing for us is to have a first class engine. First of all we need to conclude our situation with our current supplier. But I think Dietrich [Mateschitz] has made the situation very clear.

Regarding the deadline he said: “We are already late, already very late. It was already difficult two weeks ago, so we’re very, very late.

Toro Rosso are in a similar situation. Their timing is more critical than Red Bull Racing, even.”

Horner has suggested that Red Bull Racing’s staff would do something else if it pulls out of F1.

Then we’re in a position where we can’t compete. Then for sure we’ll have to look at other activities. Milton Keynes is full of a lot of talent, and we would have to look at where we apply that talent.”


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Dennis questions Alonso’s “professionalism” after GP2 comment

McLaren boss Ron Dennis says that Fernando Alonso’s radio comments during the Japanese GP resulted from frustration – but added that he regarded it as lacking “professionalism.”

Alonso likened the Honda power unit to a GP2 engine after he struggled to fight with rivals at Suzuka.

That is just frustration,” said Dennis of Alonso’s comments. “Anything that is coming out of our drivers at the moment has its origins in frustration and disappointment and demotivation. We are all demotivated. I still cannot understand why everyone doesn’t appreciate the simple fact that you are not going to win the world championship if you have a second string engine. It is just not going to happen.

And therefore we have to go through the pain, go through this learning curve and get a competitive engine. That is not a derogatory comment against Honda. Honda had the president of company, the president of R&D, the president of Honda Motor Company, all of these people are here totally committed.

They understand what has to be done, and of course they are resourcing and increasing resources and putting more money and effort in to it and we will get there. It is just a bit painful at the moment. But we will get there.”

Pressed on Alonso’s comments he said: “I am not going to condone those sorts of things, because it doesn’t show the professionalism that I would like all our drivers to show, but he is in the car, he is frustrated and of course his exposure to the technical staff, maybe it was not a particularly constructive way to communicate with everyone at Honda.

“But the way for me to deal with drivers is either through the appropriate management channels which is Eric or in certain circumstances myself. Whatever I choose to do, or however it is done, it remains a team matter, not a matter for the media.”


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Renault and Lotus deal still only a “potential acquisition”

Renault and Lotus have made the first formal public acknowledgement of an impending future takeover deal by confirming that a letter of intent has been signed.

The news comes on the day of a the court case in London involving HMRC, the UK tax authorities. The judge had previously told Lotus that there would be no more extensions involving the £900,000 claim.

The letter involves Renault and Lotus F1 parent company Gravity Motorsports. It makes it clear that it is still only a “potential acquisition,” and that it will proceed only if “all terms and conditions are met between them and other interested parties.” The latter group clearly includes Bernie Ecclestone.

The full statement read as follows: “Renault Group and Gravity Motorsports S.a.r.l., an affiliate of Genii Capital SA, are pleased to announce the signature of a Letter of Intent regarding the potential acquisition by Renault of a controlling stake in Lotus F1 Team Ltd.

“The signature of this Letter of Intent marks Renault’s first step towards the project of a Renault Formula 1 team from the 2016 racing season thereby extending 38 years of commitment of the brand to world’s premier motorsport championship series.

“Renault Group and Gravity will work together in the coming weeks to eventually turn this initial undertaking into a definitive transaction provided all terms and conditions are met between them and other interested parties.”

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2016 F1 season now heading for March 20 start in Australia

Bernie Ecclestone could now be looking at starting the season two weeks earlier than originally planned, sources have indicated – potentially leaving teams with a massive logistical headache as they prepare their new cars.

Ecclestone had been considering moving the Australian GP from the currently scheduled April 3 to March 27. However, that is the Easter weekend it, and it seems likely that the Melbourne organisers found it unacceptable given that many locals would be out of town – affecting both spectator numbers and staffing.

Ecclestone may have been left with no choice but to go back a further week to March 20. It’s understood that the race will be a standalone event, with nothing following on the Easter weekend. It remains to be seen what other events Ecclestone is shuffling around at that end of the season.

Sources indicate that he has not moved Malaysia back to the start of the year, as the organisers preferred a late season date. Instead it’s understood that he has split Singapore and Malaysia by a week, moving the latter event from September 25 to October 2 so that it becomes a back-to-back event with Japan.

Ecclestone has also been trying to create a three-week summer break, and it’s believed that he has also achieved that by moving European races around.

If March 20 is confirmed as the first race teams will have to do some serious reorganising. At the moment they all have carefully planned schedules of R&D, car build, crash testing and spare manufacturing with a view to a first test in Barcelona on March 1, followed by Friday practice in Australia some 31 days later.

It’s inevitable that the first and second tests will both have to be brought forward, and thus teams will have to adjust their schedules to be ready in time.

“It’s not ideal,” said one team insider. “Even at this stage we will have to make compromises to reach that deadline. Production times are the biggest challenge. We’re planning to build cars for the first tests then go to the first race the first weekend in April, so we’re scheduling production runs to have spares ready for that time. So we’ll probably go to Australia with fewer spares than we’d be hoping to have. A one-week gap after it will give us time to catch up.”


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Hamilton on how to beat Rosberg: “That’s the million dollar question!”

Lewis Hamilton admits that it won’t be easy to find a way to beat team mate and pole man Nico Rosberg at Suzuka – unless he can get past at the start.

A lack of overtaking opportunities means that Rosberg will be able to control the race and also the first call on strategy.

“That’s the million dollar question!,” said Hamilton when asked how he could win. “Same as every time it’s like that, you have a chance at the start. There’s not a very big chance on the strategy, but it’s not impossible. You could potentially offset your tyres, maybe. But at the moment, I don’t really know, I haven’t figured that part out. Generally there are not many exciting races, because you can’t overtake, so it would just be a train, and you’d just be following the whole time.

“You can’t overtake here, pretty much, it doesn’t matter how good you are, because you can’t get close enough. The guy in front is going to have the clean air, and it doesn’t matter how good you are at overtaking, you can’t get close enough. These cars do not allow us to get close enough.

“Basically the closer you get, the more disadvantage you get. Any advantage you do have, it disappears, due to the loss of downforce.”

Hamilton also admitted that Suzuka has traditionally not been his best circuit.

“I don’t know, it’s just never been a comfortable circuit for me. I love the circuit, but I just never felt comfortable on it. Today I did, on my final lap I was working on perhaps the best lap I’ve ever done here. Obviously I didn’t get to finish it. Set-up has never really come together, I guess.

“It’s me. Sometimes I haven’t had the car, but generally it’s me. It’s just a track I haven’t felt comfortable on, it’s a weird sensation. Today I felt I’d overcome a large part of that, and last year in the wet I did also. As long as it rains from now on it won’t be a problem!”

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Manor deal close as Mercedes waits for Lotus

Toto Wolff says that plans for Mercedes to supply Manor next year are currently on hold until it becomes clear what’s happening at Lotus.

Although Wolff has indicated that Mercedes could in fact supply five teams, the situation would be much easier if Lotus moves to Renault power, and Manor slips into its spot. Lotus claims that its Renault sale will be sorted out next week, which would allow the Manor deal to proceed.

“We like Manor a lot,” said Wolff. “Because there is a competitive edge to the whole story, that if Manor gets the right chassis and the right engine, it would be a pretty interesting narrative, how the team develops. But for us at the moment we are a little bit on standby because we need to understand what happens with Lotus as one of our customers, and move from there. So this is where we are.”

Wolff said there no deadline, but that a decision had to be made soon: “We are not in a position to give Renault a deadline or Lotus a deadline, but you’re right, there needs to be a moment where Manor needs to know what’s happening, and we need to know what’s happening, and to whom we’re supplying engines. And we’re very close to that decision. And if they [Lotus] don’t take that decision, we will decide.”

Wolff admitted that a Mercedes young driver such as Pascal Wehrlein or Esteban Ocon (also linked to Renault) could be part of the Manor deal.

However, he suggested that whatever discount Mercedes gave to get a driver a seat could be trumped by an outsider with a big budget, given that a Manor-Mercedes would be a more competitive package than the current car. A supply of year-old engines could cost as little as $8m next year, if a price cap is agreed.

“That could be an interesting scenario, but the harsh financial reality is that Manor needs to refinance themselves and raise the budgets and I’m not sure that we would prepare to place a driver with budgets they could probably raise in the driver markets if we were to supply engines, because it could be an attractive offer for young drivers.

“It’s a bit of a tricky situation. We haven’t got a dedicated driver programme, we have Pascal, who is with us, whose main focus is DTM, and I don’t want to take him away from that focus. He has done a great job for us and he is a very exciting young driver, but I’d rather like to see how DTM pans out. So yes, that’s a possibility, but it needs many pieces of the jigsaw to come together, and it could well not happen.”

Wolff indicated that should GP3 star Ocon want to take up a Renault offer, even for a reserve role, Mercedes would not stand in his way.

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