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Force India frees Hulkenberg to join Renault

Force India has confirmed that Nico Hulkenberg will leave the team at the end of the season, thus freeing him up to join Renault in 2017.

The Silverstone team had previously confirmed that the German would be staying put, alongside Sergio Perez. Esteban Ocon is thought to be the top of the list of possible replacements.

Everybody at Sahara Force India wishes Nico well as he embarks upon a different path in Formula One,” said Vijay Mallya. “Having spent five years with us, Nico has become a great friend and contributed a huge amount to the team’s success. He’s an outstanding driver, who has scored more points for this team than anybody else. While it’s true we will miss Nico, we respect his decision to explore fresh opportunities and it would be wrong to stand in his way.”

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Webber to retire at end of WEC season

Mark Webber will retire from driving after the last WEC race of this season, Porsche has announced.

However, he will have a new role with the German company, which says that he will “represent Porsche at global events and as a consultant will contribute by lending his experience to the motorsport programmes of the sports car manufacturer from Stuttgart. This includes talent research as well as driver training for up and coming professionals and the huge number of worldwide Porsche amateur racers.”

Webber has been with Porsche for three years since leaving F1, winning the WEC title last season with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.

I have arrived where I belong,” said Webber. “Porsche is the brand I always loved most and the one that suits me the best. The 911 is iconic – it has got elegance, performance and understatement, and is never intrusive. It is just the right car for every scenario. I will miss the sheer speed, downforce and competition, but I want to leave on a high and I’m very much looking forward to my new tasks.

“It was a big change from Formula One to LMP1 and an entirely new experience. But it came at the right time for me. I found I liked sharing a car and the chemistry between Timo, Brendon and me is special and something I’ll always remember. It will be strange getting into the race car for the very last time in Bahrain but for now I will thoroughly enjoy every moment of the remaining races.”

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Suzuka grid shuffled as Raikkonen and Button take penalties

The Japanese GP grid was shuffled around on Sunday morning when both Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button took penalties.

Raikkonen, who was in third place, tumbles down to eighth with a five-place gearbox penalty. With his team mate Sebastian Vettel already put back three places the Red Bull drivers, who qualified fifth and sixth, now both start on the second row. Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean also gain.

Meanwhile Button goes to the back of the grid thanks to a 35-place penalty after a “strategic change” by Honda, having taken his sixth example of all six power unit elements.

This gives him a fresh set of equipment and specification parity with Fernando Alonso. The team felt that he had little to lose from 17th.

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Seven teams backing move for 2017 Bahrain testing

Seven F1 teams have now signed a letter to the FIA in support of moving next year’s pre-season testing from Barcelona to Bahrain to avoid what Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe says could be a repeat of the 2005 US GP tyre fiasco.

Pirelli has indicated that it wants to test its new, wider tyres in a hotter climate on definitive 2017 cars, which will feature much higher levels of downforce than the mule cars currently doing the prototype testing. Pirelli believes that, despite the higher loadings seen at Barcelona, it has to run its new tyres in hot conditions in order to fully explore the limits.

The teams had booked Barcelona for the two four-day tests, but Mercedes has been pushing for a move to Bahrain, with Niki Lauda personally lobbying rival teams.

Cost issues meant that Mercedes originally had limited support, but several teams have now come out in favour of the Bahrain option. One source told that Bahrain provides “more bang for the buck,” with the obvious extra benefits of being able to test cooling systems in hotter conditions, and a guarantee of dry running.

Under the FIA regulations a majority of teams have to back any plan for a test outside Europe, and the teams who want Bahrain have signed a letter to Charlie Whiting confirming their support. It’s understood that those now supporting Mercedes are Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Force India and Haas, with Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber those still standing firm on Barcelona.

The letter from the former group reads: “We the undersigned agree to the two pre-season team tests for 2017 according to Article 10.6(g) of the F1 Sporting Regulations (Testing of Current Cars) to be conducted at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC). Since the BIC is outside Europe we submit our request agreement according to Article 10.6(d). We make this agreement in support of the request from Pirelli for more representative track testing of the new tyres for 2017.”

Originally a straight choice between the two venues was being discussed. However, although in theory the rules don’t allow it the FIA is now also open to the possibility of two parallel tests running and the teams deciding which venue to attend, and that Whiting said at tonight’s drivers’ briefing that those are the three options. A first test in Barcelona followed by one in Bahrain is not thought to be on the agenda.

With the tests running in parallel that could open up the possibility of seven new cars running for the first time in public at 9am local time in Bahrain on February 27th, with the other four appearing later the same day in Barcelona – leaving the world’s media with a choice of which venue to attend.

It’s understood that Whiting will discuss the Bahrain plans further with Pirelli boss Paul Hembery tomorrow, before a meeting of team bosses on Sunday.

Paddy Lowe is adamant that the teams have to support the tyre company’s request to run in Bahrain.

The situation is that we have the biggest change in tyre regulations probably for one or two decades, and Pirelli have asked the FIA if they would support testing in Bahrain, which is outside Europe,” said Lowe.

So by regulation it requires a process to get there. So as I understand, a majority of teams support that request. For me, the important point that Pirelli were asking for is some hot condition testing of the compounds particularly. The structure of the tyre is created and tested in the lab, but the compounds they can only evaluate in real circuit conditions.

And unfortunately the mule car programme which is running at the moment has delivered three cars which are very helpful to the process, but they are not delivering the level of aerodynamic load that will be seen next year.

So for me it’s a matter of supporting Pirelli’s request to contain the risk of arriving at the first race as being the first event with hot conditions and there’s real risk to the show. We’ve seen what can happen, for example, in Indianapolis 2005. We mustn’t forget that we need to put on a show, we need to run a 300kms race with sensible numbers of tyres, so that’s not an inconsiderable risk and should be covered. So that’s why we particularly support that request.”

Meanwhile Pat Symonds of Williams made it clear that his team is still opposed to the idea.

The cost of doing a test outside of Europe is vast,” said Symonds. “Depending on exactly how you do it and how much you have to ship back to the UK, how much you can ship on to the first race – we’re talking of a minimum of £300,000, probably a maximum of £500,000 so a likely figure sitting in the middle of that.

Now to a team like Mercedes, I’m sure that they can put contingencies in their budgets to cover things like that. A team like Williams simply can’t, it’s a significant amount of our budget, it is unaccounted for and therefore I think it is the wrong thing to do.”

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Raikkonen: “Personally I have nothing against Max…”

The fallout of Max Verstappen’s eventful Belgian GP dominated conversation in Monza today, with both Ferrari drivers reiterating their views about the Dutchman’s defensive driving.

Kimi Raikkonen suggested that the FIA should be more consistent.

I think it’s quite clear what they are,” said Raikkonen of the rules. “And obviously sometimes you feel it’s not correct what happens on circuit, but obviously I think the biggest problem is it’s not always the same. I think as drivers we always discussed it and it’s a bit up and down and I think that could be improved.

Personally I have nothing against Max. He is doing a good job and he’s fast. It’s not a personal thing but certain things, at least in my feeling, were not correct if you have to slow down or brake under full speed but those things are never ending discussions but let’s see what happens.”

I think the thing that we’ve spoken about before and has come up again in Spa was the bit that is the moving under braking,” said Vettel. “Which obviously, as the lead car, is the wrong thing to do. The following car can react but there are situations where you can’t react any more and it will end up in a crash which has been something that we’ve talked about.

I think he understood when we spoke about it so we obviously need to maybe have another chat. But as I said in Spa, I’m not a big fan of running to the stewards and complain there. I think it’s much better if we do it face to face. Unfortunately we haven’t done that yet but I’m sure we will.”

Meanwhile both men gave their views about the first corner accident.

Obviously it was an unfortunate thing,” said Raikkonen. “Not really an awful lot to discuss except probably he said sorry and I said OK and you know we go forward. It wasn’t ideal for us or any of the three to be involved, but that’s how it goes sometimes. So next time we try to give a bit more room but it’s done now.”

It’s clear what happened,” said Vettel. “Obviously I thought there was Kimi on the inside but as it turned out there was three cars. The room that I gave was for Kimi, it was not for three cars because I think Max had a bad start and was out of that fight, but decided not to, so in the end we had three cars with not enough room.

From my side, it’s clear. Obviously if I know that – I can’t see much in the mirrors, I could see that Kimi was there and I was slightly ahead – if I had to do it again, knowing that, I would give a little bit more room, at least I make I don’t know about the cars on the inside then, but I think it was a pity for all three to be involved and not to come out of the corner being able to race for the podium after that.”

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Renault says Magnussen will be fit for Monza

Renault says that Kevin Magnussen will be fit to race in Monza this weekend following further medical checks since his big crash in the Belgian GP.

However the final call will be made by the FIA in Italy on Thursday.

A statement from the team said: “After initial checks at the circuit’s medical centre, Kevin was referred to a local hospital in Verviers for further routine examinations.

“Kevin had heavily bruised his left ankle but the tests showed no fracture or serious injury and he was released from hospital the same day and returned home to Denmark. He has since undergone further checks in Denmark that indicate he is able to race at the Italian Grand Prix in six days. The FIA will confirm Kevin is fit to compete following a final assessment on Thursday in Monza.”

“I’m feeling much better, which is very good news,” said the Dane. “I’ve had several checks that show I am fit to race in Monza and I am sure I will be in the car this weekend. We were running in the top ten in Belgium and I’m very motivated to repeat this again in Italy.”

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McLaren still pushing for 2016 results, says Boullier

McLaren boss Eric Boullier says that the team is not letting up in its quest to make further progress over the rest of 2016, adding that anything learned will pay off next year, despite the rule changes.

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button showed improved form in the races before the summer break, regularly making Q3 and recording top 10 finishes.

The whole team has had a well-deserved break after the gruelling schedule of 12 races since the start of the season,” said Boullier. “We are now just over halfway through, and ready to fight again to achieve our end-of-season goals.

The midfield pack is particularly close, and each team is stronger on different circuits, so there’ll be no let-up in in how hard we push or the developments we bring to the car in our bid to continue our progress through the rest of the season and into next year.

Together, McLaren-Honda is continuing to push hard, and everything we bring to the car – be it on the chassis or power unit side – is valuable learning for next year. We’ve enjoyed a couple of weeks away from Formula 1, but our ambition is as strong as ever, and we’re definitely ready to go racing again.”

Meanwhile Honda F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa expects the Japanese manufacturer to continue to make progress.

Though the long and power-hungry nature of Spa won’t suit us, our target for the remainder of the season is clear: to aim for championship points and take further steps forward with each race. We hope that we can continue our positive momentum that we had before the summer shutdown and look to another strong weekend in Spa.”

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