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Sauber finally confirms Wehrlein’s race seat

Sauber has finally confirmed that Pascal Wehrlein will replace Felipe Nasr as the pieces of the 2017 puzzle start to fall into place.

Wehrlein has been linked to Sauber for some months but his move was put on hold while Mercedes tried to finalise its deal with Valtteri Bottas.

With that deal now nearing announcement there was no longer a need to keep Sauber waiting. The German joins Marcus Ericsson, whose sponsors are also the team’s owners.

Pascal has shown his talent throughout his career – in single seater racing as well as in the DTM, said team boss Monisha Kaltenborn. “Last year in his rookie Formula One season, he proved his potential by scoring one point in the Austrian GP in Spielberg. There is surely more to come from Pascal, and we want to give him the chance to further grow and learn at the pinnacle of motorsport. I am confident Marcus and Pascal will form a solid combination for 2017.”

Our objective is to establish ourselves in the mid-field and to score points on a regular basis,” said Wehrlein. “That being said, I will do my best to support Sauber. Now I am looking forward to meeting everyone in the team and to tackling the preparations for the 2017 season. I want to say a big thank you to Sauber for trusting in me and giving me this great chance. And surely, a huge thanks also goes to Mercedes for the support.”

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Fred Vasseur leaves Renault F1 role

Fred Vasseur has left Renault after just a year in charge of the Anglo-French team.

Vasseur followed the likes of Christian Horner and Eric Boullier in making the transition from the sport’s second tier to a senior F1 role, while maintaining control of his ART teams. However amid some internal politics his future was in doubt for some time.

Renault says that company president Jerome Stoll and managing director Cyril Abiteboul will remain in charge.

A statement said: “After a first season spent relaunching and rebuilding its Formula 1 team, Renault Sport Racing and Frédéric Vasseur have agreed by mutual consent to part company, effective as of today.

“Both parties remain committed to maintaining the good working relationship they have enjoyed and expect this to take a new form sometime in the future.

“The outlook of Renault’s second season back in Formula 1, as well as the resources implemented to meet them, will be set out in detail at the presentation of the team’s new race car.”

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Mercedes confirms Paddy Lowe exit

Mercedes GP has formally confirmed that technical chief Paddy Lowe has left the World Champion team, ahead of his expected move to Williams.

Mercedes said that Lowe has begun a period of gardening leave, and that in the short term the management team would remain unchanged.

A statement said: “The company’s Board wishes Paddy well with his future endeavours and thanks him for his significant contribution to the team’s achievements. In the short term, our stable technical organisation will continue to operate under the proven and established leadership of our senior directors Aldo Costa (Engineering Director), Mark Ellis (Performance Director), Rob Thomas (Chief Operating Officer) and Geoff Willis (Technology Director).”

Team boss Toto Wolff added: “Paddy has played an important part in our success during the past three and a half years and we thank him for his contribution to this significant chapter in Mercedes’ motorsport history.

Success in Formula One is not about single individuals but about the strength in depth and technical capability of an organisation. We have the talent in place to continue our success of recent years and we plan to build upon it in 2017 and beyond.”

I have had a fantastically successful and enjoyable three and a half years at Mercedes working with a great team of people,” said Lowe. “I am now looking forward to a new challenge and wish everyone well at Mercedes.”

Lowe’s departure is the latest step in what promises to be a series of high profile announcements in the coming days or weeks, including the expected move of Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes, and the return from a brief retirement of Felipe Massa to Williams.

Before Christmas Williams confirmed that chief technical officer Pat Symonds would leave the team at the end of the year, leaving a gap in the team’s management structure – although Lowe could yet arrive at the Grove outfit in a more senior role.

Lowe’s departure is believed to be tied to the Bottas deal, and it appears likely that he will be allowed to start early at Williams, with a short gardening leave, as part of the incentive package designed to encourage Williams to release Bottas.

Meanwhile former Ferrari man James Allison has been lined up to replace Lowe at Mercedes.

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Rosberg retirement stuns F1 world

Nico Rosberg has stunned the motor racing world by announcing his retirement from the sport, just five days after winning the World Championship.

Rosberg says he made the decision on Monday evening, after partying until 9am that morning and flying to Kuala Lumpur for a PR event. He announced it at a press conference ahead of tonight’s FIA Awards in Vienna.

His decision leaves Mercedes with the difficult task of replacing him, although it obviously has Pascal Wehrlein on hand as a back-up. Getting a big name driver out of an existing contract looks like being a tricky task.

Here is Rosberg’s full official statement.

Since 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’ to become Formula One World Champion,” he said. “Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target. And now I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen.

This season, I tell you, it was so damn tough. I pushed like crazy in every area after the disappointments of the last two years; they fuelled my motivation to levels I had never experienced before. And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target. I cannot find enough words to thank my wife Vivian; she has been incredible. She understood that this year was the big one, our opportunity to do it, and created the space for me to get full recovery between every race, looking after our daughter each night, taking over when things got tough and putting our championship first.

When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion. On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life. I took my decision on Monday evening. After reflecting for a day, the first people I told were Vivian and Georg [Nolte, from Nico’s management team], followed by Toto.

The only thing that makes this decision in any way difficult for me is because I am putting my racing family into a tough situation. But Toto understood. He knew straight away that I was completely convinced and that reassured me.

My proudest achievement in racing will always be to have won the world championship with this incredible team of people, the Silver Arrows.

Now, I’m just here to enjoy the moment. There is time to savour the next weeks, to reflect on the season and to enjoy every experience that comes my way. After that, I will turn the next corner in my life and see what it has in store for me…”


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Seven dates moved as FIA confirms revised 20-race F1 schedule

As expected the World Motor Sport Council has issued a definitive 2017 F1 schedule that features just 20 races, with the German GP missing after Bernie Ecclestone failed to do a deal with either Hockenheim or the new Nurburgring owners.

Because Germany has gone Hungary has moved back a week as expected to the former German date, and Austria and Silverstone have now also moved by a week, which in turn allows Baku to move to avoid a clash with Le Mans. Thus unlike this year Baku will not involve a frantic rush straight from Montreal.

As predicted Malaysia and Singapore have swapped since the provisional schedule was issued, so that they run like this year, with Singapore on its own and Malaysia back-to-back with Japan. Similarly Mexico has been moved back a week so that it is back-to-back with Austin, as was the case this year.

2017 FIA F1 World Championship

March 26 Australia (Melbourne)

April 9 China (Shanghai)

April 16 Bahrain (Sakhir)

April 30 Russia (Sochi)

May 14 Spain (Barcelona)

May 28 Monaco (Monaco)

June 11 Canada (Montreal)

June 25 Azerbaijan (Baku)

July 9 Austria (Spielberg)

July 16 Britain (Silverstone)

July 30 Hungary (Budapest)

August 27 Belgium (Spa)

September 3 Italy (Monza)

September 17 Singapore (Marina Bay)

October 1 Malaysia (Sepang)

October 8 Japan (Suzuka)

October 22 USA (Austin)

October 29 Mexico (Mexico City)

November 12 Brazil (Sao Paulo)

November 26 Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina)

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Jenson Button: “I don’t want to be racing in 2018”

Jenson Button is adamant that he sees the Abu Dhabi GP as his last F1 race – despite McLaren leaving the door open for 2018.

Although Button’s future plans were presented in Monza as a “sabbatical”, with a possible return in should he decide that F1 was unfinished business, it’s become increasingly clear in recent weeks that he doesn’t see himself ever coming back.

First of all I go into this thinking it’s going to be my last race,” he said today. “I think that’s the best way to be and at this moment in time I don’t want to be racing Formula One past this race, and that’s the whole idea. Anyway, I think of this as my last race and hopefully everyone else does as well.”

Asked if his thinking had changed since Monza he said: “Nothing’s changed. I’ve just gone into this last race thinking that it is my last. I don’t want to go into this race thinking that it’s not my last and it is my last. It is true that I have a contract for 2018 but at this moment in time I don’t want to be racing in 2018.

But the whole idea about having a contract was that in three months’ time, when I’ve eaten myself stupid and I’m thinking of things to do in the future and I feel like I need Formula One back in my life, but at this moment in time that isn’t the case. So this is my last race, that’s the way I think about it at the moment, but who knows that could change in six months, eight months, one year.”

Meanwhile reflecting on his career Button said he’d achieved all he could have wished for,

It’s been a long journey. Since eight years old until now I’ve been racing in motorsport and everything before Formula One was work to try and get to Formula One. You get to Formula One with many dreams and you aspire to be something and hopefully you leave the sport with memories. That’s something I definitely do have from my 17 years of racing in Formula One. Lots of amazing memories, lots of life-changing memories – some good, some bad – and also to walk away with the world championship is a very special feeling as well. To race with two of the teams that I dreamt of racing with when I was a kid – Williams and McLaren – and when I did win the world championship it was with a privateer team, which I think is also pretty special.

Obviously a very memorable year of my life and in the future it’s something I’ll hopefully be telling my grandchildren all about, how we came from nothing and we ended up winning the world championship. There are so many memories that I can’t put them all out on the table right now, but that’s a small snippet of my career. Over 300 grands prix. I will definitely step away from Formula One happy with what I’ve achieved and knowing that my life really does start now.”

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Ocon confirmed at Force India for 2017

Esteban Ocon has been confirmed as Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement at Force India next season.

The Mercedes protege tested for the team last year, and made a good impression. The news leaves a seat free at Manor.

He’s an exceptional talent, as his status as a Mercedes Junior demonstrates, and I have no doubt he will flourish inside our team,” said Vijay Mallya. “We’ve had our eye on Esteban for a number of years and have followed his progress through the junior categories where he delivered outstanding results.

We ran him in the car last year during testing and his performance convinced us that he is more than capable of racing alongside Sergio. Sahara Force India has a tradition of investing in young, talented drivers and the arrival of Esteban will bring some fresh energy and motivation to everyone in the team.”

I know the team quite well already because I was a test driver last year and I’m really looking forward to working with everybody at Silverstone once again,” said Ocon. “I’m still relatively new to Formula One, but spending half a season at Manor Racing has given me some valuable experience and I feel ready for this new opportunity with Sahara Force India.

The next few months will be very busy as I do all I can to prepare for the challenge ahead of me. It means lots of days at the factory, working on the simulator and building relationships with the engineers and everybody in the team. It’s something I’ve been working towards my whole life and I intend to grab this opportunity with both hands so that I can deliver the results the team expects from me. I want to say ‘thank you’ to everybody at Manor and especially to Mercedes-Benz for their support and belief in me. I can’t wait for 2017 and my first full season racing in Formula One.”

Toto Wolff added: “Esteban has the most impressive track record in junior formulae and he is an exceptional personality outside of the car. Force India have a strong record of working with young drivers and have again shown courage and vision to take Esteban under their wing. Even more, it is a positive development for Formula One that talent wins over money and we will be seeing some of the most impressive youngsters fighting to make it to the top in Formula One over the coming years.”

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Ricciardo promoted to third as Vettel penalised by FIA

Third place in the Mexican GP has changed for a second time after the FIA Stewards penalised Sebastian Vettel for his blocking move on Daniel Ricciardo in the late stages of the race.

The revised order sees Ricciardo third, Max Verstappen fourth, and Vettel fifth.

Vettel had finished fourth on the road, but moved up to third when Max Verstappen was given a five seconds penalty for gaining an advantage by going off track. Vettel was thus able to go to the podium to collect the trophy.

However after the race a fresh investigation began into his defensive move ahead of Ricciardo, when the Australian tried to get past on lap 70. The FIA deemed that Vettel made an “abnormal” change of direction in the braking area that was “potentially dangerous.” He was penalised 10 seconds and given penalty points.

The decision follows a rules clarification made by Charlie Whiting in Austin in the light of Verstappen’s moves in Hungary and Japan. The decision reads as follows:

The stewards paid particular attention to the Race Directors Notes from the US Grand Prix (v2) and from this event (point 18). Notwithstanding the F1 Commission directive to “let the drivers race” we note the concern that has been expressed about manoeuvrers involving a change of direction under braking as expressed at the Drivers Briefing at the US Grand Prix and in the Race Director’s Notes from the US Grand Prix and this event.

The telemetry and video evidence shows that the driver of Car 5 did change direction under braking.

Article 27.5 and the Race Director’s Notes have essentially three criteria that determine a breach

1) Driving in a manner potentially dangerous

2) An abnormal change of direction

3) Another driver having to take evasive action

The video footage, including the close circuit footage, the broadcast vision, both drivers’ on board cameras plus the telemetry show that there was an abnormal change of direction by Car 5 and this was considered to be potentially dangerous in view of the proximity of the wheels of each car.

The video evidence clearly shows that Car 3 had to take evasive action as a result.

Accordingly as all three criteria have been met, the driver of Car 5 is guilty of a breach of Article 27.5


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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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