Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Susie Wolff, Marussia Virus and More
Williams announced today that Susie Wolff will become the first female driver to take an active part in a Formula One grand prix weekend since 1992. She will drive two free practice sessions at some point during the 2014 season.
Elsewhere, Marussia have revealed a computer virus affected their test in Bahrain, and Renault's powertrain issues look set to continue.
And are Ferrari hiding their true pace?
Here's today's roundup.
Susie Wolff to Drive in Two Practice Sessions
Susie Wolff will drive in two free practice sessions for Williams during the 2014 season.
This will mark the first time since 1992 that a woman has taken an active part in a race weekend.
The lady in question back then was Giovanna Amati, whose woeful attempt at qualifying a Brabham in three grands prix probably set female drivers back a decade or two.
Wolff joined Williams as a "development driver" in 2012 and drove for them in the 2013 Young Driver Test at Silverstone. Her best time was around a second slower than the team's other "young driver," Daniel Juncadella.
She will also drive the FW36 in one of the permitted in-season tests.
In a statement on the team's website, Wolff said:
I'm grateful for the support and belief Williams continue to show in me and 2014 promises to be a very important milestone in my career.
Competing in two FP1 sessions, alongside an additional full test day this season will be a big step and I am looking forward to the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the FW36 on a Grand Prix weekend.
It’s a challenge that I will relish and it will be a great chance for me to continue assisting the team.
Felipe Nasr, the team's official test and reserve driver, will take part in five practice sessions and three in-season tests.
The news comes a little over a week after Sauber's announcement that they had signed IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro as an "affiliated driver" for 2014.
It has not yet been confirmed if she will take part in any practice sessions this year.
Fuel Saving Fears Rise as Drivers Weigh in
With a few teams completing full race simulations during the Bahrain test, more details emerged on how difficult it will be to finish races on the permitted maximum of 100 kilograms of fuel.
The 2013 season had no fuel limit, but the highest amount used was between 150-160 kilos.
Therefore, the limit of 2014 represents a cut of up to one-third. The V6 turbo hybrid engines are more fuel-efficient than the V8s they replace, but not that efficient.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg was quoted by ESPN as saying:
Bahrain is the worst track, so today it was tough to get to the end of the race with 100 litres.
That's going to be a big challenge in Melbourne and that's what it was about today, to try and judge that and make sure that you get the quickest from the beginning to the end of the race while keeping the fuel consumption consistent.
McLaren's Jenson Button, who also did a full race simulation, told ESPN:
I finished the grand prix distance, but in testing it's relatively easy to do because you just drive around really slow.
I think we are all going to find it tricky and there is a lot of fine tuning that's needed from everyone. I think for most people it's trying to get the car to run for a race distance—that's the biggest issue!
It has long been expected that managing fuel loads would be a dominant factor of 2014's racing, and now we're starting to hear it from the horse's mouth.
Keith Collantine of F1Fanatic produced an excellent graphic showing the 2013 fuel usage across a number of circuits.
It suggests Bahrain is, as Rosberg said, one of the worst tracks for fuel use—but Albert Park in Melbourne, the venue for the opening race, is even tougher.
Marussia Suffered Virus KO in Bahrain
Modern F1 teams are very heavily reliant on computers, and in Bahrain, Marussia proved even this most advanced of sports can suffer the same problems as the rest of us.
According to team principal John Booth, the team were hit by a computer virus on the first day of testing. He told Autosport:
It started off with the first disaster, which was a computer Trojan-type virus in the racks, which cost us the best part of the day.
So that set the tone for the week.
One has to assume the team computers are not plugged into wider networks, so how they managed to acquire a virus is a bit of a mystery.
Perhaps they should extend their Ferrari engine supply deal to include a bit of assistance from one of the Scuderia's sponsors.
Renault Powertrain Issues Set to Continue
Engine supplier Renault had another miserable test in Bahrain. Of their four teams, only Caterham—with their huge sidepods and open rear bodywork—managed to do a decent number of laps.
In an interview on their website, deputy managing director of Renault Sport F1 Rob White said:
We are some weeks behind where we wanted to be, and we acknowledge it will take time to unlock the full performance of the PU. We are working hard to get there and we are determined to succeed.
We remain confident in the PU and its sub systems, we are just not at the level of operation and performance we want to be. The immaturity of the PU combined with the time lost to incidents, means the chassis work to prepare for the season is also behind schedule. From this point on we must pursue and accelerate an upward curve.
So, exactly how long will it be before the Renault teams can properly compete? White says it will be "some weeks," but that could be anything from two to 20.
If it's more than two, they're going to be in a very bad place when the season starts.
The Australian Grand Prix is less than three weeks away, and the
engines powertrains used for it will need to be finished in time to be shipped.
It seems unlikely a fix will be found before then, so if you've ever wanted to see a Red Bull being lapped, you won't have to wait much longer.
Are Ferrari Sandbagging?
Ferrari have had a decent preseason thus far, but they don't quite seem to be on a level with the likes of Mercedes and McLaren.
However, in a column on Monday, thejudge13 (a website which is often right when it comes to rumours) mentioned something interesting:
It appears that a number of matters are becoming clear now that 8 of the 12 days pre-season testing are complete. Firstly, Mercedes are strong, though I have a source that suggests Ferrari is hiding their true performance quite deliberately.
This is very much in rumour territory, but if it's true, a lot of people have been fooled.
Trackside observers (such as those at Sky F1) say the Ferrari looks less stable and drivable than the Mercedes and McLaren, and the current odds (via Oddschecker) for the constructors' championship place the Italian team behind even Red Bull.
Ferrari technical director James Allison gave little away in a statement on the team website:
For the last four days, our programme will see us attempt to operate the car ever more closely to the way that it will run in a race, providing invaluable practice for the drivers and subjecting the car and all its systems to the full rigor that it will need to withstand throughout the season.
So should we expect the car to suddenly find five seconds of pace and start sticking to the track like a 2011 Red Bull?
Perhaps not, but it's yet another reason to pay attention when the final test kicks off on Thursday.