Formula One's Latest Rumours and Talk: Paddock News from 2014 Chinese Grand Prix
The Formula One circus rolled into Shanghai this week for the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix.
Stefano Domenicali's resignation as Ferrari team principal was still a hot topic, with Fernando Alonso expressing surprise at the departure of his friend.
Further down the pit lane, McLaren were busy unveiling their fourth primary sponsor in four races, while Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg held talks to clear the air after their battle in Bahrain.
Pastor Maldonado is unhappy with F1's penalty system.
Read on for a full rundown of the top stories from the weekend so far.
Pastor Maldonado Hits out at F1's Penalty Culture
Pastor Maldonado has hit out at the F1 penalty system saying it is ruining the spectacle and forcing drivers to be too conservative.
The Venezuelan was speaking after receiving a five-place grid drop for the Chinese Grand Prix after his collision with Esteban Gutierrez in Bahrain.
He told press in Bahrain (h/t Autosport):
The rules are the same for everyone, so you need to avoid incidents. But at the same time [the threat of penalties means] you cannot race, you need to only stay on track and wait for problems.
If you attack and your manoeuvre is not that clear, or the guy is defending the place and you have a gamble, and you are fighting, you can be penalised. So they need to be slightly more flexible.
We are racing drivers and we are always taking risks. If you are competitors and you can overtake, you need to take risks—but at the same point the rules are going against the spectaculars.
Ten years ago everyone was fighting and touching each other, because there were no penalties. Now we need to adapt ourselves.
Maldonado has received more driving penalties since 2011 than anyone else, and he has been guilty of some moves which definitely deserved one.
The thought that F1 drivers should be "fighting and touching" would fill most of his rivals with dread. Flimsy, open-wheel cars aren't made for contact. If that's what Maldonado wants, he should go to touring cars.
Is there any merit to his argument? Maybe. The penalty-free "racing incident" so common in years gone by has disappeared, replaced by the "avoidable accident."
But perhaps a bit of sensible risk-taking isn't such a bad thing—even if it does go wrong from time to time.
Emphasis on sensible.
Fernando Alonso Reacts to Stefano Domenicali Departure
Fernando Alonso expressed surprise over the departure of Ferrari's former technical director, Stefano Domenicali, who resigned earlier in the week. It wasn't the only thing he expressed. In a video interview with BBC Sport, he didn't look especially happy about it.
The two-time world champion was close to Domenicali and made a point of praising him when he spoke to The Guardian:
Stefano is a great man. We ski together on the first of January in the mountains in Italy, and we still have a close relationship.
We've been talking all week long, which will continue because we've known each other for many years. As a team principal he made good choices, did good things.
Unfortunately we missed opportunities in 2010 and 2012, and another in 2008 with Felipe; otherwise he could have had three championships in his pocket.
But he brought in Pat Fry, James Allison and Raikkonen, and all the things people asked of him he gave to them. But results in sport are important, and the pressure at Ferrari is big, so he has made his decision, which we respect.
Regarding Domenicali's replacement, Marco Mattiacci, Alonso said he should be given time to settle in. But sounded an early note of caution, saying to BBC Sport of his new boss' lack of experience, "It's too early to say if it'll be a very good thing or very bad."
Alonso added he was yet to even speak to Mattiacci. This was surely remedied when the Italian arrived at the circuit before free practice one.
But their relationship may be a short one.
Having been provided with a disappointing car yet again, Alonso is likely to be losing patience with Ferrari and may seek pastures new in 2015. Speaking to gpupdate.net, 1978 world champion Mario Andretti added his voice to the debate, saying he wouldn't be surprised if Alonso left at the end of the year.
The loss of a close friend within the team will only push the Spaniard closer to the door.
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton Settle Bahrain Differences
Nico Rosberg held talks with Lewis Hamilton on Thursday evening over an incident which occurred during their titanic duel in Bahrain.
It came on Lap 18, when Rosberg attacked Hamilton down the inside into Turn 1. The Brit cut back inside and moved across the front of his team-mate's car before Turn 2, which prompted an angry outburst from Rosberg on the team radio.
The German told media in China (h/t The Independent) on Thursday:
It's completely normal that as a team, when there are situations or races where a lot has happened and which are intense battles that you are going to sit down and discuss.
That's very important to move forward, and we will do that. We're doing that today to make sure everybody knows everybody's opinions.
We review to be able to completely put it behind us and push on—full attack.
Following the discussions with Rosberg, Hamilton mentioned the move in his BBC Sport column. He made no apology for it and explained how he made the decision to do what he did:
If I hadn't taken up the space he was trying to go into, he would have been on my inside going into Turn 2, which would have meant I would have been forced to leave a car's width between us or risk colliding.
If I had not taken up that space, which was right in front of him, and given him the acceleration out of the corner, he would have slotted in right behind me and probably got past into Turn 4. I knew that, so I had to get ahead of him. I ended up getting a better exit, so he wasn't able to get by.
He added there were no problems between the two, and he went into further detail about how the drivers use their cars to "talk" to each other out on the track.
On this occasion, he says, Rosberg misinterpreted what had happened.
The battle was the highlight of one of the best races in recent years, and both men—as well as their Mercedes team and F1 as a whole—emerged with enhanced reputations.
McLaren Still Without a Title Sponsor, Unveil SAP Livery for China
McLaren boss Ron Dennis said at the start of March that his team would have a new title sponsor in place within the first few races.
But it still hasn't arrived. Instead, the team rolled out their fourth different primary sponsor in four races at Shanghai.
The MP4-29 featured Mobil 1 branding in Australia, Esso branding in Malaysia and a Gulf Air/Esso combo in Bahrain. This time, it's the turn of SAP to occupy the sidepods.
In a joint McLaren-SAP statement on the team website, McLaren's acting CEO Jonathan Neale said:
We are extremely proud of our long-standing partnership with SAP, and the unveiling of a unique livery in Shanghai reflects both the strength of our relationship and our ability to reach an avid, informed audience across China.
The German software company has a large presence in China, employing (according to the statement) 5,000 people across sites in 12 different cities; so they're a logical choice as primary sponsor for this event.
They also have, as Neale said, a long history with McLaren. The SAP logo first appeared on the 2001 McLaren, and it has occupied the same spot on the nose cone ever since.
But the wait for a title sponsor could soon be over.
At the start of April, Sky News reported the team were close to agreeing a link-up with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.
The team refused to confirm or deny the rumour. Maybe we'll find out more in the coming days.
Nico Hulkenberg Rules out Driver Strike
It claimed a number of drivers had agreed to consider strike action in the future if salaries were not paid.
But now Nico Hulkenberg—one of the drivers named by the magazine—has moved to kill the story.
He told Autosport:
It's something that's not good for the pinnacle of motor racing but we've never discussed doing a strike. I don't know [what the options are], but we all need to stick the heads together to see what we can do and come up with a solution.
We want the issue to be addressed.
The issue is very real. Kimi Raikkonen left Lotus for Ferrari because he wasn't being paid for his services, and Jules Bianchi revealed to Autosport some drivers—and other team personnel—are still having problems:
I am getting paid, but some people are struggling with that and we want to know what we could do to improve that. Obviously it's very difficult as there's not really a solution. What can you do? It's really sensitive and it's getting really tough for the drivers who are not getting paid.
Some teams are struggling with money but it should not happen. We are talking about drivers, but also people working at the factory. It's not only for us we want it to be fair for everyone.
Non-payment of wages is only a symptom of a greater disease. Costs are continuing to rise and teams like Sauber, Caterham and Marussia are facing uncertain futures.
Any one of them, or all three, could be absent from the grid next year.
But while the smaller teams struggle to stay afloat, Forbes say F1 owners CVC have made $8.2 billion from the sport since they bought it for $2 billion in 2006.
So at least someone's happy.