Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Imola Memorial, Smirnoff, Baku and More

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2014

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Imola Memorial, Smirnoff, Baku and More

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    Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    Formula One this week remembered Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, whose deaths during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix changed the sport forever.

    The story dominated the headlines across all F1 sites, with recollections, memories and tributes taking centre stage.

    Elsewhere, Force India announced a major sponsorship deal with vodka brand Smirnoff, and Azerbaijan looks set to be the newest member of the F1 family.

    Read on for a full round-up of the week's top stories.

Thousands Attend Memorial for Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger

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    Ratzenberger's parents at the service on Wednesday.
    Ratzenberger's parents at the service on Wednesday.Marco Vasini/Associated Press

    Thousands of fans were at Imola on Thursday for a memorial service for Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who lost their lives at the venue during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix weekend.

    Ratzenberger suffered a front-wing failure and died after a heavy crash at Villeneuve during qualifying on the Saturday.

    Senna was killed the following day during the race, when his Williams left the track at Tamburello for reasons unknown.

    Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jules Bianchi joined former drivers, including Senna's close friend Gerhard Berger, Riccardo Patrese, Pierluigi Martini and Ivan Capelli.

    Senna's niece Paula attended as a representative from the Brazilian's family and told Reuters, "It's so emotional for us because it's a long time and still the love from the people is very alive. It seems like Ayrton is living inside people's hearts, so it's beautiful."

    A memorial mass was also held on Wednesday, attended by Ratzenberger's parents Margit and Rudolf.

Force India Announce Smirnoff Sponsorship Deal

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Force India have announced a major new sponsorship deal with Smirnoff.

    The vodka brand's logos will adorn the rear wing and chassis, with further branding on the sidepods at certain races.

    In a statement on the team's website, team principal Vijay Mallya said:

    As a team we've always mixed the highest professionalism on the track with great celebrations away from it and our partnership with Smirnoff reinforces these values. As we continue to make progress on the track, Smirnoff is the ideal brand to help celebrate these moments and open up the sport to new fans.

    The partnership between Smirnoff and Force India is much deeper than it appears.

    Smirnoff is owned by British multinational giant Diageo, who are the largest shareholders (with 25 percent) in Indian alcohol company United Spirits. Per the India Times, Diageo wishes to buy a further 26 percent.

    Vijay Mallya is the chairman of United Spirits' parent company, United Breweries.

    The sponsorship announcement came on the same day DNAIndia reported a Diageo-nominated CEO, Anand Kripalu, took charge of the Indian company.

Niki Lauda Backs Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton

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    Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press

    Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda believes Nico Rosberg can fight back from being beaten in three consecutive races by his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

    Autosport asked if Lauda felt Rosberg could recover in the team battle.

    "Yes he will. And I think he will because racing drivers have this [mentality]," Lauda said. "If they are blown off, like he was [in China], he will get himself new strategies worked out to not let these things happen again."

    Rosberg, with one win and three second places, leads the drivers' championship by four points from Hamilton. The Brit failed to finish in Australia but has won all the other races.

    Of Hamilton, Lauda said he had never seen him driving so well.

    "He is absolutely on top of everything. He understands the car, which is more complicated than in the past. He understands the tyres and drives at the absolute perfect way on the edge."

    "He does not do any mistakes, and I have to say he is on a high like I have never seen before. Outstanding!"

    The gaps between Hamilton and Rosberg have mostly been small this year, and with Mercedes so far ahead of the other teams the title fight is expected to be a two-horse race.

    Reliability will probably be the key.

Azerbaijan Joins the F1 Calendar from 2016?

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    A view of the Baku waterfront.
    A view of the Baku waterfront.Okinawa / Wikimedia Commons

    Azerbaijan is the newest member of the F1 family, according to the country's Minister of Youth and Sports.

    Azad Rahimov told Duncan Mackay of, "We have signed the deal with Bernie Ecclestone and will announce it officially with an event in Baku shortly."

    The event is likely to be a street circuit around the streets of the national capital Baku. The race will, according to Mackay, be called the Grand Prix of Europe.

    Baku already hosts one major street-circuit race, the Baku World Challenge. It was the final round of last year's FIA GT Championship, and this year it will host the series' de facto successor, the Blancpain Sprint Series.

    However, the somewhat uninspiring circuit isn't F1 standard and contains one of the worst chicanes in the world, so a new one will be needed.

    It will be F1's second race in the Caucasus region (alongside the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi), and it will hopefully be a welcome addition to the season.