Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: No Red Bull Rift, Renault Improve and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: No Red Bull Rift, Renault Improve and More

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    As the potentially season-defining Spanish Grand Prix weekend approaches, the onus is on Red Bull to take the fight to the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

    The reigning world champions endured a strange weekend in Shanghai almost three weeks ago, with a promising qualifying performance followed by a difficult race which carried echoes of the past.

    Unlike Malaysia 2013, though, Red Bull's team spirit has emerged unscathed from China if Daniel Ricciardo's words on teammate Sebastian Vettel are anything to go by.

    With team harmony supposedly assured, the small matter of fixing the car is the next priority on Red Bull's list.

    It is no secret that the team's Achilles heel so far this season has been the troublesome Renault power unit, but the French manufacturer has claimed that a corner has been turned just in time for Red Bull to fight Mercedes.

    But is it already too late for the Charging Bulls to challenge the Silver Arrows?

    The 1992 world champion, Nigel Mansell, believes so, and the former Williams driver has paid tribute to Hamilton's blistering start to the season.

    Mansell's former race mechanic and fellow Williams stalwart Dickie Stanford, meanwhile, has landed a new role with Williams which will see the long-serving employee taking care of Mansell's old cars.

    On the subject of old cars, ex-racer Derek Warwick ends this week's roundup by sharing his thoughts on F1's apparent willingness to go retro. 

Daniel Ricciardo Expects No Hassle from Sebastian Vettel

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    Daniel Ricciardo insists that his relationship with Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel has been unharmed despite the German's reluctance to follow team instructions at last month's Chinese Grand Prix.

    Vettel replied with "tough luck" via team radio when asked by race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin to move over for Ricciardo in Shanghai, with the Australian driver eventually getting past Vettel two laps later and going on to finish the race around 20 seconds ahead of the reigning world champion.

    The affair provoked memories of the infamous Multi-21 ordeal of 2013, which saw Vettel disobeying the orders of his team to pass Mark Webber for victory in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

    Ricciardo, however, has explained that both he and Vettel both understand the protocol regarding team orders, telling The Western Australian:

    We throw up different scenarios and discuss it, discuss it between drivers and between principals and engineers.

    It is our (the drivers') responsibility to obey it, unless it's completely out of order and then we can obviously try and put up a fight and give our reasons.

    But the team are doing all the calculations on pit wall during the race and you have to respect what they're saying. It's not always nice if you are being told to move over. It's not nice being that slower car, it's frustrating.

    We know it ourselves and even told each other that we want to race hard.

    I want to race the best version of Seb and he wants to race the best version of me. At the end of the day I think we'll both respect whoever's done a better job.

    Deep, deep down none of us like losing. If Seb's done a better job this year, I won't like it, but I'll definitely respect him for it and give him the credit he deserves.

    I think that's a two-way street. We understand what a fair fight is and we enjoy that.

Renault Expect Major Strides

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    Renault believe they have made significant progress with their power units ahead of this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.

    Teams using the French manufacturer's V6 turbo engine have struggled in terms of both reliability and pace so far this season, which has hindered Red Bull's pursuit of constructors' championship leaders Mercedes.

    However, Renault hope the circuit layouts in Spain and Monaco will suit their engine, which they hope will be operating optimally in time for next month's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, despite the power units being homologated for 2014.

    Renault's head of track operations, Remi Taffin, told Jonathan Noble of Autosport:

    I would not say optimism, as we are still on realism.

    But it is fair to say that coming into Barcelona or Monaco, they are not going to be massively power sensitive.

    They are energy sensitive, though, so in the race it is always going to be important to have the power unit working right.

    But ahead of Montreal we want to have something that is very close to 100 per cent.

    All in all, it is looking promising. But we mustn't forget about reliability.

    However, I think Renault has never been as pushy as we are at the minute looking at reliability.

    Although manufacturers are prevented from developing their engines in terms of power, Taffin has revealed that more pace can be found by improving the MGU-H and MGU-K energy recovery systems as well as external factors such as fuel performance.

    Taffin added: 

    Performance is going to come from software evolution, and a bit coming from the hardware.

    If we solve some issues we have got on the V6 for example, then you can maybe take a bit more out of it.

    If you unlock something, it gives you a double or triple effect. It is the way the power unit is being run these days.

    There is more than just the V6 turbo and electrical machine to get performance out of the power unit.

    We can talk about oil, and we can discuss about fuel. We still have a good work in progress with Total (Red Bull's fuel partner) in terms of fuel, so definitely there is more to come.

Nigel Mansell: Lewis Hamilton Performing at His Peak

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    Nigel Mansell, the 1992 Formula One World Champion, has praised the recent performances of Lewis Hamilton.

    Hamilton heads into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix with a chance of claiming a fourth consecutive race victory for the first time in his eight-year F1 career and could snatch the lead of the drivers' championship from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

    Mansell, who won eight of the first 10 races on his way to the 1992 crown, believes Hamilton is making the most of the opportunity that Mercedes' W05 car has provided the 2008 world champion.

    The 60-year-old told Lawrence Barretti of BBC Sport:

    No driver ever wins a world title in a bad team, but what you can do is demonstrate how brilliantly you can win.

    Lewis has done that this season.

    He has been close to perfection, just brilliant. He has been given the freedom to express himself.

    When you get a few more wins under your belt, you get even more confidence and that gives you another half a second in your pocket.

    It doesn't get any better than knowing you have a good car—it's the most wonderful feeling.

    The Spanish Grand Prix, as the first European event of the season, could see the pecking order change with teams set to bring major update packages to the Circuit de Catalunya.

    Mansell, however, has predicted that Mercedes' performance advantage is such that the German manufacturer will not be toppled this season.

    He added:

    They are the class act of the field in 2014. I don't see them dropping the ball.

    They're not going to be unbeatable during the year, but I think it will be very hard to close the gap because of their superior engine performance.

    Lewis and Nico are going to have a tremendous time in 2014.

Dickie Stanford to Head Williams Heritage

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    After leaving his role as Williams' race team manager on the eve of the 2014 season, Dickie Stanford has been appointed as general manager of Williams Heritage.

    Stanford, who first joined Williams in 1985, will head the new Heritage division of the Williams company, focusing on the maintenance and public demonstration of the team's former grand prix cars and reporting to Jonathan Williams, son of team founder Sir Frank and brother of deputy team principal Claire.

    In an emailed press statement, Sir Frank Williams said:

    A team of our longevity has many historic assets that need to be cherished and preserved for future generations to enjoy. Dickie combines strong mechanical knowledge of our cars from his time as a mechanic, with first class operational and logistical skills honed as Race Team Manager.

    He is therefore perfectly placed to take on the day-to-day operational running of our historic car programme and provide support to Jonathan in ensuring that Williams' Heritage programme goes from strength to strength. I would personally like to add my thanks to him for his services to the team during his time as Race Team Manager.

    Stanford, who will manage Williams' appearances at annual events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, added:

    I have a lot of passion for the company and its heritage and the opportunity to take charge of our historic car programme is too good to turn down. With the formation of Williams Heritage as a distinct division within Williams, we will be well placed to ensure that our legendary cars continue to be well looked after and can be showcased to Formula One fans for many years to come.

Derek Warwick Backs Push for F1 Gimmicks

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    Last month's revelation that Formula One is looking to reintroduce sparks, vapour trails and glowing brake discs to make the sport more spectacular was met with widespread disapproval.

    Former grand prix driver Derek Warwick, however, believes F1 should embrace the potential changes, telling Autosport's Jonathan Noble:

    I think that F1 always has to be cutting edge, it has to be ahead of the technology.

    And that is what we have got at the moment.

    But do we need to continually look at the show? Absolutely. Because that is what turns on the punter.

    The fans need to come in here [to a race track] and get goose bumps as they arrive. Things like sparks and vapour trails are all part of the package.

    But we should not just be saying these things in public. It is the sort of thing we should be going to Spain [this weekend] and suddenly the fans sees sparks coming out of the cars.

    That is what should be happening—as that has more of an impact.

    Warwick, the president of the British Racing Drivers' Club and a regular drivers' representative on F1's stewards panel, thinks the line should be crossed at active suspension, a technology which is also in contention to return in the near future.

    The former Lotus driver said:

    Active, I think that would be a wrong move. These cars are too technical now, too difficult to put together.

    In Bahrain I spent a lot of time in all the garages and you see that you cannot put a finger through any of the packaging as everything is so tight now.

    We have already got very technical cars. Do we need active suspension? I really don't think so.