Formula One's Latest Rumours and Talk: Paddock News from 2014 British Grand Prix
The 2014 Formula One British Grand Prix will be the scene of two firsts.
Susie Wolff will take part in a race weekend for the first time in her career on Friday, when she drives for Williams in free practice.
Further down the pit lane, Caterham will compete for the first time under their new owners after Tony Fernandes sold the team this week.
Also in the news, Kimi Raikkonen already has a retirement date in mind, Charlie Whiting has defended standing starts and Bernie Ecclestone's comments about Monza have not gone down well with the drivers.
Read on for a full roundup of the news heading into the weekend.
Kimi Raikkonen Set to Retire at the End of 2015
Kimi Raikkonen expects to retire from F1 when his current Ferrari contract expires at end of the 2015 season.
When asked about his future plans, he told reporters at the British Grand Prix venue (h/t Sky Sports), "Until my contract is finished and then I will probably stop. That is what I think is going to happen."
The Finn won the world championship with Ferrari in 2007, but his form dipped throughout 2008 and 2009. He was contracted for 2010 but, per James Allen, the Italian team paid him almost €20 million to leave.
Raikkonen returned to F1 in 2012 with Lotus, and he rejoined Ferrari this year. Again he has struggled, being comprehensively out-performed by team-mate Fernando Alonso.
If he doesn't start showing good form soon, there's no guarantee he'll be around beyond the end of this year.
But if and when he does leave—and this time, it will almost certainly be for good—he won't be leaving motorsport behind. He added at Silverstone:
I've tried many things and I think there is no harm in it. I think it can only help. You always learn if you try different things.
The teams are scared that we get hurt. In the past when I was in Ferrari I could not do rallies. It would be nice not just for us but for the fans to do many things.
Le Mans, rallying, Formula E?
FIA's Charlie Whiting Dismisses Standing Start Concerns
Race director Charlie Whiting does not share the concerns raised by drivers and fans about standing starts after safety car periods, which are set to be introduced in 2015.
But his comments won't inspire a great deal of confidence, as it seemed like he'd just been sent out by his bosses to defend the idea.
Speaking to the media before the British Grand Prix, he said (h/t Autosport):
I have heard some drivers express concerns but I think we can allay those fears.
There were two things drivers were concerned about—one was fairness and that being a leader he is more likely to lose his lead from a standing start than a rolling start. But whether that is true or not, I am not quite sure.
Then, I think there were some concerns about worn tyres with starting from standing starts. But what you have to remember is that until you get to the point of a standing start, the safety car procedure will be exactly the same as before.
So if you are on worn tyres, any driver on worn tyres is very likely to pit anyway. They do it now so there is no reason why they would not do it under those new rules.
It's curious he says he isn't sure if a driver is more likely to lose a lead from a standing start. Whiting has been the FIA's race director since 1997, and one imagines he has seen every standing race start and rolling restart since then.
Surely he knows a pole-sitter often loses his lead, while a race leader at a rolling start loses it only once in a blue moon (or once per solar cycle, if a more accurate astronomical timescale is required)?
On the subject of worn tyres, there's a good reason a driver, or the entire field, may not pit before a restart—track position. If it's late in the race, there's a critical choice to be made—either tough it out on the used rubber, or pit and drop to last.
He went on to give an equally disappointing, confusing answer regarding the possibility of more crashes occurring.
Of course, you are more likely statistically to have incidents at standing starts than at any other time in the race. But no driver wants that to happen and no driver will cause it to happen. I don't believe there is any added risk personally.
The many drivers and fans opposed to the idea are unlikely to be convinced by such awkward, toe-the-party-line responses.
Caterham Enter a New Era
Caterham will this weekend compete in their first grand prix under new ownership.
It was announced earlier in the week that founder Tony Fernandes had sold the team. A statement on the team website read:
Caterham F1 Team is pleased to confirm that Tony Fernandes and his partners have sold the team to a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors, advised by former F1 Team Principal Colin Kolles.
Under the terms of the sale, the team will continue to race as Caterham F1 Team and will remain based at Leafield for the foreseeable future.
Former team principal Cyril Abiteboul has departed to become managing director of Renault Sport F1. His replacement is Christijan Albers, a former F1 driver who raced in 46 grands prix for Minardi, Midland and Spyker between 2005 and 2007.
Kolles, Caterham's new adviser, was Albers' team principal at Midland and Spyker. The duo also worked together when Kolles entered a team in the 2009 Le Mans series.
Albers said in a statement:
We are aware of the huge challenge ahead of us given the fight at the bottom end of the Championship and our target now is to aim for tenth place in the 2014 Championship. We are very committed to the future of the team and we will ensure that the team has the necessary resources to develop and grow and achieve everything it is capable of.
Though they will race on under the Caterham name for now, there is little reason to keep it beyond the end of the season. The main business of the car-maker itself was not part of the deal, so a re-branding may well occur before 2015.
Drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson have thus far been retained.
Susie Wolff to Take Part in Friday Practice
Williams development driver Susie Wolff will become the first female driver since 1992 to take part in an grand prix weekend when she drives in Friday's first practice session.
Wolff joined the team in 2012 after a largely unsuccessful career in the junior formulae and DTM. But her decent performances in the team's simulator and at the 2013 Young Drivers Test at Silverstone convinced the team to give her this opportunity.
Speaking to BBC Sport last week, she said:
If there are just a handful of little girls who are there on Friday and see me driving and suddenly realise they could do the same, that is the biggest positive to come out of it.
It's not a man's world any more. It just needs to be shown that women can compete at that level and then you'll get more and more entering.
The last woman to start a grand prix was Lella Lombardi in 1976. Since then, three others—Divina Galica in 1976 and 1978, Desire Wilson in 1980 and Giovanna Amati in 1992—have entered but failed to qualify.
Meanwhile, fellow female driver Simona de Silvestro will test at the Circuit of the Americas in August, after the track announced itself as her new "official training partner."
The barriers are being slowly eroded and hopefully it'll only be a matter of time before F1 has a genuine, full-time female racer.
Drivers Rally in Support of Monza
Bernie Ecclestone put the future of Monza in doubt last week, saying it may lose the Italian Grand Prix after 2016 due to financial reasons.
Speaking to Gazetta dello Sport (h/t ESPN for the translation), the F1 boss said of Monza, "I don't think we'll do another contract, the old one was a disaster for us from a commercial point of view. After 2016, bye bye."
The thought of losing one of the world's oldest and most loved circuits didn't go down well with fans, and at the official pre-race press conference a number of drivers spoke out in the track's favour.
Felipe Massa said, "It’s a fantastic place, great fans, so for sure, if we are not racing in Monza any more it would not be good for Formula One. We need to go to places that people really love."
Jenson Button echoed his sentiments, adding, "It’s a very unique circuit, very different to any other circuit, very low-downforce circuit, always throws up a good race so it would be a shame not to see it on the calendar."
Lewis Hamilton also spoke of the need to retain atmospheric, popular circuits, saying:
I think it’s important not to forget that this sport would not exist if it wasn’t for the fans. Obviously there are certain business decisions people make but there’s tracks we’ve been to where there’s been no one in the grandstands and there’s a few, particularly, which are very, very special like Monza where you have a full... you know, the circuit’s just full of fans and it really does make the event. I think it’s important that we try and keep that in the sport.
It's likely Ecclestone's comments were made purely in an attempt to secure a better deal (more money) from Monza when the deal comes up for re-negotiation.
But perhaps, for the sake of our continued happiness, he should make them in private next time.