Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Paddock News from 2014 Belgian Grand Prix
For once, it's the smaller teams dominating the headlines ahead of the 2014 Formula One Belgian Grand Prix.
Caterham announced earlier in the week that three-time Le Mans winner Andre Lotterer would be making a one-off appearance in Spa. He will replace Kamui Kobayashi.
Then on Thursday, Marussia made a driver swap of their own. With cash-flow becoming a problem for the Anglo-Russian team, Max Chilton stepped aside and Alexander Rossi was set to compete in his place.
Sadly for the American, a last-minute development put the Englishman back in the car.
Elsewhere, Max Verstappen's promotion from Formula Three at the age of just 16 has raised many eyebrows among his future opponents, and Nico Rosberg will be altering his approach after the team orders mess in Hungary.
Read on for a roundup of the top stories as we head into the race weekend.
Alexander Rossi in at Marussia for Max Chilton...Briefly.
Marussia reserve driver Alexander Rossi was set replace Max Chilton for this weekend's race.
The announcement came on Thursday, with a statement on the team website saying:
We're providing Alexander Rossi with the opportunity to make his Grand Prix debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps.
Alexander will race alongside Jules Bianchi, substituting for Max Chilton while contractual issues are resolved.
Team principal John Booth added:
Although it was not our intention to offer Alexander the possibility to race this season, in light of the circumstances we are pleased to be providing him with the opportunity to make his Grand Prix debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Franchorchamps.
The "circumstances" referred to are related to cash flow. Reports on crash.net state that Chilton's sponsors had failed to pay up on time, putting his seat in jeopardy.
The site reports the sanctions are affecting RBC and InstaForex.
A statement released to the press by Chilton's management confirmed that money was the problem. It said (h/t The Guardian):
Max has volunteered to step out of his race seat for the race in Spa to allow the team to attract much-needed funds by selling his seat. Max will attend the race and be on hand to support the team in any way possible.
Marussia are currently in talks with several new investors and it is expected the situation will be resolved before the next race in the F1 calendar in Monza.
But minutes into the first free practice session, with Rossi strapped into the car, the news broke live on Sky Sports' TV coverage that Chilton was back in.
His sponsors had, it seemed, paid up.
It was a bitter blow for Rossi, who had looked set to make his first F1 start at one of the world's greatest circuits.
The young American revealed to crash.net earlier in the month that he was in talks with Gene Haas about driving for the new Haas Formula team in 2016.
But Rossi will be hoping he doesn't have to wait until then to make his own long-awaited debut.
Drivers Weigh in on Max Verstappen Promotion
The announcement that Max Verstappen will race for Toro Rosso next season took many fans by surprise. When he takes to the grid in Australia, he will be only 17, the youngest F1 driver of all time.
Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, several of his future opponents gave their thoughts, with Adrian Sutil saying he considered Verstappen's promotion to be a risk. He told assembled press (h/t NBCSports):
It’s quite a risky move. Very surprising for everyone that after just doing half of the season in Formula Three, he has already been announced as a Formula One driver, so it might be very early but anyway, we’ll see.
There are certain drivers who can manage that, like [Kimi] Raikkonen, he had only one season in Formula Renault, and performed incredibly well, so it’s possible that it works again.
He has some good support with his Dad [ex-F1 driver Jos], for sure he is definitely well supported in every area, but I think you still need a bit of driving before you go into Formula One.
I think it is just one number on your passport, the age. At the end of the day you need to be ready for the challenge and be ready for Formula One grands prix.
Some people are ready at 17, some people are ready at 28—that is what we don’t know. So before saying anything we need to see how Verstappen does next year and after six to eight races we can see if he was ready or not. But at the moment anyone is ready.
Other drivers cautiously welcomed the young Dutchman at the official FIA pre-race press conference.
Felipe Massa said he thought 17 was "a little bit young," but added he was pleased Verstappen was being promoted on the basis of his talent, not because he had major sponsor backing. Nico Rosberg echoed his sentiments.
Daniel Ricciardo praised his Red Bull stablemate's racing record, saying the question marks were over his age, not his talent, while Romain Grosjean pointed out Verstappen will have to learn a lot in a short space of time.
Even Kimi Raikkonen had a few words. The Finn, who famously entered F1 after just 23 car races in 2001, told reporters (h/t crash.net):
I don't know how much he has done or what he has done. I did one full year, I only had 23 car races so he's probably going to have more than I had. Obviously I was a bit older than him but I did well.
Time will tell how he will do but obviously it's more simple now than it was in the past; more people get points. . .I think you can prepare yourself more easily now than in the past so I don't think there will be issues but obviously time will tell. Hopefully he will do well for himself.
Has any rookie ever attracted this much attention before he's even made his debut?
Max Verstappen Will Receive Three FP1 Opportunities in 2014
On the subject of Verstappen, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has revealed his future driver will be given opportunities to drive the STR9 in three free practice sessions before the end of the year.
He told Formula1.com:
Hopefully he gets his super license soon and then we will run him in FP1 sessions to give him the feeling—and he will run the test in Abu Dhabi after the race. The winter time will be very intense with training and more of a technical schooling—and then he will jump into the car in Melbourne and will drive it like a Formula Three car.
Tost elaborated on Thursday, telling reporters at Spa-Francorchamps (h/t gpupdate.net):
At the end of the season we want to do this. We want to give him as much time and mileage as possible in a Formula One car.
We expect a Friday session at least from Austin onwards. So Austin, Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi. Then he will do one test day after Abu Dhabi.
Verstappen does not currently hold the FIA Super Licence required to take part in the sessions. According to Article 5, Appendix L (pdf) of the International Sporting Code, he could acquire one by finishing in the Top Three of the European Formula Three Championship (which replaced the International F3 Trophy referred to in the Article), in which he is currently competing.
That seems highly likely, providing he doesn't take his eye off the ball—Verstappen lies second in the standings, 42 points clear of the fourth-placed driver with only six rounds to go.
Andre Lotterer Under No Illusions but Hoping to Move Caterham Forward
New Caterham driver Andre Lotterer says he hopes to help Caterham make some progress when he takes the wheel for the Belgian Grand Prix.
It is a big challenge to come in like that [at the] last minute, but to do an F1 race is always something that I wanted to do. I grew up in Belgium, I know Spa very well so I thought ‘lets do it.' I hope I can help Caterham to move forward.
I don't know if you can expect a lot from me, but I'm ready to give everything and go flat out.
Lotterer, who last drove an F1 car when he tested for Jaguar in 2002, has an excellent record in sports cars. He won the Le Mans 24-Hour race in 2011, 2012 and 2014, and the World Endurance Championship in 2011.
And he's proven his adaptability by succeeding in other disciplines, too.
In 2006 and 2009 he won the Japanese Super GT touring car series, and in 2011 he claimed the Formula Nippon title. The latter is Japan's premier single-seater series, where he has been a front-runner since 2004.
He has all the tools to do an adequate job in F1 but age is against him. Lotterer is 32, making him the oldest rookie since Giovanni Lavaggi in 1995.
With so many young, talented and/or well-funded kids coming through, it's unlikely this appearance will lead to a full-time drive in 2015.
Nico Rosberg Will Change Approach After Team Orders Mess
Nico Rosberg says he will make some changes to the way he approaches the title fight after the team orders controversy in Hungary.
Mercedes put Rosberg and team-mate Lewis Hamilton onto different strategies. When Rosberg—on what turned out to be the quicker strategy—caught Hamilton, he still needed to make an extra stop while the Brit was running to the end.
The team asked Hamilton to let him through; he agreed to do so, but only if Rosberg could get closer. The German couldn't and lost a lot of time behind his team-mate.
After stopping again Rosberg finished fourth, one place behind Hamilton and was less than happy about it.
In the official FIA pre-race press conference before the Belgian Grand Prix, Rosberg was asked about the situation. He didn't give a lot away, but said:
I gather it was a bit of a mess [in the media] afterwards, after Hungary, so it's best I don't add too much I think and I continue to not give too many details. In general of course we discussed it after the race—just because it's important to review a situation like that and know how to move forward. Now we're moving forward but of course, I have also learned various things from that race which I will try to adapt for the future.
When pressed for a less vague answer, Rosberg said:
Yeah, sorry, I don't really want to go into much more detail than that. As I said, we sat down, discussed it all. That is important after such an occasion, such a situation, and then review, if we need to change something for the future and that's what we've done.
Not a great answer for fans wanting to know the details but an excellent audition for a post-racing future in the Bundestag.
Mercedes could bolt Pirelli tyres onto a couple of Smart cars for the remaining eight races and still win the constructors' championship, so hopefully their focus will turn to the drivers' title race from now on.