Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull and More

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull and More

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    After two consecutive world championships for Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes' dominance of Formula One is beginning to grow tiresome.

    There is a widespread hunger for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel to challenge the Silver Arrows on a regular basis in 2016 and create a three-way fight for the title.

    But Hamilton believes Mercedes will remain the team to beat in the upcoming season and continue to dominate for the foreseeable future.

    Prior to Mercedes' rise to prominence at the beginning of 2014, Red Bull Racing were the benchmark team after winning four successive titles with Vettel.

    Last season, though, was one to forget for the Milton Keynes-based team as Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were forced to settle for just three podium finishes between them.

    Yet Ricciardo has claimed Red Bull's memories of 2015 would have been very different had the team competed with Mercedes power units, rather than the underpowered and unreliable Renault engines.

    Nico Hulkenberg will also look back on last year with mixed feelings after winning the Le Mans 24 Hours race but finishing behind Force India team-mate Sergio Perez in the F1 championship.

    With the likes of Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen emerging as potential future world champions, Hulkenberg's chances of switching to a front-running team are slimming, but the German has insisted he is not desperate to move up the grid, claiming he is more than happy at Force India.

    Bottas is likely to play a major role in this year's driver market and already seems to be making an effort to put himself in the shop window, admitting he drove with more aggression in the closing stages of 2015 to shake his rather boring, safety-first image.

    With a look at Haas' preparations ahead of the American team's F1 debut, here's this week's roundup.

Lewis Hamilton Expects Mercedes' Dominance to Continue in 2016

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    Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes will keep their status as Formula One's dominant force until at least the end of 2016, despite Ferrari's fighting talk ahead of the upcoming season.

    Since the introduction of the V6 turbo regulations at the beginning of 2014, Mercedes have been the team to beat, winning 16 races in each of the last two years.

    Hamilton, who claimed consecutive world championships in 2014 and '15, has been responsible for 21 of those victories, with team-mate Nico Rosberg taking 11 wins.

    After emerging as the Silver Arrows' biggest threat and winning three grands prix with Sebastian Vettel in 2015, however, Ferrari are confident of challenging for the title in 2016.

    Following last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble that Ferrari "must be in front" of Mercedes this season, but Hamilton is confident his team will still have a comfortable advantage, telling Autosport's Ian Parkes:

    There is at least another year of this strength we have.

    Of course there is a slight unknown because the car can shift. It could dip.

    But we have a much, much stronger foundation in this team and that is not going to be the case.

    I'm so confident that is not going to be the case.

    Despite failing to win any of the last three races after sealing the title at the United States GP, 2015 was widely regarded as Hamilton's best year in F1 as he claimed 11 pole positions and 10 victories.

    And the three-time world champion has insisted he can get ever better ahead of his 10th season in the sport, telling the same source:

    I don't think you are ever performing at peak level all the time. You have dips.

    I was at a peak for a long time during the year, and then I had three so-so races at the end.

    I still drove pretty well and didn't make any mistakes.

    But in not being at 100 per cent, the good thing is there are improvements that can be made for next year.

    Currently third on the list of all-time grand prix winners, Hamilton needs nine more victories to pass four-time world champion Alain Prost's tally of 51.

Daniel Ricciardo Certain Red Bull Would Have Won with Mercedes Power in 2015

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    Daniel Ricciardo is adamant Red Bull would have won races in 2015 if the four-time world champions had the Mercedes power unit at their disposal.

    As Renault's struggles under the V6 era continued, Red Bull endured their first winless season in seven years in 2015, when the team were restricted to just three podium finishes.

    With the relationship between team and engine partner deteriorating, Red Bull made unsuccessful attempts to secure supply deals with Mercedes and Ferrari for 2016, and they will continue to use Renault engines—albeit under the branding of timepiece manufacturer Tag Heuer—in the upcoming season.

    Even with chief technical officer Adrian Newey enjoying semi-retirement, Red Bull's cars are still widely regarded as the best on the grid in terms of aerodynamics.

    And Ricciardo, who challenged Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel for victory in Singapore and led the wet United States Grand Prix, insists last year's RB11 would have won races if it had power parity with Mercedes' W06, telling Autosport's Ben Anderson and Lawrence Barretto: 

    Since Hungary, the car not only performed better, but it was easier to set up.

    Our Friday evenings finished so much earlier.

    It's like 2014, it's been in that window. We either found the window or the window just expanded.

    The signs were there at Silverstone, but Budapest was really where it turned.

    I'd honestly say from Budapest, if we had a Merc in the back we would've won a few races, to say the least.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Giorgio Piola, Red Bull's previous design philosophy of running the front of their car "as low as possible to the ground" no longer worked following changes to the nose regulations and "mandatory titanium skid blocks" forcing changes in ride height.

    And Ricciardo has admitted the team struggled to adjust to those changes in the first half of 2015, telling Anderson and Barretto it "was probably something that we didn't get on top of as soon as we could've done."

Nico Hulkenberg Not Worried About Missing Chance at a Top Team

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    Nico Hulkenberg has insisted he is happy at Force India, despite longstanding speculation linking him with a move to a leading team.

    Since setting pole position for Williams at the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, where he battled Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton for victory two years later, Hulkenberg has been regarded as one of the most exciting talents in F1, but he has never secured a switch to a front-running outfit.

    As reported by Auto Motor und Sport (h/t NBC Sports), Hulkenberg was on the verge of joining Ferrari for 2014 before the Prancing Horse chose to sign Kimi Raikkonen, with Eric Boullier telling BBC Sport that the German was the preferred candidate to replace Raikkonen at Lotus.

    The Enstone-based team, however, ultimately signed Pastor Maldonado, and Hulkenberg has spent the last two seasons at Force India—with whom he is contracted until the end of 2017 after signing a two-year extension last September.

    Having been beaten by the new-and-improved Sergio Perez, 2015 was arguably the least convincing of Hulkenberg's F1 career, leading to suggestions that his chance to join a race-winning team may have passed.

    With a seat at every team potentially up for grabs, however, this year's driver market may represent Hulkenberg's last chance to force his way into a title-winning car, with deputy team principal Bob Fernley recently telling Autosport's Ian Parkes that Force India would allow the German to leave if he received an offer.

    But Hulkenberg, now 28, has revealed he no longer worries about joining an elite team, telling Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy:

    You guys keep thinking so hard about top teams for me!

    I'm not so concerned. I'm here, I'm enjoying what I do, I want to do the best I can, I want to beat my teammate and do great things—and then it will eventually happen or not.

    Of course I want to be at the front and winning races, but I've learned after all these years, I can't force it. It's going to happen or it's not going to happen. It's something that's not 100 percent in my control, in my powers.

    I think at the moment all this is too much speculation and too far down the line.

    You can position yourself strategically, but looking at the short-term future, it's not going to change much, and I'm committed, obviously, for two years.

    Per the same source, Hulkenberg added that his "comfort" at Force India played an integral role in his signing of a multi-year contract.

Valtteri Bottas Admits He Drove with More Aggression in Late 2015

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    Valtteri Bottas has revealed he made a conscious decision to drive with more aggression in the closing weeks of 2015 to prove he is no pushover in wheel-to-wheel combat.

    After claiming six podium finishes in 2014 as Williams finished third in the constructors' standings, Bottas, who finished ahead of multiple world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the drivers' championship, built a reputation as a consistent, efficient performer.

    Williams entered 2015 hoping to solidify their position as the second-fastest team behind Mercedes, but they endured a frustrating year, with Bottas missing the opening race due to a back injury and suffering bad luck throughout the campaign.

    Bottas became increasingly feisty as the year progressed, completing a handful of bold overtaking manoeuvres in the Russian Grand Prix, where he was hit by Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap, before punting the Ferrari driver into retirement in Mexico.

    And the 26-year-old has hinted he decided to drive more ruthlessly following his collision with Raikkonen at the Sochi Autodrom, telling Autosport's Lawrence Barretto

    Maybe the last few races I started being more aggressive.

    Normally I've been known as a conservative driver, always bringing the car home.

    I still calculate every risk but at some point there is the situation where it is better not to back off.

    It can either get you a good result or in the worst case maybe some other drivers know that they shouldn't try that [because you don't give way]. ...

    For me, it comes quite naturally because it had not been a great season.

    I wanted to fight for every single position and I also want to prove that I can race hard and I'm not going to give up. In some cases, I'm not going to back off.

    Bottas entered the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a one-point advantage over Raikkonen in the race for fourth in the championship, but the 2007 world champion's third-place finish—coupled with an error by the Williams pit crew—forced Bottas to settle for fifth.

    Per the same source, Bottas has vowed to "keep (his) style as always, always calculating the risks" but will no longer "back off" if he sees "a clear opportunity to go for it."

Haas Car Passes Final Crash Test Ahead of Team's F1 Debut

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    Haas' Formula One debut has moved a step closer after the team's car passed its final FIA crash test.

    The American team, who have an intimate technical partnership with Ferrari—which will see them receive a number of parts for their Dallara-designed chassis, as well as an engine supply and technical assistance—announced the development via their official Twitter account.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Haas are "believed" to be the first of the 11 teams to "have successfully gone through the crash test process...despite the extra challenges faced by what sources have suggested is a short-nose concept."

    Noble claims "it is understood that the final homologation papers that will allow the Haas car to run should be complete within the next few days," after which the team will be allowed to participate in the first of two pre-season tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which is scheduled to begin on February 22.

    The news of Haas' crash-test success comes after owner Gene Haas, who gained an entry to F1 in April 2014 but delayed the team's arrival until 2016, complained the Banbury-based outfit had, if anything, "too much time" to prepare for their F1 debut, per Autosport.

    Team principal Gunther Steiner recently told Sky Sports' William Esler that Haas hope to reach the second segment of qualifying and score points in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March.

    Former Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez will compete for Haas this year, with the team yet to announce a reserve driver.