Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes and More

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes and More

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    Most Formula One drivers would be delighted to be linked to Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, but Valtteri Bottas found such rumours a nuisance in the 2015 season.

    As doubts over Kimi Raikkonen's future lingered, the Williams driver emerged as the favourite to replace his fellow Finn for 2016, and it was reported at one stage that the deal was all but done. 

    Raikkonen, however, was eventually retained by Ferrari, leaving Bottas with no option but to continue with Williams for a fourth season.

    The 26-year-old has revealed just how stressful that period was, but has explained how that experience taught him a valuable lesson ahead of the 2016 edition of "silly season."

    With Toto Wolffthe Mercedes team bossa member of Bottas' management team, a switch to the Silver Arrows for 2017 would arguably make more sense for the Finn.

    And Bottas is likely to be desperate to move to the two-time world champions after Andy Cowell, the Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains chief, explained why the Brackley-based team are expecting to make even more progress with their V6 turbo engine.

    Progress will be the aim of the game for Renault in 2016 as the French manufacturer returns to the grid with their own team. That progress is expected to be slow and steady, but former driver Vitaly Petrov sees no reason why Renault cannot fight for the title as early as 2017.

    Petrov clearly has high expectations for Renault, and another team with lofty targets are Haas, who plan to score points on their grand prix debut in March.

    Gunther Steiner, the American outfit's team principal, has explained why that ambition is not unrealistic as it may seem.

    Closing this week's roundup is Force India technical director Andy Green, who ahead of "launch season" has dropped a hint about the design of the team's 2016 and, most importantly, how they plan to develop it.

Valtteri Bottas Felt 'Disturbed' by 2015 Ferrari Speculation

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    Valtteri Bottas, the Williams driver, has admitted he was distressed by rumours linking him with a move to Ferrari during the 2015 season.

    After establishing himself as a potential world champion in 2014, when his six podium finishes helped Williams to secure third place in the constructors' championship, the Finn emerged as a leading contender to replace Kimi Raikkonen last year.

    At one stage, Italian publication Corriere dello Sport (h/t Sky Sports) claimed Ferrari had agreed a transfer fee of €12 million (£9.3 million) with Williams to sign Bottas for 2016.

    Ahead of last August's Belgian Grand Prix, however, Ferrari confirmed Raikkonen had signed a contract extension, while Bottas' stay at Williams was announced a fortnight later.

    At the time, Bottas told Sky Sports' Pete Gill that the mostly "untrue" rumours were "unnecessary" and "not fair."

    And the 26-year-old has revealed just how off-putting the relentless speculation surrounding his future was, telling Autosport's Lawrence Barretto

    It was the most disturbing time of my career so far.

    I could really feel what media can do, they keep asking the same questions every race.

    Even on the street, normal people ask you about the same thing all the time, it's like 24/7 the same thing.

    It's not ideal, because when you go to a race weekend, the only thing you want to have in your mind is how do you get the perfect result.

    When there are rumours like this, it makes it more difficult. It didn't help, but that is F1.

    I think it all went well, for sure it didn't help with the results and concentration at all but I don't think it hurt that much.

    With this year's driver market set to be the most eventful for some time, Bottas is likely to face yet more rumours in 2016. But he believes he will be better "prepared" to handle the spotlight, admitting the Ferrari speculation was "probably good for the long term."

    As Bottas remains in contention to join Ferrari for 2017, one driver moving in the opposite direction is 17-year-old Lance Stroll, who will act as Williams' development driver this season.

    Explaining his decision to leave Ferrari's young-driver scheme, the Canadian told Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein that he will receive more opportunities at Williams, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Bottas, who began his F1 career in a similar role before graduating to a race seat in 2013.

Mercedes Expect Major Gains in 2016 but Wary of McLaren-Honda Threat

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    Andy Cowell, the head of Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains, believes the Silver Arrows will continue to make significant gains with the development of their V6 turbo engine in 2016.

    Since the hybrid regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014, Mercedes have become the dominant force in Formula One, winning two consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships and 32 of the last 38 races.

    With Season 3 of the V6 era beginning in 2016, it had been hoped that Mercedes would extract as much as they could from their power unit, allowing their rival manufacturers—Ferrari, Renault and Honda—to close the gap in performance.

    But Cowell has insisted there remains plenty of scope for development with the engine, which is currently producing "in excess of" 900 horsepower, telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble

    We've made some huge gains in the last years as we have done the development.

    We have good gains over the past two years of racing. I don't see that stopping. I don't think anybody here sees that we have reached the limit.

    Where we are at today with our thermal efficiency is mind blowing when you step back and look at it.

    Although Cowell is optimistic about Mercedes' chances of winning a third consecutive title in 2016, he admitted the team are keeping a close eye on the progress made by the Honda-powered McLaren team, who struggled with an underpowered, unreliable and inefficient engine throughout last season.

    Cowell cited the resurgence of Ferrari, who emerged as Mercedes' biggest threat in 2015 just 12 months after enduring their first winless season in two decades, as evidence of just how much progress a team can make over the winter, telling Noble:

    If we look at what Ferrari has done over the last 12 months, it's remarkable. Their improvements have been a huge credit to their reshuffle and their enthusiasm.

    Everybody here is going, "I wonder how we're going to do?" Nobody here is assuming we are going to win, everybody here is assuming that we're going to get beaten by Ferrari, and Honda are a big threat.

    They have come in quickly and they are learning in front of the public but they're hugely determined and partnered with McLaren who are hugely determined.

    We know exactly how McLaren work in terms of a data-driven approach, so they are going to make some big, big gains.

    In January, Spanish publication AS (h/t F1i.com) reported that Honda, having made a substantial breakthrough with the development of their engine, were set for a 223 horsepower boost in 2016, which would place McLaren on the same performance level as last year's Mercedes.

    However, the Japanese manufacturer rubbished that figure, claiming the report was "unsubstantiated and merely speculative," per Sky Sports' William Esler.

Vitaly Petrov Believes Renault Can Challenge for the Title in 2017

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    Vitaly Petrov, the former Renault driver, believes the French manufacturer can challenge for the Formula One title as early as 2017.

    After completing their purchase of the Enstone-based Lotus outfit at the end of 2015, Renault recently celebrated their return to the grid at a launch event in Paris, where chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde that it "may take some time" for the team to race competitively.

    Petrov, the first Russian driver to compete in F1, raced in Renault colours for two seasons between 2010 and 2011, scoring his solitary podium finish at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix.

    And the 31-year-old, who will drive for SMP Racing in this year's World Endurance Championship, has spoken of his delight following Renault's return to the pinnacle of motorsport, claim the team—who won two consecutive titles with Fernando Alonso a decade ago—can fast-track their way back to the front of the grid.

    He told Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy:

    This is great news.

    When I joined Renault, it was a great team—with a big history. And I am happy Renault is coming back again. I think for France, and for all F1 fans and drivers, and for everybody, it's very important that Renault is coming back.

    It's got great history, already twice world champions and I think they want to win much more.

    We know it will be very difficult next year to be in the top five even, but I think in two, three years they can fight for the championship—maybe in 2017 already.

    Despite confirming Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer as Renault's race drivers at the launch event, Ghosn told Spanish publication AS (h/t Sky Sports) that he "would like" to re-sign Alonso, now of McLaren-Honda, for a third spell at the team.

    Former Ferrari engineer Chris Dyer, meanwhile, has returned to F1 after being appointed as Renault's head of vehicle performance, per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper. The Australian has not appeared in F1 since being blamed for the strategy call that resulted in Alonso losing the 2010 championship to Sebastian Vettel.

    Elsewhere, four-time world champion and Renault ambassador Alain Prost has confirmed he "won't be involved at all" with the team, telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble that he may combine his work in Formula E with a role with Channel 4's television coverage.

Haas Boss Gunther Steiner Happy to Set 'High Targets' Ahead of F1 Debut

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    Gunther Steiner, the Haas team principal, has defended the American outfit's lofty ambitions ahead of their Formula One debut in 2016.

    After being granted an entry to F1 in April 2014, Haas will finally make their grand prix debut in March's season-opening Australian GP.

    With a close technical partnership with Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, Haas are expected to make a big impression from the beginning of the season, and they have been talking up their chances in recent months.

    Last November, team owner Gene Haas told Sky Sports' Mike Wise that his team will have a "better" chassis than Ferrari, who won three races en route to second place in the constructors' championship in 2015. 

    Steiner, meanwhile, recently said the outfit should hope to reach the second segment of qualifying and score points in Australia, per Sky Sports' William Esler.

    With the Manor team claiming just one top-10 finish since their arrival on the grid in 2010, it was a bold claim to make.

    But Steiner has insisted the target is realistic, claiming Haas' thorough preparation for their debut means they can enter F1 with confidence, telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble

    We have set ourselves high targets—because you always want to do well. I think now people try to talk a little bit that we are over-achieving [in our ambitions]. But I think honestly, we are aiming for points. We have to aim high to get some.

    We don't want to sound arrogant that we are going for points. No. We are aiming for points. But the main thing that we want to do, is that we want to show that even for a new team coming in, it is still possible to do F1 starting from nothing.

    We took our time, we invested our time in getting as prepared as we could. F1 is such a difficult business to get ready from nothing. It is not easy—even the two years we have had, it is a long time. But we worked hard in these two years. We were not sitting around for 18 months and then started to think about what to do six months ago.

    Our biggest thing is: we want to go out there and be respected by doing a good job. If that good job is finishing races, fine, but if we can pull it off and get in to the points then fantastic. I think we don't expect to be on the podium! We have clear expectations.

    Per the same source, Steiner explained Haas' decision to avoid a glamorous car-launch event in favour of a simple pit-lane unveiling at the beginning of pre-season testing, claiming the teams' desire to spend as much time developing their cars means "it is just not possible to do big launches any more."

Force India's New Car to Be a 'Refinement' of 2015 Chassis

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    Force India's 2016 car will be an evolution of the team's highly successful VJM08 chassis, technical director Andy Green has hinted.

    Having faced "cash-flow issues" at the start of 2015, as deputy team principal Bob Fernley told Sky Sports' Pete Gill, they began last season with an interim car before introducing a B-spec chassis, which was designed at Toyota's wind tunnel in Cologne, Germany, at the British Grand Prix.

    It had a transformational effect on the team's fortunes, with Force India claiming seven top-six finishes—including Sergio Perez's podium result in Russia—in the final nine races to claim a best-ever finish of fifth in the constructors' championship.

    In what is expected to be the final year of the current chassis regulations, the likes of Williams and Sauber are set to take a more aggressive approach with the design of their new cars.

    But Force India are to simply build upon all that was good about the unique VJM08, with Green telling F1i.com's Eric Silbermann

    It’s a continuation of where we left off, which means I can afford to take my eye off of the build of this car and look towards the updates and what we’re doing in the future, because the fundamental running gear of the car is the same. We’re not trying something massively different to what we’ve done before. It’s a refinement.

    Explaining the progress, Green said the design of the new car was finalised at the end of last year, claiming Force India are already working on the first major upgrade. He told the same source:

    From my perspective, the design of the car that’s going to run in winter testing and the first race, was signed off back in December. So the focus now is to build that car then to get it to Barcelona for testing and get enough spares to go to Australia.

    On top of that, we’ve moved on to the first update, so we’re actually looking to what we’re going to put on the car around about the first European race and we’ve got a big programme that continually goes on in the wind tunnel, pulling together that package, which we’re looking to sign off in the next few weeks. That’s really where my focus of attention is now. In other words, it’s moved on a bit from the car that hasn’t run yet to an even more future car.

    Force India recently signed 16-year-old Nikita Mazepin as a development driver for the upcoming season, per Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy, while the team are set to lose the backing of long-term partner Sahara, per Motorsport.com's Darshan Chokhani.