Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Ferrari's Halo Test, Jenson Button and More
Are we looking at the future of Formula One?
That was the question in Spain at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya paddock on Thursday morning as Ferrari conducted an initial evaluation of the "halo" concept, which is set to be fitted to every car in time for the 2017 season in an effort to improve cockpit safety.
The halo is regarded as an unwanted, imperfect, but necessary solution to one of F1's most serious, lingering issues, and Kimi Raikkonen had the privilege of testing the structure on the penultimate morning of the final pre-season test.
On the subject of car parts that may do the trick, Honda brought a final version of its 2016-specification power unit to the test in a bid to improve McLaren's fortunes. Although it is unclear whether the engine upgrade will be enough for the team to race competitively this season, Jenson Button likes what he has seen so far.
The 2009 world champion claimed the new powertrain represents the biggest step forward Honda has made since it returned to F1 at the beginning of last year.
Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, will be hoping Red Bull also make a promising step forward after enduring their first winless campaign since 2008 last season.
But ahead of his third appearance on home soil as a Red Bull driver, Ricciardo admitted he is entering this year's Australian Grand Prix with limited expectations.
While one Red Bull-backed driver is expecting little from the beginning of 2016, another cannot wait for the season to start, with Carlos Sainz Jr. describing his excitement over Toro Rosso's almost trouble-free testing program.
The two-time world champion went on to claim just two points finishes in 2015. But on the bright side, at least he avoided testing the halo.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen Tests New Cockpit-Safety Structure at Barcelona
Kimi Raikkonen became the first Formula One driver to test the "halo" cockpit-safety device, which is expected to be implemented on a full-time basis at the beginning of 2017.
In January, Grand Prix Drivers' Association chairman Alexander Wurz told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson how the drivers were unanimously in favour of the "swift implementation" of increased cockpit safety following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar racer Justin Wilson in 2015.
Wurz added that research by the FIA, the sport's governing body, found a "clear solution" in the form of the halo design, pioneered by two-time world champions Mercedes.
Although some have questioned whether F1 should remain an open-cockpit category, it is almost certain the halo will become a permanent fixture on the cars from next year.
Ahead of its introduction, Ferrari became the first team to run the halo on track on Day 3 of the second pre-season test of 2016 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Ferrari—who have reduced the halo's weight from 10 to six kilograms—first fitted the structure to their SF16-H car on Wednesday evening when four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel evaluated the halo within the confines of the team's garage.
But the same source said it was decided 2007 world champion Raikkonen, "would be a far better person to conduct early visibility tests on track because he would offer a far more impartial view on its impact on the drivers."
Raikkonen completed only one lap with the halo in the morning session before it was removed to allow the Finn to continue with his 2016 testing schedule. Despite widespread concerns the concept would hinder a driver's vision, Raikkonen reported "no problems" with the device, per F1 journalist Chris Medland.
F1 reporter Jennie Gow offered a look at how the halo affects a driver's eyeline, via her personal Twitter account.
Meanwhile, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Noble in a separate Motorsport.com article that the four-time world champions would test a "Batmobile-style" version of the halo, which doesn't feature a central pillar, on a showcar in the near future as the quest for improved safety measures continues.
Jenson Button Praises McLaren-Honda's 'Biggest Improvement' Yet
Jenson Button believes McLaren-Honda have made their biggest performance leap yet after introducing a new engine at the second and final pre-season test of 2016.
After enduring their worst season for 35 years in 2015, finishing ninth out of 10 teams, McLaren produced an inconsistent performance at the first test of 2016, where increasingly frequent reliability issues restricted the team to just 257 laps over the course of four days.
As reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, however, Honda has brought its definitive 2016-specification power unit to the second test, with Button and team-mate Fernando Alonso completing a combined total of 214 laps in the opening two days.
Although the drivers were classified in the top five on the timesheets, Button has acknowledged his side is some distance behind the leading teams.
But the 2009 world champion was encouraged by the progress made, telling Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein:
It's the biggest improvement I've felt with the power unit in the last 14 months, which is good!
The improvement is good, but obviously we're still a long way off the other guys. You can see that in the speed traps, but you can definitely feel the difference on the initial part of the straight.
It's positive, I think the important thing is we were able to do quite a few laps. We were held up a bit by some niggles, some red flags, but we've got that reliability which is important.
Button also admitted McLaren are yet to dedicate much time to fine-tuning the car ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 20.
He told the same source: "I don't feel we've done any proper work yet with the setup, it's been mostly aero work and understanding if we're in the right place or not. Not specific driver setup work."
Meanwhile, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier insisted Honda's improved engine, which is taller than the previous version, has had no impact on the team's "size-zero" aerodynamic philosophy, per Motorsport.com's Noble.
Daniel Ricciardo Reluctant to Set Targets Ahead of Australian GP
Daniel Ricciardo is refusing to set any targets for himself or Red Bull Racing ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, claiming he is just looking forward to returning to racing.
Red Bull endured their first winless season in seven years in 2015, with Ricciardo and team-mate Daniil Kvyat restricted to just three podium appearances between them.
Although the team appears to be in much better shape than it was at this stage last year, it is unclear where the four-time world champions stand compared to Mercedes and Ferrari.
Ricciardo produced a breakthrough performance at Albert Park two years ago, finishing runner-up to Nico Rosberg before being disqualified for exceeding the fuel-flow rate, and he finished a distant sixth in the 2015 race.
Ahead of his return to his home circuit later in March, Ricciardo insisted he is not concerning himself with where he may or may not finish in Melbourne, Australia, admitting he believes Red Bull will be wrestling with Williams and Force India for the best-of-the-rest tag behind the front-runners.
The 26-year-old told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde:
First I'm looking forward to going racing. I'm not gonna set too many targets in terms of where we are going to end up.
I'm not going to get my hopes up with anything. I'm just going to enjoy the weekend. First because we are going racing and second because we'll get some sun, be at home.
I don't want to get our hopes up, but at the same time I'm coming here to race and we'll be in the race, hopefully more towards the front.
I think it will be similar to the end of last year. I expect us to be close with Williams and probably Force India.
The question is how far in front are Mercedes and Ferrari.
Per the same source, Ricciardo reiterated his belief that Red Bull will "find bigger steps this year with the power unit" and revealed engine suppliers Renault have advised the team "to be conservative for the first few races and not to expect too much."
That warning comes despite Renault's Remi Taffin claiming the French manufacturer has found "more than half a second" per lap over the winter, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.
Carlos Sainz Jr. Believes Toro Rosso Can Achieve 'Very Big Things' in 2016
Carlos Sainz Jr. believes Scuderia Toro Rosso are capable of "very great things" in the 2016 season as the team's testing program shows no signs of slowing down.
Since switching to Renault power units at beginning of 2014, when the V6 turbo regulations were implemented, Toro Rosso have been one of the most unreliable teams in Formula One, suffering 21 retirements over the course of the last two seasons.
Sainz himself suffered a total of seven retirements—including four consecutive DNFs—in his rookie campaign in 2015, during which he excelled alongside teenage team-mate Max Verstappen.
Following Red Bull's engine-related dramas toward the end of last season, Toro Rosso will run 2015-specification Ferrari powertrains this year, with the tried-and-tested engines transforming the team's fortunes.
As reported by Motorsport.com, only two-time world champions Mercedes completed more winter laps than Toro Rosso at the halfway stage of the final pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
And Sainz believes the team can begin the campaign with much confidence, telling the same source:
Second behind Mercedes in mileage for a team like Toro Rosso with such a tough winter like we had is just, I think, incredible.
[This] shows that this team can do very big things, very great things. That's why you always see everyone with a smile, including myself—because I am calm and I know that the homework so far is being completed.
Last year I wouldn't even dream of doing more than 100 laps on a day—probably not even during a race.
We're just doing laps, laps, laps and nothing is breaking, everything keeps going. We still have some issues, I'm not gonna lie, very small issues, but the car is still on track and this is what is giving us the best baseline for Melbourne, for sure.
Per the same source, Sainz admitted Toro Rosso's desire to solve their issues on the medium tyre meant the team had yet to offer an indication of its true pace but hinted the team would experiment with softer compounds before the test comes to a close.
Fernando Alonso Wanted to Swap Seats with Lewis Hamilton in Late 2014
Fernando Alonso has admitted he tried to engineer a seat swap with Lewis Hamilton in late 2014, prior to his switch to McLaren-Honda.
The introduction of the V6 turbo regulations at the beginning of 2014 allowed Hamilton's Mercedes team to emerge as the dominant force in Formula One, with the Silver Arrows winning 17 races that season en route to the drivers' and constructors' championships.
Meanwhile, having finished runner-up to Sebastian Vettel in 2010, 2012 and 2013, Alonso was forced to settle for just two podium finishes in 2014 as Ferrari struggled to adjust to the new rules.
As reported at the time by Sky Sports' Pete Gill, his frustration with Ferrari's lack of competitiveness saw Alonso terminate the remaining two years of his contract on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Vettel moved quickly to take Alonso's place at Ferrari, with Red Bull's instant promotion of Daniil Kvyat leaving Alonso with no option but to return to McLaren.
But the Spaniard has revealed how he planned to manoeuvre his way into a Mercedes seat for 2015 in a transfer that could have seen Hamilton join Ferrari, telling Spanish radio network Cadena Ser (h/t Motorsport.com):
Yes, that offer was there.
The circumstances meant that it came up, but Ferrari didn't want it at that point. They were in talks with me to renew until 2019, but Ferrari's offer did not convince me and I went to McLaren-Honda.
I don't know if Hamilton knew about it.
While Hamilton and Mercedes retained their respective titles in 2015, Alonso was restricted to just two points finishes as McLaren struggled with their Honda engine.
But despite the team's lack of competitiveness last season, when Vettel claimed three grand prix wins for Ferrari, Alonso insisted he has no regrets about his decision to leave the Prancing Horse, telling Spanish radio station Cope (h/t Motorsport.com):
Never. I have good memories. The years at Ferrari were very good, five years that were unforgettable and I wish all drivers could drive for Ferrari one day because it's a pretty unique experience.
But I think my era there was over and I'm satisfied with what we achieved but I don't miss it.
I had an offer on the table to renew until 2019 and I didn't take it. I don't know if everybody would have done that, but that's me.
I make my choices based on my intuition and peace of mind, which I didn't have at Ferrari because it had been exhausting, both physically and mentally, to give everything race after race.
Per the same source, Alonso added it was like "a funeral" to finish second in the championship with Ferrari, claiming he enjoys F1 "much more now, even being 10 positions behind them last year."
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, told the Mirror's Byron Young that Alonso did express "some interest" in joining the team in 2014. However, Wolff said the Silver Arrows were reluctant to talk to the Spaniard at a time when they were negotiating a new contract with Hamilton.