Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and More

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and More

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    Fernando Alonso is widely regarded as the biggest fighter in Formula One.

    Those fights have caused him more harm than good on occasion, but it would be far more worrying if that fight—that desire, that passion—were to be somehow extinguished.

    The two-time world champion has admitted his fight was severely tested during McLaren-Honda's woeful 2015 campaign, but Alonso has insisted he is working to be fully motivated for the beginning of the 2016 season, as well as hinting he may only have two years left to secure that elusive third title before retirement.

    Daniel Ricciardo also appears to be up for a fight, with the Red Bull driver criticising Nico Hulkenberg for having a different opinion to him over the "halo" cockpit-safety concept, which was recently trialled by Ferrari in pre-season testing.

    The halo is set to be implemented in time for the 2017 season, but one rule change on the horizon concerns pit-to-car radio, which will be restricted to an even greater extent this year.

    Although one of his drivers is expected to suffer as a result of these limitations, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes the radio silence could lead to a different style of racing and even some shock results.

    Despite an inconsistent pre-season, Renault head to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix with hopes of pulling off a shock result after being pleasantly surprised by the performance of the new RS16 car.

    Sauber, of course, claimed a surprise result in last year's race at Albert Park, Melbourne, where Felipe Nasr claimed fifth place on his F1 debut. That lofty finish allowed the team to move on from the doom and gloom of the pre-race court case with former driver Giedo van der Garde.

    But the misery has returned ahead of this year's event, with team principal Monisha Kaltenborn admitting Sauber are behind in paying the salaries of their 300-plus employees.

    Here's this week's roundup.

Fernando Alonso Searching for Motivation Ahead of Start of 2016 Season

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    Fernando Alonso has admitted he must rediscover his motivation ahead of the start of the 2016 Formula One season following McLaren-Honda's disastrous 2015 campaign.

    After finishing runner-up to Sebastian Vettel in three of his five seasons as a Ferrari driver, Alonso joined McLaren at the beginning of last year hoping to claim a third world championship.

    But the Spaniard's arrival coincided with McLaren's worst season in 35 years as the team struggled with their new Honda power unit. Alonso was outscored by team-mate Jenson Button, having been restricted to just two points finishes.

    Following a steady yet unspectacular pre-season, however, McLaren seem on course for an improved season in 2016.

    While Alonso has acknowledged that he will not be in title contention this year, he his ready to perform at his maximum once more after enduring a character-testing 2015, telling F1i.com's Andrew Lewin:

    Mentally you need to be ready and motivated. Last year it was not the case because I did not perform at my level in probably any race.

    I hope this year will be better, I have been preparing myself as well as ever all winter. I did a lot of physical preparation, a lot of work with the team.

    I am very very motivated. Probably I will not fight for the championship, but I will do my best season whatever the position I am fighting for.

    Elaborating on his troublesome 2015, Alonso admitted he only performed close to the peak in the grands prix where the characteristics of the McLaren car offered him a realistic chance of scoring points, telling the same source:

    We had so many reliability problems. In some races, we started and knew the ERS would fail on Lap 7 so you would ran with no battery for a couple of laps because temperatures or this or that.

    Two or three races I was okay but the others I was not happy with myself. It was very difficult to keep performing well when you are not able to express yourself in the car.

    When you are a sportsman and you can not do your job, there is a tendency to wait for the next opportunity and to wait for a unique race.

    My focus and my concentration was in Monaco, Singapore, Austin. three or four races where it was like a grand finale for us. This was not good.

    Meanwhile, Alonso recently told Spanish television channel TVE (h/t ESPN F1) he is "quite curious" to drive a 2017-specification F1 car, which is expected to be several seconds faster than the current model, before contemplating retirement.

Daniel Ricciardo Criticises Nico Hulkenberg's View on F1's Halo Concept

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    Daniel Ricciardo has criticised Nico Hulkenberg's unflattering comments on Formula One's halo concept, implying his fellow driver is adopting an unnecessarily macho stance when it comes to increased cockpit-safety measures.

    At the final pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Friday, Ferrari became the first team to conduct an on-track evaluation of the halo design, which is set to be implemented in F1 at the beginning of the 2017 season.

    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 head protection following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, the IndyCar racer, in 2015.

    But the halo has divided opinion in the paddock, with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton referring to it as "the worst looking mod in Formula 1 history" and insisting he would not use a halo if the device is not made mandatory, per Sky Sports' James Galloway. 

    Hulkenberg supported Hamilton's view, saying, per Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein, the halo "looks horrible" and that it "sterilises the sport" by removing the "element of danger that makes [F1] sexy and attractive."

    Ricciardo, however, has dismissed the Force India driver's view, per the same source:

    I heard Hulkenberg say some things I don’t agree with, because there’s no need to be a hero about the situation.

    It doesn’t change the sport, or the speed of the car—it’s just if there are any flying objects, it’s an extra bit of protection for us.

    I don’t know why he’s puffing his chest out for something like that, it doesn’t make sense.

    It is the second time in two weeks Ricciardo and Hulkenberg have publicly clashed over the issue of cockpit safety, with the two drivers offering contrasting opinions at the beginning of pre-season testing, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

2016 Radio Restrictions Could Lead to Unpredictable Results, Predicts Toto Wolff

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    Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, believes the increased restrictions on pit-to-car radio could lead to a number of unpredictable results in the 2016 season.

    A clampdown on team radio was initially enforced in September 2014 as part of a campaign to ensure drivers perform without too much guidance from their engineers, and the rules are set to become stricter from this year.

    Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, information relating to tyre wear, fuel consumption and engine settings will be limited in 2016, although discussions between drivers and engineers concerning safety issues will still be allowed across the airwaves.

    Mercedes' Nico Rosberg is particularly reliant on receiving a constant flow of data from the pit wall, and Wolff believes the radio restrictions could lead to more errors as teams and drivers adjust to the new rules and, consequently, more varied results.

    He told Noble:

    It will create more error and therefore more variability in the results, which is important for the sport.

    People want to see the underdog win. They get bored with the dominant car winning.

    Having said that, I have to be careful because pride becomes a fall. I am not saying we are dominant again, but I am saying that people, fans and spectators, they do like the thought that the underdog could win and the result could be different.

    This is why we switch on a football game—there were more varied world champions in F1 than there were in the Premier League which is always the same teams, but there is the possibility of an underdog winning or a freak results.

    This is what these new regulations could cause.

    Per the same source, Wolff added that the restrictions will force teams to conduct "greater planning before the race" but admitted the changes may not be positive for spectators, claiming fans "will have less understanding of what is going on in the car."

    As a result of the radio ban, it appears every team will use a new-style steering wheel, which first appeared when the V6 turbo regulations were introduced in 2014 and features a large OLED display, allowing drivers to closely monitor information without the intervention of the pit wall.

Renault Pleasantly Surprised by RS16 Performance in Pre-Season Testing

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    Bob Bell, the Renault chief technical officer, has declared himself happy with the team's performance in pre-season testing, suggesting the RS16 car has exceeded expectations.

    Renault's takeover of the Enstone-based Lotus team in December meant the French manufacturer faced a race against time to prepare their 2016 car for testing, which included replacing the Mercedes V6 turbo power unit with a Renault engine.

    Per Autosport's Ian Parkes, only McLaren-Honda, Manor Racing and the brand-new Haas team completed fewer laps than Renault over the course of the eight days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Jolyon Palmer saying, per ESPN F1's Nate Saunders, testing was "a little bit disastrous."

    But with Kevin Magnussen enjoying four reasonably trouble-free days behind the wheel, Bell believes Renault are capable of racing "credibly" and even squeezing into the points at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, telling Parkes:

    In fairness, we were surprised, and we are actually in pretty good shape.

    The car has run reliably as we hoped it would. The process of re-engineering a car when the decision is made as late as the one we had is not straightforward. It does have reliability consequences.

    But we're pleased because it's come in better than we expected on weight, and the centre of gravity is where we hoped it would be.

    The performance is good from the point of view it's a consistent handling car, with a solid baseline on which we can build on for the future. ...

    Although the car is clearly down on overall headline performance numbers, downforce and probably engine power, it actually runs very well.

    It's nicely balanced, consistent, very driveable. It's a good, useable racing car.

    We didn't have to spend a lot of time chasing balance and set-up, which was a real blessing, and we are not chasing difficult handling characteristics, or bad driveability in the engine.

    In a separate ESPN F1 article, Bell told Saunders Renault have no intention of introducing a B-specification car during the 2016 season, with the team preferring to focus on long-term development and, more specifically, exploiting the regulation changes planned for 2017.

Sauber Facing More Financial Woe on Eve of 2016 Season?

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    Sauber are set to enter the new season facing more financial uncertainty, with team principal Monisha Kaltenborn admitting the team's employees have yet to receive their full salaries for February.

    As one of Formula One's independent teams, Sauber are among the least resourceful teams on the grid. And as reported by Autosport's Dieter Rencken and Lawrence Barretto, they approached F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone for "an advance on their championship payments" last November.

    That came despite Kaltenborn's claim, per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, that the Swiss team—along with fellow independent outfit Force India—complained to the European Union about the running of the sport in a move directly against Ecclestone.

    After recovering from a pointless 2014 campaign to claim eighth place in the 2015 constructors' standings, Sauber were the last team to launch their new car for 2016, with the C35 chassis completing just four days of testing ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 20.

    And Kaltenborn has revealed Sauber have fallen behind in their payments to their 300-strong workforce, telling Swiss newspaper Blick (h/t Inautonews): 

    Yes, it is true.

    Part of the February salaries are still due, which I really regret.

    Right now is the most cost-intensive period [of the season]. And there have been technical problems with the transfer of a big sponsorship amount from abroad.

    We will get the current problems under control and out of this unfortunate situation soon.

    We will keep fighting, just as we have in the past years.

    The news of Sauber's struggles come almost a year after former reserve driver Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal action against the team, as reported at the time by BBC Sport's Benson.