Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Ferrari Hiring and Firing, McLaren and More
Ferrari have been busy in the last week as their restructure continues. Three prominent employees have said goodbye to the Scuderia, joining a list which could grow even longer.
But a new face has also arrived at Maranello. Esteban Gutierrez will be the team's test and reserve driver for 2015, and he has brought his sponsors with him.
Kevin Magnussen will occupy the same role at McLaren, having been demoted from a race seat. But future rookies from the team's young driver programme are likely to get more of a chance to prove themselves due to the Woking squad's link-up with Honda.
Elsewhere, Bernie Ecclestone will propose changes to the engine regulations at the last Strategy Group meeting of 2014, while Renault have brought in Mario Illien—of Ilmor fame—to help in their quest to catch up with Mercedes.
Read on for a full roundup of the week's top stories.
McLaren Kids to Get Midfield Starts from Now On—Hopefully
McLaren expect their new partnership with Honda to allow more options for young driver placement in the future.
Kevin Magnussen was pushed straight into a McLaren seat in 2014, before he was really ready for it. His inability to instantly adapt has seen him demoted to test and reserve driver, rather than given time to improve.
However, chairman Ron Dennis believes his team's enviable stable of young talent will be able to find more forgiving seats in the future due to their status as the Honda works outfit. Dennis said, per Crash.net:
We have to get stability and we have to have performance and everything before we can consider engines moving but we believe that is the core ingredient for helping these young drivers. We will jointly, in different ways, support our drivers to give them somewhere to mature.
Magnussen was in the McLaren because the team wanted him in F1, but had nowhere more suitable to put him. It was either that seat or no seat, because the McLaren of 2014 lacked the financial or political weight to place drivers elsewhere.
Sadly for him, they also lacked the patience to let him grow.
But when Honda adopt a customer team ("engines moving" in the above Ronspeak), it should be possible to place the McLaren kids in that team's seats instead—perhaps in exchange for cheaper engines.
In the modern era of restricted testing, a high-pressure seat at a big team is not the right place to learn. Hopefully Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren's next big hope, will receive a fairer crack of the whip than Magnussen did.
Esteban Gutierrez Arrives in Maranello Bearing Gifts
Ferrari have acquired a bit of Latin American flavour after announcing Esteban Gutierrez as their new test and reserve driver.
The Mexican lost his seat at Sauber at the end of the 2014 season and will join the team with immediate effect. In a statement on the team website, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene gave a small hint of things to come:
We are pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to Esteban who, although young, has plenty of experience relating to the new generation of Formula One cars. I am sure that, with his experience, he will make an important contribution to the development work of the team in the simulator.
Welcoming Esteban also means opening the gates of Ferrari to a driver from Mexico, a country where the Scuderia still has a lot of fans, just as was the case fifty years ago in the days of the Rodriguez brothers.
As expected, an announcement the following day revealed a new sponsorship agreement with America Movil had been reached. Its brands include Telmex and Claro, seen on last season's Sauber.
So even Ferrari aren't above accepting a quick pay-driver buck when it's offered.
But though he never really set the world on fire as a racer, Gutierrez should prove a more than adequate test and reserve driver. Ferrari wouldn't risk their car's development for a few of Carlos Slim's millions.
3 Firings Balance out the New Ferrari Arrivals
Though there were a few arrivals at Maranello this week in the shape of Gutierrez and America Movil, they were balanced out by three rolling heads. The "body count" of Ferrari's woeful 2014 season appears to grow with every passing month.
Since the start of 2014, former team principals Stefano Domenicali and his successor Marco Mattiacci have departed the Scuderia, as has former chairman Luca di Montezemolo and engine chief Luca Marmorini.
Now three more men have seen the axe fall. In a news item on the Ferrari website about changes to the structure of the organisation, the team quietly announced head of engineering Pat Fry and chief designer Nikolas Tombazis would be leaving.
Their departures appear to be part of a move to give technical director James Allison greater control. The main body of the statement read:
James Allison is the Technical Director with two Italian engineers and home grown Scuderia talent reporting to him: Chief Designer Simone Resta and Power Unit Director Mattia Binotto, the latter will be supported by Chief Designer Power Unit Lorenzo Sassi, among others. Furthermore James Allison will direct track engineering activities ad interim.
Therefore he will be responsible for all technical aspects of delivering the Scuderia’s drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, as well as the newly appointed test driver and third driver Esteban Gutierrez, with the most competitive Formula One car possible.
It ended with the surprisingly dismissive and cursory note, "Nikolas Tombazis and Pat Fry will be leaving the Scuderia."
Fry had been with Ferrari since 2010 following a successful 17-year spell at McLaren. Sky Sports reported on rumours he had been sacked back in August; at the time, they were denied.
Tombazis first worked for the team in the 1990s, left for McLaren in 2004 and returned to Italy in 2006.
Autosport later reported that Hirohide Hamashima, a tyre expert who joined Ferrari from Bridgestone in 2012, will also leave the team at the end of the season.
Change was badly needed at Ferrari, and new chairman Sergio Marchionne has overseen a complete top-to-bottom overhaul of the racing team.
But one suspects it has come too late to truly impact on their 2015 performance.
Bernie Ecclestone to Make Fresh Engine Change Push
Bernie Ecclestone says he will aim to change the engine regulations at Thursday's meeting of the F1 Strategy Group.
The commercial rights chief has never been a fan of the V6 turbo hybrids and is now trying to dress up his opposition as a cost-cutting measure. He believes the current engines should be scrapped for 2016, telling the Press Association (h/t the Daily Mail):
We recognise the biggest problem these teams have is the amount they have to spend on the power unit. I believe if you got everybody in the room, secret ballot, there would only be one company interested in retaining this engine, and that is Mercedes.
You can't blame them because they have done a super job, and the others haven't, so they've a big advantage.
Is that good for Formula One? I think not, because we can all put our money together and have a wager they will win the championship next year, and probably the year after, which is not really the sort of thing we are looking for.
I have been proposing, and am going to propose, at the next meeting we go back to a normally-aspirated engine with some hybrid bits built into it.
Ecclestone appears to completely miss the point that the problem is not the engine costs. Rather, it's the way he made agreements with the larger teams to give them greatly favourable financial deals, leaving the smaller fish to feed off the scraps.
Hence it's only the small teams who have difficulties paying for things. If each team received a reasonable share, no one would have any difficulties paying for the engines.
He also seems to have failed to realise redesigning the engines would be extremely expensive for the manufacturers—who have already spent hundreds of millions on the existing designs. Would these costs not be passed on to the teams and lumped on top of whatever it sets them back to overhaul the fundamental design of their cars for the second time in three years?
But Ecclestone doesn't miss glaringly obvious points like that, and he certainly isn't stupid. It would appear he's doing and saying these things for a reason which has nothing to do with costs.
Maybe it's as simple as he just likes loud cars, or perhaps he favours Red Bull or Ferrari. Does he want to totally destroy the sport so he can buy it back for cheap, or is he doing this because he wants Mercedes or Honda to leave?
And if Mercedes winning three titles in a row "is not really the sort of thing we are looking for," one has to wonder what is? He didn't dash around demanding changes when Ferrari dominated in the early years of the millennium, and seemed fine with Red Bull taking four consecutive titles between 2010 and 2013.
Whatever his game plan is, taking a step back to V8s, V10s or some sort of hybrid-lite twin turbo would not be the right call. The world is moving on and F1 needs to move with it.
Hopefully the Strategy Group will see sense and block whatever changes he proposes.
Mario Illien Working with Renault on Engine
Renowned engine specialist Mario Illien is working with Renault to try to solve their power unit issues.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirmed the link-up to French magazine Auto Hebdo, saying (h/t grandprix.com for the English translation): "It is great that Renault are now working with Ilmor. The company has been faced with similar problems in Indycar. Mario comes with a lot of experience and is able to look at the problems with fresh eyes and perspective."
This assistance from one of the great engine specialists of the last 30 years may be just what Renault need.
Along with Paul Morgan, Illien co-founded Ilmor in 1983. The company had great success in the American CART series before expanding into F1 with Leyton House. A deal with Sauber followed and soon after Ilmor began building the Mercedes engine for McLaren.
It was an Ilmor, badged as a Mercedes, which powered Mika Hakkinen to his two world titles in 1998 and 1999. In the years following Morgan's death in a flying accident in 2001, Mercedes acquired full ownership of the company.
Illien's new Ilmor company, independent of Mercedes, worked in IndyCar on Chevrolet's V6 turbo and had a brief foray into the world of MotoGP.
He's proven he can do wonders with the right resources, which Renault and Red Bull will do their utmost to provide. But like the changes at Ferrari, this one is unlikely to have any major bearing on 2015.