Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Lewis Hamilton Contract, Tyre War, More

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2015

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Lewis Hamilton Contract, Tyre War, More

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Lewis Hamilton has at last signed a new contract with Mercedes, bringing to an end the speculation over his future. The three-year deal will keep him at the reigning world champions until the end of 2018 and is thought to have made him the highest-paid driver on the grid.

    The man he may have knocked down into second in that regard, Fernando Alonso, has also been talking about the future. The Spaniard last won the title during the tyre-war era of the mid-2000s and has indicated his support for such a situation to return.

    He feels the competition results in grippy, durable tyressomething he has missed in recent years.

    Elsewhere, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association will unveil its extensive fan survey in Monaco on Thursday, Red Bull are fully aware of where the fault lies for their poor start to the year and the possible return of refuelling has received overwhelming support from the drivers.

    Read on for a full roundup of the top stories in Formula One heading into the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix weekend.

Lewis Hamilton Signs New 3-Year Deal with Mercedes

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    Joshua Paul/Associated Press

    Lewis Hamilton has ended months of speculation by committing to a new three-year contract with Mercedes.

    The precise value of the deal is unknown, but various sources, including BBC Sport and the Telegraph put the figure somewhere in the region of around £27 million per year.

    Sky Sports reports that the contract makes Hamilton the highest-paid British sportsperson and, most likely, the highest-paid driver on the grid.

    Speaking on the Mercedes website, Hamilton revealed:

    Mercedes is my home and I couldn’t be happier to be staying here for another three years. This is a company filled with real passionate racers, from the board room to the factory floor, and an incredible hunger to win.

    Even after the success of last year, that hunger is greater than everand it’s the same for me, too. The Mercedes car I am driving right now is the best I have ever had in my career; it’s just so much fun to be out there every weekend, on the limit and fighting to win at every track.

    Mercedes-Benz began supporting me in 1998 so I am very proud that this contract means I will mark 20 years with Mercedes in 2018.

    Hamilton's decision to remain at Mercedes appears to end any hopes fans had of seeing any of the commonly accepted big-three drivers racing alongside each other at the same team.

    Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have contracts elsewhere.

    But staying with Mercedes was definitely the right move for Hamilton. No other team could offer him such solid opportunities for world titles both now and in the future.

Fernando Alonso Would Welcome a New Tyre War

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    Fernando Alonso won his last world title in 2006 with Michelin tyres.
    Fernando Alonso won his last world title in 2006 with Michelin tyres.VICTOR R. CAIVANO/Associated Press

    Fernando Alonso would welcome the return of a tyre war as the sport enters its ninth season with just one supplier.

    Michelin left F1 at the end of 2006 following the FIA's decision to move to a single supplier. At the time, the French company indicated, per BBC Sport, that it had no interest in being that supplier as it wanted someone to compete against.

    Bridgestone held the contract until the end of 2010, when it was replaced by Pirelli. The Italian manufacturer has been producing the rapidly wearing tyres currently used ever since.

    But Alonso wants to go back to the old days, telling the press in Monaco (h/t ESPN's Lawrence Edmondson):

    Of course tyre competition will help Formula One just because everyone will push to the limits. I only experienced competition for some years with Michelin and Bridgestone and with a single tyre for Bridgestone, so that change was quite big from 2006 to 2007.

    In 2006 the tyres were amazing for both companies because they push each other to the limits of a superfast tyre that was able to do even the whole race distance in 2005 and then in 2007 with only Bridgestone the tyres were a completely different thing.

    For sure Bridgestone at that time made a step backwards and relaxed a little bit. You could still push because they had some experience and technology from the competition, so I think that would be good for F1.

    Also with strategy, if you have a tyre that is good in qualifying and bad in the race and vice versa. Some circuits suit some companies more than others, so you can mix a little the results and people will welcome that.

    Some people might welcome it, but others may recall the darker side of the tyre wars. It's bad to see a good driver struggle with a poor car, but it's even worse to see a good driver in a good car struggle because his tyres aren't up to the job.

    This would be a bigger issue under the current testing restrictions. With just a handful of pre-season tests and only two allowed during the season, if one company was behind, they would remain behindand the difference could be measured in full seconds.

    The hundreds of millions spent by the teams they supplied would be wasted.

    It's entirely understandable that Alonso, as a driver, wants the quickest possible tyres to race with. But the cost of a return to the sort of testing that would be needed makes a tyre war a non-starter.

Red Bull Accept Their Failings

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    Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    Daniel Ricciardo says Red Bull have come round to accepting that Renault should not shoulder the blame for all the team's failings.

    The Australian and team-mate Daniil Kvyat qualified 10th and eighth respectively in Spain; the Toro Rossos, with the same Renault power unit, were fifth and sixth.

    Though Ricciardo outperformed both the junior team's drivers in the race, Kvyat was overtaken by Carlos Sainz Jr. on the final lap. A further blow for the Austrian team came when Pierre Gasly, who drove both the RB11 and STR10 during the test that followed the race, told press that there was little difference between the two.

    Speaking ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix, Ricciardo said (h/t crash.net):

    I think we knew even before Spain but I think that highlighted it's not only engine. I think everyone's obviously now aware of that and putting their hands up as well and saying 'Yeah, we know, it's not where it should be.'

    Obviously the last four or five years for Red Bull, one standout was the downforce and particularly high-speed corners. Even last year we were always pretty strong in high-speed.

    I thought it was our strength as a team. This year we're not better than anyone in high-speed, if anything I think we're even slower than the top guys in high-speed corners. So that's just one area where for whatever reason we haven't taken our normal step forward and the other teams have.

    We're losing out in a few places, as I said everyone in the team knows now, it's just trying to figure out why and how to fix it. But it's not just Renault.

    Ricciardo came within four-tenths of a second of matching the pole time in qualifying for last season's Monaco Grand Prixone of the smallest single-lap gaps between Mercedes and Red Bull this year.

    The team don't look capable of getting that close in 2015, but they'll be aiming to beat Toro Rosso, Lotus and McLaren at the very least. Williams may also be vulnerable at a circuit on which they failed to excel in 2014.

Formula 1 Drivers Would Welcome a Refuelling Return

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    In-race refuelling was last seen in 2009.
    In-race refuelling was last seen in 2009.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Following the announcement that a return of refuelling was being considered from 2017 onward, a number of drivers have been asked for their viewsand most appeared to be in favour.

    Asked what they thought by Dan Knutson during the official pre-race press conference, Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen indicated they'd like to see it come back. Jenson Button sat on the fence and Romain Grosjean said he didn't care. Only Marcus Ericsson came out in support of the current way of doing things.

    Felipe Massa also voiced his approval earlier in the week. Speaking to Sky Sports News HQ, he said:

    I think it’s a good thing and [will] change completely the race. The problem now is that we will race with very heavy cars with the full tank and the lap times, if you compare qualifying and the race, it’s a big difference.

    It’s a lot slower compared to how it was with the refuelling. I’m sure the race will be more interesting and nicer for the drivingmore sprint racing. So I like the refuelling and I am in favour.

    Autosport reports Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Will Stevens, Pastor Maldonado and Max Verstappen are also in support of a return.

    However, support among fans is nowhere near as clear cut. A poll carried out by B/R's Matthew Walthert showed 84 per cent support for a refuelling return for the first time since 2009. A poll on F1 Fanatic indicated only 26 per cent of respondents thought it would lead to improved racing, while 59 per cent thought it would make it worse.

    An Autosport forum poll also shows more fans against the return of refuelling, while a Reddit poll indicates narrow support for bringing it back. The drivers seem almost united; fans are not so convinced.

    The differing viewpoints can probably be explained by the fact the two groups have different priorities when it comes to F1. The drivers don't have to watch the races, and the fans don't get to drive the cars.

    Regardless of what the fans or drivers think, some experts believe there's little real chance of refuelling coming back despite it appearing in the proposals. Martin Brundle tweeted that he "can't see refuelling being reintroduced." Autosport's Gary Anderson expressed a similar view.

Grand Prix Drivers' Association Fan Survey Set for Thursday Launch

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) has revealed more details about the fan survey it will launch in the Monaco paddock on Thursday.

    A statement released the press by the "drivers' union" and reported by Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley said the GPDA aims to "create the most extensive, in-depth survey of fan opinion ever undertaken by any sport in the world.”

    Speaking during the official pre-race press conference, GPDA director Jenson Button said:

    I think it's massively important because we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the fans. This is a sport that needs fans, we have millions of fans around the world and it's always interesting to have their opinion. To see where they think the sport is, where they think the sport can go.

    Obviously we all have our own ideas, which is great, and I think the sport is in a good place right nowbut there's always room for improvementas there is in any sport, especially a sport that's always changing like Formula One in terms of technology and what have you. So, I think it's really important, it's going to be interesting to see how it goes.

    The drivers are clearly hoping to ruffle a feather or twothe survey launch will take place outside Bernie Ecclestone's motorhome. But asked whether he felt it would make a difference to the sport's future, Button was realistic:

    I think our aim is just to put them in place and to see how it goes. I think that it's very interesting to see which direction the supporters of this sport and the fans of this sport feel that the sport should go in.

    It doesn't mean that it's going to change anything, it's just...it's interesting for us as drivers but I think as us collectively in Formula One, to get a better understanding.

    It never hurts to ask the people who ultimately pay your wages what they think, and the GPDA have to be applauded for taking the initiative. Fans should always be consulted, especially when they are forced to spend such vast sums of money to follow their favourite sport.

    But we all have different opinions. The risk is that the survey will produce nothing more than a jumble of split decisions and contrasting viewpoints, thus providing a convenient excuse for those in power to simply ignore it.

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