Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2015

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel and More

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Nico Hulkenberg has been treated badly by Formula One over the last five years, but the German finally had something to celebrate on Sunday when he won the Le Mans 24 Hours.

    Hulkenberg, the first active F1 driver to compete at the Circuit de la Sarthe since Sebastien Bourdais drove for Peugeot in 2009, won the race for Porsche alongside Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, breaking Audi's dominance at Le Mans.

    And the Force India driver has spoken of what victory in the race means to him and his satisfaction in deciding to compete at Le Mans this season.

    Another man pleased with his decision is Sebastian Vettel, who traded Red Bull Racing for Ferrari at the end of last season. 

    The four-time world champion appeared to have been ill-advised when he opted to move from a team who had won three grands prix in 2014 to an outfit in disarray.

    But with seven races gone in 2015, Vettel has five podiums and a victory to his name while Red Bull are yet to finish in the top three, with the German explaining his start to life at Ferrari has been beyond his wildest dreams.

    While Vettel is in dreamland, McLaren-Honda are enduring a nightmare season. The Woking-based team have extracted just four points from the opening seven races, but a notable upgrade is on the horizon as McLaren look to move up the pecking order.

    McLaren have failed to win a race since Lewis Hamilton departed the team at the end of 2012, with their former employee winning 16 grands prix and one world championship in that time.

    And a former British title winner expects Hamilton to mount a challenge to become the most successful driver in the sport's history.

    Closing this week's roundup is Pirelli, which has outlined its latest plans to make Formula One more exciting.

Nico Hulkenberg Regards Le Mans 24 Hours Win as His Biggest Achievement

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    Hulkenberg celebrates on Le Mans podium with Porsche team-mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.
    Hulkenberg celebrates on Le Mans podium with Porsche team-mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.Ker Robertson/Getty Images

    Nico Hulkenberg may have had limited success in Formula One, but the German entered motorsport folklore last weekend by winning the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours in his first appearance in the race.

    Driving for Porsche in the second of a two-race deal at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the Force India F1 star and his co-drivers, Nick Tandy and fellow rookie Earl Bamber, took the lead of the LMP1 class overnight, and that was where they remained until the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon.

    Hulkenberg had the honour of being at the wheel of the No. 19 919 Hybrid car at the end of the race, becoming the first active Formula One driver to win Le Mans since Johnny Herbert's triumph for Mazdaspeed in 1991.

    Despite showing all the hallmarks of a potential race winner and future world champion, setting pole position for the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix and challenging for victory in the same race two years later, Hulkenberg has been ignored by front-running teams throughout his F1 career.

    And after standing on a podium for the first time since the end of his title-winning GP2 campaign in September 2009, the 27-year-old believes victory at Le Mans is the biggest achievement of his career.

    Reflecting on his victory, and his decision to combine his F1 duties with a Le Mans adventure, Hulkenberg told Autosport's Glenn Freeman:

    Today is a great achievement, the greatest of my career.

    It's right after the win, so it's still tough to realise, and I think it will come to me in the next few days.

    It's an amazing experience for me, coming from the F1 environment and to see a race like Le Mans.

    I'm really happy I've done it, and even more happy that I've won it straight away with these two guys (Tandy and Bamber) who are now legends.

    Force India owner Vijay Mallya, who has received many plaudits for granting Hulkenberg permission to race at Le Mans, tweeted of his team's pride at witnessing the German's success.

    It remains to be seen how, if at all, Hulkenberg's Le Mans success will affect his F1 prospects, but the prestige and increased exposure of winning the greatest endurance race in the world can only have a positive impact on his career.

    After telling us last week how he will "keep fighting" for a competitive F1 seat, Hulkenberg has landed his most significant blow yet.

Sebastian Vettel Pleasantly Surprised by Start to Life at Ferrari

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Sebastian Vettel looked at home at Ferrari from the moment he tested with the team at the end of last year, but even the four-time world champion has admitted his surprise over his start to life at the Prancing Horse.

    In the opening seven events of 2015, the German has recorded five podium finishes, including a second-place finish in the Monaco Grand Prix and, of course, a surprise victory in Malaysia in just his second race for the team.

    Despite failing to win a race in his final season with Red Bull Racing in 2014, Vettel may have been questioning his decision to join Ferrari in a season the team had no fewer than three team principals, with Stefano Domenicali and Marco Mattiacci both leading the Prancing Horse before Maurizio Arrivabene arrived on the scene at the end of the year.

    Arrivabene's vast overhaul of the team, as reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson at the time, meant Ferrari entered 2015 with an untried and untested new look, but the Maranello-based outfit have exceeded expectations so far this season, frequently exerting pressure on reigning world champions Mercedes.

    Vettel, who trails current championship leader Lewis Hamilton by 43 points ahead of this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, believes the team are on the right track to success, telling Autosport's Lawrence Barretto:

    Since the moment I started getting to know the team, I have been positively surprised about the potential and manpower and the passion for the brand.

    I think it was difficult to know what to expect.

    In principle, it has been a great start for us and I'm very happy with where I am.

    This is a dream coming true.

    So far, it has been better than what anyone expected.

    Ferrari failed to finish on the podium for the first time this season in the Canadian GP as Kimi Raikkonen was beaten to third by Williams driver Valtteri Bottas.

    But this weekend's race at the Red Bull Ring should present a better indication of the competence of Ferrari's recent engine upgrades and whether Vettel can sustain a title challenge in 2015.

McLaren's Short Nose Ready for Austrian Grand Prix

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    The aerodynamics of the MP4-30 is the least of McLaren's problems this season, but the team are set to introduce a notable upgrade to their chassis at this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix.

    Via their official Twitter account, the team have confirmed a new "nose box" has passed the FIA crash test and will be "available to use" from the Spielberg event, with Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper claiming McLaren can finally "introduce the full update package that it has been working on for some time."

    Cooper suggests those upgrades "could represent a useful step forward" for a team who have scored just four points in the opening seven races of the season and currently sit second-bottom of the constructors' standings.

    Behind McLaren's lack of competitiveness has been their troublesome new Honda power unit, which, according to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, is "at least" 75 brake horsepower down on the benchmark engine produced by Mercedes.

    The MP4-30 chassis, though, is a front-runner in waiting. Motor Sport Magazine's Mark Hughes has suggested the team, with equal power, would regularly challenge Ferrari, who have recorded a podium at all but one race in 2015.

    McLaren are the latest team to switch to the short-nose concept in 2015 after Red Bull Racing introduced a version of their own at the Spanish GP, having also had difficulties in passing crash tests according to Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde.

    And although the effect of the new nose will almost certainly be concealed by their ongoing engine problems in Austria, McLaren's development highlights the steps made by their aero department under the stewardship of former Red Bull technical man Peter Prodromou.

Nigel Mansell Thinks Lewis Hamilton Can Beat Michael Schumacher's Records

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    Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.
    Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.Mark Baker/Associated Press

    Lewis Hamilton can become the most successful Formula One driver of all time. 

    That is the opinion of 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell, who has backed his fellow Briton to challenge Michael Schumacher's record of seven titles. 

    Hamilton has emerged as the dominant force in F1 over the last 18 months, winning 15 of the last 26 grands prix and claiming his second world title last season following his maiden triumph in 2008. 

    Currently with a 17-point advantage at the top of the drivers' standings having won four of the opening seven races, Hamilton is the overwhelming favourite to secure his third crown in 2015.

    And Mansell believes Hamilton will soon challenge the records set by Schumacher, who with seven world championships and 91 grand prix victories is statistically the most successful driver in F1 history.

    Despite his considerable success in recent times, the 30-year-old remains some way short of matching the success of Schumacher, whom the British driver replaced at Mercedes at the end of the 2012 campaign, with 37 wins to his name.

    But Mansell is adamant that beating Schumacher's records should be a long-term target for Hamilton, telling Sky Sports' Pete Gill:

    Everybody knows I am a Lewis fan and he is doing an outstanding job. Mercedes are the best of the best by far. With the backing of the Mercedes he can maybe go on to challenge Michael’s record. There is a long, long way to go but it is possible because Mercedes will want to be the best of the best for a long time.

    Having secured his medium-term future by signing a new three-year contract with Mercedes in May, Hamilton is in the best possible position to build on his recent success.

    His chances of challenging Schumacher's records, however, very much depend on whether the Silver Arrows can sustain their success and whether Hamilton himself can maintain the levels of focus, commitment and speed he has shown in 2015 in particular.

Pirelli Reveals Plans to Offer More Tyre Options from 2017

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    Pirelli has revealed it is considering a revamp of Formula One's tyre choice system.

    According to Autosport's Ian Parkes, should the Italian manufacturer succeed in earning a new contract as the sport's sole tyre supplier for 2017, Pirelli will consider "introducing extra variations within its current tyre compound range in a bid to improve the show."

    With the aim of forcing teams to adopt two or three-stop strategies at every race, Pirelli plans to create three versions of the same compound, giving it the chance to create tyres almost tailor-made for each circuit on the calendar.

    Although the current dry-weather compounds—super-soft, soft, medium and hard—will remain in place, these will be mere umbrellas, with three variations of the same tyre available.

    Paul Hembery, the boss of Pirelli's motorsport activities, told Parkes that this approach would, for instance, result in one variation of the super-soft tyre being used in the Monaco and Canadian grands prix and another used in the Singapore GP.

    Hembery added that the current compound labels would be retained in order to avoid creating "confusion" among F1 enthusiasts, but it is unrealistic to expect the differences between the tyres wouldn't leave fans scratching their heads.

    In introducing variations of its own, Pirelli would rob grands prix of variety, signalling the end of the one-stop strategy and effectively forcing teams to make two mandatory pit stops per race.

    It is the latest contradictory plan to emerge from Pirelli and yet more proof that Hembery and Co. are completely oblivious to what the vast majority of fans want from F1.

    But with Goodyear informing Motorsport.com's Sam Smith of its lack of interest in returning to F1, and with Michelin telling the same source of its indecision in even applying to come back, it seems Pirelli's plans could soon become a reality.