Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Monza's Future, Michelin, More
Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has called for more haste in determining the future direction of Formula One.
Significant changes are on the table for the 2017 season, but Arrivabene is growing frustrated with the sport's inability to get any of the proposals set in stone. The first cars built to the new regulations will race in just 21 months' time—decisions are needed soon to give everyone sufficient time to prepare.
The future of his team's home grand prix is also uncertain. Commercial rights chief Bernie Ecclestone's financial demands have left Monza's position as host in jeopardy; rival circuit Imola has proposed a race-sharing agreement, with the two tracks holding the event in alternate years.
Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo could look to leave Red Bull after 2016, Michelin and Pirelli are set to go head-to-head for the right to supply tyres from 2017 onward and Manor boss Graeme Lowdon has criticised plans to allow customer cars in F1.
Read on for a full roundup of the top stories from the last few days.
Michelin to Take on Pirelli for Formula 1 Tyre Contract
Michelin has submitted a bid to become F1's new tyre supplier for the three-year period between 2017 and 2019.
The French company left F1 at the end of 2006. BBC Sport reported at the time that it departed due to the decision to switch to a single tyre supplier.
Michelin did not want to remain without competition; however, it has now changed its tune and announced on Twitter it is entering the running to be the sole F1 tyre supplier.
Speaking of his company's decision to enter the bidding process—where it will go up against current supplier Pirelli—Michelin motorsport director Pascal Couasnon was quoted by Sky Sports, saying:
We are disappointed where it is today tyre-wise. If you want to be credible and consistent then you cannot complain or comment if you don't bring solutions.
So it has made sense for me to say if we have ideas, then let's go and propose these ideas and we'll see if people are interested or not.
We want to be coherent with our proposals and offer the opportunity to the teams and the drivers to have a tyre that enables everyone to express themselves and drive to the max.
Michelin's decision to bid gives the sport a clear choice between two very different tyre options.
Pirelli, sole supplier since 2011, is willing to continue making whatever tyres are requested. These would almost certainly be the fast-wearing, fragile tyres we see on the cars today, with the same 13-inch rims.
Michelin, on the other hand, wants to create "proper" racing tyres—grippy, durable rubber similar to that seen during the mid-2000s that would allow the drivers to push much harder than they currently can.
Furthermore, the French company is only interesting in supplying tyres on 18-inch rims.
Autosport reported in May that Bernie Ecclestone opposed a Michelin return, while Mercedes team boss Paddy Lowe told the FIA's pre-race press conference in Canada that the teams were not in favour of a move to 18-inch rims.
It therefore seems likely F1 will be keeping Pirelli for the time being.
Monza and Imola Could Alternate as Italian Grand Prix Hosts
The Italian Grand Prix could alternate between Monza and Imola as discussions continue over the future of one of F1's oldest races.
There has been an Italian round every year since the world championship era began in 1950, but doubts have emerged over the race's status beyond 2016. Crash.net's Fabrizio Corgnati reported in February that Bernie Ecclestone wanted to double the hosting fee paid by the Monza; this would push it to a level the circuit could not afford.
Another prominent Italian motorsport venue, Imola, has been mooted as a replacement, but it too would struggle to find the funds. Ecclestone has now suggested the two circuits could share the race.
Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t motorsport.com for the English translation), the commercial rights chief said:
I want Italy to stay on the calendar at all costs. But while I met with Imola, I've heard nothing from Monza for a month.
The desire to save the Italian Grand Prix is there, but they [Monza] don't have the money.
The people I spoke with [during meetings at the Monaco Grand Prix] did not even ask for more time to decide.
Imola is proposing to alternate with Monza. We could do that. I want to ensure Italy stays on the calendar.
It was Enzo Ferrari who suggested we have a race close to Bologna, so it's nice to talk about it again. There are good intentions and good foundations.
The current deal for Monza to host the Italian Grand Prix expires after next year's race. Due to the circuit and country's long history in the sport, it pays a lower hosting fee than many others—around, per Corgnati's article, €11 to €12 million.
But Ecclestone revealed last year that he had no intention of allowing them to keep this low fee. He told Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Autosport), "I don't think we'll do another contract, as the old one has been disastrous for us from a commercial point of view. So it's bye-bye after 2016."
So much for "at all costs."
The return of Imola would not be a bad thing—though not the most exciting circuit in the world, it has an old-school charm and would fit nicely into a calendar dominated by Hermann Tilke-designed new builds.
But it says a lot—none of it good—about the sport's current direction that this discussion is even happening.
Circuits like Monza, Spa and Silverstone are essential parts of the calendar. They shouldn't be held to ransom by the short-termist greed of Ecclestone and the other commercial rights holders.
Maurizio Arrivabene Calls for 2017 Decisions to Be Made Soon
Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene says F1 needs to "hurry up" and make decisions on its future direction.
Substantial changes are expected for 2017 with an FIA press release in May mentioning wider tyres, higher-revving and louder engines, a reduction in car weight and "more aggressive looks."
But these remain nothing more than proposals at this stage, and Arrivabene says it's time to act. He is quoted by Autosport's Ian Parkes, saying:
That is the year we can make a significant change in the rules, in the way in which the cars are constructed, the way in which we look at the power and the aerodynamic side of the car.
We need to hurry up and get it done.
Bernie and I, and the rest of the teams, recognise the importance of making the right calls for the development of the sport.
To say he and I, and the rest of the constructors, are happy with the development of the sport over the last four or five years would be blasphemous. It's not true.
We have a challenge ahead of us, and Ferrari has indicated its willingness to participate in the shaping of the sport.
While 2017 seems like it's a long way off, we're only 21 months away from the start of that year's F1 season. The scale of the changes means the teams will need to start seriously planning their cars no later than 12 months from now.
Pirelli (or perhaps Michelin) will need to do a lot of testing work on the new, wider tyres, while the engine suppliers will also have plenty to do, even if the proposed power unit alterations are small and seemingly insignificant.
Whatever changes are being made will need to be set in stone before the end of the current championship season—preferably earlier.
Hopefully these can be agreed and signed off by all the teams involved—not just those on the Strategy Group.
Manor Boss Graeme Lowdon Attacks Customer Car Plans
Manor sporting director Graeme Lowdon has hit out at proposals to allow customer cars in Formula One, calling the idea bad for both the racing and commercial side of the sport.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, Lowdon said:
I've read all the comments about franchise cars and customer cars, and it's clear it is a contingency plan; it's not a strategy.
It is definitely not a solution for F1. It's the equivalent of carrying a spare tyre in your car; it is handy to have it, but do you really want to use it?
Are customer cars something you want to try to build a global business from? I honestly don't see how it would make value for the industry.
Lowdon's team are not a part of the Strategy Group so have little say on the future direction of the sport. He went on to criticise the manner in which the group goes about its business, adding:
If you really studied the fundamentals, you see a lot of the focus is on solutions to things that aren't actually the core problem.
One of the big assets of F1 is its ability to solve problems that are really clever: technical, commercial, political and legal. The people in F1 are brilliant in solving problems, but the exact problem has to be correctly defined for them to solve.
What we are seeing is that a lot of time is being incurred by people to solve problems which are not actually a priority.
Customer cars worked in the days of tiny teams and low-cost racing. Back then the cars were just cars, not multi-million pound works of complex, millimetre-perfect, computerised art. A team could buy a chassis, drop in an engine and race competitively on a near-enough level playing field.
Progressing to full manufacturer status only needed a small workshop, a half-decent sponsor and a couple of extra staff.
But teams in the current era need 200-plus staff, large state-of-the-art facilities and tens of millions of pounds just to get started.
And a modern customer wouldn't have a chance of competing on a level playing field because no manufacturer would drop their new, top-secret developments straight into someone else's lap.
The works team would use the new, quicker and more advanced parts; the customer would be a second-tier outfit, using obsolete hand-me-downs from their parent.
Writing on his website, journalist James Allen described a hypothetical F1 customer car as a "year-old Mercedes or Ferrari." Even if it were only six months old, the customer wouldn't have a hope of competing for the podium.
They'd have a car that would exist to lose, while still being quick enough take points (and therefore prize money) off proper, aspirational constructors like Sauber and Force India.
There's more than enough money in the sport to support 12 or 13 proper constructors. That's the future the Strategy Group should focus on turning into a reality—not a self-serving, unsustainable, two-tier F1.
Daniel Ricciardo Not Committing His Career to Long-Term Supporter Red Bull
Daniel Ricciardo has hinted he is open to a move away from Red Bull as the former champions continue to struggle for form.
Speaking to Chris Medland of F1i, Ricciardo said:
Obviously I hope my career is long in F1 and I know it’s very, very unrealistic that I’ll stay with Red Bull for the next ten years so to speak. So it’s also being smart as well and knowing the right time to maybe make a change.
At the time I think Seb [Vettel] was criticised but look where he is now. So you've got to be smart and see.
Obviously I would like to get the Red Bull back up to where they should be, but as I said we’re at a point now which is nearly mid-season where we've got to start seeing that turnaround. We can’t keep slipping back, otherwise it’s sort of each race it’s getting further and further away from where we need it to be and it’s only going to get harder to pull back.
Ricciardo has been a part of the Red Bull family since 2008, when he joined the Red Bull Junior Team. He drove with their backing in Formula Three and two levels of Formula Renault, and he then stepped up to F1 with HRT in mid-2011.
Two years with Toro Rosso followed before he was signed to the main Red Bull team in 2014. Ricciardo tasted success with his first three grand prix wins—but pickings have been less rich in 2015.
The Australian is contracted to Red Bull until the end of 2016, but he appeared to hint that he was considering his future options after the Canadian Grand Prix. Speaking of the uncertainty surrounding Red Bull's relationship with Renault, he told the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson, "for me as well, my career, I need to be aware of what’s happening." He added he wouldn't be happy if the team couldn't turn things around next year.
Now a proven race winner and capable of commanding a seat on talent alone, it seems Ricciardo, like Sebastian Vettel before him, won't hang around if he gets a better offer.
The only thing stopping him could be a lack of options; it's difficult to see where he might go.