Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Mercedes, Pastor Maldonado and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2015

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Mercedes, Pastor Maldonado and More

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    Mercedes dominated Formula One for a second successive season in 2015, winning all but three races, but the Silver Arrows appeared to be a team of two halves as the campaign drew to a close.

    While Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had little to play for in the closing weeks of the season, due to the former securing his third world title with three races to spare, the relationship between the pair seemed to be at its lowest for some time.

    Their boss, Toto Wolff, responded by suggesting Mercedes would be prepared to change their winning formula and dump at least one of their drivers if they failed to play nicely and has reiterated his belief that no individual is bigger than the team.

    Pastor Maldonado, meanwhile, is getting sick and tired of being ridiculed for his erratic and unpredictable driving style, claiming he is the target of media, supporters and even race officials.

    Despite driving an inferior car to Maldonado, Felipe Nasr managed to finish on equal points with the Venezuelan in the 2015 championship after a distinctly impressive rookie season saw him claim two top-six finishes.

    The vices of his car prevented the Brazilian from securing those results on a more regular basis, but Nasr has revealed Sauber are planning to make a series of alterations to their chassis in an effort to leap up the grid.

    As Nasr pins his hopes on big changes at Sauber, Will Stevens will be hoping everything stays the same in 2016 as he fights to keep his place at Manor.

    The British driver remains confident of remaining with the perennial backmarkers for next season, but GP2 race-winner Rio Haryanto is increasingly likely to claim one of the two Manor seats after earning the support of the Indonesian government.

    Closing this week's roundup is Pirelli's Paul Hembery, who is pushing for a significant overhaul of the F1 calendar.

Mercedes Sure Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg Got the Message

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    Toto Wolff, the Mercedes executive director, believes Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fully understood the intended message behind his recent comments over their futures at the team.

    Although Mercedes won their second consecutive constructors' title in 2015, winning all but three races, Wolff appeared to be an unhappy man at the end of the season as the tension between his drivers continued to simmer.

    Wolff told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble of his disappointment that the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, who have fought head-to-head for much of the last two seasons, has affected the team, suggesting Mercedes would be prepared to change their lineup if the pair were unable to compete evenly and fairly.

    Those comments raised questions over the futures of Hamilton, who signed a new three-year contract with the team in May, and Rosberg, whose current deal is set to expire at the end of 2016.

    But while Wolff has acknowledged his drivers are not in imminent danger of losing their seats, he believes Hamilton and Rosberg are now fully aware of their responsibilities to the team ahead of 2016, telling Noble in a separate Motorsport.com article:

    Nico and Lewis know very well what was meant. The spirit of the team was essential. It was one of the forces which makes us who we are and what we are.

    If the animosity—if there would be animosity within the team—that would be detrimental to the team.

    And I said that, if we were unable to contain the fierce competition and it could spill over to the team, then we would be needing to look at how we would set up the driver line-up for the future.

    Per the same source, Rosberg claimed the relationship between the drivers is "actually good the way it is," thanking Wolff for doing "such a great job in managing the situation."

    Hamilton echoed his team-mate's thoughts, doubting whether "anything negative has come from the competition" between the Mercedes drivers and reiterating his belief that there are "no issues."

Pastor Maldonado Fed Up of Being 'The News of the Day'

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    Pastor Maldonado has revealed his frustration with his reputation as Formula One's resident crash kid, claiming he is the subject of unfair treatment from the media.

    Since his grand prix debut in 2011, the Venezuelan has often attracted criticism for his inconsistency behind the wheel, with avoidable incidents such as his practice crash at China 2014 defining his career.

    The sheer regularity of these crashes, and the rather clumsy nature of his off-track adventures, has made Maldonado a figure of fun among F1 enthusiasts, but the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix winner is growing tired of being the punchline of paddock jokes.

    After being hit by Fernando Alonso at Turn 1 in the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, Maldonado told Crash.net it would have been "big news" had the incident "been the other way round," and the 30-year-old has highlighted the collisions between Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas as further evidence of his unfair treatment.

    Bottas and Raikkonen came to blows twice in the space of three races in the closing weeks of the season, with the Williams punted into retirement on the last lap of the Russian GP and the Ferrari eliminated at the halfway stage in Mexico.

    Maldonado believes the way those incidents have been simply brushed under the carpet proves he is being stigmatised for his erratic driving style, telling ESPN F1's Nate Saunders

    It is a difficult one. On the track it is always a competition and I always want to gain places or to defend. It is a part of the game, especially when we are fighting closely for position. Fighting with some drivers is easier than some other ones. I try to be competitive and hard on the track...there are some drivers that are hard on the track, like Fernando, and when you fight with him he is very hard.

    We are all here for the same objective. When I do a mistake without touching anyone, everybody is surprised and this is the news of the day. Other drivers crash and have incidents, nothing happens. Look at Bottas and Kimi—two times, but now all quiet and normal. Simple race incident. I have a stupid contact, everyone is 'argh'.

    Maldonado added that the FIA race stewards are also influenced by his reputation, claiming he is "sometimes" punished "a bit harder" than his fellow competitors.

Sauber Pursuing Aggressive Chassis Design for 2016, Says Felipe Nasr

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    Felipe Nasr has revealed Sauber are planning to make a number of aggressive changes to their car for the 2016 season.

    The Swiss team endured the worst season in their history in 2014, when the underpowered, overweight C33 chassis—driven by Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez—failed to score a single point over 19 races.

    Although, given Sauber's lack of resources, the chassis remained similar in 2015, the vast improvements to the Ferrari power unit gave the team a fighting chance, with Nasr securing a fifth-place finish on his grand prix debut in Australia.

    As the season progressed, however, point-scoring opportunities were few and far between, and Sauber ultimately finished a distant eighth in the constructors' standings.

    The team appointed Mark Smith, the former Red Bull Racing and Caterham employee, as technical director in July, and Nasr has claimed he has been behind the push for a new design concept as Sauber hope to make a substantial leap in competitiveness.

    The Brazilian told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto

    The car we had this year and last year looked pretty much the same on the concept side but next year we are being a little bit more aggressive.

    The concept looks very different.

    We know the areas we have to improve and we have to give it a try. We need to try something.

    (Smith) was the guy who straight away wanted to apply this approach.

    We as drivers and as a team all gave feedback as to where the car had to be improved and he has given a lot of directions to follow with the car development.

    If you look at the other cars a lot of people have different concepts but if we keep developing the one we have, it's little steps.

    That's why we're taking this approach for 2016.

    Sauber are the second team known to be taking an adventurous approach for 2016, with Williams' Rob Smedley recently telling ESPN F1's Nate Saunders that the Grove-based outfit are encouraged by the development of their FW38 chassis.

Will Stevens Pinning Hopes on Manor as Rio Haryanto Edges Closer to 2016 Seat

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    Will Stevens has revealed the Manor team represents his only chance of remaining in Formula One next season, admitting he currently has no back-up plan for 2016.

    After making his F1 debut for the now-defunct Caterham outfit at the 2014 Abu Dhabi GP, the British driver performed well alongside team-mates Roberto Merhi and Alexander Rossi in his first full season at Manor in 2015.

    Manor, who will use Mercedes power units next year, are the only team yet to confirm their driver lineup for 2016, with a number of drivers thought to be in contention for the two seats.

    Over the Mexican GP weekend, Stevens told Autosport's Ian Parkes he was "confident" of securing his future with the team and claimed he wanted the deal "done as quickly as possible."

    A month on, however, Stevens is yet to confirm his place on the grid but has insisted he is not panicking just yet. The 24-year-old, once a member of Honda's young-driver scheme, has claimed he is not ready to consider a reserve-driver role, telling Parkes and Ben Anderson in a separate Autosport article:

    I don't know. I'll worry about it if it comes to that.

    Right now I have every intention of being on the grid next year. If it was not looking good, or I was worrying about the situation, of course I'd look at other options.

    But right now I'm not looking at anything else, and my sole focus is on next year.

    [...]

    Obviously I'm going to be massively disappointed if I don't get the seat. Of course I want the seat for next year which is why I'm doing everything I can to make sure it happens.

    But I think it's wrong to look at Plans B, C, etcetera at the moment because everything really is going in the right direction.

    Yes, if I don't get the seat I will be annoyed, disappointed and all those things, but right now I'm not because I'm confident in the people I've got around me and the people working away from the track on my behalf to make it happen.

    Rio Haryanto, meanwhile, is moving ever closer to one of the two Manor seats after the Indonesian government agreed to provide the 22-year-old with £10 million in a bid to help secure his place on the 2016 grid, as reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    Haryanto, who recently participated for Manor in the one-day Pirelli tyre test, finished fourth in the 2015 GP2 drivers' standings with three victories.

    Pascal Wehrlein, another contender for the Manor seat, will be forced to wait for news regarding his future until January, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff telling Autosport's Parkes that no decision on the German's 2016 plans is imminent.

Pirelli's Paul Hembery to Propose New F1 Calendar to Bernie Ecclestone

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    Paul Hembery, the Pirelli motorsport director, is behind a bold plan to revolutionise the Formula One calendar, which could lead to a season being divided into three regional-based segments.

    The current schedule sees the F1 campaign start in Australia, the season-opening race since 1996, with the opening phase of the season held in Asia before the sport returns to its traditional heartland of Europe. 

    After a fleeting visit to Canada, F1 returns to finish the "European season" before the final series of "flyaway races," which take place across Asia and the Americas.

    According to the Guardian's Paul Weaver, however, Hembery's proposal—which will soon be presented to F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone—would see three mini-seasons take place in Australasia, Europe and the Americas, with a champion being crowned on each continent before an "overall champion" is decided at the end of the year.

    The continent-based proposal, Weaver notes, would feature "two meaningful breaks"—as opposed to the current, month-long summer shutdown—and would be part of a plan to increase F1's popularity and, most significantly, appeal to an American audience.

    With much doubt surrounding the future of the United States Grand Prix, which has been staged in Austin, Texas, since 2012, Hembery believes it is crucial for F1 to take radical steps to prevent the sport "creating (its) own downfall."

    On his plan, Hembery—who has admitted he is unsure whether it would gain much support from the teams—told Weaver:

    I will be talking to Bernie shortly about this. I haven’t worked out the logistical problems. It’s up to the teams to do that. But this is all about getting more interest in Formula One, and particularly in the Americas.

    The market people all say the same thing, which is that the biggest problem in F1 is with the timings. They are all for Europe, which means in America they have to get up ridiculously early to watch the racing.

    [...]

    To lose Austin so soon after getting there—and it’s a good circuit and a well organised show which the fans enjoy—would be phenomenally negative for the sport.

    I also think it’s important to have a race in California. With this regional idea we could create a concentrated interest in the sport and help build a real fanbase. If we carry on making Formula One for European television we will end up with a Europe-only audience.

    F1 has already made changes to the calendar ahead of 2016 in an effort to create a more condensed season, with the Russian and Chinese grands prix moving from their traditional slots.