Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Williams' Challenge, Red Bull-Renault and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Williams' Challenge, Red Bull-Renault and More

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    Having finished third in the constructors' championship in each of the last two seasons, Williams are growing tired at staring up at Formula One's glass ceiling.

    With a slice of luck, no mistakes and aggressive thinking, the Grove-based team might have won a number of races since the beginning of 2014, but Williams have been forced to settle for a scattering of podium finishes as the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari have dominated F1.

    And Claire Williams, the deputy team principal, has outlined the challenge facing the British outfit as they seek to return to the top step of the podium.

    Red Bull Racing are also eager to return to the front of the grid after enduring their first winless season since 2008 in 2015.

    Unable to reach an engine agreement with Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda for 2016, the four-time world champions will continue to use Renault power units in the upcoming season in what is very much a marriage of convenience.

    But Jonathan Wheatley, the team manager, has explained that marriage may be very convenient for Red Bull, with Renault set to make a step forward with their engine.

    Formula One itself is set to make a step forward in 2017 when a new set of regulations are introduced.

    The problem, however, is that it remains unclear what those new rules will be, and Williams' Pat Symonds has called for the revolution to be delayed until 2018 to ensure the sport doesn't head down the wrong path.

    Most F1 folk, meanwhile, are convinced that the return of refuelling would see the sport go in the wrong direction. But that hasn't stopped FIA president Jean Todt from claiming mid-race fuel stops could still come back next year.

    Closing this week's roundup is Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who has expressed his sadness that his wife was never offered the opportunity to race in F1.

Williams Facing 'Hardest Piece of the Puzzle' in 2016, Admits Claire Williams

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    Claire Williams has admitted the Williams outfit are entering the most difficult period of their recent resurgence as they try to keep up with the pace-setting Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

    After failing to finish any higher than eighth in the constructors' championship in the final three seasons of the V8 era, Williams have experienced something of a revival since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014, finishing a comfortable third in the last two seasons.

    Despite competing at the sharp end of the grid, Williams have failed to win a race since the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, while two-time world champions Mercedes have won 32 of the last 38 races.

    With a very track-specific car, which performed poorly on high-downforce circuits and in wet conditions, the Grove-based outfit were restricted to just four podium finishes in 2015, having claimed nine during the previous season.

    And deputy team principal Williams believes the team must improve their chassis if they are to return to winning ways, telling F1i.com's Julien Billiotte

    The hardest piece of the puzzle is now in that, "how do we close the gap to the Ferraris and Mercedes and fight for a championship?"

    [When you are] doing so badly you've obviously got so many things wrong in your organisation and you know what they are, you've got to change them, but this is the hardest piece of work for us now moving forward. ...

    We have a great power unit in Mercedes and we're very fortunate that we made that decision to jump from the Renault and take the Mercedes power unit.

    But it's as much about the chassis as it is the power unit and the Mercedes guys have done a fantastic job on their chassis, they have a great power unit and therefore they're dominating.

    We need to do a better job on our chassis in order to take the fight to them.

    In December 2015, Williams' Rob Smedley told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble that the team's new car—which will be unveiled on the opening day of the first pre-season test—will be "significantly different" to their 2015 chassis, claiming the team were "reasonably happy" with the wind-tunnel figures.

    Meanwhile, Damon Hill, who won the 1996 championship with Williams, has urged the team to switch from Mercedes to Honda engines to emerge as title contenders once again, per Sky Sports.

Red Bull Encouraged by Renault Progress Ahead of 2016

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    Red Bull Racing have been encouraged by the progress Renault have made during the off-season, according to team manager Jonathan Wheatley.

    After winning four consecutive world championships between 2010 and 2013, the relationship between team and engine manufacturer had become increasingly poisonous since the introduction of the V6 turbo regulations, with Red Bull and Renault embroiled in a war of words

    Red Bull's frustration with Renault's underpowered, unreliable power unit saw the team attempt to join forces with Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda, but the other manufacturers' reluctance left them with no option to continue with Renault engines, albeit under the branding of TAG Heuer, for 2016.

    Renault recently recruited Mario Illien—the highly regarded engine expert and a long-term ally of Adrian Newey, Red Bull's semi-retired technical chief—to help resolve the issues with the powertrain.

    And as well as confirming Red Bull are "well ahead of schedule" with their new car, Wheatley has revealed the team are excited by the potential improvements to the engine, but they are not expecting to have power parity with the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.

    He told GPUpdate.net

    There's some very good news coming out of France at the moment.

    It's not going to be extraordinary, but they've made some gains—it's very positive.

    I think that's probably where we are at the moment. Is it going to be on the same level as the other [leading] power units in 2016? I think that's probably unlikely. But we only need to get close.

    Despite Wheatley's excitement, lead driver Daniel Ricciardo has cast doubt on whether Red Bull will be able to make a huge step forward after enduring their first winless season in seven years in 2015, telling Australian radio show SEN Breakfast (h/t F1i.com) that there will not be a "a night-and-day difference."

Pat Symonds Believes Regulation Changes Should Be Delayed Until 2018

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    Pat Symonds, Williams' chief technical officer, believes the major regulation changes planned for the 2017 season should be postponed until 2018.

    Last July, the Formula One Strategy Group, per the official FIA website, unveiled plans to make "faster and more aggressive looking cars for 2017," with changes to chassis dimensions, including the front and rear wings—as well as wider tyres—hoped to make the cars around five seconds per lap quicker.

    Those proposals, however, have been criticised by a number of paddock figures, with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton telling Sky Sports' Mike Wise that introducing "more aerodynamics" is "the worst idea," claiming those behind the ideas "don't really know what they're trying to solve."

    Adrian Newey, the legendary designer who has won countless world championships with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull Racing, recently became the latest big name to voice an opinion, telling the National's Ahmed Rizvi that the planned rules are "are actually not that different to what we have now."

    Symonds is among those charged with the task of creating the new regulations and, while he has confirmed his colleagues are now discussing the finer details of the 2017-specification rules, he feels F1 would benefit from more time to determine a firm plan of action. 

    He told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper

    There are two technical regulation meetings yet to take place.

    One at the end of this month, one in February, before the 2017 rules are established by the beginning of March. So yes, we are getting into some of the details rather than the fundamentals.

    Are they right, are they wrong? I think that's not what the Strategy Group are talking about right now. The Strategy Group gave a mandate as to what the cars should be like for 2017, and we've been working on it.

    I think now the Strategy Group are moving on, and they are looking at the sporting aspects rather than the technical aspects. ...

    Will we produce a good car? I don't know. I think we've still got work to do on it. I do feel a little bit rushed, a little bit pressured.

    I think that personally we're trying to move a little bit too quickly without establishing the basic principles to work from.

    I'd be much happier if things moved on to 2018 rather than '17 for new rules, and we spent a year really researching what's needed. But that's probably a cry in the wilderness.

    In the meantime, Symonds believes a rule change set to be introduced this season will be the first step toward bringing F1 back to the people.

    The noise produced by the V6 turbo power units has been widely condemned since the engines were introduced at the beginning of 2014, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel referring to the sound as "s--t," per ESPN F1.

    As reported by Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, however, all cars must "have a separate exhaust wastegate tailpipe through which all and only wastegate exhaust gases must pass," with Symonds predicting these changes will make the engines up to "25 per cent louder," per the same source.

Refuelling May Yet Return in 2017 Despite Negative Response

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    Jean Todt, the president of the FIA, has insisted refuelling may yet be reintroduced for the 2017 season, despite the proposal being rejected last year.

    Mid-race refuelling was banned at the end of the 2009 season as part of a cost-cutting exercise, but it was linked with a return in 2015 after the Strategy Group, per the official FIA website, flirted with the idea of bringing back refuelling under initial plans for the 2017-style regulations.

    However, the proposal soon disappeared from the agenda when the Strategy Group, as Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff relayed (h/t ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson), gave a completely "negative" response, claiming refuelling was "too expensive, not safe enough, detrimental to the races and the strategies."

    But it seems some remain in favour of the return of refuelling, with Todt claiming the idea has not been dropped.

    Despite concerns over safety—as evidenced in the penultimate race of the previous refuelling era, when Kimi Raikkonen's car was engulfed in flames in the Interlagos pit lane—the Frenchman believes F1 should seriously consider implementing mid-race fuel stops if it will enhance the spectacle, regardless of the cost.

    According to ESPN F1's Nate Saunders, the Ferrari team principal said: 

    Yes, it is true. If you have some doubt about something, and personally and honestly I have a doubt...talking with the working group meeting we re-address is it right not to have refuelling?

    You know the reason why it was banned, refuelling? It was the cost of carrying the fuel rig. Now we are in a kind of modern area where we know how it works. ...

    We are talking about €50,000 a year. If it is good for the show...I'm in favour of reducing the cost but that is not a key point on the global cost of Formula One.

    Per the same source, Todt added, "At least we should discuss it," when asked whether refuelling could return in 2017.

    However, Claire Williams, the deputy team principal of the Williams outfit, has already condemned Todt's comments, telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper that the reintroduction of refuelling would give F1 a "gas-guzzling" image once again following the introduction of the greener, hybrid engines in 2014.

Susie Wolff Was 'Good Enough' to Race in F1, Argues Husband

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    Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, has insisted his wife, Susie Wolff, would have been competitive in Formula One had she been offered the chance to race.

    Despite failing to win a race in DTM, the German touring-car series, in six seasons between 2006 and 2011, Susie joined Williams in a development-driver role in 2012, when her husband was a prominent figure at the British team.

    Toto moved to Mercedes at the beginning of 2013, but his wife became increasingly involved at Williams, appearing in a number of test sessions and becoming the first woman to participate in an F1 race weekend in more than two decades at the 2014 British Grand Prix.

    Although she went on to make three further practice appearances, Susie announced her retirement from motor-racing at the end of last season, telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson that a shortage of opportunities had led to her decision.

    She recently launched Dare To Be Different, a scheme aimed to encourage female participation in motorsport, and Toto feels it is a shame his wife was never offered the chance to start a grand prix, telling Austrian publication Tiroler Tageszeitung (h/t Motorsport.com): 

    I am sorry she never had the opportunity, because I am convinced that she is good enough to race for a midfield team.

    And it would have been good for F1 to have a female racing, because the media that normally ignores motorsport would have been interested. It’s a missed opportunity.

    As family, I did not notice any difference now she’s taken this decision [to stop racing]. She is at peace with herself.

    Despite Wolff's efforts, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone is unsure whether a woman will race in F1 again, telling Canadian television station TSN (h/t the Telegraph) that they "wouldn't be taken seriously" even if they had the talent to succeed.