Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and More

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    Kimi Raikkonen made his first appearance of the 2016 Formula One pre-season on Wednesday, taking to the wheel of Ferrari's SF16-H car.

    After team-mate Sebastian Vettel completed 195 laps on the opening two days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, it felt as though all Ferrari's bad luck, as ever, was reserved for Raikkonen, who didn't appear on track until the final stages of the morning session.

    When he did appear on track, though, the 2007 world champion managed to rack up a respectable number of laps and gain some first impressions of the new Ferrari, which he feels is already better than the Prancing Horse's race-winning 2015 car.

    Whether Ferrari will be strong enough to beat the might of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, however, is another matter.

    The Silver Arrows' preparations for the 2016 season have begun in the best possible fashion this week, but Hamilton himself is more concerned about the future, with the three-time world champion again criticising those charged with thinking up the 2017 regulation changes.

    Hamilton, it is fair to say, is a little apprehensive about the new regulations, but one man willing to embrace them is Kevin Magnussen, who believes a rules shakeup is exactly what Renault need to become winners once more.

    The new, elimination-style qualifying format is also splitting opinion, with many questioning whether a move away from the existing, decade-old system was even necessary.

    Felipe Massa is one of just four drivers on the current grid to have raced in F1 before the knockout system was introduced in 2006, and the Williams driver—despite being unsure whether the new format is positive for the sport—is convinced qualifying will become much more chaotic from 2016.

    Chaos, meanwhile, is the precise reason why Volkswagen will not be entering F1 any time soon, with motorsport chief Wolfgang Durheimer outlining what needs to change before the Germany company considers joining the so-called pinnacle of motorsport.

    Here's our latest roundup.

Kimi Raikkonen Believes New Ferrari Is 'Already Better' Than 2015 Car

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    Kimi Raikkonen has admitted he is impressed by Ferrari's 2016 car, even claiming the new SF16-H is already superior to last year's race-winning chassis.

    After four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets on the opening two days of pre-season testing, Raikkonen got behind the wheel of the new car on Wednesday and experienced a day of two halves.

    Despite completing just four installation laps in the morning session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the 2007 title winner ended Day 3 with 78 laps and the third-fastest time to his name.

    While Vettel claimed 13 podium appearances, including three victories, with last season's SF15-T, Raikkonen was forced to settle for just three top-three finishes in 2015.

    But after Ferrari made a number of alterations to the car over the winter—the team have produced a much shorter nose and reverted to a push-rod front suspension setup, which is favoured by both drivers—Raikkonen has suggested he could be on course for a much-improved season in 2016.

    On his first impressions of the SF16-H, the 36-year-old told Autosport's Ben Anderson and Mitchell Adam: 

    I think the first feeling is quite nice.

    The handling is good. In many areas we need to improve on last year and the front end is one area.

    The team has done a very good job, getting it ready, I am happy with that. 

    I'm sure the car is already better than what we had last year.

    We improved in many areas and it's very early days, especially for me, with the car.

    There's no problem, and we haven't changed a single thing on the front.

    I'm happy so far, but there is still a lot of things to put in there.

    Just jumping in the car, not doing anything to it and driving, it's not too bad, it's pretty OK, so I'm sure we can find some things.

    Despite eventually completing more than a race distance on his first day behind the wheel of the new car, Raikkonen admitted that it was "painful" to lose so much time in the morning session as Ferrari made fuel-system checks, per the team's official website.

Lewis Hamilton Critical of Proposed 2017 Regulation Changes

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    Lewis Hamilton has reiterated his displeasure with the proposed 2017 regulations, referring to plans to make Formula One cars heavier as "ridiculous."

    On Wednesday, the FIA revealed specific details concerning the major rule changes currently planned to be introduced in time for next year, which will see the cars become more spectacular and several seconds per lap quicker.

    They will also become heavier, however, with the weight of the cars set to increase from 702 kilograms to 722 kilograms—in addition to the weight of the wider tyres.

    At the end of 2015, Hamilton criticised the initial proposals, telling Sky Sports' Mike Wise how the plan to increase downforce levels was "the worst idea" and proved those behind the rule changes "don't really know what they're trying to solve." 

    And after learning of their intentions to increase the weight of the cars, the three-time world champion again spoke of his disappointment with the direction F1 is heading. According to Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde, Hamilton said:

    That is just ridiculous. They were great at 600 kilos. It was easier for the tyres.

    The heavier you make the car, the more it's forcing the tyres so the tyres will feel even worse and there's more pressure on Pirelli to produce better tyres. And then more downforce...

    In the last few days I've been driving with these tyres and thinking to myself: "Why is it so difficult? What are the physical challenges for Pirelli? And why is the car sliding the way it goes?"

    I'm just realising when I got to Formula 1 the car was like 600 kilos, and now it's 100 kilos heavier. I think that makes a big difference.

    They don't have to change the regulations much to make the cars three seconds quicker, just make the cars lighter. They are super heavy.

    Per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson, Hamilton spoke of his desire for F1 to revert to V12 engines, wider tyres and manual gearboxes, but acknowledged F1 will "never be there again."

    He did, though, offer another dig at the sport's rulemakers, adding: "Whatever decisions they have been making have not been working for some time."

Kevin Magnussen Expects Renault to Capitalise on 2017 Regulation Changes

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    Kevin Magnussen believes Renault must regard the upcoming regulation changes as a "big opportunity" to re-emerge as a major force in Formula One.

    The French manufacturer completed its takeover of the Enstone-based Lotus team at the end of 2015, but Renault's comeback has been rather underwhelming at this week's first pre-season test.

    Despite having a "very neat and very functional" car, as technical expert Craig Scarborough told The Racer's Edge YouTube channel, the team struggled for pace and reliability on the opening two days with Jolyon Palmer before Magnussen completed 111 laps and set the fourth-fastest time on Day 3.

    Since their return to F1, Renault have often called for patience, with chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn recently telling Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde how the team would need "a miracle" to win in 2016.

    Major rule changes often shake up the competitive order and Magnussen, who says the team are still suffering a hangover from Lotus' financial problems, believes the planned 2017 regulations will offer Renault—who won two consecutive world championships a decade ago—a chance to race competitively once more.

    He told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson:

    A lot of things have been shut down because they were struggling financially. They have done it in a clever way to survive so all these things are coming back again and they are expanding in different areas but it will take time to find the right people and for them to work together. Whenever we have the rule changes, 2017 or 2018, that is the big opportunity for us and it will be better.

    [The team] is pure motorsport, pure Formula One. When you go to Enstone you don't see anything that hasn't got anything to do with Formula One. Everyone at Enstone is in F1 so it is very focused and I like that.

    According to F1i.com's Chris Medland, Magnussen admitted he was "quite nervous" on Wednesday before driving an F1 car for the first time since the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.

Felipe Massa Expects New Qualifying Format to Cause 'Chaos'

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    Williams driver Felipe Massa has admitted he is unsure whether he favours the new qualifying format set to be introduced for 2016, but he expects the revised system to create chaos.

    Since 2006, Formula One has held a three-part knockout qualifying format, with a number of drivers being eliminated at the end of the first two segments before the session climaxes in a pole-position shootout between the 10 fastest drivers.

    On Wednesday, however, the FIA confirmed plans to tweak the system and implement an elimination-style format, which will see drivers gradually drop out of the session at regular intervals before the fastest two drivers are left to engage in a head-to-head battle for pole.

    The changes are supposedly aimed at creating a compromise between the excitement of reverse grids and retaining the heritage of qualifying, with the fastest, cleanest drivers still expected to reap the rewards.

    F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters' Alan Baldwin how the elimination format will make Saturday sessions "the same as qualifying in wet conditions"—potentially in the style of last season's Malaysian Grand Prix, when Kimi Raikkonen was denied a place in Q3 as drivers scrambled to complete a lap.

    While Massa is uncertain whether the changes will be positive for F1, he believes they will have the desired effect of creating unpredictability, telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper

    I don't know if it I like it or not. I think I need to have a little bit of time to sit down and understand the rules, understand the change. The only thing I understand is that they want to create some chaos around, and this will happen for sure.

    I'm sure it will happen, some chaos, cars that should maybe qualify more in the front have problems and they need to start in the back. So this is something that can be interesting for you [the media], but if it's better or not, I don't know yet. 

    I think the most important thing is that fans want to see fights, they want to see cars overtaking, cars close by. Fans don't want to see only one car winning the race.

    Whenever you can make a championship better, the fans will be happy. I think that's the main issue.

    Which is not something easy to fix. Maybe the noise of the car, but apart from this I think the fans want to see different cars winning the race, that's the main target, which is the most difficult thing for F1 to make happen.

    Meanwhile, Williams technical chief Pat Symonds told Cooper in a separate Motorsport.com article that the elimination format will be "quite tough," acknowledging "there will be occasions when cars are out of position" on the starting grid.

    Felipe Nasr, though, is among those unconvinced by the proposals, telling Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy how there was "nothing wrong" with the pre-2016 qualifying system.

Volkswagen Unwilling to Enter F1 Due to Ongoing 'Instability'

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    Wolfgang Durheimer, the head of Volkswagen's motorsport activities, has insisted the German manufacturer is reluctant to enter Formula One due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the sport.

    Volkswagen had been heavily linked to a move to F1 in 2015, with former team owner Eddie Jordan telling BBC Sport how it was on the verge of purchasing Red Bull Racing last September.

    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner later confirmed the two parties had held discussion in the pre-race FIA press conference ahead of the United States Grand Prix, but implied "current issues"—in other words, the fallout of the emissions scandal—meant F1 was "the last thing on their mind."

    Volkswagen has competed with Red Bull branding in the World Rally Championship since 2013, claiming three consecutive titles with Sebastien Ogier, who has won the first two rounds of the current season.

    Jost Capito, the man behind Volkswagen's success in the WRC, will join McLaren-Honda as chief executive officer in either April or May, but Durheimer has insisted the VW Group will not also be switching to F1 due to the sport's instability both in terms of regulations and ownership.

    He told F1i.com's Phillip van Osten:

    Formula 1 is not on our agenda right now. The situation is not predictable enough to make the kind of investment required.

    On the regulations front, there are a lot of rumours around the engine side and the supporting technology side.

    Before you commit the kind of money needed you must see five years of rules stability—there can't be the possibility of rules changes, of more or less engine cylinders coming in, or the hybrid system changing away from technology you are developing on road cars.

    On the ownership side, there are also big questions the sport must answer. If you are a big business making a big investment you expect to have some influence on the set-up, with an assurance the present ownership will last.

    In F1, it seems the owners will not be there forever and that creates some instability.

    Volkswagen has achieved astounding success in the World Endurance Championship with its associated brands, Audi and Porsche, and Durheimer has claimed the levels of technology and investment in endurance racing are "greater than that in F1."