Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and More

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    Jenson Button may not have stood on the top step of a Formula One podium for almost four years, but the 2009 world champion's class remains undeniable.

    As well as leading McLaren to success on the good days, Button has become an invaluable asset to the team on the bad days—so much so they simply couldn't afford to discard the 36-year-old during their worst season in 35 years in 2015.

    And at the beginning of his 17th season in F1, Button has explained why he regards himself as the best driver on the grid because of his talent and work ethic at the circuit and his popularity within the paddock.

    As bold a claim as it might be, it is difficult to argue with Button's statement. Although one man who could rival the veteran as F1's best pound-for-pound driver, all things considered, is Daniel Ricciardo.

    After a character-building 2015, which prevented him from building upon his three grand prix wins the previous campaign, Ricciardo offered a reminder of his quality at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, finishing a comfortable fourth.

    Red Bull appear to be on course for a much better season in 2016, and Ricciardo has claimed Renault's ever-improving power unit will be crucial to his team's success.

    As well as aiding Red Bull's chances, Renault have their own team to think about after purchasing Lotus at the end of last year.

    But despite the French manufacturer's major investment, managing director Cyril Abiteboul has stressed that Renault do not intend to dominate F1 like Mercedes and, indeed, Red Bull before them.

    Renault enjoyed a steady start to the new season at the Australian GP. But the team that really impressed was Haas, the newcomers claiming sixth place on their grand prix debut.

    Such is the competitiveness of modern F1 that the sight of a brand-new outfit being immediately competitive is increasingly rare, but former Manor team boss John Booth has explained why he wasn't taken aback by the strength of Haas' performance.

    Closing this week's roundup is Felipe Nasr, who has paid tribute to Mark Smith following the technical director's ill-timed departure from Sauber.

Jenson Button Feels He Still Offers the 'Full Package' in F1

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    Jenson Button believes he is the best driver in Formula One in terms of his performances on the track and his popularity among sponsors, spectators and the media.

    Despite his failure to win a grand prix since November 2012 as a result of his McLaren team's fall from grace, the 2009 world champion is arguably getting better with age and last year outscored team-mate Fernando Alonso, who is widely regarded as the most complete driver in F1.

    In 2015, the 36-year-old was voted the third-most popular driver on the grid behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Alonso in a fans' survey conducted by the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, per Sky Sports. His likability almost certainly played a role in Button surviving two retirement sagas over the last two years.

    At the beginning of his 17th season at the pinnacle of motorsport, Button has explained the value of finding a balance between on-track success and off-track appeal, claiming he has two adopt two different personas on a grand prix weekend.

    In an interview with Sky Sports F1 (h/t Sky Sports' Matthew Morlidge), he said:

    If you can't be a different person out of the car, that's a weakness.

    I personally feel that when you get in the car you are a certain type of person. You give it your all, you give it your maximum and I feel that there's no one better than me at doing that through a race weekend.

    When you're out of the car, you have to be a different personality or else the sponsors don't want to work with you, the partners don't want to work with you and your career is very short, however good you are on track.

    You need to be the full package and that's something you work over time and that's something the new kids will have to learn very quickly with the way the business this is.

    It's not the easiest place to find sponsors and partners in the sport for teams. They need drivers that are not only quick on the circuit but are publicly very good, very confident and someone they can relate to.

    Per the same source, Button added that his ability to "stay on top of [his] fitness and stay on top of every aspect" has been key to his longevity, suggesting drivers who enter F1 as teenagers may struggle to "have a 17-year long career in the sport, because the world has changed."

Daniel Ricciardo Can 'Feel an Improvement' in Red Bull's Renault Engine

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    Daniel Ricciardo has admitted he can already feel a noticeable improvement in Renault's V6 turbo power unit compared to last year after Red Bull's encouraging start to the 2016 season at the Australian Grand Prix.

    Since claiming the last of their four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel in 2013, Red Bull have been restricted to just three grand prix wins, with Ricciardo forced to settle for just two podium finishes in the team's first winless campaign in seven years in 2015.

    The team's fall from grace severely damaged Red Bull's relationship with Renault, and the team is running engines under the branding of TAG Heuer this season in what has been interpreted as an attempt to distance themselves from the French manufacturer.

    While Daniil Kvyat endured a rotten weekend at Albert Park, being eliminated from Q1 before failing to start the season opener for the second successive season, Ricciardo excelled at his home event, finishing a comfortable fourth after qualifying eighth.

    After the race, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, that the team is hopeful of "taking it" to Ferrari when Renault introduce a major upgrade to their engine, which is scheduled to arrive in time for June's Canadian GP.

    And Ricciardo believes the engine is already much better than the 2015-specification unit. Per Autosport's Ian Parkes, he said:

    I definitely think we can feel an improvement compared to last year.

    I was able to pass some faster cars like the Toro Rosso, the Williams and the Force India, so that was encouraging.

    I think 12 months ago we would not have been able to make those moves, so we have started off on the right foot.

    We have an update coming, hopefully sooner than later, but we can be pretty excited.

    Per Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, Ricciardo explained that while he doesn't "really feel an extra kick" on acceleration, the engine "has a bit more legs in the last quarter of the straight." 

    The Australian also reiterated his anticipation over Renault's Canadian GP upgrade, claiming the improvements "should" allow Red Bull to make "a proper step" forward.

    Meanwhile, Horner has revealed that Adrian Newey, Red Bull's chief technical officer, will soon begin work on the team's 2017 car ahead of the major regulation changes, per Motorsport.com's Noble.

Renault Not Hoping for Mercedes-Style Dominance Despite F1 Comeback

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    Cyril Abiteboul, the managing director of Renault's F1 operation, has insisted the team has no intention of dominating the sport in the style of the all-conquering Mercedes outfit despite the French manufacturer's return to the grid in 2016.

    After several years as an engine supplier, Renault returned to the F1 grid this year following the purchase of the Enstone-based Lotus outfit at the end of 2015.

    The French company claimed two consecutive world championships with Fernando Alonso a decade ago, but Renault have acknowledged it will take time to return to those heights, with chairman Carlos Ghosn claiming the team may need three years to be competitive, per Sky Sports' James Galloway.

    After a relatively decent start to 2016 at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen progressed to Q2 before finishing 11th and 12th respectively, Abiteboul has reiterated Renault's desire to win in the coming years.

    But the Frenchman has claimed they are content with simply challenging for major honours on a regular basis rather than following in the footsteps of Mercedes, who have won 33 of the last 39 races since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced.

    According to F1i.com's Julien Billiotte, he said: 

    It’s absolutely crucial to win, you don’t need to win every season but you have to be here for the brand and you will not impress anyone with your brand if you do not show the capacity to win.

    You don’t necessarily need to be but you have to be part of the show. You also need to be professional with what you do. That is why we try to be fresh to blend that with our credibility. That is one of the difficulties of last year we had to get people to believe in the project. ...

    We are not as premium as other brands, we are French and we are fighting. We want to do things a little bit differently, to create exciting story, enjoyment and something that is good for the brand and the sport.

    We need to do a good job on the track so the two work in parallel; to be part of the show but also be competitive. Not necessarily win every race like Mercedes because that is not good for everyone but be a contender for every race.

    Doing things differently has been a key part of Renault's philosophy since their return to the grid was confirmed, with Abiteboul telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble in Australia that the team may change their yellow livery in time for this weekend's Bahrain GP.

    Despite Abiteboul's insistence Renault are reluctant to achieve Mercedes-style dominance, technical director Bob Bell recently told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson "there are similarities" between his employers and the Silver Arrows prior to the latter's rise to prominence in 2014.

John Booth Unsurprised by Haas' Strong Start to 2016 in Australia

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    John Booth, the former Manor team principal, has claimed he was not surprised by Haas' strong start in Formula One following Romain Grosjean's point-scoring exploits in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

    Almost two years after being granted an entry to the pinnacle of motorsport, Haas finally made their F1 debut at Albert Park on March 20, when Grosjean held off faster cars, including Nico Hulkenberg's Force India and Valtteri Bottas' Williams, to claim sixth place from 19th on the grid.

    The result meant Haas became the first brand-new outfit to score debut points since 2002, with team principal Guenther Steiner later claiming, per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde, that the result would have been impossible without the help of Ferrari, who established a close technical alliance with the newcomers in September 2014.

    Along with the now-defunct Caterham and Hispania operations, Booth's Manor were among the three new teams to arrive on the grid at the beginning of 2010, with the perennial backmarkers forced to wait until the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix to register their first and only points finish to date.

    Despite being aware of the struggles facing new teams in F1, Booth recently insisted he was not shocked by Haas' performance in the race, telling Motorsport.com's Erwin Jaeggi:

    Obviously in Formula 1 performance is linked to the budget available.

    They did a great job, don’t get me wrong, but they also clearly have a very healthy budget and went about things in a way that made the debut easier for them.

    With the close link with Ferrari for two years before they made their debut, I think it was very obvious where they were going to be.

    The biggest surprise is where they qualified [19th and 20th]. That was the biggest surprise to me.

    Per the same source, Booth claimed Manor's situation was "totally different" to Haas' upon their F1 debut in 2010, claiming he entered the sport under the impression he could run his team for $30 million at a time Max Mosley, then the president of the FIA, was actively pursuing the idea of a budget cap, reported by BBC Sport.

    In a separate Motorsport.com article, meanwhile, Booth told Jaeggi he considered retiring from motorsport after leaving F1 at the end of last year before deciding to start a Manor-branded team in the World Endurance Championship's LMP2 division in 2016.

    Graeme Lowdon, who also resigned from his position at Manor F1 in October, is working alongside Booth on the WEC project. The team recently signed Will Stevens, who participated in 19 grands prix for Manor last season.

Felipe Nasr Disappointed with Mark Smith's Departure from Sauber

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    Felipe Nasr has expressed his disappointment with Mark Smith's departure from Sauber, praising the technical director's impact on the team.

    Formerly of Red Bull, Force India and Caterham, Smith joined Sauber as technical director in July 2015 and was influential in the team's decision to pursue a fresh design concept with their 2016 car, as Nasr said, per Crash.net, last December.

    Although the new car's introduction was delayed until the second and final pre-season test, the C35 ran reliably at Spain's Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. But just days ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, it emerged that Smith had left the team for "family reasons," per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.

    A year on from his fifth-place finish on his F1 debut, Nasr was classified a distant 11th at Albert Park. Team-mate Marcus Ericsson retired on Lap 39.

    After the race, Nasr told the team's official website that Sauber "have to improve the C35 in different areas" and "have a lot of work ahead" of them after a limp start to the campaign.

    And the Brazilian has explained why the loss of Smith has been damaged the team, per F1i.com's Chris Medland:

    It's a shame because I think Mark was doing a very good job in the team since he came in, leading the project with the C35. I admired his work. He was a great addition to the team and it was a shame to see him leaving that early because there is still room for improvement in the development of the car and he was the person to be leading that.

    I'm sure the team is looking for someone else to replace him as soon as they can.

    Although Nasr has acknowledged that Smith has left Sauber heading in the right direction, he said, per the same source, "someone in his position was able to see" the areas of the car requiring most attention, claiming a technical director "is a must for any team."