Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Mercedes' Toto Wolff, Manor and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Mercedes' Toto Wolff, Manor and More

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    Mercedes may have won the opening two races of 2016, but the Silver Arrows' start to the new Formula One season has not been without problems.

    Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg are as formidable as ever in qualifying conditions, and the team—having won two consecutive drivers' and constructors' world championships—are now sufficiently battle-hardened to salvage victory from the jaws of defeat, but Mercedes are carrying an obvious weakness.

    In Australia and Bahrain, Hamilton and Rosberg suffered substandard getaways from the start line, forcing the three-time world champion to switch to damage-limitation mode in the early stages of each race. 

    And team boss Toto Wolff has revealed the steps Mercedes are taking to resolve those issues as soon as possible.

    As his team struggle with grand prix starts, Wolff's decision to provide Manor with Mercedes engines has allowed the perennial backmarkers to make a fresh start in 2016, with the team producing the most impressive performance in their history in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

    Stephen Fitzpatrick, the team owner, has played an instrumental role in Manor's revival, and he has explained why there is more to come from his team and revealed why he decided to rescue the outfit at the beginning of 2015.

    Daniil Kvyat mounted a revival of sorts in Bahrain by surging from 15th on the grid to seventh at the chequered flag, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claiming the Russian was in need of a strong performance after a troubled start to 2016.

    Meanwhile, Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe has identified the team with the weakest engine on the 2016 grid, and closing our latest roundup is the FIA's Charlie Whiting, who has defended the proposed 2017 regulation changes.

Mercedes Aiming to Resolve Start Issues with Help of Daimler

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    Toto Wolff has revealed the team are working alongside parent company Daimler in an effort to resolve their issues with grand prix starts.

    After a poor start to the Australian Grand Prix, where the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen surged ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Turn 1, Hamilton suffered another substandard getaway in Bahrain, which partly contributed to his first-corner collision with Williams' Valtteri Bottas.

    Although a regulation change for this season has forced drivers to make single-hand, single-clutch paddle starts, Mercedes' problems can be traced back to mid-2015, when Hamilton—despite starting from pole position—was beaten to the first corner in three consecutive races in Austria, Britain and Hungary.

    While Mercedes won in both Australia and Bahrain, the team's troubled starts remain a huge concern, and Wolff has explained Mercedes are working closely with Daimler to find an answer to the problems.

    Per Autosport's Ben Anderson and Ian Parkes, he said:

    We tend to believe it's more of a hardware issue than just a control electronics problem and you can't solve that from one race to the other.

    We are working on trying to sort it out. The way we assess clutches and the way we run and calibrate them, and obviously how the drivers use them, needs to be optimised.

    Mainly the collaboration with Daimler is around optimising the hardware and that needs a little bit of time.

    I am not sure yet when we will have results.

    Per the same source, Wolff said his team's poor starts may merely be a function of the new rules, which are designed to lead to more variability off the line.

    According to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, Hamilton has insisted that his start problems are "not a big issue," suggesting the team will "fix" it in time for the next race in China, where the run to Turn 1 is relatively short compared to Bahrain.

Manor Owner Stephen Fitzpatrick Excited by Team's Potential

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    Manor owner Stephen Fitzpatrick has expressed his excitement over the team's potential following their impressive showing at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

    Little more than six years after arriving in F1 under the name of Virgin Racing, Manor arguably produced the most convincing performance in their history at Sakhir, where Pascal Wehrlein qualified 16th on merit before finishing 13th in the race.

    The team have failed to score a point since the Monaco Grand Prix of 2014, where the late Jules Bianchi finished ninth just months before Manor fell into administration.

    Fitzpatrick played a vital role in the team's survival, providing the funds to allow them to compete in the 2015 season with a year-old chassis-engine package while establishing a long-term plan.

    The Belfast-born businessman has explained why he was attracted to Manor at the beginning of 2015, telling Sky Sports' Simon Lazenby:

    Manor represented a very unusual opportunity. A small team, with some track record of success, with the potential for a fresh start, but with the possibility to run close to break even. I have always loved F1 and always wanted to be involved, not just watching. I knew if I didn't buy Manor when I had the chance I'd always regret it.

    I don't expect to make any money but I hope to lose as little as possible! You have to invest in the team to grow its success and value over time but there are no short cuts.

    As Manor struggled for results last year, the team embarked upon a vast restructuring process, securing a deal to run Mercedes power units and Williams components in 2016 as well as replacing team stalwarts John Booth and Graeme Lowdon with former McLaren and Ferrari employees, including Dave Ryan and Pat Fry.

    At the beginning of pre-season, technical director John McQuilliam told the team's official website how the new MRT05 was already "the best car" the team have ever produced, with Manor's performances supporting that theory. And Fitzpatrick believes there is more to come, telling Lazenby:

    We have added some great people to the team in the last six months and really strengthened some areas. But this year's rocket was designed and built by the team that were around 12 months ago. They did an extraordinary job given the circumstances. We only moved into the new factory in September, imagine what this team can do by next year.

    Following the Bahrain GP, Ryan told the team's official website how "it's rewarding to see the hard work starting to pay off and the team beginning to grow in stature" but insisted Manor are "still only on the first rung on a fairly tall ladder."

    The racing director added: "There’s some way to go and some very obvious potential that we have yet to tap into."

Daniil Kvyat Rediscovered His Confidence in Bahrain GP, Says Red Bull

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    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes Daniil Kvyat's seventh-place finish in the Bahrain Grand Prix has helped the Russian rediscover his confidence after a tough start to the 2016 season.

    Following a poor weekend in Australia, where the 21-year-old failed to start the race for the second successive season after being eliminated in the first segment of qualifying, Kvyat appeared to be enjoying a better weekend in Bahrain.

    After the opening free-practice sessions, the Russian told Red Bull's official website how "a good Friday" was "crucial after what was a pretty disastrous weekend in Melbourne," but Kvyat again disappointed in qualifying by failing to progress from Q2 as team-mate Daniel Ricciardo claimed fifth on the grid.

    According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Kvyat admitted his performance in qualifying was "a bit embarrassing" after such a promising start to the weekend.

    With an adventurous tyre strategy, however, the Russian made strong progress in the latter stages of the race, passing Stoffel Vandoorne, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa to register his first points finish of the year.

    And Horner feels the style of Kvyat's recovery to seventh provided the youngster with a welcome confidence boost, telling Noble: "I think this race will have done his confidence a world of good. He was competitive throughout, so I think pretty good really."

    Per the same source, Horner added he was "90 per cent certain" that Kvyat's struggles in qualifying were due to the condition of his "quite sensitive" Pirelli tyres, claiming his driver "was less happy" in the cooler temperatures at what was the first night race of 2016.

    Meanwhile, Ricciardo—who has made his best-ever start to a season with two consecutive fourth-place finishes—has spoken of his support of the new tyre regulations, telling Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper how the addition of a third compound has been "really exciting" in the first two races.

Toro Rosso's 2015-Spec Ferrari Engine Is the Least Powerful in F1

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    Toro Rosso's 2015-specification power unit is the weakest engine on the 2016 Formula One grid, Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe has confirmed.

    Following Red Bull's engine-related saga in the closing months of last season, Toro Rosso have switched from Renault to year-old Ferrari powertrains in 2016, with the team making a solid start to the campaign with their tried-and-tested unit.

    Max Verstappen qualified a career-best fifth in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with the teenager finishing sixth on a more power-dependent circuit in Bahrain.

    Although Verstappen and team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. qualified 10th and 11th at Sakhir, it had been thought that Toro Rosso's outdated engine was capable of producing more power than the up-to-date units of Renault and Honda, who have both struggled since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced.

    But Lowe has claimed Mercedes' GPS data has shown Toro Rosso's STR11 car has the least powerful engine in F1, telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson:

    You may not know this, but the engine with the least power on the grid is actually the Ferrari in the Toro Rosso. The Renault and the Honda are not so far behind the Ferrari and Mercedes, so there is not a lot of difference now between the power units. ...

    Even the worst engines in Formula One, and people complain like hell about them, are still fantastically efficient by any absolute standard. They just happen to be one or two percent worse than the best engines.

    In the aftermath of qualifying at Sakhir, Verstappen revealed the difference between Toro Rosso's engine and the 2016-spec Ferrari powertrain was noticeable on track.

    He told Edmondson: "If you are behind a factory Ferrari you can see that they have more power, yeah. But we have to be happy with what we have because it's very reliable and for us that is a good start."

    Meanwhile, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has reiterated his desire for F1 to revert to "normally aspirated" engines—which were last seen in F1 in 2013—claiming the V6 turbo units are "too expensive" and remain "the wrong way to go," per Crash.net's Ollie Barstow.

    Per Motorsport.com's Roberto Chinchero, Ferrari have discovered Vettel's engine blowout on the Bahrain GP formation lap was caused by an exhaust valve that failed after a problem with the engine parameters pushed the valve "beyond its normal operating parameters."

FIA Confident 2017 Rule Changes Will Not Lead to Less Overtaking

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    Formula One race director Charlie Whiting has insisted the major regulation changes set to be introduced in 2017 will not lead to less overtaking, despite several paddock figures having aired their concerns.

    In February, the FIA released specific details regarding the rule changes planned for next season, which, through tweaks to chassis design and tyres, are expected to make F1 cars quicker by several seconds per lap and produce more exciting racing.

    However, three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has frequently criticised the proposals, telling Sky Sports' Mike Wise that the plan to increase downforce levels is "the worst idea," claiming the architects of the new rules package "don't really know what they're trying to solve."

    Meanwhile, Adrian Newey—who has produced championship-winning cars for the likes of Williams, McLaren and Red Bull—told the National's Ahmed Rizvi the 2017-specification cars are "actually not that different to what we have now."

    Despite those fears, Whiting is confident that the rules changes will succeed and explained the process that led to the FIA deciding on the 2017 regulations. Per Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, he said:

    We have had countless meetings with technical directors of every team and we have had a range of proposals [ranging] from what appears to be a huge amount of downforce to a very low level of downforce.

    But it's all based on the premise that we have a significant increase in mechanical grip so what we have ended up with is somewhere in the middle.

    It's incorrect to say the anticipated laptime improvement will all come from downforce because it simply shouldn't.

    The idea is half will come from mechanical grip and the other half from aerodynamic downforce.

    One of the things we have been talking all along is the fact we shouldn't make it more difficult to follow another car.

    We've done the best we can, I believe, given we have to take everyone's views into account.

    Per the same source, FIA president Jean Todt confirmed the 2017 regulations will be finalised by the end of April, revealing that a majority vote—rather than a unanimous agreement—is required.

    Meanwhile, Pirelli's Paul Hembery has stressed the Italian manufacturer must have its 2017 testing plans finalised by the end of April, telling Motorsport.com's Roberto Chinchero how the company is reluctant "to put [its] name at risk for the sake of not having the tests nor information necessary to do a good job."


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