Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Red Bull's Canopy Concept, Jenson Button, More
Formula One caught a glimpse of the future during pre-season testing in March, when Ferrari became the first team to trial the "halo" head-protection concept with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Despite the good intentions behind the test, the device received a mixed reaction, with plenty—including a certain three-time world champion—questioning the aesthetic appeal of the halo (or lack of it).
In the meantime, Red Bull have been busy pioneering their own solution to motor racing's biggest problem and could debut their own canopy concept at next weekend's Russian Grand Prix, with the FIA backing the four-time world champions' efforts.
The subject of increased head protection is just one of a number of debates within F1 at the moment as paddock figures have their say on anything and everything from qualifying formats to the major regulation changes planned for the 2017 season.
The Grand Prix Drivers' Association is becoming increasingly vocal in these debates, and Jenson Button—a director of the drivers' union—believes decisions on the future direction of F1 should be left to just one person, with the 2009 world champion explaining why a former team boss of his would be perfect for the role.
With the opening three grands prix of the 2016 season producing compelling racing, it is worth wondering why F1 allows the off-track shenanigans to dominate the headlines on such a regular basis.
And Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes the racing will only get better if the rules are left alone, calling for the 2017 regulations to be abandoned.
Next year will mark a decade since Raikkonen won his only world championship with Ferrari, and despite a mixed start to 2016, the Finn remains convinced his team can win this year's title.
Lewis Hamilton is also confident of hunting down Nico Rosberg in the race for the 2016 crown, and the Mercedes driver has rejected the notion he owes something to F1.
Here's our latest roundup.
Red Bull May Test Alternative Canopy Concept During Russian GP Weekend
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has suggested the team could test their canopy concept at next weekend's Russian Grand Prix.
Following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar racer Justin Wilson in 2015, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association has been pushing for increased head protection in time for the 2017 season, as chairman Alexander Wurz told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson in January.
In pre-season testing, Ferrari's trial of a prototype version of the "halo" concept led to mixed reviews, with three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton referring to it as "the worst looking mod" in F1 history and saying he would not use the device if it were not made mandatory, per Sky Sports' James Galloway.
Red Bull have been leading the development of an alternative, canopy-style device, and Horner has hinted the four-time world champions may conduct a brief test at the Sochi Autodrom, telling Sky Sports' William Esler:
We're going to test the canopy solution over the next week—static testing, so we're going to fire a wheel at in on a plinth to see how that withstands it.
Then if that goes okay, we may put it on one car very briefly in Sochi. We will see how the testing goes over the next week or so.
I think the canopy offers a bit more protection because it does have a windscreen. It's a more elegant solution. We believe there's better visibility and it's a more elegant solution to the brief, rather than the boomerang thing that is the halo.
Red Bull's solution has received the support of F1 race director Charlie Whiting, who said the FIA could implement the canopy concept in time for the 2017 season.
He told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper:
I think it's fair to say that when it was initially presented it was in its infancy.
However Red Bull have done a great job of getting it to the point now where it will be tested this week.
This is something that I don't think we expected to happen. But as it has, we have got to take it seriously. If it performs as well as the Halo in testing there's no reason why we can't present it as a potential solution to the Strategy Group and F1 Commission.
Cooper noted a prototype "will be tested by the FIA on Friday" after Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, the Red Bull drivers, "expressed their support" for the canopy after testing the device in the team's simulator.
He added the canopy "does not have the forward vision issue associated with the halo, and the side pillars at the front are designed to line up with mirror mounting stalks."
Jenson Button Backs Ross Brawn to Become F1's Independent Rulemaker
Jenson Button believes Ross Brawn would be an ideal candidate to establish new rules in F1 as the debate concerning the sport's decision-making process continues.
As a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, Button was among those who signed an open letter recently published by the drivers' unin, which referred to F1's decision-making process as "obsolete and ill-structured."
In March, Williams' Pat Symonds told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how the teams "are involved a little bit too much" when it comes to rule changes, with a widespread conflict of interests preventing "a solid direction" from being established.
Meanwhile, FIA president Jean Todt recently told Autosport's Ian Parkes the governing body itself should have complete control over the direction of F1, but McLaren-Honda driver Button is in favour of an external rulemaker.
After achieving great success alongside Michael Schumacher at Benetton and Ferrari in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Brawn led Button to the world championship in 2009 and has not held a full-time role in F1 since leaving Mercedes at the end of 2013.
The 61-year-old's last involvement in the sport came in late 2014, when he was part of a 10-man panel appointed by the FIA to investigate Jules Bianchi's ultimately fatal accident at Suzuka.
Button feels his former team boss would be the perfect choice to fill an independent position, telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson:
You are never going to get all of the teams to agree on a regulation, never, but the problem is at the moment is that you need every team to agree. At the moment it's very tricky and the FIA said that possibly they should have complete control over the regulations which is maybe the case, maybe.
My team won't like me talking as I'm talking, but sometimes it needs to be someone outside of the sport. As long as they have the right direction and they have an understanding of the sport and help from experts in certain areas of the sport and the car and aerodynamically, and what have you, maybe the decisions have got to be made from someone else who is not involved with the sport.
[...] Ross would be great. I think Ross would be fantastic, I think everyone believes in Ross and what he has achieved. As long as he had interest to do it, but I'm not sure that he would, he's enjoying his fishing I'm sure.
Since publishing its open letter in the aftermath of the season-opening Australia GP, the GPDA has been widely criticised, with former McLaren driver John Watson referring to the document as "a joke," per Sky Sports' William Esler.
However, Button has insisted the drivers' opinions are "valid," telling Edmondson how the drivers "want to help as much as we can to put this sport in a good place so that we love it and the fans love it."
Toto Wolff Calls for Proposed 2017 Rule Changes to Be Abandoned
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, believes the proposed regulation changes planned for next season should be abandoned after a promising start to the 2016 campaign.
In the third year of the V6 turbo regulations, the field is currently closer than at any stage since the end of the V8 era, with an exciting midfield battle developing behind the front-running Mercedes and Ferrari outfits.
Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull team have been restricted to just three wins since the beginning of 2014, started from the front row and led the early stages of last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton setting the fastest-ever lap of the Sakhir circuit at the recent Bahrain GP.
With the current cars producing record lap times and the difference between the fastest and slowest teams decreasing all the while, Wolff has questioned whether the 2017 regulations—which are set to be finalised at the end of April and are intended to produce more exciting racing and even faster cars—are necessary.
According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, he said:
There is nothing to sell on it. There is no selling proposition in those new regulations in my opinion.
We should just leave it alone.
And maybe speaking against ourselves because clearly we don't have the advantage we had last year, but the racing is great and will become even greater if we leave the regulations alone.
Even if it is uncomfortable for the commercial rights holder that we have been running away with lots of races and the two championships, the longer you keep regulations stable the more the performance is going to converge between everybody. And this is exactly what is happening now.
The engines are converging. The teams are converging. The gains we are making are smaller as the curve flattens out, and the others are making bigger steps. So I think we are having an ideal situation with great racing.
Per the same source, Wolff questioned whether F1 is "capable of reacting quick enough" to stop the rule changes and predicted one team—as usual with major regulation changes—is "going to run away with the championship next year" because "everything starts from the beginning."
Along with Mercedes drivers Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Wolff has been a frequent critic of the proposed 2017 rules and recently told the team's official YouTube channel how the regulations will lead to less overtaking due to increased downforce levels.
In a separate Motorsport.com article, meanwhile, Wolff told Noble that F1 is considering limiting drivers to three engines per season from 2018 as part of a cost-cutting exercise, with Mercedes also hoping to improve the sound of the V6 turbo power units.
Paddy Lowe, the team's technical boss, told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson how the Silver Arrows are working on "some ideas" intended to result in "a dramatic increase in noise" following the implementation of an additional wastegate pipe in 2016.
Kimi Raikkonen Insists Ferrari Can Still Win the 2016 Championship
Kimi Raikkonen is adamant Ferrari can still challenge the all-conquering Mercedes outfit for the 2016 title, despite the Prancing Horse's inconsistent start to the campaign.
Having won three grands prix in 2015, Ferrari are hopeful of winning their first championship since 2008 this season, but despite showing strong pace across the opening three race weekends, the team are yet to enjoy a clean weekend.
Raikkonen was forced to retire from the season-opening Australian GP, while team-mate Sebastian Vettel failed to even start in Bahrain, where the 2007 world champion recovered from a lacklustre start to finish second.
Despite Lewis Hamilton starting from the back of the grid, both Ferrari drivers failed to even make the front row in last weekend's Chinese GP before colliding at the first corner, with Vettel and Raikkonen recovering to second and fifth, respectively, at the chequered flag.
With the first month of the season completed, Vettel is already 42 points adrift of Nico Rosberg in the title race after the Mercedes driver's three straight victories, and Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne has upped the pressure by warning the team "need to start winning some races," per Sky Sports' James Galloway.
But Raikkonen believes Ferrari are still capable of beating Mercedes and erasing the gap to Rosberg, telling Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble:
It is only three races old the season. Obviously a lot can happen and a lot will happen for sure.
We just have to make the best points that we can and not have any issues in any race, and try to put ourselves in front of him.
I think speed wise we are not too bad obviously—as in qualifying [in China] we have the speed to be always very close to him without any mistakes.
At least here we seemed to be closer, at least for me. But if you don't put clean races and they are putting them in, that is not the way to beat them.
There will be circuits where we will be stronger than here and sometimes they will probably be stronger, but the main thing is to improve the car and the whole package.
Then we can have strong races and win races and fight with them.
But we need to clean things up. If you have issues it will not help in the championship. [Rosberg] has won three, it is not ideal, ideal for him, not for others, but he deserves it and we just have to do a better job.
In a separate Motorsport.com article, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said Ferrari are running their power unit in a "conservative" mode in order to prevent a repeat of their reliability issues, insisting the Silver Arrows still regard the Italian outfit as "a strong competitor and a threat."
Meanwhile, Marchionne has reiterated his desire to see the Alfa Romeo name return to F1, telling Italian publication Autosprint (h/t Grand Prix Times) how "the option should be considered" and suggesting Alfa could launch a takeover of the current Sauber team.
Lewis Hamilton Feels He Owes Nothing to F1, Unconcerned by Slow Start to 2016
Lewis Hamilton believes he owes nothing to Formula One and said he works harder to promote the sport than "any other driver ever has."
Since arriving on the grid with McLaren nine years ago, Hamilton has established himself as one of the most successful drivers in the history of F1, claiming 51 pole positions, 43 grand prix victories and three world championships.
Only Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, and four-time title winner Alain Prost have won more races than the British driver, who can secure his third successive crown with Mercedes this year.
Although F1 has given him fame, fortune and astronomical success, Hamilton doesn't feel compelled to give anything back to the sport, telling CNN's Tom Sweetman:
I've been here for 10 years—given my blood, sweat and tears for the sport. So, I don't feel like I owe it anything.
I actually probably promote the sport more than any other driver ever has. I'm at more events talking about Formula One more than any driver ever has—probably all the other drivers put together and more.
I don't feel like I have any more of a responsibility. I've got some incredible fans and I give as much time as I can to motivate them and energize those who do follow me. So I don't know what else I have to give.
Hamilton's pursuit of a fourth championship has begun poorly, with the 31-year-old making substandard starts from pole in Australia and Bahrain before enduring a nightmare weekend in China, where he finished seventh after suffering an engine problem in qualifying and a collision with Felipe Nasr on the opening lap.
After claiming his third consecutive win of 2016 in China, Nico Rosberg told Sky Sports' James Galloway how his Mercedes team-mate remains "the benchmark" and will be "pushing like hell" to overturn a 36-point deficit in the drivers' championship.
And while Hamilton has praised Rosberg for his performances in the opening three grands prix, he is looking forward to an even battle between the Mercedes cars.
He told Sweetman: "He's done a great job. I've not been there to really be in the fight with him. He's had pretty much a breeze for the last three races. Good for him. But he should enjoy it whilst it lasts, because you never know how long it's going to last..."
Meanwhile, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has tipped Hamilton to recover from his slow start to win this year's title, referring to the Mercedes driver as "the best thing that happened to Formula 1 in a long time," as reported by F1i.com's Phillip van Osten.