Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Ferrari's Engine, Nico Rosberg Contract, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Ferrari's Engine, Nico Rosberg Contract, More

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    Only three races of the 2016 Formula One season have been completed, but it seems Ferrari are already beginning to panic.

    After witnessing Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen run into each other at the beginning of the recent Chinese Grand Prix, Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne told Sky Sports' James Galloway how the "clock is on" for the team to return to winning ways.

    Despite challenging Mercedes in Australia, Bahrain and China, Ferrari are without a victory since September 2015, and Vettel is already some distance from the summit of the drivers' standings.

    And in response to their slow start, the Prancing Horse are reportedly set to fast-track an engine upgrade to this weekend's Russian GP in a move that could make or break their campaign.

    The challenge facing Vettel and Raikkonen at the Sochi Autodrom, of course, is to end Nico Rosberg's streak of six consecutive victories, which began at last year's Mexican GP.

    Rosberg has already established a 36-point lead over team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has suggested the German is on course to earn a new contract beyond 2016.

    The championship leader has undoubtedly benefited from plenty of luck in the early stages of this season, but one driver who has suffered lots of misfortune is Esteban Gutierrez, who has suffered several reliability niggles upon his return to the grid with Haas.

    While the results have been hard to come by thus far, the Mexican has explained why he is now a better driver after spending 2015 on the sidelines.

    Gutierrez's car problems have frustrated Haas team principal Guenther Steiner, who believes new teams should be allowed to conduct more testing than their more established competitors.

    Closing this week's roundup is Pat Symonds, who has explained why Williams may gain an advantage by helping Pirelli's preparations for the 2017 regulation changes.

Ferrari to Fast-Track Engine Upgrade at Russian GP?

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    Ferrari are set to introduce an upgraded power unit at this weekend's Russian Grand Prix in an effort to eradicate the gap to the all-conquering Mercedes team.

    Although the Italian outfit have shown good pace over the opening three grands prix of the season, Ferrari remain without a race victory since last September's Singapore GP, with Sebastian Vettel already 42 points adrift of championship leader Nico Rosberg.

    Ferrari were forced to wait until the recent Chinese GP to register their first two-car finish of 2016, and reliability has been a major concern for the team in the opening weeks of the season after Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen retired with engine issues in Bahrain and Australia, respectively.

    According to Motorsport.com's Roberto Chinchero, "sources have revealed" Ferrari are prepared to spend three of their remaining nine engine-development tokens on "combustion updates" in time for the Russian GP, which despite leaving them with little scope for improvement later in the season may allow them to fight evenly with Mercedes.

    The same source noted the team have discovered "horsepower improvements" on the dynamometer, with both Raikkonen and Vettel—who is already set to switch to his third of five allotted engines for 2016—expected to receive the new-specification engine at the Sochi Autodrom should Ferrari "go ahead" with their plan.

    Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne suggested the team were working on substantial improvements to their SF16-H car over the Chinese GP weekend, telling Chinchero:

    Things are going in the right direction. We have set ourselves important objectives, but we must learn to know a completely new car, so mistakes are understandable.

    Despite everything we could have won in Australia, and in general I am happy with the progress.

    But we have much work ahead of us, and we will bring forward an important development. Also, we know that Mercedes will not stop developing, so we have no illusions that they will be easily beaten.

    If Ferrari do introduce their upgraded powertrain in Russia, it will mark a significant step up in their efforts to catch Mercedes after the team waited until the seventh round of the 2015 campaign before spending the first batch of their in-season development tokens.

Mercedes' Toto Wolff Hints at New Contract for Nico Rosberg

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    Nico Rosberg's strong form in the opening weeks of the 2016 season is likely to see the German rewarded with a contract extension at Mercedes, with team boss Toto Wolff hinting a new deal is on the horizon.

    After winning the final three races of 2015, Rosberg has made a near-perfect start to this year, winning the first three races in Australia, Bahrain and China and establishing a 36-point advantage over team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' standings.

    At the end of last season, Wolff told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how the team were prepared to change their driver lineup for the 2017 season if Hamilton and Rosberg were unable to re-establish a healthy working relationship.

    With Rosberg's current deal set to expire at the end of 2016, the German was widely regarded as the driver most at risk of losing his seat, and Wolff implied the 30-year-old would be made to wait before earning a contract extension, per Autosport's Ian Parkes.

    But following his 17th career victory in China, Wolff has revealed Rosberg—who joined Mercedes from Williams at the beginning of 2010—is edging ever closer to a new contract.

    Per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson, he said:

    Maybe we should get in a hurry now with that kind of performance! A contract is always between two parties and it needs to pan out in the right way. It's all under control.

    He's been with the family for such a long time. He's a very important pillar of the team and he performs well, so in my opinion there is nothing that speaks against him joining up again, but then obviously it comes down to the detail. Obviously that needs to be discussed at a certain stage, but I guess we feel—both sides feel—comfortable about it.

    Should Rosberg leave Mercedes, Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen is thought to be just one of the drivers in contention to partner Hamilton for 2017.

    However, Dr. Helmut Marko has hinted the 18-year-old is on course for a promotion to Red Bull Racing next season, telling German publication Auto Bild (h/t Planet F1): "Very good drivers have always spent a maximum of two years with Toro Rosso and then moved up. And Verstappen is extremely good."

    Per the same source, Marko reiterated his confidence Red Bull can prevent Daniel Ricciardo from joining Ferrari, insisting the Australian has a "watertight contract" due to run until the end of 2017.

Haas' Esteban Gutierrez Spent 2015 Experimenting with Different Driving Styles

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    Esteban Gutierrez has revealed he spent last year experimenting with different driving styles in preparation for his return to the F1 grid with the brand-new Haas team in 2016.

    After claiming just one points finish in two full seasons with Sauber, the Mexican joined Ferrari in a reserve-driver role for 2015, when he attended several grands prix and worked alongside world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

    Ferrari's technical partnership with Haas allowed Gutierrez to join the American outfit for this season, but the 24-year-old has suffered plenty of bad luck in the first three races of 2016.

    After his VF-16 suffered a loss of power in the opening stages of the Australian GP, Gutierrez was hit by Fernando Alonso—sparking the two-time world champion's frightening crash—before retiring with a brake failure in Bahrain.

    Gutierrez suffered more brake issues in China but managed to register his first finish of the season with 14th place.

    Although he has not yet scored a point, the Mexican believes he has returned to F1 as a more versatile, rounded driver, telling F1i.com's Chris Medland:

    The most important thing is that last year I was able to experiment a lot with my driving style in the simulator, and that gave me a pretty good knowledge of where I wanted to be and also develop different driving styles in order to adapt to different circumstances.

    I take every opportunity I can to be in the simulator. It helps in the development of the car’s setup, but also for myself. It gives me a wider selection of driving styles for me to adapt to any circumstance.

    You can influence the car with your driving style. You just have to adapt. If I have an understeering car, I do a certain driving style and the other way around if I have an oversteering car. We have a lot of tools too, as you can see on the steering wheel with all the buttons we have. We have some tools there at our fingertips where can try and fix it.

    Gutierrez is a product of Rob Wilson, the esteemed driver coach, who has aided the development of the likes of Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard, Valtteri Bottas and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Haas' Guenther Steiner Wants New Teams to Have More Testing

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    Haas team principal Guenther Steiner feels Formula One should allow new teams to conduct more testing than their established rivals, saying it would help newcomers avoid teething troubles.

    Aided by their close technical partnership with Ferrari, Haas have made an instant impact in their debut season, with Romain Grosjean securing two top-six finishes in the Australian and Bahrain grands prix.

    However, the team were unable to maintain that form in the recent Chinese GP, where Grosjean limped to 19th place and team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, who has suffered technical problems at each race this far, struggled to 14th.

    After the race, Steiner told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper how Grosjean's issues in China were partially caused by the team's lack of understanding of their revised front wing, which was only briefly evaluated in practice but had to be used following the Frenchman's first-lap collision with Marcus Ericsson.

    And the 51-year-old believes increased testing opportunities would prevent new teams from encountering similar issues to those that hindered Haas in Shanghai.

    According to Jonathan Noble of Motorsport.com, he said:

    As a new team, I would want an opportunity to test a few more days than the other teams.

    Give the new teams a freebie with three or more days of testing to get to know the car better, to get the team working better together so you can avoid the small mistakes you make early on that sometimes have big consequences.

    It’s wishful thinking, but knowing what I know now would have helped avoid the problems we had in China.

    It’s more about the team working together and getting to know the car better than trying to invent something new.

    If you have one new piece of equipment, you have very little time during the weekend to get the team together and know what to look for and really gel together.

    It’s not about going faster. It’s about not making mistakes so you don’t go slower. In general, it would be nice to have a few more days of testing.

    Per the same source, Steiner confirmed Haas will take no part in Pirelli's test sessions ahead of the 2017 regulation changes, with current-specification cars prevented from participating.

    Meanwhile, team owner Gene Haas has admitted he would not stand in Grosjean's way if the Frenchman were to be approached by a front-running outfit, per Crash.net's Ollie Barstow.

Williams Hope to Benefit from 2017 Tyre Testing

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    Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds believes the team's preparations for the 2017 regulation changes could be boosted by their participation in the Pirelli tyre tests.

    As reported by Sky Sports' William Esler, the World Motorsport Council recently granted permission for Pirelli to conduct 25 "car days" of testing ahead of next season, when wider tyres are set to be introduced along with major changes to the bodywork of the cars.

    Per Autosport's Lawrence Barretto, Williams are among the teams who have already "indicated an interest" in supplying a modified 2015 car to "allow Pirelli to do conceptual work on current-sized tyres with a view to aiding development work for the new size and specification of tyre planned for 2017."

    Symonds is one of the brains behind the 2017 rules package, and in January, he urged F1 to delay the introduction of the new regulations, suggesting the sport was "trying to move a little bit too quickly without establishing the basic principles to work from," per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper.

    But the former Benetton and Renault technical director feels those who take part in the tests could gain an advantage for 2017, telling Barretto:

    Naturally they bring a load of tyres and they say, "Which ones do you like?" and you say, "those ones," and that's where it moves on.

    It's not exactly scientific, but the fact is you've said you like those ones and someone else might have gone, "I like those [different] ones," so things tend to go in your direction. ...

    It's quite an undertaking. It could pay off.

    It's not all wasted work in terms of the front end of the car.

    A lot of good layout that we're doing will...I won't say that we're making parts that will go onto next year's car but we're just learning how to lay out that sort of stuff.

    The rear's actually quite easy to do and the aerodynamics, although we need to perhaps talk to [FIA race director] Charlie [Whiting] because he's been a bit prescriptive on how we do things, we were planning to do some stuff like that.

    Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble the teams will be blind when it comes to making their tyre choices for the opening sequence of races in 2017, with the Italian manufacturer requiring a 14-week advance notice period.

    With the 2017-spec cars not set to appear until February, and the teams making their tyre decisions months in advance, Hembery has predicted there will be "some fascinating situations going forward next year."

    In a separate Motorsport.com article, meanwhile, Noble suggested the teams are expected to vote to raise the current fuel limit of 100 kilograms to ensure drivers can race "flat out" in 2017.