Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and More

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    Does Fernando Alonso truly believe he can win the Formula One title in 2017? Or does he just keep saying it to keep McLaren-Honda motivated during one of the most difficult periods in their history?

    With the Spaniard restricted to just four top-10 finishes over the last 18 months, the chances of McLaren making enough progress to even challenge for the world championship this time next year seem remote.

    But when you consider that F1 will almost start from scratch in 2017, with new bodywork regulations to be introduced alongside wider tyres, why can't they be the ones to stop Mercedes' dominance?

    Alonso has already indicated that next year could be his last in F1 if the season doesn't go to plan, with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen also expected to head for the sport's exit door.

    The 2007 world champion was considered fortunate to keep his place alongside four-time title winner Sebastian Vettel for next year, but manager Steve Robertson has suggested Raikkonen is already planning to remain in F1 until the end of 2018.

    As well as advising Raikkonen, Robertson has played an instrumental role in the career of Felipe Nasr, who had recently hinted he was prepared to leave Sauber at the end of 2016.

    But with the Swiss outfit's future looking much clearer following a change of ownership, the Brazilian has admitted he would be willing to stay with Sauber as long as the team have a long-term plan.

    Another driver likely to be staying put for 2017 is Pascal Wehrlein, who scored Manor's first point since Monaco 2014 in the recent Austrian GP.

    The Mercedes protege is clearly itching to earn an opportunity with the two-time world champions, but Wehrlein is committed to his current team, and he believes they could make huge progress under the new regulations.

    Closing our latest roundup is Toto Wolff, who has admitted the points Mercedes have lost in the first half of the season have left the team with a difficult decision when it comes to dedicating their entire focus to their 2017 car.

    Might Mercedes' dithering offer McLaren and Ferrari, not to mention Red Bull and Renault, the opportunity they require to bring an end to the Silver Arrows' dominance next year?

Fernando Alonso Adamant McLaren-Honda Can Win 2017 World Championship

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    Alonso has reiterated his belief that McLaren-Honda can win the world championship in 2017 despite their current lack of competitiveness.

    McLaren have failed to win a title of any kind since 2008 and are without a grand prix victory since November 2012, with the team scoring points in just 10 of the 29 races since the beginning of 2015.

    Despite their barren spell, McLaren have frequently argued they will be the team to end Mercedes' dominance of the sport, with chairman Ron Dennis suggesting to the BBC (h/t Sky Sports) that the major regulation changes should allow them to return to winning ways in 2017. Alonso also has a firm belief in the team, per Pete Gill of Sky Sports. 

    With his current contract due to expire at the end of next season, Alonso has already identified 2017 as a pivotal year in his career, telling ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson and Kate Walker how his enjoyment of the new rules will determine his future.

    And the 34-year-old has insisted he can end his wait for a third world title in 2017, 11 years after securing his second title with Renault. He told Italian publication Autosprint (h/t Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble):

    Next year we want to win the world championship. It may sound strange being where we are, but the goal is that.

    I would like to be ahead more often, but now the situation is what it is. I take it as a maturing project—waiting for better times.

    Last year was very difficult, it was painful—because we had problems at tracks that probably could have been solved with testing. This year we see that things have improved.

    We may be the team that has improved the most in the last 12 months. The problem is that the other manufacturers have been working for 36 months and is not easy to regain the lead in half the time.

    We have achieved reliability, but we still lack performance. That will come next year. And I'm sure the time will come when we will be best of all.

    Alonso told the same source how Honda motorsport boss Yusuke Hasegawa has played a large role in McLaren making quick progress in 2016, revealing the new chief "has a different philosophy" and "is more open to new ideas" than predecessor Yasuhisa Arai.

    The Spaniard also spoke of his excitement about the impending arrival of new chief executive officer Jost Capito, who led Volkswagen to three consecutive World Rally Championship triumphs with Sebastien Ogier between 2013 and 2015.

    He added that Capito "will have to get involved in" eradicating McLaren's strategic mistakes in qualifying and racing conditions "using the inspiration from his previous experiences in other categories."

Kimi Raikkonen May Stay with Ferrari in 2018 After Agreeing Contract Extension

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    Robertson has hinted Raikkonen would be willing to remain with Ferrari until the end of 2018 after recently agreeing a contract extension.

    After excelling upon his return to F1 with Lotus, where he won two races, Raikkonen has generally struggled since rejoining Ferrari in 2014, acting as a No. 2 driver to first Alonso and then Vettel.

    According to the Times' Kevin Eason, Ferrari attempted to drop Raikkonen for 2017, but the team's plan to replace the 36-year-old with a younger driver was "vetoed" by Vettel, who is determined to preserve his status as the team's lead driver in the style of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.

    Raikkonen's signing of a new one-year deal was formally announced on the eve of the British GP, and Roberston has not ruled out another season in 2018, suggesting the Finn's motivation is greater than ever.

    He told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper:

    First of all it comes down to Kimi. Would he want to go on another year? My honest opinion is that at this moment in time, as motivated as he is right now, I would say yes. Then it comes down to what the team decides.

    Someone like Kimi is in it for one reason: he loves motor racing, he loves F1. He doesn't need to do it for any reason other than he loves it.

    He's fully motivated. He's made that very clear to the public, and for me, you can see it. I've known the guy for so many years, and for me he seems as motivated as when he was a young kid coming along.

    I'm pleased for Kimi that it's a done deal now, he knows where he's going to be next year. It's pressure off for him, and he can have a much nicer summer break now, knowing that he's got what he wanted.

    He's happier with the car. Kimi is very particular with the front end, and this car is more to his liking than the previous cars.

    If you look at where he is this year compared to last year, points-wise, it's very clear. At the end of the day the team have all the information at hand, more than anybody else. What does he bring to the team? Is there anybody better out there that's available?

    Obviously they felt that wasn't the case. Only they know what he brings to the team, and at the end of the day, they made the choice.

    The one thing about Kimi is that he's a non-confrontational guy. Sometimes if there's no harmony in the team it can be disruptive in the long term.

    Kimi doesn't throw his toys out of the pram, he keeps it all internal, he brings home the points, and the team is headed in the right direction.

    With the team yet to win a race in 2016, Ferrari are set for another staff overhaul ahead of 2017, but former technical director Ross Brawn will not be rejoining the Prancing Horse on a consultancy basis after making it clear he has no intention of returning to F1, as reported by Motorsport.com's Franco Nugnes.

    One potential departure could be current technical boss James Allison, who is reportedly "considering a return" to the Enstone, England-based Renault team following the death of his wife in March, according to Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Planet F1).

    Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene dismissed speculation over Allison's future as "absolutely not true" and disrespectful when similar reports emerged in June, per ESPN F1's Edmondson.

    Should Allison rejoin Renault, Ferrari will either promote current chief designer Simone Resta or sign Toro Rosso's James Key to the role of technical director, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Planet F1).

Felipe Nasr to Seek Assurances Before Committing Future to Sauber

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    Nasr has revealed he will seek assurances from Sauber before deciding on his plans for the 2017 F1 season.

    After finishing eighth in the constructors' standings in 2015, when Nasr secured two top-six finishes in Australia and Russia, Sauber are bottom of the 2016 championship having failed to score a point in the opening 10 races.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), the Swiss outfit have suffered severe financial issues and were late paying their staff salaries for four months between February and May, with a number of high-profile employees leaving the team.

    Ahead of this weekend's Hungarian GP, however, Sauber confirmed the team have been purchased by Longbow Finance S.A., securing their future.

    In June, Nasr told Brazilian television station Globo (h/t Crash.net) how he has several "options" for 2017, but he has hinted he would be willing to remain with Sauber if the team can prove the future is bright. He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    I need to see what I want as well, if I want to stay, and if I can clearly see the team has something to believe in.

    I do have faith in the team. I've believed in them, even from last year, when I had a really good start to the season, my first season in Formula 1.

    I know the difficult times they have had, which is all related to one thing, which is the development, the financial situation. We have struggled.

    From my side, I still have faith here, if we get the things together.

    If so, then I'm sure it can be a place I can perform well.

    Having struggled with the handling of the C35 car in the early months of the season, Nasr's results have improved in recent times, with the Brazilian equalling Sauber's best finish of the season with 12th place in Azerbaijan.

    The 23-year-old has declared himself happy with his form of late, and he told the same source:

    I have been showing the little things I can do.

    In the British Grand Prix I set the fastest lap of the race at one point, and I was fighting with a Williams.

    In the previous race in Austria I was in the top 10, and in Baku as well I was fighting with a McLaren.

    So all I can do as a driver is show [what I can do]. That's what I can focus on.

    With Sauber set to race with an updated rear wing at this weekend's Hungarian GP, and with a revised front wing to be introduced in the coming weeks, Nasr added the team are not "too far from scoring a point."

    Meanwhile, team-mate Marcus Ericsson has told Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Oleg Karpov it wouldn't be "a bad thing" if he stayed at Sauber for a third season in 2017, admitting he is "really happy" with the team.

Pascal Wehrlein 'Happy' to Remain with Manor for 2017

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    Wehrlein has admitted he would be willing to remain with Manor for 2017, suggesting the backmarkers will make another considerable step forward next season.

    Competing with the standard-setting Mercedes power units and Williams-built components, Manor are enjoying their best season in performance terms in 2016, with Wehrlein scoring the team's first point in almost two years in the recent Austrian GP.

    As a member of the Silver Arrows' unofficial junior scheme, the 21-year-old is regarded as a future Mercedes driver, and Wehrlein has previously insisted he would be ready to join the two-time world champions, per the official F1 website.

    With championship leader Nico Rosberg increasingly likely to sign a contract extension, however, a place at Mercedes is set to be out of Wehrlein's reach in 2017.

    But the German has insisted he would be content to continue his apprenticeship with Manor, who he believes can perform to an even higher standard under the new regulations.

    According to Crash.net, he said:

    Of course I would like to go to Mercedes straight away and win races and hopefully championships but if there's no opportunity I'm also happy to get another year with Manor. I really like the team, I like how the team is working and I think the team is the same with me. I think they enjoy working with me.

    I think next year is a big chance for every team to improve their position. With new regulations it's always a bit of an unknown where to go and what the direction is. The first year of regulation changes you never know who is going to be competitive and who is not.

    I think Manor could be a very competitive team next year. Even some people joined very late last year or the beginning of this year and the car was designed for this year already so I think next year's car we have even more input coming from more people.

    Earlier this season, racing director Dave Ryan told Reuters' Alan Baldwin how Manor may require "four or five years" to achieve their ambition of becoming "a really solid midfield team."

Mercedes Admit Lost Points Have Delayed 2017 Car Development

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    Wolff has revealed the points Mercedes have spurned in the first half of the season have affected the development of their 2017 car, admitting they are facing a "tricky call" to end development of this year's W07.

    The Silver Arrows have remained as dominant as ever in 2016, with Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton winning all but one of the opening 10 races, giving Mercedes a 131-point advantage over second-placed Ferrari in the constructors' standings.

    However, the team have been restricted to just two one-two finishes thus far, with technical problems, poor starts and on-track collisions between Hamilton and Rosberg preventing Mercedes from enjoying an even larger gap.

    With major regulation changes to be introduced in 2017, when alterations to bodywork and the introduction of wider tyres will see the cars lap several seconds per lap faster, teams are facing a challenge to work on an all-new design without harming their prospects for this season.

    Although Mercedes are almost certain to secure a third consecutive world championship in 2016, Wolff believes those extra points would have made the team's decision to end development of the W07 much simpler.

    Per F1i.com's Julien Billiotte, he said:

    I wish we would have had those extra 80 points which we lost and give to the competition. But then, it would be a bit boring I guess.

    We evaluate every week how much resource in every department we want to switch to 2017 and there’s already a lot going into 2017. It’s a tricky call.

    Some teams will have stopped 2016 development very early—some of them as early as January-February maybe, once the current cars hit the circuit. That is an advantage, as the learning curve is very steep at the beginning.

    If you are like two, three, four weeks behind it can make quite a difference in the end. This is a key question we ask ourselves every week.

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Arrivabene recently revealed Ferrari have already started development of their 2018 car, with the Prancing Horse dedicating "a little team" to their 2017 program.

    Meanwhile, Renault have become the latest outfit to suspend the development of their 2016 car, as reported by Motorsport.com's Noble.