Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Jenson Button to Williams, McLaren-Honda, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Jenson Button to Williams, McLaren-Honda, More

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    With Formula One's summer break just beginning, decision time is fast approaching for Jenson Button.

    Unlike his previous retirement sagas in 2014 and '15, when his attitude was "McLaren-Honda or nothing," the 2009 world champion has opportunities to remain in F1 next season, with Williams openly admitting their interest in Button.

    But Williams have warned Button to jump before he is pushed by McLaren, hinting the team will not wait for the 36-year-old when other drivers, including Sergio Perez, are available.

    At the halfway stage of 2016, most teams are already beginning to turn their attention to next season's major regulation changes, which are expected to make F1 faster and more appealing to drivers and spectators alike.

    With the 2017 cars set to be different to the current models, several teams have already switched their focus to next year, but McLaren have revealed they will continue to develop the MP4-31 deep into the current campaign.

    It is increasingly unlikely that Daniil Kvyat will be part of the new-look F1 in 2017, with the Russian's place at Toro Rosso under much scrutiny.

    Kvyat has admitted he has stopped enjoying his racing since his demotion from Red Bull in May, explaining why the summer break has come at the perfect time as he seeks to keep his career alive.

    Meanwhile, Mercedes have admitted they remain hopeful of a titanic scrap with Ferrari in the near future, after the Prancing Horse failed to live up to expectations in the first half of 2016.

    With reaction to the death of Chris Amon, perhaps the greatest driver never to win a world championship race, here's our latest roundup.

Williams Will Not Wait for Jenson Button When Deciding 2017 Driver Lineup

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    Williams have warned they will not wait for Button when deciding their 2017 driver lineup, with the team also admitting they are interested in signing Perez.

    With Felipe Massa likely to be released at the end of 2016, Williams are on the hunt for a new team-mate for Valtteri Bottas, with a number of drivers—including current development driver Lance Stroll and Sauber's Felipe Nasr—in contention to partner the Finn, per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    Having held "preliminary discussions" with Williams, Button is thought to be the leading candidate to replace Massa, but the 2009 world champion's future with McLaren-Honda is yet to be resolved, with chairman Ron Dennis telling Sky Sports the team will not decide their lineup until September at the earliest.

    Deputy team principal Claire Williams has insisted her team are determined to lead the way in the driver market and will not delay their decision for Button, who made his F1 debut with the team in 2000.

    She told the Press Association (h/t Motorsport.com's Noble):

    We will own our driver line-up decision, and I am not sat here waiting for [McLaren chairman] Ron Dennis to make his decision or for Jenson to make his decision.

    It it is not about what other people are doing. I am not going to be waiting around because that is just not the right mentality for a team like ours to have.

    It would be a great story, but he has to make the right choice for him, and we have to make the right choice for the team.

    When I talk about the criteria that we are looking at, it is the talent in the cockpit, the intelligence to feed back to the engineers, and for us, as an independent team, the commercial factors are going to play a part in the decision-making process too.

    You can't have an unknown driver in your car. It is just not going to work.

    Per the same source, Williams also admitted the interest in Perez, who has recorded three podium finishes for main rivals Force India over the last 12 months:

    Sergio has done a great job this year, he is an intelligent driver, and of course he is going to be someone we are looking at.

    I have only met him briefly on the odd occasion. He is very charming. He is very eloquent, so commercially he would be strong for any team.

    Of course he is going to be someone you'd consider if he is available.

    As reported by Autosport's Ian Parkes, the contract Perez signed to remain with Force India for 2017 contains an "escape clause," with the Mexican's sponsors set to decide where he will drive next season.

    Williams have "had discussions" with Perez's sponsors, while Renault "are hoping" to complete a deal to sign the 26-year-old "in the coming weeks" after Bob Fernley admitted Force India "can't influence the commercial side."

McLaren-Honda to Persevere with 2016 Car Development Despite 2017 Demands

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    McLaren-Honda have vowed to continue the development of their 2016 car despite the challenges of preparing for next season's major rule changes.

    After the opening 12 races of 2016, McLaren sit seventh in the constructors' standings, three points adrift of Toro Rosso and 39 points behind Force India, with fourth-placed Williams a further 15 points ahead.

    With wider tyres set to be introduced alongside revised bodywork regulations, which are set to see cars lap several seconds per lap faster than the current models, most teams have already stopped bringing upgrades to their 2016 cars.

    In June, Fernando Alonso urged McLaren to "keep improving" their MP4-31 car, suggesting the team "need to combine" their 2016 and '17 programs as they seek to end their four-year wait for a race victory, per Autosport's Parkes.

    And racing director Eric Boullier has revealed the team will continue to develop the MP4-31 after the summer break, hinting the improvements to come could be relevant to their 2017 car.

    Per Motorsport.com's Noble, he said: "There will still be some car developments after the shutdown. Every development we are doing is obviously applicable to next year's car, so we focus on this and on next year's car."

    Noble added Honda is "likely" to introduce an upgrade in time for the upcoming Belgian GP, with motorsport boss Yusuke Hasegawa stating: "We will not give up with this year. But we have to start work on 2017, so when we have to change our resource to 2017 is a very difficult decision."

    Following last weekend's German GP, Nico Hulkenberg predicted McLaren could yet join Force India and Williams in the fight for fourth place, explaining the MP4-31 looked "pretty good" in the hands of Button, per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper.

    After the Hungarian GP, meanwhile, Carlos Sainz Jr. described McLaren's development rate as "a bit worrying," suggesting they had overtaken Toro Rosso in the competitive order despite the Red Bull B-team's points advantage, per Cooper.

Daniil Kvyat Stopped 'Enjoying' F1 After Red Bull Demotion

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    Kvyat has admitted he has fallen out of love with F1 since his demotion from the Red Bull senior team, suggesting the summer break has come at the right time for him.

    After an inconsistent debut season with Red Bull in 2015, the Russian made a scruffy start to 2016 before securing the second podium finish of his career in April's Chinese GP.

    However, a first-lap meltdown at the following race at the Sochi Autodrom, where he hit Sebastian Vettel twice in the space of two corners, saw Kvyat swap seats with Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen.

    In the eight races since the seat swap, Kvyat—the first driver to be sent back to Toro Rosso from Red Bull—has scored just two points, while Verstappen has secured four podium finishes, including a maiden victory in the Spanish GP.

    Kvyat's season plunged to a new low at last weekend's German GP, where he was eliminated from the first segment of qualifying before finishing a lowly 15th.

    While the 22-year-old is reluctant to blame Red Bull for his fall from grace, he has revealed he is in need of a temporary break from F1.

    Per Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy and Jamie Klein, he explained:

    I can't blame them for this of course, they made me a strong driver.

    Now I'm not so strong because of what happened a few months ago, but it's not an excuse, not an explanation.

    These things, in the end, make you stronger again, but, of course, the whole situation made me reflect a bit on things, and it's not easy.

    It made me stop enjoying it for a while, but now I need to get this enjoyment back and love what I do again.

    [...]

    I really need [the summer break], I think me more than anyone else. I've been really draining myself, asking too much of myself, things that were not possible in the car and in the circumstances, especially when I just came to the team.

    It's easy to drain yourself, that's what I feel like I did.

    Many people who know me saw I was not quite myself for the last few weeks. I don't need anyone to be sorry for me, but everyone has these points in their life.

    [Saturday] was a low point, but [on Sunday] I feel like I made not one, but a few steps ahead so I think it's going to be much better from now on.

    I believe we should be on a good path now. I've kind of calmed down.

    As reported by F1i.com's Phillip van Osten in the buildup to the Hockenheim event, Russian news agency Izvestia suggested Kvyat will be released by Toro Rosso at the end of 2016 in light of his poor performances alongside Sainz.

    In response to the report, Kvyat said, per the Press Association (h/t BT Sport): "First of all, Russian media has no f--king clue about anything. These are rumours. I am not in the mood to waste my f--king time for bulls--t."

Mercedes Remain Hopeful of 'Great' Battle with Ferrari

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    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is disappointed Ferrari have been unable to provide a serious threat to his team in 2016 but has backed the Prancing Horse to bounce back next season.

    After winning three grands prix with Vettel in 2015, Ferrari were expected to fight Mercedes for the world championship this year but remain without a victory after the opening 12 races and sit third in the constructors' standings.

    With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg winning all but one race thus far, the drivers' title fight is already a two-horse race between the Mercedes pair.

    Despite his team's dominant position, Wolff is hopeful Ferrari—whose team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, recently told Motorsport.com's Noble how the team have added no downforce to their current car since May—will recover to produce a much sterner challenge in 2017.

    According to Autosport's Parkes, he explained:

    Formula 1 lives because of the great battles between drivers and teams.

    Ferrari is a great brand with capable people, and it would have been good fun to fight it out on track.

    For whatever reason, in the most recent races they haven't been able to perform to their levels—to the levels they expect to perform and we expect them to perform.

    For me the battle with Ferrari would be great for Formula 1, and even if this sounds a little absurd, I was very much looking forward to it.

    I hope they find their strengths again and we fight it out on track.

    I don't think you can write Ferrari off.

    They have clearly had a tough time recently, and I think they switched off very early for 2017.

    Never underestimate a team with so much resources and so much passion. That would be my view.

    Per the same source, Wolff added Mercedes are not frightened by Red Bull's current form—they have secured podium finishes in the last four races—but predicted the four-time world champions will be "back in full form" when the major regulation changes are introduced in 2017.

    Ferrari suffered another blow on the eve of the German GP, when the departure of technical director James Allison was announced.

    Instead of signing a direct replacement for Allison, Arrivabene has hinted Ferrari will implement a McLaren-style philosophy, whereby the car will be produced by a range of "working groups" rather than an individual, per Motorsport.com's Noble and Franco Nugnes.

Ron Dennis Leads Tributes to Former F1 Driver Chris Amon

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    Dennis has led the tributes to Amon following the New Zealander's death at the age of 73.

    Widely regarded as one of the finest drivers never to win a world championship race, Amon made a total of 96 grand prix starts for the likes of Cooper, Ferrari, BRM and Tyrrell between 1963 and 1976.

    Despite claiming as many as 11 podium finishes, he never finished higher than second—a result he secured on three occasions—and his greatest successes came in sportscar racing.

    Driving a Ford GT40, Amon won the Le Mans 24 Hours alongside Bruce McLaren in 1966 before winning the 24 Hours of Daytona with Lorenzo Bandini behind the wheel of a Ferrari 330 P3/4 the following year.

    In a statement released on McLaren's official website on Wednesday, Dennis said:

    It was with profound sadness that I heard the news this morning that Chris Amon had passed away.

    Chris started 96 Grands Prix but won not one of them—and it is safe to say that he was the greatest racing driver never to have won a race at the very highest level. He nearly won a fair few, but always it seemed that his luck would run out before he saw the chequered flag.

    However, he won at Le Mans, in a mighty 7.0-litre Ford, exactly 50 years ago, his co-driver his friend and fellow Kiwi, Bruce McLaren, whose name still graces the team to which I have devoted my working life. 

    I have not met Chris for many years, but, even so, I have extremely fond memories of him, and indeed I would describe him as one of the most likeable men I have met in my long racing career.

    For all those reasons I want to take this opportunity to extend the heartfelt sympathies of all 3,300 of us at McLaren to the family and friends of a great New Zealander, a true gentleman, and one of the fastest racing drivers there ever was: the one and only Christopher Arthur Amon.

    May he rest in peace.

    Via his personal Twitter account, 1978 world champion Mario Andretti wrote: "Saddened by the passing of my friend and past team-mate Chris Amon. Truly one of the good guys admired and respected by all." 

    Former grand prix driver Martin Brundle wrote on his personal Twitter account: "Very sad to hear that the great Chris Amon has died. Met him a few years ago in NZ, what a lovely man. Approachable, humble, a class act."

    Veteran F1 reporter Maurice Hamilton wrote on Twitter: "So sorry to hear Chris Amon has died. One of the most naturally gifted drivers and a genuinely nice guy. Travesty he never won a GP. RIP."

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