Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, More

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    Ever since he returned to Ferrari at the beginning of 2014, Kimi Raikkonen has often looked like a driver merely delaying his retirement from Formula One.

    The 2007 world champion was annihilated by Fernando Alonso that season and was powerless to prevent Sebastian Vettel making the team his own upon his arrival from Red Bull in 2015.

    Despite a series of strong results at the beginning of this year, that theme has continued for much of 2016. However, Raikkonen appears to be fighting back.

    Following his signing of a contract extension in July, he is beginning to look like the Raikkonen of old—even outpacing Vettel on occasion—and the Finn has revealed the reasons behind his recent revival.

    Another driver who knows how it feels to endure a difficult time and come through the other side is Sergio Perez, who has successfully repaired his reputation since his disastrous season with McLaren in 2013.

    With four podium finishes in less than three seasons, the Mexican is by far the most successful driver in Force India's eight-year history.

    And as the third anniversary of the lowest point of his career approaches, Perez has openly described the emotions of his McLaren nightmare with a certain honesty and openness we rarely see from an active F1 driver.

    Perez's rise to prominence saw him linked with a move to Williams over the summer break, but it seems the British team have identified a replacement for the retiring Felipe Massa, with teenage development driver Lance Stroll set to be confirmed in due course.

    Stroll's promotion to a race seat would be bad news for Sauber driver Felipe Nasr, who has been strongly linked with a return to the team where he held a reserve role in 2014.

    Nasr has admitted he would be open to returning to Williams, with a decision on his 2017 plans set to be made before the end of September.

    The Brazilian may yet secure a switch to Renault for next season, but it appears only one seat is available after the team dropped the biggest hint yet that Esteban Ocon will graduate from Manor.

    Here's our latest roundup.

Kimi Raikkonen Reveals Reasons Behind Recent Resurgence

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    Raikkonen has declared himself satisfied with his recent upturn in form, explaining how a range of minor improvements have contributed to a significant leap in performance.

    The 2007 world champion has generally struggled since returning to Ferrari almost three years ago and endured the worst season of his career in 2014, when he failed to appear on the podium and finished a lowly 12th in the drivers' standings.

    Raikkonen's performances improved in 2015, but the Finn was restricted to just three podium finishes across the campaign while team-mate Vettel secured three grand prix victories.

    However, the 36-year-old began 2016 with three podiums in the opening five races and, following a midseason lull, he has frequently challenged Vettel since his contract extension was announced on the eve of July's British GP, outqualifying the four-time world champion in three of the last five events.

    Although he remains without a top-three finish since the Austrian GP, Raikkonen is happy with his recent form, suggesting he and Ferrari have learned their lessons from 2014 and 2015.

    Per ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson, he said:

    It's a lot of small things. The car has to be good for making good lap times, I work with a great group of people but there are so many small things involved that even if a very small thing is not correct the lap time or the race distance is not there.

    I think we learned a lot from difficult things in the past few years and this year has been more as it should be. ...

    The driving has been pretty OK but I still feel we can improve more in all the details. There's a lot of details to work on to be more comfortable and know what the car will do, so we can push more, but there's no one thing you can say you can change and that will turn things around or pull yourself around. It's a lot of small details.

    Ferrari established themselves as Mercedes' closest rivals at last weekend's Italian GP, where Vettel and Raikkonen started and finished third and fourth, respectively.

    Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene insisted Ferrari are now working in a "proper direction" following a midseason reshuffle, which saw technical director James Allison replaced by engine guru Mattia Binotto.

    Arrivabene added the team "just need a bit of time" to return to race-winning contention, having failed to win a grand prix for almost 12 months.

Sergio Perez Reflects on 'Massive Learning Experience' at McLaren

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    Perez has reflected on his bruising season-long stay at McLaren in 2013, admitting he would do things "very differently" if he ever had the opportunity to return to the team.

    After claiming three podium finishes for Sauber in 2012, Perez—then a member of Ferrari's young-driver academy—was chosen as Lewis Hamilton's replacement when the British driver left McLaren for Mercedes at the beginning of 2013.

    Despite taking seven victories in 2012, McLaren endured their first winless season since 2006, and Perez struggled alongside team-mate Jenson Button. He failed to finish higher than fifth before being replaced by Kevin Magnussen, the newly crowned Formula Renault 3.5 champion, for the following year.

    That decision left Perez in the F1 wilderness for a time before Force India opted to sign him as Nico Hulkenberg's team-mate for 2014, with the Mexican registering four podium finishes in less than three seasons with the Silverstone-based outfit.

    In the latest edition of the team's in-house McLaren & Me series, Perez, now 26, revealed he first had contact with then-team principal Martin Whitmarsh over the European GP weekend in June 2012.

    He said: 

    My contact with McLaren started at Valencia in 2012. I think there was an email from Martin Whitmarsh to [former McLaren team coordinator and fellow Mexican] Jo Ramirez asking for my details, and he forwarded it, and that’s how it all started.

    Basically Martin wanted me to not sign for Ferrari at that time, and make sure I was available, and he made me aware of the situation—that most probably Lewis Hamilton was going to leave the team, they were looking for a replacement, and I was high on their list.

    It was actually after Singapore where things happened quickly. I was returning to Mexico, and as soon as I landed there were a lot of emails, and everything was proceeding. I arrived there on Monday, and I think by Thursday I was signed with McLaren.

    It was very big, just realising that I was going to race for one of the biggest teams in the history of the sport, replacing Lewis. The challenge was very big, but I was full of motivation, because it was a great opportunity. 

    While he referred to the MP4-28 as a "bad and "very inconsistent" car, Perez admitted he was guilty of "trying too much" in the first half of the season, which left him fighting for his future in the latter months of 2013.

    Perez has revealed he was preparing for the United States GP in Austin, Texas, when Whitmarsh informed him his services would not be retained and McLaren would be signing Magnussena member of their junior-driver programfor 2014.

    And while he is convinced he would have proved his worth to McLaren had he been afforded a second season with the team, he believes the disappointment of being dropped has helped him grow both in and out of the car.

    He said: 

    I was in Mexico, because Austin was the race after, when I got a call from Martin. He said, 'I’m sure this is not the phone call you wanted to receive,' and I thought this is not smelling good! He told me that they were not going to continue with me, that they were starting a conversation with a non-F1 driver—which was Kevin Magnussen. He had always told me that my seat was not in danger from any other F1 driver, but Kevin was not an F1 driver ...

    I had a great time, I had good fun with the team, and I enjoyed my driving there. I think if I had a second year, everything would have been totally different, but I didn’t have that. Instead we split after a year, and since then I’ve been doing a lot better.

    McLaren was a massive learning experience. The team is at the top of the engineering level, and I learned a lot when I went there, things I didn’t learn when I was at Sauber. Not only on the sporting side but also on the political side, and how the sport works, etcetera. 

    It was a great lesson, and something that has made me the driver and the person that I am today. I don’t think many people could recover from that hit, because it was a massive hit. I was not expecting anything at all, I was already focusing on the next year, and all of a sudden you don’t have a drive, and have probably finished your career in F1. I was thinking that my career is over, but then Force India came along.

    Would I do anything differently? Obviously now with my experience, my age, with the character building, the knowledge, if I was back there, I’d be doing things very differently. But at that time I was 22 years old, and I was another person. You can only do things differently once you’ve gone through it, but at that time, there was nothing I could do. But something I enjoy looking back on is the way I finished my period with them.

    Perez's strong results with Force India have seen him linked with a second chance with a leading team for 2017, with Autosport (h/t Eurosport) reporting Renault had expressed an interest in signing him in July.

    Following his third-place finish in May's Monaco GP, Perez suggested the damage done to his reputation during 2013 has continued to harm his career prospects, telling Sky Sports' Matt Morlidge he is still judged on his difficulties at McLaren.

    According to Motorsport.com's Noble, Perez—having turned down approaches from Renault and Williams—is set to stay with Force India for 2017 with the ultimate aim of replacing Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2018.

Williams to Announce 2017 Lineup 'Soon' as Lance Stroll Rumours Build

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    Williams have revealed they will announce their 2017 driver lineup "soon" amid mounting speculation the team will sign Stroll for next season.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, it emerged over the Italian GP weekend that Stroll is the leading contender to replace the retiring Massa at the end of 2016, with sources suggesting "the deal has already been agreed in principle."

    The current leader of the FIA European Formula Three standings, the 17-year-old—who has held a development-driver role since the end of 2015—recently began a test program behind the wheel of Williams' 2014 car in an effort to gain crucial mileage ahead of his likely promotion to a race seat.

    The Canadian—whose father, Laurence, is set to provide the team with around $25 million as part of the deal, according to F1 journalist Joe Saward—could be announced shortly after qualifying for an F1 superlicence in October.

    When asked if Stroll will race in 2017, deputy team principal Claire Williams hinted a deal is close to completion and praised Stroll's performances in F3 this season.

    She told Cooper:

    It's too early in the day to be talking about next year for us.

    We're going to make our announcement soon, but I'm not really prepared to say a whole lot more about that. ...

    Hopefully he'll tie up the F3 championship pretty soon. Not a bad thing to have on your CV, is it? ...

    Lance has done a great job this year. He's pretty much annihilated that F3 championship, and everyone knows F3 is a great feeder into F1.

    He's also doing this development programme with us, which sees him driving an old F1 car, and we've got to see where he goes with that. He's just done a shakedown so far.

    In a separate Motorsport.com article, Williams told Cooper the team will not compromise the development of their 2017 car in an effort to pip Force India to fourth place in the 2016 constructors' standings, with the Mercedes customers separated by just three points with seven races remaining.

    Meanwhile, Massa has reflected on an emotional weekend at Monza following the announcement of his retirement on the eve of the Italian GP.

    In his Motorsport.com column, the Brazilian admitted he was "actually more nervous" about confirming his retirement than he is before the start of a race, revealing he was received with "great affection" and "experienced some very beautiful moments" all weekend.

    He added: "The F1 world is not always easy, with such intense competition, but at the end of my speech I heard an applause that never ended. That lifted me even more—and I must say that it was something that you do not see very often. I felt very privileged."

Felipe Nasr Expects Decision on 2017 Plans to Be Made by End of September

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    Nasr believes his F1 future will become clear in the coming weeks amid rumours that he could leave Sauber at the end of 2016.

    The Brazilian impressed in his debut campaign in 2015, registering two top-six finishes in Australia and Russia, but he remains without a point this season having failed to finish higher than 12th in the first 14 races.

    Following Longbow Finance S.A.'s takeover of Sauber in July, Nasr told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) he would be happy to remain with the team for a third season in 2017, but he stressed the need to explore other options.

    Brazilian publication O Globo (h/t Sky Sports) recently reported Nasr and manager Steve Robertson, who also represents Raikkonen, met with Brazil's acting president in an effort to secure a switch to Renault for 2017, with Williams—where he held a reserve role in 2014—another possibility.

    Over the Belgian GP weekend, Sky Sports reporter Ted Kravitz suggested Nasr's "good relationship" with the team could see him elected as Massa's replacement, although it appears he has now been overtaken by Stroll in the race for the Williams seat.

    Nasr has hinted he would be open to a return to Williams and expects his future to be decided before the end of the month.

    He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    We'll see.

    This month, a lot of things are getting in place, and hopefully we can make a decision soon on that.

    I think this month will be decisive for a lot of other drivers as well. ...

    All I can say is that it [Williams] is a team I've always had a great relationship with.

    I've worked with some familiar faces that I've seen this year.

    I want to see what the possibilities are not only there but all the teams that we have in mind.

    All I have to say is I have run through a positive year there when I was there.

    Per the same source, Nasr admitted he was "surprised" to learn of Massa's retirement from F1, explaining he felt his compatriot was eager to remain on the grid for "another year of two."

    Nasr added Massa has become "a real friend" since his arrival in F1, revealing he learned "a lot from" from the former Ferrari driver when they worked together at Williams.

Renault Still Keen on Signing Mercedes Protege Esteban Ocon for 2017

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    Renault have insisted they are still eager to sign Ocon on a full-time basis in 2017, despite the Frenchman's strong links to Mercedes.

    Ocon joined Mercedes' young-driver scheme during his title-winning GP3 campaign in 2015, but he was loaned to Renault at the beginning of this season, representing the team in practice sessions in Spain, Britain, Hungary and Germany.

    When Rio Haryanto's sponsorship funds ran out during the summer break, it was announced Ocon would race for Manor in the second half of 2016, partnering Pascal Wehrlein at the Mercedes customer team.

    The 19-year-old's return to the Mercedes family raised doubts over whether Renault would be permitted to offer Ocon a race seat for next season.

    But managing director Cyril Abiteboul believes the strong relationship between Renault and Mercedes parent company Daimler should allow the Enstone-based outfit to sign Ocon.

    Abiteboul told Motorsport.com's Cooper:

    We want to be very clear to everyone that even though he is driving in a Manor, even though he's on loan from Mercedes to Renault, we are not losing our interest in him. He's one of the candidates in contention, amongst several others, as anyone knows.

    Frankly at this point in time I don't want to create any speculation. Things are very open. We have clear milestones that we don't have to make public, but we will make a decision and make our plans very clear to everyone as soon as possible. ...

    It's not that difficult in the sense Renault and Daimler—Daimler obviously being the mother company of the larger group of Mercedes—are very strong partners in the road car business.

    So actually they see very positively that we share assets. And a driver is an asset, although not a material asset.

    So it's not an issue. It would be much more difficult with another team, but with Daimler it's actually very well received. Frankly, we only care about performance.

    Following the takeover of Lotus at the end of 2015, Renault relaunched their own junior program, with GP2 drivers Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland among the names involved.

    Although the team are keen to sign Ocon for 2017, Abiteboul has acknowledged Renault must eventually "control [their] own destiny, and invest in [their] own drivers."

    He told the same source: "It might not be possible for next year, because of the circumstances, but at some point in time, 2018 or 2019, it has to be Renault drivers. And that's the proposal of the Renault Sport Academy, it's actually to develop our own drivers."

    Meanwhile, Renault driver Magnussen has revealed a decision on his future is due to be made in time for the next race in Singapore, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).