Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and More

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    After being scarred by bold promises and overambitious targets, McLaren-Honda are finally beginning to deliver in Formula One.

    Fernando Alonso's seventh-place finish in the Singapore Grand Prix means the team have now scored double the amount of points they managed to scratch together during their worst season in 35 years in 2015.

    For a partnership that dominated the sport in the 1980s and '90s, that is still far from good enough, but Alonso has revealed McLaren are looking forward to the 2017 regulation changes, which should allow them to challenge for victories and world championships once more.

    While McLaren can't wait for next season to start, Ferrari—on course for a second winless campaign in three years—don't want this one to end.

    The Prancing Horse missed a golden opportunity to stand on the top step of the podium in Singapore, but Sebastian Vettel is convinced Ferrari's upcoming upgrades can rescue them from the shame of failing to win a race in 2016.

    Meanwhile, the F1 paddock is slowly beginning to believe Nico Rosberg can become world champion this year.

    The German certainly produced a champion's drive in Singapore, where he withstood Daniel Ricciardo's late charge to take the chequered flag by less than a second.

    And at a time Lewis Hamilton is being criticised for taking his eye off the ball, four-time world champion Alain Prost has commended the other Mercedes driver for his performance at Marina Bay.

    As this year's edition of "silly season" edges toward a crescendo, Marcus Ericsson has produced one of the most surprising statements yet.

    The Swede said he is talking to up to five teams over 2017, but—given his performances for Sauber this season—we suspect not many of them are listening.

    Closing our latest roundup is Esteban Gutierrez, who has stopped getting in the way of his fellow competitors to tell everyone why it won't be the end of the world if Haas decide not to keep him for 2017.

McLaren-Honda Can't Wait for 2017 Season to Start, Says Fernando Alonso

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    Alonso has revealed McLaren-Honda cannot wait for the start of the 2017 season, confirming the team are now operating with more expectation than hope.

    McLaren endured their worst season in 35 years in 2015, when problems with their new Honda power unit saw Alonso and Jenson Button score a combined total of 27 points, but the team have improved noticeably this year.

    The team have scored in nine of the 15 races thus far, with Alonso finishing in the top seven in Russia, Monaco, Hungary, Belgium and Singapore, and they currently sit sixth in the constructors' standings with 54 points.

    Having failed to win a race since November 2012, McLaren are expected to make considerable progress when major regulation changes are introduced next season, with chairman Ron Dennis telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson his team could end Mercedes' dominance of F1.

    Alonso has admitted he had more hope than expectation in the team a year ago, but he is now convinced McLaren are on course to achieve great things in the near future.

    Per Crash.net, he said:

    The trust was always there but sometimes last year it was just hope, there was just too much hope and you want to see the results at one point, you want to touch the result at one point and now that we start feeling that I think that everyone is more excited, everyone is more motivated and everyone wants to arrive in Australia next year already now. This is a very good feeling.

    [I am] very confident. I think we really need this progress to see it because last year we have a lot of trust in the project, this year in the beginning we have a lot of trust, no one had any doubts that McLaren-Honda will win sooner or later.

    To see us now competing with some of the teams that it was unthinkable some months ago, even Spa finishing in front of one Williams, one Ferrari, it was really needed I think for the team. 

    Everyone in the factory and everyone in the team now see this progress after the hard work and now it's extra motivation for everyone because we all know that we just need that last step.

    Alonso has reiterated his threat to quit F1 at the end of 2017 if the new rules are not to his liking, telling Spanish radio station Cadena Ser (h/t Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde) he will do "other things" if the new-generation cars are not more "attractive" to drive than the current "boring" models.

    He said:

    I think the rules will play a key role. If the cars are exciting when you drive them and you are left with that feeling of surprise that Formula 1 has always had, then you are having fun, regardless of the results.

    In 12 months we'll see where we are and how keen I am to continue, because maybe I see the chance to leave F1 and then I think what am I going to do at home all day. We have to wait and see.

    McLaren are set to make the latest step in their recovery at next weekend's Malaysian GP, with Honda boss Yusuke Hasegawa revealing the Japanese manufacturer is likely to introduce its final engine upgrade of 2016, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    With Hasegawa keen to "split the tactics for the cars" at the Sepang race, Alonso or Button will incur a grid-place penalty for exceeding the engine-component usage restrictions.

    Meanwhile, McLaren have denied speculation that technology firm Apple is in talks over a "strategic investment" or even a full-scale takeover of the company.

    According to Autosport (h/t Eurosport), a spokesperson said: "We can confirm McLaren is not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment. As you would expect, the nature of our brand means we regularly have confidential conversations with a wide range of parties, but we keep them confidential."

    The same source notes Apple is keen to produce a "self-driving electric car" but is "more focused on the development of the system behind such a car, rather than manufacturing the car itself."

    This could appeal to the Applied Technologies division of the McLaren Technology Group.

Sebastian Vettel Certain Ferrari Can Still Win a Race in 2016

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    Vettel is convinced Ferrari can still win a race in 2016 despite a disappointing weekend at the Singapore GP.

    After a dominant pole-to-flag win in the 2015 race, the four-time world champion—the most successful driver in Singapore GP history—returned to Marina Bay as one of the favourites for victory last weekend.

    However, his chances were extinguished when he suffered a rear-suspension issue in the first segment of qualifying, which left him stranded at the rear of the grid having been unable to set a competitive lap time.

    Vettel went on to win F1's Driver of the Day award following a supreme performance in the race, when he finished just 27.6 seconds behind race winner Rosberg, while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was unfortunate to miss out on a podium finish following Ferrari's late strategy error.

    Ferrari are in danger of enduring a second winless season in three years, but Vettel believes some upgrades planned for the remaining six races could allow them to claim a victory if the team deliver to the best of their ability.

    According to Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, he explained:

    I think if we get everything right [it can happen]. We know we have a strong package for sure.

    Some races we didn't deliver all we could—some were up to us, and some because of stuff that happened. But for sure it didn't end up so far the way we wanted, and we are not where we wanted to be.

    I think we believe in ourselves. For sure we are not entirely where we want to be in terms of raw pace, sometimes better or sometimes worse, but at tracks like Singapore it is generally more close.

    We expected to be competitive, and then there is always a chance to win or fight for a solid podium. Unfortunately it didn't turn out for both of us.

    But we have confidence. There are some bits coming still. We are here to fight and that is what we are going to do.

    Per the same source, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene admitted Ferrari "need to improve" if they want to beat Red Bull to second place in the constructors' standings, with the teams separated by 15 points ahead of the final six races.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Vettel added Ferrari have fully "understood" his suspension problem in qualifying, stating: "Now we need to check if we need to redesign or reinforce the part but I'm pretty sure it will not happen again."

Alain Prost Impressed by Nico Rosberg's Controlled Singapore GP Victory

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    Prost has praised Rosberg following his pole-to-flag victory in the Singapore GP, predicting the title fight between the German and Mercedes team-mate Hamilton "will be decided on small details."

    Rosberg claimed the finest win of his career at Marina Bay, where he took pole position by a margin of 0.531 seconds and managed a decent gap to second-placed Ricciardo for much of the race.

    Ricciardo's late pit stop for fresher, softer tyres allowed the Red Bull driver to rapidly catch the leader in the closing stages, but Rosberg withstood that pressure to win by 0.488 seconds.

    His eighth victory of 2016 has given Rosberg an eight-point lead over Hamilton, who finished third after a troubled weekend, with just six races of the season remaining.

    And four-time world champion Prost, who was embroiled in a bitter rivalry with Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s and early '90s, has admitted he was impressed by the level of Rosberg's performance.

    He told French television station Canal+ (h/t F1i.com's Julien Billiotte):

    Nico delivered a fantastic weekend in Singapore with an incredible pole position on Saturday followed by a very mature drive on Sunday.

    You could feel him very much in control all weekend, whereas Lewis Hamilton was not. He did not really perform and looked a bit shaky. Rosberg took a commanding win but still had to fight for it, something that had been awaited of him for a while.

    You can see the momentum shifting often at Mercedes. When one driver if performing, the other looks a bit off. We have yet to see them compete wheel-to-wheel but I think it will happen before the end of the season.

    The title will be decided on small details, like the starts, another car splitting the Mercedes—one place can make a big difference in the end—but it will also be a mental fight.

    Before Singapore, you'd have thought Hamilton had the upper hand in that area but Rosberg has showed us he can be really solid as well.

    Without a win since July's German GP, Hamilton has attracted plenty of criticism following the Singapore GP, with fellow three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart suggesting the British driver is becoming complacent as a result of his astronomical success in recent years.

    According to MailOnline's Jonathan McEvoy, he explained:

    Maybe you can bottom out. That can happen through consistent success because when you have consistent success everything can seem so easy.

    Suddenly things can go less well—you overdrive, you are not on the ball, or you live a life that distracts you.

    If you are at the top in any line of work, you can get carried away with success. You think you can get away with things. Then someone else comes along and drives better or more consistently.

    I was always frightened of being beaten. I always thought there could be someone out there better than me or who might have a better car. So I always worked on that basis. I could never sit back and relax.

    Flavio Briatore, the former Renault team principal, has also aired concerns that the Mercedes driver's lifestyle could be behind his apparent loss of form.

    The Italian told French publication Nextgen-Auto (h/t BBC Sport) Hamilton should "concentrate a little less on music and a little more on F1" if he is to secure a fourth world title in 2016.

Marcus Ericsson Speaking to Several Teams over Potential 2017 Move

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    Ericsson has revealed he is holding discussions with as many as five teams regarding 2017 as this year's driver market intensifies.

    The Swede is in his third season in F1, and his second at Sauber, having made his grand prix debut with the now-defunct Caterham team at the beginning of 2014.

    Ericsson enjoyed a decent start to life at Sauber in 2015, scoring nine points and helping the team secure eighth place in the constructors' standings, but he and team-mate Felipe Nasr remain without a point with just six races of the current season remaining.

    Longbow Finance's takeover of Sauber in July appeared to secure Ericsson's F1 future, with the driver strongly linked to the new investors, according to Forbes' Christian Sylt

    But the 26-year-old, keen to progress to the next level in his F1 career, is keeping his options open, with Ericsson holding discussions with Williams, Force India, Renault and Manor—all of whom are yet to confirm their 2017 driver lineups—over next season.

    According to Autosport (h/t Eurosport), he commented:

    We're speaking to some different teams, including Sauber, but there's not that many seats left so let's see in the coming weeks.

    Nothing decided yet, but hopefully soon I will know what will happen.

    Aim number one is to stay in F1 and in the best possible car.

    [...]

    Obviously it's not myself but my management, and I think it's important to keep communication with all the teams and see what's happening.

    Now I'm going into my fourth season next year, so I'm really eager to be in a car where I can be a bit more competitive and show what I can do.

    I feel like I've taken steps all the time as a driver and perform on a better level but I haven't had the chance to really show it yet.

    So I'm really, really eager to be in a package where I can really fight for points on a regular basis.

    I want to be in a better package soon so that I can really show off performances on track that people can see.

    That said there's a lot of things happening now in Sauber as well, so it will be interesting to see with all the new personnel which way it goes.

    Per the same source, Ericsson added Williams—who finished third in the constructors' standings in 2014 and '15—would be his preferred destination for 2017, but it seems the British team are close to revealing the identity of Felipe Massa's replacement.

    As reported by Finnish publication Turun Sanomat (h/t This is F1) teenage development driver Lance Stroll has signed a contract to partner Valtteri Bottas for next season after the Canadian's father, billionaire investor Lawrence, agreed to supply $35 million to the team.

Haas' Esteban Gutierrez Reveals He Has Other Options for 2017

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    Gutierrez believes he will have other options to remain in F1 if Haas decide to drop him at the end of 2016, but he is hopeful of earning a second season with the American team.

    After spending 2015 as Ferrari's reserve driver, the Mexican joined Haas—who have a close technical partnership with the Prancing Horse—at the beginning of this season but has struggled during his comeback campaign.

    While team-mate Romain Grosjean has scored 28 points—having registered two top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain—Gutierrez is among the six drivers without a point in 2016 having failed to finish higher than 11th.

    The 25-year-old has frequently criticised Haas in public—suggesting the team's early-season technical troubles were making him "look very bad" and spoiling the "f--king great job" he was doing behind the scenes, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport)—raising questions over his future with the outfit.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Elizalde and Noble, Haas planned to confirm their 2017 driver lineup shortly after the Italian GP, but an announcement still hasn't been made almost three weeks on from the Monza race.

    Ferrari junior driver Charles Leclerc, who drove Gutierrez's car in practice sessions in Britain, Hungary and Germany, is regarded as a potential replacement for the Mexican, while the likes of Nasr, Kevin Magnussen, Jolyon Palmer and Daniil Kvyat may also appear on the market.

    Gutierrez has suggested he has multiple options for 2017, telling Motorsport.com's Elizalde and Luis Ramirez: "There are alternatives we are considering. In the coming weeks we will make a decision. There are other interesting opportunities that we cannot put aside."

    The Mexican added earning a contract extension with Haas is his preferred option, adding he "would continue with them."

    Per the same source, Gutierrez responded to Toto Wolff's accusation that he held up Rosberg and Ricciardo while they were battling for the win in Singapore, suggesting the Mercedes boss is giving him "good publicity."