Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Zak Brown, Carlos Sainz Jr. on Renault, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Zak Brown, Carlos Sainz Jr. on Renault, More

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    Liberty Media's proposed takeover of Formula One has opened up a whole host of new possibilities for a sport widely criticised for being left behind in a rapidly changing world.

    Talk of a digital revolution, more grands prix—including multiple races in the United States—and a generally bigger and better F1 has dominated the headlines since Liberty's arrival on the scene ahead of the recent Singapore Grand Prix.

    Leading motorsport business figure Zak Brown is likely to feature in the team of people tasked with guiding F1 into the future. The American has already outlined his vision for how the sport could move forward over the coming years.

    One man who needs to create a plan of action for the next few years is Carlos Sainz Jr., who—with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both established at Red Bull—is unlikely to graduate from Toro Rosso in the foreseeable future.

    Despite having a valid contract for 2017, the Spaniard has attracted interest from an increasingly desperate Renault team in recent months.

    And although he is flattered to have been linked with a works team, Sainz is aiming to remain with the Red Bull B team for one more year.

    Renault's limp performances in 2016, which have restricted them to just two points finishes, are likely among the reasons why Sainz is happy to remain where he is. Managing director Cyril Abiteboul has accepted the French manufacturer were naive upon their return to F1.

    Meanwhile, Sauber have admitted they are hoping to sign two so-called pay drivers for 2017, while back-of-the-grid rivals Manor are hoping to retain both Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon for next season.

    Here's our latest F1 roundup.

Zak Brown Explains How F1 Must Develop Following Liberty Media Arrival

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    Brown has shared his vision for the future of F1 following the announcement that Liberty Media is set to take over the sport.

    As reported by the Inside Line.com's Maurice Hamilton, Brown is among the leading figures in motorsport business, having played an influential role in several sponsor agreements—including McLaren's deal with Johnnie Walker and Martini's title sponsorship of Williams—in the modern era.

    Having recently announced his resignation from CSM Sport & Entertainment, the American—an acquaintance of current F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and Liberty Media chairman Chase Carey—is almost certain to help shape the future of F1 over the coming years.

    Speaking on F1 journalist Peter Windsor's YouTube channel, Brown has insisted that while he is "not trying to position [himself] for anything" by leaving his CSM role, he has plenty of ideas for the growth of F1.

    The 44-year-old welcomed Liberty's arrival in F1, suggesting the company will do more for the sport over a longer period of time than previous majority shareholders CVC Capital Partners.

    He said:

    I think Liberty is going to be great. ...

    I would describe Chase as a global sports media expert, and at the end of the day, Formula One is the biggest annual global sport, and its biggest reach is via media, whether that's free-to-air [television], pay TV, handheld devices, et cetera, so I think his particular expertise is going to be great for the sport.

    I think we all recognise that while free-to-air is your biggest reach—and I think always will be—there are other, different ways to deliver content, and so I think Chase has a real expertise in that area.

    Liberty's going to invest. CVC did an unbelievable job for their investors—they did exactly what they were supposed to do—but they took a 10-year view, and it's kind of exactly how long they were in.

    And if you look at Liberty, I think they're going to be in forever, and therefore, they'll take an even longer-range view, so I think we'll see some strategic decisions and investments made that are what's good for the sport over the long haul as opposed to maybe some of the short-term, income-revenue generation. ...

    What's so exciting about Formula One is how much untapped potential there is, and Bernie has done an unbelievable job—as I think everyone recognises—getting the sport to where it is.

    He's also one individual. If you look at the Premier League, the NFL, the Olympics, these have large groups and organisations. And certainly the entrepreneurial spirit works in Formula One.

    So I'm not suggesting you go all the way in that direction, but I do think we need to modernise—as the world changes so quickly—how we do some things.

    In a separate video, Brown outlined his desire to offer more exposure to feeder categories GP2 and GP3 following the emergence of young talents such as Verstappen, Ocon, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll in recent years.

    And despite his forward-thinking view, he stressed it is "super important" to honour F1's history and the great personalities, cars and circuits of the past, commenting: "That content is there—it just needs to be gathered, created, turned into something exciting and then distributed out to the consumers."

    However, Brown—who is reluctant to see the sport become too involved in the gambling industry—has expressed concerns over the F1 calendar expanding beyond 21 races per season, adding:

    There can't be too many more races. There's a scarcity and exclusivity around Formula One that you want to turn every two weeks. And now, what used to be every two weeks during the season, now there's a lot of back-to-back [races].

    I think one of the challenges NASCAR has had is how many races it has: It's got 36 races [and] two non-championship races. That's a lot of racing.

    So 21 feels about the limit to me. If you said, 'Hey, we can get into New York or France or South Africa—another great market—shall we do 22?' Yes, of course.

    Shall we do 25? My own personal opinion is that's too many.

    However, I think we need to get into the business of more consumer insights. ...

    What do the consumers think? And if the consumers think, 'We'd like to see 24 races,' then I might change my view, so I do think motor racing is a consumer product.

    In a third video, Brown called for all parties in F1, including the teams, promoters and drivers—people he feels need to "work a little harder outside the car"—to come together and ensure everyone wins, saying:

    I think we, as a sport, have marketed to ourselves a little bit too long and we need to really put the fan first. 

    Because if we can get more fans, younger fans, then everything else falls in place because we'll get more sponsors, which will make the teams wealthier, which will give us more teams [and] we can pay the drivers more.

    So the fans: That's where our attention needs to be.

    He also spoke of his desire for F1 to finally crack the U.S., suggesting there should be at least two—and as many three—races in the United States per season but admitted the sport must protect its "core" of European grands prix.

Carlos Sainz Jr. Committed to Toro Rosso Despite Renault Interest

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    Sainz is flattered to have been linked with a move to Renault but has insisted he is happy to remain with Toro Rosso for 2017.

    The Spaniard agreed a deal to remain with the Red Bull B team ahead of July's Austrian GP but has attracted interest from Renault, who could be searching for two new drivers for next season.

    Over the British GP weekend, Sainz dismissed rumours that Toro Rosso could trade him for a cheaper supply of Renault engines as "a joke," suggesting it would be "very strange" if his employers were to agree to such an "extraordinary" deal, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Roberto Chinchero, team principal Franz Tost recently insisted Toro Rosso and Red Bull have no interest in allowing a driver of Sainz's calibre to join a rival operation.

    And while he has admitted it is satisfying to have attracted interest from a full-blown factory outfit, Sainz is determined to stay with Toro Rosso with the aim of graduating to Red Bull in 2018.

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

    Sure there has been a bit of interest, a bit of contact—which for me at the end has to be an honour that a manufacturer team is worried about me and wants to know my contractual situation.

    But as you know, more or less, what is going on with Red Bull is they guide your career. They paid for five years of my junior series, that is millions of euros, and I perfectly understand they don’t want to let me go after spending so much money on me and now, being in the best moment of my life, my career.

    For me it is an honour to have an interest from a manufacturer team that wants me to develop the car, to create a good base for the future.

    But at the end, my main target as I always say, is to be not in 2017 but in 2018, fighting for a world championship and hopefully that will be with Red Bull. That will be my main target.

    Per the same source, Sainz added the speculation surrounding a move to Renault has not distracted him from his work with Toro Rosso, believing his team will "produce a good chassis" under the new regulations in 2017.

    Current Renault driver Kevin Magnussen has aired his frustration with the team delaying the announcement of their 2017 lineup, revealing he "can't understand" why they are taking so long and insisting he wants to learn of their decision "as soon as possible," per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    The same source suggested Renault's option to extend the contracts of Magnussen and team-mate Jolyon Palmer will expire at midnight on Friday.

Renault Admit to Being 'A Bit Naive' Upon Return to F1 in 2016

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    Renault believe they underestimated the challenge of returning to the F1 grid in 2016, admitting this season has been more difficult than they imagined.

    Given the late nature of the takeover of the Lotus team at the end of last season, expectations were relatively low at the beginning of 2016, with chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn warning that Renault could require up to three years to become consistent podium contenders, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    With the team focusing on the major 2017 regulation changes, Renault have been restricted to just two points finishes with the undeveloped, underpowered R.S.16 car and sit a lowly ninth out of 11 in the constructors' standings with six races of the season remaining.

    Managing director Abiteboul acknowledged Renault have been shocked by their deficit to the leading outfits on the 2016 grid but encouraged his colleagues to keep pushing the team toward the front of the grid.

    He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    It's fair to say this season has been much more difficult than we anticipated, and to a certain degree another demonstration of the pace at which Formula 1 is evolving.

    The car we are using is not from this year, but more or less designed in the winter of 2014-15, to which we added at the last moment the forced introduction of the Renault engine.

    So clearly it wasn't the best gestation you could imagine, but still we could not imagine that in 18 months there would be such a gap from this car to the others.

    Maybe we were a bit naive, but that's behind us now.

    What's important is to keep our head down on a race-by-race basis and be optimistic and bullish about next year to try and keep the motivation high for the two teams [chassis in Enstone, engine in Viry], and to continue to point in the right direction.

    On his expectations for the rest of the season, Abiteboul told the same source how Renault are still hoping to climb up to eighth place in the championship.

    But with Haas 21 points ahead and with a clearly "more competitive" package, he admitted it "is going to be a tough challenge" to hunt down the newcomers.

    Meanwhile, team principal Frederic Vasseur warned that next year's rule changes may not allow Renault to return to competitiveness, predicting the regulations "will favour well-oiled structures with reactive staff, while [Renault] are still in the process of rebuilding the team," per F1i.com's Julien Billiotte.

    He suggested Mercedes' dominance under the current rules will make it "easier" for the Silver Arrows to switch their focus to 2017 and that Renault's best hope of having an "edge" could be to exploit a loophole in the technical regulations similar to Brawn GP's discovery of the double-diffuser concept in 2009.

Sauber Keen to Keep Pay-Driver Philosophy for 2017 Season

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    Monisha Kaltenborn, the Sauber team principal, has admitted her team is hoping to sign so-called pay drivers for next season despite recently hinting the 2017 driver lineup would be decided on talent.

    Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson have represented Sauber since the beginning of 2015, but both drivers have been linked with moves away at the end of this year.

    In August, Nasr told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) that while he would be happy to remain with Sauber for a third season in 2017, he is determined to keep his options "open" with a seat available at Williams and possibly with Renault.

    Meanwhile, Ericsson's close links to the Longbow Finance group that purchased Sauber in July, as reported by Forbes' Christian Sylt, made it likely the Swede would stay put for 2017.

    However, the Swede recently revealed he is negotiating with as many as five teams—including Sauber—regarding next season, with Williams his preferred destination, according to Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    Kaltenborn recently told Motorsport.com's Noble and Erwin Jaeggi how Sauber have "never" decided their driver lineup based on "financial reasons" alone and must always be "convinced" by a driver's abilities before taking other factors "into consideration."

    But the team principal has acknowledged drivers with funding would accelerate the recovery of a team on course for a second scoreless campaign in three years.

    And she believes Sauber, with their long-term future secured following Longbow Finance's investment, are more appealing to drivers, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    It would help us in implementing our targets quicker and be a big help in the overall plan we have.

    We have to consider that in view of what the environment is like out there.

    We're confident our car will be better next year and we're hoping to have more sponsors onboard, but in the current environment, it is still about finances.

    There is a close link to the more you have, the more you can test and that's what you need to do.

    It would be very beneficial and good the way we are going and help us to do things quicker.

    I can assure you one thing, we are far more attractive now than we were a few months ago.

    It speaks for the quality of the team as some people tried to reduce this team for two years when we were not strong.

    We had two crappy years, 2014 and this year, but this is not Sauber. There are some people out there who see this.

    There are a couple of [driver] options on the table and we are assessing and seeing what to do.

    I've got no timeline in mind. We have our options, we are assessing them and when we are ready, we will announce.

    It's good to do it quickly, because then you have certainty, but there is no time pressure.

    Kaltenborn insisted the development of Sauber's 2017 car was not compromised by the team's serious financial problems in the early months of this season, per Motorsport.com's Elizalde and Noble.

    She said there is no reason Sauber cannot "make a step ahead next year," expressing her confidence that the team "should be able to overcome and make up" for a lack of part testing.

    Sauber have made a number of technical appointments since being rescued by Longbow Finanace, signing the likes of Nicolas Hennel de Beaupreau and Xevi Pujolar—Verstappen's former race engineer at Toro Rosso—as head of aerodynamics and head of track engineering, respectively.

    Meanwhile, Ruth Buscombe—once of Ferrari and Haas—will begin work as Sauber's strategy engineer at the forthcoming Malaysian GP.

Manor Hopeful of Keeping Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon for 2017

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    Manor racing director Dave Ryan has revealed the team are hoping to retain both Wehrlein and Ocon for the 2017 campaign despite persistent speculation linking the latter with a return to Renault.

    Having switched to Mercedes power units last winter, Manor have enjoyed their strongest season to date in 2016, with Wehrlein's 10th-place finish in July's Austrian GP giving the team a one-point lead over Sauber in the fight for 10th in the constructors' standings.

    Wehrlein is likely to remain with the team for a second season in 2017, but questions surround the future of fellow Mercedes protege Ocon, who spent the first half of 2016 on loan to Renault before joining Manor after the summer break.

    Renault's Abiteboul recently told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper how the team is "not losing [its] interest" in the Frenchman, suggesting Renault's "very good friendship" with Mercedes parent company Daimler could lead to a deal to provide Ocon with a full-time race seat.

    Four-time world champion Alain Prost backed Ocon to progress up the grid in 2017, telling French television station Canal+ (h/t Billiotte) how the 20-year-old is set for "great things" and is "on the right path" in terms of a move to Renault.

    But Ryan admitted Manor are determined to keep both Wehrlein and Ocon for next season, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    With every driver who is available, you have to look at everyone.

    Pascal's a great kid who is coming along really strongly; Esteban has huge potential as well. Anyone would be pleased to have them, us included.

    Given the right set of circumstances, then I'd absolutely love them to stay.

    We're a good match for each other at the moment, we're a team that's improving and they're drivers learning about the business of Formula 1.

    So, yeah, why not?

    We're a team that's going places, we're a solid team and we're getting improving as things go along.

    We're competitive now—of course, not competitive with Mercedes, but then no-one is—but we are competitive with other teams.

    So from that perspective they've every opportunity to demonstrate how good they are.

    They are both good battlers, it's their first season, so don't forget that, they're out there with the big boys and they're doing a superb job.

    Per the same source, Wehrlein admitted he may yet be forced to leave Manor should his seat come under threat from a pay driver, suggesting "it could be hard" to remain with the team if a candidate "with big financial backgrounds" appears.

    The 21-year-old also called for the team to make a decision on his future before the end of the season, having had to wait until February to learn he would be racing in 2016.

    Speaking to German publication Sport Bild (h/t F1i.com's Phillip van Osten), Wehrlein insisted his goal is to join Mercedes in 2018, suggesting he will have a "good chance" of achieving that whether he spends two full seasons with Manor or joins another Mercedes customer team for 2017.

    On his rivalry with Ocon, he added: "It's not a direct shootout, because there are no places available at Mercedes next year. But yes, I'm sure Mercedes wants to directly compare us. In direct comparison, Esteban seems not better than me so far, and he is generally rated really highly. Which is of course good for me."

    Should a vacancy appear at Manor in 2017, Rio Haryanto would be among the candidates to return to a race seat having been demoted to a reserve role after running out of sponsorship funds at the halfway stage of this season.

    The Indonesian's manager, Piers Hunnisett, recently told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) his client has a "realistic" chance of returning to the grid after attracting new sponsors, with Haryanto telling Fox Sports "things are looking positive, looking good."

                

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