Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Manor's Pascal Wehrlein, Force India and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Manor's Pascal Wehrlein, Force India and More

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    Pascal Wehrlein may be only the second driver in Manor's history to score a world championship point, yet his reputation seems to have fallen as the 2016 Formula One season has progressed.

    The German was regarded as a future world champion when he finished 10th in July's Austrian Grand Prix with an almost logic-defying performance at the Red Bull Ring, where he followed in the footsteps of the late Jules Bianchi.

    But now there are doubts over his true potential and doubts over his attitude, especially after that team-radio conversation at the recent United States GP.

    And with the Mercedes-backed youngster seemingly set to miss out on seats at two different Mercedes-powered teams, Wehrlein has admitted he would be happy to continue his apprenticeship with Manor in 2017.

    Wehrlein's display of loyalty to Manor has come just days after Force India revealed their decision on Nico Hulkenberg's replacement could be influenced by their previous experiences with drivers in testing, which could be very good news for Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon in particular.

    Force India have also said Felipe Nasr is not out of the running to replace Hulkenberg, despite the Brazilian hinting he could be set to stay with Sauber for 2017.

    Meanwhile, Canada's only world champion has shared his thoughts on Williams' signing of Montreal-born teenager Lance Stroll, while Haas have explained why they are already bracing themselves for a bout of second-season syndrome.

    Here's our latest roundup.

Pascal Wehrlein 'Would Be Happy' to Remain with Manor for 2017

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    Wehrlein has admitted he would be content to remain with Manor for a second season in 2017.

    After winning the DTM touring car title last season, the German has enjoyed a solid debut campaign in F1 in 2016, scoring Manor's first point in more than two years in July's Austrian GP.

    Wehrlein had been expected to remain with Manor for next season but recently cast doubt over his future by telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport) he could be forced to leave if drivers with significant sponsorship backing approach the backmarkers.

    Hulkenberg's surprise switch to Renault has made Wehrlein one of the leading contenders to join Mercedes customers Force India, yet the Silver Arrows protege has hinted he will stay with Manor, suggesting the team could make major progress under the new regulations in 2017.

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

    Of course the target is to arrive in the best position possible, but let's see what happens next year.

    I would be happy to stay here. The team has made big progress since last year and also this year since the first race, which I am really happy about.

    I think for next year there is another possibility to make a big step and it would be a nice story to [stay with] Manor.

    It is hard to say they had worst car, but on average this year it was like that.

    But we took the opportunities when they were there and last year the gap to the second-last team was two seconds. It is not the same team any more.

    I am involved in the things that will happen next year and the development.

    [But] I don't know at the moment—truly I know zero about next year.

    Per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Erwin Jaeggi, racing director Dave Ryan has said Manor are not concerned by the prospect of losing both Wehrlein and team-mate Ocon at the end of this season.

    Ryan praised both drivers for their efforts in 2016, suggesting the Mercedes-backed youngsters are on course to achieve great things in the coming years.

    Should Wehrlein remain with Manor for 2017, he may be partnered by Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly, who was recently denied the opportunity to replace Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso.

    According to a print edition of Autosport magazine, Red Bull adviser Dr. Helmut Marko has held discussions with Manor owner Stephen Fitzpatrick with a view to placing Gasly at the backmarkers next season.

    However, Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein, Kunihiko Akai and Jaeggi have reported Red Bull are talking to several Super Formula teams regarding a potential move for Gasly, who could replicate Stoffel Vandoorne by spending an interim year in the Japanese single-seater category.

Force India Admit Testing Experience May Affect 2017 Driver Decision

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    Force India have hinted their search for Hulkenberg's replacement may be influenced by the team's experiences with the leading candidates in testing.

    Hulkenberg's transfer to Renault has created a vacancy alongside Sergio Perez for 2017, with Palmer, Ocon and Wehrlein among those in contention to replace the German.

    Force India have worked with all three drivers in recent years, with Palmer representing the Silverstone-based outfit in an end-of-season test in 2014 before the team evaluated Ocon and Wehrlein—who are team-mates at Manor—across 2015.

    Deputy team principal Bob Fernley—who said Nasr is also a candidate to partner Perez—has admitted Force India's previous encounters with Palmer, Ocon and Wehrlein could affect their decision.

    But he has also noted the need for the team to consider the strides all three drivers have made since, telling F1i.com's Chris Medland:

    Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to look at Jolyon in the past, we’ve looked at Esteban Ocon in the past, Pascal Wehrlein in the past. But there’s old data and we need our team to sit down and look at what the data is today. We can only do that when we’ve got away from the racing program and they've got a clean desk to work on.

    Fernley told the same source how Force India must choose a driver who can consistently challenge Perez, who recently praised Hulkenberg as the best team-mate he has ever encountered in F1, per Planet F1.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, Palmer left a good impression on Force India when he tested for the team two years ago, although the same could not be said of Wehrlein.

    According to F1 journalist James Allen, Force India concluded Ocon had more ultimate potential than Wehrlein when they tested the two Mercedes proteges last season.

Sauber's Felipe Nasr Confident of Being on 2017 F1 Grid

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    Nasr is confident of remaining on the grid in 2017, hinting he is likely to stay with Sauber for a third season.

    The Brazilian enjoyed an impressive debut season in 2015, when his two top-six finishes in Australia and Russia guided Sauber to eighth place in the constructors' championship, but he remains without a point with just two races of 2016 remaining.

    After Hulkenberg's move to Renault was confirmed ahead of the United States GP, Nasr emerged as a leading candidate to join Force India for 2017, according to German publication Auto Motor und Sport (h/t Planet F1).

    Ahead of his home race at Interlagos, Nasr has admitted a decision on his future is still yet to be reached, but he may remain with Sauber, who will compete with 2016-specification Ferrari power units next season.

    He told Reuters' Alan Baldwin:

    There is nothing 100 per cent yet but I am pretty confident we are going to be there [in Formula One] next year.

    Everybody wants to know where [I'll be]. Even me, I don’t know where yet. But hopefully soon we are going to know.

    There are better possibilities for results in other places, but Sauber—knowing the team and I’ve been there for two years now so you build a relationship—it’s much easier to know how to work with them.

    As a driver you’re always thinking about how can I get the best results for myself. There’s many other things that come together, being at the right place at the right time, so we are working on it.

    In that first year I was able to show what I came for. This year since has been a little bit more difficult...I saw the two sides of the coin, put it that way.

    Nasr told the same source how his home track will offer Sauber their best chance to avoid a second scoreless season in three, suggesting the notoriously unpredictable weather at Interlagos could allow him or team-mate Marcus Ericsson reach the top 10.

    Ericsson is also set to remain with the Swiss outfit for a third season, with the Swede admitting Sauber represent his "most likely" choice for 2017 despite his eagerness to keep his options open, per Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy and Jonathan Noble.

    Meanwhile, Sauber are set to make another exciting addition to their workforce, with Autosport (h/t Eurosport) suggesting the team will appoint Jorg Zander as technical director following Audi's withdrawal from the World Endurance Championship.

    The signing of Zander—who previously worked in F1 for the likes of Toyota, BAR, Williams, Honda and Brawn GP—comes after Sauber appointed the likes of Xevi Pujolar, Ruth Buscombe and Nicolas Hennel de Beaupreau to senior technical positions.

Jacques Villeneuve Keen to Watch How Lance Stroll Adjusts to F1 in 2017

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    Jacques Villeneuve believes it will be fascinating to observe how Stroll adapts to F1 in 2017 following his promotion to a race seat with Williams.

    After dominating the FIA European Formula Three Championship in 2016, when he won 14 of a possible 30 races and won the title by almost 200 points, Stroll was recently confirmed as Felipe Massa's replacement for next season.

    Deputy team principal Claire Williams expressed her excitement with the signing of the 18-year-old at a media event: "He is so capable, he's extremely intelligent and he puts the work in. To achieve what he has achieved in such a short space of time, I have total confidence he will get in the car and deliver."

    Villeneuve, who is Canada's only world champion having won the 1997 title with Williams, has been impressed by Stroll's achievements to date, but he believes it will be impossible to judge his ultimate potential until he competes under the pressures of F1.

    He told Canadian publication Le Journal de Montreal (h/t F1i.com's Julien Billiotte):

    Winning the F3 championship like he did may not translate at the next level. There are so many drivers who had starred in F3 but did not pan out in the end.

    Incidentally, others never shone in the feeder series before becoming great in F1. Each case is unique.

    It will be interesting to see how Lance will evolve psychologically in F1. He will no longer be protected by his father, he will be more or less on his own.

    He is very quick and talented but he has not learned to suffer yet. I’m eager to see how he reacts under duress. If he overcomes it, like all great champions do, then the sky is the limit for him.

    Lance has fought hard to win races but he has not toiled to survive in motor racing. He is not a finished product yet and needs to learn more but that’s only normal.

    Meanwhile, more details have emerged surrounding Stroll's rise to F1, with German publication Auto Motor und Sport (h/t Autoweek) reporting the teenager's father, fashion tycoon Lawrence, spent $80 million to secure a 2017 Williams seat.

    The source suggested Stroll, who is being mentored by former Ferrari sporting director Luca Baldisserri, was given undisputed No. 1 status in the Prema F3 team part-owned by his father, who paid for an F3 simulator to be installed at the Williams factory.

    In an effort to prepare for his F1 debut, Stroll also began a private test program with a 2014-specification Williams F1 car, with the youngster joined by 20 Williams employees and five engineers from Mercedes—who prepared two specifically built engines—at several existing grand prix circuits.

Haas 'A Bit Behind' on 2017 F1 Car Development

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    Haas have admitted they will face "a huge challenge" under the new regulations next season, admitting the development of their 2017 car has slowed.

    The American outfit have enjoyed a respectable debut season this year, with the team almost certain to finish eighth in the constructors' standings having scored 29 points, including two top-six results in Australia and Bahrain.

    F1 will change significantly next season, when increased downforce levels and the introduction of wider tyres will make the cars several seconds per lap quicker than the current models.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Williams chief technical officer Pat Symonds recently predicted the rule changes will result in "quite a high rate" of development in the early months of 2017 as the team adapt to the new regulations.

    Having introduced few upgrades to their 2016 car, Haas fear they may struggle to keep up in next season's development race, with chief race engineer Ayao Komatsu admitting the team have already fallen behind in their preparations for 2017.

    He told Motorsport.com's Khorounzhiy and Jaeggi:

    The changing of regulation adds another dimension. But even if we don’t change the regulation, we need to do what we are doing now to put all sorts of things in place for next year.

    What does a new regulation mean? The cars will change quite a lot, that means next year we need more upgrades. This year we haven’t had many upgrades—it has not been too bad because our baseline car was good and the regulation has been stable.

    As we got to know more about the car and as we could operate more professionally, our competitiveness improved.

    But imagine if we would do the same level of improvement throughout the year next year as what we did this year, we are going to be falling behind. Because big teams, they will put lots and lots of upgrades because the regulation is new.

    The race one car, that won’t be so matured. So they will be having lots and lots of upgrades. We need to keep up on that next year. That will be a huge challenge.

    What took us five races to sort out this year, we need to do it in one race next year. 

    I wouldn’t say everything on target [with the 2017 car]. We are a bit behind. But we are progressing well. I wouldn’t say we are on target.

    Komatsu told the same source how Haas will require "a huge improvement" just to retain eighth place in the championship in 2017, predicting McLaren-Honda, Toro Rosso and Renault will be among the biggest winners of the new regulations.

    He added: "I don’t think I can sit here and say I’m confident about next year. I think we need to be humble. But we really need to understand the challenge for next year, even to stay where we are, is huge."

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Cooper, Haas are hoping to replace Esteban Gutierrez with Kevin Magnussen for 2017, with the team recently offering a firm two-year contract to the Renault driver.

    However, Renault team principal Frederic Vasseur has said he is not concerned about Magnussen's negotiations with Haas, telling Autosport (h/t Eurosport): "Everybody is talking with everybody, that's life in the paddock."