F1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Zak Brown to McLaren, James Allison to Mercedes, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2016

F1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Zak Brown to McLaren, James Allison to Mercedes, More

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    So would you rather help shape the future of Formula One or help one of its greatest institutions climb back to the summit of the sport?

    That appears to be the rather nice dilemma facing leading motorsport business figure Zak Brown, who seemed set to work with F1's proposed new owners, Liberty Media, but has now received an appealing offer to replace Ron Dennis at McLaren.

    With Eric Boullierhis former colleague from the Lotus daysin a senior position at the team, James Allison looked likely to join McLaren-Honda at one stage.

    But the former Ferrari technical boss may be set to walk into an environment already geared for success.

    Regarded as one of the brightest minds in F1, Allison has reportedly attracted interest from Mercedes, although his arrival may depend on the future of current technical director Paddy Lowe, who has been linked with Allison's old job.

    Another former Ferrari employee looking to restart his career at a new team is Esteban Gutierrez, whose departure from the Ferrari-affiliated Haas outfit was confirmed at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

    The Mexican has said he is negotiating with both Sauber and Manor as he aims to secure a seat on the 2017 grid.

    Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen is just one of several drivers to criticise Pirelli's tyres after a rain-interrupted race at Interlagos, which saw him suffer a frightening crash on the pit straight.

    Felipe Massa also aquaplaned into retirement at his home race, with Williams head of performance engineering Rob Smedley expressing his pride after the Sao Paulo native was given an emotional sendoff.

    Here's our latest roundup.

Zak Brown Receives 'Firm Offer' to Replace Ron Dennis at McLaren

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    Brown has received a concrete offer to replace Dennis as McLaren chief executive officer, it has emerged.

    As reported by BBC Sport's Andrew Benson, Dennis' 35-year reign at McLaren came to an end on Tuesday after he was forced to quit by his fellow shareholders, long-time business partner Mansour Ojjeh and Bahraini sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat.

    In October, Benson revealed Ojjeh and Mumtalakat had approached Brown with a view to succeeding Dennis. The American, who is a prominent motorsport business figure, is on good terms with all of McLaren's shareholders.

    And according to Sky Sports' Pete Gill and Craig Slater, Brown has now received a "firm offer" to replace Dennis.

    Having resigned as CEO of CSM Sport and Entertainment in September, Brown is expected to take a senior position in F1 in the near future, with the same source reporting he has also been offered a role with F1's new owners Liberty Media, which is in the process of completing a takeover from CVC Capital Partners.

    He is expected to make a decision within the next seven days.

    Brown is widely admired within F1 having arranged a number of high-profile commercial deals in recent years, including Johnnie Walker's agreement with McLaren, Martini's title sponsorship of Williams and Ferrari's deal with UPS, per The Inside Line's Maurice Hamilton.

    Per Benson, McLaren's interest in Brown partly stems from his success in finding new sponsors, with the team competing without a title sponsor since Vodafone's exit at the end of 2013.

    Meanwhile, more details behind the departure of Dennis have emerged—who referred to the reasons behind his exit as "entirely spurious" in a statement, per Gill and Slater.

    According to Motor Sport's Mark Hughes, Dennis' "boardroom coup" in January 2014—when he sacked team principal Martin Whitmarsh while Ojjeh was seriously ill in hospital—contributed to a breakdown in relations between Dennis and Ojjeh. 

Mercedes Close to Signing Former Ferrari Technical Boss James Allison?

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    Allison could be set to return to F1 with three-time world champions Mercedes, it has been reported.

    Having joined Ferrari from Lotus in 2013, Allison left the Prancing Horse ahead of this year's German GP as part of Ferrari's technical reshuffle, with the 48-year-old linked with several British-based teams.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport) in October, Allison held negotiations with Renault following his departure from Ferrari, but his concerns about the outfit's lack of leadership saw him reject a return to Team Enstone for a fourth spell.

    According to Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, Allison had also been strongly linked with moves to Red Bull and McLaren-Honda.

    But with both teams saying there is no room to accommodate him "within their established technical structures," Allison is now more likely to return to F1 with Mercedes, who may have identified him as a potential successor to technical boss Lowe. 

    One of the key figures behind Mercedes' success in recent years, Lowe has reportedly attracted interest from Ferrari, with Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz recently reporting there is some substance behind the speculation surrounding Lowe, who may be interested in a new challenge.

    Cooper noted Mercedes could arrange to have an option on Allison's services, which would see him hired if Lowe were to depart, but also increase Mercedes boss Toto Wolff's bargaining position in his attempts to keep Lowe while preventing Allison from joining another team.

    However, the same source added it is also possible Mercedes could sign Allison to work alongside Lowe within their current technical structure.

    As Allison is still officially on gardening leave at Ferrari, he would be not be allowed to begin work with his new employers until the beginning of 2017.

Esteban Gutierrez Talking with Sauber and Manor over 2017

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    Gutierrez has confirmed he is holding negotiations with Sauber and Manor as he attempts to secure a place on the 2017 grid.

    After spending 2015 in a Ferrari reserve role, Gutierrez returned to F1 with Haas this season but has endured a difficult year, failing to score a point alongside team-mate Romain Grosjean.

    Over the Brazilian GP weekend, Haas announced Gutierrez will be replaced by Kevin Magnussen for 2017, plunging the Mexican's future into serious doubt.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Oleg Karpov, Gutierrez intends on remaining in F1 next season but only if it "makes sense" for the long term.

    And with Manor and Sauber—the latter where he started his F1 career in 2013—the only teams yet to announce their 2017 driver lineups, the 25-year-old has revealed he is in discussions with both outfits.

    Per F1i.com's Chris Medland, Gutierrez said: "You know what the two options are that are available, so we are in talks with them. Nothing is really decided yet but I think in the next week we will see some progress."

    According to Motorsport.com's Cooper, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are likely to remain with Sauber for 2017, although doubts remain over the future of the latter.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Nasr's signing of a contract extension has been delayed by complications between his personal sponsorBanco do Brasiland the team, with Sauber determined to finalise their driver lineup in time for the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

    A separate Autosport (h/t Eurosport) article suggested Gutierrez is on Manor's four-man shortlist for 2017, with Nasr, current driver Pascal Wehrlein and reserve driver Rio Haryanto also in contention. 

    Meanwhile, Haas team principal Guenther Steiner has played down his altercation with the Mexican during the Brazilian GP, where television pictures showed the driver throwing his gloves across the garage following his retirement.

    Per Crash.net, Steiner vowed to hold clear-the-air talks with Gutierrez ahead of the final race of the season.

Kimi Raikkonen Critical of Pirelli's Wet Tyres After Brazilian GP Crash

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    Raikkonen believes Pirelli's extreme-wet tyres are simply not good enough after crashing out of the Brazilian GP.

    The 2007 world champion was running third on Lap 20 at Interlagos when he lost control on the pit straight and smashed into the outside wall before rebounding across the track, narrowly avoiding other cars.

    Raikkonen was among a number of drivers who aquaplaned at that part of the track, with Grosjean, Massa and Ericsson crashing out on the hill climb towards the start-finish line. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso all survived high-speed spins.

    Raikkonen believes the standard of wet-weather tyres has worsened over the last decade, suggesting it is too easy to lose control on the current rubber.

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), he said:

    These tyres are very vulnerable, very easy to aquaplane.

    Obviously it depends on the circuit, on many things, but if I'm comparing it to 10 years ago or 12 years ago, those tyres could handle this kind of water with no issues, no aquaplaning.

    The aquaplaning is the big issue. It looks like if you have a little bit of standing water there's zero grip.

    Raikkonen's thoughts were echoed by Ericsson, who suffered a similar accident just eight laps before the Ferrari driver in a race interrupted by several safety-car periods and red-flag stoppages.

    Per the same source, the Sauber driver said: 

    For some reason in the last couple of years, when there is standing water on tracks, we are struggling a lot to drive, whereas 10 years back people were driving in these conditions without a problem.

    There is a lot of room for improvement on the wet tyres because in the corners they are good, but it's just on the straights when there is standing water we should be able to go through that.

    It was raining, but it wasn't torrential. We should be able to race without red flags and safety cars, we've done that in the past, but now it's not possible because of the aquaplaning on standing water.

    So there is a big challenge that they [Pirelli] need to sort out so we can go through standing water without drivers losing the car and becoming a passenger.

    You can be lucky, like Max, and you keep it out of the wall.

    Or you can be unlucky like me, Kimi, Romain and Massa. We all crashed more or less in the same place, where it is pretty much not a corner, so for me that is the disappointing thing.

    Grosjean failed to even start the race after crashing on the reconnaissance lap, with the Haas driver referring to the extreme-wets as "very poor tyres" that force the drivers to take huge risks.

    The drivers' unflattering comments come despite Pirelli holding a two-day wet-tyre test in January, with Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren-Honda providing cars to assist the Italian manufacturer's development.

    The test, which took place at the Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseille, France, was held with the aim of producing a tyre to increase grip and reduce aquaplaning in wet conditions, per the official F1 website.

Rob Smedley 'Really Proud' of Felipe Massa After Brazilian GP Farewell

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    Smedley has admitted he was moved by the affection shown to Massa following the Williams driver's race-ending crash in the Brazilian GP.

    Having announced his retirement from F1 ahead of September's Italian GP, Massa made his final appearance at Interlagos last weekend—a track where he claimed emotional pole-to-flag victories for Ferrari in 2006 and 2008.

    After aquaplaning and crashing on the main straight on Lap 47, Massa was given an emotional sendoff, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams mechanics applauding the 35-year-old in the pit lane before he was met by his family.

    After the race, Massa—who will be replaced by Canadian teenager Lance Stroll in 2017—told Sky Sports television it was better to end his final Brazilian GP in that way than having an anonymous race to the minor points positions.

    And Smedley—a long-term ally of Massa having become the Brazilian's race engineer in 2006 and followed him to Williams at the beginning of 2014—agreed, revealing he was proud of Massa as he made his way back to the pits.

    He told Autosport (h/t Eurosport):

    To see all of that, just to see the amount of love for him was incredible.

    Mercedes is a team he's never had anything to do with, or been near, and all their guys came out and showed him so much love.

    All the Ferrari guys came out because he's so loved down there, but it was still quite incredible.

    All his family were there and they all surrounded him. It was massively important they were there to support him and carry him through.

    He's done such a great job in Formula 1, and such a great job for his country.

    We're all just really, really proud of him.

    You've got that weird juxtaposition of wanting him to have done well and finish on a real high.

    But then having seen what we did see, it was then even more special than him finishing in eighth or ninth position.

    Massa's third retirement of the season, coupled with Valtteri Bottas' 11th-place finish at Interlagos, means Williams are almost certain to finish fifth in the constructors' championship having claimed third place in 2014 and 2015.

    With the team 27 points behind fellow Mercedes customers Force India ahead of the final race, Bottas has urged Williams to "just go for it" in the Abu Dhabi GP, saying they have nothing to lose, per Crash.net's Haydn Cobb.

            

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