Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Sauber's Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Ocon, More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours, Talk: Sauber's Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Ocon, More

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    With his personal sponsors reportedly linked to Sauber's new owners, many regard Marcus Ericsson as one of the most brazen pay drivers to enter Formula One in recent years.

    But is it time to give the Swede, set to begin his fourth F1 season in 2017, the credit he deserves?

    Behind the wheel of a dreadful car in the most difficult of seasons for Sauber, Ericsson has generally outperformed highly rated team-mate Felipe Nasr.

    And although Nasr scored the team's first points of 2016 in the recent Brazilian Grand Prix, Ericsson's performances across this season have clearly impressed the team, who have awarded him with a new contract.

    Ericsson says he now feels at home at Sauber, while Esteban Ocon is expecting to immediately feel at home at Force India when he joins the team at the beginning of 2017.

    Alongside Sergio Perezthe most successful driver in Force India's historyOcon may struggle to establish himself at the Silverstone-based outfit next season, but the Mercedes-backed youngster is convinced the pair will be equals from the start.

    While Ocon is eager to beat his new team-mate, Jolyon Palmer is ready to welcome his, with the British driver suggesting his partnership with Nico Hulkenberg will be key to Renault's success in 2017.

    Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz Jr. has explained why it is unfair to judge his boyhood idol, Fernando Alonso, on the amount of world championships he has won.

    Closing our latest roundup is F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, who has added the popular Singapore GP to the ever-growing list of races in danger of being dropped from the calendar.

Marcus Ericsson Feels 'At Home' After Extending Sauber Contract

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    Ericsson has expressed his delight after securing a contract extension with Sauber for 2017, suggesting he feels at home with the team.

    Since joining the Swiss outfit from the now-defunct Caterham team at the beginning of 2015, the Swede has developed into a solid grand prix driver, claiming five points finishes over the course of last season.

    Although he has failed to score a point in 2016, Ericsson has generally outperformed team-mate Nasr, who claimed a ninth-place finish in the recent Brazilian GP.

    As reported by Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Ericsson had been open to a move away from Sauber for 2017, revealing he was holding negotiations with Renault, Force India, Williams and Manor in September.

    But after confirming he will remain with Sauber—whose new owners, Longbow Finance, are closely linked to his personal sponsors, according to Forbes' Christian Sylt—Ericsson has admitted he feels comfortable with the team.

    He told the team's official website:

    It is great news that I will be racing for another year for the Sauber F1 Team. I have spent two years with Sauber now, and I really feel at home. A big thanks to everyone within the team for trusting in me again.

    From a personal point of view, I have developed a lot as a driver during my time at Sauber. We have had ups and downs, but we always stick together and work as hard as we can.

    Since the new ownership, there has been a positive push in the team, so it will also be exciting to go into this new era. Many motorsport experts are becoming part of Sauber, which is a good sign for the future.

    For 2017 my aim is to build on my performance from the second half of this season, and to continue working hard with the team. I cannot wait for the 2017 season, so that we can make our way up to the midfield with the objective to score points on a regular basis.

    Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn told the same source how Ericsson's willingness "to go that extra mile in order to make progress" has impressed Sauber during a difficult 2016, adding he is "an important team player."

    Nasr is widely expected to sign a stay with Sauber for a third season, but the Brazilian appears to be facing a race against time to secure a 2017 seat.

    According to Autosport (h/t Eurosport), complications between Sauber and Nasr's primary sponsor, Banco do Brasil, have slowed negotiations between the two parties, with the team determined to finalise their 2017 lineup in time for the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

    Should Nasr—who has attracted interest from Manor, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport)—be unable to agree a deal, Sauber may opt to re-sign Esteban Gutierrez, who has been dropped by Haas.

    Per F1i.com's Chris Medland, Gutierrez recently confirmed he is talking to both Manor and Sauber—with whom he began his grand prix career in 2013—as he attempts to remain on the grid.

Esteban Ocon Expecting to Match Sergio Perez at Force India in 2017

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    Ocon is confident he will prove to be a match for Perez upon his arrival at Force India at the beginning of 2017.

    Despite only making his F1 debut with Manor in August, the 20-year-old has been chosen as Hulkenberg's replacement at Force India, with the team confirming the signing of Ocon on a multi-year deal ahead of the recent Brazilian GP.

    The Frenchman will be partnered by Perez, the most successful driver in Force India's history, having claimed a total of four podium finishes for the team since the beginning of 2014.

    Ocon, who beat Max Verstappen to the FIA European Formula Three title in 2014 before winning the GP3 championship a year later, is excited to work alongside from a driver of Perez's stature.

    But the Mercedes-backed youngster is convinced he can challenge the Mexican from the start of next season. 

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

    I've spoken with him quite a lot, and he is very cool guy,.

    So I look forward to learning from him, and then challenging him the best I can.

    I don't think there is a team leader in the team, to be honest. ...

    [Force India] believe in me, they think we can achieve great things together, and they want a strong driver to replace Nico, which is a tough task.

    But I will do my best to replace him the best way possible.

    Asked if the team-mate's will start 2017 as equals, he replied: "Yes, for sure."

    According to Crash.net, Perez has welcomed the signing of Ocon, stating: 

    Everything that I heard about him was very impressive. The team was very impressed and enthusiastic. They really liked his personality—the way he interacts with the team, the feedback he gives and he is meant to be very easy to work with. The team was always very happy when they spoke about him. 

    I had three great years with Nico and I learn a lot from him and now I look forward to learning a lot from Esteban. It is always good to learn things from different drivers. I have been very lucky to have very talented drivers next to me and so now having Esteban, it is a great opportunity to learn new things from a young driver.

    After the Brazilian GP, where Ocon ran as high as eighth place before fading to 12th, deputy team principal Bob Fernley told Autosport (h/t Eurosport) how Force India were "very encouraged" by his performance in treacherous conditions.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Fernley has insisted Pascal Wehrlein can still have a "tremendous future" in F1 even though the German was pipped to the Force India seat by Ocon.

    Meanwhile, Force India have contacted Ecclestone for an advance payment on their prize money in an effort to ease cashflow over the winter months, according to Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

    Formula One Management traditionally pays teams on a monthly basis between February and November, often leaving smaller teams struggling in December and January, with the challenge of the new-for-2017 regulations only adding to their financial pressures this winter.

Jolyon Palmer Excited About Nico Hulkenberg Partnership in 2017

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    Palmer has revealed he is looking forward to working alongside Hulkenberg next season, suggesting the partnership between the pair can help push Renault forward.

    After three consecutive seasons with Force India, Hulkenberg will replace Kevin Magnussen at Renault in 2017, with Palmer seeing off plenty of competition to retain his seat with the team.

    Although Renault have been restricted to just eight points upon their return to F1 this season, Palmer believes his productive relationship with Magnussenwho will join Romain Grosjean at Haas next yearhas been one of the team's stronger points in 2016.

    And the British driver is keen to establish a similar partnership with Hulkenberg next season.

    Per F1i.com's Medland, he said:

    I don’t know him really at the moment. We will get to know each other a bit more over the winter, but he seems like a nice guy and the important thing is to be open as a team, because we need to work together.

    It is the same with Kevin this year, we have actually worked really well together and even though we have not put that much on the car, you can see the progression of the team is much better because we have been working well and getting more and more out of it. So we need to do the same with Nico and keep pushing as a team. ...

    I see it different between me and Kevin who at the start of this year had a year’s experience at McLaren which on the one hand gave him an advantage in terms of experience, but I had already been with the team for a year. I am really happy to be staying with Renault because I know the team really well. I am happy that Nico is joining because he is experienced.

    Per F1i.com's Julien Billiotte, Palmer paid tribute to Magnussen for being "a good guy, a great racer and fun to work with" across 2016, insisting the Dane will thrive at Haas in 2017. 

    In a separate Medland article, the 2014 GP2 champion expressed his excitement about Renault's 2017 car, which he has already tested in the team's simulator.

    However, Palmer acknowledged the team—who are producing a completely power unit for 2017, as team principal Frederic Vasseur recently told Motorsport.com's Noble—won't know how they will fare under the new regulations until pre-season testing at Spain's Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. 

    He added:

    I’ve seen the wind tunnel model and it looks awesome! It’s going to be a great looking car. I’ve driven it on the sim and it’s quick. Of course, the new rules are the same for everyone, and we won’t know how we stack-up against our rivals until we hit the track in Barcelona, but the speeds are higher, the car is more challenging to drive and I think it’s going to be a great spectacle when we race next year.

    Meanwhile, Vasseur has revealed Renault intend to expand test driver Sergey Sirotkin's role with the team in 2017 after the GP2 driver took to the wheel of the R.S.16 car in practice sessions in Russia and Brazil.

    He told Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy and Oleg Karpov how the Moscow-born youngster has impressed the team with his commitment, consistency and pace this season, revealing Renault are hoping to offer him more mileage in 2017.

Fernando Alonso Good Enough to Have Won 6 F1 Titles, Says Carlos Sainz Jr.

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    Sainz believes the amount of world championships Alonso has won does not offer a fair reflection of his fellow Spaniard's impact on F1.

    Although he is still widely regarded as the most complete driver on the grid, Alonso has not won the title since claiming his second consecutive crown with Renault in 2006.

    Alonso has come close to securing a third championship on several occasions, losing the 2007 title to Kimi Raikkonen by a single point before being pipped to the crown by Sebastian Vettel in 2010 and 2012.

    Sainz believes it is unfair to judge his mentor on the amount of titles he has, suggesting the 35-year-old's performances over the years validate his greatness.

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

    It's like he has won five or six [championships].

    What he did with that Ferrari those years was something not many people could do and what he is doing with the McLaren is standing out.

    It's just a number, the world championships.

    If you ask the whole paddock, everyone agrees he's one of the best in history.

    Championships depends on the car or being in the right place at the right moment.

    What really makes your career and your respect, like [Ayrton] Senna did, is your performance every year.

    Despite being restricted to just 10 points finishes over the last two seasons, Alonso has frequently insisted the new-for-2017 regulations could allow him to secure a third title with McLaren-Honda.

    As reported by Crash.net's Haydn Cobb, Alonso recently urged the team to make "the final step" in 2017 after recovering well from their worst season in more than three decades in 2015.

    Per Autosport (h/t Eurosport), the Spaniard has suggested Honda's progress with its power unit will not determine McLaren's success in 2017, suggesting the large emphasis on aerodynamics in the new rules will make chassis performance more important than engine power.

    Meanwhile, McLaren Automotive chief executive Mike Flewitt has confirmed the outfit did hold discussions with Apple regarding a potential partnership earlier this year, but he told Reuters' Alan Baldwin that the technology giant did not launch a takeover bid.

Singapore Wants to Drop F1 Race, Admits Bernie Ecclestone

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    Ecclestone has raised doubts over the future of the Singapore GP by revealing its organisers no longer want to host an F1 race.

    Although the Marina Bay race has become one of the most popular events in F1 since joining the calendar in 2008, the future of the grand prix is uncertain, with its current contract set to expire after next year's Singapore GP.

    The Canadian, German and Brazilian grands prix are already under serious threat, with all three events listed as "subject to confirmation" when F1 released its provisional 2017 calendar in September.

    A month later, Sepang chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali raised doubts over the future of the Malaysian GP, telling the New Strait Times (h/t Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde) how the nation should "take a break" from F1 as the sport has become boring as a result of Mercedes' dominance.

    Ecclestone believes race organisers are similar to major car manufacturers in the sense that they withdraw without hesitation when they no longer see value in F1.

    And the 86-year-old has suggested the Singapore GP chiefs are reluctant to agree a contract extension. He told German publication Auto Motor und Sport (h/t Motorsport.com's Noble): 

    It could happen to us that Mercedes and Ferrari run away. But honestly, if the races get better, this may not be such a terrible vision.

    We have to expect the manufacturers to leave us anyway. Mercedes will retire on the day when it suits them and it’s something we had before—look at Honda, BMW and Toyota. They go when Formula 1 has done the job for them. There is no gratitude.

    It is the same with the organisers. Look at what we have done for Singapore. Yes, the Grand Prix has cost Singapore a lot of money, but we’ve also given them a lot of money.

    Singapore was suddenly more than just an airport to fly to or from somewhere. Now they believe they have reached their goal and they do not want a grand prix anymore.

    Ecclestone told the same source he is hopeful of keeping both the Canadian and Brazilian grands prix on the calendar, although he admitted it could be more difficult to rescue the latter.

    He suggested the German GP is already a lost cause and added: "We cannot subsidise the race in Germany, if we do not do the same with other races in Europe."

    Ecclestone's comments come little more than a week after Toto Wolff told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper how Mercedes will not attempt to save the Hockenheim race, despite its status as the Silver Arrows' home event.

    As reported by Noble, Felipe Massa has expressed his hope that the Brazilian GP will remain on the schedule, suggesting it would be "very negative" for his home country if the Interlagos race were to be dropped.