Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and More

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2016

Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and More

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    So, who will become the 2016 Formula One world champion at this weekend's season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

    Will it be Nico Rosberg, the son of a title-winner, who has led the standings for much of the year and enters the race with a healthy 12-point lead?

    Or will it be Lewis Hamilton, who already has three titles in the bag and has made a habit of bouncing back from disappointments throughout his F1 career?

    Both men have met ahead of the final round at the Yas Marina Circuit, with the Mercedes drivers offering an insight into their respective mindsets and tactics.

    Jenson Button's state of mind is perfectly clear after announcing he will take a sabbatical from F1 at the end of 2016.

    Most people are not expecting Button to return in 2018, with the 2009 world champion admitting Abu Dhabi will probably be his last race as an F1 driver.

    While the racing is set to conclude on Sunday, the talking is set to continue long after the chequered flag drops, with seats still available at Manor and Sauber.

    The latest rumour has suggested Mercedes-backed youngster Pascal Wehrlein could join Ferrari customers Sauber for 2017.

    But in truth, those seats could go to anyone with a sizable budget.

    Closing our roundup is a glimpse into the future, with a senior technical figure explaining why the new-for-2017 F1 cars may not be as fast as first thought.

Nico Rosberg Feels Previous Experiences Will Help Him Keep Calm in Abu Dhabi

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    Rosberg believes his previous experiences of fighting for the title will allow him to remain composed at the Abu Dhabi GP.

    Rosberg and Hamilton have fought exclusively for the world championship since Mercedes' rise to prominence at the beginning of 2014, with the pair winning all but eight of the last 50 races between them.

    With a 12-point advantage over his team-mate, Rosberg heads into the Abu Dhabi GP as the overwhelming favourite to secure the title and follow in the footsteps of his father, 1982 world champion Keke, with a podium finish good enough to secure the championship.

    The German feels his battles with Hamilton in 2014, when he lost the world championship at the final race of the season, and 2015 will make him more at ease as he bids for his first crown.

    He told a televised FIA press conference: "It definitely helps to have been there and done that. This is the third time that we're fighting for the championship and the second time it's gone to the wire, so for sure it helps to feel more relaxed."

    The Mercedes drivers have frequently come to blows on track in recent years, making contact at Belgium 2014, Spain 2016 and Austria 2016, raising suspicions that the title could be decided by a collision.

    But Rosberg has dismissed the suggestion that he could resort to such tactics at Yas Marina, saying his approach is to simply wrap up the title in style by winning the race.

    Asked if he could initiate a collision, he said: "It's going to be a weekend like any other, where I'm going to go for the race win and do what it takes to get that—that's it."

    When pushed, he added: "Well, within the limits of what's acceptable, of course!"

    Rosberg has set pole position for each of the last two Abu Dhabi grands prix, securing a dominant pole-to-flag victory in 2015. 

Lewis Hamilton Reluctant to Back Nico Rosberg Up in Abu Dhabi GP

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    Hamilton believes it would be unwise to back Rosberg into the chasing pack during the Abu Dhabi GP, arguing he would rather win by the biggest possible margin than toy with his team-mate.

    Having trailed Rosberg by 33 points after October's Japanese GP, Hamilton has closed the gap to 12 with three consecutive victories in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.

    In order to claim his fourth world championship this weekend, Hamilton needs to win the race and hope Rosberg—who has stood on the podium in 15 of this season's 20 races—finishes no higher than fourth.

    As reported by Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde and Frankie Mao, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has suggested Hamilton would be "smart" to back Rosberg into the cars behind at Yas Marina, suggesting Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen could deny Rosberg a podium finish.

    However, Hamilton has said his aim is to win the race as convincingly as possible, suggesting the nature of the track means it would be impossible to employ such tactics.

    Per Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy, he said:

    Nico has been on pole here for the last two years here, he has been very quick. This has been a relatively strong circuit for me, but [I was] not delivering the last two years, so my sole goal is to do so.

    In terms of tactics in the race, that has to come on Sunday, that has never been my thought process. If I am ahead, I want to be as far ahead as possible.

    When you have a 18-30 seconds' lead, that is as painful a blow as you can give to the guy you are fighting.

    If you look at last race [Brazil] with no red flag, I would be 30 seconds ahead. That is more of an achievement than backing up your teammate.

    While here it sounds like it makes sense, it is not very practical to do. You have two long DRS zones, it wouldn’t be easy or wise to do so.

    Hamilton is the second-most successful driver in the history of the Abu Dhabi GP, having claimed two pole positions, two victories and two further podium finishes in his seven previous appearances at the track.

Jenson Button Treating Abu Dhabi GP as Final F1 Race

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    Jenson Button has admitted the Abu Dhabi GP is likely to be his final race in F1 as he prepares for his 2017 sabbatical.

    At September's Italian GP, McLaren-Honda announced an "innovative three-driver strategy" for next season, which will see reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne promoted alongside two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

    Meanwhile, Button will adopt an ambassadorial role at McLaren with a view to returning to a race seat at the beginning of 2018, shortly after his 38th birthday.

    Although Button has said he is not retiring from F1, the 2009 world champion has decided to treat Abu Dhabi as his last race in case he does not return in 2018.

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

    I got into this weekend thinking it is going to be my last race, that is the best way to be at this moment of time. Beyond this, I don't want to be racing in F1—that is the whole idea.

    I think of this as my last race and hopefully everyone else does.

    I am just going into this race thinking it is my last, I don't want to go in thinking it isn't my last and it is my last. It is true I have a contract for 2018 but at this moment in time I am not going to be racing in 2018.

    The whole idea about having a contract is that in three months time, when I have eaten myself stupid and thinking of things to do in the future, maybe I realise I need F1 back in my life, but in this moment of time that isn't the case—so this is my last race.

    That is how I think about it at the moment, but who knows this could change in six/eight months or one year.

    Reflecting on his career, Button—who made his grand prix debut with Williams in 2000 and is expected to compete in rallycross or GT racing in 2017—revealed he will walk away from F1 with many special memories.

    He added:

    It has been a long journey since eight years old until now. I have been racing in motorsport, and everything before F1 was work to try to get to F1, and you get to F1 with many dreams and aspire to be something and hopefully leave sport with memories.

    That is something I do have from 17 years racing in F1, lots of memories, life-changing memories, and to walk away with the championship is a special feeling as well.

    I raced for two teams I dreamed of racing as a kid, Williams and McLaren, and when I won the championship it was with a privateer team which is very special.

    There are so many memories I can't put them all out on the table right now. I will definitely step away from F1 happy with what I achieved and knowing my life does start now.

    Meanwhile, new McLaren executive director Zak Brown is making his first public appearance since being confirmed as Ron Dennis' successor, with the team's official Twitter account posting an image of the American in the Yas Marina paddock.

Pascal Wehrlein in Contention for 2017 Sauber Seat?

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    Wehrlein is in contention to race for Sauber next season after missing out on the chance to join Force India, it has emerged.

    The German has enjoyed a strong debut campaign in 2016, scoring Manor's first point in more than two years in July's Austrian GP, but his career appeared to take a blow when Force India chose his team-mate, fellow Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon, to replace Nico Hulkenberg for 2017.

    As reported by ESPN F1's Nate Saunders, Wehrlein expressed his disappointment with Force India's decision and had been expected to remain with Manor, who switched to Mercedes power units at the beginning of 2016, for a second season.

    But Autosport (h/t Eurosport) has reported Wehrlein is now a candidate to join the Ferrari-affiliated Sauber outfit, who are set to beat Manor to 10th place in the constructors' championship following Felipe Nasr's ninth-place finish in the Brazilian GP.

    After announcing Marcus Ericsson's contract extension on Monday, Sauber were widely expected to retain Nasr, but complications between his personal sponsor, Banco do Brasil, and the Swiss outfit have seen the 24-year-old tumble down the team's shortlist.

    The same source suggested Mercedes boss Toto Wolff held discussions with Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn in Brazil, with Mercedes regarding Sauber as a "stronger and more stable" option for Wehrlein in 2017.

    Wehrlein may face competition from former Manor team-mate Rio Haryanto, who has gained support from several Asian companies as he attempts to return to the grid after competing in the first 12 grands prix of 2016.

    But Esteban Gutierrez, who spent two seasons with Sauber in 2013 and '14, is highly unlikely to return to the team after being dropped by Haas.

    However, respected F1 journalist Joe Saward has revealed that while Wolff and Kaltenborn did hold discussions over the Brazilian GP weekend, their meeting was unproductive, with Mercedes unwilling to meet the asking price for Sauber to sign Wehrlein.

    He suggested Wehrlein may be forced to spend 2017 as Mercedes' reserve driver unless the Silver Arrows meet Sauber's demands or find an individual prepared to purchase Manor and guarantee the team's stability.

    A separate Autosport (h/t Eurosport) article has revealed "an unnamed party" is holding advanced negotiations with Manor with a view to buying a majority stake.

    Saward added that, as it stands, Gutierrez is likely to partner Wehrlein at Manor, with Haryanto joining Ericsson at Sauber.

    Meanwhile, Nasr has suggested his point-scoring exploits in Brazil should enhance his prospects of remaining with Sauber for 2017, per Motorsport.com's Elizalde.

2017 F1 Cars Won't Hit Speed Targets, Fears Pat Symonds

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    Pat Symonds has expressed doubts that F1 cars will be five seconds per lap faster when the new regulations are introduced in 2017.

    F1 is set to change significantly next year, when alterations to the bodywork and the introduction of wider Pirelli tyres are expected to make the cars faster and more physically challenging to drive than the current models.

    Symonds is one of the architects behind the new rules, and he believes the new cars will carry similarities to the V10-powered machines last seen more than a decade ago, with drivers set to experience increased G-force around corners.

    But Williams' chief technical officer has conceded the new cars may miss the target of being five seconds quicker, suggesting the effect of the new regulations could vary from circuit to circuit.

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

    They have driven cars like this before and it is nothing we didn't have around 2004/2005.

    To give you an example, a typical 200km/h corner is going to go up by 30-35km/h. It adds a G to it. It is going to be a bit more physical but it is not mind-blowing, I think.

    The performance is getting more like the mid-2000 cars, but not really there. You remember the target was five seconds per lap? I am not sure we will achieve that.

    We have the big unknown with the tyres, of course, we really don't know where we are there. But making some sensible assumptions with the tyres, I think we will see more like the four-second mark.

    At places like Barcelona, where this type of car will be quite performant, it will be more than that, but some places—like Monza, for example, where you will be taking a lot of downforce off because you have more drag from the wider tyres—I don't think we will see much difference in laptime at a track like that.

    Per the same source, Symonds explained the delay in teams receiving windtunnel tyres—as well as the current restrictions on windtunnel usage—means the 2017 cars will be less refined than after the last major chassis-regulation change in 2009.

    The ex-Renault technical director added the teams are unlikely to be closer together in terms of performance in 2017 but vowed the cars will converge over time.

    Former Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn recently told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson of his concern that a single team could dominate F1 next season in the same way his Brawn GP outfit did after discovering the double-diffuser concept in 2009.

    But Symonds said he has yet to identify a loophole in the new regulations that would provide one team a considerable advantage over their fellow competitors, per F1i.com's Chris Medland.

    However, Symonds admitted Williams are less adept than some of their rivals in terms of finding a so-called "silver bullet," with the 63-year-old revealing some teams employ engineers specifically to uncover a potential loophole.