The F1 media (or what passes for it) is running slightly wild at the moment. Wander around the paddock and have a few chats with the people who know these things and one gets a very different picture of things, compared to what you can read on the Internet. It might be amusing for those who are reading it, but many of the team people find it irritating that they have to deny stories that make no sense at all, and have no basis in reality. The story of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari is one such story. Try as I might, I have been unable to find a single shred of evidence to back this up. It could be that someone picked up a story of a Red Bull driver talking to Ferrari and jumped to the wrong conclusion. Mark Webber is a man who Ferrari would like to see alongside Fernando Alonso, but Sebastian Vettel is not on the radar at Maranello. Perhaps one day he will be, in a post-Alonso era, but that is not likely to be for a few years yet. Sebastian might have an ambition to one day be a Ferrari driver – most racing drivers do – but he is in a great position where he is now – and has no need to move. He has won two titles in his current role and looks to be on the way to a third… He is sitting pretty.
Elsewhere, there is talk of Nico Hulkenberg at Sauber. Conversely, this idea makes perfect sense. Nico is quick and experienced. He is just what Sauber needs. The real question therefore, pending an announcement, is who will be his Sauber team-mate in 2013? With Sergio Perez moving to McLaren, the Swiss team has to decide whether to keep Kamui Kobayashi, or whether to replace him. The argument for keeping him is that he would provide technical stability for the engineers to work around; the counter-argument is that Kamui is very quick, but not necessarily the most technical of drivers. The option would be to go for test driver Esteban Gutierrez. He is a new boy, but such a move would keep the team’s Mexican sponsors happy, which might not be a bad idea. There are other possible choices, depending on the team’s need for funding, but Sauber is in a good place to pick up sponsors – if indeed there are any out there at the moment. From what I hear the team has yet to decide what to do. Given that Holland’s Robin Frijns is getting a test with Sauber, it is safe to assume that he has signed some kind of option deal and would be a good third driver.
The suggestion that McLaren is on the verge of a deal with Honda is one of those rumours which is very difficult to assess. It is certainly a good moment for McLaren to be looking for a new engine partner, if it cannot afford to invest to build its own engines. Having to pay for engines is not something that McLaren wants to do for long. In recent days the head of Honda R&D Yoshiharu Yamamoto said that he would like to see the firm back in F1, but made it very clear that this was a personal point of view, rather than a company view. Yamamoto has been in the job for just over a year.
Honda R&D is an interesting organisation because it can propose technical ideas – such as an F1 project – and the main board will then decide whether or not it is a strategy that the company wants to adopt. In Detroit at the start of the year the company unveiled an NSX hybrid supercar and the word is that this will go into production much sooner than expected, at the same time, the recently passed one million hybrid vehicle sales worldwide, after nearly 13 years selling such machinery. The firm would like to accelerate the sales of such vehicles. The company quit F1 back in 2008 as car sales slumped and following years of failure with its own F1 team. The firm has since stayed away, but the rule changes in 2014 make F1 more attractive. Financially, the project is possible as the firm recently reported quarterly net profits of $1.7 billion, four times the figure a year earlier when the company was hit by the earthquake in Japan.
Honda is forecasting profits of $6 billion for the fiscal year ending in March 2013, so money is not the issue. Having burned its fingers with its own F1 team, Honda might decide to return as an engine supplier, but there is little point in trying to double-guess decisions in Japan before they are made.
The subject of customer cars has popped up again, albeit in passing in the Paris meeting last week. There is no serious thought that this will ever happen. However there are also suggestions that Bernie Ecclestone may be pushing for an equivalency formula between the new generation engines and the current old machinery, to help the smaller teams pay for engines in in 2014. The key question with such an idea would be to work out how best to equalise the engines so that the backmarkers and old technology does not outperform the new machinery.