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A wealth of juniors

McLaren is expected to retain Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne in 2018 and the signs are that rising British star Lando Norris will be given the role of third driver, although he is expected to compete in Formula 2 next season, as he continues on his path up the racing ladder. There has been speculation that he might join the dominant Prema Powerteam, but this seems to be very closely aligned to Ferrari these days. In any case, the 17-year-old Norris, who is now running away with the European Formula 3 Championship title, will be involved with McLaren in the immediate future. McLaren still has a bunch of drivers on its books, not least Jenson Button. There are also test and development drivers Oliver Turvey, who is highly-rated for his technical feedback, Honda protege Nobuharu Matsushita and Formula 2 driver Nyck de Vries. This is the last year of de Vries’s deal with McLaren, as his career was rather too quiet until this season when he has burst onto the Formula 2 scene and is currently the second-best rookie after Charles Leclerc. He has recently switched from Rapax to Racing Engineering and was fighting for victory in Monza when he and Leclerc collided on the final lap. De Vries has been with McLaren since he was karting in January 2010. He won two karting World Championships before moving into cars in 2012 but struggled in Formula Renault before winning two titles in 2014, his third year in the category. He has since looked better in the Renault World Series and in GP3 before joining Formula 2 this year. De Vries was seen very much as a Ron Dennis recruit (some felt he was a supposed to be a latter-day Lewis Hamilton) but it will be interesting to see what happens to him after a very promising start in Formula 2.

The Sainz story

The widespread reporting that Carlos Sainz will move to Renault appears to come from a single source, but has been reported on sites owned by the same organisation, and since widely copied. It is probably true because getting such a call wrong would be a very public embarrassment, although people in F1 have been known to plant fake stories to stop a deal from happening, and even to make a journalist look silly. However, given the confident language in the stories, one must assume that it is true and that the source is not playing games. For now, however, no one is confirming anything, but it is a move which make sense because Renault was interested in Sainz and may have seen the opportunity to force the issue to get him, as the McLaren-Toro Rosso engine switch is going through.

McLaren wants Renault engines. Honda seems to have decided to supply Toro Rosso instead, as it has no other choices available. This means that Renault and Toro Rosso must settle their engine supply deal. Renault is quite happy to have McLaren because it gives them a third strong team, but money is money and Toro Rosso is contracted to pay some. Thus, Renault might have demanded Sainz as part of the settlement. It saves Red Bull money. Sainz will be happy because Red Bull has nowhere for him to go, apart from staying where he is. And there is a handy replacement ready in the form of Pierre Gasly. It is a win-win-win.

There is no doubt that the other deals are now happening, with McLaren getting Renault, Toro Rosso Honda and, as a result, McLaren retaining Fernando Alonso. When all these deals are confirmed then others will be affected: Sergio Perez was negotiating to join Renault and now will probably have to stay at Force India, alongside Esteban Ocon (who was Renault’s primary target, but is nailed into a Force India contract for 2018). This means that Pascal Wehrlein cannot now move there from Sauber (where he will likely be ousted by Ferrari nominee Charles Leclerc) and so the young German will be left out because he cannot join Williams as he is too young for a drive. Williams’s sponsor Martini requires at least one of the drivers to be over 25 and with Lance Stroll ensconced in one seat, the other must be filled by an older driver. Perez has already said no to Williams. Wehrlein is too young. So will Felipe Massa stay? Possibly, but there is another driver with immediate F1 experience who will be available as a result of all of these moves: Jolyon Palmer. He’s British, which Williams always likes. He is clearly a decent driver but has had rotten luck with Renault. He is the son of a former Williams test driver (so he knows the right people) and there is some sponsorship that might follow him, which Williams would appreciate. All in all, he’s not a bad bet for Williams in the circumstances. Felipe Massa is 36 and money from Brazil has dried up.

Announcements will come as they come, but the market has now moved on to Williams…

Another podcast

If you are interested in listening to my most recent Missed Apex podcast, you can get to it by clicking here.

A reminder…

For those of you who remember the Formula 1 journalist Paul Treuthardt, there will be a memorial service to celebrate his extraordinary life at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, known worlwide as the Journalists’ Church. The service will be tomorrow (Friday, September 8) at 11.30.

 

Pure speculation?

This is the season of pure speculation in Formula 1, if one looks at some of the stories to be found on the internet. It reads sometimes as if the bottom-feeders, committed to providing x number of news stories a day, are simply linking every driver with every seat that is available…

In reality, the silly season is largely hot air, with few major changes expected between now and next year. It looks like Sergio Perez will end up at Renault, Pascal Wehrlein at Force India, if the team can be convinced to take him, and Charles Leclerc at Sauber. Williams will likely remain unchanged unless the team can find someone over 25 who is better than Felipe Massa – and who hasn’t already been and gone from F1. Hence the recent Kubica stories.

Fernando Alonso will stay at McLaren if Honda leaves. We do not expect to see Fernando opening any Honda dealerships any time soon and the Japanese are unlikely to welcome him into one of its Indycars any time soon. The fact that Takuma Sato last week announced he was leaving Andretti Autosport for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, suggests that’s Michael Andretti’s recent negotiations with Chevrolet did not go down well in Japan, even if Michael has now re-upped with Honda. The Japanese are big on loyalty…

The big question in F1 is what happens at Honda and I have a theory about this. Honda is a listed company. There are rules it must follow and keeping decisions quiet is frowned upon by stock market regulators. Honda was due to have a board meeting on Monday night to discuss F1 and the fact it is now Wednesday, heading towards Thursday in Japan, would seem to suggest that the board has made a decision which did not need to be announced. Logically, that would that it will stay in F1, rather than quit. That may not be the case, but listed companies tend to make announcements quickly. The board was keen on reviving the McLaren-Honda legend of 1988-1992 to give itself more appeal in the car markets, but it seems that this choice is no longer available, as McLaren is intent on termination and a switch to Renault for 2018, 2019 and 2020. After that it is expected that the team will build its own engines for the new F1 rules in 2021. This may seem tough on Honda, but it is fair to say that the Honda engines have been a massive disappointment.

McLaren feels it must make the change just as back in 2008 Honda felt it must quit the sport. As it turned out that was not a great decision as the team was sold to its management, with sufficient money to avoid all the termination costs that would otherwise have been incurred. Honda then had to watch as Brawn GP won the world title, using a Honda chassis and Mercedes engines.

No announcement suggests no pullout and one might assume that work is now ongoing to complete a deal with Red Bull to supply Toro Rosso in 2018 and Red Bull Racing in 2019 – if things go well in the first year. The deal would be financially advantageous to the teams – in other words they would save Red Bull a ton of money. You might ask, why would Red Bull care about cash? Well, there is a school of thought in F1 that is arguing that Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has had his fill of F1 and wants to move on to new dangerous activities to keep Red Bull edgy for the next generation of adrenaline freaks. He is contractually committed to F1 until the end of 2020, with massive penalty clauses if he pulls Red Bull Racing out before then. This could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and so the best strategy is to stay involved, take the prize money on offer (which is why there are penalty clauses) and reduce costs as much as possible by doing deals for the remaining years. The TAG-Heuer engine branding deal is just such as arrangement, while the Aston Martin sponsorship deal looks more like an exit strategy, with the team becoming Aston Martin-owned in the long term. Obviously Aston Martin is short of cash, but royalty deals on the (Red Bull-designed) Valkyrie supercar project justify the signage on the F1 cars and a Red Bull fade-out, with the Austrian firm remaining the title sponsor for three years, but paying nothing in 2021, 2022 and 2023, means that the purchase price can be made much more manageable.

This probably explains why Christian Horner has become such a convert to cost-cutting and cheaper engines in the future, in expectation that he will lead (and be a shareholder in) an Aston Martin F1 team, securing Adrian Newey’s services with shares, as well. Thus if the Honda engine is decent and there’s money behind it, that would get Red Bull Racing through 2019 and 2020, at much reduced cost.

If one looks at Red Bull’s sister squad, Scuderia Toro Rosso, it is already known that the team is for sale. Almost half the operation now works in the U.K. And the team recently re-signed James Key, to maintain the value in the business. Getting Hondas in 2018, 2019 and 2020, would get the team to the end of the current commercial agreements and ready for the new era of F1 in 2021. The relationship with Honda would be good for whoever owns the team by then and would add value to the team if the Honda engines become competitive. A similar Red Bull fade out sponsorship in 2018, 2019 and 2020 would mean that the price could be reasonable for any buyer out there and while moving the whole team to England might not be desirable for the folks in Faenza, it does make sense, although these days teams can be a little more multinational, as we see with Haas, which has designers and manufacturing in Italy, research and development and marketing in the US, and the race team in the U.K.

The key to these moves is a sensible set of cost-effective rules for 2021 and beyond, but these seems to be in the pipeline. If the costs can be brought down and the revenues pushed up then more manufacturers will come to F1, which explains the Porsche and Alfa Romeo stories of late. Others may follow…

Notebook from the road

As the Italian Grand Prix was short and was not the most complicated of stories to tell, the GP+ e-magazine came together very efficiently on Sunday night. There was even time for a quick spaghetti carbonara before launching into finishing the JSBM insider newsletter (which is where the really good stuff goes). It was nearly finished before dawn and I stopped for a couple of hours sleep before finishing it off, downing some strong (but not too concentrated) caffè and then I was off. Soon I was belting across the plains of Piedmont on the A4 autostrada, which they call Serenissima, I guess because it starts in Venice.
This is a flat land, in the shadow of the Alps, and every town has a history of some sort in motor racing. Near Biella, a wool town which once hosted its own Grand Prix and was the home of Count Trossi, one turns to the north and heads up to the Aosta Valley, a flat-bottomed ravine through the towering mountains and craggy peaks. It’s a region where many cultures have collided through the centuries and the placenames are linguistically diverse. One goes from Castillo di Verrès, to Pré-Saint-Didier, Chatillon and to Derby, with signs to villages such as Etroubles, which sounds like something we often get with the Internet in faraway media centres.

If there are speed limits in these parts, they are ignored, even by the Dutch, and one has soon climbed up to the Mont Blanc tunnel, one of the great engineering wonders of the modern world, a 7.2 mile two-lane tube, which cuts under the mountains (at up to 1.5 miles below the surface). This pops you out near Chamonix and you dive down a series of hairpins to the valley of the Arve, with some great views of mighty glaciers. When you reach the valley, you scoot along to Annemasse, skirt alongside the Swiss border around Geneva, beneath Mont Salève,and then begin the climb up again for the dramatic autoroute that cuts through the Jura, with spectacular viaducts, roads clinging to ledges and lakes that are so blue that they could be in the tropics.

This leads you to the Bresse, a region known for its succulent chickens and it’s bleue cheese – and not much else – and one goes gradually downhill to cross the Saône near Mâcon. Turning north and running up the river valley to Beaune, with the vineyards of Burgundy all around you, you then curl away to the north-west and climb up through autumnal forests into the Morvan, one of France’s lesser-known delights, and finally one arrives in forests of the Gatinais before the plains that lead to Paris. After 850 kilometres, the inevitable traffic jams are not welcome.

Years of experimentation have given me an infallible work-around route which gets me home rapidly, looping to the south of the city, by way of Monthléry, France’s version of Monza, built in the same era with amazing banked corners. It struck me as I went past in the early evening that with some vision and money Montlhéry could be a great venue for the French GP, using the banking for grandstands with a track through the infield and using the old road circuit in the woods. Ah, one can dream… I end up going through what the French like think of as their Silicon Valley, where Prost Grand Prix used to be and where Renault has its Technocentre. You pass nuclear research facilities, celebrated Grandes Écoles, airfields where the Farman Brothers and Blériot used to fly. At one point one encounters a Mirage fighter jet, which someone has left in a flower bed. There is then a dramatic aqueduct, built in the 1680s, solely to provide water for the fountains at Versailles, and soon afterwards one goes through a 6.2-mile tunnel with no fewer than five speed cameras to try (and fail) to keep the rowdy local drivers under control. It doesn’t work. They speed up and slow down accordingly and thus cause more accidents…

When it comes to the automobile, the French and the Italians have a lot in common. Italian driving is lively and often unexpected, and the mirrors seem only to be used for checking how one looks. Indicators seem to be optional extras. When it comes to traffic management, there’s not much the Italians could learn from Brazil about creating unnecessary traffic jams. Every day there seems to be a different system and they truly do not seem to understand what is wrong with that idea. Fans on bicycles wobble around, blissfully unaware than there is anyone on the road apart from them. Frenetic from too many ristrettos, the gate people wave their arms a lot and shout, but it is best to ignore them all (policemen included) and just do what you want to do. This year they added concrete blocks to create one-car width chicanes (on a two-way road, of course), so that extremists in trucks could not get into the park.

I long ago tired of all this silliness and so nowadays I arrive each morning before seven, when the only people around are half-awake parking attendants in donning their fluorescent jackets, and F1 hospitality types, hurrying into the paddock, worrying about their hair. These people are amazing. They work the hardest of everyone during a Grand Prix weekend, are always smiling, always helpful and always patient. Monza is the last time each year we see most of them, so thank you – one and all – for everything you do each F1 season.

Sunday was a beautiful Monza day, but the rest of the weekend was fairly miserable. The trouble with rain is that F1 people shelter from the downpours and so you don’t tend to see them much. It was, as a result, a slow news weekend. The primary topic of coversation was Honda. We will know in a few hours what the Honda board has decided to do. The choice was to quit Formula 1, or to do a deal to move to Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2018 and (perhaps) Red Bull Racing in 2019. This will give the Japanese time to get things up to speed – if they can – while giving Red Bull smaller bills to pay. Perhaps, at the end of it all, it will also give Red Bull Racing the manufacturer it has so long been chasing. Having said that, there are quite a few folk in F1 who see Red Bull sliding quietly out of the sport after 2020, perhaps leaving some branding behind for a few years when selling their teams, to make the purchase price less dramatic, as happened when Red Bull split with Sauber back in 2001. If McLaren gets Renault engines, as is planned, Fernando Alonso will stay. Sergio Perez will move to Renault and, probably, Pascal Wehrlein will join Esteban Ocon at Force India, as Charles Leclerc will be getting his Sauber seat, thanks to Ferrari offering a deal for the youngster. Things could develop differently if Force India is sold, at which point it will depend on who the buyer is…

Ferrari has plenty of money and has just renewed its sponsorship with Philip Morris International (the owner of Marlboro), despite the fact that tobacco advertising is banned in most countries. The last deal agreed was a three-year one that runs until the end of 2018. This one will probably be a three-year deal until the end of 2021.The team is no longer called Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro but PMI still benefits from the historical value of the relationship, plus VIP hospitality and some use of the Ferrari cars in Marlboro promotions.

F1 continues to flutter its wings around the world, aiming for more and more of Liberty Media’s celebrated “destination cities”. Buenos Aires, New York, Copenhagen and Miami are all in the spotlight while there is now also talk of a street race in China. It is expected that Shanghai and Singapore will soon be announced to have new contracts for their races, but Liberty believes that as the car culture grows in China, so interest in F1 will follow. Things will be helped by the fact that the Chinese government is encouraging its entrepreneurs to invest more at home, as the economy has slowed because they are buying the world. It is worthy noting that the Chinese car company, which has done a great job with Volvo, may have some interesting ideas with Lotus, a company famous for its lightweight cars – and its F1 teams. Who knows? Perhaps we will see yet another Lotus revival in F1 in the years ahead.

Elsewhere Monaco is going to be an easier place to work in 2018 as there is a $30 million project to create a new pitlane complex, the suggestion is that the new pit buildings will have an extra storey, which will give the teams more room to work. The paddock area, down on the quayside will remain, but this is also being upgraded in the next few years as part of a big project to make the Port Hercules district a nicer place to visit. This will include a new car museum, which will be underground at Tabac Corner.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 17.20.24.pngLewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas gave Ferrari a drubbing at the Pista Magica at Monza on Sunday, the pair finishing more than half a minute ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who had Dan Ricciardo’s Red Bull closing in on him when the chequered flag came out. For the 93,000 fans present it was a crushing display of Mercedes domination. Vettel admitted after the race that he did not have the pace to fight Lewis and Hamilton now leads the World Championship by three points as the F1 teams pack up in Europe and head off to Singapore. Kimi Raikkonen was fifth, but Mercedes is now 62 points ahead in the Constructors’ Championship – and will take a lot of beating. But, much seems to depend on track-specific performance and in Singapore it is expected that Ferrari will be a lot stronger – with seven races to go the Drivers’ World Championship is still wide open…

A wet qualifying at Monza – and a raft of penalties – gave us a decidedly odd grid with Lance Stroll’s Williams alongside Hamilton on the front row. On the second row was the Force India of Esteban Ocon and Bottas’s Mercedes. The Ferraris were on row three – with Raikkonen faster than Vettel. The Mercedes goal was a 1-2 but Bottas made it a little difficult for himself by being passed at the start by Raikkonen. He won the place back with a glorious outside pass around the Parabolica and set off in pursuit of Stroll, who had been beaten away by Ocon. Valtteri was third by the end of lap three and second in the course of the fourth lap and the two Mercedes left the rest behind. Vettel was ahead of his team-mate on lap three, He passed Stroll on lap five and Ocon on lap eight, but by then Hamilton was nearly 10 seconds up the road. The gap grew to half a minute by the chequered flag and Vettel had to worry more about Dan Ricciardo, who mounted a strong challenge in the closing laps, rather than trying to catch the Mercedes… Further back Max Verstappen looked very feisty before a collision with Felipe Massa on lap three. He dropped to the back and drove a super race but was only bale to pick up one point by the end.

Raikkonen got ahead of Stroll in the pits stops and then finally found a way to pass Ocon on lap 26 of 53. The Force India had sufficient performance to hold off the two Williamses and Ocon’s team-mate Sergio Perez, but there was nothing Esteban could do about Kimi. The points were shared between the top five teams in the championship, leaving nothing on the table for the other challengers.

– We look at the McLaren-Honda relationship

– We ask questions about F1 in the Americas

– We look back at the 70 years of Ferrari – and a bit more besides

– We recall Monza 1967

– JS loves Monza but is frustrated every time

– DT thinks that F1 needs to be braver in the wet

– The Hack wonders what the future holds for Fernando Alonso

– Peter Nygaard works his photographic magic in all weathers

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the F1 teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team has attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between them. We’ve been around the block a few times and we know the history of the sport and we love to share it all with out readers at a price that is a real bargain. We believe that by attracting more people at a sensible price we can achieve so much more than all those who exploit the fans. In 2017 you’ll get 22 fabulous issues for £32.99, plus the 2016 season review completely free of charge.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.