Our take on this week’s F1 news including McLaren’s financial black hole, tyres, Honda’s in-house only policy and the Raikkonen hot seat.
Despite the continually positive comments from McLaren about their partnership with Honda, it seems their bank balance is not as upbeat about the pairing. Racing director Eric Boullier was quoted highlighting the growing risks. He said: “Commercially it (poor results) has hurt, because a lot of people – a lot of companies – are interested in joining us, but some people in their organisations may question the lack of results.”
Boullier indicated short falls in sponsorship income will need to be offset by McLaren. The timing is particularly interesting given McLaren’s unwavering – publicly at least – support for Honda and assurance that the partnership will win again and soon. Indeed only today Boullier’s is quote as saying that there are seconds not tenths to be unlocked from the current McLaren.
The financial realities of F1 mean there is effectively a series future ‘deadlines’ for improved performance and results. Otherwise McLaren may need to look at cutting back as opposed to building for future success. Boullier continued: “So far we have a good forecast for the next year, but it (poor results) is going to hurt us in terms of revenue and we must find a way to cover this.”
The rhetoric may be positive and remain so for the foreseeable future but fans should be under no illusions. McLaren cannot wait indefinitely for Honda to deliver. From a financial perspective that may be sooner than many realise.
Grosjean calls for return to ‘degrading’ tyres
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean has called for a return to pre-2014 tyre compounds in a bid to improve overtaking. The Frenchman believes the higher degradation rates of tyres of pre-turbo hybrids offered more opportunities for drivers to influence the race result.
It’s refreshing to hear a driver suggest that tyre management was not all bad. The majority complained bitterly about the inability to race ‘on the edge’. Grosjean, from a spectator and entertainment perspective, is spot. 2012 and 2013 did offer some overly degrading tyre compounds (see Silverstone 2013) however the racing was definitely better relative to the current specifications across the season.
More worryingly is the stated intent of Michelin – in it’s bid to supply F1 tyres from 2017 – to provide even more durable tyre as a means to improve racing. This seems utterly illogical based on recent experience and the prospect of regular one-stop (or perhaps no stop?) races does not fill me with excitement.
Honda to solve problems themselves
The boss of Honda’s F1 project was asked recently whether he might look to bring talent from the leading Mercedes and Ferrari teams to bolster performance. Yasuhisa Arai insists the manufacturer has enough talent and resources internally to get their turbo hybrid up to speed.
Honda certainly need something to bolster their efforts. The early season gains – relative to pace setters Mercedes – seem to have stagnated. Worse still reliability appears to have taken a step backwards in recent races. Culturally Honda is unlikely to bring talent in from other teams. However with pressure – privately at least – growing from McLaren and the added issue of the Woking team looking hard at their finances (see above), they might be forced in to it. The difficulty there aside from the cultural issues is the timescales involved in finding, recruiting and bedding in new engineering talent. That may not be compatible with the timescales McLaren want for improved performance nor the timescales they need to balance the books.
Guess who for second Ferrari seat?
Once again Williams’ Valteri Bottas has been linked with replacing fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Out of contract at the end of 2015 but with an option for 2016 on his terms at Williams, Bottas does seem like the likely choice if the 2007 World Champion does not string some decent results together.
Ferrari made it clear Vettel is the driver around which they are building the team for Schumacher-style future domination. Whether Bottas would be Vettel’s choice is another question: how would he react to having what appears to be a new, improved version of the Raikkonen that shook F1 in his McLaren years? Though it might not seem possible, Bottas appears even more impervious to mind-games than Kimi.
There have of course been mutterings about Daniel Ricciardo and the perennially-linked-to-a-top-team Nico Hulkenberg. The Aussie will rightly be concerned about his future with the ongoing speculation around Red Bull’s involvement or not in F1. That might be enough to encourage him to jump ship to one team guaranteed not to leave the sport. The stumbling block for the Australian would be Ferrari’s willingness or otherwise to buy him out of his existing contract.
Hulkenberg has rightly been brought back in to focus with his Le Mans win and subsequent strong performances. Wasted at Force India the German has outperformed former McLaren driver Sergio Perez (a driver many – not me – tipped as a future World Champion). The sad reality is that two German drivers at Ferrari is not what the team need for their global promotions and marketing. In the modern era Ferrari have not had a driver pairing of the same nationality since Alain Prost and Jean Alesi in 1991.
There is still time for Kimi to get his head together of course. He is still capable of being quick (and quicker than Vettel as he demonstrated at Silverstone) but just needs a couple of issue and error-free weekends to show what he’s got. The timing of his and Bottas’ contracts do have a certain symmetry however.
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