One of the reasons F1 is a huge commercial success is that it maintains its high profile…even during the close season, through breaking news, regular gossip and yes, its fair share of sagas and politics.
Believe it or not, Mercedes F1 still hasn’t appointed a replacement for 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg, who surprised the world by announcing his retirement just five days after winning the title! The saga continues as star name after star name has been ruled out, due to existing contracts or potential conflicts, as was the case for Fernando Alonso who would have loved to have a crack at former teammate Lewis Hamilton again in a competitive car. New McLaren boss Zak Brown recently persuaded Alonso to address team staff and reaffirm his faith in the ‘project’ with Honda. He sounded sincere, apparently.
The latest rumours suggest that Finn, Valtteri Bottas will be unveiled as Hamilton’s new teammate at Mercedes. Part of that deal is likely to see Paddy Lowe, the Silver Arrows’ Technical Director, transfer to Bottas’ ‘current’ team, Williams, with the cost of Sir Frank Williams’ eponymous team’s Mercedes power units also being considerably reduced, to help cushion their loss. Lowe’s departure from Mercedes has just been confirmed, lending further credence to the Bottas swop shop deal (subject to Paddy having to serve ‘gardening leave’) with a direct transfer!
Unbelievably, Williams seem unable to find another experienced driver to replace the potential loss of Bottas. Just 30 days after calling it a day, Felipe Massa looks set to reverse his retirement and make a ‘comeback’! Add to that the possibility of ex-Ferrari designer James Allison joining the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, and Silver Arrows Motorsport boss Toto Wolff saying he will resign from Bottas’ management team if he signs for the Brackley outfit, and you have a nice sports soap opera in full flow.
Elsewhere, F1 continues to bubble away with the most famous team in the world, Ferrari, still in disarray. Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne says they are looking around at their driver options beyond 2017 saying, “With Vettel it doesn’t make sense to talk about renewal now, we must first understand if he feels comfortable with us in 2017.” And following the German’s erratic driving and increased radio rants last season, the Chairman has called for Vettel to calm down and be “less agitated” in 2017, adding that Vettel “just needs to focus on the car”. Quite some criticism of the four-time champ.
Ferrari say they were offered the services of Paddy Lowe, but declined as they are happy with the technical team they have…despite running a car that failed to win a single race in 2016. Ferrari are also rumoured to be bringing back the Alfa Romeo name to F1 in the form of a junior team, similar to Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso’s set-up.
The F1 revolving door has continued to spin at pace – one-time architect of VW’s three World Rally championship wins, Jost Capito has been fired just four months after starting his job as McLaren racing boss under previous Chairman, Ron Dennis. Since Ron has been put on gardening leave himself, the board decided his appointment, Capito, can go with him!
One-time hopeful Rosberg replacement, Mercedes F1 test driver Pascal Wehrlein has missed out on the job as he has just signed for Sauber, while Grand Prix evacuee Nico Rosberg, in his new found retirement at just 31, says he may consider acting as a new career!
The drivers, meanwhile, are keeping in touch with their millions of followers on social media: Rosberg seemingly on a world tour with his World Championship Trophy; Hamilton with pictures of himself on a snowmobile and in his lodge in Colorado with his dogs; Dan Ricciardo enjoyed some down time down under and is now hitting the gym; and 2016 wonder kid Max Verstappen is back to work on his PlayStation race simulator after the holidays.
While Lewis Hamilton will be rubbing his hands in anticipation of the new season and a new teammate who he hopes to dominate, first Mercedes must give him a car which can take advantage of the dramatic new technical regulations for 2017.
However, a clean sheet of technical paper allows the opposition to get it right first off and mount a serious challenge to upset the status quo. One man who loves the challenge of a new set of rules, and usually gets it right, is design guru Adrian Newey. But even he admits that the biggest change in F1 for a long while means there are no guarantees of anyone getting it right. The favourites, Mercedes, could lose out, while Newey himself is predicting a very “mixed-up grid” in 2017.
F1 is more than a seasonal sport – 2016 was the longest season in history. The sport continues to attract high-profile investors and sponsors and this busier-than-ever ‘close season’ is providing plenty of column inches and visibility for all involved. But Formula 1 is no stranger to controversy and not all of the coverage will be welcome. Sponsors and partners in Formula 1, more than most sports, must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
As must the teams – but the recent news from Manor GP is particularly rough. Manor, the smallest team in the Paddock, failed to score any points last season and, therefore, the vital prize money that is needed to stay afloat. Sadly the team has gone into administration. I believe F1 should look after its family and support the lively outfit, as the sport needs 11 teams on the grid…including minnows!
Likewise, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone has received unwelcome publicity, as it would have preferred to quietly try for a viable deal with new F1 rights holders Liberty Media, instead of under the spotlight of scrutiny. Despite capacity crowds, the circuit makes losses due to the huge F1 hosting charges that increase each year. Put simply – as one of only two private Grands Prix it has to look to negotiate achievable fees. However, as Liberty Media has already suggested, the heritage GPs are important and they will want to retain them.
And so the F1 news machine grinds on, with new car launches and further driver announcements expected soon.
I can’t wait. Long may the sagas and politics continue.