Formula One managing director Ross Brawn believes change at Ferrari could end the Italian team’s title drought this season and bring a breakthrough in talks over the sport’s future. The former Ferrari technical director told reporters he thought Sebastian Vettel had a strong chance of winning a fifth championship and that the new bosses might be more sympathetic to appeals for a more equitable share of revenue among teams.
Brawn said Ferrari would always fight hard in defence of the team’s privileges but might be more open to a change in the way the sport’s revenues are distributed among the 10 teams after contracts expire at the end of 2020.
“I’m optimistic, particularly with the management there at Ferrari now,” he said after a screening of the first two parts of a Netflix documentary series on the 2018 season that is released on Friday.
“They recognise the need for Formula One to be more equitable. We have to recognize the importance of Ferrari, the history of Ferrari and the unique place it has in the sport. But also, we need to find a balance between that recognition of Ferrari as a very important team and having an equitable position for the rest,” he added.
Ferrari’s former chairman Sergio Marchionne, who died last year, had threatened to lead his team out of Formula One if the sport’s U.S. owners Liberty Media forced a redistribution of prize money and other changes.
The Italian sportscar maker appointed Louis Camilleri as chief executive last July with Mattia Binotto, an old colleague and friend of Brawn’s, taking over from Maurizio Arrivabene as team principal in January.
Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Red Bull receive special payments in recognition of past performance and sit permanently with the commercial rights holder and governing FIA on the sport’s six-team ‘Strategy Group’.
Brawn, who was also boss of the Mercedes team that was previously Brawn GP and Honda, said it was wrong that a team could win the championship and be paid less than another that had finished last. He also said all teams would be involved in future governance.
“The ones that have got it all, want to keep it. The ones that haven’t got it want more,” he said.
“And it’s finding the fair balance in how we distribute the revenue, because we know if we have a more equitable distribution of revenue then we will have a better Formula One. That’s a fact.”
The Briton said talks on revenue, governance, future regulations and a proposed cost cap were taking time because it was a big challenge to get agreement among 10 teams, but much was going on behind the scenes.
“Some of you have commented there doesn’t look to be much progress, but I promise you there’s an enormous amount of progress,” he said. “We look at the cost cap and people say nothing’s happened, it’s not true,” added the Briton, who led his own Brawn GP team — emerging from the embers of departed Honda — to unlikely titles in 2009 before selling to now-dominant Mercedes. He said there had been ‘heavy engagement’ with teams in recent weeks.
The talks have been conducted as privately as possible, leading to some frustration at the lack of obvious developments with the clock ticking.
“We need to get going because otherwise it’s getting late in the day,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner told Reuters at last month’s launch of his team’s 2019 car. We have no commercial agreement, we have no technical regulations, we have…I wouldn’t say nothing for 2021, there are proposals and they are working diligently, but at some stage we need to come to an end of this.”
Brawn said talks on the technical regulations were also going well.
Brawn suggests London GP could still be a possibility
Formula One could look to London if Silverstone fails to secure a deal for the British Grand Prix after this year, according to the sport’s managing director Ross Brawn. Brawn told reporters that Formula One was determined to race in Britain and Silverstone, which hosted the first championship grand prix in 1950, was the preferred option.
“We’re differing in our views of what’s reasonable and what’s not,” the Briton said of negotiations. “Not a massive amount apart but it’s frustrating that we can’t find a solution.”
Asked about London, which will host a Formula E race next year in the city’s Docklands, Brawn said a race nearby might be possible. “I don’t think its feasible to have a race in the middle of London, unfortunately, because the chaos and impact it would have would be too severe,” he said.
“But on the peripheries of London there’s a number of areas that could work. So I think the question’s open. I don’t see that London would necessarily replace the British Grand Prix, it would be the London Grand Prix.”
Brands Hatch, south of London, hosted 12 British Grands Prix between 1964 and 1986 as well as the European Grand Prix in 1983 and 1985. “It didn’t seem that strange (then) that we had a race at Brands Hatch one year and Silverstone the next,” said Brawn.
He also played down fears that Britain’s impending departure from the European Union could be a threat to the sport. Seven of the 10 teams are based in Britain and Toto Wolff, boss of champions Mercedes, recently said a no-deal Brexit would be “the mother of all messes.” Brawn was less concerned about the impact.
“There will be some bureaucracy that will come with Brexit that will be a bit painful, but apart from that I’m sure we can make lots of arguments for the negatives and positives as well,” he said.
“Formula One teams are pretty resourceful and capable and this is not going to stop them racing.”
The season starts in Australia on March 17 with following races in Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan in late April before returning to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, although Prime Minister Theresa May has opened up the possibility of a delay.
No regrets if Renault are chasing Red Bull, says Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo will raise plenty of cheers if he beats his former Red Bull team mates in Melbourne next week but the new Renault driver will not be throwing any toys out of the pram if the opposite happens. The Australian’s move to the French manufacturer team at the end of last year was a long term play for the Perth native, a home hero now in yellow overalls ahead of the season-opening race.
“I was aware when I signed the deal here that it was very realistic that, at least come Melbourne, they (Red Bull) are going to be in front,” said Ricciardo when asked about the immediate prospects.
“Because I in a way expect it, it’s not going to be a shock or anything like that. I’m not going to be bitter if they beat us in Melbourne. I feel now we’re still on a bit of a different journey,” added the 29-year-old.
Former champions Renault, who won titles with Fernando Alonso in 2005-06 and powered Red Bull and their German driver Sebastian Vettel to four double titles in a row between 2010-2013, were fourth overall last season.
Red Bull were third behind champions Mercedes and Ferrari, with Ricciardo and Max Verstappen each winning two races and have since switched to Honda engines. The evidence from testing suggested Honda had got on top of the performance and reliability problems that have plagued them in the past.
“I know probably a lot of people think ‘Ah, if he were to beat Red Bull how good would that be? Sticking it to them’. But it’s honestly not like that. If we could overcome any of those top three I’d be stoked,” said Ricciardo.
“Seeing what I’ve seen so far (at Renault) I think there’s enough resources to get into that world. So I don’t think that’s unattainable for us. It might not be this year, but it’s not a permanent handicap, so to speak.”
RUNNING FROM A FIGHT
Had Ricciardo stayed at Red Bull, and they were clear about wanting him to, he would have continued to fight for star billing with Verstappen, the 21-year-old Dutch driver considered a future champion. The likeable Australian sees himself in a similar light but risked being considered increasingly as a number two alongside the favoured son.
Ricciardo told reporters before the start of testing that his decision to leave was due to a ‘kaleidoscope’ of different pieces, however. There was a desire to repeat Lewis Hamilton’s success in recognising the potential of a major manufacturer when he moved from McLaren to Mercedes and also annoyance at how Red Bull treated him after an incident in Baku last season.
The team held both Ricciardo and Verstappen equally to blame for a collision that the Australian still holds was mainly Verstappen’s fault. “We both got a talking to, putting it politely. But in my eyes I guess the incident itself I felt I was not really in the wrong,” he said. “I guess the way it was handled at the time didn’t sit too well with me.”
Team boss Christian Horner suggested Ricciardo was “running from a fight” in leaving but the Perth driver, whose new German team mate Nico Hulkenberg has yet to stand on the podium in 156 starts, denied that.
“I love a good fight,” he said. “It wasn’t about Max. I can understand why they’d say that, but it’s wrong.”
Ricciardo said the main aim for the season ahead was simply to make progress, for the team to continue on an upward trajectory. “As long as we make inroads, that’s got to be a pretty successful year,” he said.
Hard miles ahead for fallen greats McLaren and Williams
McLaren and Williams, two of the greatest teams in Formula One history but starved of success for years, start the new season knowing that wins remain a long way off and the task is not getting any easier. When Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko recently gave his verdict on the sport’s pecking order after pre-season testing, he was particularly dismissive of the two British outfits. “McLaren and Williams are at the back,” he told speedweek.com.
If that sounded harsh on McLaren, who set some fast laps, nobody would disagree with the assessment of Williams who arrived late to Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya and were slowest. While denying any crisis or chaos, Williams also announced on Wednesday, only days before the cars are due on track in Melbourne, that technical director Paddy Lowe was taking a ‘leave of absence’. Few observers expected to see him return.
With 17 constructors’ titles, 19 drivers’ crowns and a combined total of 296 grand prix victories between them, the teams from Woking and Grove in England have shown their pace mostly in sinking down the grid of late. Neither of the two have won anything since 2012.
Once-dominant Williams, who turned the likes of Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve into world champions, finished last overall out of 10 teams in 2018 with just seven points from 21 races.
McLaren, the team of the late Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost who also took Lewis Hamilton to the first of his five titles in 2008, ended up sixth and would have been seventh without the failure of Force India. That could still be seen as an improvement after finishing ninth in 2015 and 2017.
“It’s obviously a very important year in that we show a big step forward,” said team boss Zak Brown when the new McLaren was launched. “When we made the change (from Honda to Renault engines) last year I think we were probably a little bit over-excited about how quickly we would return to the front, and we got that wrong. We’ve looked in the mirror to understand where we went wrong and made a lot of changes, both structurally and operationally. So this is a very important year to show forward progress.”
The combined times from the final week of testing in Barcelona showed McLaren holding up in midfield with Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who has replaced double world champion and compatriot Fernando Alonso, eighth fastest of 20 drivers. British rookie team mate Lando Norris was 10th.
After three dismal years with Honda, whose engine is now in the back of the Red Bull and showing marked signs of improvement in power and reliability, McLaren switched to Renault last season. That switch also highlighted shortcomings with the team’s chassis, which McLaren had previously considered to be one of the best.
“I think we’ve done a better job working more closely with them to develop a car around the power unit. We know the power unit better and that was some of our issues last year,” said Brown. “I think we made the decision to change a little bit late and we had reliability issues, some of those were car design from not knowing the power unit and how to package it as well as we do.
“So I think it seems like they are in a better spot and we are certainly in a better position to capitalise on the year’s experience.”
Mercedes-powered Williams, who also have an all-new lineup in Poland’s Robert Kubica – who has not raced since a near-fatal rally crash in 2011 – and rookie Formula Two champion George Russell, have admitted they got things badly wrong.
Last year’s car — the first under Lowe’s guidance — was spectacularly bad and this year’s, while handling better, needs plenty of work if they are to catch up with more competitive midfield rivals.
Reports of factory turmoil and shop floor chaos have been denied but Williams accept the road to recovery will take time, even if they have been more of a yo-yo team bouncing around between second and 10th between 2003 and last year.
“If we have to take a bit more pain, we have to take a bit more pain. We’re prepared for that,” deputy team principal Claire Williams told Reuters in Barcelona. We know that we’ve got problems and we’ve got to fix those problems.”