We are now into the European portion of the 2018 Formula One season and with multiple contracts expiring this year, silly season is now in full swing. One of the key figures is Daniel Ricciardo and where he goes (or if he stays) will have a bearing on the rest of the big team line-ups. Many think he is lining up a seat at Ferrari, but let’s just think about this for a moment. Sebastian Vettel is the undisputed #1 at the Scuderia, and his contract is rumored to give him a say on his teammate, so why would he allow the man who beat him in a fair fight at Red Bull to come into “his” team? So where might the Australian turn if Red Bull can’t convince him to stay? After calling Max Verstappen the second coming, it’s a bit of a tough sell – but there again they’ve made billions selling a drink that tastes like rotting gym socks…
So the alternative is Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton isn’t scared of any teammate (“paging Fernando Alonso..”) but still hasn’t signed a contract, so maybe they will hedge their bets and pursue Ricciardo, leaving Valtteri Bottas out in the cold. Or would he be? The Finn would make a perfect replacement for a Finn – at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen is clearly not the better of Vettel (and Sebastian likes it that way) but he isn’t doing enough to help Ferrari win the Constructors’ Championship, where the money comes from – and with Liberty Media wanting to strip away the Bernie Ecclestone-era bonuses that becomes all the important. So why not install “Finn 2.0” at the Scuderia? He’s fast, he’s quiet, he’s relatively cheap and he’s a team player. He also doesn’t have accusations of drunken sexually impropriety being leveled at him – another compelling reason for him to be put out to pasture.
So that gives us:
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton / Daniel Ricciardo
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel / Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull-Honda: Max Verstappen / Pierre Gasly (?) – that’s one for next time!
Now ousted from the team he lead to prominence is Ron Dennis planning a takeover of Manor F1 as a means of gaining revenge on McLaren?
Towards the end of the 2016 Formula One season it became clear that Manor Racing owner Stephen Fitzpatrick was trying to sell the team and had been in serious discussions with Tavo Hellmund, promoter of the United States and Mexican Grand Prix about a possible sale. However when the team lost out to Sauber for 10th place in the Championship and the associated future prize fund money, thanks to Felipe Nasr’s inspired drive in Brazil, those talks stalled.
Former Manor sporting director Graeme Lowdon had also been talking to Fitzpatrick and was hoping to use Indonesian businessman Ricardo Gelael’s money to fund a purchase, but those talks had also floundered as the season went on.
Ron Dennis’ “Project 4” merged with the original McLaren Racing in 1980 to form McLaren International and at one time he owned all the shares, but over the years divested his holding to finance first the TAG-Porsche engine program and then to partner with Daimler AG for Mercedes engines.
In his efforts to buy out his former partners at McLaren, Ron Dennis put together a consortium of Chinese investors to purchase the 75% of shares he did not own. His UKP1.65bn ($2.04bn) bid was turned down. Add to that the 25% holding that Dennis could sell if he moved on to a new team.
With that kind of capital at his disposal the purchase of Manor Racing would be comparative peanuts. The team has a new factory in Banbury and a contract with his old friends at Mercedes for engines. That would leave plenty of cash left over to invest in new equipment and staff. Speaking of which…
The current Manor Racing Director Dave Ryan spent a large part of his career working for Dennis at McLaren before departing in 2009 and recently released McLaren Chief Executive Jost Capito, hand picked by Dennis, is now free to join another team.
The pieces fit together well, so let’s see if Ron is going to be taking a drive up the M40 from Woking to Banbury before pre-season testing starts this year.
The two sessions of preseason testing, totaling just eight days of running in Barcelona, are now complete and it is time to prepare the cars for shipment to Australia.
Even though running was limited the teams managed to pack n the miles with the average amount of running the equivalent of twelve Grand Prix distances! Of course some teams ran better than others and Mercedes AMG was far ahead of anyone else, running over 19 race distances while encountering just one mechanical issue.
The only other team to stand out on the positive side was Scuderia Toro Rosso who, despite the last minute change to Ferrari power units, ran very reliably and put in over 1,000 laps.
The middle of the pack comprised of Williams, Ferrari, Force India, Red Bull, Renault and Sauber (albeit with their 2015 car at the first test). They all put in an average amount of laps, they all suffered mechanical problems at some point and they all put in competitive lap times at times.
McLaren-Honda would have also fit into that group, too had it not been for one abysmal day to end the first test where they spent all day chasing coolant leaks.
It was really no surprise that both Manor with their new Mercedes power units and Haas as a completely new team both ran into problems. Both outfits ran close to 500 laps but are both going to be playing catch up at the opening flyaway races and will be lucky to be competitive.