Williams close to signing Sirotkin
Williams is a step closer to announcing that Sergey Sirotkin is going to replace Felipe Massa this season. The team are finalising a contract following the Russian’s successful test following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Sirotkin who has financial backing was reportedly faster than Robert Kubica in during the test. If the team decided to go with the Russian, it would leave them with the most inexperienced driver line-ups on the grid.
Williams was expected to sign Kubica for a comeback following a life-changing rally accident in 2011. However, their interest in the Pole cooled following that test.
Another factor could be the Russian carried a bigger financial package, though the team has insisted since Massa’s retirement that financial backing would not be a factor. However, confirmation of the deal is not expected until mid to late January.
Renault outlines role for Budkowski
Renault has revealed their plans for the future role of Marcin Budkowski, the former FIA technical director. The Pole was controversially hired by the manufacturer to help it move further up the grid.
The appointment of Budkowski sparked fears from the other teams that he could take their private information to the team. His role at the FIA gave him access to details of other teams development plans to ensure they were within the regulations.
Renault insists that he will not be working on the 2018 chassis until that date, but he has started work with the team learning and understanding the other motorsport activities and its corporate structure. Renault F1 team boss Cyril Abiteboul says he understands his rivals’ fears concerning Budkowski’s appointment.
He also insists that Renault has not hired him to copy other teams and that he “understand the scepticism of the teams, but we are not recruiting someone of the calibre of Marcin in a position of executive director just for what he knows of the other teams.”
He believed Renault had agreed to a plan for Budkowski’s employment with the FIA that was “extremely fair with everyone.” He adds “ We are recruiting him for his capabilities, his experience, his skills. He’s someone coming with a fantastic CV, outside of Formula 1 also, and he’s a perfect fit.”
Abiteboul insists that Renault are not interested in the secrets of other teams and accepts he needs to be is they have to keep him away from chassis development until April.
Marcin is part of a wider long-term strategy that Renault is using to bring themselves back into title contention.
“The job of Marcin is basically to move Enstone from being a very strong midfield contender. To make sure we are aligned with our ambition for 2020-2021, when we want to start fighting for the championship.” Added Abiteboul
Latift becomes Force India’s reserve driver
Force India has announced that the Canadian Nicholas Latifi will be the team’s reserve and test driver this season.
Latifi will be a back up should either Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon be unable to take part in races, as well as appearing in “a number of” practice sessions and testing.
Latifi finished fifth in last seasons Formula Two championship, with a win at the British Grand Prix. He had also been linked to a similar role with Williams this season. He says he is really excited by the opportunity.
He told Sky Sports, “Force India is a team that has shown constant improvement for the last few years and I’m proud to become a part of one of the success stories of Formula One.”
“I am eager to show the team what I can do and help them as they continue to close the gap to the front of the grid.” The Canadian made his first F1 outing in last August’s test in Budapest and looks set to continue doing these this year.
Team principal Vijay Mallya said, “Nicholas joins us off the back of a strong season in F2 and strengthens our driver development programme.”
“He will support our simulator programme and work with the team during a number of Friday practice sessions next year. Nicholas will learn a huge amount as he gets embedded in the team, and looks forward to a career in Formula 1.”
Force India have a good record at developing young drivers with Nico Hulkenberg, Paul Di Resta and the late Jules Bianchi have all previously being the team’s reserve drivers.
Strong season on social media and television
Formula One saw an increase in audience figures across television and digital media platforms in 2017, becoming the fastest growing sports brand on social media.
Newly released figures published today by FOM show a 6.2 percent rise across all broadcast figures compared to 2016. Positive growth was registered in the UK, Germany, Brazil and Italy, being the top four performing races, while viewing figures also rose significantly in China, Switzerland and Denmark.
The overall picture remains stable with six hundred and three million viewers from 2016, but there was a one percent increase in the live audience, as well as rising viewing figures for both practice and qualifying sessions.
Figures also show the sport is the fastest growing sports brand on social media, combining the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube now has a total of 11.9 million followers, reflecting an increase of 54.9 percent compared to 2016.
The news will be a positive sign for the sports owners following their first season in charge. 2017 saw Liberty Media look to relax the rules around digital media and push for social media engagement between drivers and fans, this was part of the push to engage fans.
Managing director for commercial operations, Sean Bratches said in a statement “We are encouraged by the growth in audience numbers across linear and digital platforms during the 2017 season.”
“Central to our efforts last season was to improve the fan experience across our platforms and it is encouraging to see the engagement that fans around the world have with Formula One media.
“Our work continues as Formula One fans will see material changes in 2018 with respect to both incumbent experiences and the creation of new ones. It is a good time to be a Formula One fan.”
Verstappen “matured a lot” says Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo says that his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen has “matured a lot” in the last year and has more respect for his rivals. The Australian finished the season thirty-two points ahead of Verstappen, who suffered more reliability problems.
The two collided in Budapest after Verstappen locked up and ran into the side of Ricciardo into the right Turn 2 left-hander on the opening lap.
Ricciardo described the move as “amateur”, and Verstappen later spoke to his team-mate one-to-one and apologised for the incident.
“The hot water in Budapest, that was a bit of a test. He handled it well afterwards and apologised and did what he had to. So I feel like there is that respect for each other. Max matured a lot this year, on and off the track.”
He says that Verstappen handled it well and says that he has no problem going wheel to wheel with Verstappen in the future.
Red Bull has not managed to produce a title challenger since the introduction of the V6 hybrids in 2014, but Ricciardo says the relationship with Verstappen “could” change if they found themselves fighting for the championship.
Saying “I don’t think it would ever get to a point like Lewis [Hamilton] and Nico [Rosberg]. That was a pretty special situation. It would only get to that point if we lost respect for each other.”
“The races he won this year, I acknowledged it, said he was a better driver on the weekend or the day. And that was that.”
The week ahead
Next week I expect Channel 4 and Sky Sports to confirm the picks they have divided up. We know the shared rights deal ends this year, so do Channel 4 pick the races which have not been on free to air TV in the past six years or not? I expect France and Germany to be picked, but not Canada.
Next weekend we have Autosport International, this week and going into next weekend expect announcements about regards to car launches and drivers reflecting on the 2017 season and looking ahead to 2018.
Eyes will be on Williams naturally, as they still need to fill Felipe Massa’s seat. We reported today that will probably Sergey Sirotkin.
There are rumours around Sean Bratches travelling to Copenhagen for talks about a race. How this happens is the question as local government has been slightly uneasy about this. But it’s these talks which could be key.
Expect the build-up to Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris’s debut in endurance racing to become a story in the next three weeks as they prepare for Daytona at the end of the month.