McLaren hit back at “ill-informed” comments
McLaren has called the comments made about that state of the team by the team’s former team principal Martin Whitmarsh as “ill-judged and ill-informed.”
Whitmarsh told the British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday that the team “needs a big change of approach” and that some leading figures “have to go” amid a podium drought that now spans four years despite a winter change of engine supplier.
The reports claimed that some staff were unhappy with the current situation and were trying to present their views to him. Responding to the comments, a Spokesman told Sky Sports “Martin worked for McLaren for many years, but has been outside the business for some time and is not part of our future.”
“What he said was ill-judged and ill-informed in our view but he is entitled to his opinion. There are high expectations in the team and we won’t compromise those high expectations. Everyone at McLaren is working tremendously hard and is focused on the future, not the past.”
Whitmarsh was ousted in a coup by then chairman Ron Dennis in January 2014, he has taken over Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup operation and since taken on various advisory roles, including with the FIA and Liberty Media.
He returned to the paddock in Barcelona, but CEO Zak Brown told Sky that Whitmarsh’s appearance was in no way connected to a potential Woking return.
McLaren in talks with Ricciardo
McLaren is in talks with Daniel Ricciardo about him joining the team from next season. McLaren, along with the other three big teams Red Bull, Ferrari and Red Bull all have at least one seat free for next season.
McLaren is keen to retain there leading driver Fernando Alonso, however, the Spaniard won’t decide whether he wishes to stay in the sport until late August, at the earliest.
It is understood that Alonso is weighing up whether to race Indy in addition to the F1 programme – but skipping the Monaco Grand Prix, which clashes, as he did last year – or taking on a full season in Indycars.
McLaren’s preferred option is to retain Alonso, but are keen to look at other drivers who could match his ability. Ricciardo would fit that role, the seven times Grand Prix winner is regarded as one of the best drivers in the sport.
Alonso said on Thursday before this weekend’s French Grand Prix: “One thing we need to wait and see a couple of months now is really the commitment of all the parties into the F1 project and to the future, what will be the seats that next year move on, and which will be the driver line-ups of some of the top teams as well.”
McLaren has been considering setting an Indycar team in 2019, most likely in partnership with an existing leading outfit. Chief executive officer Zak Brown has said their analysis is still ongoing but that conditions are looking “favourable”.
It is believed Ricciardo’s motivation could be down to the move to Honda power by Red Bull. However, Honda has struggled for performance and reliability since returning to F1 in 2015, with McLaren until the end of last year and with Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso this season.
But Red Bull chose to switch from Renault because they believe the Honda is now a match for the French engine, no less reliable, and has better prospects.
The other option is Mercedes, while the team doesn’t yet have any drivers signed for 2019, they are believed to be nearing a deal with Lewis Hamilton and are looking at retaining Valtteri Bottas following his strong start this year.
Ferrari is said by sources close to the team to be weighing up continuing with the veteran Finn or promoting their protege Charles Leclerc, who is impressing in his debut season with Sauber.
At McLaren, it is considered likely that their reserve driver Lando Norris will be promoted to F1 in 2019. The future of Alonso’s team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne is unclear.
Ricciardo could be amongst top earners
The German newspaper Sports Bild is reporting that Daniel Ricciardo could become one of Formula One’s highest-paid drivers with a $20m-per-year deal is on the table from rival team McLaren.
The Australian doesn’t yet have a contract for 2019, and is being seen has been viewed as one of the key movers in the driver market. Red Bull’s advisor Dr Helmut Marko has said “Our Daniel Ricciardo is the king of the market, McLaren offers him more every week.”
While McLaren has thrown the money on the table, Dr Marko believes that Ricciardo is more likely to either remain at Red Bull or go to a manufacturer like Ferrari or Mercedes.
However, the Austrian says that Ricciardo is waiting for four-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton to make a call on his future with Mercedes. Marko said, “Ricciardo doesn’t want to sign until Hamilton has signed. It’s a bit strange. Hopefully, it ends soon.”
A move to McLaren could lead to a pay rise for Ricciardo, he would still be way behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton.
Ferrari ready to promote Leclerc
Motorsport.com says it has learnt that Ferrari is ready to promote Charles Leclerc from Sauber to drive alongside Sebastian Vettel next season.
Raikkonen is currently set not have a contract at the end of 2018, however, Ferrari However, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne said in December that the 2007 world champion needed more consistency and that “probably this  is the last season to find the right key”.
Raikkonen enjoyed a strong start to 2018, scoring three podiums in the first four races and performing much closer to Sebastian Vettel’s level than in previous seasons. However, he hasn’t scored podiums since, while Vettel has taken a win and second place.
Ferrari, its understood has ruled out Daniel Ricciardo in cost grounds. That leaves them with Raikkonen, who hasn’t won a race for Ferrari since 2009, or rookie Leclerc who has delivered consistent form for Sauber this season.
If Ferrari did promote Leclerc it would be a huge shift in its policy of signing established drivers and mean the team swaps a driver with 277 Grands Prix starts to date.
Asked by Motorsport.com ahead of this week’s race, about his position on extending his F1 career, Raikkonen said he was “not any different to one week, two weeks, a month ago”.
Leclerc is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and won back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 under the guidance of the scheme. He would be its first graduate to make it to a Ferrari race seat.
Leclerc said at the previous in Canada that when people talk about him as a future Ferrari driver “it only makes me smile, but on the other hand it doesn’t feel realistic for now”.
He added: “When it will be time to think about next year I will think about it, and hopefully we have an opportunity to take that seat.”
Grosjean to reuse Canada engine
Romain Grosjean will use the same engine which caused his smoky exit from qualifying in Montreal in practice at this weekends French Grand Prix.
Grosjean had a new Ferrari engine for Montréal, which activated the final free combustion engine, MGU-H and turbocharger in his seasonal allocation.
Haas feared that the spectacular problem had caused significant damage and would have cost it an available engine, and the components attached to it, from its pool. However last week, the team were informed by Ferrari the engine suffered no internal damage.
This means that the engine can be used again, and the V6, MGU-H and turbo remain in use and will be used in practice at Paul Ricard on Friday.
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner explained that an oil leak triggered the massive smoke cloud. He explained “It [the Montreal qualifying engine] will be in the car again tomorrow. No damage, which is good. It is the last thing we needed.”
“It went back to Ferrari and they inspected it, they said there was no internal damage. We just got that news on Friday last week. We had to bring a new engine into the pool [in Canada, but] at the moment we don’t foresee a grid penalty for the engine or one of the components.”
However, moving onto his third PU of the season could cause penalties later in the year when Ferrari introduces its third upgrade. If Grosjean does take the new PU that will come with grid penalties.
No “special message” behind Verstappen attending alone
Max Verstappen’s manager Raymond Vermeulen, says there was “no special message” behind his father Jos’s decision not to attend the Canadian Grand Prix.
Verstappen attended the race alone, for the first time in his career without his father and management. That has prompted some to suggest that the absence of his management team had been a benefit for the Dutchman, perhaps allowing him to focus more on the job at hand.
However, Vermeulen has downplayed the benefits and said that the experiment was always in the schedule. He told Motorsport.com “Already at the start of the season we made an internal plan about which Grand Prix’s we would attend. There was an idea discussed together with the team to have Max on his own for a race.”
“So we said ‘OK, let’s do it for Canada.’ So that was the whole story. There will be some more races where Max will be on his own, but that was already in the pipeline. We have a very good relationship, we discuss everything together with Red Bull. It was a try-out, the first race Max was on his own, but no special message behind that.”
He says that he will attend this weekend and Jos will be in Budapest, with them both attending Max’s effective ‘home’ Grand Prix at Spa. But Silverstone and Hockenheim will be races that Max will attend alone. While his immediate trainer will continue to attend every race.
Speaking about Montreal, he said “Max said he had a very good weekend. He was on his own, but still guided by his trainer. He went to dinner with his Helmut [Marko] or his mechanics, and he just had a race weekend like any other.”
“I don’t think there was a big difference. At 20 years old I think he’s old enough to go to a track on his own! It’s not a big thing. Of course, this is getting a dimension now because the performance was there, and there were some comments in the press.”
The Weekend Ahead
This weekend Formula One returns to Paul Ricard for the first time since 1990. Many of the drivers have however have raced here in junior series, but we have a very different layout to the one used in 1990. The circuit, however, retains the long straights, which you think should play to Mercedes.
Through the historical data we believe that this circuit should favour Mercedes and their downforce. Set up will be important for all the teams, there may be some overtaking opportunities on track. Practice will be more important this weekend, drivers will be looking to maximise the time in practice.
Practice, in fact, I expect to see more track action than normal as drivers get used to the new circuit. I think we will see more yellow flags as drivers push to the limit. None of the top six drivers have raced here, but last year there were tyre tests here, but the question is how do they perform in practice.
However, after practice, we will get a better understanding of how these cars perform.
Off track, one of the stories which has dominated the news agenda this week will be the Red Bull switch to Honda. The biggest question is at the moment is how do they manage the expectation and will they need to be tough.
Formula One Vault will bring you LIVE and full coverage of the French Grand Prix from 11:45 UKT on Friday with first practice on our LIVE Twitter account @F1VaultLive. We will bring you race coverage from 14:40 on Sunday with the race starting at 15:10 UK Time.