McLaren edging to divorcing Honda
McLaren could be edging their way closer to divorcing their engine supplier Honda, ahead of a big weekend in Monza which could shape the future of the engine market as well as Fernando Alonso’s future.
With the understanding across the paddock, being that McLaren has lost their patience with short-term progress and their concerns have not being eased with the help that Ilmor has given Honda.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking to finalise 2018 engine plans and amid pressure to ensure Alonso commits to a fresh deal, McLaren’s focus is now on doing what is necessary to switch from Honda to Renault power. However, there could be many hurdles in this switch.
The easiest way for McLaren to split with Honda would be to convince Toro Rosso to switch to Honda power so they could take their Renault power unit. This would get a financial boost from Honda, which would be able to stay in F1.
Talks between Toro Rosso and Honda appeared as if they collapsed recently but are back on and now at an advanced stage. In Spa, both parties denied they have had talks with sources saying that Honda does not want to give up on McLaren.
It is understood Toro Rosso has laid down a deadline of Monza this weekend for a 2018 engine decision. With McLaren believed to be adamant it will not carry on with Honda in 2018, if it cannot transfer its engine supply to Toro Rosso smoothly there is a risk it will have to break its current engine contract and face legal complications
Liberty is not keen on losing Honda from the sport, and if McLaren parts company with Honda the FIA could force one of the current engine manufacturers must supply McLaren for 2018.
Renault remains the most likely option in this scenario, and though it is reluctant to expand to a fourth supply, the rules could leave it with no choice.
Lowe coy on Alonso joining Williams
Williams’s Paddy Lowe is being coy about the prospect of Fernando Alonso joining the team but says that the team are trying to secure the best possible line up.
Alonso is out of contract at the end of the season, and at the weekend gave the strongest indication yet that he will leave the team if they do not drop engine partners Honda.
The big rumour in the Spa paddock throughout the weekend was that the Spaniard has been offered a 2018 drive at Williams, and the two-time world champion confirmed he had several offers on the table as he prepares to think about his future next month.
Lowe a shareholder and chief technical officer has been played down that report saying the team is still to decide who would race for the team next season. He told Sky Sports “We haven’t announced who’s driving for us next year. It is something we are still working on. I’m not going to rule [Fernando] in or rule him out.”
“There are lots of great drivers out there and we will always try to get the best ones we can.” However, the final decision about the team’s line up will rest with deputy team principal Claire Williams.
It appears that the future as Lance Stroll huge financial backing will see him stay with the tea, while Felipe Massa saying his future would become clearer during the next couple of races.
Alonso does not have many options as Ferrari and Red Bull confirming unchanged driver line-ups for 2018 and Mercedes set to extend Valtteri Bottas’ contract to continue partnering Lewis Hamilton.
While Williams cannot provide a race or championship winning car, they could provide a more competitive car. Lowe described Alonso as a “great driver” who could push Williams to develop more an increase performance and return to the front-end of the field.
Vettel hopes of home win
Sebastian Vettel will head into his teams home Italian Grand Prix leading the world championship, looking for a win in Monza as it could mean the difference between retaining and losing the lead of the championship.
The Ferrari driver is just seven points ahead of his Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton, who took victory on Sunday at Spa. However, Monza is expected to be a race which favours the Mercedes straight-line speed and they have taken victory at Monza for the last three years.
But Ferrari has closed the gap and Vettel can count on a wave of local support at the historic Monza circuit where he took his first Grand Prix victory with Toro Rosso in 2008. Speaking ahead of the weekend, where the team also mark seventy years of Grand Prix racing.
If Vettel wins the race on Sunday, he would be the first driver to win the race with three different teams since Britain’s Stirling Moss in the 1950s. In 2015, Vettel’s first season since switching to Ferrari, he finished second. Last year he was third.
Vette said “We’ve been second, we’ve been third, so maybe we can get the last step on the podium that is missing,” said the 30-year-old, adding that there was no reason for Ferrari to fear any circuit from now on.
Hamilton will also have plenty of fans, with the locals respecting a true racer, and can make history with a record pole position after equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time tally of 68 in Belgium.
The Mercedes driver knows he needs to make the most of the moment in the last European race of the season, with Ferrari likely to have the upper hand again once the action switches to Singapore.
Hamilton renewal talks after the season – Mercedes
Mercedes say they are delaying talks with Lewis Hamilton about extending his contract until after the championship has been resolved.
The British driver has a deal with the team until the end of 2018, but there are suggestions that he is eager to extend it for several years after that.
Hamilton staying with Mercedes is a logical move, as Ferrari have committed to Sebastian Vettel until 2020 and Red Bull likely to retain both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says there is no rush and wants the team to focus on the championship.
He told Motorsport.com “Our relationship is very good and I think each of us appreciates what he has in the other one. But this is not a topic we want to tackle now over the last remaining races of the season.”
“It’s an intense last third of the year, and we’ll get that over the line, and then we’ll pick up a discussion.” Wolff’s immediate focus would appear then to be on the future of Valtteri Bottas, but he has said it is a “no brainer.”
However, with the Red Bull potentially duo of Daniel Ricciardo being out of contract at the end of 2018 and Max Verstappen at the end of 2019. Big teams need to be open to possibilities.
New team policy for Force India
Force India Team Principal Vijay Mallya says that both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon have been told of a “new team policy” following their collisions in the Belgian Grand Prix.
The two made contact twice during Sunday’s race costing the team valuable points, which was despite the pair being warned following previous clashes in Montreal and Baku, with Mallya said new rules of engagement have now been introduced.
He told Sky Sports “We have made both drivers aware of the new team policy designed to prevent incidents like the ones in Spa from reoccurring. It’s hard to look back on the race at Spa, knowing we had the pace to score a lot of points.”
“And came away with only two. At this stage of the season, it’s crucial we make the most of every opportunity to score points. As a team, we have a responsibility to defend our position and I am sure we will finish the season without any further issues.”
The first incident at Spa was when Perez and Ocon were running three-abreast with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Perez squeezing his teammate into the wall.
They then touched again to a race-ruining effect on lap 30 with Perez suffering a right rear puncture and eventually being forced to retire, and Ocon being left with front-wing damage.
Ocon accused Perez of trying to ‘kill him’ and said that the Mexican’s driving was “unprofessional.”
“The first incident, I accept it even if I think he saw me in the mirror. We were three wide, but I accept that one even if he squeezed me into the wall and that’s very dangerous and not professional.”
“The second is one too much. What is the point of doing that? He just squeezed me into the wall at 300kph risking my life, risking his life, for no reason and cost a lot of points for the team.”
Palmer “like a different guy” in Belgium
Renault’s director of trackside operations Alan Permane, says that Jolyon Palmer was “like a different guy” at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Englishman put in his strongest performance of the season, outperforming his teammate Nico Hulkenberg in practice and qualifying before suffering a suspected loss of gearbox oil pressure after he had reached Q3.
That sparked a gearbox change and a grid penalty that meant Palmer started fourteenth on the grid, and he could only finish thirteenth in the race. His race was far from perfect, as he suffered contact with Fernando Alonso.
Permane told Motorsport.com: “He was like a different guy this weekend. I hope that race hasn’t dented him and we can just go to Monza and he can carry where he left off because he was loving driving the car.”
“He didn’t really make any changes, he was happy with it all weekend. It was very good. It was undoubtedly his best weekend of the year.” Palmer has closed up on his by three-tenths on Hulkenberg, according to Permane.
However, Palmer is still yet to score points or out qualify his teammate in the first twelve Grand Prix’s of the season.