In the round-up today: Vettel confident of continuing winning after summer; Bottas fears reliability could play a hand in deciding title battle; Honda says one year wasn’t enough to build a new engine; IndyCar CEO hints at Mclaren entry in 2019; Grosjean says becoming a world champion is his main aim not beating his teammate.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel says that going into the Formula 1 summer shutdown with a strong lead in the drivers championship standings is what he had been dreaming of achieving at this point of the season.
Lewis Hamilton had closed the gap to Vettel to a single point after the British Grand Prix. But a Ferrari one-two in Hungary means that Vettel has now stretched that back out to 14 points head of the holidays.
“It’s what I dream about, to be honest,” said Vettel said of pulling out that crucial advantage before the summer break.
“I don’t have very precise dreams in terms of gaps, points and stuff like that,” he added. “I want to win, so that’s where you want to be.”
Vettel’s time at Ferrari hadn’t always been such a dream. Although he claimed three victories in his first year at Maranello, he went winless in a frustrating 2016.
However Vettel now looks back positively at the journey that’s taken him to success in the current season.
“I’m only two-and-a-half years in with the team,” he pointed out. “I think we had a great year in 2015, which helped to get the project going.
“2016 was difficult, I think, for many reasons. But I think it was a great year to set things up, a lot of change for the team.
“Over the winter I think we were the team that made the least noise,” he continued. “There was a lot of talk about the new cars and the new regulations. How it will favour one team over the other, how it will bring back other teams and so on.
“I was very happy that we just worked,” he said. “We just kept to ourselves and did the job.”
“I think all in all, the mission has been to get back to the top, so obviously we had a great year
Now the focus for Vettel and for Ferrari as a whole will be to sustain the current level of performance after the summer break.
With nine races remaining in the season there is still plenty of time for Hamilton to catch up. Vettel however believes that he and his team will have what it takes to stay ahead.
“We have a great car,” he insisted. “We know, I think, by now with a lot of races done, what the strength of the car is, where the weaknesses are. That’s where we need to work on.
“We have a lot of great people. Young people coming up and a great culture, people taking risks and that’s what we need to do.
“Very happy where we are going but it’s not yet enough,” he added. “You cannot expect it to change overnight, but yeah – I’m very confident!”
Valtteri Bottas is increasingly making himself a part of the 2017 Formula 1 world championship battle.
With the situation so tight, Bottas fears that grid penalties caused by reliability issues could prove to be the deciding factor in this year’s title battle.
Bottas has already suffered one five-place grid penalty this season. A week earlier, Hamilton had suffered the same penalty in Austria.
Red Bull has also been on the receiving end of penalties, while so far Ferrari has avoided any such setbacks.
However both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have used one more turbocharger than their Mercedes counterparts. That puts them at greater risk of a penalty in the remaining nine races of the season.
“These are the rules,” shrugged Bottas when asked about the situation across the paddock.
“We all have to complete the season with a certain number of mechanical parts. If a team gets too greedy, you’ll need to change some parts more often and you pay a penalty.
“It’s true the penalty affects the driver as much as the team, but both lose quite a few points, potentially,” he added.
“For me it is what it is,” Bottas continued when asked if he felt it was fair that drivers should be penalised for a mechanical issue outside their control.
“That’s a good point as it’s definitively penalising the drivers,” he concurred. “And this year it can really affect the championship fight.
“But those are the rules now and everyone is driving within the same rules, so it’s okay.”
Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa feels the manufacturer did not have enough time to fully prepare the new power unit concept it introduced in the off-season.
Project leader Hasegawa, who said back in February the move to revamp the power unit was “very high-risk”, admits Honda underestimated the challenge of changing concept.
“From the concept point of view, yes, we underestimated it,” he told Motorsport.com. “Although it took a bit of time to stabilise, we understand it was a stage we had to overcome – it was very tough.
“We thought we had enough preparation time, which is why we started this year’s engine development in May, but one year is not enough.
“Theoretically speaking, we have already achieved some good steps. We are in the middle of our target but we need more steps to catch the top runners.”
Honda has found performance improvements for its Formula 1 engine, but it has yet to decide which elements it is confident enough to introduce at the track.
Having made progress on power and reliability when it introduced ‘Spec 3’ of its engine during the Azerbaijan GP weekend, Honda hopes it will be in a position to bring ‘Spec 4’ to one of the early races after the summer break, but will not do so until it is confident in the update.
“We know the target, which other teams have already achieved,” Hasegawa said.
“We know most of the teams are using the same concept of our engine but obviously we don’t know the exact solution, the exact design, the same level of performance we can achieve.
“But we know the direction and we know some elements to achieve that performance, but we still have not concluded what elements we have to introduce.
“[We are focusing] mainly the combustion but also every area, such as fuel consumption, auxiliary parts – everywhere we’re trying to find more horsepower.”
McLaren executive director Zak Brown has certainly quashed stories that Alonso himself might be back in an IndyCar this year. Brown branded rumours Alonso would skip the Singapore Grand Prix in favour of the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma as “fake news”.
“He would have to first make that request through us, which he has not,” Brown said this week. “It’s completely crazy.”
But even though that story has been spiked, speculation that the team itself could be interested in joining IndyCar in 2019 just won’t stop.
And the source of the speculation? None other than the chief executive officer of IndyCar himself, Mark Miles.
“We know there are options for McLaren to return to the Indianapolis 500 next year with Andretti Autosport,” Miles told Spain’s El Mundeo Deportivo recently.
“And McLaren remains interested in being a Verizon IndyCar Series team full-time,” he added.
“Probably not for the year 2018, but maybe for 2019. Zak keeps asking questions about our calendar.”
Mansor Ojeh, one of McLaren’s most important shareholders, said in April that the company was considering a “full-works” IndyCar program for the future.
McLaren’s existing ties with Andretti Autosport could allow the team to hit the ground running in IndyCar. However that alliance is based in part on sharing a common engine provider in Honda.
However both McLaren and Andretti Autosport are reported to be looking for alternative engine suppliers in Formula 1 and IndyCar respectively. That could thwart any tentative arrangements between the two organisations.
And the possibility of McLaren joining IndyCar is further complicated by Brown’s insistence of a McLaren resurgence in F1 first.
“We’ve got big challenges on the Formula 1 front,” Brown told Road and Track’s Marshall Pruett. “We need to be getting that right and winning races before we set out in lots of other adventures.”
The team did manage to get both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne into the top ten in Hungary. That’s that’s a big improvement on the first half of 2017, but a long way from topping the podium.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean believes he must show he can deal better with adversity to earn a top Formula 1 drive.
Now in his sixth full F1 season, the closest Grosjean has come to a race-winning team was with Lotus in 2012/13, when he claimed nine podium finishes.
Asked what more he needed to do to earn a top-line seat, he highlighted the way he presents his emotions.
“There are always things you can improve,” Grosjean told Motorsport.com.
“Finding your way, when you are frustrated, to deal with things differently and dealing better with the brakes not working and stuff like that – I need to work more on that.
“Generally my level of driving, fitness, feedback is pretty much ready to be world champion in a good car.”
He defended his radio outbursts as evidence of his determination.
“I get frustrated because I want to win. Then if I get frustrated I talk on the radio. So where to escape the frustration?” said Grosjean.
“The other way of seeing it is to say ‘OK I’m not going to win the race, I’m just going to get my money, drive and go home’.
“If I get to that stage, when I’m 31 and I want to be world champion, then my career’s kind of over.
“As long as you keep that flame and that winning spirit and you’re not happy because you’ve qualified 14th but you’ve beat your teammate… that’ll never make me happy. For some people it does, great for them, but it’ll never be [enough] for me.
“I need to get my radio messages down but I get frustrated because I want to win. If you’re leading or if you’ve got a car which can win, then you’re not shouting and you’re not complaining because you are where you think you belong.”
Grosjean’s move from Lotus – just before it became the works Renault team – to Ferrari-affiliated Haas last year was widely seen as an attempt to earn a future factory Ferrari drive.
He believes that remains a possibility, but not before 2019.
“I’m still thinking that one day the stars will align and I will get my chance,” Grosjean said.
“Since 2015, I knew I had a three-year contract with Haas, so there’s an announcement [each year] but for me it’s not an announcement.
“There are always possibilities and I guess on December 1 Valtteri [Bottas] was not expecting to be fighting for the world championship instead of for seventh or eighth or whatever. Then he gets a phone call and he’s in a world champion car.
“Things can happen at any time and I’m hoping that my day comes one day.”