F1i’s Top 5 Moments of 2017: Liberty gets F1 ready to rumble

Our final ‘defining moment’ of the 2017 Formula 1 world championship takes a look at the impact that the arrival of the sport’s new owners Liberty Media has had so far – and what lies ahead…

Proposing the 2017 United States Grand Prix as one of the defining moments of the year might be a little left-field, but bear with us. The race itself was a perfectly decent affair – Hamilton inched close to the title with another win over Sebastian Vettel – but nothing to really write home about. Instead, it was what happened off the track that was genuinely startling.

Liberty Media had completed its £6 billion buy-out of Formula 1 in January. It had been widely understood that Bernie Ecclestone would stay on as CEO for a three-year transition period. However, that didn’t happen. Liberty found themselves at odds with Ecclestone’s unique management style of dividing and conquering via the tactic of lobbing in the occasional provocative hand grenade to keep everyone off balance. A trap door opened under Ecclestone’s feet and he was gone, leaving behind just a few waspish comments hanging in the air. The affable Chase Carey took over, but for the first half of the season he contented himself by soaking up the atmosphere. He was also busy assembling his management team, including the wildly popular appointment of Ross Brawn as director of motorsport.

But the softly, softly approach changed when it came to Austin. Saturday’s qualifying session was rescheduled to accommodate a pop concert. Sunday’s traditional pre-race build-up was replaced by an American-style grid introduction hosted by boxing announcer Michael Buffer, famous for his exultation to ‘Get ready to rumble!’ It started to feel that the showbiz side was more important than the motor racing.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, Liberty was only trying out some things already commonplace in US championships. But for many fans, that was precisely the problem: they didn’t want to see Formula 1 reduced to being sort of globe-trotting version of NASCAR.

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Hungary call ‘reconfirmed Mercedes values’, insists Wolff

Toto Wolff has picked a controversial moment at the Hungarian Grand Prix as his Formula 1 highlight of 2017.

Toward the end of the race, Valtteri Bottas agreed to team orders and allowed Lewis Hamilton to pass him for third place. It was part of an effort to put pressure on the two Ferraris leading the race.

Although he quickly pulled away from his team mate, Hamilton ultimately wasn’t able to close the gap on Kimi Raikkonen. That left the team with a difficult call about whether to order their drivers to switch back.

Eventually that’s exactly what happened. The swap cost Hamilton three championship points, allowing Sebastian Vettel to go into the summer break with a 14-point lead in the drivers standings.

In a tight season, those three points could have ended up deciding the title. Wolff had been under no illusion about what had been at stake, but he was proud of the way it had been handled.

“My Formula 1 highlight is probably Hungary,” Wolff said. “For me, [it] was a very difficult race, and very difficult decision-making at the end of the race.

“But somehow [it] was important to reconfirm the values of the team,” he insisted.

It was certainly very different to previous seasons when Hamilton gave absolutely no quarter to his Nico Rosberg.

  • Bottas praises Hamilton for sporting gesture

“I kept my word – I said that if I couldn’t pass Kimi then I would let Valtteri back,” Hamilton said at the time. “I believe in doing the right thing and that when you put good things out there, they come back to you.

“Perhaps I will look at it in a different way if, at the end of the season, I lose out by a small margin,” he had added. “[But] I have said through this year that I want to win this title in the right way.”

The move certainly seemed to allow Hamilton to bank some positive credit in terms of his relationship with Bottas.

“Lewis and the team kept their promise,” the Finn said. “I don’t think every team-mate would do that in a championship fight. I think that was really nice of him. It shows that he is a real team player.”

Wolff said that it had been “a great day for the team because we saw our ethos played out for everybody to see with great respect between Lewis and Valtteri.

“These are the values that helped us win six championships. And in the long term it is the approach that will win us many more titles.”

Ultimately the points lost in the manoeuvre proved academic, with Hamilton winning the title by 46 points. Even so, it remains Wolff’s on-track highlight at the end of a long season.

Off-track, however, it’s another matter.

“My personal highlight was the birth of my son,” he admitted. “This goes beyond anything else.”

Wolff and his wife Susie, a former Williams F1 test and development driver, welcomed their first child together in April.

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Renault ‘motivated’ by Red Bull and McLaren challenge

The Renault Sports F1 team says it is getting extra motivation from the prospect of racing against Red Bull and McLaren in 2018.

Both teams will have the same specification Renault engines as the factory team this season. Red Bull is in the last year of its contract with the French manufacturer, while McLaren is transitioning from Honda.

“I accept it’s going to be high maintenance and going to be an interesting season to manage,” Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.

He admitted that the upcoming season would be a challenging one for everyone at Enstone. However, he felt that there would also be significant benefits to the new arrangement.

“I think there is more positives than there is some negative in those relationships,” he insisted.

“There is clearly pride to be supplying engines to other great teams and their fantastic drivers.

“It’s interesting because it’s challenging,” he explained. “But at the same time it’s providing motivation to everyone.”

  • Force India prepping for ‘massive’ battle with McLaren and Renault

Far from being concerned, Abiteboul actually welcomed the arrival of McLaren to the stable of Renault-powered teams.

“McLaren has a wealth of experience,” he said. “[They] can show us the way to push our engine. But also new ways of making sure we have a winning package.

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“Frankly I’m looking forward to it,” he added. “It’s good to be in a competitive environment. But it’s also good to be challenged.”

Renault advisor Alain Prost has previously said that the team might struggle to stay ahead of its engine customer squads in 2018.

“On paper we cannot beat Red Bull and McLaren,” he said last month. “For me, the pressure is positive, even if it is difficult.”

“In the end, if we want to win, we will have to beat everyone,” he added. “The comparison with the customer teams will help us to gain experience in order to get closer to the top teams.”

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Italy determined to put Briatore behind bars!

Flavio Briatore was sentenced to 18 months in jail by an Italian appeals court on Saturday, on tax evasion charges linked to his mega-yacht ‘Force Blue’

The former Benetton and Renault F1 boss, whose yacht was seized by tax authorities in 2010, saw his sentence reduced from 23 months, despite the prosecutor pleading for a four-year sentence.

Italian investigators allegedly uncovered a scheme by which the 63-metre yacht was registered to a company domiciled in the Virgin Islands, but used exclusively by Briatore for his personal use.

  • Renault’s power deficit? It’s Briatore’s fault, says Abiteboul

The flamboyant business tycoon claims he does not own the yacht, and merely rented it from its parent company.

But as the beneficiary of the Virgin Islands off-shore entity, he is the de facto owner of ‘Force Blue’, and therefore must be held liable for payment of VAT taxes estimated at €3.6-million and fuel duties worth €800,000 between 2006 and 2010.

Briatore was also found guilty of issuing false invoices. The Italian’s lawyers said they were deterlmined to the sentence once again.

“We take note of the judge’s decision and will appeal to the supreme court. We are convinced of Mr Briatore’s innocence.”

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Ricciardo taking title seriously in contract talks

Daniel Ricciardo acknowledges that the decisions he makes regarding his next contract could prove crucial in terms of whether he stands a chance of being a future world champion.

The 28-year-old is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of 2018. However, he’s taking his time deciding where to go next.

“The next contract I sign or next extension I do, they are potentially the peak years of my career,” he told Motorsport.com.

“That next bit of paper I sign could make or break my desire in terms of whether I can fight for a title or not,” he acknowledged.

“That’s why I’m taking my time, I want to see where everyone is at. Maybe I’ll have more options, maybe I won’t.

“I doubt I’ll sign a one-year deal somewhere,” he added.

“It’s probably going to be a multiple year deal, two or more. So I need to make sure it’s the right place, competitively.”

Ricciardo made his Formula 1 début with HRT midway through the 2011 season, before moving to Toro Rosso the following year.

  • Ricciardo : ‘Tensions with Max over a title fight would be great’

He was promoted to the senior Red Bull squad in 2014 alongside Sebastian Vettel, replacing the retiring Mark Webber. He won three races in his first season with the team, and two more since.

2018 will be the Australian’s seventh full season in Formula 1, but he insists he’s still developing as a driver.

“I’m still learning. I don’t feel I’m past my peak,” he said. “I’ve still got years in this sport, but I’m not 23 or 24 anymore.”

Ricciardo has been linked with a possible move to Mercedes next year. However, he’s also not ruling out staying at Red Bull despite speculation that he’s been ‘pushed aside’ in favour of current team mate Max Verstappen.

“Certainly I feel like part of the family,” he said.

“Whether I was to stay at Red Bull the rest of my career, or eventually move on, I would still keep close to a lot of the people within the family.”

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Williams goes for London launch date for FW41

Williams looks set to become the first of Formula 1’s teams to reveal its 2018 charger, having chosen London as the venue and February 15 as its launch date.

The team’s FW41 will be the Grove-based outfit’s first car to have been designed under the guidance of Williams tech boss and partner Paddy Lowe.

Since his departure from Mercedes last year and his arrival at Williams, Lowe initiated changes and a new approach to its design efforts in a bid to iron out the team’s inconsistent performance and move up the grid.

  • Toro Rosso takes its Honda-powered STR13 to Misano

The February 15 presentation which also provide Williams with an opportunity to publicly introduce its 2018 line-up, the youngest ever in the team’s history and the second least experienced pairing on the grid behind Toro Rosso.

Rookie and 22-year-old Sergey Sirotkin joins 19-year-old Lance Stroll, while Robert Kubica will fulfill the role of reserve driver this season.

Pre-season testing for the 2018 campaign begins for all teams in Barcelona on February 26.

Check the 2018 calendar with the teams’ official launch dates.

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Alonso joins Toyota for Le Mans and WEC assault!

Fernando Alonso will join the works Toyota team at Le Mans and additional selected rounds of the World Endurance Championship this year.

Alonso’s inclusion in the Japanese manufacturer’s line-up this year at Le Mans was widely expected following the two-time world champion’s proclaimed ambition to tackle motor racing’s Triple Crown.

The Spaniard, who enjoyed a day of testing with Toyota in Bahrain late last year and made his sportscar debut at Daytona last weekend, will also race in the WEC although he will not take part in the October round in Fuji as the race clashes with the US Grand Prix in Austin.

Unfortunately for British fans, Alonso’s arrival at Toyota will be to the detriment of Anthony Davidson.

The manufacturer’s LMP1 squad will include usual drivers, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José Maria Lopez in the #7 car, while Alonso will be paired with Sébatien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the sister #8 car.

  • Alonso: ‘Daytona better F1 preparation than going to the gym!’

Alonso’s commitment to McLaren will take precedence over his deal with Toyota.

“Like Fernando, at McLaren we’re racers at heart, and our team is built on a brave heritage of competing and succeeding in different forms of the sport,” McLaren’s Zak Brown said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Equally important is the confidence that nothing detracts from our number one goal of Formula 1. After proper evaluation, we are satisfied that this campaign does not do that, and that McLaren’s best interests prevail.”

Alonso reiterated his Triple Crown ambitions and his natural propensity to race out of his comfort zone.

“I’ve never been shy about my aim of winning motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’ – the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We tried for Indy last year, came close, but just missed out.

“This year, I have the chance thanks to McLaren to race for the win at Le Mans. It is a big challenge – much can go wrong – but I am ready, prepared and looking forward to the fight.

“My deal to race in WEC was only made possible through the good understanding and strong relationship I have with McLaren, and I’m very happy that they listened and understood what this means to me.

“In no way will this challenge take away from my main target of Formula 1 with McLaren. In 2018, my aim is to be competitive at every grand prix, and I feel sure that we are closer to achieving that.”

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Monisha Kaltenborn jumps back into the fray with F4 team

Monisha Kaltenborn, who guided Sauber’s destiny in Formula 1 for several years, is returning to the motorsport fray with her own team.

The 46-year-old former team manager, who was ousted by Sauber’s new owners in June 2017, has formed KDC Racing in association with Monegasque entrepreneur Emily de Comberti.

The team will be compete under the Swiss flag but is based in bustling business center Granollers, near Barcelona and the Circuit de Catalunya.

“Motorsport is and will remain my greatest passion”, Kaltenborn told Auto Bild.

“For almost twenty years, I have held leading positions in motorsport, so it is only logical that I continue.

    Ericsson sees ‘unpredictable’ but competitive season ahead for Sauber

“Formula 4 is a relatively new series, an exciting racing class that I see a lot of potential in. Especially in the field of developing young talents, which appeals to me.

“In Formula 4, you can already see which drivers have the making of a future champion.

“As a co-owner, I have a decisive voice in the strategy of the team, and my priority is to prepare young drivers for a future in motorsports.

“My years of Formula 1 experience come in handy. The day-to-day business is led by our team manager Josep Trinidad, whom we place great trust in.”

After establishing itself, KDC Racing has lined up its sponsors for the 2018 season and will soon reveal its driver line-up.

“We are in this project to make a difference,” says Kaltenborn.

“Our goal is to build a competitive team and develop young drivers with the tools and skills to maximise their potential and racing performance.

“There are also other promising projects, but it’s too early to talk about them.”

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A cockpit with a view: On-board with Valtteri Bottas!

During today’s shakedown session at Silverstone, Mercedes put a visor cam on Valtteri Bottas’ helmet to give us an on-board view from the Halo-equipped car.

It’s a short, slow lap but still provides a unique perspective on the mandatory cockpit safety device, as seen from inside the cockpit.

Check out the video, and see for yourself!

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Brown sees ‘public fireworks’ between Liberty and teams in 2018

McLaren’s Zak Brown believes 2018 could be a tumultuous year on Formula 1’s political front as the sport’s managers tackle a series of crucial but thorny issues with the teams.

A year into its ownership of Grand Prix racing, and as it continues to settle in, Liberty Media has received criticism from within the F1 community for its lack of transparency regarding the future and the slow pace of change of the sport’s state of affairs.

As he sees the glass half full rather than half empty, Zak Brown advocates patience although he admits the honey moon is over between Liberty and the teams.

“Some senior team executives have been openly critical of Liberty. I prefer we’re constructive,” Brown told James Allen on the F1 reporter’s guest blog.

“They’ve only really had their feet under the desk for the last six to 12 months having inherited a sport previously operated pretty uniquely.

  • A big change of look is in store at McLaren – Brown

“They’ve had to put infrastructure in place, learn the environment and prioritise where to invest – all at the same time,” adds Brown.

“I know from my McLaren experience, I’m on top of things now, but it takes you a year minimum to get on top of things and it’s the same for them.

“F1 is a fast-moving, impatient and unforgiving sport but the teams can’t rely solely on Liberty and F1 to solve all the problems.

“Yes, there are several challenges but the key is turn these into opportunities.”

As Liberty enters the thick of things with regard to defining F1’s future regulations and the all-important engine platform from 2021 – a draft proposal of which was met with doubt by several teams and an outright quit threat from Ferrari – Brown is predicting a fair amount of turmoil when discussions likely come to a head later this year.

“There will be some big negotiations going on through 2018 with the teams on contract renewal and I predict that there will be public fireworks; we are already starting to see that,” says the McLaren boss.

“I do not think it’s going to be quiet. Will Ferrari really leave if they don’t like the new rules?

“I have my opinion but we’ll see how this plays out.”

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