F1 Business Diary 2016: Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg edged closer to a first Formula One world drivers' title with a win from pole in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Sunday.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg edged closer to a first Formula One world drivers' title with a win from pole in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on Sunday, as world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton fought back to third from a poor start.

The result confirms Mercedes as constructors' champions for the third year in a row and leaves Hamilton 33 points behind his German rival with 100 still available to win. Rosberg can now afford to finish second to Hamilton in every race and still be crowned champion.

 

Hamilton snaps

Before his faulty start on Sunday left him further behind in his quest to retain his title, Britain's Lewis Hamilton had already sparked discussions about his mood and behaviour.

The 31-year-old, who led some to accuse him of casting aspersions on his team when he said after an engine failure in Malaysia that “someone doesn't want me to win”, idled away a Thursday press conference on Snapchat before referring journalists to a series of Instagram posts on which he had praised his mechanics and support staff.

In a series of later posts on Twitter, he then played down the performance. “Today was meant to be fun, not at all disrespectful,” he said. 'Some people take themselves too seriously. I had a blast, highlight of my day!' he wrote.

'It's not the media or mediator, it's the format. Fans should be asking the questions!'

It may not have been quite the form of social media engagement that Formula One's new owners have in mind for the future of the sport, and it left some in the press to respond by writing about Hamilton's mental state in his pursuit of Rosberg. That was an angle to which Hamilton did not take kindly. 

“With the utmost respect, there are many of you here who are super-supportive of me and they hopefully know I know who they are,” he said in a post-qualifying press conference. “There are others, unfortunately, that often take advantage of certain things.

“The other day was a super light-hearted thing, and if I was disrespectful to any of you guys, or if you felt I was disrespectful, it was honestly not the intention. It was just a little bit of fun. But what was more disrespectful was what was then written worldwide.”

Hamilton subsequently walked out of the press conference, and cancelled other briefings during the weekend, but team principal Toto Wolff was in no mood to add to the pressure on his driver. 

“Lewis is very strong,” said Wolff. “He needs the enemy. Sometimes more than one. That's how he functions.”

Wolff will no doubt expect a response from his star on the track in the USA.

 

Testing times

The world champions – whose wider motorsport group confirmed last week it would take up an option to compete in the all-electric Formula E in 2018 – are reported by Reuters to be among the teams pushing for pre-season testing to take place in Bahrain in 2017.

Tyre supplier Pirelli has requested that two four-day tests be moved from Barcelona to the Middle East in February and March, citing the need to try out its new, wider 2017 tyres in hot conditions. Moving testing outside Europe requires the support of a majority of teams – as well as the FIA, motorsport's governing body – and at this point there is no guarantee that will be forthcoming.

Williams are among the teams to have come out strongly against the switch.

“The cost of doing a test outside of Europe is vast,” said technical head Pat Symonds.

“Depending on exactly how you do it and how much you have to ship back to the UK, how much you can ship on to the first race – we're talking of a minimum of UK£300,000, probably a maximum of UK£500,000.

“A team like Mercedes, I'm sure that they can put contingencies in their budgets to cover things like that. A team like Williams simply can't, it's a significant amount of our budget.”

Symonds suggested Abu Dhabi and Malaysia as better locations for tests in any case, but added that his team were “opposed to the idea”. 

 

Contract earned?

It is that time of year in Formula One where contract negotiations become discussed a little more openly. Ferrari's four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has a deal in place until the season after next and Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene took a firm line on the prospect of a renewal.

“Sebastian has a contract,” he said, speaking to Sky Italia. “We work together this year and next year. Then during next year we'll see.

“Each of us has goals. So it is only right that anyone, no matter who it is, earns their place and their salary.”

Vettel had endured a difficult week after picking up a three-place penalty for Suzuka, the result of his involvement in a crash at the preceding Malaysian Grand Prix. He finds himself sixth in the drivers' championship, seven points behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen, partly as the result of a series of technical failures early in the season. Meanwhile Ferrari are still some way off the title pace, third in the constructors' championship with no wins in 2016.

Sky Sports' Martin Brundle, speculating that 29-year-old Vettel “won't be in Formula One for the long haul”, said that Arrivabene's was a “choreographed interview, for purpose”.

“I imagine Vettel will react to that very badly,” he said. “I think what they are trying to tell him is, you drive the car and we'll sort the team out, because Vettel is trying to get engaged Schumacher-esque in every element of the team.”

For his part, Vettel gave a composed response to discussions about his future. “I haven't seen the comments,” he said, speaking on Saturday. “There have been a number of races where I haven't been happy with my own performance. The main focus is to progress and carry everything we can learn on to next year's car.

“I have a good relationship with him. If there is something I don't like, I tell him and the same the other way around. But we have nothing to sort out.”

Vettel slipped behind Hamilton into fourth late on in Suzuka, failing to reach the podium in Japan for the first time.

Elsewhere in the paddock, Vettel's compatriot Nico Hulkenberg has been linked with a move to Renault from Force India.

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