F1 Business Diary 2016: the Chinese Grand Prix

The Chinese Grand Prix brought further evidence that 2016 will bring another processional title for Mercedes, this time with Nico Rosberg taking the glory. But that was only half of the story.

The Chinese Grand Prix brought further evidence that 2016 will bring another processional title for Mercedes, this time with Nico Rosberg taking the glory. The German made it three out of three in Shanghai, as world champion and teammate Lewis Hamilton marked the return of the 2015 qualifying format by starting from the back of the grid.

Sauber’s suitor?

It has been a sobering start to the season for Sauber, and this week’s Grand Prix was no different. Lead driver Marcus Ericsson finished in 16th, dropping one place from his grid position, while Brazilian Felipe Nasr plummeted to 20th, after starting the race in 16th. The team are also second to bottom in the constructers championship, and in dire need of good news.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that rumours continued to swirl in the paddock air on Sunday of a possible takeover. But by whom?

The revival of an Alfa Romeo team on the Formula One grid has long been talked about. The team were stooped in history, winning back to back constructors’ championships in 1950 and 1951, and notching up ten race victories and over 25 podium finishes before pulling out of Formula One as a constructer in 1985. During the late 1980s the company supplied engines to a collection of teams, before exiting completely in 1988.

But if the whispers are correct, it looks like the Italian-based firm could be preparing a swoop for Sauber.

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, a man very much in the know, was to be found prowling the paddock on Sunday, and according to him, the deal looks very much on.

“F1 is the maximum technological expression of the automotive world,” he said, “and considering the objectives of Alfa Romeo, I think the option should be considered.

“The Alfa myth was born with racing, and somehow we have to get it back there,” he added. “When will it happen? I don’t know.”

It seems that, according to Marchionne at least, the question is very much ‘when’, not ‘if’…

 

Sheepish Vettel

Throughout his career, Sebastien Vettel has been an outspoken character. Never shy to speak his mind, he was pictured giving Daniel Kvyat a thorough, if albeit unwarranted, dressing down after the German crashed into his fellow Ferrari driver Kimi Raikonnen at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Vettel was quick to shift the blame on to Kvyat for his own mistake, and was seemingly happy to confront the Russian about it. But when asked to respond to controversial comments made by Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone about the letter of protest penned by the drivers’ association GPDA which demonstrated against the motorsports decision-makers, Vettel somewhat quietened down.

The letter had described how the drivers were unanimously against the current governance of Formula One, but those in charge had generally dismissed it off hand, with Ecclestone describing the drivers as nothing but “windbags”.

Jenson Button had retorted, calling Ecclestone “catty”, but Vettel said that “none of the drivers are taking it too seriously.”

Asked, by German newspaper Bild, whether the drivers may consider the notion of striking to make their voices heard more loudly, Vettel added: “I don’t believe that is an issue, in the current situation.”

The question of a proposed strike comes after 18 of the drivers were pictured together out for a meal in Shanghai before this weekend’s GP, a rare occurrence.

Vettel did add, however, that “the current problems have united us more than was ever the case with previous generations”.

Unrest continues to bubble up, but it appears that, unlike in his clash with Kvyat at the weekend, Vettel doesn’t want to be the focal point of the attack.

 

Pain in the Haas

The last edition of SportsPro’s Formula One Business Diary discussed the envious eyes that were cast towards Haas, and in particular Romain Grosjean, after the team’s electric start to the season. The Belgian, widely written off before an engine had roared, has secured sixth and fifth-placed finishes in Melbourne and Bahrain respectively.

Almost entirely powered by Ferrari technology, the American-backed team had drawn growing questions about their legitimacy as a genuine constructor, but it would seem that Sunday’s race restored order amongst those raising doubts.

Neither Grosjean nor teammate Esteban Gutierrez registered points, with the Belgian placing just four places ahead of last.  And while many will think the natural order has been restored, Grosjean seemed less than happy with it.

He reportedly labelled the Pirelli tyre pressures “ridiculous” and publicly confronted Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson, with whom he collided with.

“Romain ran up to me and called me all sorts of words,” Ericsson said. “He said I was an idiot, that I’m blind. He was not behaving like a mature adult. He was probably upset about a bad race, but to hear this said from the driver who was suspended in 2012 for dangerous driving, it is a little strange.”

While it remains to be seen whether Grosjean’s struggles were a minor blip or a sign of things to come, it can be sure that unrest around Haas’ legitimacy looks set to continue. Their lead driver flying off the handle, however, certainly won’t help things.

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