As expected…

Official confirmation that former Ferrari man James Allison is joining Mercedes as Technical Director on 1 March. No surprise there then. Technical Director is a newly created role.

Toto Wolff: “A sharp engineer and the right fit with our senior technical group.”

Allison has won world championships with both Ferrari and Renault, in addition to holding senior leadership roles in both teams. He will report directly to Toto Wolff who will have overall responsibility for running the team.

What you may have missed…

Williams says Dirk de Beer is to be its new head of aerodynamics, also joining the company on 1 March, and Ekrem Sami, the Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Marketing is leaving the company after 35 years. Sami was one of Ron Dennis’s closest allies throughout his tenure at McLaren, having started out with Dennis in the Project 4 days.

End of the road for Manor?

Just Racing ceased trading on Friday, effectively ending the Manor team. The staff were sent home and told they will be made redundant by the close of business on Tuesday after the payment of January salaries.

According to the BBC’s Andrew Benson: “It is not necessarily the end of Manor – a buyer could potentially still purchase the remnants of the team. But even if that were to happen, the move makes it much harder for Manor to make it to the start of the season in Australia on 26 March.”

My colleague Joe Saward who runs the excellent joeblogsf1 has been following the saga from its inception: “There have been many different stories circulating about what has been going on at Manor in recent months and there have been many different interpretations of the problems.

“It has been assumed (by me and others) that the key was money, but the truth seems to be that the stumbling blocks were more complicated than that. Firstly, the owners wanted to hold on to part of the team, secondly there were questions over indemnities relating to potential liabilities, notably the possibility of legal action from the Bianchi Family and thirdly, there was a massive hole in the 2017 budget, even before Manor was knocked back to 11th in the Constructors’ Championship by Sauber in Brazil.

“This is what I have been able to ascertain, although no-one wants to go on record about the different stories, so we must take them on that basis.”

Bernie out, Ross back… I don’t know

 

unknownWhat a day that was.

Liberty Media completed its £6.4 billion takeover of Formula One, the deal maker supreme Mr Bernie Ecclestone has been sidelined – to act as an adviser to the board supposedly, but that’s rubbish – Liberty’s Chase Carey has had Bernie’s former role of chief executive officer added to his existing position of chairman, and brought the former Ferrari-Mercedes man Ross Brawn – who had been acting as a consultant to Liberty – back into the sport to lead the sporting and technical side of F1.

Just catching my breath…

Well, if you think the 86-year-old Mr Ecclestone, who’s been in charge for nearly 40 years, is going to drive off into the sunset to partake in a game of bingo at the local retiree’s club, then think again.

Bernie remains an enigma to many. Like many of those of his generation and before, he has seen plenty of death in the sport to last a lifetime. It’s what many forget when they meet him. This kind of experience breeds toughness. To his enemies, he’s a formidable opponent; to loyal friends, he’s a brick. He also has a realistic view of what the sport has become…

Some may say this view of what he thinks the sport should be has now gone awry and we need a Liberty to sharpen things up a bit. We certainly do and some may say he’s met his match in Chase Carey. Then again how many times have we said that over the years.

The fat lady hasn’t arrived just yet.

In his book, The Piranha Club, Tim Collings describes an episode in Ecclestone’s life, recalled by Sir Frank Williams, which encapsulates Bernie, the man:

‘Those who have known him for a long time are full of admiration and respect. Frank Williams recalled him buying Brabham and running the early meetings of the 1970s. He remembered one incident, in particular, at the Watkins Glen Motor Inn.

“He was there negotiating with the organiser from Mexico and the man, literally, excused himself to go to the lavatory…and never came back. He went out of the back window!”

That, as Williams conceded with a smile, stuck in his mind. Of Ecclestone, the achiever, he said:

“In the big picture, we all know, and respect, that Bernie saw Formula One for what it could be. Over 30 years, he has moulded it into the activity that he thought would give it an important place in the world and a strong commercial base for the teams as well as creating a side of the business for himself.

“He has achieved his objectives very successfully. I think he has the admiration of all the teams for that. He really is a formidable individual in every sense of the word and he has created a worldwide sport pretty much single-handedly.”

And, of Ecclestone, the man, he said he had “a gifted business brain…He is intellectually very clever and level-headed. Clearly, he is very determined. He can also be very persuasive, when putting his deals together in the order in which he wanted them to stack up.”

Could anyone else have done what Bernie did?

“Probably, but he wasn’t in this part of the universe at the right time…I’ve always known it is impossible to second-guess Bernard. Like many clever businessmen, you don’t know what he is thinking.”

 

And guess what? One pops over to Mercedes and there’s Mr Bottas

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It’s been 45 days since Nico Rosberg dropped the bombshell of his immediate retirement from Formula One. And it left the team with a conundrum: how to best fill the vacant seat alongside three-time champion Lewis Hamilton in order to defend the Constructors’ Championship?

Following six weeks of detailed evaluation, deliberation and negotiation, the answer can now be confirmed officially: they signed Valtteri Bottas this morning. The 27-year-old native of Nastola, Finland has completed four seasons in Formula One with Williams, making 77 starts and scoring 9 career podiums so far.

“Sometimes in life, unexpected circumstances provide interesting opportunities. Nico’s decision in December was a big surprise – certainly a challenging situation for the team to handle. But weathering the storm makes you more resilient and we see this as another opportunity for the team to grow,” explained Toto Wolff as he introduced the fourth driver to race for the Silver Arrows in the modern era.

“Valtteri is a no-nonsense guy: down to earth, straightforward and very focused. Pretty Finnish, to be honest, and a great fit for us. He has an impressive track record in the junior categories and nine podiums in F1. But now it’s time for the next level, to see how he can step up to challenge for race wins and for Championships. We know that we are already behind the curve in terms of preparations for the new season, so we’ve got a busy programme to get him integrated into the team. One thing is for sure: as I know Valtteri, he will give it everything.”

Valtteri was cautiously optimistic when he met his new team mates in the factory today. “It’s very exciting times for me,” he grinned. “I think it’s going to take a while to understand that this is really happening. It’s definitely another dream come true, to race in another team with such great history – especially in the recent years, which have been so impressive. I’m really proud to become a part of that and grateful to everyone at Mercedes for trusting my skills and giving me this opportunity.

“I’ve had a really warm welcome so far. Of course, I have a lot more people to meet and new faces to remember. But initially everything has felt very good. I’m really impressed with the facilities and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better. My first experience with Mercedes power was in F3 back in 2009 and, of course, I know the Power Unit well from the last three years with Williams. But there are a lot of new things to learn with the car and also with how the team operates at the factory, in testing and at the races.”

The scale of the challenge ahead cannot be underestimated.

New aerodynamic regulations mean a reset for the entire field and there is genuine uncertainty about which team will emerge on top; Valtteri is paired with probably the most ferociously fast team mate in the sport, Lewis Hamilton; and there are just 70 days until the red lights go out at the start of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

“We have confidence in Valtteri’s ability and it’s one of the reasons that he is the driver we set our sights on this winter,” continued Wolff. “The next weeks will be busy as we work to build relationships so Valtteri understands the team and the car. But that’s an exciting challenge that will bring us fresh energy and a new dynamic between the drivers. And, of course, we’re working hard to give Lewis and Valtteri the car they need to do the job.”

Bottas is under no illusions about the task ahead: “I’m ready to work hard, to prove myself to the team and to prove my skills. It’s going to be a challenging season and joining a new team makes it more work than normal. But I’m 100 per cent ready for that. I’m training hard to be at my physical best because it will be much tougher with these new cars. I always set the bar really high, so my target is to perform from the first race. I’m full of energy and ready to get to work for this year and hopefully many more to come with Mercedes.”

 

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Valtteri Bottas ; Valtteri Bottas;

The agreement for Bottas to join Mercedes has not happened in isolation.

With today’s announcements that Pascal Wehrlein will join Sauber for 2017, and that Felipe Massa will return to Williams, the final pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place for this year. And this has only been possible thanks to positive working relationships between all the teams involved in a complex chain of negotiations.

“On behalf of Mercedes, I must thank Williams for their cooperation in allowing Valtteri to make this move – and also Monisha and Sauber for their patience during the past weeks,” concluded Toto. “It’s been a busy day in the driver market and I am pleased to know that Pascal will be racing at Sauber to continue his development in F1. He had a good first season with Manor and we feel this is the right path for him in the sport. It’s satisfying to have both of our Young Drivers taking on new challenges in F1 this year, with Esteban also racing at Force India. We’ll be following their progress closely; I’m sure we’ve got an exciting season ahead of us.”

From Bottas, too, there were warm words for his friends and colleagues at Williams: “I had a great seven years there, starting as a test driver in 2010. I’m very proud of what we achieved together and I leave with some very good memories. My debut in F1, my first points and nine podiums all came with the guys and girls at Grove, so I must say a big thanks to everyone and I wish them all the very best for the future.”

As Bottas now begins a busy week of technical and physical preparations for the new season, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport is pleased to confirm that Nico Rosberg has accepted an ambassadorial role with the team for 2017.

His first commitment will be tomorrow, in Geneva, alongside former team mate Lewis Hamilton at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) on behalf of team partner, IWC Schaffhausen.

For myself, I’ll be in Croydon.

Felipe Massa to replace Valtteri Bottas at Williams for 2017 season

felipe_massa

 

As expected Felipe Massa has agreed to rejoin Williams on a one-year deal, coming out of retirement to replace Valtteri Bottas who the team has released to join Mercedes for the 2017 season.

Felipe will race for a fourth consecutive season with Williams, alongside Lance Stroll who will make his Formula One debut in the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Having joined Williams in 2014, Massa has been instrumental in the team’s improved performance supporting a resurgence to third place in the Constructors’ Championship in his first and second years.

Speaking about the announcement Massa said: “Firstly, I am very happy to have an opportunity to return to Williams. I always intended to race somewhere in 2017, but Williams is a team close to my heart and I have respect for everything it is trying to achieve. Valtteri has a great opportunity, given the turn of events over the winter, and I wish him all the best at Mercedes.

“In turn, when I was offered the chance to help Williams with their 2017 Formula One campaign, it felt like the right thing to do. I certainly have not lost any of my enthusiasm for racing and I’m extremely motivated to be coming back to drive the FW40. The support from my fans over the last few weeks has been a huge boost and I’m grateful for that. I also look forward to working with Lance; I’ve known him for many years and seen his talent develop during that time, so I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.”

So, there you have it…

Paddy Lowe has left Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport

Just tidying up a few loose ends. As you’ll probably have heard by now, after three and a half very successful years, Paddy Lowe is now on what the F1 industry calls garden leave.

For the record, the senior directors remaining are Aldo Costa (Engineering), Mark Ellis (Performance), Rob Thomas (Chief Operating Officer) and Geoff Willis (Technology).

Further information “will be communicated in due course” but the smart money is on Paddy joining Williams and former Ferrari technical director James Allison filling Mr Lowe’s booties.

The 54-year-old Lowe led Mercedes to three drivers’ and constructors’ championship doubles in a row from 2014 to 2016. The man needs a new challenge, as they say.

Manor Racing in administration

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Very sad news.

The directors of Manor Racing have placed the team’s operating company, Just Racing Services Ltd, into administration. Geoff Rowley and Phil Armstrong, partners of FRP Advisory LLP have been appointed joint administrators.

The decision comes after several months of discussions with investors in an effort to secure the best future for the team: discussions that had recently progressed with a particular investor to the signing of heads of terms. Unfortunately, the investor was unable to advance a final agreement in a timescale that would have avoided impacting upon the team’s 2017 racing programme and the directors had no alternative but to place the team in administration.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, owner of Manor Racing since January 2015, said: “The decision to put the team into administration represents a disappointing end to a two-year journey for Manor.

“Over much of the last year we have been in discussions with several investor groups, and had finally agreed terms of a sale to an Asian investment consortium in December. This would have provided the team with a strong platform for continued growth and development. Unfortunately time ran out before they could complete the transaction.

“Not wishing to repeat events of the past, we resolved in 2015 not to start any season that we did not know for certain we could complete, so we have taken the difficult decision to put the team’s operating company into administration.

“When I took over the team in 2015, the challenge was clear; it was imperative that the team finish in 10th place or better in 2016. For much of the season we were on track. But the dramatic race in Brazil ended our hopes of this result and ultimately brought into doubt the team’s ability to race in 2017.

“I look back on 2016 with pride in what Manor accomplished in what was the most successful year in the team’s history. I would like to thank the team for their constant hard work, determination and passion. We made a huge amount of progress on and off track but ultimately it was not enough.”

2016 Season progress
(Bahrain Grand Prix) 2014 2015 2016
Delta to pole 4.125s 6.142s 3.313s
Delta to fastest lap 4.805s 5.448s 0.966s
Highest position during race 17th 16th 7th
Cars behind at finish None None Sauber, Force India, Renault
As a similar barometer, in Austria Manor Racing qualified 19th (’14), 19th (’15), 12th (’16) and of course raced to P10 in ‘16.

Qualifying
Five times into Q2 (Austria, Spa, Italy, Mexico, Abu Dhabi)
Number of times Manor Racing out-qualified one Sauber car in 2016: 13
Number of times Manor Racing out-qualified both Sauber cars in 2016: 9

Race starts
– WEH was 2nd best driver at gaining position on the first lap of every race having gained +35 positions in the first lap so far this season (an average of 1.94 per race). Only beaten by Alonso with +43 positions. Esteban was 5th on the list with +27 places gained (average of 3.38 per race)

Speed
Top of the speed traps 9 times in 2016 in Qualifying (using GPS data).

Reliability

Only three retirements from 42 starts in 2016 due to technical problems

Classified at the end of more races (32) than its main competitors Sauber (31), McLaren (31) and Haas (30).

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