Petronas behind the Mercedes-Lotus engine deal
While talk in the F1 paddock in Hockenheim focused on all things Formula One, Crash.net's spy in the GP2 paddock unearthed the news that the deal for Lotus to make the move to Mercedes power is as good as done, and that Petronas have been an integral part of negotiations – at the potential cost of Total-sponsored Romain Grosjean.
Lotus' financial situation has been well-publicised, and while the Mercedes power unit is the cheapest option available to the teams, anything is expensive when you have a pile of debts and no disposable income to play with. So Petronas are said to have stepped in with the offer to subsidise the cost of the Brixworth engine in exchange for branding on the car and up-and-coming Malaysian talent Jazeman Jaafar in the cockpit.
With Petronas said to be on the way in, there is nowhere for Total to go but out, meaning that the highly-regarded Grosjean is unlikely to spend much time at Enstone once the 2014 season draws to a close. Rumours surrounding a possible McLaren move for the Frenchman continue to swirl, but however close RoGro is to team principal Eric Boullier, the man who has yet to win a race is further down the wish-list than the world champions currently casting around for 2015 seats.
Safety first – but no Safety Car
Adrian Sutil's retirement from the German Grand Prix horrified many in the paddock. While spinning and a sudden loss of power are hardly unusual in Formula One – errors both human and mechanical being part of what makes the sport so interesting – what was shocking was the decision of FIA race director Charlie Whiting to allow the race to continue without a Safety Car despite the fact that the Sauber was stranded in the middle of the track, with car and driver a sitting duck as the rest of the grid raced on.
Speaking off the record to senior paddock figures in a variety of uniforms, Crash.net learned that all and sundry were appalled that Sutil's Sauber was left sitting at the final corner for three laps as marshals attempted to recover the vehicle to a safe position. Given Formula One's drive to improve safety standards for drivers, trackside officials, and spectators at every opportunity, the decision to allow racing to continue unabated raised eyebrows the length of the grid.
While those conversations were off-record, the drivers were willing to comment publicly, with Fernando Alonso saying: “Being objective and honest probably we were expecting a safety car in a normal situation.
“Sometimes they put the safety car out for a piece of front wing on the track and now there was a car there and no safety car. So it was a surprise but if they didn't put it out it was because they felt it was not any risk and they removed the car in a safe manner – I hope, I didn't see…”
Lewis Hamilton also highlighted the danger to the marshals, reflecting on the incident that cost Tom Pryce his life in the 1977 South African Grand Prix. “I was really concerned for the marshals. I was really concerned. You know, we come around that corner at serious speed, and then there's marshals standing not far from where you're driving past. For me, that's the closest it's been for a long, long time.
“When I used to work at a driving school in Bedford, and one day I came in and they had this video playing of a race from years and years ago. A car stopped on the track, and a marshal ran across the track and got hit by a car coming past. That was the first thing I thought about, and I couldn't believe they didn't bring out the Safety Car. I was worried about the marshals. Fortunately no one got hurt.”
What a week for Germany, so where are the fans?
Fresh from Germany's World Cup victory, a party atmosphere was expected at Hockenheim this weekend. After all, a German driver was heading to his home race leading the championship in a German car while there was also a German four-time world champion racing within 100km of his home town.
There was indeed a party atmosphere emanating from the campsites around the circuit, but they were not full campsites and this was not a full Hockenheim. Friday's turnout was frankly embarrassing (though the fans present would have been smart to keep out of the intense heat of the sun) and things didn't improve a huge deal on Saturday.
With Toto Wolff admitting concern during the Friday press conference – “If you compare Hockenheim Friday to Friday at Silverstone and Friday in Austria it's a different world and we have to understand why that is” – there was a concerted effort to try and work out the reasons on Saturday as Bernie Ecclestone called Charlie Whiting and the teams of the F1 Strategy Group to an emergency meeting at Mercedes to discuss the situation.
Perhaps the World Cup played a part, perhaps Nico Rosberg's multinational background makes him a harder sell, perhaps the new power units are still a real turn off. Regardless, the disappointing crowd of 52,000 saw one hell of a race behind the German winner...
More pain still to come at Caterham?
There was an obvious negative undertone to a Caterham press release last week which was attempting to boast about a restructuring of the team leading to a number of new personnel in top positions. However, the reference to the fact that the team “has parted company with a number of employees”, which was described as “a necessary step taken by the new owners of Caterham F1 Team whose priority is the future of the team” was a worrying one.
Not only was it worrying because the cuts numbered almost 50, but also because it's not the end of the uncertainty for a number of employees. Colin Kolles – acting as adviser during the takeover negotiations – has previously revealed in an interview with Reuters that “I prefer to have 200 safe jobs than 300 lost jobs”.
By that logic, only half the work is done, and a team insider confirmed to Crash.net that the atmosphere remains tense as a result. What's more, they described the situation within the team as “an absolute disaster”, but that doesn't make it any easier waiting for the axe to fall…
Lewis has come of age at last
Lewis Hamilton has long been one of the most divisive drivers on the grid, with some fans attracted to his passionate, heart-on-sleeve emotive responses just as others are turned off by them. One of the criticisms most often levelled at the Briton is that he lets his emotions get in the way of his natural talent, and the after-effect of a bad session can be an entire weekend down the pan.
But in Germany the British driver silenced his critics with a commanding performance from the back of the grid following a crash in qualifying that was traced to a faulty brake disc, and not a fault from inside the cockpit. The 30-G impact left Hamilton bruised and sore, but the Mercedes driver was able to put Saturday's incident behind him and on Sunday delivered one of the best drives of his career, keeping a cool head and carving his way up through the field without jeapordising his championship chances through overly-risky manoeuvres.
Hamilton has come a long way from the impetuous 24-year-old who crashed out of the 2009 Italian Grand Prix on the last lap, throwing away a solid third-place finish in pursuit of a risky second. Still passionate, Sunday's drive showed that Hamilton has matured into the sort of racer able to keep his emotions in check from lights to flag.
By Chris Medland and Kate Walker