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Insight: Five people with something to prove as F1 gets back to business
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Marco Mattiacci
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Aug 2014   |  8:26 am GMT  |  217 comments

When the Formula 1 World Championship resumes at Spa next weekend for the Belgium Grand Prix, attention will once again focus on who is strong and who is weak – such is the nature of F1.

With Bernie Ecclestone now clear of his trial in Germany, he will have renewed vigour for the sport and is likely to be very active, but there are quite a few people in roles throughout the paddock who have work to do, to progress or even to retain their positions.

We decided to take a closer look at five key people who have something to prove in the second half of the season.

Marco Mattiacci

The honeymoon period is over, now decisions need to be made which will decide what kind of Ferrari we will have in future.

Ferrari last won the drivers’ world championship in 2007, their last constructors’ title came the following year. By the Italian team’s standards their failure to repeat the feat since then is simply not good enough.

In April, former Ferrari road car man Marco Mattiacci stepped in to replace out-going Stefano Domenicali as team principal, and while the team scored its biggest points haul of the season last time out in Hungary, moving them back into third in the constructors’ championship, the team is still well behind Mercedes and Red Bull.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.44.55

But following Fernando Alonso’s second place in Hungary, having only lost the lead in the closing stage, Mattiacci says he’s not interested in finishing second. He adds that the team needs a “360-degree” improvement to get them back to the top – but how long will he have to get them back to winning ways?

It’s now 25 races since a Ferrari driver stood on the top step of the podium. Fernando Alonso appears restless, while Kimi Raikkonen has failed to replicate the form that he showed during the last two years at Lotus.

Mattiacci needs Ferrari to be contending at the front, as they were in Hungary, regularly but he also has to look to the long term, which is where he has been focussing.

Yesterday saw a broadside from another disgruntled former employee, Luca Marmorini, who was sacked recently as head of the engine department. He claims that Ferrari is taking a risk putting the team in the hands of “non-expert people who listen to advisers who have done nothing; James Allison and Pat Fry”

Marmorini goes on to say that he was let down by the chassis department which asked him for a super-small, compact engine and promised to compensate for the lack of power with aerodynamics. But when the car hit the track with the other teams, it was clear that the compensation was not there and he got blamed for building a weak engine.

This highlights the intensity of the politics around Ferrari at the moment and Mattiacci has to cope with that at the same time as taking decisions which could affect whether Ferrari wins again at all in the next five years.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.41.35Jean-Eric Vergne

Now in his third season with Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne needed to deliver after being overlooked for the Red Bull seat vacated by Mark Webber in favour of his then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

The Frenchman had been solid, but not spectacular in his first two seasons and faced a big challenge this season when the team signed Russian youngest Daniil Kvyat alongside him.

While Vergne leads Kvyat in the drivers’ standings with 11 points to six, it’s hardly the gap he would have hoped to have against a driver in his rookie season.

The team have been hampered by poor reliability and Vergne showed flashes of form when he ran as high as second in Hungary before dropping down the points after being caught out by the safety car.

But he lacks consistency and that doesn’t bode well as the team doesn’t have a track record of patience – just ask Sebastien Bourdais, Jaime Alguersuari, Scott Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Vergne failed to score in any of the races after the summer break last year, while then team-mate Ricciardo managed four points finishes. The Frenchman can’t afford that kind of form this year.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.43.34Adrian Sutil

It hasn’t been a happy season for Sutil so far. Sauber’s C31 is a handful to drive, the tall German’s weight has been an issue and he has frequently bemoaned the tools at his disposal.

None of that would be an issue were it not for the fact that despite sitting ahead of team-mate Esteban Gutierrez in the standings, the momentum appears to be with the Mexican at the moment.

The pair have been well-matched in qualifying, though the 22-year-old Mexican currently leads 6-5 and indeed the figures might look worse had Gutierrez been able to take part in qualifying in Canada.

In racing the pair have had a similarly tough first part of the season, with Sutil’s best an 11th-place finish in Hungary, while Gutierrez finished 12th in Australia. The Mexican was in a points scoring position in Monaco, too, before a late race clash with the barriers at Rascasse ended his hopes.

With Gutierrez making all the right noises about taking on the role of ‘team leader’ and with the young driver recently insisting that he is soon to open negotiations with Sauber on a new contract, Sutil is a driver with some tough talking to do on track. Matters have, of course, been made worse for the German by the news that the Mexican Grand Prix is returning to the F1 calendar next year. That alone should shore up Gutierrez’s place.

His situation is not made easier by the queue of drivers lining up to grab a race seat at Sauber, in spite of the team’s difficulties.

Well-funded reserve Giedo van der Garde has been regularly rumoured as not just a 2015 Sauber race driver but also as an in-season replacement as the team looks to turn around its fortunes.

Youngster Sergey Sirotkin is also on the horizon. The Russian currently lies in fifth place in the Formula Renault 3.5 series standings and will fancy his chances of a step up.

Then there’s Simona de Silvestro. The Swiss racer did well in her opening test for Sauber at the wheel of a 2012 car at Fiorano in April and she is not short of admirers, with F1 legend Mario Andretti recently coming out in support of the former IndyCar driver and her former KV Racing Technology IndyCar team boss Jimmy Vasser admitting that inter-team dynamics had not brought out the best in a driver he said was “fantastic”.

And finally there’s Williams reserve Felipe Nasr who this week said he’s actively chasing a Sauber seat. “Conversations have begun already,” he told SporTV.“My management is already looking. Force India is hard but I think Sauber is possible. I want to join a midfield team that gives me a position to fight for points, that would be fantastic. I think it’s possible.

All in all, it’s looking like it’s going to be a tough run-in for Sutil.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.49.10Kamui Kobayashi

When, having been unable to secure the funding necessary to hang on to his Sauber drive, Kamui Kobayashi exited F1 just a few months after claiming a podium finish at the Japanese Grand Prix, it was one of the sadder indictments of the straits into which F1 had fallen. It was therefore with great delight that most people welcomed the likeable Japanese driver back to the paddock this year. It would be a great shame then if his second stint turns out to be shortlived due to the uncertainties surrounding Caterham.

On the surface, Kobayashi has certainly done enough to deserve another season. In qualifying he has outpaced rookie Marcus Ericsson nine times in 11 races. In grands prix, thou
gh, it’s Ericsson’s 11th place in Monaco that puts him ahead of Kobayashi in the standings, with the former Sauber man having recorded a best placing of 13th in Malaysia and Monaco.

In such a fluid situation as that which exists at Caterham it’s hard to know what will qualify as a seat-securing performance but certainly if Kobayashi could take the team’s first point before the end of the season that would go a long way to making a big statement. However, given the venues upcoming that might be a tall order.

His bets hope then comes from demonstrating leadership, finding greater racing consistency and demonstrating an ability to keep his side of the garage at the top of its game.

Certainly Kobayashi believes that against any pay drivers queuing up at the door of Leafield that will be enough. “I don’t really worry about my race seat,” he told Autosport. “There are always rumours, but it’s simple: getting the team eighth, ninth (in the championship) or whatever would be difficult with a pay driver. During the season it is not easy for a pay driver to reach that required performance straightaway.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.52.39

Jenson Button/Kevin Magnussen

Are McLaren on the verge of significant change in their driver line-up? The rumours keep bubbling and no-one at Woking is making any moves to dampen them down.

At 34 years of age and with no contract yet signed, Button is the driver most frequently asked about his future, especially in light of Ron Dennis’ remarks about the 2009 world champion needing to “try harder”. Button, though, isn’t for turning, recently insisting that “right now my interest is to race in Formula One… I’m young, I’m fit and I’m enjoying what I do for a living so there’s definitely no reason to want to change.”

With Honda arriving next year and with Button always reportedly a favoured son of the Japanese company, it may ultimately be Magnussen who ends up in the firing line.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 16.54.45

A stellar start to the season, with an eventual second place in Australia, has given way to a season of curious inertia as the Dane has struggled to get to grips with McLaren’s wayward MP4-29. Button, never the swiftest qualifier, is ahead 6-5 on Saturdays and in the points battle the Briton has 60 points compared with Magnussen’s 37, and just under half of the Dane’s tally came in the opening round.

There is a sneaking suspicion that unless McLaren can land a very big fish for 2015 (and it is shaping up as a pool of one) then it will not immediately tinker with the blend of youth and experience it currently has, but with no contacts on the horizon it is clear that the team is still angling for a major signing. Until it comes up empty-handed it would seem that Button may have to rely on a victory by experience and the patronage of Honda, while Magnussen needs to demonstrate an ability to drive around the problems presented by his car and up his game in qualifying.

Do you agree with this assessment? Who would be your five key F1 personnel with something to deliver in the second part of the 2014 season? Let us know. 

 

 

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1

I think you have missed out a really big fish who has a massive amount to prove – Ron Dennis. I don’t think I have ever read a truly impartial article on him, they are almost always slightly sycophantic.

McLaren is in an unholy mess and I don’t think it is fair to lay the blame at the door of others, blaming the drivers for example. JB is a world champion and regularly outshines his team mates, and was respectably close to Hamilton when they were together at McLaren. When he won at Brawn his team mate was Rubens Barrichello a bad driver? Hardly. Jacques Villeneuve? No.

Why shouldn’t the blame for McLaren’s mess be laid at Ron Dennis’ door. Largest shareholder, chairman, etc. he was in charge during the Ferrari scandal, he appointed Martin Whitmarsh, and who knows what his behind the scenes influence was. This is not a man who would just let others get on with it. He could also have stepped in publicly at any time. Whatever he might say, as the chairman of a company he had a duty to step in long before he publicly did so.

The problem at McLaren is not drivers. JB was 2nd in 2011 beating Mark Webber who had the far better car for most of the season, as well as Alonso who’s Ferrari was no lemon and Hamilton into fifth. The problem is in the design and engineering team, it has gone in the wrong direction for at least the last 2 years if not three, the aerodynamics are inferior and the car is unbalanced. As long as McLaren keep trying to expect a fairy dust driver they will fail.

So how about it James? How about a warts and all expose of Ron Dennis stewardship of McLaren in the last 5 years.

2

Button leading Magnussen 60 points to 37 is proportionally about the same as Vergne leading Kvyat 11 points to 6. I don’t understand the criticism of Vergne this year. He’s doing fine against the rookie if you take into account all the times the car has packed up.

3

With all due respect to the Current Drivers, I think Mclaren needs a complete Driver Overhaul…. Button is extremely ordinary and Maggnussun is no sensation. True Mcalren got it right with Lewis but drivers like Lewis comes once a generation. They should’ve honed Maggassun out in a lesser team and then brought him on Mclaren.

The Question now arises is that who would be ideal for Mclaren? There are number of options:

Kimi and Mclaren was the most frightening combination

Alonso minus Hamilton in a Mclaren will be an unbeatable force

Vettel…. give him any team and he will win.

Hamilton and Mclaren is simply match made in heaven.

But all the above have long term contracts, now who will be ideal?

I think,

1. Hulkenberg

2. Bottas

3. Ricciardo

4. Vergne

5. Bianchi

The Combination of Hulkenberg and Bottas will be the most awesome combination for Mclaren.

4

Strange that none of the blame has been placed on Nicholas Tombazis, he hasn’t led a solid design for years now.

5

F1 is one of the best places to prove how a person could make the difference.

6

1) Mattiaci: give him until next year this time, if the results are the same as now = decide then!

2) Vergne: bye-bye

3) Sutil: bye-bye, long past due!!! Please!!!

4) Kobayashi: very entertaining drives in the past, why not give him a chance at Mclaren-Honda, surely he could wipe the floor with Verstappen? and he is Japanese no?

5) Button: has proved his worth; always shows up ready for the fight, super-fit and motivated, even when Mclaren keeps giving him a shitty car to drive! I’m not really a fan, but come on this guy can drive! If it comes down to Verstappen or Button, why would this even be a difficult choice? Long term Mclaren-Honda need a superstar i.e.. Alonso, (highly unlikely, after the Ron spanking), Hamilton, (again highly unlikely; why go backwards?) or Vettel, (if he doesn’t go to Merc or Ferrai) etc. A good number two would be Boullier’s buddy Grosjean? All in all, Williams GP have shown this year that you can’t keep the “real-racers” down!

7

Surprised there’s no mention of the McLaren brass along the same lines as Mattiacci at Ferrari.

In fact, I’d put the management under more focus than the drivers. I think both drivers have done ok considering the car and their experience levels.

And Renault? Surely they need to find some serious improvement or they may struggle to find a chassis to plunk their engine into next year.

And then there’s Alonso. When is that guy going to start delivering 110%? (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

8

Monisha Kaltenborn’s got a hell of a job. Let’s hope Sauber are with us in 2015…

9

James, i believe you are little harsh on JB.

JB have drove pretty well through out the season and his performances were better than average. JB still have a good year or 2 left in him for F1. Magnussen is not a lewis esque pilot and though he possess certain pace he is vulnerable to errors and quite erratic with his racecraft as well.

JB has done very well when we compare the inter team-battle at RBR and Ferrari. JB clearly deserves another chance albeit with little faster package

10

Hi James,

I don’t know why Kimi isn’t in this list when you are including JBt. Consistently being outperformed by Alonso and has half the points JB has also.

Yes, I am concerned whether JB will be in F1 next year. If he isn’t at Mclaren, I hope a spot opens up at Williams.

11

I see Sebastian Vettel as a guy with a lot to prove in the remainder of the year. He is a quadruple champion, and even his bosses are making excuses for his lack of performance this year… “he is tired, he doesn´t get a good feeling for this years car, [mod])
He is good, but how much in a second rate car?

12

James do you not feel Kimi has something to prove? Your views please Mr Allen

13

James

A correction or little tweak is required here, i believe

Kobayashi = out. Raikkonen = IN

Button = out. Seb vettel = IN

Kobayashi have done well very well to this point of the season. Ericsson does not look like the answer caterham needs at this point of time. Given the incosistent reliability and twitchy car kobayashi drove pretty well. Kamui have the pace and vision for the passing move. Caterham needs to improve quite a bit to beat Marussia.

Vettel should have been put in this list as well. 40 Odd points difference and 2 race victories says it all. Ricciardo have certainly embraced the challenge and life at RBR, whereas his much fancied team-mate could not come to terms with the car and his performances were shoddy. Dan Ricciardo has all the makings to become a cert WDC. Question is how sooner this can happen? This season it may be very tough and Mercedes pilots have it covered lewis or Nico are surely a WDC. Maybe RBR can close the gap in second bout of the season. This will enable Ricciardo to go for it. As far as vettel even helmut marko have confessed recently he needs a perfect car to his liking and driving style. Then only he can deliver wins and WDC it seems. Quite a few people did not see this one coming at RBR. Yet Ricciardo have already passed the assessment where webber have failed. Beat your team-mate

Vettel deserves to be present on this list James.

14
Channa Gunawardena

With regards to Ferrari.

What seems to have been lost on may folks is that Aldo Costa who use to run the engine department moved to Mercedes a couple of years ago if I recall. Need one say anymore? I hope Mr. Mattiacci is cogniscent of that.

Enough said from a suffering Ferrari Tifosi…

15

To understand the current situation at the Scuderia, one needs to have the right perspective of where they came from. An excellent study on the subject is James Allen’s ‘The quest for redemption’. The book highlights Ferrari’s internal political bickering, anxiety, rigidness and lethargy in operations before Todt/Brawn/Schumi changed them. Even with the likes of Jean Todt/Brawn/Schumacher/Byrne it took Ferrari half a decade before they won .

I dont think Brawn will ever come back to F1 especially in the wake of Schumi’s terrible accident, but if i were LdM, i would make every concerted effort to hire Ross Brawn. Marmoni’s hiring was probably a part of Luca Montezemolo’s plan to turn Scuderia into “team Italia” once again. Marmoni hardly made a difference at Toyota. Instead, Ferrari should have continued with Gilles Simons. Gilles is still available, and would be a great addition. James Allison and Dirk De Beer were excellent recruitment and Ferrari needs to be patient before they enjoy the dividends of their investment. Last but not the least, please hire Hulkenberg or Grosjean or Bianchi for 2016.

16

No idea why Button is included in this list as he has nothing to prove…

17

Finally….sense. All he has to do is keep schooling K-mag in the way which he has been doing, which I suspect he will. I think the hardest part of this season was the beginning for JB, as he was still struggling with the death of his father. He still IS (been there, done that), but it gets a little easier every month, every race. I am hoping he had time over break to spend time with Jessica, start looking forward to planning their wedding, and not back on a funeral, and come back fighting even harder in the second half. How he has done as well as he has with the emotional pressure he must be under is frankly amazing…the whole English stiff-upper lip stuff only goes so far.

18

I am really looking forward to Spa this year.

I am curious how the new cars will fare … the V8s made it all look so easy. Hopefully the V6s will bring some mojo back … especially in Eau rouge.

Bring on Sunday!

19

Maybe Alonso is pondering on the replacement of his Ferrari ‘company car’ for a Honda Civic if he moves to Mclaren !!

20

Alonso should leave Ferrari. Maybe take a Vacation and let Raikkonen and Bianchi run the show 😛

21

There seems to be a perception that Button isn’t very good. I disagree and wonder why? Is it his non aggressive persona? His results have been good.

22

They’d be good if he drove for Force India or Sauber. He is now an average driver who nearly through away a guarenteed championship in a car that was 1.5 seconds clear of the field. He has had the odd good race, Spa comes to mind, but he’s one of the most unispiring world champs theres been. He is team leader for McLaren! Lewis would rag more out of the car than he does, and when you have a car not upto winning races, you have to rag more out of it!!

23
Spinodontosaurus

1.5 seconds clear? The Brawn team never had more than about 3 tenths of an advantage over the rest of the field.

Since that so called ‘guaranteed’ world title, Button has beaten every team mate he has been paired with.

But by all means, sack him.

24

Kimi and Vettel should be on this list, despite his success in the past, their legacy is getting damaged, they have a lot to prove.

25

Marmorini and Costa comments about Ferrari sure ain’t positive for such a huge team. I’ve never been a fan of Ferrari and the only interest I have is watching Alonso driving the nuts out of the red taxi. That’s fascinating.

26

Why no talk of Honda wanting Kobayashi? Would seem ideal.

27

Not a top notch driver perhaps.

28

Honda went down that route with Sato…………….

29

One potential barrier is that Kobayashi’s a Toyota man (i.e. worked his way up the motorsports ladder with Toyota, who are Honda’s arch rivals).

Traditionally, all Japanese F1 drivers have come from either the Toyota camp or Honda camp (Kazuki Nakajima proving a point by climbing through Toyota’s ranks to show that he made it without his dad’s help – Satoru was a Honda man).

If Honda’s dead set on getting a Japanese driver into a McLaren, it’s going to be someone from their camp.

Having said that, Kamui *is* the best Japanese driver we’ve ever seen and the first to be hired into non-Japanese teams purely on merit. That *might* count for something…

30

Ah, that makes sense now.

31

Two more for me:

– Luca di Montezemolo. I love watching Ferrari implode. We’re back to the pre-Jean Todt days of when things are not working, sack all of your best people who have a track record of actually delivering some pretty impressive results.

The engine guys for example – okay, they got it wrong this year, but Mercedes are having a 2009 year again. It won’t be the same next year. I really struggle to see how James Allison can deliver a fantastic car for next year against all of this turmoil.

With the changes he has made, Luca needs to prove some kind of performance boost by the time we get to Monza. Oh, and please keep him out of the garage. I’m not sure if anyone has ever done the analysis, but I suspect having him in there making strange hand gestures and making everyone nervous adds at least half a second to their qualifying lap times!

– Massa has been one of the greatest disappointments of the year in my opinion. Okay, he’s achieved some results, but he’s squandered that fantastic car. Maybe it is always the fault of somebody else when he crashes, but the reason you put an experienced driver in the car who has lost a little bit of his pace is because he ensures he delivers what the computer says the car should deliver.

The end of Canada was one of the worst drives I have seen in a top car (mistake after mistake after mistake out of the hairpin, and then manages to trip over Perez). There’s no way that Hulkenburg would have done that. Then Silverstone… and Hockenheim…

In my view, if Alonso was in that car, he would be giving Mercedes some serious headaches at the moment in terms of results, and forcing the team to think about team orders, and all the related issues…

32

Re: Massa

At this moment for Williams, the main reason they hired an experienced driver was to help on car development, and that Massa’s been doing quite well, methinks. But I agree his performance on track is disappointing.

33

Agree about Massa, I think he should retire. He’s never been the same since his accident.

34

Point well put about Massa. With his experience, at the very least, you would expect him to avoid the kinda first lap incidents he has had.

35

How he could avoid KOB in AUS ?Furthermore,he actually did an excellent job to avoid Kimi’s potential huge injury .

36

I agree and would add Hamilton to that list- maybe even Riccardo.

37

Button and Magnusun gone at McLaren, Kobayashi and a top tier driver (Alonso, Vettel, Kimi, Hamilton).

Sutil – gone.

Vergne – probably gone.

Massa – probably gone.

Lotus – likely gone.

Caterham – likely gone.

Chilton – should be gone.

Alonso/Kimi – I think it more likely that Alonso will go; I believe that it is beginning to be recognized that he is not a development driver, and development capability is even more important than it has been in the past.

Ferrari will have the entire year of Kimi/Allison – a recently proven development pairing; it is possible that they will be in the hunt next year.

I’d enjoy seeing Alonso beaten, in the same car, by Kobyashi. heh, heh, heh, heh.

Hoping he Kobyashi gets another year in F1, this one in a Japanese powered car.

Alonso/Kobyashi pairing will be better than the current McLaren stable.

38

Agreed.

If Kobi can overtake Vettel while driving a Caterham I say give him a go 🙂

39

Yes, but you have to admit that one was special 🙂

40

Technically, hasn’t EVERY driver overtaken Seb this season?

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