Honda denies F1 return rumours

Honda has now added its denial to rumours the Japanese carmaker could be looking to return to F1 by supplying a V6 engine to McLaren in 2014.

With McLaren’s Mercedes relationship reverting to mere ‘customer’ status after next season, Auto Motor und Sport reported recently that Honda could fill the void by returning to F1 and rekindling its ultra-successful past link with the famous British team.

“That’s all wide of the mark,” McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale said last week.

And Honda chief executive Takanobu Ito said on Wednesday: “That was a complete unfounded rumour. Of course we are interested but we think there are higher priorities than Formula One,” he told North American reporters at the Tokyo motor show.

Honda pulled its team out of F1 at the end of 2008.


Ecclestone happy with HRT’s new direction

Bernie Ecclestone is happy that HRT, the back of the grid Spanish team, appears to have turned a corner. Last year, the F1 chief executive described the team and fellow straggler Virgin as “cripples” that have been “an embarrassment” that the sport needed to “get rid of”.

A year on, HRT has new owners in the form of Thesen Capital and is working towards building a more Spanish identity and a permanent base. McLaren’s highly experienced Pedro de la Rosa has been signed for the next two seasons, the gearbox deal with Williams has been extended, and a new Toyota link has emerged.

The BBC reported last weekend that the team is set to begin working with a Cologne company that is co-owned by Caterham’s Tony Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne.

“It’s effectively the design office of the former Toyota team”, reported assistant editor Andrew Benson.

All the developments have been received as good news by Ecclestone.

“Yes, I have to say I am very happy with the direction being taken now,” he told Spanish sports newspaper Marca. “It has changed, it’s a good project with the right steps being taken. They may start to be a good team to give joy to the Spanish fans.”


Barcelona race future in doubt

Bernie Ecclestone has admitted Barcelona might be the first casualty as F1’s annual calendar sheds some European races. The F1 chief executive told Spanish sports newspaper Marca that the continent’s dwindling presence on the schedule could drop to as few as just five rounds per season within the next few years.

Currently, there are two races – Valencia and Barcelona – in Spain.

Asked if that is sustainable, Ecclestone answered: “I don’t know, we will have to wait and see. I think not, but we’ll see. In Barcelona they complain that it is difficult for them to balance their accounts.”

Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya has hosted the annual Spanish Grand Prix since 1991. The event has a contract until 2013 and Ecclestone said it will be honoured.

“Yes, we have a contract in force so it depends whether Barcelona want to keep going or not,” he said.


Red Bull says ‘no’ to Vettel – Bradl swap

Red Bull has banned Sebastian Vettel from taking part in a demonstration ‘swap’ with fellow German and new Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl.

“I would gladly try a Formula One single seater,” 22-year-old rider Bradl is quoted by La Gazzetta dello Sport, “and Sebastian could get on my bike. Yes, the change would be harder for him than for me.”

But Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko answered with a clear “no”.

“Not under any circumstances,” said the Austrian. “The danger that Sebastian could get hurt on a bike is too great.”

Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that, behind the scenes, Vettel was keen.

But he said on the record: “If you have a little slide, the car runs off. On a bike, you fall right off.”


Hopefuls Barrichello, Sutil, play down impact of Raikkonen news

Rubens Barrichello and Adrian Sutil have both played down the impact on their own futures of Renault’s signing of Kimi Raikkonen. Both Barrichello and Sutil, who are danger of losing their Williams and Force India seats respectively, were believed to be eyeing a vacancy at Renault for 2012.

“I am not reading anything this week since there’s so much gossip,” Brazil’s Globo quoted Barrichello as saying. “My wife called me to say ‘Just so you know, Kimi has signed. I think it caught many people by surprise and me as well, but I have always said that my best chance is Williams. So my situation remains the same.

“I’m happy with what is happening to me. I appreciate the friendship of Felipe (Massa) but I want to be there next year, so this time I am listening only to Schumacher.”

Another driver who reportedly considered Renault an option for 2012 was Sutil, but – like Barrichello – the German’s manager played down the impact of the Raikkonen news.

“Since I guessed it already, it does not directly affect our future,” Manfred Zimmermann is quoted by DPA news agency.


Bottas not ruling out 2012 Williams race seat

Valtteri Bottas has acknowledged he is in the running to step up to the F1 race grid with Williams in 2012. The new GP3 champion, already the famous British team’s test driver, impressed during the young drivers’ session in Abu Dhabi recently.

It is also believed the 22-year-old Finn is promising an ample amount of sponsorship and, alongside contenders including Rubens Barrichello and Adrian Sutil, is in the running for a race seat in 2012.

Referring to his laps in Abu Dhabi, Bottas told Finland’s Turun Sanomat: “I think the team wanted to see what I could really do on the track.

“I don’t know whether they were looking for next year, or for the year after. It was really interesting to find out about the car and important for myself too and I noticed that I could do it quite well. If the call comes or not, I really can not say.”

Bottas said that if he is not called up to race for Williams in 2012, he is looking at the Renault World Series or GP2.

“These are the only other good options,” he said.


Vettel: F1 return will be tough for Raikkonen

Sebastian Vettel has admitted it is “difficult to judge” whether his friend Kimi Raikkonen will be at full speed when he returns to Formula One next season. The pair often meet near their Swiss homes to play badminton, but reigning world champion Vettel does not want to predict a smooth comeback for the 2007 world champion after two years in world rally.

“We have all seen Michael’s comeback,” the 24-year-old is quoted by France’s on a visit to Red Bull’s engine supplier Renault. “He (Schumacher) left when he was at the top, but when he came back he said a lot had changed and that he needed time to adapt.

“If I think about the car I drove two years ago, so many things have changedl. “It’s amazing. Even during a season, new buttons appear on the steering wheel. I can imagine it would be very difficult to return straight away to the same level as before.”

Renault/Lotus boss Eric Boullier revealed on Tuesday that Raikkonen will soon be able to use the team’s new driver simulator, and get some laps under his belt in a two-year-old “demo car” before real testing begins in February.

But the former McLaren and Ferrari driver insisted on Tuesday that while his neck may be out of shape, his motivation is back at full power.

Britain’s Guardian wrote: “If he got fed up with driving a Ferrari … what will happen at Renault, a midfield outfit who are unlikely to be challenging the top teams next year?”

Mercedes’ Norbert Haug is quoted in German reports: “I look forward to seeing Kimi back if he is motivated, and that seems to be the case.”


Renault gives Petrov ‘stay or go’ deadline – manager

Vitaly Petrov’s manager on Tuesday confirmed speculation that the 27-year-old’s place at Lotus Renault GP might not be secure for 2012. Russian Petrov has a contract for next season, but manager Oksana Kosachenko was reported to be heading to the team’s Enstone headquarters this week for urgent talks.

Her trip coincides with the announcement of Kimi Raikkonen’s return to F1 next year with the team.

“After today’s decision was announced, I was given a very short amount of time, literally ten days. We have until December 10 to decide if Vitaly stays or leaves,” Kosachenko told the Moscow news agency Ria Novosti.

Assuming he stays, Kosachenko was asked if Petrov could learn from 2007 world champion Raikkonen, a former race winner for McLaren and Ferrari.

“You ask the question in the right way: if Vitaly stays in the team,” she answered, amid speculation Romain Grosjean and Bruno Senna are also in the running.

Interestingly, the Raikkonen signing and the new uncertainty about Petrov’s future comes amid speculation team boss Eric Boullier might be ousted as the team becomes Lotus for 2012.

“It’s better to put it this way,” said Kosachenko, referring to Petrov’s future. “Will the management come to an agreement with the owners?

“If we do, then Vitaly should take it as a given” that he stays next year, she said.


Ecclestone: Fewer European races in coming years

European races are a dying breed on the F1 calendar, Bernie Ecclestone said on Tuesday. At present, there are eight European rounds on the 20-event 2012 schedule, with the majority of the season therefore taking place throughout Asia, the Far and Middle East and the Americas. And Europe should prepare to shed even more events in the future, said Ecclestone, with the F1 chief executive telling Spain’s Marca that the continent – currently gripped in a worsening economic crisis – is “finished”.

“I think in the next few years Europe will be left with only five races,” he said. “I think Europe is finished. It will be a good place for tourism but little else. Europe is a thing of the past.”

Told that Europe is F1’s spiritual home, he insisted: “It used to be.”

He said the next hosts to join the calendar will be Russia and perhaps also South Africa and Mexico.


Petrov manager heads to Enstone for 2012 talks

With Kimi Raikkonen now seated firmly at Lotus Renault, the race is on to be the famous Finn’s teammate in 2012. Vitaly Petrov has a contract that runs into next year, but the Russian admitted recently that paperwork in F1 is often meaningless.

Indeed, the Russia Today (RT) publication on Tuesday reported that Petrov’s manager, Oksana Kosachenko, is on her way to the team’s Enstone base late on Tuesday “to hold talks over (the driver’s) future with the team”.

Obviously not referring to Raikkonen’s deal, which was announced two days after the 2011 season finale, team boss Eric Boullier said at Interlagos that the team will settle its driver lineup within the next fortnight. With injured Robert Kubica out of the frame for now and reportedly unlikely to ever return with Renault, reportedly at the front of the queue now are Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna and Adrian Sutil.

“Hopefully we will know soon and have a relaxing Christmas,” Senna told Portuguese-language reporters last weekend.