Niki Lauda has denied rumors that Mercedes has started moving in on Sebastian Vettel with the aim of signing the Ferrari driver for 2018.
With several driver contracts expiring at the end of this year – mainly those of Vettel and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – Mercedes offered only a one-year deal to new recruit Valtteri Bottas following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.
Both Lauda and team boss Toto Wolff have said that it is upon the Finn to clearly demonstrate through his performance and results this season that his talent warrants a second year at the Silver Arrows squad.
While it’s still early days on the drivers’ market, Lauda is denying any plan to lure Vettel away from Ferrari.
“That is not our plan — I must say that quite clearly,” the triple world champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.
However, he doesn’t deny that Mercedes is keeping its options open.
“We’re going to start with Bottas and (Lewis) Hamilton and see how it goes,” said Lauda.
Given its present appealing state of affairs, one doubts how Fernando Alonso could possibly extend his stay with McLaren.
Should the Spaniard decide not to retire, which he has given no indication of doing, he would also certainly have the full attention of Mercedes, although sharing the garage with former McLaren Team mate Lewis Hamilton appears a remote possibility given the difficult relationship which prevailed between the two men at Mclaren.
The silly season always appears to start earlier with every passing year. Mercedes will certainly be playing their cards close to their chest however, and so will Vettel.
Haas’ Romain Grosjean says the extra dose of winter training he endured earlier this year saved him from being ‘destroyed’ physically by the team’s new-spec VF17.
The Frenchman encountered no physical issues during pre-season testing in Barcelona despite the anticipation that the 2017 cars would pose a huge physical challenge to drivers.
But for Grosjean and others, preparation has been the key.
“Let’s put it this way: if I’d been in the same condition as I was last year, I would have been destroyed,” Grosjean said.
“We pushed really hard in our training. We may actually have overdone it. It’s not as bad as we thought it would be.”
“The cars are going to be challenging and some of the races this year are going to be epic, especially where it’s warm with a high-speed track, it’ll be very hard on the body.”
“I like the challenge and I like to think that we can always get more prepared and better trained. It felt good as we did the proper training. The cars are much harder to drive than last year.”
Last season, Haas kicked off its maiden F1 campaign with points in the first four races before the team’s performance level started to slump.
Grosjean believes the US outfit’s interests may be better served by gradually building up its performance and results.
“I think this year it’s actually going to be the opposite. This year, if you had to choose, I think you’d want to start slow and finish hard, and not the opposite.
“This is because in 2018 the cars are going to be very similar to 2017, and therefore if you’re finishing on a high it means you’ve understood the regulations and everything’s going well.
“Your next car will be on that trend. We really want to keep the development going and push through the year, improving race after race.”
The Formula One season kicks off this weekend in Australia with Lewis Hamilton bidding to win his third title down under.
The Brit goes into the season as the favourite to clinch a fourth world title, but the key question will be which drivers can challenge him.
With the new driver regulations set to shake up the grid, F1 fans will be hoping the likes of Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel can light up the circuit and challenge for glory.
Here’s how you can catch all the action in Melbourne.
DATE, TIME, VENUE INFO
DATE: 24-26 March 2017
FRIDAY, MARCH 24 – FIRST PRACTICE SESSION: 01:00 GMT (5:00 UAE time)
FRIDAY, MARCH 24 – SECOND PRACTICE SESSION: 05:00 GMT (9:00 UAE time)
SATURDAY, MARCH 25 – THIRD PRACTICE SESSION: 03:00 GMT (7:00 UAE time)
SATURDAY, MARCH 25 – QUALIFYING: 06:00 GMT (10:00 UAE time)
SUNDAY, MARCH 26 – RACE: 06:00 GMT (10:00 UAE time)
VENUE: Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
WHERE TO WATCH
TV: UAE – beIN Sports
LIVE BLOG: Sport360 blog