There is no official word on the matter, but we hear that the three name changes that were being requested by teams have all been agreed by the Formula 1 Commission, at a meeting in Geneva today. This means that next year Team Lotus will have a car called a Caterham; Lotus Renault GP will have a car called a Lotus and Marussia Virgin Racing will be running Marussia chassis. The confirmation of the name changes will not come until the next meeting of the FIa World Motors Sport Council, which is due to take place in the first week of December.
The news, if confirmed, is interesting in that it ends the fight between the two Lotuses. More importantly, by implication it confirms that Lotus Renault GP is now intrinsically linked to Group Lotus. The Norfolk car company was previously the title sponsor of the team, but the news that the other F1 teams have agreed to allow the F1 cars to race as Lotuses, would seem to confirm that the F1 teams will be used to promote car Group Lotus car sales. The agreement suggests that the other teams have been convinced that Group Lotus is in F1 to stay. my feeling is that this underlines the story that Genii is at the centre of a consortium that has bought Group Lotus from its parent company Proton and thus has a direct interest in both the car company and the team.
Immediately after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix there will be a three-day Young Driver test for all the F1 teams. Some of the teams have now named their drivers, while others are still making decisions. Red Bull Racing has announced that French rising star Jean-Eric Vergne will drive an RB7, while Scuderia Toro Rosso will be taking a look at Stefano Coletti and Kevin Ceccon. Lotus Renault GP says that it is going to be running Romain Grosjean and Kevin Korjus. The 18-year-old Estonian is racing in the Renault World Series and became the youngest driver to win a race in that category this year. Williams is due to run test driver Valtteri Bottas and Formula 2 champion Mirko Bortolotti, the latter getting a run as part of his prize for winning the title. Sauber has announced that its drivers will be Mexican youngster Esteban Gutierrez and Switzerland’s Fabio Leimer, while Marussia Virgin is expected to field Robert Wickens and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, who are both part of its young driver programme.
Team Lotus has announced that it will be fielding America’s Alexander Rossi, and it is likely that the two GP2 drivers Luiz Razia and David Valshecci will also get a run. McLaren is due to give Lewis Williamson a test at some point, but it is not yet clear whether this will be in Abu Dhabi and there has been speculation that the test will be done by Oliver Turvey. Ferrari is expected top run its test driver Jules Bianchi and Mercedes GP is tipped to use Sam Bird once again.
There is currently no word from either Force India or HRT.
Toto Wolff, who owns around 20 percent of the Williams team, says that the team is in negotiation with Kimi Raikkonen. The Austrian investor said that “The Kimi Raikkonen file is on the table. The story is not a publicity stunt. We are negotiating seriously. There are several options. It will be a strategic decision.”
Wolff says that an aggressive choice would be to run Ferrari test driver Jules Bianchi, who is managed by Nicolas Todt, who currently manages the team’s other driver Pastor Maldonado. The 22-year-old Frenchman finished third in the GP2 Series this year and his presence in the team would please Williams’s new engine partner Renault. However, running Bianchi and Maldonado would mean a very inexperienced duo, which is probably not what is needed. The other option is believed to be Adrian Sutil, who is expected to be dropped by Force India. Sutil is quick, but does not seem to know why he is quick, which is not much good for the team’s engineers as they try to develop cars. Raikkonen is thus the best choice of the three, in terms of prestige and performance. There remain some question marks about his motivation which seemed to tail off dramatically after he won the World Championship with Ferrari in 2007. He was outpaced by Felipe Massa in 2008 and was dropped at the end of 2009, a year ahead of the end of his Ferrari contract.
While money may seem to be a problem, there are increasing rumours that the team will be sponsored by QNB, the Qatar national bank, which has major international expansion plans. There have been rumours of an announcement coming at Abu Dhabi, but that does not really make sense and we would expect the team to leave the news for a few days to get maximum exposure.