Dennis: McLaren will cut the gap to Mercedes in Malaysia

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McLaren CEO Ron Dennis has said that he is expecting the team to make a gain of around half a second at the Malaysian Grand Prix in nine days’ time, sending out a warning shot to current front-runners Mercedes.

Following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix last weekend, McLaren drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button finished in second and third place respectively. Despite moving to the top of the constructors’ championship, the team was still a long way behind pace-setters Mercedes as Nico Rosberg won the race by over 20 seconds, enjoying an estimated one-lap advantage of around half a second, with Lewis Hamilton’s retirement being the only low point for the German team.

However, Dennis – who returned as CEO at the beginning of the year – is confident of cutting the gap to the German team at the next round in Malaysia (March 28-30).

“I’m very pleased with the changes that have been made over the last couple of months and the outcome I think is very positive, so let’s see where we are in a month or two,” Dennis explained to reporters, reflecting on the team’s worst season in over 30 years in 2013 that sparked a number of changes at Woking, such as the departures of Sergio Perez and Martin Whitmarsh.

“We’re confident that we will be half a second quicker at the next grand prix for a variety of reasons,” he added. “That’s not going to be enough to achieve our goal but that will keep the pressure on the teams that are chasing us.”

The result in Australia saw McLaren beat its best result from 2013, having failed to reach the podium across the course of the season. It marked a highly impressive first race for Danish youngster Kevin Magnussen, who scored the best debut result since Jacques Villeneuve in 1996 with second place.

Although the MP4-29 car may not quite be on par with the Mercedes W05, the team is certainly ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull. However, such a huge improvement in pace may be difficult to produce, but we will see in Sepang whether Dennis’ faith has been well-placed in the new upgrades.

Kubica, di Resta complete Williams F1 tests in Hungary

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Robert Kubica and Paul di Resta have both completed one-day tests for Williams in a 2014-spec Formula 1 car as part of the team’s evaluation for its 2018 line-up.

Williams is known to be considering a number of drivers to partner Lance Stroll at the team next year, including existing racer Felipe Massa.

Massa is thought to be going up against Kubica and di Resta for the 2018 drive, with the latter duo taking part in a private test at the Hungaroring in Budapest this week to aid the team’s evaluation.

After missing out on a 2018 Renault drive due to lingering questions about his physical condition six years after his rally accident, Kubica tested for Williams at Silverstone last week before getting back behind the wheel of the 2014 FW36 car in Hungary on Tuesday.

Kubica’s test was called “productive” by Williams, with the Pole handing duties over to Mercedes DTM racer di Resta on Wednesday.

Di Resta raced in F1 with Force India between 2010 and 2013 before returning to DTM, but made a surprise return at this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix with Williams when Massa was taken ill. Di Resta impressed on short notice, putting himself in contention for a full-time return to F1 in 2018.

Williams has one of the few remaining seats on offer in F1 for 2018, with Massa’s future known to be in question after a quiet campaign thus far.

The Brazilian had been due to retire from F1 at the end of last year, only for Williams to recall him after Valtteri Bottas’ late move up to Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Massa has made clear he would like to keep racing in F1 next year, but only if the deal is right and if Williams is determined to keep him.

While Massa, Kubica and di Resta appear to be the three leading contenders for the seat, Williams technical chief Paddy Lowe made clear in Japan there was a “large range” of drivers under consideration.

“You’ve probably seen a number of names that are floating around that we’re looking at, but honestly, the range is almost unlimited,” Lowe said.

“We will consider all ideas. We’re not in a super hurry to do so, and we’ll just make sure we land the best line-up we can.”