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.

Williams to wait until new year before making 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams will wait until the new year before making an announcement regarding its Formula 1 driver line-up for the 2018 season.

Williams holds the final vacant seat in F1 for next year, with Felipe Massa retiring at the last race of the 2017 season in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

The Brazilian’s departure has opened up a seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, which looked poised to be taken by Robert Kubica, over seven years after he last raced in F1 before injuries sustained in a rally accident appeared to cut his career short.

Doubts emerged about Kubica’s comeback following a test with Williams in its 2017-spec car in Abu Dhabi after the final race of the season, leading to Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin becoming the favorite.

Besides Kubica and Sirotkin, ditched Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat is also an option, but Williams has now confirmed it will make no decision on its line-up until the new year.

Sirotkin first entered the frame in F1 in 2013 when he became a development driver at Sauber, with Russian backers SMP Racing pushing to get him a race seat for the following year.

Sirotkin missed out on a full-time role at the team, leading him to focus on racing in Formula Renault 3.5 for 2014 before spending two years in GP2, where he finished third in the standings in both seasons.

Renault struck an agreement to sign Sirotkin in a junior role in 2016, leading to a number of practice run-outs over the last two seasons, but he was passed over for a 2018 race seat when it signed Carlos Sainz Jr.

Williams emerged as an option for Sirotkin following a successful maiden test with the team in Abu Dhabi alongside Kubica, with talks now set to continue over the holiday period.

Sirotkin has not taken on a full-time race program this year, making just a single competitive appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with SMP Racing in the LMP2 class.

Sirotkin has also been involved in the development of the team’s BR Engineering-designed LMP1 car for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship season, and is likely to secure a seat should he miss out on the role at Williams.