FERRARI has signed the FIA’s safety director, Laurent Mekies, to bolster its technical team.
In what could be viewed by rival teams as a controversial appointment, Mekies will join the Maranello outfit in September after nearly four years at F1’s governing body.
Sky F1’s David Croft tweeted: “Interesting signing by Ferrari.”
Ferrari’s move for Mekies, a former engineer at Toro Rosso, comes just six months after Renault angered rivals by signing the FIA’s then-technical director Marcin Budkowski. He starts work at Enstone next month.
Mekies will continue in his role overseeing the FIA’s safety program until June, but “will immediately cease all Formula 1 duties and will no longer be involved in any Formula 1 matter, stepping down from his role as deputy F1 race director with immediate effect”.
The Frenchman will then start work at Ferrari on September 20 and report in to technical director Mattia Binotto, although the team has not specified what role Mekies will take on.
Rival teams criticised Budkowski’s move to Renault when it was confirmed last October after it emerged the technical chief would have to serve just three months’ gardening leave prior to joining the Enstone team.
Team bosses were angered that Budkowski’s role at the FIA meant he had seen details of their 2018 cars, with Red Bull’s Christian Horner describing the short period of gardening leave as “entirely inappropriate”.
Mekies will return to frontline F1 involvement for the first time since leaving Toro Rosso, where he was chief engineer. The Frenchman has also worked for Arrows and Minardi.
After joining the FIA in late 2014 to oversee their safety work across motorsport, he was chosen to succeed the long-serving Herbie Blash as second in command to F1 race director Charlie Whiting.
HAMILTON’S CONTRACT DEVELOPMENTS, KEEN FOR VETTEL FIGHT
Lewis Hamilton says his “relaxed” contract talks are progressing well ahead of the new F1 campaign, insisting he and Mercedes are trying to “extract more from each other” in 2018.
The world champion’s current deal expires at the end of the season but both parties have consistently expressed their willingness to extend, with Hamilton expected to pen a three-year deal worth a reputed $AUD212 million.
But while Hamilton admitted at a Petronas event in Turin that there was “no news” in relation to his contract, he confirmed: “We’ve been talking and will continue to talk.”
“It’s quite a relaxed atmosphere for us because Mercedes know I’m committed to them and they’ve obviously expressed they’re committed to me,” Hamilton explained.
“Both Toto (Wolff, Mercedes Team Principal & CEO) and I sit here quite relaxed. It’s about constantly trying to find common grounds.
“Ultimately with contracts and partnerships you always want to work on how you can be better, provide a better service and vice versa, how you extract more from each other. So that’s really what we’re working on.”
Hamilton still hopes to have his contract signed before the season-opening Australian GP on March 24 but stated: “If not, don’t worry — it will happen. Obviously we’ve got this year to focus on, but it will for sure happen.”
The Englishman, aiming to become the sport’s third-ever five-time champion, was calm and confident as he answered questions at the Mercedes sponsors’ event, once again praising his team’s work through testing and in delivering the impressive W09.
The trip to Italy came after Hamilton visited the Silver Arrows’ Brackley factory on Monday, at which he claimed: “It is hands down the best team because we all work together, and that’s really inspiring for me.
“I will give it everything this season, title number five is the ultimate goal. Let’s go for it!”
Hamilton isn’t the only driver going for a fifth title this year, and is set to renew an intense rivalry with Sebastian Vettel.
The pair clashed several times both on and off the track in 2017, most notably in Baku, and depending on Ferrari’s competitiveness the pair could be on a collision course again this season.
“Nothing’s going to be different,” insisted Hamilton. “We’re going to be going hard at it as we did last year.
“I cannot tell you what’s going to happen in terms of how strong the fight’s going to be, all I can tell you is I’m ready for whatever he has to throw at me.
“I’m going to hopefully be doing it with a smile on my face, working with this great team. I’m excited. I’m stronger now than I was last year so that’s a good feeling.”
BOTTAS WANTS TO LEARN FROM 2017
Valtteri Bottas, continuing at Mercedes for a second season, felt he could contribute more in 2018 as the team aim for five constructors’ titles in a row.
“I feel very much a part of the team,” the Finn added. “I think with Lewis we can work really well together so we can continue how we left last year as teammates.
“As a team we learnt so much from last year and I can’t wait to see what that’s going to bring us this year.
“The whole team is so hungry to win. Four is not enough, so we are going to do everything we can for that, including myself, and use all the things I learned from last year.”