Marko: We have requested name change to Alpha Tauri

Marko: We have requested name change to Alpha Tauri

Scuderia Toro Rosso logo. Formula One Testing Preparations, Jerez, Spain, Monday 27 January 2014.

Helmut Marko has confirmed reports that team owner Red Bull wants a new name for Toro Rosso, the organisation’s junior team.

The Faenza based outfit has lodged a request with Liberty Media, the FIA and the other to be called Alpha Tauri in future.

Alpha Tauri is Red Bull’s fashion brand, with the name paying tribute to the red star of the Taurus constellation.

“We have requested the renaming with the FIA,” Red Bull’s Marko told Speed Week at Sochi. “We have the approval of the FIA and Liberty Media, now the application is passing through the various teams.”

It is rumoured that Alfa Romeo might have a problem with the name, but Marko is not expecting that. I expect no difficulties. We have also agreed to new team names for teams like Force India and Sauber in the past.”

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Albon: I’m just upset that I crashed the car

Albon: I’m just upset that I crashed the car

Alex Albon has denied feeling the pressure to be competitive at Red Bull as Sochi Autodrome has not been kind to the rookie.

Having taken over from struggling Pierre Gasly after the summer break, the British-born Thai driver has had a particularly bad weekend at Sochi.

He crashed in qualifying and has admitted that he is not comfortable with the handling of the Red Bull car.

When asked if Max Verstappen is uniquely able to be competitive in the 2019 car, Albon answered: “That’s not for me to say at the moment. I can only talk about myself.

“I’m just trying to understand the behaviour of the car better. Max has a different approach but it’s just taking some time for me to adapt to it.”

When asked after crashing in qualifying if he is feeling the unique pressure as a Red Bull driver, Albon answered: “No, I would not say that. For me, this is nothing more than an opportunity. It obviously doesn’t help when I make mistakes, but most of all I’m just upset that I crashed the car.”

Gasly, who at the same time is rebuilding his confidence back at Toro Rosso, commented that the atmosphere at Red Bull is difficult to adjust to.

“At Red Bull, you have to do it their way. It’s the team’s mentality and I accept it. It’s up to the driver to adapt to the culture of the team, but it was completely different to what I knew before,” he told RMC Sport.

“When I was there, I could have done better and the team could have done better. It’s a joint responsibility.

“But it’s an old story and I don’t want to look back. I can’t change it. What happens with Toro Rosso in the coming months is something I can change,” the Frenchman added.

Gasly is still in contention to return to Red Bull for 2020, but he said staying at Toro Rosso would not be the end of the world either, “I’m only 23 so I have a long career in front of me. Toro Rosso is fighting for less exciting places, but at least I know that I have every chance to fight with this car.”

Big Question: Is Alex feeling the pressure?

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Albon forced to start Russian GP from pitlane

Albon forced to start Russian GP from pitlane

Alex Albon will start his Russian Grand Prix from the pitlane this afternoon after Red Bull was forced to mount a different specification floor on the Thai driver’s RB15 following his crash in qualifying.

The Red Bull rookie was already earmarked for a five-spot grid penalty as a result of taking on a new Spec 4 Honda engine.

Albon was caught yesterday in Q1 by Sochi’s Turn 13, crashing backwards into the tyre barrier and destroying his car’s rear wing. But the subsequent damage also required a floor change which was done under Parc Fermé conditions.

Given the pitlane start, Red Bull have also elected to replace Albon’s gearbox while Honda have added a new turbocharger, MGU-H and MGU-K elements to his power unit.

“We’re starting out of place but I’m optimistic as the car feels good in the long runs and you can also overtake here,” said Albon before learning of his pitlane start.

“We’ve seen before when starting at the back that we can progress through the field so we’ll give it everything tomorrow.”

As a reminder, Albon’s teammate Max Verstappen will also start his Russian Grand Prix out of place, with a five-spot grid penalty linked to an engine change sending the Dutchman from fourth to ninth.

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Sochi Speed Trap: who is the fastest of them all?

Sochi Speed Trap: who is the fastest of them all?

While not a power track, Sochi’s Olympic Park Autodrom does include two high-speed sections where it’s vital to maximise top speed, for performance considerations but also to facilitate overtaking.

For all the talk about Ferrari’s top speed might, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were not among the top speed contenders in qualifying on Saturday.

Leclerc, despite his outstanding rum to pole position, clocked in 14th through the speed trap, some 8 km/h down on the fastest car in a straight line, Lance Stroll’s Mercedes-powered Racing Point.

The relative top speed underperformance by the Ferrari pair perhaps reflects the qualities of the SF90’s latest aero package, which has obviously brought more downforce to the SF90, and therefore a bit more drag, but also the benefit of a better handling car in the tighter sections of the track.

Lewis Hamilton, who finished runner-up to Leclerc in qualifying, claimed that Ferrari “have some crazy speeds on the straights”. Yet, the reigning world champion was just half a kilometer slower than Leclerc down the main straight.

So Mattia Binotto is likely right when he says that there is more to Ferrari’s recent turnaround than just the engine…

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Wolff: McLaren partnership ‘not the start of a works deal’

Wolff: McLaren partnership ‘not the start of a works deal’

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff insists the German manufacturer’s engine supply deal with McLaren is not the onset of a pull-out from F1 by the Silver Arrows works team.

Mercedes and McLaren, who enjoyed a successful partnership in Grand Prix racing from 1995 to 2014, will reunite from 2021, with the Woking-based outfit becoming the manufacturer’s third customer team in addition to Williams and Racing Point.

However, Wolff stressed that the deal was not the first step towards McLaren becoming once again Mercedes’ works representative in F1.

“For us it was important to make clear that there is a works team today, and this is a customer power unit relationship, and not the start of a works deal and us not being there anymore, “Wolff said.

“As it stands, we are keen on understanding how Formula 1 goes forward, how it develops, and continuing preferably as a works team.”

Mercedes has yet to confirm its presence in F1 beyond next year. But its active involvement in the elaboration of the sport’s 2021 regulations, and Wolff’s comments, are clear signs that, in all likelihood, the championship winning team will remain on the grid in the future.

However, Wolff did underline the fact that Mercedes’ Brixworth High Performance Powertrains division operates independently from the manufacturer’s race team, although the former supplies the latter.

“We have a strong set-up as engine supplier which goes back a very long time, and we have a works team that has been doing well, and both have merit, jointly and independently,” Wolff added.

“So to avoid any misunderstanding this is not a point where we can spread our bets and say we may stay as an engine supplier, and not as a works team.

“This is not what I’m saying. We enjoy being a works team.”

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Morning After: Schumi-Esque

Morning After: Schumi-Esque

His career may only be getting started, but Charles Leclerc is already finding himself mentioned among Ferrari legends after securing his fourth-straight pole position in Sochi on Saturday.

Another race, another pole – Charles Leclerc is on one hell of a purple patch.

Spa, Monza, Singapore and now Sochi – whatever Leclerc and Ferrari did in the summer break, it’s certainly working.

Where the SF90 was once a dog in the corners, it is now more-than-capable, and in the Monegasque’s hands, it becomes simply untouchable.

Four tenths up on Lewis Hamilton – who pulled out possibly his best lap of the year just to get that close – and Sebastian Vettel a further two hundredths back, Leclerc on Saturday put in the sort of dominant display that earned those two drivers a combined nine world championships. It’s a remarkable display for anyone, let alone a 21-year-old.

Add to that him being the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2000 to earn pole at four-straight races, and it’s fair to say the hype train hasn’t just left the station, it’s gone supersonic.

Of course, there’s still a race to be run on Sunday – and it will be fascinating to see if Hamilton and Mercedes can make something happen with their different tyre strategy – but regardless of the result, Leclerc has clearly become a superstar of the sport. Say what you will about the cars, but between him, Hamilton, Vettel and Max Verstappen, F1 is in a pretty damn good place with its drivers.

Quick Hits

It was very telling that Lewis Hamilton hopped out of his car looking particularly chuffed with a lap that only earned him P2. As Hamilton himself said, Ferrari seem to have an engine mode beyond even Mercedes’ quali boost – it just makes you wonder what could’ve been had they got their chassis sorted earlier.

A rough weekend got rougher for Alex Albon on Saturday, crashing out in FP1. You can be sure Helmut Marko wasn’t pleased – well, even less so than usual, anyway.

Great effort by Romain Grosjean to reach Q3 on Saturday. Can he repay Haas’ faith in him with his first points since Hockenheim?

Sunday Race Strategy Preview, Courtesy of FOM and Pirelli

(Click to expand)

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Mercedes F1 team fire four staff for racist bullying

Mercedes F1 team fire four staff for racist bullying

Formula 1 champions Mercedes have fired four of their employees and disciplined three others after an enquiry into racist bullying at the team’s factory, British newspapers reported on Saturday.

The team of five-times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who has Caribbean heritage and has spoken out against racism, confirmed in a statement that four individuals had been dismissed.

It said that the dismissals on 2 August “followed an internal investigation that confirmed breaches of our diversity and equality policy”.

“We condemn this behaviour in the strongest terms and acted immediately upon the complaint. We value the diversity of our employees and it is a source of strength for our team,” the statement added.

The Sun newspaper reported there had been a “campaign of racist bullying” against a Muslim employee at the team’s Brackley headquarters.

Hamilton has spoken out about his experiences of racism, calling in March for more of a stand against it in all walks of life after England soccer players reported abusive chants in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro.

“I remember being at school and you got a slap on the hand for it [racism] and it is just allowed to slide. That shouldn´t happen anywhere. Action should be taken and we should be a lot stricter with it,” Hamilton recalled.

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MEDLAND: Same goal, divergent paths for McLaren, Renault

MEDLAND: Same goal, divergent paths for McLaren, Renault

Whispers of a McLaren return to Mercedes power have been around for some time, but the team’s step forward in partnership with Renault this season had quieted that talk a little. So when the story broke in Russia, it broke quickly.

After first reports on Friday night that the team was in talks with Mercedes, it was on Saturday morning that McLaren announced it will not extend its contract with Renault beyond the end of its current deal. That runs for another season, but eyes are already on 2021 in many aspects, and both McLaren and Renault wanted to plan for that milestone in terms of power-unit supply.

While the initial focus was on the rekindling of the McLaren-Mercedes partnership, the fallout is Renault now has no customer teams in 2021 as it stands. Managing director Cyril Abiteboul explained on Saturday evening that it is a situation he is comfortable with, because, from his point of view, the split came about when McLaren was not open to the sort of partnership he wanted moving forwards.

Abiteboul: “We clearly saw it coming …” Image by Hone/LAT

“We clearly saw it coming, so I don’t want to give an impression that it happened behind our back,” Abiteboul said. “Clearly not. Mercedes in particular has been very transparent about that, and we have had plenty of time and opportunity to think about it, to consider, and also to have discussions.

“Our discussions with McLaren started back at the French Grand Prix when we began a conversation about what could happen beyond the term of our existing contract. What has become clear in the process is that the expectations for the partnership were different between McLaren and ourselves.

“It’s not a critique; it’s just that we had a certain ambition to bring that relationship to a strategic level, which was maybe not really the expectation of McLaren at this point in their journey. Therefore, it came to a sort of joint (agreement) that (the contract) was not going to be renewed after the current term at the end of next year.”

How strategic was Abiteboul thinking? Extremely so. Not just in terms of sharing technology, but in working together to try and turn their current battle for fourth in the constructors’ championship into one for top honors beyond 2021.

“I think McLaren is simply looking for a very simple and straightforward customer relationship. I don’t know what they said, but clearly the way that they presented it to us is they wanted a supplier and Mercedes is a very good supplier and has a turn-key product that would be (provided) in accordance to Mercedes standards and specification. McLaren (will continue to) focus specifically on its chassis — and there is some logic to that.

“Our proposal was very much more about a partnership in which we would share parts, engine integration, chassis installation — and not just that. If you look at where we are standing today, if you just look at the facts, we are at a highly power-sensitive track again — I think the fourth in the whole season — and you have four Renault powered cars in the top 10, so that does say something.

“But if you look at where we are standing, we are very close with McLaren, with almost nothing between us; but there is a wall between us and the top teams — 1.8s or something like that between us and pole. For me, the objective of that relationship could have been to work on reducing that gap together, creating more synergies about equipment, installation and facilities.

“Also, looking at the way Formula 1 is going to evolve, with standard parts, open-source parts, prescriptive design parts — there are a number of opportunities to join forces and try together, even as we compete on track, to try together to reduce the gap to the top. That was our approach.

“That’s why I was talking about a strategic partnership, which doesn’t mean them becoming a junior team or B team of Renault; obviously that was not going to happen, so we didn’t even consider or try that. But our approach was not really of interest for McLaren.

“Again, it’s not a critique, it’s a fact. And therefore, on that basis, we didn’t elect to race to the bottom. We stick to our principles, our values and also to what we believe is the value of our technology and our engine, and accepted the associated risk — and in particular, the prospect of losing McLaren.”

McLaren F1’s principals envisage success in 2021 and beyond through focused independence rather than collaboration. Image by Hone/LAT

As well as overseeing this year’s resurgence, McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl has had a keen eye on the future and how the team can fight at the front once again. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown believes that is by having more independence based on the direction F1 is taking, which meant collaborating closely with Renault was not his preferred option.

“You know the world of Formula 1 is going to change in 2021, and I think that is where we are focused now with this decision,” Brown said. “I think some of those areas where you can collaborate today, you’re not going to be able to in the future.

“McLaren wants to stand on its own two feet as an independent team, as we always have been; so we’re going to continue to work in that direction. I think the (2021) regulations are going to support that kind of independence — maybe more so than today.”

Today’s announcements were about much more than a power-unit supply deal. They have political ramifications and highlight just how the two leading midfield teams have different visions of how they will close the gap to the frontrunners.

Now they know they don’t have a long-term future together, expect things to get even more intense in this season’s on-track battle for fourth in the constructors’ championship …

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Russian Grand Prix Qualifying Press Conference

Russian Grand Prix Qualifying Press Conference

Full transcript from the Russian Grand Prix post-qualifying press conference at Sochi Autodrome featuring top three pole winner Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), second-placed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and third-placed Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).

Track interviews conducted by Jenson Button

Q: Charles, all I can say is, wow! What a dominant performance. All of the way through practice, yesterday, today, qualifying – you really are on a roll…
Charles Leclerc: Yeah, the car felt amazing. It definitely feels great to be back on pole. I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole. The straight is very long after the start. Tomorrow the start will be very important as always, but here probably even more, because of the straight length.

Q: It’s still the best place to be in. The last person to score four [consecutive] pole positions for Ferrari was Michael Schumacher. That must make you feel pretty special?
CL: Yeah it definitely feels very, very special, but I don’t really want to think about those kind of stats for now. I just want to focus on the job. There’s still a long way to go until tomorrow. It’s definitely a good start, we’ve been competitive all weekend long and the race simulation seems positive too, so it’s looking good for tomorrow.

Q: Congratulations. Lewis, I must say, all the way through qualifying, obviously the Ferraris have had the upper hand, but as always you pulled the lap out there at the end and got the best out of the car?
Lewis Hamilton: I’ll tell you, it was a tough qualifying session, because these guys have some crazy speeds on the straights. They go to another level, you know. That whole party mode you talked about us having, they have something else beyond that – jet mode! Nonetheless, I gave it absolutely everything I had at the end and the team did such a great job to just tinker and push forwards. I’m so glad it came together. I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row for sure, so I’m really, really happy with it nonetheless.

Q: And the great thing for you guys also is that you have the medium tyres for the start of the race. It looks like you knew they would be quick in qualifying so you’ve gone for a slightly different strategy for the race.
LH: Yeah, well we know that they are on a slightly lower drag level this weekend plus they have that power, so we’ve got to try something. You’ve seen the last couple of races we’ve been behind all the way, so we’re fortunate enough to opt for another strategy and I think the team have done a really good job with putting us in that position. It’s a long way down to Turn 1, so it’s not always the best for starts on the harder tyre, but I’m going to try to two the hell out of Charles if I get the chance. But it’s going to be hard because they get good starts as well.

Q: Sebastian, not the easiest qualifying I’m sure. Q1 was pretty tricky: one little mistake and all hell broke loose after that. But, P3, you’ve got the run down to Turn 1 and I’m sure that after the last race, with the strategy and winning that race, there are still a lot of opportunities tomorrow?
Sebastian Vettel: Yeah, definitely. Obviously I’m not entirely happy, I think I couldn’t extract the absolute maximum from the car. As you said, it was a bit disruptive in Q1 but by the time we got to Q3 I thought it was OK. You spoke about Turn 1, it’s a long way, obviously we’ll see. We’re on different tyres strategies compared to the Mercs, so I think the race will be decided tomorrow. The speed is there so let’s keep it up.

Q: As you said, there’s a long straight down to Turn 2. You guys are pretty quick in a straight line too. For us it’s going to be great watching, but it’s going to be pretty crazy for you guys into Turn 2?
SV: Yeah, first you need a good start; then you worry about the rest, sort of thing. Let’s see. Obviously there’s potentially an advantage if you are behind but I guess if you are behind you always tend to say that, so let’s see what happens.

Press Conference

Q: Charles, you got progressively quicker as the session went on. Where were you finding the time?
CL: I don’t think I had any clean laps before the one of Q3. The first lap of Q3 felt very good. The second lap: very good until Turn 16, where I lost rears, and I lost a little bit of lap time. But overall the car was just coming together. The balance was better and better. I was adjusting a little bit the aero balance and I just felt more and more confident.

Q: And what about your confidence for tomorrow’s race – the long-run pace of your car?
CL: I believe that the long-run pace yesterday was extremely positive, I think probably the most positive of the whole season, so this is looking good. But it’s going to be an interesting race. I mean, Mercedes are starting on the medium, so I think the strategy will play a role. I think we did the right choice to start on the soft, but we will see tomorrow.

Q: Good luck with that and well done today. Lewis, if we could come on to you. You sounded very happy at the end of the session, happy to split the Ferraris for the second week in a row. How good was your lap?
LH: Pretty decent. It was a pretty good lap. Honestly, it was a really good lap. Last time, Singapore felt like a really good lap as well, it’s just… I was just saying to Charles out there that already by Turn 1 we were already three tenths down or something like that, so it’s very, very hard. But nonetheless I pushed, we pushed, as hard as we could and I was really, really happy with the lap. It all came together. That last one was the best of the weekend – as it should be – and no mistakes or anything like that, so I really feel like I got everything and maybe a little bit more from the car to split the Ferraris once again, which is not an easy task.

Q: Charles thinks it’s going to be a strategic battle tomorrow. Do you feel the same way?
LH: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think the team did a great job to put us on the mediums and naturally, from the two tyres, there’s obviously a delta and the softer the tyre the better the start. So it will be a little bit tough off the start tomorrow. But even if we were in the lead, if we were on pole, for example, they are just so fast on the straights by the time we get to Turn 1, which is the little kink, they blast past us with the jet fuel or whatever it is. So, yeah, it is about strategy, which is why we are on a different tyre and I hope that we can utilise that and keep the pressure on. If you’ve seen the couple of races we’ve had we’ve been right with them but I’m hoping tomorrow we can really give them a good fight.

Q: Sebastian, coming to you, it seemed a good opening lap of Q3 for you but then it seems to slip away on that second lap. Is that a fair assessment?
SV: Not really. I was quite happy in general. Obviously a bit disruptive with Q1 where we got a bit unfortunate with yellow flags and stuff. I thought by the time we got to Q3 that was fine. I think overall I was pretty happy with the car. I just felt that there was more in the car that, yeah, I couldn’t get to. Nevertheless, I think tomorrow is a long race. I think we have good pace for the race. It will be very interesting with the Mercedes on different tyres to start with, so let’s see what happens.

Questions form the Floor

Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Lewis, how important was it to be on the first row for tomorrow’s race? And would it be crucial to be at the second corner first, before the Ferraris to avoid what happened last week in Singapore?
LH: Time will tell. But, of course, if I’m able to try and somehow keep Seb behind, and there’s only one car ahead, for example, that changes things on top. So, naturally we’re going to push as hard as we can but it’s going to be very, very hard. Down to Turn One it’s a long drag – but I’m sure we’ll have a good battle, one way or another.

Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for all three of you. You all sounded pretty confident that you’re on the right tyre, even though you have different ones. Can you explain why you are confident this is the right tyre you’re starting on? Do you think this has to do with the car that the tyre suits better to your car – or is it only strategic reasons?
CL: On our side I think the start is very important here and we thought that the benefits of starting on Soft was big. And then there was not much difference, in terms of degradation, from the Soft to the Medium. So, yeah, we thought it was worth it to make it our start tyre.
LH: I just wanted to be on something different.

Is that what it now takes to beat these guys? You’ve got to roll the dice?
LH: I don’t know. I haven’t beaten them for a while! So I can’t tell you. I’ll tell you at the end of tomorrow.

Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all three. Charles, this is your fourth pole in a row. You were asked downstairs, you’re the first person to do that for Ferrari since Michael, which is obviously pretty special. Are you on a roll at the moment in qualifying where you feel like you can’t do anything wrong, and everything comes together. And to Lewis and Seb, you’ve both had massive success in Formula One, been on this sort of run – what does it do for you as a driver when you have this sort of succession of poles?
CL: Of course I felt confident going into qualifying but at the end anything… I mean at one point it’s going to end, so whether it’s now or later, I don’t know. So, the only thing I’m trying to do is focus on myself, try to have exactly the same procedure as I’ve had since the last four races and not… yeah, I definitely don’t come in the car thinking it will be easy and that it will come together alone. I just try to keep working as I did in the last few races, and then hopefully the lap time comes.

Lewis, how does it feel? The importance of momentum, invincibility when you’re on a roll?
LH: I don’t know – I’ve never felt invincible. Of course, when you get on a roll, it doesn’t really make… from my experience, it’s nice, for sure but it doesn’t make a difference. So if it’s separated: one pole; one second; one pole, it doesn’t make any difference to me. But he’s stealing all the poles right now, so it’s going to be very, very hard to beat their poles when they’re so fast on the straights but we’re working at it.
SV: I don’t know – it’s been a while for me! Yeah, I think you take every session separately, so you’re not really trying to look back. I think it’s just about nailing every session.

Q: (Dzhastina Golopolosova – The Paddock Magazine) Question to Charles. Mercedes dominated here for five years and today you showed that you can break this trend. What do you think about tomorrow?
CL: For now… I mean the race it tomorrow. It will be very important to stay in front, and they were also strong in the race pace, as they’ve always been since the beginning of the season, so, it obviously feels good to be on pole here. I think Singapore was a big surprise for everyone, for us to be in front and here, I think we felt we had our chances, considering how quick we were in Singapore. Yeah, I mean it feels good to break that but we need to finish the job tomorrow.

Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Charles, Jenson already mentioned the record that you equalled today with Michael Schumacher but I want to consider with you that there was this past 19 years from that and there are some other guys, for example, Seb, who are with you that couldn’t do that. So how is your feeling, to think that today is a historic day not only for you but for Ferrari?
CL: As I said, it feels good but it doesn’t change my approach to the other weekends and as Seb and Lewis said, every time you go into a session, you take it just normally, without thinking about the others, the last poles I’ve had. So yeah, obviously it feels great but I don’t want to think about these things and I just want to focus on the job ahead.

Q: (Giusto Ferronato – La Gazzetta dello Sport) For both Ferrari drivers: in Italy probably now many people are thinking that you have found the solution to win all the races. Is this correct or they are too optimistic?
CL: I think we need to keep our feet on the ground. Obviously, at the moment we are in a good momentum, we are having really good performances but at the end, it doesn’t change… Mercedes are still quite ahead in the overall championship, which at the end is what matters the most. I think we need to keep our heads down, keep working. Of course, at the moment it seems that it’s working our way but I will not say it will be like this for the rest of the season, so we need to keep working.
SV: Not much to add so maybe too optimistic. I think we need to wait until tomorrow. I think at the last race obviously it was difficult to pass. I think Mercedes was faster than us in the race so we will see what happens tomorrow with a different strategy.

Q: Sebastian, is this the best Ferrari you’ve driven?
SV: I think the car got a lot better since the beginning of the year when we started to really struggle. Obviously we had a bit of a high at winter testing. I think we understood what it takes and I think the step in Singapore, in particular, seemed to help us and allowed us to make another step forward. But I think the ’17 car out of the box was probably the best so far.

Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) Sebastian, have you looked at all the data with Charles on the exercise of pole and have you found where he is better than you since the return of the summer?
SV: Well, obviously in qualifying here and there. I think we didn’t have the best sessions on my side. I think obviously today Charles was faster so it’s pretty easy to see where he’s faster but it’s a little bit here and there. I don’t think there’s any pattern standing out, saying that he’s always faster in the same type of corner. As I said, obviously the last couple of races was closer than maybe it looked on the result so we will see what happens tomorrow. Usually come race day I’m getting more and more confident in the car and pace has never been a problem in the race so we will see what happens.

Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Lewis, you’ve mentioned the deficit you’ve got at the moment to Ferrari and where you feel that deficit is so how deep are you having to dig inside yourself for a lap like this? You had a big gap to Valtteri today for example and you said your Singapore lap was also very good.
LH: Yeah. Honestly I feel like that maybe the last couple of laps have felt worthy, like pole-worthy in terms of how this has come together and optimising within the car. Naturally obviously they are faster than us and Charles has done a good job but I mean in terms of being as close to the limit as possible and yeah, I think I’ve just been getting more and more comfortable with the car, I think in this second half of the season, a little bit more comfortable with it, even though we’ve lost a little performance compared to them but there’s still work to do collectively, in all of us, including myself so we just keep working on that. Please don’t write that the wrong way, pole-worthy, I was meaning in terms of what do you… putting the perfect lap together, I feel like each time I’m getting as close to that as possible and then you finish the lap and it’s quite a long way off pole but it feels like quite an achievement to get in between the two Ferraris who have a bit of a delta to us at the moment.

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Russian GP: Saturday’s action in pictures

Russian GP: Saturday’s action in pictures

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc improved his already spectacular track record in qualifying, securing his sixth pole of the season and the fourth in a row. Will there be any stopping the Monegasque in Sunday’s Russian GP?

Here’s our recap in pictures of the day’s action from Sochi.

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No ‘pattern’ to Leclerc qualifying advantage – Vettel

Sebastian Vettel believes there is no obvious pattern where he is losing out to Charles Leclerc after again being beaten by his team-mate in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix.

Since Vettel took pole position in Canada, Leclerc has been the quicker Ferrari driver in every qualifying session and secured his fourth consecutive pole position in Sochi on Saturday. Acknowledging the recent trend, Vettel believes the pair have been more closely matched than the results suggest in recent races.

“As I said, obviously the last couple of races was closer than maybe it looked on the result so we will see what happens tomorrow. Usually come race day I’m getting more and more confident in the car and pace has never been a problem in the race so we will see what happens.”

And Vettel says he didn’t feel like he could extract the maximum performance from his car in qualifying in Russia as he ended up third behind Lewis Hamilton, but is confident he will be in the mix for back-to-back victories after his win in Singapore.

“I was quite happy in general,” Vettel said. “Obviously, a bit disruptive with Q1 where we got a bit unfortunate with yellow flags and stuff. I thought by the time we got to Q3 that was fine. I think overall I was pretty happy with the car. I just felt that there was more in the car that I couldn’t get to. Nevertheless, I think tomorrow is a long race. I think we have good pace for the race. It will be very interesting with the Mercedes on different tires to start with, so let’s see what happens.

“We need to wait until tomorrow. I think at the last race obviously it was difficult to pass. I think Mercedes was faster than us in the race, so we will see what happens tomorrow with different strategy.”

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Vettel ‘not entirely satisfied’ with Sochi qualifying

Vettel ‘not entirely satisfied’ with Sochi qualifying

Sebastian Vettel admitted that he was not happy to be trailing his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc in qualifying again in Sochi.

Leclerc has been on pole for every race since the summer break, but Vettel has been on the top spot just once in 2019 when he led the field in Canada.

“I was reasonably happy with the car, but not entirely satisfied,” Vettel said of his qualifying performance for the Russian Grand Prix. “I wasn’t really on top of everything.

“Q1 was a bit complex as I made a mistake on my first attempt and then I was slowed by two yellow flags.

Four-in-a-row Leclerc aiming to keep ‘feet on the ground’

“I found it difficult to get into a clean rhythm, especially towards the end of qualie, when it was vital to extract the absolute maximum out of the car.

“I was pretty happy with the car, I just felt there was more in the car I couldn’t get to,” he said. “Especially closing the lap was getting a bit weaker, I struggled with that final sector.”

“In qualifying here and there we didn’t have the best sessions on my side,” Vettel continued. “Obviously today Charles was faster [and it was] pretty easy to see where he was faster.

“It’s a little bit here and there, I don’t think there’s any pattern standing out saying he’s faster in the same type of corner.”

Pole sitter Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari in qualifying parc ferme.

But Vettel said that despite Leclerc starting from pole, he still hoped to be ahead at the end of tomorrow’s race – just as he was in Singapore.

“I think the last races were closer than it showed on result,” he insisted. “We will see what happens tomorrow.”

“I am confident,” he insisted. “We need a good start and then we can think about the rest of it.”

Vettel was pushed off the front row in Sochi by a late flying lap from his Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, meaning that he will start the race from third position.

But team principal Mattia Binotto suggested that the apparent late setback could actually prove to be a blessing in disguise.

“Seb qualified third which might actually be better than second when it comes to tomorrow’s start,” he said. “Even if it would have been nice to have locked out the front row.”

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF90.

Vettel explained the thinking behind that. “We start on the clean side,” he said, adding that being right behind his team mate also meant it might be possible for the pair to slipstream into the first corner.

“I think we have an advantage over our rivals down the straight, so a tow might come into play,” he acknowledged.

“I believe we have made the right tyre choice for the start,” he added. “[We’re] on the softs while the Mercedes are on mediums, and being on different tyre strategies will make for an interesting fight.”

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McLaren: Seidl led decision on engine switch to Mercedes

McLaren: Seidl led decision on engine switch to Mercedes

McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown said team principal Andreas Seidl was at the forefront of the team’s decision to switch from Renault to Mercedes power from 2021.

McLaren and Mercedes confirmed on Saturday that they would revive the successful partnership that the pair enjoyed in the late 90s and 2000s.

Seidl, the man who led Porsche’s highly rewarding LMP1 programme in the WEC, was recruited by Brown at the end of last year and started work at Woking last spring.

Among his first recommendations to McLaren’s top management was a return to Mercedes power.

“I asked him when he joined, ‘What to do we need to do to get back to the front?’, and he quickly came back with recommendations like the new wind tunnel that you’re aware of,” Brown said.

“He led the decision here on the power unit. It was of course a group decision, but one that was driven by Andreas.

“When you look at Mercedes-Benz they have been the benchmark in the hybrid era as a power unit provider both in power and reliability.

“And of course, the racing team itself is the benchmark in this decade.”

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said the decision to supply a third customer team in F1 – in addition to Racing Point and Williams – was motivated by its will to supply “more competitive customers” when the sport enters a new era in 2021 and gain additional for its own benefit.

“I think that a new era is going to start in 2021 with a compressed grid, with more competition,” said Wolff.

“And we believe that from the power unit side there is more learning for us in this exercise with having more competitive customers adding to the two the two that we have.

“We rate McLaren strongly,” added Wolff. “The steps that Zak and Andreas have initiated certainly already look very promising.

“So the advantages outweigh the potential deficits of fighting a hard competitor like McLaren in the future.”

While adding a third batch of customer engines to its workload will obviously imply a few logistical challenges for its Brixworth engine unit, Wolff insisted there were also significant upsides to the deal.

“There’s maybe a process and logistic question because everybody needs to be supplied at the same time,” explained the Austrian.

“But I think there is more upside in it going forward. Then of course there is a financial upside. It’s a cash flow question which is helpful on the power unit side. So overall many pros.

“There is one risk in this, and that is that if McLaren does a good job they will push us hard and maybe benchmark us in a way to say ‘OK that’s the same power unit, you guys are not doing a good enough job’.

“But where we are now after seven years in the hybrid era we feel that we are we are ready for that step.”

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Four-in-a-row Leclerc aiming to keep ‘feet on the ground’

Four-in-a-row Leclerc aiming to keep ‘feet on the ground’

For Charles Leclerc, a fourth pole position in a row is something that no Ferrari driver has managed since Michael Schumacher put together a run of seven at the end of 2000 and into 2001.

That’s a startling statistic on many levels, and reinforces just how good Leclerc is proving to be in his first season with the team.

“It definitely feels very, very special, but I don’t really want to think about those stats for now,” said the 21-year-old Monegasque driver. “I just want to to focus on the job.

“We need to keep our feet on the ground,” he insisted. “At the moment we have a good momentum and have some really good performances.

“We are just focusing on ourselves and the work we are doing seems to be slowly paying off.

“But at the end, it doesn’t change,” he cautioned. “Mercedes are still quite ahead in the overall championship so we need to keep our head down, keep working.”

Leclerc insisted that he was now fully focussed on the short term aim of turning today’s pole position into tomorrow’s victory, which would be his third.

“The car was amazing to drive,” he said. “The team did a great job anticipating the track evolution and setting up the car in the best way.

“There’s still a long way to go to tomorrow, but it’s definitely a good start,” he said. “We’ve been competitive all weekend long and the race simulation seems positive too so it’s looking good for tomorrow.”

Leclerc received some fulsome praise for his performance from his boss, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto.

“He surprised me how fast he was, at first,” Binotto said. “He’s really very, very fast. That’s something which is important for a team, when you can count on a driver who is so fast.

“That’s the most you may have. Certainly, in the races where maybe we are not our best, he can somehow try to compensate.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90.

“And then, in the races, he’s learning,” Binotto added. “He’s learning very fast how to manage the tyres, how to manage the entire race distance. I think, since the start of the year, his speed has improved quite a lot.”

Leclerc agreed that a lot had changed since he moved to the team over the winter after a first season in F1 with Sauber.

“The car has improved massively but I think my personal result shows that I’ve grown a lot since the beginning of the season,” he said. “At the beginning it was quite scary for me arriving in a team like Ferrari, 21 years old, and seeing how many people working for two cars.

“I was quite shy to say what I wanted from the car,” he admitted. “Now it’s changed a little bit and they’ve given me some confidence.

I feel like I have my place in the team and can say more things about how I want the car. It shows better on track.”

“I’ve done quite a bit of mistakes but I’ve learnt from them and I think that’s most important. I will still do mistakes and I hope I will still learn from them.”

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Toro Rosso: A day of mixed feelings

Toro Rosso: A day of mixed feelings

Toro Rosso report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

Pierre Gasly

  • Third Practice Session – Best lap: 1:34.564, pos. 11th, 16 laps
  • Qualifying – Best lap: (Q1) 1:34.456, (Q2) 1.33.950, pos. 11th
  • He will start from P16, due to a 5-place grid penalty

“It was so close today! I’m really happy with the lap I did, we knew it would be difficult to make it into the top 10 and we tried everything we could. I think it was one of my best laps for Toro Rosso in Q2 on my first run. I knew that on the second run I really needed to risk it if I wanted to improve, but I couldn’t manage to do it. Every weekend we’re making a step and I think it was a positive Qualifying. We will line up P16 with the engine penalty, but we still have free tyre choice, so we will see what we can do with the strategy. We’ll push flat out and hopefully we can come back through the field.”

Daniil Kvyat

  • Third Practice Session – Best lap: 1.36.081, pos. 19th, 4 laps
  • Qualifying – Best lap: no time, pos. 20th

“It hasn’t been a very smooth weekend so far, but the most important day is tomorrow. We knew we were going to start from the back but it’s still a shame to miss Qualifying in my home race. These things happen, we just need to accept it and try to do our best tomorrow for a strong race. I never give in, there’s still a chance to save this weekend. I’m a bit short on mileage because of the issues I’ve had, but I know the track, so I’ll try and find a good rhythm in the race.”

Claudio Balestri, Chief Engineer – Vehicle Performance: “Mixed feelings today. On Dany’s side of the garage, we had an issue on the PU at the start of FP3 and we were forced to change it. As the process requires quite a lot of time and having to start already from the back of the grid due to a previous engine change penalty, we decided not to rush the job and skip Qualifying – it wouldn’t have worsened our grid situation for tomorrow.

“As for Pierre, we were able to produce a good level of performance both in FP3 and Qualifying, especially in the first run of Q2. Unfortunately, that was not enough to progress to Q3. Due to the grid penalties, the race will not be an easy one, but the car showed some good pace during the long runs on Friday, so we will still try to do our best to score points tomorrow.”

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McLaren and Sainz rebound from ‘absolutely nowhere’ in qualifying

McLaren and Sainz rebound from ‘absolutely nowhere’ in qualifying

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz says dramatic set-up changes allowed the Woking-based outfit to come back from ‘absolutely nowhere’ on Saturday and enable the Spaniard to qualify P5 for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sainz was anything but a happy camper after his first day of running at Sochi, having struggled to bring his MCL34 up to speed, with the car’s deficit rooted in its lack of overall grip.

Overnight changes led to an improvement in FP3, but in qualifying it was night and day for the papaya squad with Sainz leading the mid-field and direct opponent Renault while Lando Norris concluded Q3 an excellent eighth.

McLaren return to Mercedes engine power from 2021

“I’m very happy, especially after yesterday,” Sainz said. “We can call it a good day for the team.

“We changed a lot of things on the car. We went in the wrong direction in FP2. In FP3, the car was better. Then in qualifying. I managed to build up a good confidence and put together a good lap.

Sainz was understandably mum on the changes implemented by his team, but underlined his engineers’ work;

“They did a great job because yesterday we were absolutely nowhere. I couldn’t have done that lap without the help of the whole team. Thank you.

“To line up fifth tomorrow on the grid feels great after our initial struggles from yesterday. We managed to adapt, progress and find a way to recover from that, which shows we’re also doing a great job this year in understanding the car.

©McLaren

Sainz performance lifted the Spaniard’s spirit, but the 25-year-old is cautious ahead of Sunday’s race -which he will start P4 thanks to Max Verstappen’s grid penalty, admitting that his car’s behavior in race trim is currently unknown.

“On Friday, the race pace was the worst part of everything, as we were very slow,” he said.

“We improved the car a lot since yesterday and hopefully that will replicate itself in race pace.

“It’s going to be tough, as we’ve not run this car on race trim, with such a different configuration.

“We’ve also added a bit of downforce compared to yesterday so we don’t know how we’re going to be on the straights. It’s going to be a bit of a question mark for us coming into tomorrow.”

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Red Bull: Hopefully we can be in good shape for the race

Red Bull: Hopefully we can be in good shape for the race

Red Bull report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

Max Verstappen

  • Position: 4th 1:32.310

“I always knew qualifying would be tricky on such a power sensitive circuit but the lap was good and there wasn’t much more in it. The wind picked up and it seemed to hurt us in the last sector which is normally our strongest point so I couldn’t really use the full potential of the car.

“Yesterday looked positive but Ferrari didn’t have their engines turned up and they always open it up in qualifying as we could see today. The corners around here are mostly ninety degrees and very short, so you can’t gain a lot of lap time out of them but to be P4 and splitting the Mercedes is pretty good.

“With the penalty and starting ninth we need to make a clean start, stay alert and hope the people around us do the same. I think the realistic target is probably fifth but we will of course try to do better and it will be interesting to see what happens with Mercedes on a different strategy.”

Alex Albon

  • Position: 19th 1:39.197

“There’s nothing really to say other than I went in a bit hot like Max did in FP3 and I lost the rear. There’s a tailwind in that corner and it just caught me out. When these cars go, they go quick. It was a silly mistake – that’s pretty much it and it’s just frustrating.

I haven’t really had the confidence during the weekend and I’ve struggled since FP1 but it was starting to come together and I was feeling more comfortable and getting into a rhythm coming into qualifying. I think this is one of those tracks where if you’re not confident in one corner, you’re not confident in any corner and that’s kind of how I felt up to qualifying.

We’re starting out of place but I’m optimistic as the car feels good in the long runs and you can also overtake here. We’ve seen before when starting at the back that we can progress through the field so we’ll give it everything tomorrow.”

Christian Horner, Team Principal: “It was a shame for Alex today. He came across a yellow flag on his first lap in Q1 and unfortunately a spin on his second resulted in him touching the barrier which took him out of qualifying.

“For Max, he comfortably progressed through to Q3 and after a really strong last run he managed to get on the second row of the grid but unfortunately the Ferraris were just too fast today. With our penalty, that means he will be starting the race from P9 tomorrow and hopefully we can be in good shape for the race. It’s a track you can overtake at so it should be an exciting Grand Prix.”

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Renault: Happy to come away with both cars in the top ten

Renault: Happy to come away with both cars in the top ten

Renault F1 Team reached Q3 with both cars for the fourth race in a row as Nico Hülkenberg qualified seventh and Daniel Ricciardo tenth at the Sochi Autodrom for tomorrow’s VTB Russian Grand Prix.

Nico took just one run to progress through Q1, which meant he would carry two new sets of Soft tyres for Q3. He made it into the top ten shootout after clearing Q2 in tenth place. Two solid laps in Q3 saw the German take seventh, but he will start sixth with the application of grid penalties.

Daniel required two runs to make it through Q1 and was at a slight disadvantage for Q3 with only one run on new tyres available, where he duly put in the tenth quickest time.

Since returning from the summer break in August, both drivers have made the final part of qualifying at each Grand Prix.

Nico Hülkenberg

  • Q: P7, 1:33.289

“I’m pleased with that today; my laps were clean and tidy, we progressed through the sessions well and deservedly qualified well inside the top ten. I’ve felt comfortable in the car since the beginning of the weekend and I’ve been driving well. It would have been nice to be ahead of Carlos [Sainz]. It was tight in the midfield again, but we’ll take it and fight tomorrow for some strong points. It was a decent day’s work.”

Daniel Ricciardo

  • P10, 1:33.661

“I’ve not been that fast all weekend, so to get into Q3 was pretty good. That was our target and we got there. I had to use an extra set in Q1 and that meant I only had one new tyre run at the end of Q3 and it wasn’t quick enough to be higher than tenth. We’ll do better tomorrow; we’re in a position to take points and we’ll be working hard to do that. Credit to Nico for his qualifying, he’s been fast this weekend.”

Alan Permane, Sporting Director: “That was an exciting qualifying session and we’re happy to come away with both cars in the top ten. It’s very close in the midfield with a tenth here or there making a huge difference.

“The key thing was Nico progressing through Q1 on one set of tyres, meaning he had two new sets for Q3, which helped. Tomorrow should be a one-stop race and we’ll be aiming for it to be straightforward with both drivers scoring well.”

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Mercedes: We extracted everything from our package

Mercedes: We extracted everything from our package

Mercedes report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

  • Lewis Hamilton to start the Russian Grand Prix from the front row, Valtteri from P4 on the grid
  • Lewis claimed a spot on the front row in Qualifying and will start the race in Sochi in P2
  • Valtteri Bottas qualified fifth, but will start tomorrow’s race from P4 owing to a grid penalty for Max Verstappen
  • Both drivers will start the Russian Grand Prix on the Medium tyres

Lewis Hamilton: “It feels like a really positive weekend so far and I’m very happy with the job that we’ve done collectively. We’ve worked so hard until late last night and again today and it all came together in the end. The ultimate goal is always to get as close to 100 percent as possible and I don’t think there was much left in the car today.

“Sochi has always been a track that I struggled at, but today every lap was just getting better and better, there were no real mistakes and particularly the last lap felt good. The Ferraris have some crazy speeds on the straights, so to split them is a very good scenario for us. Now we have to try and convert that split into something even better.

“It’s a long run into Turn 1, so it’s not always the best for a start on the harder tyre, but we’ve got to try something and it’s good that we’re able to go for a different strategy tomorrow. The team has done a really good job to put us in that position and I look forward to the fight.

Valtteri Bottas: “It was tricky qualifying for me today. I was struggling in the last sector, particularly in Turn 13 where I had rear snaps mid-corner in pretty much every qualifying lap. Those snaps made the rear tyres overheat which made the rest of Sector 3 really tricky and I didn’t really find a way to drive around the issue.

“In my second run in Q3, the snap was pretty big and I lost multiple tenths there, so I aborted the final lap. The Ferraris are quite a bit faster than us on the straights, our race pace looked decent yesterday and we’re starting on a different tyre to everyone around us, so we can hopefully create some opportunities. It’s still all to play for.”

Toto Wolff: “We extracted everything from our package today, so I’m really happy with our performance, but we’re losing seven or eight tenths to the Ferraris on the straights and there’s only so much you can do against that. We have a big challenge on our hands, but we will give it everything to try and take the fight to them.

“Lewis put in a very strong lap and did a great job to claim P2 and split the Ferraris. It’s a shame for Valtteri because he was on a good lap too before he aborted. Tomorrow, we’ll be on a harder tyre to everyone around us which will make the start a little bit tricky but will hopefully create some opportunities later in the race.

James Allison: “Mixed feelings after today. On one level we’re really pleased with us having made a solid recovery from the day yesterday, with both our drivers now being able to put in their first laps pretty consistently.

“At the same time, we’re sad that we didn’t have the pace to beat Leclerc today, but congratulations to him for a very good series of laps. Looking ahead to tomorrow, with the Medium tyre, offset against everyone else starting on the Soft, it’s going to be a very interesting race and hopefully some of the good race pace we saw on Friday will allow us to take the fight to the Ferraris.

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McLaren: An excellent opportunity to score good points

McLaren: An excellent opportunity to score good points

McLaren report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

Carlos Sainz

  • FP3 1m34.607s (+1.874s) 18 laps 13th
  • Q1 1m34.184s (Softs) 8th
  • Q2 1m33.807s (Softs) 8th
  • Q3 1m33.222s (Softs) 6th

“Good day today! Improving every time we went on track and adapting to the circumstances. I couldn’t have done that lap without the help of the whole team. Thank you. To line up fifth tomorrow on the grid feels great after our initial struggles from yesterday. We managed to adapt, progress and find a way to recover from that, which shows we’re also doing a great job this year in understanding the car.

“I look forward to starting P5 tomorrow. I’m confident we’re capable of putting together a strong result. Congratulations to everyone today.”

Lando Norris

  • FP3 1m34.527s (+1.794s) 15 laps 9th
  • Q1 1m34.201s (Softs) 9th
  • Q2 1m33.725s (Softs) 7th
  • Q3 1m33.301s (Softs) 8th

“A good qualifying and a good starting position for tomorrow. I had a positive feeling throughout qualifying – the track was improving, as was my car. It was pretty good but I didn’t nail the lap as well as I did in Singapore because I wasn’t able to put it all together.

“But I’m still happy, despite making a small mistake on my final push lap in Q3 – starting P7 due to Max’s penalty is a good position. Big thanks to the team, here at the track and back in Woking, for giving me a really good car today after yesterday’s frustrations.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal: “Congratulations to the entire team for another very well-executed qualifying session today. Great drives from Carlos and Lando – they confirmed today what really great qualifiers they are, going through the whole session ending up no more than a tenth apart.

“We really struggled for pace on Friday, but the team here at the track, together with support from the factory, did a thorough analysis overnight and drew the right conclusions to get us back into the right window today.

“Thanks to their hard work we start P5 and P7 tomorrow, with an excellent opportunity to score good points in our Constructors’ Championship battle. I’m looking forward to an exciting race.”

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Ferrari: We now lose out less in the corners

Ferrari: We now lose out less in the corners

Scuderia Ferrari secured its seventh pole of the season, the sixth courtesy of Charles Leclerc, who was the only driver to get under the 1m 32s barrier at Sochi Autodrome.

Tomorrow at 14.10 local (13.10 CET) the two SF90s will be in line astern on the grid, after Sebastian Vettel qualified third for the second race in a row, in both cases just behind Lewis Hamilton, by 29 thousandths in Singapore and 23 here in Sochi.

This was Scuderia Ferrari’s 226th pole and, for the first time since 2008, the team has secured more than six poles in a season. Charles is the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher to take four consecutive poles, the German having done so in Italy, the USA, Japan and Malaysia in 2000.

Q1. Mixed fortunes in the first part of qualifying, Charles immediately posted a good 1’33”613 on the Medium tyres, however Sebastian made a mistake in the third sector which meant he lifted off and aborted the run.

From then on things got complicated, as on two occasions, as he tried to put in a quick lap, the yellow flags came out, because of incidents involving first Kubica and then Albon, which meant he had to lift off again. The Thai driver’s encounter with the barriers eventually brought out the red flag so that Sebastian had to make one final run on Soft tyres to easily make the cut to Q2 with a 1’33”032.

Q2. Charles now fitted Soft tyres for the first time and immediately did a good lap in 1:32.434. Sebastian however used the same set he’d used in Q1 to post a 1:33.091 which he later improved to 1’32”536 after pitting for a set of new Softs.

Q3. In this final session, Charles and Seb were able to run two sets each of Softs. On his first attempt the Monegasque stopped the clocks in 1’31”801, while the German did a 1:32.135. After changing tyres Charles got down to a 1:31.628 and Seb improved to 1’32”053, again just pipped by Hamilton by the smallest of margins.

All in the family. Charles was presented with the mini Pirelli tyre given to the man who is on pole by Robert Shwartzman. Earlier in the day, the Russian Ferrari Driver Academy student clinched the title in the Formula 3 championship with one race to go in the series. The race was won by fellow FDA driver Marcus Armstrong. Keeping it all in the family.

Charles Leclerc: “The car was amazing to drive and the team did a great job anticipating the track evolution and setting up the car in the best way. We are just focusing on ourselves and the work we are doing seems to be slowly paying off. On my side, I continue focusing on the negative and working to improve and learn as much as I can.

“The lap in Q3 was great, apart from when I lost the rear a bit in turns 16 and 17. I’m still happy to end the day with a result like this, but I am already fully focused on the race now.

“Our race pace was good in FP2, which is a positive sign. We will start the race on different tyres to our competitors, but I don’t think that there is a huge difference between the soft and medium compounds in terms of their degradation. It will be difficult and crucial to keep everyone behind at the start, because it’s a long way to turn two. I will give it all I’ve got.”

Sebastian Vettel: “Overall I was reasonably happy with the car, but not entirely satisfied. Q1 was a bit complex as I made a mistake on my first attempt and then I was slowed by two yellow flags. I found it difficult to get into a clean rhythm, especially towards the end of Quali, when it was vital to extract the absolute maximum out of the car.

“However the race is tomorrow and I am confident. We need a good start and then we can think about the rest of it. We start on the clean side, on the Softs while the Mercedes are on Mediums and being on different tyre strategies will make for an interesting fight. I believe we have made the right tyre choice for the start and I think we have an advantage over our rivals down the straight, so a tow might come into play.”

Mattia Binotto, Team Principal: “We are very happy with the way qualifying went. Already yesterday we realised that our car was quick and today we delivered the result.

“Once again, Charles produced a good lap, even though he made a couple of small mistakes, which means he had the potential to do even better. It has to be said that the track surface here is very smooth, so it’s easy to make a mistake.

“Seb qualified third, which might actually be better than second when it comes to tomorrow’s start, even if it would have been nice to have locked out the front row.

“The SF90 has improved and we have accelerated our development to have more drag and aero downforce. Also, thanks to the new package, we now lose out less in the corners and the overall balance is good.

“As for the race, the key moment will probably be the start and another important aspect will be the fact we are starting on a different tyre compound to our competitors.”

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Honda: It was a tough qualifying session

Honda: It was a tough qualifying session

Honda report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

It was a tough qualifying session in Sochi as Max Verstappen set the fourth-fastest time but two Honda-powered cars failed to emerge unscathed from Q1.

Daniil Kvyat suffered a power unit issue during FP3 and stopped on track, so we opted to fit a brand new Spec 4 PU ahead of the race. With Daniil already starting from the back of the grid, the decision was taken to not rush the work of changing the PU and that Daniil would therefore not take part in qualifying.

Alex Albon got no further than Q1 as he spun at Turn 13 and hit the barrier on the outside of the track. With damage to the rear of the car he was unable to return to the pits and he will start tomorrow’s race from 19th on the grid. Max and Pierre Gasly both progressed into Q2, with Pierre pulling out an excellent lap to sit in sixth place after his first run.

However, in the tight nature of the midfield, he slipped down to 11th on the final attempts, missing out on a spot in Q3 by just 0.05s. That left Max to fight it out in the final part of qualifying and after being fifth following the first runs he improved to P4 at the flag, and will start from ninth place as a result of his grid penalty this weekend.

Toyoharu Tanabe, Technical Director: “On the positive side, Verstappen delivered another solid performance this afternoon, to be fourth fastest, but with the penalties for all our drivers, Max starts ninth tomorrow and the other three will be further down the back of the grid.

“However, we still feel they can move up the order and have a good race. Kvyat, suffered a PU failure in FP3, so that we have had to change his PU again and he took no part in qualifying. We will now carry out a full investigation as to the cause.”

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Racing Point: Disappointing session where we didn’t deliver

Racing Point: Disappointing session where we didn’t deliver

Racing Point report from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, Round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, at Sochi Autodrome.

Sergio Perez, 12th:

  • Q1 1:34.336
  • Q2 1:33.958

“We all expected a bit more today, especially with how tight the margins are here. We should have been in Q3, but when going into Turn 7 I hit the kerb harder than I should and lost some time there. It was very, very close and it’s a shame, but I’m very optimistic for tomorrow. We have a quick car and I think we have a good opportunity to score points.”

Lance Stroll, 15th:

  • Q1 1:34.287
  • Q2 1:34.233

“It started off well: I had the balance I was looking for in the first sector, through the medium-speed corners, and it was looking quite promising. Then, when I got to the high-speed Turn 7, I just turned in and lost the rear, I ran wide and it was really just downhill from there.

“You have a bad corner and that leads to two or three bad corners. That’s where the lap time was lost. It’s a shame because I wanted more today – the whole team did. It is going to sting a little, but I think we can bounce back tomorrow and use the strategy to challenge for points.”

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal: “Ultimately a disappointing session where we didn’t deliver on the promise we have shown in the lead up to qualifying. Both drivers made small errors on their final Q2 laps and missed the cut for Q3 as a result. The margins were incredibly close today in the middle of the pack and dropping a tenth of a second here and there proved costly.

“It means we’ve got a bit more work to do tomorrow to score points. The car has solid race pace – we’ve seen that during the long runs yesterday – but at the same time it’s tough to overtake here. We will think through the strategy options tonight and fight hard tomorrow to score points”

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Hamilton drove “pole-worthy” laps to split Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton believes his final attempts in qualifying were “pole-worthy” as he managed to split the two Ferraris at the Russian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc took his fourth consecutive pole position as Ferrari’s recent resurgence continued, but as the previous round in Singapore, Hamilton managed to join him on the front row. With Leclerc on pole by 0.4s, Hamilton edged out Sebastian Vettel by just 0.023s and sounded extremely happy with his work over team radio after the end of the session, saying it took a special attempt to prevent a Ferrari one-two.

“Honestly, I feel like maybe the last couple of laps have felt pole-worthy in terms of how it’s come together and optimizing within the car,” Hamilton said. “Naturally they’re faster than us and I think Charles has done a good job but in terms of being close to the limit as possible, I have been getting more and more comfortable in the car in the second half of the season, a little bit more comfortable even though we’ve lost a bit of performance compared to them.

“There’s still work to do collectively, including myself. So we will just keep working but please don’t write that the wrong way, pole-worthy, I just mean in terms of putting the perfect lap together. I feel I am getting close to that but then when you finish the lap and it’s a long way off pole, but it feels like quite an achievement to get in between the two Ferraris, who have got a bit of a delta to us at the moment.”

Mercedes will also start with both of its cars on medium tires, and Hamilton says the aim was simply to try a different strategy given how Ferrari was able to control the last race in Singapore from the front.

“I think the team did a great job to put us on the mediums,” Hamilton said. “Naturally from the two tires there’s always a bit of a delta, the softer the tire the better for the start. So it will be tough off the start tomorrow, but even if we were in the lead – or if we were on pole for example – they’re so fast on the straights that by the time they get to Turn 1, the kink, they blast past us with the jet fuel or whatever it is!

“So I hope we can use the different strategy and that is why we are on a different tire so I hope that we can utilize that to keep the pressure on. The last couple of races we’ve been with them, and I hope tomorrow we can really give them a good fight.”

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Pirelli: One-stopper being clearly the way forward

Pirelli: One-stopper being clearly the way forward

Charles Leclerc drove his Ferrari to his fourth pole in a row, using the soft tyre throughout Q2 and Q3. Mercedes, by contrast, was the only team to use the medium in Q2, and both their cars will start the race on this compound tomorrow.

Leclerc starts ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, while the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen were third and fourth fastest respectively.

Leclerc received the Pirelli Pole Position Award from Robert Shwartzman: the Russian Formula 3 driver, attached to the Ferrari Driver Academy, who claimed the inaugural FIA Formula 3 title this morning.

POSSIBLE RACE STRATEGIES

As has traditionally been the case at the 53-lap Russian Grand Prix, a one-stopper is going to be the quickest strategy – but which one stopper?

In theory, the fastest way is to start on the soft for 15 to 19 laps and then go to the hard. In practice, there might be an advantage to start on the medium instead for 14 to 22 laps and subsequently switch to the hard. This strategy also offers more flexibility in the event of a safety car, for example.

A slightly slower one-stopper is to start on the soft for 22 to 26 laps and then switch to the medium for the rest of the race: this would probably require some degree of pace management.

A two-stopper will always be slower under normal circumstances, but the fastest two-stopper on paper is: start on the soft for 16 to 18 laps, move on to the soft again for another 16 to 18 laps, then medium to the end.

KEEP AN EYE ON

  • Strategy. The beginnings of a big strategic battle were already seen in qualifying, with Mercedes adopting a very different approach to Ferrari. This means that they will both be using opposite tactics on race day.
  • Performance. The pace has often been slightly quicker than last year, despite a tyre selection that’s a step harder compared to 2018. This should allow the drivers to push hard throughout each stint, so expect a fast race tomorrow.
  • Pit stops. There’s low wear and degradation, so both the ‘undercut’ as seen in Singapore, as well as the ‘overcut’ – gaining an advantage by staying out longer than your rivals – are far less likely to be effective.
  • Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Each of these teams will be starting with a car at the back of the grid, after Alex Albon crashed in Q1 and Daniil Kvyat sat out qualifying. All the Honda-powered cars are also taking grid penalties: what can they do in the race?

MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF F1 AND CAR RACING

“There’s an intriguing strategic battle in store tomorrow, with Mercedes being the only team to select the medium tyre to set their fastest Q2 times. There was some overnight rain that reset the track for FP3 and qualifying, causing a bit of track evolution, but no further rain during the day.

“If the rain continues to hold off, we can expect a more stable track tomorrow, with a one-stopper being clearly the way forward. However, we’re likely to see many different permutations of one-stopper, using all three available compounds. Sochi is not the easiest of circuits to overtake on, so we can expect a big tactical fight in the pits and on the track tomorrow.”

FREE PRACTICE 3 – TOP 3 TIMES

DRIVERTIMECOMPOUND
Leclerc1m32.733sSOFT C4 NEW
Vettel1m33.049sSOFT C4 NEW
Hamilton1m33.129sSOFT C4 NEW

QUALIFYING TOP 10

DRIVERTIMECOMPOUND
Leclerc1m31.628sSOFT C4 NEW
Hamilton1m32.030sSOFT C4 NEW
Vettel1m32.053sSOFT C4 NEW
Verstappen1m32.310sSOFT C4 NEW
Bottas1m32.632sSOFT C4 NEW
Sainz1m33.222sSOFT C4 NEW
Hulkenberg1m33.289sSOFT C4 NEW
Norris1m33.301sSOFT C4 NEW
Grosjean1m33.517sSOFT C4 NEW
Ricciardo1m33.661sSOFT C4 NEW

MOST LAPS BY COMPOUND SO FAR

COMPOUNDDRIVERLAPS
HARD C2Raikkonen17
MEDIUM C3Kvyat28
SOFT C4Stroll23

BEST TIME BY COMPOUND SO FAR

COMPOUNDDRIVERTIME
HARD C2Bottas1m34.752s
MEDIUM C3Hamilton1m33.134s
SOFT C4Leclerc1m31.628s

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Forget party mode – Hamilton says Ferrari has ‘jet mode’!

Forget party mode – Hamilton says Ferrari has ‘jet mode’!

After several seasons of being envied for their qualifying ‘party mode’, Mercedes now find themselves unable to match Ferrari for flying lap pace with Lewis Hamilton describing their rivals as having a ‘jet mode’.

“It was a tough qualifying session,” said Hamilton who was pushed to the limit to put himself onto the front row for tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

“These guys have some crazy speeds on the straight,” he added, referring to Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

“They go to another level,” he said. “That old party mode you talk about us having? They have something else beyond that – jet mode!”

Leclerc fends off Hamilton to take fourth pole in a row

Despite ending up four tenths off Leclerc’s crushing pole pace on Saturday, Hamilton was clearly relieved to have finished ahead of Vettel and deny Ferrari the front row lock-out they had seemingly been on course for.

“I gave it absolutely everything I had at the end,” he confirmed. “The team did such a great job to just tinker and push forwards. I am so glad it came together.

“I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row, that’s for sure, so yeah – I’m really, really happy with it nonetheless.”

Although Ferrari appears to have the upper hand this weekend, Hamilton still has hopes that Mercedes might have made the right calls when it comes to race set-up which could turn the tables on Sunday.

“We know they are on a slightly lower drag level this weekend, plus they have that power,” he said. “So we have to try something.

“The last couple of races we’ve behind all the way, but we were fortunate enough to opt for another strategy,” he continued. “The team has done a really good job with putting us in that position.”

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates his second position in qualifying parc ferme.

One part of that strategy is opting to start the race on medium tyres, while the rest of the top ten will all be on the soft tyres.

That gives their rivals the upper hand in initial pace, but Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas should be able to run longer into the race.

“It is a long way down to turn 1, so not always the best for starts on the harder tyres,” Hamilton acknowledged.

“I am going to try to tow the life out of Charles if I get the chance,” he added. “But it is going to be hard because they have got good starts as well.”

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Ferrari ‘surprised’ by Mercedes tyre strategy for Sochi

Ferrari ‘surprised’ by Mercedes tyre strategy for Sochi

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto confessed he was surprised to see Mercedes opting to start their drivers on the medium compound in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

Meanwhile Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel will both line up on the grid on the soft compound tyres, which should give them more pace at the start when the lights go out.

“That’s surprising to us,” Binotto said of Mercedes strategy call. “Their choice was not something we were considering to be honest.

“I think we even need to try to understand why they did that choice,” he told Sky Sports F1 after the end of qualifying.

Sochi Qualifying: Leclerc blows them away

“Certainly we believe that the soft tyre has got a grip advantage at the start. The start will be key tomorrow.

“But let’s see. Maybe that’s the right choice, what they did. Different strategies may do something interesting for the race and for the fans.”

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said on Twitter than the team hoped the choice would give them a greater range of race strategies on Sunday by allowing Hamilton and Bottas to run a longer first stint.

“We’ve started on the medium tyres,” he explained. “We were keen to do that. We think that will give us some options in race, even if we are behind the Ferrari cars or the Red Bull.”

“Everyone else is on the softs so it is going to be quite interesting to see how that pans out,” he added.

Leclerc will start the race from pole position with Hamilton alongside him on the front row. Hamilton promised to “try to tow the life out of Charles [into turn 1] if I get the chance.”

Certainly Leclerc was aware of the threat that he might lose the lead at the start of the race, which would make it difficult for him to re-pass Hamilton in the crucial early stages.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 in qualifying parc ferme.

“I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole,” he admitted. “The straight is very long after the start.

“Tomorrow the start will be very important as always, but here even more because of the straight length.”

And Vettel – who was pipped to second place on the grid by Hamilton and will now start the race from third place – was also equally aware of the opportunities and the risks presented by that long run to to turn 1.

“It’s a long way, obviously and with different tyre strategies compared to the Mercs,” he said in parc fermé.

“I think the race will be decided tomorrow,” he added. “First you need a good start and then you worry about the rest.

The speed is there, so let’s keep it up,”There’s potentially an advantage if you are behind, but if you’re behind you always say that, so let’s see what happens.

“The speed is there, so let’s keep it up,”

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Wolff says Ferrari has ‘the perfect package’ now

Wolff says Ferrari has ‘the perfect package’ now

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has acknowledged that Ferrari are now ahead in the Formula 1 development race.

After several seasons of being top dog in the F1 paddock, it now appears that they have been emphatically demoted to second spot after a significant boost in performance by their rivals since the summer break.

Wolff said after qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix that Ferrari now held an significant straight-line speed advantage.

“We’re losing seven or eight tenths to the Ferraris on the straights and there’s only so much you can do against that,” he said.

“Our engineering team made the most out of the package that we had this week,” he told Sky Sports F1. “But there is only so much you can do. That’s quite a massive amount.

Sochi Qualifying: Leclerc blows them away

“Seems to be like the perfect package,” he said of the new, improved Ferrari SF90, while trying not to sound too dispirited.

“You need to stay humble,” he said. “We have had many good seasons and many great races and now we have another challenge on our hands to fight and we will give it everything.”

“We have a big challenge on our hands, but we will give it everything to try and take the fight to them.”

Wolff praised Lewis Hamilton for pulling off a front row starting position by pipping Sebastian Vettel against the odds, while Valtteri Bottas was fifth fastest in the session.

“Lewis put in a very strong lap and did a great job to claim P2 and split the Ferraris,” said Wolff. “It’s a shame for Valtteri because he was on a good lap too before he aborted.”

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W10.

“It was tricky qualifying for me today,” explained Bottas. “I was struggling in the last sector, particularly in Turn 13 where I had rear snaps mid-corner in pretty much every qualifying lap.

“Those snaps made the rear tyres overheat which made the rest of sector 3 really tricky and I didn’t really find a way to drive around the issue.

“In my second run in Q3, the snap was pretty big and I lost multiple tenths there, so I aborted the final lap.

“The Ferraris are quite a bit faster than us on the straights,” he acknowledged. “But our race pace looked decent yesterday and we’re starting on a different tyre to everyone around us. We can hopefully create some opportunities. It’s still all to play for.”

Wolff agreed with his driver’s analysis of the prospects for Sunday’s race.

“Tomorrow, we’ll be on a harder tyre to everyone around us which will make the start a little bit tricky, but will hopefully create some opportunities later in the race.”

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Verstappen expects podium is out of reach in Sochi

Verstappen expects podium is out of reach in Sochi

Max Verstappen says he’s remaining realistic heading into Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

The Red Bull driver finished qualifying in fourth place, but will take a five place grid demotion for taking additional power unit elements this weekend.

That means he will actually line-up in ninth place, on a circuit where it’s possible to overtake – but which can also lure drivers into making costly mistakes.

Verstappen certainly feels he can make up ground tomorrow, and put himself in the top five by the time the chequered flag comes out.

Sochi Qualifying: Leclerc blows them away

“I always knew qualifying would be tricky on such a power sensitive circuit but the lap was good and there wasn’t much more in it,” he said of his afternoon effort.

“The corners around here are mostly ninety degrees and very short, so you can’t gain a lot of lap time out of them. But to be P4 and splitting the Mercedes was pretty good.

“With the penalty and starting ninth we need to make a clean start, stay alert and hope the people around us do the same,” he added. “I think the realistic target is probably fifth but we will of course try to do better.”

One thing that could make a big difference in the race is Mercedes’ decision to put Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on soft tyres while the rest of the top ten all line up on the soft compound.

If that backfires on the Silver Arrows pair then it could be an opportunity for Verstappen to pounce. “It will be interesting to see what happens with Mercedes on a different strategy,” he agreed.

Alexander Albon (THA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR14 crashes in Q1.

Unfortunately Verstappen’s rookie team mate Alexander Albon won’t be able to be of much help to him in the race. The Thai driver will be starting the race near the back of the grid after crashing out in Q1.

“There’s nothing really to say other than I went in a bit hot like Max did in FP3 and I lost the rear,” Albon explained. “There’s a tailwind in that corner and it just caught me out.

“When these cars go, they go quick. It was a silly mistake – that’s pretty much it, and it’s just frustrating.”

“We’re starting out of place, but I’m optimistic as the car feels good in the long runs and you can also overtake here,” he pointed out.

“We’ve seen before when starting at the back that we can progress through the field so we’ll give it everything tomorrow.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner sympathised with the young driver’s situation in Sochi.

“It was a shame for Alex today. He came across a yellow flag on his first lap in Q1 and unfortunately a spin on his second resulted in him touching the barrier which took him out of qualifying.

“Hopefully we can be in good shape for the race. It’s a track you can overtake at so it should be an exciting Grand Prix.”

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Leclerc backs Ferrari tire strategy over Mercedes

Charles Leclerc is confident Ferrari has got its strategy right for the Russian Grand Prix despite Mercedes qualifying on a harder compound.

The 21-year-old took his fourth consecutive pole position in Sochi on Saturday but advanced to Q3 on the soft tire compared to Mercedes using mediums. With Lewis Hamilton starting alongside him, Leclerc is not fearful of the Mercedes strategy, believing his team will benefit in the early stages by being on a softer tire.

“The start is very important here, and we thought the benefit of starting on the softs was big. And then there was not much degradation in terms of the difference between soft and medium.”

After becoming the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2000/01 to take four pole positions in a row, Leclerc says his run is a result of hard work and not taking his pace for granted.

“Of course I feel confident going in qualifying but at the end at one point it’s going to end, so whether it’s now or later, I don’t know,” he said. “The only thing I’m trying to do is to focus on myself, do exactly the same procedure as I had since the last four races. I definitely don’t go to the car thinking it will be easy and come together alone. I just try to keep working as I did in the last races and hopefully the lap time comes.

“It feels good but it doesn’t change my approach from the other weekends. Every time you go into a session you just take it normally without thinking about the others, or the last poles I have. Obviously it feels great, but I don’t want to think about these things, and I just want to focus on the job ahead.”

Although Ferrari has won the past three races from pole position, Leclerc is wary of the team becoming overconfident in its own performance.

“I think we need to keep our feet on the ground,” he said. “Obviously at the moment we are with a good momentum, we are having good performances, but at the end it doesn’t change. Mercedes are still quite far ahead in the overall championship, which in the end is what matters the most.

“We need to keep our head down, keep working. Of course at the moment it feels like it is working our way, but I would not say it would be like this for the rest of the season so we need to keep working.”

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Leclerc takes fourth straight pole position in Russia

Leclerc takes fourth straight pole position in Russia

Charles Leclerc took his fourth consecutive pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, but Lewis Hamilton crucially split the Ferraris in qualifying.

The recent Ferrari resurgence continued with Leclerc becoming the first Ferrari driver to take four poles in a row since Michael Schumacher across 2000/01. Intriguingly, Mercedes opted for medium tires for the start of the race by advancing on those from Q2 – compared to softs for the rest of the top 10 – and Hamilton then pipped Vettel by 0.023s to join Leclerc on the front row, but he was 0.402s off pole.

Vettel will start alongside Valtteri Bottas on the second row after Max Verstappen’s grid penalty, with the Red Bull driver dropping to ninth after taking a new internal combustion engine (ICE) this weekend. That promotes Carlos Sainz to fifth on the grid alongside Nico Hulkenberg as battle continues between McLaren and Renault, with the former announcing its split from the French manufacturer as a power unit supplier in 2021 in preference of a return to Mercedes earlier on Saturday.

Lando Norris will start from seventh alongside Romain Grosjean, who impressed for Haas, ahead of former Red Bull team-mates Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen was the lone Red Bull in Q3 after his latest team-mate Alexander Albon crashed early on.

The tight midfield battle was exemplified by Q2, where Pierre Gasly went from P6 after the first runs to be eliminated by just over 0.05s in 11th place. He was joined by Sergio Perez in 12th, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen – after an error – and Lance Stroll. All four will move up as a result of Gasly having a five-place grid penalty for a new ICE this weekend.

Only 19 cars took part in Q1 after home favorite Daniil Kvyat missed the session. Kvyat was already due to start from the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty this weekend but then suffered stoppages in both FP1 and FP3, the latter requiring another new PU. With the penalty already hanging over him, Toro Rosso saw no reason to rush the change and therefore he sat out the session.

He was joined by another Honda-powered car soon after as Albon crashed at Turn 13. The Red Bull rookie had a very similar spin to that suffered by Verstappen in FP3, but carried more momentum and went backwards into the barrier to damage the rear wing and right rear corner.

The incident brought out the red flag and left only three drivers to drop out when running resumed. George Russell and Robert Kubica were predictable in 17th and 18th respectively – the latter with a back of the grid penalty for a power unit change – while Kimi Raikkonen was a surprise elimination in 16th as Alfa Romeo struggled, Giovinazzi knocking out his team-mate by less than 0.1s.

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Renault, McLaren have ‘different ambitions’ – Abiteboul

Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul says McLaren’s decision to switch to Mercedes power units in 2021 will ultimately help Renault achieve its goal of becoming a front-running works team.

McLaren partnered with Renault in 2018 on a three-year deal after three difficult seasons with Honda power, and after a tough first year has shown clear progress this season to sit fourth in the constructors’ championship. It has now been announced that McLaren will return to Mercedes from 2021 onwards – renewing a partnership that ran from 1995-2014 – leaving Renault without any customers at that point.

“Since our partnership began, McLaren has gone from ninth to fourth position in the constructors’ championship,” Abiteboul said. “We can therefore consider this a very successful relationship. However, while looking beyond the terms of the current contract, which concludes at the end of 2020, it was apparent that Renault and McLaren have different ambitions for the future.

“Each of the different elements of this decision have been carefully evaluated over the past few weeks. 2021 will be a crucial season for all teams and it is important for us to have a precise and clear view of the strengths and ambitions of our competitors going forward.

“This decision is in line with Renault’s vision to become a works team, with a goal to return to the front.

“Renault will continue to honor its commitments to McLaren Racing next season, as has always been the case over our long history of engine supply.”

Renault currently sits fifth in the constructors’ championship.

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Sochi Qualifying: Leclerc blows them away

Sochi Qualifying: Leclerc blows them away

For the fourth race in succession, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed pole position – this time for the Russian Grand Prix – doing the business in qualifying yet again by a handy margin.

Leclerc’s best effort of 1:31.628 was faster than his first which was good enough for pole anyway. Lewis Hamilton dug deep to split the Ferrari duo albeit four-tenths of a second down on the pole-winning time.

After two stunning efforts on the afternoon, Leclerc had the humility to criticise himself for messing up the final corner as he crossed the line to take pole and obliterate his rivals in the process.

Not since 2001, when Michael Schumacher accomplished the feat, has a Ferrari driver scored four top spot starts in succession. Leclerc was three-years-old at the time!

The Monegasque is proving to be the rare kind of driver that can raise his game on demand, find laps other more mortals can only admire while flirting with the ultra-fine edge of sensation and bent metal. The kid has come of age and this is only the beginning.

A supreme talent who has signalled his intent and is jolting Ferrari out of too many years of mediocrity, to the reverence of the tifosi who finally have their next real hero.

Leclerc said afterwards, “The car felt amazing. It definitely feels great to be back on pole but I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole, the straight is very long after the start. The start will be very important as always but here probably even more because of the straight length.

“It definitely feels very, very special [four poles in a row]. But I don’t really want to think about those stats for now. I just want to focus on the job and there’s definitely a long way to go tomorrow,” added the race winner.

Hamilton denied Ferrari an all-red front row by 0.023 of a second, with Sebastian Vettel third fastest – the gulf to his teammate 0.425 of a second.

The World Champion was happy with his lap, “It was a tough qualifying session because these guys [Ferrari] have some crazy speeds on the straights. They go to another level. That party mode you spoke about us having, they have something else beyond that – jet mode.

“I gave it absolutely everything I had at the end and the team did a great job just to tinker and push forwards. I’m so glad it came together – I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row, that’s for sure. I’m really, really happy with it.

“We’ve got to try something [strategy]. We were fortunate enough to opt for a different strategy. It’s a long way down to Turn One which is not always the best for starts on the harder tyre, but I’m going to try and toe the life out of Charles if I get the chance,” added Hamilton.

Vettel has had no answer to his teammate since the Canadian Grand Prix, the younger Scuderia getting faster with every outing. The near half-second gap will be a concern for the elder statesman in the team.

The German summed up his session, “Obviously I’m not entirely happy. I couldn’t extract the maximum out of the car. It was a bit disruptive in Q1 but by the time we got to Q3 I thought it was OK. It’s a long way to Turn 1 and we’re on a different tyre strategy to the Mercs. The speed is there so let’s keep it up.”

Max Verstappen was fourth fastest, albeit nearly seven-tenths down on the top time and with the five-place grid penalty, he should line-up in ninth. His teammate Alex Albon crashed in Q1, the Thai driver struggling all weekend thus far.

Fifth fastest on the timesheets was Valtteri Bottas who aborted his final run and as a result was only good for fifth and a whopping second down on the top time, six tenths off teammate Hamilton.

Carlos Sainz’s last effort in qualifying was also his finest as he claimed sixth-place for McLaren and Best of the Rest. Behind the Spaniard, Nico Hulkenberg was seventh in the Renault, followed by Lando Norris in the other McLaren – the trio separated by less than a tenth of a second.

Romain Grosjean got the most out of the temperamental Haas package to claim ninth-place on the timing screens, with Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top ten.

Report in progress…

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Ferrari halts major development work on SF90

Ferrari halts major development work on SF90

Ferrari’s outstanding performance of late has decided the Italian outfit to not bring any more major updates to its SF90 for the remainder of the 2019 season.

While the Scuderia’s strong form at Spa and Monza was anticipated, its pace and subsequent win in Singapore came as a major surprise and certified the efficiency of the SF90’s latest aero package which is also performing well in Sochi.

“We were competitive and that was important for us,” said Scuderia boss Mattia Binotto.

“We did a fantastic qualifying in Singapore with the new aero package.

Vettel signs up for final Pirelli tyre test before Japan

“It was important to confirm how good was the package coming here, different types of tracks and set-ups.

“We’ve been fast, and competitive on the high-fuel runs, so in general I am quite happy.”

On Friday, Binotto said that the team’s major development work on its 2019 contender had run its course, with the bulk of Ferrari’s resources now shifted towards next years’ car.

“I would say that we are really now focused mainly on next year’s car, back at the factory,” said Binotto.

“And if any there are updates this season, will not be as major as the one we had in Singapore.”

This weekend, Ferrari will be gunning for its fourth consecutive win this season, a feat no team has achieved – apart from Mercedes – since the beginning of Formula 1’s hybrid era in 2014.

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Leclerc fends off Hamilton to take fourth pole in a row

Leclerc fends off Hamilton to take fourth pole in a row

Charles Leclerc pulled off another stunning pole lap in qualifying for the 2019 Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom. It’s his fourth pole in a row: the last time a Ferrari driver achieved that feat was Michael Schumacher in 2001.

Leclerc’s time of 1:31.628s was four tenths quicker than Mercedes Lewis Hamilton, who had to dig deep to find the time he needed to deny Sebastian Vettel a front row starting spot for Sunday’s race.

Max Verstappen was fourth fastest in the session but will start five spots further back for the race due to grid penalties. That promotes Valtteri Bottas to fourth ahead of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg.

Alexander Albon failed to make it out of Q1 after triggering a red flag by spinning into the tyre wall at turn 13.

2019 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying results

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team RS19.

Despite an overnight deluge, today’s anticipated rain had largely stayed away from Sochi Autodrom on Saturday. By lunchtime the heavy cloud cover had broken up revealing bright blue skies, and the big surprise was how warm it was proving to be. Would that affect tyre longevity and the team’s strategies?

Q1: Vettel leaves it late to go top after red flag for Albon

First to hit the track were Williams’ George Russell and Robert Kubica, with the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc next to stir followed by the two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Russell’s 1:36.201s briefly topped the timesheets with Kubica over a second behind, but inevitably it was Leclerc who blasted to the top with a first effort of 1:33.613s. Vettel however ran wide on his initial run and backed off to save his tyres for a second push.

By now, all teams were out on track and straight down to work. Kevin Magnussen put Haas into second place ahead of the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, before Lewis Hamilton was able to go fastest of anyone to go top followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, pushing Leclerc down to third. Valtteri Bottas debuted in fourth place ahead of Magnussen, while Nico Hulkenberg was a second off Hamilton’s top time as the Renault slipped smoothly into sixth.

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing RB15.

Vettel’s second flying lap was interrupted by a local yellow for a spin by Kubica. He was still struggling to get a clean lap in when the session was red-flagged as a result of Alexander Albon losing the back of the Red Bull into turn 13, a near-replay of his team mate’s FP3 incident but with a more emphatic hit with the tyre barrier at the end to finish things off.

There were just over six and a half minutes still to go when the session resumed. Still without a flying lap time and therefore mired deep in the elimination zone, it was no surprise to see Vettel go straight out on soft tyres – nor was it a shock that he duly took the top spot with a time of 1:33.02s, two tenths quicker than Hamilton’s previous benchmark.

That briefly pushed Pierre Gasly into the drop zone along with Russell, Kubica and the sidelined Albon. However the Frenchman’s final effort propelled him to safety and left the two Alfa drivers scrapping between themselves to avoid elimination; a messy exit from the final corner cost Raikkonen dear and it was Giovinazzi who ended up scrapping through.

To the disappointment of grandstands packed full of local fans, Daniil Kvyat took no part in the session after his Toro Rosso earlier suffered a second power unit issue in two days, making it a torrid home race weekend for the young Russian. He’ll have to start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90. 28.09.2019.

Q2: Ferrari firmly on top as Mercedes make it through on mediums

Mercedes showed their hand early at the start of Q2 with Hamilton and Bottas both heading out sporting the medium compound that they hoped to start to start the race on. Verstappen played safe on softs, as did the rest of the cars still in the running.

Hamilton managed 1:33.134s on the yellow-walled tyres which was quickly pipped by Verstappen going 0.042s quicker. All eyes were then on the Ferrari cars, and Leclerc comprehensively moved the goalposts by setting a new benchmark of 1:32.434s which was over six tenths quicker than Vettel who had begin the round on a used set of softs after having to make more runs than expected in Q1.

Just 0.035s covered sixth through tenth in a heavily compacted midfield after the first runs. In eleventh, Magnussen was the first of the drivers on the wrong side of the cut-line along with team mate Romain Grosjean, Racing Point’s Lance Stroll, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and finally the Alfa of Antonio Giovinazzi. However with the track evolving all the time, the order was by no means set.

Stroll was first to set a time but he was still short of getting through to the final round. More successful was Grosjean who leapt to safety in sixth place albeit still nearly four tenths slower than Bottas ahead. That eased the pressure on the two Silver Arrows cars who had nonetheless gone out in case a contingency lap on soft tyres ended up being required.

Vettel was on new softs for this lap and closed the gap to Leclerc to just a tenth. There were improved laps from Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg which shuffled the rest of the top ten, and also pushed Gasly out after the Toro Rosso made a mistake and ran wide on his own final push lap. It meant that he joined Perez, Giovinazzi, Magnussen and Stroll on the sidelines for the remainder of qualifying.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W10 and Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 in qualifying parc ferme.

Q3: Leclerc unstoppable as Hamilton pips Vettel for second on the grid

There was no time to waste when the track went green for the final top ten pole shoot-out round. First on the timing screen was Norris with a 1:34.108s, but that was half a second slower than the time Hulkenberg immediately contributed.

Mercedes then briefly took the top two spots, but there was a sense of inevitability as Ferrari swept in to take a provisional one-two, Leclerc’s scintillating 1:31.801s proving to be a third of a second quicker than Vettel and Hamilton left over half a second off the top time in third followed by Bottas and Verstappen. The top five were the only cars even within a second of Leclerc’s time as the cars returned to pit lane.

There was still time for one final push before the chequered flag. Vettel was first on track but proved unable to find the extra time needed to depose Leclerc, who in any case shaved off a further two tenths from his earlier time to cement pole position. The surprise ended up being Hamilton digging deep to go second ahead of Vettel to deny Ferrari its hopes of a front row lock-out.

Verstappen also made a late improvement to finish fourth fastest ahead of Bottas, although the Red Bull will take a five place grid penalty tomorrow having taken new engine parts coming into Sochi. That means Bottas will still start from fourth ahead of Sainz, Hulkenberg and Norris. The top ten was rounded out by Grosjean and Ricciardo.

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2019 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying results

Full results from qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, round 16 of the 2019 Formula 1 season.

2019 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying results

PosDriverTeamQ1Q2Q3
1Charles LeclercFerrari1:33.613s1:32.434s1:31.628s
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:33.230s1:33.134s1:32.030s
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1:33.032s1:32.536s1:32.053s
4Max VerstappenRed Bull1:33.368s1:32.634s1:32.310s
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1:33.413s1:33.281s1:32.632s
6Carlos SainzMcLaren1:34.184s1:33.807s1:33.222s
7Nico HülkenbergRenault1:34.236s1:33.898s1:33.289s
8Lando NorrisMcLaren1:34.201s1:33.725s1:33.301s
9Romain GrosjeanHaas1:34.283s1:33.643s1:33.517s
10Daniel RicciardoRenault1:34.138s1:33.862s1:33.661s
11Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1:34.456s1:33.950s
12Sergio PérezRacing Point1:34.336s1:33.958s
13Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1:34.755s1:34.037s
14Kevin MagnussenHaas1:33.889s1:34.082s
15Lance StrollRacing Point1:34.287s1:34.233s
16Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo1:34.840s
17George RussellWilliams1:35.356s
18Robert KubicaWilliams1:36.474s
19Alexander AlbonRed Bull1:39.197s
20Daniil KvyatToro Rosso

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Ferrari one-two in Russia FP3, Verstappen spins

Ferrari secured a one-two in the final practice session for the Russian Grand Prix, but Max Verstappen’s true pace was masked by a spin.

Charles Leclerc was fastest for the second time this weekend, ensuring he finished all three practice sessions in the top two. Leclerc was 0.316s clear of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, with all the time coming in the lower speed final sector.

Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes but had complained on team radio about the difficulty closing the gap to Ferrari earlier in the session, ending up 0.4s adrift of Leclerc. Valtteri Bottas was 0.2s further back, making Ferrari the favorite heading into qualifying this afternoon.

Verstappen had demonstrated Red Bull’s speed by going fastest in FP2, but he suffered a spin late on at Turn 13 after carrying too much speed into the corner. Verstappen barely touched the barrier with the rear wing, but while the car was not damaged, the incident ruined his soft tire lap and left him 1.4s off the pace in fifth place.

Romain Grosjean split the two Red Bulls in sixth for Haas; Alexander Albon’s struggles in Sochi continuing as he was 0.15s slower than his team-mate despite Verstappen’s spin. However, it was a bleaker picture at Toro Rosso, where Daniil Kvyat suffered more reliability concerns.

Kvyat missed out on plenty of running in FP3 in Singapore due to an oil leak and dropped out in Q1 as a result, and this weekend had started with a problem in FP1 that forced him to stop on the track and miss the majority of the session. Another reliability issue struck the Russian at his home race on Saturday when Kvyat reported a problem with his power unit and pulled over at Turn 1, ending up 19th overall after completing just four laps.

Behind Albon, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10, although the true pace of the Racing Point was also not seen. Racing Point looked competitive on Friday but Sergio Perez had a massive lock up at the tricky Turn 13 – where drivers are braking heavily while turning slightly left – and had to spin his car round in the run-off area after ruining a set of tires, ending his session after seven laps.

It looks set to be a close fight for Q3 in Sochi as the midfield remains closely matched with Grosjean in sixth less than 0.3s clear of Carlos Sainz in 13th. A number of drivers ran a little wide as they pushed the track limits – the astroturf in run-off areas still wet following heavy morning rain – but there was no significant damage from any excursions.

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Toro Rosso requests name change to Alpha Tauri in 2020

Toro Rosso has applied to change its name to Alpha Tauri from the 2020 Formula 1 season in order to promote a different Red Bull brand.

The Red Bull junior team has been known as Toro Rosso since entering the sport in 2006, when it took over the former Minardi team. Toro Rosso translates as Red Bull in Italian, but the team’s owners are now keen to promote its fashion brand Alpha Tauri, leading to the application for the name change.

Sources within Toro Rosso have confirmed the application to RACER. The Formula 1 Commission – including the teams – needs to approve the name change, and the teams have been requested to do so via an e-vote ahead of the next F1 Commission meeting on Friday.

If the request is approved, the team’s name will change from Red Bull Toro Rosso to Scuderia Alpha Tauri Honda, while the chassis will be renamed from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Scuderia Alpha Tauri. Those changes would be finalized when the 2020 entry list is published later in the year.

Alpha Tauri was founded as Red Bull’s fashion brand in 2016, with flagship stores in Graz and Salzburg in Austria.

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McLaren to return to Mercedes power from 2021

McLaren to return to Mercedes power from 2021

McLaren will return to using Mercedes power units in 2021 following the conclusion of its deal with Renault, signing an initial four-year deal.

Mercedes supplied McLaren until 2014, including the first year of the current hybrid power unit regulations. After finishing fifth in the constructors’ championship, McLaren switched to Honda but the move was beset by problems that led to a deterioration of the relationship, and culminated in the early termination of that deal. Despite explored the option of a return to Mercedes at the time, McLaren instead partnered with Renault on a three-year deal, but will now be supplied by Mercedes again when that contract expires at the end of next year.

“This agreement is an important step in our long-term plan to return to success in Formula 1,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said. “Mercedes is the benchmark, both as a team and a power unit, so it is natural we would seek to secure a relationship with the company for the next phase of our journey. This announcement reflects the confidence of our shareholders and is an important message to our investors, our team, partners and fans that we are committed to returning McLaren to the front of the field.”

McLaren won the 1998 constructors’ championship in partnership with Mercedes as well as three drivers’ titles between 1995 and 2014, and the new deal will coincide with new regulations in Formula 1. Team principal Andreas Seidl says confirming its power unit partner in advance of those changes is crucial if McLaren is to compete for podiums and wins once again.

Mercedes was a key ingredient to McLaren’s success in 1998, when Mika Hakkinen won the drivers’ title and the team claimed the constructors’ crown. Image by LAT

“2021 will be an important milestone for us as we continue our fight back to the front, so it is vital that we have the key elements in place now to enable us to prepare for the new era of the sport,” Seidl said. “We look forward to renewing our Mercedes relationship from 2021 onwards. At the same time Renault remains both a valued partner as well as a formidable competitor, and we will be focused on continuing our collaboration through the rest of this season and next.”

Mercedes has already confirmed a deal with Williams until 2025, and is expected to continue its partnership with Racing Point, leaving Renault without any customers from 2021.

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Shwartzman is the 2019 Formula 3 champion!

Shwartzman is the 2019 Formula 3 champion!

This was a day to remember for the Ferrari Driver Academy and 20-year-old Robert Shwartzman as the Russian driver’s second-place finish in the first F3 race of the Sochi F1 weekend.

Although he finished behind his fellow FDA apprentice Marcus Armstrong was enough to assure him of the championship crown in this year’s FIA Formula 3 series.

It was all the more the sweet given that this prestigious moment came at Shwartzman’s home race.

“I am feeling emotional and it’s not easy to find the right words to describe my feelings,” commented a jubilant Shwartzman.

“At the start of the season, I could never have imagined that I would experience a day like this. It’s not been an easy weekend and I felt under pressure so that I didn’t sleep much the last two nights, but I’m sure it will be a lot better tonight.”

Schwartzman is now on 202 points while the winner of Race-1, Marcus Armstrong, now moves up to third in the classification. The two FDA drivers were congratulated under the podium by Mattia Binotto and the Scuderia engineers who had watched the race from the garage.”

It was an action-packed race and Armstrong managed to pass Shwartzman and Jehan Daruvala at the start to take the lead. The track was very slippery at first because of a little bit of rain and the Safety Car was required twice.

Armstrong lost the lead on lap 9, dropping to fourth, but the New Zealander upped his pace and got past Shwartzman on the final lap before the chequered flag.

Final race. Race 2 takes place tomorrow at Sochi to bring the curtain down on this Formula 3 season. Robert and Marcus will start from the fourth row of the grid.

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Sochi FP3: Leclerc makes the difference as Ferrari show off

Sochi FP3: Leclerc makes the difference as Ferrari show off

Charles Leclerc ended the third and final free practice session of the Russian Grand Prix weekend fastest of all, as Ferrari gave a glimpse of their impressive hand ahead of qualifying.

The Reds clearly have the pace, and Leclerc maximised what he had with a best lap of 1:32.733 which was an impressive three-tenths of a second up on teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes appeared to give what they had but a four-tenths deficit in the high-power first sector was hard to make up for the W10 which preferred the tighter third sector.

Lewis Hamilton’s best shot was four-tenths shy of the top time and good enough for third on the timing screens, with Valtteri Bottas in fourth a couple of tenths down on his teammate.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth fastest albeit a massive 1.4 seconds off the benchmark time, the Blues having something of a torrid weekend in Russia as they face a host of penalties that compromise their race already.

Adding to their woes was the fact that late in the session the Dutchman launched over a kerb in Turn 2, and then spun-out in the final sector and tapped the barrier. The real Red Bull pace remains hidden for now.

Alex Albon was a couple of tenths down on his teammate, he was seventh.

Ahead of him, in sixth, was Romain Grosjean who found some strong pace this weekend in the finicky Haas, with Kevin Magnussen tenth in the sister car.

Nico Hulkenberg was quickest of the Renault powered brigade, the German eighth on the timesheets, a tenth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris in ninth.

Daniil Kvyat’s home race is turning into a nightmare of sorts as the local hero was sidelined for a large chunk of Friday, and in FP3 he only did four timed laps before he was pitted.

Toro Rosso confirmed later that a full PU change is required and the Kvyat would be sitting out qualifying.

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Vettel signs up for final Pirelli tyre test before Japan

Sebastian Vettel will take part in the final test of Pirelli’s tyre development programme for 2020 scheduled at Barcelona just days before the Japanese Grand Prix.

The test was added just recently to the tyre supplier’s schedule despite opposition from several midfield outfits who believed that the big three teams taking part in the test – Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull – will enjoy a head start over the rest of the field with regard to tyres for 2020.

However, the FIA pushed through the two-day Pirelli session that will take place in Spain on October 7-8.

Vettel will run on behalf of the Scuderia, while development drivers Esteban Ocon and Jake Dennis will handle testing duties respectively for Mercedes and Red Bull.

FIA steps in to force through extra 2020 Pirelli tyre test

“We’ve asked so many times different things of Pirelli, it was only our duty to do these tests when they ask us to go and test these latest evolutions,” commented Ferrari sporting director Laurent Mekies.

“Yes, logistically it is complicated. Sebastian will drive there and at the very end of the test he will fly to Japan.”

Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan admitted the Milton Keynes-based team felt compelled to take part in the test despite the proximity and importance of Suzuka.

“We are heading to Suzuka and with Honda we want to be in the best shape we can be and now we’re being pulled to Barcelona as well,” he said.

“We will do it. We’ll run a car. Mr Dennis is down to drive it, I believe he’s going to drive it.

“He’s driven our car plenty of times before and he’ll be fine, he’ll do a good job for us, and we’ll go and do a tyre test.”

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Brown: Mercedes an important step in our long-term F1 plan

Brown: Mercedes an important step in our long-term F1 plan

McLaren and Mercedes are reuniting from 2021 onwards it was confirmed today, reigniting a partnership that delivered four Formula 1 world titles and 77 Grand Prix victories.

The Woking outfit provided reasoning for the decision that took the Sochi F1 paddock by surprise today:

McLaren Racing and Mercedes-Benz announced today that the McLaren F1 team will be powered by Mercedes from 2021 until at least the 2024 season under a long-term agreement.

The agreement will bring McLaren and Mercedes together as customer team and power unit supplier for the first time since 2014.

Zak Brown, Chief Executive of McLaren Racing, commented: “This agreement is an important step in our long-term plan to return to success in Formula 1. Mercedes is the benchmark, both as a team and a power unit, so it is natural we would seek to secure a relationship with the company for the next phase of our journey.

“This announcement reflects the confidence of our shareholders and is an important message to our investors, our team, partners and fans that we are committed to returning McLaren to the front of the field.”

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High-Performance Powertrains, said: “Since the introduction of the hybrid regulations in 2014, it has been a cornerstone of our strategic approach to lead PU development with our works team and to deliver a benchmark product to our customer teams across the field.

“We are therefore delighted to expand our roster of partner teams and especially with an historic brand like McLaren. There is a shared history between the two organisations; and we look forward to achieving success together again in the future.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, McLaren Racing, commented: “2021 will be an important milestone for us as we continue our fight back to the front, so it is vital that we have the key elements in place now to enable us to prepare for the new era of the sport.

“We look forward to renewing our Mercedes relationship from 2021 onwards. At the same time Renault remains both a valued partner as well as a formidable competitor, and we will be focused on continuing our collaboration through the rest of this season and next.”

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, concluded: “We are delighted to welcome McLaren back to the Mercedes-Benz racing family with this new power unit supply agreement.

Although the two brands share a prestigious history, this new agreement is all about looking to the future and beginning a new era of power unit supply for the years ahead. McLaren have been putting in place the building blocks of their revival over recent seasons, including impressive performances this season with Renault power.

We hope that this new long-term agreement marks another milestone for McLaren as they aim to take the fight to the sport’s top teams, including our Mercedes works team.”

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Leclerc and Vettel edge Mercedes rivals in final practice

Leclerc and Vettel edge Mercedes rivals in final practice

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel have marked their territory before Saturday afternoon’s Russian Grand Prix qualifying, the Scuderia pair topping the third and final practice session in Sochi.

Leclerc’s best effort was 0.316s faster than his teammate’s best lap, while Lewis Hamilton was 0.396s adrift from the Monegasque, with all front-runners achieving their fastest laps on the soft tyre.

Valtteri Bottas clocked in fourth ahead Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who suffered a small spin at the end of the 60-minute session, while Haas’ Romain Grosjean led the mid-field charge.

2019 Russian Grand Prix Free Practice 3 – Results

After the morning’s announcements in Sochi pertaining to McLaren’s engine deal with Mercedes and Toro Rosso’s name change to AlphaTauri, the attention turned back to the action on the track for the final dress rehearsal before this afternoon’s qualifying.

Speaking of McLaren, Lando Norris was the first driver to head out, followed by a trio of Red Bull runners with Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly and Dany Kvyat in tow.

Amid the installation laps, Albon laid down the first markers, which remained the only timed laps in the first ten minutes of the session. But the British-Thai racer was soon overhauled by Norris’ 1m35.775s lap.

Fifteen minutes into the session, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers sprung into action and the big guns – bar Red Bull – took over.

Leclerc and Vettel, running on the soft compound, quickly demoted Norris to third while Hamilton and Bottas followed in fourth and fifth.

Just after 20 minutes of running, and for the second time this weekend, Kvyat was seen stranded on the side of the road, and heard quipping “Engine, engine…” over the radio.

The Russian will be starting at the tail end of the grid tomorrow because of an engine penalty but the lack of running brought about by his engine issue still wasn’t ideal for Toro Rosso.

Meanwhile, Leclerc lowered his best lap to 1m33.906 while Verstappen kick started his session with an effort that put him fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.

But the Dutchman, running on the medium tyre, then punched in second before Bottas knocked him to third. Further behind followed Hamilton, Vettel and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.

While Mercedes was in the mix, the Silver Arrows squad’s performance also appeared capped, an impression strengthened by Hamilton telling his crew “I don’t know where we find that time”, referring to his gap to Leclerc.

As a reminder, Mercedes has never been defeated four races in a row since the advent of the hybrid era in F1 in 2014.

As the circuit rubbered-in and improved in the final 15 minutes of FP3, a 1m33.304s from Vettel slot the German into second, 0.316s adrift from Leclerc who had raised the bar once again.

In the mind-field, the Haas forcefully entered the top-ten with a decent effort by Romain Grosjean pushing the Frenchman up to P6, right in front of Albon, Hulkenberg, Norris and Magnussen.

Verstappen endured a moment after leaping over the kerb at Turn 2 and then sustaining a spin at Turn 13, touching the outside barrier.

The session concluded with both Ferraris at the top and Mercedes perhaps left with more questions than answers.

But could Red Bull and Verstappen actually settle everyone’s score? The Dutchman has the car to do it…

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Toro Rosso requests name change to AlphaTauri for 2020

Scuderia Toro Rosso has requested a name change for 2020, the Red Bull junior squad planning to call itself AlphaTauri in the future.

The name change requires the approval of the F1 commercial right holder Liberty Media – likely a formality – and a favourable ‘e-vote’ from members of the F1 Commission, which includes the teams.

Teams are expected to cast their vote by next Thursday.

Gasly focused on personal development, not return to Red Bull

The purpose of the Faenza-based outfit’s re-branding is to promote the AlphaTauri fashion line launched by Red Bull two years ago.

The Toro Rosso name appeared on the grid in 2006 when Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz took over Minardi, thus extending the energy drink’s presence in F1.

Over the years, the team has been used as a training ground for Red Bull’s burgeoning talent, the likes of which have included Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and many others…

Vettel gave the squad its moment of glory and single Grand Prix win at Monza in 2008.

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McLaren and Mercedes confirm engine deal from 2021

McLaren and Mercedes confirm engine deal from 2021

McLaren and Mercedes have officially announced a power unit supply deal from 2021 that will reunite the two partners for the first time since 2014.

The rumor of a renewed association between McLaren and Mercedes emerged over the summer but gathered pace this week in Sochi, and has now been made official.

“This agreement is an important step in our long-term plan to return to success in Formula 1.,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown.

“Mercedes is the benchmark, both as a team and a power unit, so it is natural we would seek to secure a relationship with the company for the next phase of our journey.

“This announcement reflects the confidence of our shareholders and is an important message to our investors, our team, partners and fans that we are committed to returning McLaren to the front of the field.”

McLaren has clear target for Sochi, and a balancing act

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff welcomed McLaren back to the German manufacturer’s racing family.

“Although the two brands share a prestigious history, this new agreement is all about looking to the future and beginning a new era of power unit supply for the years ahead.

“McLaren have been putting in place the building blocks of their revival over recent seasons, including impressive performances this season with Renault power.

“We hope that this new long-term agreement marks another milestone for McLaren as they aim to take the fight to the sport’s top teams, including our Mercedes works team.”

Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director with Zak Brown (USA) McLaren Executive Director.

McLaren F1 boss Andreas Seidl insisted that McLaren would continue to value its current partnership with Renault in 2020, the final year of the pair’s partnership.

“2021 will be an important milestone for us as we continue our fight back to the front, so it is vital that we have the key elements in place now to enable us to prepare for the new era of the sport,” said Seidl.

“We look forward to renewing our Mercedes relationship from 2021 onwards.

“At the same time Renault remains both a valued partner as well as a formidable competitor, and we will be focused on continuing our collaboration through the rest of this season and next.”

McLaren and Mercedes initiated their relationship back in 1995 and remained associated until the Woking-based outfit’s ill-fated decision to switch to Honda in 2014.

Together, McLaren and Mercedes conquered 78 Grand Prix wins and three drivers’ titles, two with Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999 and one with Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

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Morning After: Where Do We Stand?

Morning After: Where Do We Stand?

A day that saw mixed signals from each of the big three teams, it’s all still to play for this weekend in Sochi.

Last week in Singapore, Friday practice might have turned out to be somewhat misleading, but at least you could try to make sense of it – good luck doing it with this one.

Sure, Max Verstappen is out in front with his 1:33.162 three tenths faster than Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, but with Mercedes not quite in the mix, Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel a full second slower, and long-run times that are all over the place, you’d have a better chance trying to make sense of Rich Energy’s business model.

If I had to make a bet – and factoring in Verstappen’s impending grid penalty for his new ICE – I’d go with Ferrari, if only because Leclerc already seems to be right on it. Still, it would be no great surprise to see Mercedes return the favour from last weekend and show-up Saturday with a suddenly front-running car, but for now, it’s the Scuderia’s to lose.

Friday Figures

1:38.669. Charles Leclerc’s average time in a four-lap “race sim” on soft tyres – obviously not a lot of laps, but Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, and Max Verstappen all did similar-length stints, and all were slower.

1.053 seconds. Margin by which last-placed Robert Kubica trailed teammate George Russell in FP2. Suffice to say, he seems to really dislike driving that car.

58%. Chance of rain during Saturday qualifying. Here’s hoping.

Quick Hits

Not a great day for Alex Albon, who was unable to set a quick lap after damaging his floor early in FP2. Add-in that like Verstappen, he is also taking a grid penalty for a new ICE, and this weekend looms as a particularly tough test for any driver, let alone a rookie.

The big news to come out of Sochi on Friday, it seems McLaren are set for a return to Mercedes power in 2021. Obviously it’s still not ideal to be a customer as a team with championship ambitions, but the Renault deal always seemed like a stop-gap measure after the Honda deal fell apart, and as Joe Saward pointed-out, it probably puts them in a better position to sell themselves to a future manufacturer.

Even more positive news from the family of Juan Manuel Correa, with the young driver now “fully conscious” after his accident in Belgium. Hell of a fighter, that kid.

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McLaren return to Mercedes engine power from 2021

McLaren return to Mercedes engine power from 2021

The McLaren Formula 1 team will revert to using Mercedes engines from the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship season, the BBC reported on Friday from the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi.

McLaren and Mercedes Statement on Power Unit supply:

The current agreement with Renault Sport Racing will expire at the end of 2020

McLaren Racing and Renault Sport Racing have confirmed today that their Formula 1 power unit supply agreement will not continue when the current three-year contract expires at the end of 2020.

Zak Brown, Chief Executive of McLaren Racing, commented: “Renault has been instrumental to our Formula 1 recovery plan and a fantastic partner to McLaren Racing.

“Despite its understandable focus on its factory team, Renault has always been fair, consistent and transparent in our relationship and we thank the whole team at Viry for the excellent service provided to McLaren in F1 over the past two years.

“Of course, we enter the final year of our relationship in 2020 and are focused on continuing our challenge together of closing the performance gap to the front of the field.”

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High-Performance Powertrains, said: “Since the introduction of the hybrid regulations in 2014, it has been a cornerstone of our strategic approach to lead PU development with our works team and to deliver a benchmark product to our customers across the field.

“We are therefore delighted to expand our roster of partner teams and especially with a historic brand like McLaren. There is a shared history between the two organisations, and we look forward to achieving success together again in the future.”

In reaction to the announcement Renault F1 boss, Cyril Abiteboul, said, “Since our partnership began, McLaren has gone from ninth to fourth position in the Constructors’ Championship.

“We can therefore consider this a very successful relationship. However, while looking beyond the terms of the current contract, which concludes at the end of 2020, it was apparent that Renault and McLaren have different ambitions for the future,” he added.

McLaren, who have used Renault engines since last year, have clinched a deal with Mercedes until at least the end of 2024, resurrecting a partnership that ran from 2005 to 2014.

The Woking-based team then used Honda engines for three years before switching to Renault and will see out the final year of its contract with the French company in 2020, the report said.

The BBC, who broke the story, added that McLaren’s decision rested on two key factors – the Mercedes engine has been stronger than Renault’s since turbo-hybrid engines were introduced in 2014 and a customer supply with the German company is reportedly cheaper.

Mercedes supplies its factory team as well as Racing Point and Williams. McLaren’s move to Mercedes in 2021 will leave Renault with only its own factory team using its engines.

McLaren, whose drivers are Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, are fourth in the F1 constructors’ standings behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull with six races remaining this year.

The last time McLaren won a Grand Prix was in Brazil 2012 with Jenson Button driving the Mercedes powered MP4-27.

McLaren powered by Mercedes won 77 times during a successful F1 partnership that began in the mid-nineties and delivered three drivers’ titles, a couple with Mika Hakkinen in 1998-1999 and one with Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

Big Question: Is McLaren return to Merc power a good call?

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Correa now ‘fully conscious’, but crucial surgery lies ahead

In its latest update, Juan Manuel Correa’s family has revealed that the F2 racer is now “fully conscious” and ready to undergo a crucial operation on Sunday to his lower right leg.

The American-Ecuadorian driver who was involved in the horrendous crash that claimed the life of Anthoine Hubert in the Formula 2 feature race at Spa, was transferred to a London hospital and put in an induced coma for several weeks.

Correa’s pulmonary complications meant that doctors could not operate on his lower legs, but a favourable evolution of his lungs now allows the 20-year-old to undergo a complicate surgery procedure that will hopefully save his right leg.

Correa taken off life support but ‘race against time’ begins

“Earlier this week, Juan Manuel was transferred to a new hospital in London, England that specialises in orthopedic surgeries as the focus shifts from his lungs to his lower body extremities,” stated Correa’s family in its latest update.

“Juan Manuel is now fully conscious, and his lungs have recovered much faster than anticipated. His overall physical improvement and willpower has doctors impressed.

“The main objective this week has been to get Juan Manuel in the best condition possible for his surgery on Sunday that will be 10+ hours in duration.

“Sunday’ surgery will be crucial in determining Juan Manuel’s future. Doctors will have, for the first time since the accident, complete access to the wounds on his lower right leg. They will be able to determine the actual level of damage to his tibia, ankle, and foot.

“During surgery, they will save what can be saved and removed what needs to be removed in order to rebuild his right lower leg to the best possible condition. The surgeons are the top in their field and are cautiously optimistic given the fast-paced recovery that Juan Manuel has had in the previous week.

“The injuries that Juan Manuel sustained are severe, and the surgery procedure is very complex.

“Doctors gave Juan Manuel the option of right foot reconstructive amputation. He has chosen NOT to have the amputation and to proceed with the surgery, understanding all the challenges involved.”

We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for Juan Manual on Sunday as the Sauber junior driver and his doctors tackle one more big challenge.

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JM Correa Update: Fully Conscious

JM Correa Update: Fully Conscious

The family of Formula 2 driver Juan Manuel Correa have released another update, with their son having regained full consciousness after his horrific accident at the Belgian Grand Prix.

The statement, posted to Correa’s Instragram, reads as follows:

Earlier this week, Juan Manuel was transferred to a new hospital in London, England that specializes in orthopedic surgeries as the focus shifts from his lungs to his lower body extremities. Juan Manuel is now fully conscious, and his lungs have recovered much faster than anticipated. His overall physical improvement and willpower has doctors impressed. The main objective this week has been to get Juan Manuel in the best condition possible for his surgery on Sunday that will be 10+ hours in duration.

Sunday’s surgery will be crucial in determining Juan Manuel’s future. Doctors will have, for the first time since the accident, complete access to the wounds on his lower right leg. They will be able to determine the actual level of damage to his tibia, ankle, and foot. During surgery, they will save what can be saved and removed what needs to be removed in order to rebuild his right lower leg to the best possible condition. The surgeons are the top in their field and are cautiously optimistic given the fast-paced recovery that Juan Manuel has had in the previous week.

The injuries that Juan Manuel sustained are severe, and the surgery procedure is very complex. Doctors gave Juan Manuel the option of right foot reconstructive amputation. He has chosen NOT to have the amputation and to proceed with the surgery, understanding all the challenges involved.

Additional details will be provided on Juan Manuel’s condition when available.

#StayStrongJM

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