Now Formula 1 pre-season testing is finished, it’s usually about the time I find a fence to sit on.
Don’t worry, I’m still going to do that in a bit. But first I thought I’d take an educated guess at the final constructors’ championship order at the end of this season, based on what we’ve seen in Barcelona, and also what we’ve heard. So, here goes:
1. Mercedes 2. Red Bull 3. Ferrari 4. McLaren 5. Racing Point 6. Renault 7. AlphaTauri 8. Haas 9. Alfa Romeo 10. Williams
You don’t need to screenshot that one, it’s going to be preserved in the RACER archives forever so you’ll be able to tell me how wrong I was come the end of November.
As I mentioned, that’s based on a few different aspects rather than just the raw one-lap pace of any team, or the potential pecking order in Australia. Testing never gives the full picture because it’s one that evolves — different tracks suit different cars to a greater or lesser extent, development, weather, driver changes — there is so much that can influence the final standings.
Even if you nail the competitive order from pre-season testing, all you’re doing is confirming who was quickest with those cars in those conditions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in February.
For example, in week two Alfa Romeo test driver Robert Kubica’s quickest lap time was a 1m16.942s set on the C5 compound, while Alfa racer Kimi Raikkonen did a 1m17.415s on the same compound on the final day. I’m told the car was in comparable condition, so do you really think the half a second gap means Raikkonen was getting everything out of it on his run?
Anyway, all of that said, there seemed to be a picture emerging that the grid has become closer to a three-tier championship more than a two-tier one as seen last year, but every team will have someone to race with.
Hamilton and Mercedes have been typically fast, but reliability has been atypically shaky. Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT
Starting at the front, Mercedes definitely looks the class of the field. The car is quick on low and high fuel, but there is a question mark over reliability. The Mercedes power unit was not its usual bulletproof self — namely in the Williams but also on a couple of occasions in the works car — and that’s even before it will have been turned up to 11 during a race weekend.
All of the top three appeared to be hiding a chunk of performance, which means all three should extend their advantage over the rest of the midfield once we get down to the serious business of racing. How much performance was being held back is the big question.
On the face of it, Red Bull has the edge over Ferrari and will be giving Mercedes a real run for its money at certain tracks, but lagging behind at others. The comments were very confident ones from Christian Horner’s team, so perhaps it believes it has more to unleash than its rivals, but either way it’s good to see a Red Bull that expects to hit the ground running.
Does Red Bull have even more pace than its 2020 car has yet shown? Image by Steven Tee/LAT
Ferrari went for the opposite approach and showed very little of its hand, and then suggested it had shown a lot. Mattia Binotto rejected a Mercedes claim that the power unit was being run in a much lower mode than on Ferrari’s customer teams, and also talked up the threat from Racing Point.
But the race simulations don’t show such a threat, and Ferrari was burned last year when it thought it had the fastest car based on testing. Leaving no stone unturned this pre-season, the Scuderia is definitely the team to watch closest in Melbourne to understand if it has slipped back or offers a genuine title threat. It’s a much bigger spectrum of potential performance than most.
Behind those three, there’s another trio that look set for a big battle. Racing Point caught the eye with the Mercedes-inspired 2020 car, both in terms of looks and pace, but one-lap pace was stronger than race potential during this second week.
While the focus was on Racing Point, McLaren was quietly going about its work, amassing the miles and posting quick lap times on harder tires that were really the team’s quickest of the day but betrayed a car capable of matching what Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were doing. Race pace was even stronger, and with a much more evolutionary car and settled team than Racing Point, fourth place is certainly not a foregone conclusion.
That’s certainly true when Renault’s best laps are thrown into the mix. Some quick times towards the end of testing and solid race running from Daniel Ricciardo makes it a likely three-way battle for fourth. Renault’s hopes could well rest on how much it wants to focus on 2021, and whether the new front end concept on the RS20 is easy to develop and exploit.
Renault looks like a dark horse in more ways than one. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT
After that comes a group where three of the four teams were somewhat disappointing. AlphaTauri looked solid – actually, it looked great, because that is the best livery on the grid – but given the amount of hardware it shares with Red Bull, plus the progress Honda appears to have made over the past few seasons, it didn’t appear to be as close to McLaren/Racing Point/Renault as you’d expect.
Haas also didn’t tear up any trees, but it’s important to remember just how far off that team was at times last year. The raw pace from previous seasons doesn’t appear to be present in the 2020 car, but as a more consistent offering it should provide fewer headaches from one week to the next. And it appears to have an advantage over Alfa Romeo, although the Sauber-run team is comfortably within range if Haas suffers any repeat of last year’s woes.
Williams appears to be in much better shape than in 2019, although that’s a pretty low bar to clear. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT
And the same can be said for Williams — the one team of the bottom four that can’t really be called a disappointment this winter. OK, improving on last year’s car was never going to be that difficult, but the gap to the rest of the midfield was so big that it was unrealistic to expect it to be wiped out in one go.
The FW43 is slowest on qualifying pace but in touch with the rest of the field, to the extent George Russell will be targeting more than 19th place in Melbourne. But it’s in race trim where the car looks so much better, and really able to mix it with the likes of Haas and Alfa Romeo. It’s a definite step forward.
The latter part is crucial, as at least one team has confirmed they do not know any details, and it suggests they won’t be told. The FIA put out the statement after all press calls with the governing body and Ferrari were done for pre-season — and there were many over the two weeks — so Thursday’s media sessions in Melbourne are likely to be just as fascinating, if not more so, than Friday’s practice ones.
Daniel Ricciardo was happy to see his name at the top of the timesheet mid-day in Barcelona, but the Aussie also cast a positive view on Renault’s overall pre-season preparations.
Renault saved the best for last when Ricciardo fired off a hot lap in the final hour of Friday’s morning session, putting a 1m16.276s on the board that represented his best ever performance around the Circuit de Catalunya.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done a ‘low 16’ around here, so that’s the quickest I’ve ever been around Barcelona,” Ricciardo said.
“I’ve been coming here since 2007. Long time going around and around, but I finally got a good lap!”
Renault ran through its various programs without much drama during its two weeks of testing. Despite flashing the R.S.20’s speed on the final day of running, Ricciardo insists there’s still a lot of work ahead to improve Renault’s 2020 contender.
“Testing hasn’t been like perfect all the way through,” he added.
“It’s nice to see your name up there but obviously come racing we know we still have some work to do. We also know we’re not the quickest car right now.
“I think yesterday was a tougher one for us, I think we resolved a bit of that today. We’re nearly there.
“We’ve improved the overall balance of the car, worked through some set-up changes and our reliability has been strong.
“I believe we’ve cranked up more kilometres on the engine tests back at Viry than we’ve ever had before, so this combined with our results over the two tests are ultimately encouraging signs ahead of the start of the season in Australia.”
DS Techeetah’s António Félix da Costa will start from pole position in today’s ABB FIA Formula E Marrakesh e-Prix, ahead of BMW Andretti’s Max Guenther and Porsche’s Andre Lotterer.
However current championship leader Mitch Evans – who won the last race in Mexico – will start from the back of the grid, after the Jaguar failed to cross the line to start his flying lap before the chequered flag came out. It’s a big blow for the New Zealander, who had been fastest in second practice.
Instead, the initial pace in the first group was set by da Costa. Having already led the field in first practice on Friday, he set a solid qualifying time of 1:17.640s which was almost two tenths faster than BMW Andretti’s Alexander Sims and Audi’s Lucas di Grassi.
However the disadvantage of being first out on track meant that of the five drivers to set a time – which also included Envison Racing’s Sam Bird and Mercedes’ Stoffel Vandoorne – only da Costa had done enough to make it into the superpole shootout.
As the track cleaned up, the second group saw a fastest time of 1:17.562s from Sims’ team mate Guenther and two hundredths faster than Lotterer, followed by Edoardo Mortara in the Venturi. Nyck de Vries was fourth fastest for Mercedes, but hit the wall before completing his flying lap.
The honours in group three went to Sébastien Buemi, who set the benchmark time of 1:17.779s in the Nissan which was just ahead of Mahindra’s Jérôme d’Ambrosio, while Evan’s team mate James Calado was third fastest ahead of Envision Virgin’s Robin Frijns who tapped the wall on his run.
The final group was dominated by the two Geox Dragon Penske cars with Brendon Hartley topping the times with a time of 1:17.944s ahead of team mate Nico Muller. However neither was fast enough to make it into the top six, meaning they would not take part in the superpole shootout.
Instead it was Buemi was the first to run, and set a time of 1:17.811s, but that was quickly bettered by de Vries whose car seemed none the worse for its earlier close encounter with the wall on its way to clocking a of 1:17.590s.
Pushing to the ragged edge, da Costa then sliced off another four tenths as he claimed provisional pole with a lap of 1:17.158s. That was too rich for Mortara who was only able to slot into third place between de Vries and Buemi.
Having claimed pole position last time out in Mexico, Lotterer ended up a tenth short of usurping da Costa from the top spot. As final man out, Guenther looked to have the measure of the Portuguese driver and set purple times in the first two sectors only to run wide at turn 11 which left him in second place in the final times.
Outside the top six, d’Ambrosio took seventh ahead of Sims and Oliver Rowland (Nissan) with Calado completing the top ten.
Having sat out Friday’s practice session due to illness, Jean-Eric-Vergne was recovered enough to take part in qualifying. Despite coming bottom of group 2, his time was still fast enough to secure him 11th place on the grid, meaning that he will line up alongside Hartley.
Di Grassi and Frijns will pair up on the seventh row, followed by Bird and Pascal Wehrlein (Mahindra), then Muller and Vandoorne. Daniel Abt (Audi) will start from 19th ahead of Oliver Turvey (NIO) in 20th.
Neel Jani took a provisional 21st place but is under investigation for a technical infringement that might see him stripped of his qualifying time.
Former F1 driver Felipe Massa had a disappointing outing in the Venturi for 20th place on the grid, putting him ahead of a back row consisting of Ma Qinghua in the second NIO and the unfortunate Evans.
The Williams F1 team has revealed that it was forced to change its programme for the final day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“We had a small issue with the engine in the afternoon,” driver George Russell told Crash.net after the end of the session.
“It made some funny noises and I started losing a bit of power. I don’t know if there’s an official word,” he continued. “We had planned to do two full race sims, and we only got one-and-a-half in.”
Williams uses customer power units supplied by Mercedes High Performance Powertrains. While the Silver Arrows works team also had a number of engine-related glitches during the six days of testing in Spain, Williams have been hit even harder.
However the team says that it is confident that Mercedes will get to the root of any systemic problems with this year’s power unit in time for the first race of the season in Melbourne in two weeks time.
“Mercedes is pushing the limits at the moment, and I’m sure they’ll go back and review everything,” Russell stated. “I just get in and drive, I leave that to the guys at Mercedes and here. Obviously not ideal, but it’s one of those things.”
“We have every confidence that Mercedes HPP will resolve these prior to actually racing,” confirmed deputy team principal Claire Williams.
“Everyone’s probably a little frustrated because we’ve obviously got, as everyone does, a very full programme to get through,” she added.
“When you lose the number of kilometres that we’ve lost it is frustrating, because it just means you can’t prepare as best as you’d like to do ahead of going to Melbourne.”
Overall though, Williams was happy with how the test had gone – which was, any way you look at it, unquestionably a vast improvement on the disastrous start to their 2019 campaign.
“Everyone in the team, here and at the factory, has done a fantastic job to ensure we managed to complete the majority of our planned programme,” she commented.
“It’s still early days, but the car certainly looks better than last year’s and that’s what we wanted to demonstrate, that we can make progress.
“We now have some time to go through all the data we’ve gathered in order to make sure we have the optimum configuration going into Melbourne.
“We will continue to fight hard to bring continual improvement to the car and look forward to seeing it take to the track in Australia.”
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has declared himself ‘satisfied’ with the team’s performance in pre-season testing, after six days or running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Unlike last year, when they were the toast of testing and went to Melbourne buoyed up by a dominant performance, Ferrari seemed somewhat subdued throughout this year’s sessions.
Most rival teams in the F1 paddock felt that the Scuderia was ‘sandbagging’ and not showing the true potential of the new SF1000. However, Sebastian Vettel topped the times on Thursday with a time of 1:16.841s after completing 142 laps.
The final day saw his team mate Charles Leclerc set the fourth fastest time of the entire test with a lap of 1:16.360s on the fastest C5 tyre that gave rise to a real sense of hope for the devoted Tifosi.
Even so, that time was slower that Ferrari managed here last year – while virtually all its rivals were putting in faster times than they had 12 months previously.
“We’re not playing games, this is our true performance at the moment,” he admitted. “How good or bad it is, it’s only after the first three races we will have a clearer picture.”
He denied that he was feeling undue pressure from the expectations of the fans and the Ferrari top brass.
“The pressure is there. The pressure should be seen as a motivation, not a drama,” he said. “When you’re not going as fast as you would like or you should, you get the pressure.
“As Ferrari, we only have one objective. If you are not reaching it, you cannot be relieved.
Even so, Binotto insisted that he wasn’t overly concerned at this early stage. “I am satisfied with how these winter tests have gone, from the completed programme to the way the team has worked,” he said on Friday.
“We approached these two test sessions in a very different way from last year, using the first three days to get to know our car in all the possible configurations.”
Binotto explained that the team had been focussed on race weekend simulations rather than simply trying to go for fastest laps.
“The performance over a dry lap isn’t yet where we want it to be, while the indications are relatively better when it comes to reliability and long runs too,” he said.
However he admitted that the results were still “not yet positive enough” for where the team needs to be if it’s to stop Mercedes clinching a seventh consecutive driver/team double championship in 2020.
“We will head back to Maranello with a huge amount of data to analyse in the knowledge that we have a range of work to do,” he accepted.
“We are where we thought we’d be. We knew we had put a lot of drag, we knew the power unit performance, so that is the speed we were expecting. The others are a lot faster on the straights, that is the situation.”
“But as a team we feel ready for the Australian Grand Prix, which will give us a clearer idea of where we stand.”
Lewis Hamilton said he was pleased with the progress that Mercedes had made with this year’s W11, after completing six days of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
However he admitted that a number of issues had left the team concerned about the reliability of the power unit, with just two weeks remaining for them to iron out the kinks before the first race of the season.
“The car’s feeling like a step forward from last year, but it’s clear we’ve still got a few issues we need to iron out ahead of Melbourne,” he said on Friday.
“I’ve got total confidence in the team and know they’ll be doing everything they can to make sure we arrive in Australia in a good place.
The first chink in the Mercedes armour came midway through the first week of testing, when Valtteri Bottas was sidelined with an electrical issue. The team swapped out the whole engine and shipped the affected unit back to Brackley for analysis.
This week, Hamilton himself lost time when his car suffered an oil pressure issue. The team decided to change the engine again in order to investigate the problem, limiting Hamilton to just 14 laps for the day.
Worryingly, the issue seemed similar to one that had previously occurred earlier in the test on Nicholas Latifi’s Williams, which uses a Mercedes customer power unit.
“We’ve had a good winter test,” Hamilton insisted. “But it’s not been perfect. We have found that we’ve still got plenty of problems that we are trying to iron out.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” he admitted. “But it’s never a bad thing necessarily to discover through testing.
“Normally in the pre-season we have much more confidence in the reliability so it has not been perfect,” he added, pointed out: “We are on our second or third engine.
“Is it a concern? Yeah. For sure,” he acknowledged. “It’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us. But I have every confidence in the guys back at the factory, that they will do the best job they can in the next two weeks to make sure we start on the right foot.
“Otherwise, I think our performance has been quite good,” he continued. “The laps we’ve got, the mileage – apart from [Thursday] – and the processes and things we discovered along the way.
“I’ve no idea where we stand compared to the others. The team will probably have a better idea of that,” he added. “But I understand the car well
“I’m comfortable and confident in terms of getting a car in Melbourne knowing that I can attack and extract the most from it. But if that’s going to be enough to be ahead of the others, we’ll have to find out.”
Hamilton finished the test having completed a total of 466 laps (1347 miles) in his time in the car. Mercedes were the top teams in terms of overall mileage, both in the list of individual team and across its stable of customer squads compared with those using Ferrari, Renault and Honda units.
Lewis Hamilton has expressed his frustrations with Pirelli’s 2020 tyres after concluding pre-season testing in Barcelona, believing pressures are excessive.
Pirelli initial plan for this season included the introduction of an all-new construction, designed to cope with the increasing amount of downforce generated by F1’s current crop of cars.
But teams were far from satisfied with the new tyre which they experienced during preliminary tests last year. The unanimous rejection has forced Pirelli to retain last season’s spec, but which uses higher pressures.
‘They brought 2020 tyres, which were worse,” explained Hamilton, referring to Pirelli’s initial 2020-spec product. “It’s easier for us to go into another season with the same tyres.
“The fact that they pump them up more isn’t so great because they looked fine last year, but they’re definitely way too inflated.”
“I think we just need to make sure that we always want to be working with the best technology, the best technology partners moving forwards.
“We’re just going to keep on pushing them to try to do better, and these tyres will be OK for this year.”
Formula 1 is one year away from implementing a whole new set of regulations destined to improve the show. But Hamilton insists that tyres should not be left out of the equation on race day.
“Reduce aero and give us better tyres,” he said. “That’s a very, very important line there: we need better tyres.
“We’ve been talking for years and years and years and years about tyre degradation, thermal degradation, and we sat in the meeting room with Pirelli in Brazil and they had never heard of the thermal degradation. They said, ‘This is the first we hear about it!'”
Last year, the FIA issued a target letter to Pirelli for 2020 in which the governing body outlined the criteria and mandate Pirelli would need to follow for the elaboration of its compounds.
Hamilton suggested that Pirelli perhaps wasn’t the sole party responsible for the characteristics of this year’s tyres.
“We’re trying to communicate with them better,” said the Mercedes star.
“The target letter, I don’t know who’s written it this year but they obviously didn’t do a good job for the 2020 tyres.
“But I hope for 2021 that we have a better target and one that they’re able to meet or a manufacturer is able to meet.”
Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes has plenty of problems to address ahead of the Australian Grand Prix despite setting the pace in pre-season testing.
Valtteri Bottas was quickest in both tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with his 1m15.732s from the first test standing as the fastest overall. Race pace also looked strong, but there were reliability concerns including a stoppage for Hamilton on Thursday, and the defending champion admitted the two tests have uncovered issues that Mercedes has to work on.
“I think we’ve had a good winter test,” Hamilton said. “It’s not been perfect, and we’ve found that we’ve got plenty of problems that we are trying to iron out. I don’t know how long it will take to iron out, but that’s never a bad thing to discover them through testing.
“I don’t know where everybody else is, I think I understand the car well so I’m comfortable and confident in terms of getting in the car for Melbourne and knowing that I’ll be able to attack and extract the most from it but whether that’s going to be enough to be ahead of others, we’ll find out.”
Despite ending the six days of testing with the highest mileage, Mercedes suffered power unit issues on both its own car and on the Williams that Hamilton admitted is a worry ahead of the first race.
“It’s a concern, yeah for sure,” he said. “Normally in this pre-season testing we’re much more confident in the reliability, so it’s not been perfect for us. I think we’re on our second engine already. It’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us, but I have every confidence in the guys back in the factory that they will analyze and do the best they can in these next two weeks to make sure we start off on the right foot.”
The top three drivers were covered by just 0.08s on the final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Valtteri Bottas quickest for Mercedes as the softest tire compounds were used.
Bottas’ time of 1m15.732s from the first week went unbeaten, but a number of drivers carried out a soft tire lap at similar times in the day. There was a flurry of activity in the morning when Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and George Russell all posted attempts on the C5 compound within a matter of seconds, with Leclerc edging out the Mercedes and Renault.
However, Ricciardo then lowered his best to a 1m16.276s with a time that would leave him fastest at the lunch break and would only be beaten by Bottas and Max Verstappen in the afternoon.
While Bottas also used the C5 tire to improve and get down to a 1m16.196s, Verstappen’s best lap was on the harder C4, as a 1m16.269s left him second overall.
With Ricciardo third, Leclerc fourth and Hamilton fifth, it was Esteban Ocon — in the Renault during the afternoon — and Sergio Perez who also posted quick times. Although the Racing Point has looked good throughout pre-season and ended up with a 1m16.634s, McLaren’s best time of 1m16.820s on the C4 tire was not its most eye-catching lap.
You had to go beyond the final numbers to see the strength of Sainz’s runs for McLaren. Image by Zak Mauger/LAT
Carlos Sainz was immediately posting quick times during sunnier conditions in the opening hour and a 1m17.2s on C2 tires was a strong marker of the team’s pace. On this evidence, McLaren, Racing Point and Renault will all head to Australia targeting the title of best of the rest.
Sainz also enjoyed significant mileage, 163 laps being nine more than Perez and second only to Leclerc on 181.
Russell’s best time was within 0.7s of Bottas as Williams finished strongly, and 146 laps made up for some of the time lost to power unit problems during pre-season. However, there was still what was described as a “small issue with the engine” in the afternoon, and Russell believes the team remains the slowest on the grid.
Haas split running and Romain Grosjean was within a second of the ultimate pace while completing 86 laps, but Kevin Magnussen was hampered by a clutch issue early in his afternoon running. That kept the Dane in the garage for much of the session and he added just 29 laps to the total, partly thanks to a busy final half hour.
The opposite was true of Alfa Romeo — the only team not to get within a second of the fastest time of the day — as Kimi Raikkonen’s race simulation was cut short and the team opted to pack up early.
Max Verstappen is all set and ready to go after two weeks of pre-season testing during which the Red Bull driver explored – and found – the limits of the team’s RB16.
Verstappen came close to stealing Valtteri Bottas thunder in the closing minutes of Friday’s final day of running at the Circuit de Catalunya, clocking in P2 overall and just 0.073s behind the Mercedes pacesetter.
However, beyond his performance runs in Barcelona, the Dutchman was especially happy with the overall behavior of Red Bull’s 2020 car and the understanding garnered during the two weeks of testing.
The FIA announced on Friday that it had reached a confidential “agreement” with Scuderia Ferrari regarding its 2019 power unit, the legality of which was called into question by some of its rivals last year.
Ferrari was the focus of the governing body’s scrutiny in the latter part of the 2019 season after rumors had emerged that Maranello’s engineers had found a subtle way to circumvent engine fuel flow restrictions.
While Ferrari was never officially found in breach of F1’s technical regulations, the FIA issued two technical directives ahead of the US and Brazilian Grands Prix clarifying the rules regarding fuel flow.
It now appears that the clever ploy exploited by Ferrari’s creative engineers last season was certainly frowned upon by the FIA, although its trick apparently did not justify a formal reprimand or punishment.
“The FIA announces that, after thorough technical investigations, it has concluded its analysis of the operation of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit and reached a settlement with the team,” said the FIA in Friday’s statement.
“The specifics of the agreement will remain between the parties.
“The FIA and Scuderia Ferrari have agreed to a number of technical commitments that will improve the monitoring of all Formula 1 Power Units for forthcoming championship seasons as well as assist the FIA in other regulatory duties in Formula 1 and in its research activities on carbon emissions and sustainable fuels.”
While Ferrari’s rivals would likely consider its fuel flow stratagem as being clearly either legal or illegal, the FIA has evidently chosen a to judge the ruse with a nuanced view, an irresolute attitude that likely won’t impress the Scuderia’s rivals.
Valtteri Bottas concluded pre-season testing with the fastest lap on Friday, allowing Mercedes to retain its bragging rights as the best performing team in Barcelona.
Bottas logged 60 laps in the afternoon session, setting a best time on the C5 tyre of 1m16.196s, that just beat Max Verstappen’s best by 0.073s. The Finn also ends the week with the best lap over in testing, his milestone 1m15.732s withstanding the test of time in Week 2.
Daniel Ricciardo’s morning benchmark put the Renault driver third third overall, 0.080s adrift from pacesetter Bottas.
Charles Leclerc’s effort earlier in the day left the Ferrari driver fourth at the end of the session, the Monegasque ending his afternoon with a whopping 166 laps on the board.
Bottas, Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen took over from their respective teammates after the lunch break while the rest of the field remained unchanged.
Ocon’s afternoon 67-lap tally surpassed Ricciardo’s morning workout, but the Frenchman couldn’t match his teammate’s pace, concluding his day P6, over a tenth away from the Aussie.
Kevin Magnussen’s program was hampered by a clutch issue on his VF-20 that left the Dane stranded in the Haas garage and with just 26 laps or f running.
Valtteri Bottas says next month’s opening round of the 2020 F1 world championship in Melbourne will once again see a three-way fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, although the Finn stopped short of predicting the winner.
Mercedes form in pre-season testing coupled with Ferrari’s subdued performance suggests a dual down under between the Silver Arrows squad and its Red Bull rival.
But Bottas warned against drawing conclusions from pre-season testing, insisting the usual caveats apply.
“From testing, it’s impossible to draw detailed conclusions of where you are,” said the Finn.
“We felt we really struggled last year in testing, and then we were really strong form in Melbourne, so you never know what other packages teams are bringing to the first race from testing.
“Even from testing times, it’s tricky to read. I still think it’s going to be three teams challenging, at the beginning of the season at least, for wins.”
While testing times perhaps offer a snapshot of the pecking order at a specific track and in particular conditions, Bottas says the upcoming change of environment in Australia could shuffle the cards.
“You always need to remind yourself that the conditions here are pretty unique,” Bottas said.
“Especially in the mornings and late afternoons, the air temperature is something that you do not see for the grands prix.
“The track temperature in the mornings is really cool, which allows you, for example in the long runs, allows you to push really hard because the tyres don’t really overheat in those conditions.
“We know there will be quite a big difference in Melbourne, it’s quite a different track obviously, but even coming back to Barcelona in May, it’s quite different feeling then in the car.
“We know more or less what to expect, but we need to keep reminding ourselves [of the difference].”
As for Ferrari claiming its SF1000 is currently lagging its front-running adversaries, Bottas says its anyone’s guess if the Scuderia’s statement if founded or not.
“It’s a weird game in this sport sometimes with how much you’re showing, your speed in testing,” Bottas said.
“Only the teams themselves know the true form they have. They can calculate and add up everything in terms of performance, what lap time they could do in theory, and we can only guess what other teams are running and how much they have in their pocket.
“It’s so difficult to say. We’ve also learned as a team it’s very important to keep focusing on our own work and own performance, doing our job, and eventually the time will come that everyone will show their cards.”
Racing Point technical director Andy Green is confident in the potential of the team’s RP20, hinting that the pink squad might well have a go at Ferrari in Melbourne, based on its performance in pre-season testing.
Racing Point’s 2020 contender raised more than a few eyebrows when it appeared in the Barcelona pitlane last week, for the car’s design follows the concept and contours of Mercedes’ 2019 championship winning W10.
The RP20’s pace in pre-season testing indicates that Racing Point will be a force to contend with for its midfield rivals, but perhaps also for Ferrari according to Scuderia boss Mattia Binotto.
But the Racing Point engineer also suggests that the frustration expressed by the team’s rivals is perhaps rooted in the fact that they haven’t done a good enough job with their 2020 designs.
“I think [complaints from other teams] boil down to the fact that some of the teams may not have done as good a job as they should have done, and I think we’re probably seeing that,” he explained.
“We’ve a team that finished fourth two years on the trot [as Force India, in 2016 and 2017] with next to no money at all – we were absolutely hand to mouth – and we finished fourth in the championship, we beat the likes of McLaren, that was what we could do that with next to nothing.
“For people to think, to take a team like that and inject money and resources in it, and it wasn’t going to improve, was just naive. And I think they just haven’t stepped up to the plate.
“So I think a lot of their frustration is looking inwards: ‘Crikey, we haven’t done a very good job’ – that’s what I’d be I’d be thinking if I was looking from the outside in. I’d be looking at my own department: ‘C’mon guys what on earth have you been playing at?’.”
Daniel Ricciardo sprung to the top of the time screens to lead the final morning session of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
The Renault driver’s 1m16.276 hot lap on the C5 tyre, which was the second fastest time overall since the start of testing, edged Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.087s while Lewis Hamilton was 0.134s adrift from the Aussie.
A string of fast laps were posted in the final hour of the morning segment, reshuffling the positions at the top as drivers tested their car’s qualifying spec in combination with Pirelli’s soft C5 tyre.
Hamilton logged in the most miles overall with a tally of 86 laps.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez clocked in fourth before the break, but the Mexican was the only driver among the top-5 to set his time on the harder C3 tyre, a performance that confirmed once again the outright pace of the Silverstone-based squad’s RP20.
But along with Williams’ George Russell, Perez was at the bottom of the mileage chart, putting 43 laps under his belt.
Carlos Sainz was the session’s early leader, the McLaren driver heading into the lunch break fifth in the pecking order.
All drivers, with the exception of Alfa’s Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull Alex Albon, posted times that were within the same second.
Albon’s morning was marked by a mishap at Turn 12 when the British-Thai racer lost the rear of his RB16 and veered into the gravel trap. But the Red Bull driver managed to extricate himself and haul his RB16 back to the garage.
Ferrari says it expects its contract talks with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to be done and dusted “very soon”, with the German driver likely to extend his stay with the House of Maranello.
At the end of last year, Ferrari secured the services of Charles Leclerc until the end of the 2024, but Vettel’s deal only runs until the end of this season.
From the 32-year-old’s retirement from the sport to Ferrari making a bold move for Lewis Hamilton, a whirlwind of speculation has been blowing around the Scuderia.
“From my own side, I’m very happy,” he said. “All the things I wanted to work on over the winter and had planned over the last week or two weeks, I made good progress and I’m happy with what I did and how much better I’m in those areas.
“Doesn’t mean I’m perfect, always room for improvement, but I’m satisfied. As a team, we have done a good job.
“Still one day to go, but how everything has run and how smoothly we have been operating, I think we are satisfied, but there are still plenty of things to improve.”
However, projecting where McLaren will stand in the pecking order in Melbourne is difficult, with a certain “pink car” throwing a bit of a spanner in the works when it comes to F1’s competitive midfield.
“I don’t know what the midfield is anymore, because there’s one pink car which is very fast,” Norris said, referring to Racing Point’s RP20 Mercedes look-alike.
“It’s difficult to know. The order will be shaken up and changed around a bit. I’m hoping it will be not as spread out between the top teams and us. I’m hoping it’s all a bit more bunched up.”
“They [Racing Point] are fast and I think they have set the pace for the midfield teams last year for just this pre-season testing, but it doesn’t mean we will go to Australia and they are going to be amazing.
“We have work to do to try and catch up to them up a bit, but Australia is a very different story.”
Several Formula 1 teams are in the process of tweaking their travel plans for the opening races of the world championship as they deal with the global spreading of the coronavirus.
Next month’s opening Australian and Bahrain Grands Prix are set to go ahead as scheduled, while Vietnam GP organisers have so far not altered their plans for the inaugural event in Hanoi despite the presence of the novel virus in the country.
However, the cluster of cases that appeared recently in northern Italy and the overall spreading of the novel virus has compelled several Asian countries to impose travel restrictions on those originating from the country.
Vettel’s potential departure could finally bring Ferrari and Ricciardo together, but the Aussie isn’t focused on the conjecture.
“I will answer [Ferrari’s] calls for sure, but I most importantly want this to work,” Ricciardo said in Barcelona, referring to his association with Renault.
“I don’t want it to feel like I’ve just come to Renault, got away from Red Bull and then I’m looking for the next best thing.
“I really want to make this happen and make it work, and obviously the step to that is getting more out of this year than we did last year, and hopefully getting enough out of it that the journey continues beyond my two-year contract.”
Regardless of the speculation, Ricciardo says he isn’t inclined to devise his future at the current time.
“That’s the, let’s say, ideal scenario,” he added. “To talk about other what-ifs and the future here and there, it’s still too early.
“You don’t want to rock the boat obviously as well, but… we haven’t even started this year, so to already start thinking about ’21… I can’t think about it now.”
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheet on Thursday morning in Barcelona, the German driver heading into the lunchbreak with a benchmark time of 1m16.841s.
Vettel’s lap – achieved on the soft C5 tyre in the closing stages of the session – edged Racing Point’s Lance Stroll by 0.277 s and the Williams of surprise top-3 runner Nicholas Latifi by 0.472s.
Barcelona’s overnight showers meant that drivers had a damp track to contend with at the outset.
As the circuit progressively dried and the field switched from intermediates to slick rubber, times improved significantly.
But over the course of the morning, several drivers explored the circuit’s limit, especially around Turn 5, an area which caught out Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
Behind the top 3, McLaren’s lando Norris clocked in third, ahead of Red Bull’s Verstappen. The Dutchman spun on cold tyres at the chicane early on in the session but later beached his RB16 at the Circuit de Catalunya’s challenging Turn 5.
Bottas ended Mercedes’ morning sixth, the Finn concluding his work session a little earlier than his rivals.
Renault’s Esteban Ocon was P7 in front of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, while Giovinazzi was ninth.
The young Italian had earlier confirmed the form shown by Alfa Romeo on Wednesday by topping the timesheet, but a mistake on entering Barcelona’s Turn 4 sent the Alfa bacjwards into the gravel trap and in to the wall, destroying the C39’s rear wing and bringing out the first red flag of the day.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly rounded off the top with 35 laps under his belt. But the fields’ overall mileage was limited by the damp conditions that prevailed in the fits part of the session.
Don’t believe anything you read about Lewis Hamilton’s rumored 2021 contract numbers was Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s message in an interview with Sky Sports.
Wolff said that Mercedes’ star driver and himself had yet to sit down to discuss the latter’s future with the German manufacturer beyond 2021, amid rumors that Hamilton will be asking for a pay rise following his winning a sixth world title last year.
Heineken’s loss is Formula 1’s gain as the Dutch brewing company sees its marketing man Ben Pincus take on the role of director of commercial partnerships with The Formula One Group.
Pincus will report for duty with F1 next Monday and will report directly to Formula 1 chief executive Chase Carey.
The former Heineken senior executive, who replaces former F1 director of sponsorship Murray Barnett, is obviously no stranger to F1, having over seen the company’s highly successful worldwide sponsorship team and partnership with Formula 1.
“I am delighted to welcome Ben to the Formula 1 family as we get ready to begin our new season,” Carey said.
“Having worked closely with him over the past three years I know he has the experience, expertise and leadership qualities to grow our business and continue to take Formula 1 forward on its exciting journey.
“Ben has an incredibly impressive network and knows the Formula 1 world as well as anyone. He will hit the ground running and get the very best out of his team.”
In addition to his Formula 1 partnership experience, Ben previously ran sponsorships in European Football, International Golf, Tennis and Sailing for Visa, Coca-Cola, Sony PlayStation and Heineken.
“I am excited to start this new chapter in my career in the sport I know and believe in,” commented Pincus.
“Formula 1 offers brands value that other international sports platforms cannot compete with, and for that reason I’m looking forward to being a part of its commercial future.”
Sebastian Vettel’s morning benchmark time of 1m16.841s remained unchallenged in the afternoon session of the penultimate day of pre-season testing.
The Ferrari driver tacked on an additional 95 laps after lunch to set his lap count for the day at 144 laps/
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly put in a good effort in the closing stages of the session to conclude the day second overall, 0.225s adrift from Vettel, while Racing Point’s Lance Stroll also relied on his morning performance to clock in 3rd overall.
The highlight of the session was the problem that befell Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton.
The six-time world champion was the last driver to take to the track in the afternoon segment as the Mercedes crews took their time to prepare the Briton’s W11.
But 14 laps into his program, Hamilton suddenly stopped at the exit of Turn 5, the victim of an apparent engine issue.
The W11 was covered and loaded onto the flatbed and hauled back to its garage.
The Mercedes camp later announced that an oil pressure anomaly had automatically shut off Hamilton’s power unit as a measure of precaution. However, the issue put a premature end to the team’s running.
The complication was certainly a cause for concern for the Brackley squad whose customer, Williams, has suffered two engine disruptions since the start of pre-season testing.
While most teams extended their mileage in the afternoon, hot laps were few and far between has drivers focused on long runs and set-up work, meaning there was little change in the pecking order at the end of the day.
Sebastian Vettel was quickest on the penultimate day of Formula 1 pre-season testing at Barcelona, while Mercedes had to cut its day short due to a power unit problem.
A scruffy day brought multiple spins and off-track moments – including all three of the top teams – but Vettel recovered from his own spin at Turn 5 to post a 1m16.841s on the C5 compound. Despite using the softest tire overall, Vettel’s lap was only the third-quickest of testing so far, and over a second slower than Valtteri Bottas managed last week.
Vettel’s spin saw him swap ends after getting wide on entry, rolling backwards through the gravel but then managing to rejoin. Although he brought out one of four red flags due to the gravel he deposited on the track, Vettel will be far happier than Lewis Hamilton after Mercedes suffered more reliability issues.
Valtteri Bottas had only completed 47 laps in the morning, meaning Mercedes ended the day with the lowest total of 61, and the Finn also went off at Turn 5. Bottas suffered a snap of oversteer but caught the rear, forcing him wide through the gravel.
Hamilton’s problem was especially frustrating as it ended a direct comparison with Ferrari: both he and Vettel were on race simulations on Thursday afternoon. Hamilton was using a softer compound for the first stint, but was clearly faster initially, before the two cars’ pace closed up later in the simulation until Hamilton’s problem intervened.
Car problems brought an early end to Hamilton’s day. Image by Sutton/Sutton Images.
Pierre Gasly ended up second with a late lap on C5 tires, capping what was a productive day for AlphaTauri. The Frenchman managed 130 laps, and was 0.225s slower than Vettel and narrowly edging out Lance Stroll, with Racing Point showed more strong pace both on low fuel and during a race stint.
Nicholas Latifi was fourth after Williams carried out its first qualifying simulations, posting a 1m17.313s on the C5 compound, although he also had a trip through the gravel at Turn 4 early on when drivers were struggling with low grip conditions. Running started on a wet track that took around an hour to dry enough for slicks, due to few teams opting to circulate on intermediates.
McLaren showed solid pace in fifth, although a bodywork issue interrupted a long run for Lando Norris after he felt something unusual at the rear of the car. His total of 113 laps ensured the top five all set times within a second of the overall pace and reached three figures in laps completed.
The same couldn’t be said for Max Verstappen, who had a difficult morning. The Dutchman spun at low speed at the chicane when carrying out aero tests, and then had a higher-speed off at Turn 5 that he attributed to dipping two wheels onto a damp curb. Verstappen was beached in the gravel and caused a red flag, and ended up completing just 31 laps.
The biggest off-track moment came for Antonio Giovinazzi, who spun at Turn 4 early on and hit the barrier, damaging the rear wing. Giovinazzi managed to limp back to the pits but left gravel and debris on the track as he did so, causing the first interruption to the day’s running.
There was solid mileage for Haas as Kevin Magnussen completed 111 laps, ending up 0.2s slower than Esteban Ocon on a 1m18.225s. Ocon admitted Renault did not make the progress it hoped for on Thursday morning, while Daniel Ricciardo was then 0.4s slower than his teammate in the afternoon.
The penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona showed the race pace of the new Racing Point to be “promising” compared to Ferrari, according to Lance Stroll.
Racing Point’s 2020 car is similar to last year’s Mercedes and has been one of the talking points of testing, as it has shown strong performance out of the box. After finishing within 0.3s of Sebastian Vettel’s fastest time on Thursday and using a harder-compound tire, Stroll was downplaying how close Racing Point could get to the Scuderia but admitted he was encouraged by its overall performance.
“It’s early days,” Stroll said. “We’ve done a great job over the winter bringing this package to Barcelona and we’re still going to be working hard to try and find some more pace before Melbourne. That’s the goal. We’ll only see in Melbourne. There’s still three weeks — a lot can happen in Formula 1 in three weeks.
“It’s easy to get excited in testing, you never know what everyone’s doing, but I’m feeling good in the car and that’s the most important thing. In Australia we’ll see where we are relative to the others.”
Describing 2020 as the best pre-season he has personally had, Stroll also says Racing Point deserves credit for the work it has done in preparing for the new year.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and everyone did a great job in developing the car over the winter. We’re trying to do the best we can do with what we have and I think last year was a tricky year, coming in on the back foot with all the changes from 2018 to 2019. We had a really solid winter with a head start on this year’s car. The package we brought to the season is due to all the hard work from everyone back at the factory.”
F1 boss Chase Carey says the Vietnam Grand Prix in Hanoi is still a go-ahead despite the ramping threat represented by the coronavirus outbreak.
Vietnam was put under scrutiny after the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai was postponed earlier this month and the country’s authorities announced a small cluster of coronavirus cases in two villages located not far from Hanoi, the venue for the inaugural F1 event.
Coronavirus cases are on the rise globally, with the virus present in northern Italy where Ferrari has taken measures to protect its staff.
However, Vietnam is now refusing entry to individuals originating from areas affected by the coronavirus, including Italy, a restriction that could wreak havoc on Ferrari and AlphaTauri’s travel plans next month team personnel could be barred from entering the country.
Despite the growing global concern, Carey insists the green light is still on for the Vietnam race, whose organizers announced yesterday the completion of the Hanoi circuit.
“We do plan to proceed with the race,” Carey said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.
“I talked to our Vietnam partners yesterday, and I plan to stop in Hanoi on March 16th on my way back to London from Australia. And all systems are go.
“Obviously a country like Italy wasn’t really on the radar a few days ago, and now it is.
“By and large it’s a process. What we’re doing is we’re actively engaged with all the events upcoming, I guess particularly the more current ones, to get perspective from within countries.
“Some of it is logistics. Bahrain just added [restrictions] for people coming from a number of cities. Part of what we can plan is to make sure we have flexibility and options in place to look at logistic issues in getting to and from races.
“Other than China, I guess there is a particular focus on the races at the beginning of the year.
“We’re heading to Melbourne, heading to Bahrain, heading to Hanoi, although to state the obvious we’ve got to see what evolves in the coming days.”
Andrew Westacott, the Australian Grand Prix boss corporation, says his organization will take its cue from whatever the local authorities decide to do, although the Aussie did not suggest that F1’s opening round scheduled for March 15 was in jeopardy.
“It’s much broader than a question for us and F1,” he said.
“We take guidance from the chief medical officers in Australia and ultimately from government. Government and health officers will look at things medically and economically and assess risk.”
And Leclerc reckons they have been successful based on what he’s experienced so far in pre-season testing, pointing to the SF1000’s speed through the Circuit de Catalunya’s final sector of corners.
“Sector 3 is the most technical one, where there are the most corners, and on that, I’m pretty sure we have improved and I can go quicker through the corners,” said the Monegasque after Wednesday’s running.
“I think the biggest strength is the speed around the corners. I think on that, we have achieved our goal.
“Then we need to wait and see for the overall performance of the car, but… we are going around the corners quicker than we did last year, so that’s positive.
“But we need to keep working on this car to unlock a bit more performance.”
So far, Ferrari’s performance in pre-season testing has been rather subdued, leaving pundits with the impression that Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel will struggle at the outset in Melbourne next month.
But Leclerc is still focused on the job at hand and the main objective that has been set for his final day of running in Barcelona on Friday.
“I think for every car, there is a target balance,” said the two-time Grand Prix winner. “A balance that you target for qualifying and for the race to extract the maximum out of the car.
“For now, we’ve tried different options today, I think I’ve started to have an idea of which balance we need to target to be the quickest on track.
“We’ll have to finalise that for the last day, which will be very important for the qualifying and the race in Melbourne.”
“We are focusing on ourselves, trying to work as much as possible without listening too much to the outside world.
“I can’t speak for the others, but I’m pretty sure the top three teams haven’t shown their true potential yet.”
Williams’ Mercedes power unit is becoming a source of frustration for the team after it suffered another problem on the opening day of the second Formula 1 test at Barcelona on Wednesday.
An oil system issue caused Nicholas Latifi to stop on track during the morning session and lose a number of hours while the power unit was changed, giving Williams its third PU in less than four days of pre-season testing. Deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted that the situation is troubling, given the reduced amount of testing days this season.
“We’ve had a few issues with some engine problems, which has been a little frustrating,” Williams said. “We’re on our third engine issue now which has obviously cost us quite a lot of track time, which is unfortunate. I suppose it is what can happen in testing, and I suppose at least it is not our issue that something has gone wrong with the car…
“Apart from that it has gone well – we’re covering the run program as we can with the limited mileage that we’ve got. I would be happier if we had got some more miles under our belt, I suppose.”
“The cause of the one today was an oil system issue, so it’s on the Mercedes side.,” she said. “There were some other issues last week. The one on Friday they are still investigating, so you should talk to them about that, I don’t think they’ve found the problem there. I think there was an issue with the MGU-H on the Thursday night one, an oil leak on the MGU-H.
“There was a sensor issue on Friday morning that obviously was our issue; that put us off the track for probably half an hour. That was the only issue that we’ve had.”
Despite the lack of running, Williams is hopeful the team can have two strong final days with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi to tick off more key items before the opening race in Australia.
“It’s still good,” she said. “I think everyone’s probably a little frustrated because we’ve obviously got – as everyone will – a very full program to get through. When you lose the number of kilometers that we’ve lost it is frustrating, because it means you can’t prepare as best as you’d like to do ahead of going to Melbourne. You have to sacrifice certain parts of your program in favor of others.
“Obviously we wanted to do the full program, but it is what it is. We’ve just got to get on with it and hope that we don’t have any further issues in the next two days and we can get as many laps in as possible with George and Nicholas on Thursday and Friday to set us up in the best possible way for Melbourne.”
Robert Kubica set the fastest time as the second pre-season test in Barcelona got underway on a day when the big three teams all faced some form of problem.
After a spin out of the chicane on cold tires early on Wednesday, Kubica went on to complete over 50 laps and post a 1m16.942s in his role as Alfa Romeo reserve driver. Using the softest C5 compound, Kubica was the only driver under the 1m17s barrier, and while the bigger teams were not focused on any sort of soft tire, low fuel running, they still did not enjoy smooth days.
While an earlier spin at the final chicane hinted at ongoing Red Bull handling problems at low speed – the team had experienced a number of similar spins last week – the latter incident appeared to be caused by a car problem.
Remarkably, AlphaTauri suffered problems at identical times to Red Bull, the first of which was not being related to the Honda power unit. Pierre Gasly was confined to the garage for much of the morning with an issue with a water pipe, and then Daniil Kvyat stopped on track at the exact same time as Verstappen, parking on the inside of Turn 9.
Given the timing of the simultaneous late stoppages, which caused a red flag with five minutes remaining, there is the possibility that the two teams were both carrying out fuel run-out tests.
Both AlphaTauris had to grapple with limited running time. Image by Dunbar/LAT
Despite those issues, all four Honda-powered drivers ended up in the top six, with Kvyat fourth and Gasly fifth ahead of Albon, while Sergio Perez took third with a late lap in the competitive-looking Racing Point.
Lewis Hamilton was seventh and Valtteri Bottas ninth on a day when all teams except for Haas split their running, but Mercedes’ concern came from a partner team. Williams stopped on the track when Nicholas Latifi suffered an oil system problem in the morning, requiring a power unit change. It was one of three power unit-related issues for Williams in pre-season so far, and deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted that the team was becoming “frustrated” by the lost time as Mercedes searches for a solution on the dyno.
Ferrari didn’t have a smooth day either, as Sebastian Vettel spun at Turn 8 after a trip through the gravel. The German was able to continue, but a red flag was required to clean up the gravel he’d dragged onto the track. In isolation it wasn’t an incident of great concern, but there were still no clues to the Scuderia’s potential pace, as neither driver escaped the 1m18s bracket. There was at least solid mileage, with over 160 laps completed.
On day when few teams carried out a significantly quick low-fuel run, all 10 cars were covered by 1.7 seconds.
Mattia Binotto claims Ferrari opted against pursuing a similar concept to the Mercedes Dual Axis Steering (DAS) in part because it presumed the system would not be legal.
Mercedes revealed the innovative steering system during the first pre-season test in Barcelona. The team kept the FIA informed throughout its development and is confident in its legality, and while Binotto said last week that Ferrari had never run such a system, he has since admitted that it had been considered but dismissed.
“I think it is difficult for us to judge (it’s legality). We don’t know their system, but I’m pretty sure the FIA will make the right judgement.”
Binotto also dismissed Mercedes’ suggestions that it had its power unit turned down during the first test, adding: “This seems to be very much what we are doing, but it’s not correct.”
However, the Ferrari team principal said he has no concerns over the lack of headline lap times at present, explaining the approach that the team took over the first four days of testing so far.
“I think we’re really focused on ourselves, trying to understand the car, to correlate the data with all the data we have got back home – wind tunnel data and simulations,” he said. “So the first week of testing last week was really focused on that – car understanding and mapping.
“This week will be a bit different. Today we are starting work on the set-up, try to optimize it, and certainly for the rest of the week we will try to push more for performance just to see where we are.”
Alain Prost has spoken out against the growing trend for governments around the world to announce bans on the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars within the next two decades, saying it threatens the future of Formula 1.
Honda has already acknowledged this week that the costs involved in moving to electrification are a big reason why it is still debating its long-term involvement in F1.
“I am really upset about what I can see today with the automobile industry,” Prost told Motorsport.com as F1 pre-season testing resumed at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Prost fears that the push to electric cars could end up damaging the European automative manufacturing business, and hand the initiative to Chinese car makers instead.
“We are going to give everything to the Chinese, where in ten years time they are going to introduce their cars here,” he complained, adding that he was worried about the massive loss of jobs that would follow.
“We’re going to lose I promise you, one million people in the next ten years in the automobile industry if we don’t change that,” he warned.
“I don’t care because I’m not part of the industry, but I really hate that. It is stupid, stupid regulation,” he added. “When you ask me about F1, I always answer: take care of the automobile industry first, and F1 is then very healthy.”
Prost said he doubted whether the push for electric vehicles would even help the environment in the long term due to the impact of heavy batteries and motors adding extra weight to road cars,
“We need to talk about sustainability all the time, what we can do, but the technology is very, very difficult,” he explained. “We ban diesel but at the end I’m sure that we are not going to reduce the CO2 with these measures.
“I think when you go for more mileage, your CO2 emission is going to be the same, or even worse, because the weight of the car is going to be a lot more. And we know that.”
He was also critical of governments pushing for the changeover to electric cars when the joined-up thinking on crucial infrastructure was simply not yet in place.
“Why don’t we have all the same plugs and same system of recharge?” he asked. “We have two competitors in France and they have two different systems. That is completely stupid.
“We could do it differently,” he suggested. “If you had a big car with a diesel engine with the nice filters, it should not be a problem.”
Formula 1 isn’t in a position to move to an all-electric technology, because that is the preserve of the FIA Formula E series. Prost was an early advocate of the current turbo hybrid engine approach in F1, but now accepts that it’s not worked out as well as he had hoped.
“I was the one pushing for the new engine,” he said. “We thought that is the closest technology [to road cars] that we’re going to have in the future with the turbo engine.
“But it did not work for F1, we must be honest. The fans don’t like [the new engines] very much.”
“You don’t want to go with electrical because we have FE, and you know how difficult it is going to be for FE in the future that is for sure,” he continued.
“It is very difficult to develop because of the tracks, because of the technology, because of the money.
“So what is the technology for F1 in the future?” he asked. “It is difficult to know.
“On one side – and it’s not my position – we go back to 12-cylinder and we have the same vision of F1 worldwide,” he suggested. “Or, if we go to hydrogen in ten years time, we would have another philosophy. And why not?
“But who is going to push the button and make that decision? It’s very difficult, but it’s good to ask the question.
“We cannot – like in my period [driving in F1] – simply follow the trend of the automobile industry. Today it is much more difficult.”
Speculation that Sebastian Vettel might use today’s FIA press conference to announce his retirement from Formula 1 have proved to be very wide of the mark.
Vettel had a lacklustre season in 2019 and was beaten by his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc in the final driver standings, with the Scuderia overall unable to challenge their rivals Mercedes in the constructors stakes.
But the four-time world champion insisted that his enthusiasm for F1 and his determination to return to race- and title-winning ways was undimmed.
“I love what I do and I love driving,” he told the media at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the first day of the second week of pre-season testing.
“I got really excited getting in the car last week and got back into a rhythm very quickly and that feels great. The satisfaction you get from driving is still the same
“But I’m not just here to get a great feeling, I’m here to win,” he continued. “I joined Ferrari to win the championship and we haven’t done so so far.
“In recent years, some were good, some better than others, but in the end none have been to our liking at the very end,” he admitted. “It’s been a couple of years so far, but the hunger, goodwill, and determination is still there.
“We know what we want to achieve and where we want to go, and where we are right now.”
Recent reports have linked Vettel to a possible return to his old Red Bull squad when his contract at Maranello expires at the end of the current season. When asked about it on Wednesday, Vettel was somewhat vague about the future.
“It depends on what I believe in and vice versa,” he said. “Right now it’s not that important – but there will be a time when it is important and we’ll sort out the contract situation.
“Obviously right now we’re very busy with other stuff so therefore right now I would say zero,” he responded when asked whether the contract situation was weighing on his mind at all. “Not more than last time, three years ago.
“Time me will tell but it doesn’t change anything right now,” he added.
That contrasts with team principal Mattia Binotto, who used the same press conference to reiterate that re-signing Vettel for 2021 and beyond remained his preferred option.
“Seb is our first option, that’s the best line-up and the best in F1,” Binotto stated emphatically when asked about the often-tense Vettel/Leclerc partnership.
“I’m very happy and proud that they’re driving for Ferrari,” he insisted. “We will come to the contract situation soon and discuss what’s the best thing for us.
“We started the early discussion with Seb and we are very aware that the contract is coming to an end, but it will come very soon to close the discussion and see what is in the best interest in both of us.
“I think the relationship is good, it will be a natural discussion, not a matter where we need an appointment in our diaries,” he continued. “We’ll discuss this over dinner.
“I know Seb now since many years, not only in the position of team principal but as technician before,” He pointed out. “From my side the last year has been important as we start knowing each other more and more and better and better.
“What matters more right now is the project, which we are sharing.”
“Normally, I’m one of the first ones at the bottom if you’re looking down there but it doesn’t really matter,” he modestly stated after his morning run.
“What matters is the feeling and we had quite a good day with some interesting things to now go through with the data and my feelings.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a clear outcome. It’s never easy for a first day morning session with track grip and stuff like this but today the feeling was quite good.”
For Kubica, the main takeaway from his two half-days of testing Alfa’s 2020 challenger is the downforce level of the Swiss outfit’s car relative to that of the car he raced last season.
“Normally people think that the quicker you go, the more difficult it gets,” he commented.
“I would argue that doing 1:17s this year compared to 1:19s and 1:20s last year is a bit different in difficulty.
“Last week in the morning, in the first laps I had more of brain stop. You know, I could feel I have more grip to deliver and I can go faster but my brain was saying ‘Well, until now this was not possible!’
“So, you know it took like a couple of laps to unlock the real feeling but, you know, there is one big friend in this paddock.
“There are not many friends here as this sport is tough but there is one big friend – downforce!”
Robert Kubica surprisingly topped the morning segment of running in Barcelona where teams kicked their final three days of pre-season testing.
The Alfa charger’s name popped up at the top of the time screen with less than 40 minutes to go, Kubica clocking in with a lap in 1m16.942 that edged AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly by 0.598 s while Red Bull’s Alex Albon was third.
Kubica achieved his feat, which was greeted by a loud cheer by a handful of his supporters in the grandstands, with a hot lap on the C5 tyre, Pirelli’s softest compound.
Both Gasly and fellow Honda-powered driver Albon were late starters to the session, having been consigned to their respective AlphaTauri garages for the better part of the morning.
However, the issues impacting the two drivers were independent from each other and unrelated to their power unit. A loose pipe detected during an early installation lap was the culprit in Gasly’s case.
Lewis Hamilton was the driver that logged the most miles before the lunch break, raking up 85 laps as the Briton and Silver Arrows squad ran through their scheduled programs.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll topped the charts at one point, confirming the pace of the pink outfit’s RP20, but ultimately ended his session 5th.
Sebastian Vettel traded fastest laps with Hamilton in the early part of the morning but clocked in 6th.
The Ferrari driver’s workout was marked by a big spin which occurred after Vettel had run wide through Turn 8. But the mishap was fortunately without consequence.
That was close! #F1Testing Red flag to clean all the debris
McLaren CEO Zak Brown admitted that Fernando Alonso’s enrollment for Indy by Arrow McLaren SP is a direct result of the Spaniard’s failed talks with Andretti Autosport.
Alonso has rejoined McLaren for its new IndyCar venture with Arrow Schmidt Peterson, the two-time world champion running at the Brickyard in May alongside full-time driver Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew.
But the new Chevy-powered Arrow McLaren SP entity certainly wasn’t Alonso’s first choice to try and fulfill his Triple Crown ambitions.
The two-time world champion looked set to return to Indianapolis with Andretti Autosport which had lined up an array of sponsors to support Alonso’s efforts at the Speedway.
The Italian manufacturer has shut down both its museums in Maranello and suspended tours of its factory
It has also “restricted access for employees that are residents or have visited the affected municipalities and restricted all non-critical business travel.”
The company also said that “new measures will be promptly implemented and communicated should they become necessary”.
The outbreak of the coronavirus in China forced Formula 1 to postpone its Chinese Grand Prix, initially scheduled to take place in Shanghai in April.
Formula 1’s chiefs and the FIA are also closely monitoring the situation in Vietnam where several villages close to Hanoi were put under lockdown following the emergence of several coronavirus cases in the country.
Furthermore, Bahrain, where F1 is set to race in less than a month, has detected 21 cases, forcing the country to close all schools for two weeks and suspend flights from Dubai and Iran for a period of 48 hours as the Kingdom assesses the country’s situation.
In Barcelona, where teams will resume pre-season testing on Wednesday, McLaren has restricted access to its motorhome to anyone who has visited China in the past three weeks.
As the coronavirus outbreak spreads in Europe, the 2020 F1 season may well incur more disruption in the coming weeks and months.
Alonso’s #66 Ruoff Mortgage-sponsored crew will include race engineer Craig Hampson while full-time drivers Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew will complete the Chevrolet-powered team’s line-up.
“Adding Fernando to the team brings a level of experience and expertise that will benefit our two young talented full-time drivers in Oliver and Pato,” said team owner Sam Schmidt.
“We have fast cars at Indy and fully believe he has the talent to run at the front, not just participate.
“That, combined with Chevy power and the experience of the team, will make this trio of drivers one of the strongest in the field.”
Despite cutting his ties with McLaren at the end of last year, Alonso admitted he still had a special relationship with the Woking-based outfit.
“I am a racer and the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world,” said Alonso. “I love the incredible fans who make it so special for all of us drivers and make me want to come back.
“I have maximum respect for this race and everyone who competes in it and all I want to do is race against them and give my best, as always.
“It was important for me to explore my options for this race but Arrow McLaren SP has always been at the top. I have a special relationship with McLaren; we’ve been through a lot together and that creates a bond, a loyalty that is strong.
“But more than that I am impressed with how the new organization and operation is developing into a strong package with the Chevrolet partnership. The team has experienced, well-qualified people and great resources, and I’m confident we can be competitive.
“I’m focused and excited to begin our preparations. It will also be great to work with Oliver and Pato, two fantastic young talents for the future who are growing all the time.”
McLaren boss Zak Brown was happy to welcome his former driver back home.
“We’ve always said we’re open to running Fernando in a third car for the 500, so we’re delighted he’s decided to join us,” Brown said.
“Fernando is one of the greatest drivers in the sport and it’s fantastic to have him as part of the team.
“It’s a fine way to contest our first Indy 500 as Arrow McLaren SP and to have Ruoff Mortgage backing Fernando is a perfect partnership.”
Formula 1’s pre-season schedule has been significantly cut this year, and the teams are already facing their final three days of running before heading out to Australia for the opening race.
On the face of it, the first test appeared to show a very strong Mercedes. But plenty of unknowns remain ahead of the start of week two, including some around the defending champions.
So as all the teams prepare for the second test, here are the main questions that need answering over the next three days:
1. Just how much performance has Ferrari been hiding?
On the face of last week’s standings, Ferrari is in big trouble. No real pace shown, and a power unit issue that meant it only barely finished ahead of Williams in terms of both fastest lap and mileage.
But as Mercedes pointed out in its post-test analysis, Ferrari hasn’t turned up yet. This isn’t sandbagging, this is just a very different approach after the nasty surprise the Scuderia got last year when a very strong testing performance did not translate into competitiveness once the serious business started.
Are there some (figurative) sandbags hidden behind those front wing elements? Image by Sutton/LAT
Ferrari has been thoroughly learning about its car, carrying out aero mapping and systems tests while running its power unit in a very different state to its customer teams. While Mercedes has hit the ground running once again, like-for-like comparisons have been tougher between the other front-runners, and neither Charles Leclerc nor Sebastian Vettel have done any low-fuel runs.
The situation 12 months ago is a reminder that it might only be on the final day that we have any real sense of the relative performance of Mercedes and Ferrari, and even then Australia could look very different. But there will be serious focus will be on the Ferrari lap times to at least get an understanding how much potential performance remains untapped.
2. Will DAS make another appearance?
There was major interest in Mercedes when it started running its Dual Axis Steering – DAS – system during the first test, especially when it became clear that it was an innovation that has been cleared by the FIA up to now.
The fact that the 2021 regulations outlaw such a system suggests it is here to stay this season, and Mercedes must see a significant enough benefit to have pushed on with development and testing in the knowledge it will only be allowed for this year.
How confident is Mercedes in its new steering system? Image by Dunbar/LAT
So while other teams will be scrabbling to understand how the system works and whether they can implement it on their own cars quickly enough for it to be worth the investment, it will be interesting to see how confident in the concept Mercedes is. Further testing this week would suggest more needs to be learned, but could also potentially give away further information to keen observers. The more it is run, the more other teams will be trying to crack its code.
If it isn’t seen regularly, it could well suggest that Mercedes is confident in the system and ready to race it, while also limiting what its rivals can learn about it.
3. How many major upgrades will be introduced?
As much as those rivals would love to introduce an innovation similar to DAS this week, the likely timeframe on its development is half a season according to Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. But just because Mercedes has a visually striking component on its car, doesn’t mean others won’t have developments of their own.
The second test is when significant upgrades are likely to be seen, because teams have completed the baseline running on the cars and are starting to understand how changes to bodywork and other new parts will impact performance.
The upcoming test is the best chance teams will get to try any major updates. Image by Mauger/LAT
Last year, a major step from Mercedes put it right back in the frame at the end of the second test after a slow start. This time round, teams are dealing with stable regulations and therefore should be able to work with a bit more certainty when it comes to updates.
Binotto has already suggested Ferrari won’t be significantly changing its car, but then he doesn’t need to show his hand at this point. The same goes for all teams, but with no in-season testing this year, this is the best opportunity to run a major update without the restrictions on track time during a race weekend.
Expect at least some of the 10 teams to end Friday’s running with a car that looks decidedly different to the one that rolled out on the opening day last week.
4. Do the other midfield teams have a response to Racing Point?
When Mercedes wasn’t the center of attention last week, a very Mercedes-looking car elsewhere on pitlane was. Racing Point’s 2020 design very much follows the philosophy of last year’s Mercedes W10, and to that end it was also clearly quick out of the box.
Team principal Otmar Szafnauer was keen to point out a lot of hard work had gone into getting the team into such a position, and right now that position looks like being the midfield leader. But Racing Point’s strong start contrasts with a slightly disjointed – if sometimes quick – opening week from Renault, and a McLaren team that appeared to be focusing on mileage early on.
Racing Point has taken a very different approach this year – by adopting Mercedes’ very successful one. Image by Dunbar/LAT
Whether there is enough pace in either car to reel in Racing Point should become more apparent this week, as will the potential of an AlphaTauri that benefits from many Red Bull components and a rapidly-improving Honda power unit.
The midfield was extremely competitive for much of last year, despite McLaren’s comfortable advantage in P4 overall, and regardless of the final order that looks like having the potential to push all of the teams closer to the top three.
5. How competitive is Williams?
The feel-good story of last week was definitely Williams, as last year’s 10th-placed team was first out on track on the opening day. (OK, Carlos Sainz was waiting at the pit exit first, but Williams got the jump when the light went green, so let’s not ruin a good story…)
Mileage was solid – or brilliant, if you want to compare it to last season – and encouragingly, so was the immediate pace. But as previously pointed out, plenty of midfield teams are yet to show what they are capable of, and it remains to be seen if Williams has genuinely erased the gap to the rest.
The color scheme looks a bit mid-90s, but then, Williams was a powerhouse during that period. So maybe that’s a good sign. Image by Hone/LAT
While you could write down the back row of the grid at basically every qualifying session last year before the race weekend even started, Claire Williams has already boldly targeted challenging for Q2 this season, which would represent a massive step forward.
If that is achieved, it will say a lot about the work Williams has done after a number of years in decline. But even if it simply gets closer to what is a strong midfield, then that is still progress that should be applauded. When more low-fuel running is seen, we’ll start to get a picture of whether Williams can go with the rest or is still lagging behind.
(Disclaimer: These might not all get answered this week, but then where’s the fun in knowing all the answers before we go racing?)
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner isn’t exactly excited by F1 boss Ross Brawn’s potential plans to rid the F1 paddock of its lavish motorhomes.
Brawn recently suggested that the teams’ home away from home, which he called “gin palaces”, and the carbon footprint that their long-haul transportation logistics produce have a heavy impact on the sport’s quest for sustainability.
Formula 1 aims to achieve a net zero carbon footprint by 2030 thanks to a diverse set of actions on site and at teams’ factories.
“Ross needs to have a look in his own Concorde Agreement because it doesn’t make any reference to that in their drafts. So I’m not quite sure what he was referring to there,” Horner said.
“But you know, this is very sustainable,” he added, referring to Red Bull’s wooden ‘Holzhaus’. “It’s all out of wood.
“I think for the European races teams’ hospitality is their face, their home for those European races, it makes sense.”
Brawn’s future plan would call for all teams to use a standard facility at European races, or units similar to those currently supplied at several fly-way events.
“Obviously for the flyaway races we all survive,” Horner added. “But I think what’s vital is that moving forward – we get charged a fortune for a tent and chairs and whatever else – that those costs are provided for by the promoter.
“So that when you turn up, you get a set amount of facilities, so that we don’t end up buying tents at every grand prix wherever we go around the world.”
For tomorrow, only Haas has allocated a full day of testing to one of its drivers, in this case Romain Grosjean, while everyone else will be splitting the day’s mileage.
Ferrari will inevitably draw the pundits’ scrutiny given its subdued performance last week. As the Italian outfit plays catch-up, Sebastian Vettel will kick things off for the Scuderia on Wednesday morning.
Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica, a man appreciated by engineers for his technical feedback, will enjoy a second outing behind the wheel of the Swiss outfit’s new C39.
Formula 1 returnee Esteban Ocon is feeling fresh and competitive ahead of the second week of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Ocon returns to the grid this season with Renault after a year on the sidelines. The former Force India driver spent 2019 embedded with Mercedes but with no active role apart from simulator work at Brackley and a few days of tyre testing for Pirelli.
Last year’s post-season test at Abu Dhabi provided Oocn with an opportunity to warm up to his new team while last week’s runs at the Circuit de Catalunya offered a better chance to gauge his fitness ahead of his 2020 campaign.
“I’m not too far off I feel is a decent level for me,” he said. “Of course, I’m going to have the next three days to continue that but I feel good in the car, I feel competitive.
“Of course there’s things we can do better but I’m already at a good level where I am now.”
Ocon admits that three days of testing in Barcelona – considering that duties at Renault are split between himself and teammate Daniel Ricciardo – have left him feeling less drained physically than in previous years.
“It’s just another step to be even more ready for here, to be even more ready for Australia, it’s so short the days we have,” he added.
“I’m still very fresh and I don’t remember being like that in the past as it was more running, more days, so it was very important to get those two days in Au Dhabi.
“It was the beginning of getting ready for the season so it’s good.”
After getting acquainted with Renault’s R.S.20 last week, Ocon and his team will start digging a little deeper into his car’s potential, with an emphasis on balance.
“I think we have plenty of things to work on, but of course we have to work on how the car feels balance-wise,” he explained.
“We are still not where we want to be exactly but there’s nothing we can’t fix.
“What I would like to have is to arrive at the last day of the test and say okay we’ve fixed the balance and it feels decent arriving to Melbourne.”
Max Verstappen hopes that grid penalties have been relegated to the past for Red Bull thanks to the increased reliability of Honda’s engine.
The progress enjoyed last season by the Japanese manufacturer, and which led to Verstappen adding three race wins to his credentials, came with a few component failures and subsequent grid demotions for Red Bull’s drivers.
It was however the price to pay for Honda’s performance gains. More potential has been unlocked over the winter by the Japanese engineers, but Verstappen is confident he’ll be spared any penalties in 2020.
“Last year we only took engines because they had performance upgrades, and quite big ones,” he said last week in Barcelona.
“So that was the reason for us to take these engines. This year we know, or we try, not to take any penalties but so far the engine is running very, very smoothly and it’s all looking good.
“They’re pushing flat out and of course you always want improvements. Definitely they have been made compared to last year as well.
“Also, what I like is what they show you, what they project that is coming is always happening so I’m very confident that it will be the same this year again.”
During the first week of pre-season testing, Red Bull worked diligently through its various programmes, logically refraining from pure performance runs, meaning the team hasn’t yet tapped the full potential of its Honda unit.
For now, Verstappen is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Everything is heading in the right direction,” he added. “But of course, the other ones they are also pushing flat out so we just have to try and work harder.
“I’m not confident nor worried at the moment because I’m not too bothered about it yet. I just want to focus on our package, that’s the only thing you can control.
“We’ll find out in Melbourne where we are but there’s still a lot of things for us to work on because it’s never perfect, and I think it will never be perfect anyway.”
Jenson Button wants Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to upgrade his ambitions this season and take the fight for the title to Lewis Hamilton.
Leclerc performed well during his maiden season with the Scuderia, securing his first two wins with the Italian outfit, clinching more pole positions than any other driver in 2019 and outscoring teammate Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ championship.
For his second season with the House of Maranello, his third in F1, Button sees no reason why the Monegasque can’t give Hamilton a run for his money and challenge for the title.
“Charles has gone through that honeymoon period at Ferrari and now it is about knuckling down and this year has got to be the year he fights for the championship,” Button told the Daily Mail.
“I can’t wait to be watching what unfolds at Ferrari. I really think they will pull it together and take it to Mercedes.”
Leclerc lost no time last year staking his claim at Ferrari, but the 22-year-old’s intra-team rivalry with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel led to the pair squandering points for the Scuderia.
Button insists the two drivers must focus on its biggest rivals – Mercedes and Hamilton – rather than on each other.
“I think the dynamic was just wrong within the team,” contended the 2009 F1 world champion.
“I think now they have a much better understanding of each other and I really feel they are going to be a strong team in 2020.
“As soon as they realise they have to be fighting Lewis, rather than each other, they will have a great chance of being at the front of the fight and fighting for the championship.”
Vettel’s future, with Ferrari and perhaps in F1, will likely depend on how he performs relative to his up-and-coming teammate this year.
Button isn’t discarding the 32-year-old and actually believes he might find himself in a position of force if he plays his cards right.
“Being a four-time world champion and this young kid coming in and outscoring him and getting more pole positions than him,” explained the Sky F1 pundit.
“That’s tough, really tough, and it is how you handle that.
“I don’t think at times he handled it great but now looking back he has got the experience of working with him and everyone looks at how Charles is as good as Sebastian already so it is a little bit easier.
“Now he goes out and if he is a bit quicker then it’s ‘oh, he’s a bit quicker, I’ll work here and outperform him in the next race’ and I think that’s a good place to be for Sebastian. It’s a much stronger position to be in I do feel.
“When you are beaten by a young kid in your team it hurts, a lot. How many hours he has put into working with Ferrari, four world championships with Red Bull, that really does hurt.
“I think he will be a much more confident driver and will make less mistakes in 2020. If he doesn’t… he probably won’t be at Ferrari in 2021.”
Honda says it must consider its future in F1 beyond 2021 within the context of the automotive industry’s paradigm shift to electric mobility.
The Japanese manufacturer – which returned to the winner’s circle in F1 last year – has opened talks with Red Bull about extending its partnership and engine supply deals with the energy drink company’s two teams beyond the end of next year.
But Honda’s continued presence in F1 is far from guaranteed as it cannot ignore its industry’s nascent move towards electrification, a trend supported by regulatory restrictions and widespread legislation that could lead in the longer term to the complete dismissal of petrol and diesel engines.
With the internal combustion engine on life support in the coming years and automobile manufacturers compelled to make massive investments to prepare for change, justifying an involvement in F1 will soon become a challenging task for any manufacturer, not just Honda.
“We are speaking to Red Bull about the continuation after 2021,” Honda F1 boss Masahi Yamamoto told Motorsport.com.
“But the other thing we have to consider is the whole car industry is facing a very difficult situation because of electrification.
“Many companies have to invest a lot, so we have to kind of think about the business side and how efficient we can run the program. That’s the point.”
Britain has initiated steps to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, five years earlier than planned, to cut back on carbon emissions.
Other governments have also prepared for change or will follow suit, leaving F1 to ponder its own engine future. However, F1 managing director Ross Brawn believes the automobile industry is a bit of a rudderless ship right now and is wrong to write off hybrid technology.
“I don’t think we necessarily know where we’re going, to be honest,” Brawn said.
“I think that governments need to look at the whole picture. I think we need to look at the dust-to-dust carbon impact of personal transportation.
“I think picking on a specific technology is crude. For me as an engineer it doesn’t make sense. [It should be] this is where we are now, this is where we want to be, what’s the best solution in that process.”
F1 CEO Chase Carey echoes Brawn’s views, insisting that governments and legislators are wrong to consider electric mobility as the only solution for the future.
“I’ve read a lot of experts, so to speak, on the environmental issue, and I think the wide majority recognise that you’re going to have an array of solutions, there’s not a silver bullet,” he told Motorsport.com.
“Electric has become a little bit of a silver bullet. There are environmental issues around electric, there are infrastructure issues, there are cost of electric vehicle issues.
“I think it will be part of the answer, but I think the answer is going to be a number of things.
“Other solutions will come to the forefront and be recognised as being a very important part, if not a central part of how you achieve the goals everybody wants for the environment.”
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto says the Scuderia could rely on team orders this season to manage its drivers, but only in the event of a clear situation that benefits the team.
At the outset last year, Sebastian Vettel was given a theoretical priority over Charles Leclerc. But as the season progressed and the Monegasque staked his claim within the team, Ferrari implemented a ‘let them race’ policy that led to several flash points between the two drivers, the last of which resulted in a painful self-inflicted double-DNF at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Binotto has said the Vettel and Leclerc will be on equal footing this year, but if a scenario unfolds in which the Scuderia’s interests must be protected, an order shall be barked over the team’s radio.
“It is right that they are on the same level to start in 2020 and I think they know as well the team has the first priority so team orders may still be there.
“I am not saying that they are free to race with no team orders, so there might be team orders for the benefit of the entire team. But it has to be a clear situation.”
With Leclerc eager to continue his forward march and Vettel seeking to reassert himself relative to his teammate, many believe Ferrari will have an even more difficult task of managing its drivers this year.
But Binotto is relying on last year’s lessons and the wisdom they have hopefully instilled to keep his drivers in line.
“I think last year has been very useful for both of them and myself, to know each other and to understand how we should behave and what should be the rules within the team and what is the priority, that the team comes first,” he explained.
“I think that the two drivers now know each other better too and they are behaving well. I am very happy at the level of discussions we got and the level of contribution to the car and to the team.
“I think, generally speaking, there is not much to tell them because they understand perfectly what should be the way to behave on track.”
Formula 1 chief executive Chase Carey has reset the sport’s expectations of gaining a foothold in the US after multiple delays to its Miami Grand Prix plans.
Successive roadblocks erected by residents and local authorities of Miami Gardens have delayed Liberty Media’s ambitions of organizing a round of the F1 world championship on the streets of Miami.
While a final legal hurdle blocking F1 from racing around the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium was surmounted last week by F1, a local group has promised more legal action to keep Grand Prix racing away from its city.
The situation has frustrated Carey who has lowered the bar in terms of the time frame necessary for F1 to expand and strengthen its presence in America
“We knew the US was going to take time. On one level, yes, it is clearly taking longer than we would have hoped,” Carey said, speaking to Motorsport-Total at a conference in Baku last week.
“I think it’s frustrating on one level because we’ve spent as much time and there seems to be always some degree of ongoing complexity.
“I think the reality is that the US for us, to really build it, it’s a five-year-plus timeframe. We said all along the US isn’t going to change our world in two to three years.
“The goal is really in five to 10 years from now, the US becomes a meaningful market for us. In that context, 12 months it isn’t that big a deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating as you continue to go through it.”
Roger Penske’s recent acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has revived the prospect of F1 returning to the Brickyard, a possibility Penske himself alluded to while devising his plans for the future.
While Carey admitted to having touched base with Penske in the recent past, F1’s boss shied away from offering any hypothesis of his own on joining forces with the legendary motorsport mogul.
“I know the Penskes, I’ve had contact with the Penskes, I knew them before they bought Indianapolis,” Carey said.
“But again I probably wouldn’t comment on conversations. I’m aware of the interest.
“It’s obviously an iconic track for world racing. It’s part of the Triple Crown, Monaco, Le Mans and Indy, so it speaks to what that track means. It’s a special track for the motorsports world.”