Australia prime minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday that travelers originating from Italy will face a strict screening process upon arrival in Melbourne ahead of next week’s F1 event.
The decision fortunately falls short of the stringent entry restrictions applied to China, South Korea or Iran, with travelers from those countries temporarily banned from entering Australia within 14 days of leaving those states.
The provision regarding Italy should allow for the safe albeit screened entry into Australia of the Ferrari and AlphaTauri teams as well all personnel and staff originating from Italy.
Despite the continued global expansion of the coronavirus outbreak, the opening round of the F1 world championship in Melbourne is set to go ahead as scheduled, as Australian GP boss Andrew Westacott confirmed again today.
“It’s all systems go for next week,” Westacott told 3AW Radio Melbourne. “It’s 50 workers from Formula 1 that have been in the Albert Park for a couple of days now.
“The freight arrives between tomorrow and Saturday/Sunday out of Avalon. Everyone from the world of Formula 1 including those teams which we should talk about in more detail arrive from Thursday through to Tuesday next week.
“The Prime Minister announced in his 1 o’clock press conference the enhanced screening procedures and measures from Italy.
“And I think he made the point that there were about 5 times the volume of people coming in from Australia from South Korea vs Italy.
“I guess the chief health officers, nationally, and the input from state health officers and after that the national security committee, they don’t take into account events and other things.
“They take into account what’s ultimately best for the nation, taking into account all inputs and the outcome is a very good outcome.”
Bahrain and Vietnam, which will host the following two rounds of the F1 world championship, have also applied strict travel measures for foreign nationals, including anyone travelling from Italy.
Formula 1 is currently in discussion with the authorities of the two countries for them to apply special measures that would allow for the expedited entry into the country of teams and members of the F1 community.
But Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, downplayed the impact of the coronavirus on F1, insisting it was “all systems go” for the first three races of the 2020 season.
“I’m not sure how you manage it in a way,” he said. “I believe you’re going to go through a cycle here and I think it’s going to be shorter rather than longer, and you try and batten down the hatches until that’s done. You’ve certainly seen things like travel be hurt.
“There’s some risk in our businesses like F1. We did have to [postpone Shanghai], and it was not our choice, as the Chinese government told the Chinese promoter not to hold the event in April.
“But so far we’re still on a go-ahead basis in F1. The next three races at the beginning of the season are Australia, then Bahrain and then Vietnam, and today all are all systems go.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner says Honda’s success in 2019 and the mature relationship with its engine supplier are among the main reasons why the Milton Keynes-based outfit is hopeful it will be gunning for glory this season.
Since its last title won in 2013, Red Bull has struggled – like its front-running rival Ferrari – to mount a consistent challenge on the mighty Mercedes squad.
But three wins in 2019 that validated Honda’s outstanding progress and bolstered the Japanese manufacturer’s partnership with RBR, coupled with this year’s promising pre-season preparations have produced an air of healthy optimism at Milton Keynes.
“I think we’ve got a very strong team,” Horner contended, quoted by Formula1.com.
“Our driver line-up, our team, the strength and depth that we have within the team [and] I think our engine partners are a key aspect as well.
“It’s been the missing ingredient in the last few years, and I think that relationship with Honda we saw really grow during the course of last year, with the three victories we achieved, the pole positions that we achieved.
“Heading into a second year with the continuity, with the power unit more integrated into the chassis, of course, our expectations grow and they rise and our targets are very high this year. That’s the challenge.”
Indeed, Red Bull will still have the Mercedes powerhouse to contend with, not to mention Ferrari despite the House of Maranello’s relatively subdued performance in Barcelona. And then there’s always the possibility of a dark horse rushing out of its stable.
But a productive six days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya have provided a good indication that Red Bull will hit the ground running in Melbourne.
“We know we’ve got some fierce opponents and great competitors, but I think we do have the strength and depth in our team to hopefully put a real challenge together this year,” Horner insisted.
“It just feels that we’re better prepared going into the season ahead than we were 12 months ago.
“The relationship is more mature between ourselves and Honda, the regulations have been stable… so I think, hopefully, we’re in reasonable shape.”
Gene Haas says he will assess his outfit’s future after the season gets underway, but another bad season could compel the American team owner to leave the sport at the end of the year.
After an encouraging start in 2016 to its adventure in Formula 1. Haas progressed to become the fifth best team on the grid in 2018.
But last season saw the US outfit regress, its lousy campaign marked by the chronic aero issues that impacted its VF-19.
With a new Concorde Agreement on the horizon potentially committing Haas to an additional five years in the sport, Gene Haas will be thinking long and hard in the coming months about signing up for another tour of duty in F1.
“I’m just kind of waiting to see how this season starts off,” Haas told Motorsport.com last weekend at NASCAR’s Fontana race.
“If we have another bad year, then it would not be that favourable [to stay].
“We did five years. That was really the test – we’re going to do this for five years, see how it goes and evaluate it and then we’ll decide whether to go forward.
“I’m not saying we won’t be back. It has to be evaluated. To do it for another five years, though, that would be a big commitment.”
While F1 has helped boost the business of Haas Automation, Gene Haas’ machine tool company, the American fears that the costs associated with F1’s regulation overhaul could impact the cost effectiveness of his involvement in Grand Prix racing.
“It gave us a lot of recognition in the European market and also a lot of the Asian markets,” explained Haas.
“We’ve brought a lot of customers to the races. It’s all worked out well. But with the new regulations coming in 2021, the big question is how much is that going to cost?
“There’s so much change going on in Formula 1, you really have to ask yourself is it really going to be worth the expense to try to implement all these changes?
“I know everyone thinks the changes are good, but – boy – they’re expensive!”
The introduction next season of F1’s budget cap will hopefully help level the playing field. But Haas argues that costs won’t come down for a tightly managed outfit such as Haas and its specific business model.
“As everybody knows with the way the money has been distributed, 70 percent of it goes to the top three teams and 30 percent of it goes to the other seven teams. It’s not a good economic model,” he contends.
“At least in our condition, you’re only paid about a third of what it actually costs to run a team in Formula 1. So, from a business model it doesn’t do that well.
“Obviously, every team has a different nature as to why they do it. Some of it is primary sponsorship. Ferrari is that they’ve been doing it for 60 years.
“But they take home enough money to actually make the $175 million cap, but a lot of the other teams operate on a quarter of that. So, how can you really run a race team with that kind of disparity?”
Despite his rather bleak outlook, Haas believes his team has a shot at leading the midfield this season.
“Our car certainly wasn’t the fastest out there,” he said about testing. “We were midfield. Several years ago, the midfield was like five seconds apart.
“This year they were about two seconds from each other, maybe even closer than that.
“It’s just a challenge. It’s a difficult sport. It’s extremely expensive. It’s time consuming and it puts a huge amount of stress on the teams to compete.
“It’s not really beneficial to the teams that aren’t in the top four or five.”
Aston Martin executive chairman Lawrence Stroll says the luxury automaker’s strategy moving forward will be founded on its association with Racing Point in Formula 1.
Following the cancellation of the Geneva Motor Show, Aston streamed a short conference from its UK headquarters in which Stroll outlined the reasons his consortium invested in the brand, highlighting the company’s “products, engineering excellence and potential to become one of the world’s pre-eminent car manufacturers”.
Stroll said the legendary manufacturer aims to “reset” its business plan to ensure its “financial security” as it delivers crucial new models such as the DBX SUV and its mid-engined Valkyrie, Valhalla and new Vanquish designs.
The Canadian billionaire and fashion mogul then underscored the essential role F1 will play in Aston’s long-term underlying strategy.
“We are bringing a lot more than money,” Stroll said. “I have a long history in building luxury global brands in both private and public sectors.
“As executive chairman I will ultimately be responsible for the strategy we are implementing.
“The foundation of the strategy is returning Aston Martin to a works Formula 1 team on the grid for 2021.
“It is operating under its own brand allowing it to reach an audience of two billion and to engage and entertain our customers at 22 locations every year.
“It’s very exciting for all parties and should underpin the building of our brand globally and allow us to achieve our ambition that Aston Martin will become a pre-eminent luxury brand globally.”
Stroll believes the benefits of Aston Martin’s involvement in F1 will go well beyond the mere promotion of its products.
“I think it’s much more than promoting the mid-engine range, I think it has a halo effect and trickle-down effect on the company as a whole,” he added.
“It gives us the chance to meet and greet our customers, show them our new models, and get them to experience what a weekend’s like for the world of Aston Martin.”
Finally, Stroll referred to Aston Martin’s racing DNA, injected by the company’s founder Lionel Martin.
“Being a racer at heart, the DNA of this company that always attracted me to Aston Martin was when in 1913 Lionel Martin drove up Aston Hill. That is what this company is all about,” explained the 60-year-old businessman.
“It’s about its racing heritage, its racing history, that then helped through those technologies to develop these great cars.
“I feel Aston has really missed having a mid-engine programme, having that DNA in their blood.
“And now with the opportunity of returning to a works F1 team in ’21, to be able to share technology from our F1 team with our road car projects, I think this is the final cherry on the cake that Aston Martin needed to complete its range, and come back to its roots of racing.”
Williams reserve driver Jack Aitken will join former F1 drivers Rubens Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella in the Australian Grand Prix S5000 support race.
Aitken, who is set embark on his third season of Formula 2 this year, racing with Campos, will make a one-off appearance in the Aussie single-seater series which aims to revive the glory days Down Under of Formula 5000.
“I love all forms of cars and racing so I’m really looking forward to experiencing S5000 with its V8 power on such a fantastic track in Australia,” said Aitken.
“There’s a great selection of drivers on the grid, including some F1 legends, so I’m sure it’s going to be a really memorable occasion.”
With the coronavirus outbreak still spreading globally, uncertainty still surrounds the opening round of the F1 season, although Australian Grand Prix organisers have insisted the race will take place next week as planned.
However, should a late cancellation spoil the Aussie fans of F1, the event’s support bill should unfold according to plan.
Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Racing Point, AlphaTauri and Williams jointly issued the following statement:
“We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA’s statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit.
“An international sporting regulator has the responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency.
“After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.
“Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula One.
“In addition, we reserve our rights to seek legal redress, within the FIA’s due process and before the competent courts.”
McLaren Racing Limited Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Limited Racing Point UK Limited Red Bull Racing Limited Renault Sport Racing Limited Scuderia Alpha Tauri S.p.A. Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited
The seven teams’ joint action comes after Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reportedly wrote to his team principal colleagues to encourage the group to petition the FIA over its secret agreement with Ferrari, which is centered around how the Italian outfit may have circumvented engine fuel flow restrictions in 2019.
The sport’s governing body purposefully refrained from disclosing any details about its arrangement with the House of Maranello, a lack of clarity that opens the agreement to all kinds of speculation, not least of which is the question about whether or not the Italian outfit effectively breached the technical rules last season, and therefore may have cheated.
But the FIA’s attitude of sweeping the issue under the carpet – with Ferrari possibly escaping sanctions as a consequence – also potentially undermines the teams’ confidence in its ability to properly and fairly police and enforce the sport’s technical rules.
It appears that ‘Ferrari-gate’ is now a full-blown crisis for F1.
The FIA refused to disclose the details of the agreement, a lack of transparency which has reportedly shocked several teams and leaves everyone with more questions than answers about whether Ferrari had breached the technical rules last season by circumventing engine fuel flow restrictions.
Website ‘F1-insider.com’ claims that Wolff has written to all non-Ferrari teams recommending that the FIA be petitioned to disclose the details of its classified “arrangement” with the House of Maranello.
So far, there has been no official response from any teams and no admission by Mercedes that a letter had indeed been sent by Wolff.
It has been suggested that the FIA, which investigated Ferrari’s power unit last year, could perhaps not prove beyond all doubt that the engine infringed the fuel flow rules, while Ferrari could not demonstrate that it’s technical ploy had not breached the regulations.
Given this murky state of affairs, Ferrari may have half-admitted to circumventing the fuel flow limitations to get the FIA off its back, and in exchange of immunity.
At this stage, it’s all conjecture however, but the case sets a dangerous precedent which Ferrari’s rivals have apparently judged as unacceptable as it potentially undermines their confidence in the FIA and its integrity.
A a crisis looms, the first team principals’ press conference of the 2020 season should make for an interesting watch.
On January 21, a Chinese colleague asked some of us who work in Formula 1 and share a WhatsApp group if we were worried about coronavirus, and got largely ignored. At that point, it was something that was starting to flare up in China, but how big it could become was relatively unknown.
Fast-forward 42 days, and it’s all anyone in F1 is talking about.
There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding when it comes to how Coronavirus and F1 are intertwined, so I thought I’d try and explain just how tricky some of the situations are.
Promoters and governments are paying huge sums of money to host F1 races, and for the early rounds in Australia, Bahrain and Vietnam preparations are well advanced in terms of being ready for the grand prix. Certain staff are already in place as part of the setup, and huge amounts have been spent by all those involved to get there.
So calling a race off at this point would be hugely expensive, which means the default is to try and make it happen if the global health situation allows.
As it stands, Australia is pretty clear on its approach. Unless you have been in China or Iran in the past 14 days, you can enter the country. And there are no bans on mass gatherings or activities, so nothing that stops a race happening. In fact, the only issue has been that the few Chinese members of F1’s media entourage have had to stay away from home between the final test and the first race.
But those three words – ‘as it stands’ – are crucial, and are certainly giving F1 a headache.
On Sunday night, I started replying to a number of questions or comments on Twitter about the situation, jokingly calling it ‘Coronavirus Corner’. But it feels like I haven’t stopped since then. At that point, there were no restrictions that would impact the race, even if the situation in MotoGP was being used as a stick to beat F1 with.
MotoGP called off its opening round in Qatar seven days before the race because the Qatari government imposed restrictions that meant anyone arriving from Italy (a large portion of the MotoGP paddock) would immediately enter into a 14-day quarantine, therefore missing the event. Then Thailand postponed its round, much in the same way the Chinese Grand Prix was called off, as the organizers deemed that now is not the right time to host it.
F1 didn’t have any such restrictions in its host countries at that point, but on Monday, Vietnam took a similar stance to Qatar in imposing a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. As everyone would return home after the second race in Bahrain, the latter would impact on Ferrari, AlphaTauri, Haas and Alfa Romeo (as Ferrari customer teams using Italian engineers) and Pirelli, as well as a number of media and support staff.
The logistical requirements of F1 teams make for some vexing issues in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, particularly for Italian-based teams and suppliers. Image by Sutton/LAT
Of course, there’s a bit of time to react to that right now. But soon after, Bahrain announced it will ban anyone entering the country if they have visited or transited through Italy, Iraq, China, Hong Kong, Iran, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore in the 14 days prior to arrival. There is also a block on flights in from Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.
For anyone already in Italy, that announcement could be troublesome, as most will fly to Australia later this week and on to Bahrain within 14 days of that. But even if action has already been taken, a number of flights from Melbourne to Bahrain pass through Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the UAE.
That leaves the massive logistical headache of trying to re-route teams and personnel at the last minute, at huge expense. And some will fear they won’t be allowed entry on arrival.
Bahrain is going “to put in place specific measures for teams, administrators, broadcast and media” in order to facilitate entry to allow the race to go ahead, and have asked for all travel details of those attending in order to do so. Personally, that means needing clearance to arrive from Dubai, as my flight route for the opening two races is through Dubai to Melbourne and again through Dubai to Bahrain, and then back to Dubai to fly home.
The requirements for transit to and from Bahrain make it especially problematic. Image by Steven Tee/LAT
There is no centralized travel across such a large-scale operation, so for others involved in F1 the Bahrain restrictions have already meant changing flight plans to avoid listed countries, which costs money. I can tell you as a freelancer that the uncertainty has led to a number of plans being put on hold and work falling through (in my case, a TV company not committing to broadcasting on-site from the early rounds). I totally understand, as I haven’t even booked my flights to Vietnam yet for fear of losing thousands of dollars…
Even if the first two races go ahead with Bahrain exercising special exemptions, Vietnam still looks like being a problem if it doesn’t follow suit. And Vietnam is well within its rights to impose these bans. It might share a border with China — leading to skepticism that a low number of cases of coronavirus were all cured and there are currently none — but travel leads to the spread, and as a Western Europe-based sport (a part of the world that travels regularly) F1 is just as likely to bring cases with it. So the bans could well stay in place.
One solution that keeps being brought up is, ‘Can’t the Italy-based personnel just stay out between Bahrain and Vietnam to avoid the 14-day restriction?’ Yes, technically they can, but these are real people with families and homes. On top of the financial cost and logistical need to return to the factory to prepare for the next race unhampered, there could be many personal reasons why that’s just asking too much of people. And what’s to say the restrictions will still be in place when people need to fly out in four weeks’ time?
But none of this is bigger than the global health situation. If a government decides it is too risky to have a huge number of travelers hopping from one country to another and potentially taking a virus with them, then they must do what’s right for their own security. If that means imposing restrictions that lead to a last-minute cancellation of an F1 race, so be it.
For F1’s part, by working closely with the relevant authorities it tries to ensure as little disruption as possible, but knows it is allowing such a late change to be taken out of its hands as it rightly follows the advice of each host country.
Formula 1 motorsport manager Ross Brawn has told Reuters that a world championship race could not take place in a country that denies entry to a team due to the coronavirus crisis.
As F1, the FIA and race organisers in Australia, Bahrain and Vietnam scramble to keep their upcoming events alive, travel restrictions imposed by the aforementioned countries are wreaking havoc on the F1 community’s plans and logistics.
Teams and personnel originating from Italy, where a cluster of over 2,000 coronavirus cases emerged in in the northern part of the country, are among those who are currently facing massive challenges regarding an entry into Bahrain and Vietnam, either because of travel restrictions or 14-day quarantine procedures.
Brawn said that talks were currently ongoing with Vietnam’s health authorities regarding possible measures to secure the proper running of the country’s inaugural F1 event, including asking teams to reduce their traveling work force.
“They want the race to happen but also they’ve got to protect their population,” added the F1 chief.
“So we’re looking at what solutions we can find to make sure everybody is comfortable with the arrangements,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things going on at the moment and it changes on a day-by-day basis. It’s difficult to be definitive now but we’re going to find solutions.
“It’s a very serious situation, so I don’t want to underplay it. But we’re trying to have races. We’ve got to do them in a responsible way,” Brawn insisted.
“We’re minimizing the number of people in the paddock, we’re asking the teams to send a minimum number of people they need to a race.”
“Because of company restriction policies adopted by Scuderia Ferrari and Pirelli following the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak, the scheduled 18-inch 2021 wet tyre test at Fiorano on March 5 has to be postponed,” Ferrari stated in a post on social media.
“The test will be rescheduled at Fiorano at the earliest opportunity.”
With each passing day, another roadblock appears in F1’s path. On Tuesday, Vietnam and Bahrain announced travel and entry restrictions for individuals originating from a list of countries that includes Italy, China, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, Lebanon and Thailand.
For now the Australian and Vietnam Grands Prix are still on, although the latter is turning into a logistics nightmare for teams and personnel, especially those residing in Italy.
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams says Formula 1 must be incredibly “responsible and responsive” in how it handles the coronavirus crisis given the massive challenges at hand.
As countries across the world deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, travel restrictions and border controls are severely disrupting F1’s logistics for the opening three rounds of the 2020 world championship.
No races have been cancelled yet, but the pressure is building on F1 following the latest travel restrictions imposed by Bahrain and Vietnam, which include an entry ban in those countries for all foreign nationals travelling from a selection of countries, including Italy where many members of the F1 community reside.
As the fluid situation comes to a head, Williams insists on a responsible response from F1’s chiefs that takes into account the safety of the sport’s members and its fans.
“It’s an incredibly serious situation,” said Williams at a ROKiT sponsor event in London on Monday.
“Being a global sport travelling around the world with thousands and thousands of people, and that doesn’t take into account the number of fans travelling as well, there’s so much movement that we’ve got to be incredibly responsible and enormously responsive as well.”
Williams echoed Red Bull team boss Christian Horner’s assessment of the crisis which he described as eveolving by the hour.
“At the moment it is a moving target,” added Williams. “We’re clearly keeping in touch with the relevant authorities, with F1 as well, and taking the guidance as it’s coming.
“But it is changing literally by the hour at the moment.
“It’s quite a difficult management piece, when you’re thinking about F1 and the number of personnel that you’re taking to a race.
“Plus the amount of kit that you’re putting on air freight and sea freight, and the cost involved in all of that.
“We want to go racing at the end of the day, but we’ve got to make sure that we keep our people safe in doing that. We will just continue to take the guidance as and when it comes through.”
But Ferrari and Red Bull’s chargers have opted for nine sets of Pirelli’s softest tyre. While Max Verstappen and Alex Albon are on the same page regarding their selection, Charles Leclerc has taken an extra set of mediums relative to his Scuderia teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Renault, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas follow Mercedes lead in stocking up on the C4 tyre.
But Racing Point’s drivers will only have 8 sets of the red-rimmed compound at their disposal.
The prospect of Formula 1 racing in Bahrain just a week after the season-opening Australian GP has been called into question following the Kingdom’s most recently announced travel restrictions.
Bahrain has declared that all foreign nationals who have travelled to Italy, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea 14 days prior to their arrival will be denied into the country!
The decision is temporary but will only further complicate F1’s already nightmare travel logistics.
Teams are set to race in Melbourne on March 15 and then travel directly to Bahrain for the second round of the F1 world championship.
Given the strong Italian contingent present in F1 – starting with Ferrari and AlphaTauri and which extends to suppliers such as Pirelli and Magneti Marelli – fielding a full grid at Sakhir now seems highly improbable.
Yet, Bahrain Grand Prix organisers insist their event is still set to take place on March 22.
With sporting events such as MotoGP’s first two rounds in Qatar and Thailand getting the axe, and countries which F1 is set to visit ramping up border restrictions, the start of the 2020 season is heading towards major disruption.
Meanwhile, over at the FIA, the governing body insists it is still “closely monitoring” the evolving situation linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Following the coronavirus epidemic that broke out at the beginning of the year and, to date, has mainly affected China, the FIA is closely monitoring the evolving situation with relevant authorities and its Member Clubs, under the direction of FIA Medical Commission President, Professor Gérard Saillant,” the FIA stated on Tuesday, reiterating its stance from the days before.
“The FIA will evaluate the calendar of its forthcoming races and, if necessary, take any action required to help protect the global motor sport community and the wider public.”
Former Grand Prix driver Giancarlo Fisichella will be back behind the wheel of an open-wheel race car this month, the Italian taking part in the Australian GP’s S5000 support event in Melbourne.
Fisichella – a three-time Grand Prix winner who raced for Minardi, Jordan, Benetton, Sauber, Renault, Force India and Ferrari between 1996 and 2009 – will join former F1 rival Rubens Barrichello on the S5000 grid at Albert Park.
Kimi Raikkonen still very much loves racing in F1, but the sport’s senior citizen admits that his family has become his first priority in his life in recent years.
With 313 Grands Prix under his belt, Raikkonen is just ten races shy of beating Rubens Barrichello’s record 323 starts in F1.
Nineteen years, 21 wins and one world championship after starting his career at the pinnacle of motorsport, Raikkonen is still going strong, albeit not at the front of the field but among F1’s second tier runners.
But racing in the thick of the pack hasn’t eroded the 40-year-old veteran’s motivation or passion for F1. And despite his trademark muted personality, the Iceman remains one of the most popular drivers on the grid.
“I like racing. Although there is much more than races in F1,” the Finn told Spain’s El Pais. “If I didn’t enjoy the races, I wouldn’t be here.
“As long as you do things that make you happy as a person that is all that matters.
“If you are happy that will help you in your work, be it driving a car or any other. It will help you in your daily life.
“If people like it, great. if they don’t like it, it’s also fine. Each one is as it is. Besides, I never do anything to please anyone. I do what I do thinking about me.”
Raikkonen could be perceived as one-sided or selfish based on that last remark. But the prominence he gives to his family proves he is anything but self-indulgent.
The former Ferrari driver’s priorities significantly changed when son Robin popped into his and his wife Minttu’s life five years ago, a blessed event followed two years later by the arrival of daughter Rianna.
“Fatherhood changes your schedules completely. Also, you worry much more,” Raikkonen admitted.
“In the end, they are young children, they need you. And there are other new things that are suddenly more important in your life.
“Now the family is much more important than racing, even if you enjoy running. I miss them a lot when I’m out.
“That is surely the hardest part, being away from home so long. Because there is much more boredom behind F1 than what appears.”
With each passing year, Raikkonen steps up his level of engagement with his children, as his support for young Robin’s karting aspirations clearly shows.
“The older they get, the more you have fun,” he added. “I love spending time with them, it’s very nice to see how they get older.”
As a young 22-year-old baby-faced rookie who lined up on the Australian Grand Prix grid with Sauber in 2001, the Iceman could have scarcely imagined that he would still be racing in F1 at 40.
“I don’t feel as old as the number says,” he insisted. “Although every day there’s a little less ice.”
The participation of the Ferrari and AlphaTauri teams in next month’s inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix could be in jeopardy following the country’s decision to impose a 14-day quarantine on travelers entering from Italy.
As the coronavirus outbreak spreads beyond China, Formula 1 is scrambling to deal with restrictions and potential travel limitations imposed on the sport’s teams by countries it is set to visit.
Australian and Bahrain Grand Prix organisers have so far confirmed their respective March 15 and March 22 events. But Vietnam’s most recent decision to impose a 14-day quarantine on individuals traveling from Italy throws a massive spanner into the works of Ferrari and AlphaTauri.
A cluster of coronavirus cases erupted in northern Italy last month, with the novel virus affecting over 2,000 people and causing 52 deaths.
In February, Vietnam confirmed 16 coronavirus cases in a village near Hanoi, but all patients received treatment and have supposedly since recovered. However, all incoming travelers from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy will be subject to the mandatory 14-day isolation.
Vietnam Grand Prix organisers have also stated that their event will take place as scheduled on April 5th, but how Ferrari and AlphaTauri will deal with the logistical nightmare of avoiding the quarantine is anybody’s guess.
It has been suggested that the teams’ personnel, and the many Italian staff working in F1 such as employees of tyre supplier Pirelli, could circumvent the mandatory quarantine in Hanoi by not returning to Italy after the Bahrain Grand Prix which takes place 14 days before the race in Vietnam.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner says expectations are rising for his team’s second year in partnership with Honda, after an encouragingly strong showing in pre-season testing.
Mercedes set the fastest times of pre-season testing as well as the highest mileage, but Red Bull also enjoyed plenty of strong running with both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. Horner is encouraged by the signs from testing but also says the development of the Honda relationship is leading to expectations that it can exceed last year’s total of three victories.
“I think we’ve got a very strong team,” Horner said. “Our driver line-up and our team’s strength in depth, our engine partner is a key aspect as well and has been the missing ingredient for the past few years. That relationship with Honda really grew over the course of last year with the three victories we achieved, the pole positions we achieved, and of course heading into the second year with continuity and the power unit more integrated into the chassis.
“Our expectations are growing and rising and our targets are very high this year, so that is the challenge. We know we have some fierce opponents and great competitors. We do have the strength in depth within our team to hopefully put a real challenge together this year.”
While Mercedes hit reliability issues at times and Ferrari didn’t show the same raw pace as 2019, Horner sees the picture at this point as similar to 12 months ago.
“That is always the dangerous thing about pre-season testing, trying to draw too many conclusions. Ferrari look understated at the last test but they are starting to wind it up and I think it would be foolish to underestimate them going to Melbourne.
“Mercedes are the reigning six-time world champions and very much the favorites. Their form has always looked strong (in Barcelona) and you want to have your issues in testing, not when you are racing; so winter testing can sometimes be a little deceptive but I think it will be the same teams fighting at the sharp end of the grid this year.”
“I think we are all hopeful that Mercedes don’t make it through, that would be wishful thinking,” joked Horner in Barcelona before seriously addressing the issue.
“In all seriousness we have to follow guidance from the countries, governments and our own governments and governing bodies.
“Chase Carey was here this morning [on Friday] so we had a quick update with him.
“It is a moving target. It changes almost by the hour at the moment so I think we have to keep a watching brief, be responsible in how we act and logistically moving people around the world at the moment has its challenges.
“Everybody is finding out which hubs they will be going through en route to Australia.
“As I said it is a moving target so all we can do is follow the advice of the governing body and the local governments.”
Haas boss Guenther Steiner is confident Formula 1’s chiefs will put processes in place with the Australian GP’s organisers that will ensure the safe access of teams to Melbourne.
“I think, going into Australia, they will make sure that we all get in and that we all get out,” Steiner said.
“Getting in is one thing and getting out is the next one. There are worse places to get stuck in than Australia but we have a job to do and we need to come back.
“But as far as I know FOM and the FIA are really working on that to make sure that everything goes ahead in an organised manner without surprises.
“We have got everybody going by Dubai and not via Hong Kong or Singapore, so we are OK on that one.
“I don’t know how the other teams are flying but I’m sure FOM and the FIA, they will work this out for us because they are in contact with the local authorities and they can make these decisions.”
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto says the Scuderia’s quest to field a bullet proof car this season in terms of reliability has compromised the SF1000’s engine performance.
Ferrari’s 2019 car was notorious for its low drag and strong engine that helped the car excel on the straights. But design changes to this year’s contender were centered around improving the Scuderia’s speed around the corners.
The choice has logically come at the expense of the SF1000’s straight line speed, but Binotto also suggests that Maranello’s power unit has perhaps lost a bit of its muscle compared to last year.
The FIA’s ‘bombshell’ announcement on Friday when it revealed that it had reached a confidential agreement with the Scuderia over its 2019 power unit only reinforced in many pundits’ mind the link between last year’s technical directives published by the governing body and Ferrari’s engine losses.
But Binotto insisted the lower performance registered during pre-season testing was partly due to constraints imposed by its engine reliability program.
“We are not hiding, that is our true performance,” said the Swiss engineer.
“I think it’s difficult to split on the streets what is drag and what is power, but certainly we we are down on speed compared to other competitors.
“I think that’s affected by one way from the drag and the other from the reliability programme that we have in place.”
Much has been said and written about Racing Point’s RP20 and its many similarities with Mercedes’ 2019 W10.
The Silverstone-based outfit’s car showed undeniable flashes of speed in the hands of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, but Sainz suggests the pink squad was playing its cards close to its chest.
“The team [McLaren] doesn’t have a clear picture of how far we are from the top three,” Sainz explained.
“But we will see immediately in FP1, FP2 [in Melbourne], when we will run the same fuel loads or more or less.
“On the midfield, the Racing Point – they’ve been very quick the whole of the two weeks. They hit the track on the first day and they did a [1m]17.3.
“And since then they haven’t improved much because I don’t think they want to – but that 17.3 on the first day, I think it impressed all of us and they’re going to be quick, very quick.”
McLaren aims to hold its own at the head of the midfield this year, but Sainz also hopes the group as a whole can inch closer to the Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull trio, and possibly steal their thunder if the odd opportunity to do so arises.
“What I hope is all of us are closer to the top than we were last year. That would be my biggest wish, independent of the position,” he said.
“I wish the midfield this year could be close enough to the leaders to make sure if the leaders have an accident in lap one, that they don’t move through the field, that would be my biggest thing.”
“As soon as you are not successful, some people put that down to the fact I am a woman,” Williams told the PA news agency. “They maybe give me a rougher time because I am a woman.
“I have actually had someone say to me that a lot of people in the Formula One paddock think that the team started doing badly when I fell pregnant and had a baby. How dare they.
“There are nine other team principals in F1 and I am sure the majority of them have children.
“Would you ever level that criticism at them? Am I not allowed a child because I am a woman running a Formula 1 team? It is a disgraceful attitude and a very 19th century attitude.
“I work seven days a week, pretty much all-year round, and if I didn’t bring Nate to a handful of races then I would rarely see him. But I am criticised for that as well. You cannot win.
“Woe betide me if I walk down the paddock holding my child. I actually have to hide the fact that I am a mother who is trying to run a Formula One team.
“The fact that Williams are not doing well at the moment is not because I have a child.”
Williams’ message to the F1 community is clear, and those who pass judgement on her or question her ability to lead because of her gender only strengthen the trademark Williams fortitude and determination embedded in the family by her legendary father.
“I want to use the fact that I am a woman in this male-dominated world,” she added.
“I would love to walk down the paddock this year having taken the team to a better place, not just to show all those people that they were wrong, but also to show that a woman can take a huge amount of criticism, still hold her head up high and keep fighting.
“To prove that I can be a woman, I can be a wife, I can be a mother and still run a Formula 1 team in a successful way.
“In turn, hopefully it will send a very powerful message to those who are having a rough time or struggling.
“There are so many fundamental changes that need to take place within society as to how we address women in the workplace because it is so far behind the times.”
Former F1 driver Mark Webber says Lewis Hamilton is once again his outright favourite for the title, the Aussie expecting the Briton and Mercedes to “strip down” their rivals this year.
Mercedes has already staked its claim to a seventh consecutive World championship by domination pre-season testing in Barcelona.
While Valtteri Bottas was the fastest runner at the Circuit de Catalunya for the Silver Arrows outfit, Webber is putting his money on Hamilton equaling in 2020 Michael Schumacher’s record seven crowns.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas is among those who ambition to topple F1’s mega star. The Finn will obviously be armed with the same equipment as the Briton, yet Webber doubts Bottas can make it happen.
“Nothing against Valtteri, (but) Hamilton is one of the greats of the sport in the last 70 years. He is a headache for everyone. I don’t know who would be comfortable sitting beside him,” added Webber.
“Lewis is a ginormous, ginormous challenge for anyone. Valtteri is doing what he can, but Hamilton is a big problem for the opposition.
”He’s hungry and he’s still tenacious and he is reinventing himself, and that’s the extraordinary quality he has which is great to watch.”
At 35 and with 13 seasons under his belt, Hamilton is showing no signs of abating. Whether it’s his skills or motivation, the six-time world champion is at the top of his game.
“I think in the middle of his career a few people were worried that it might not be as long a career as could happen,” Webber contended.
“But then he got it really right back together, whether it was under guardianship of (Mercedes chiefs) Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff, I would have imagined that had a big bearing on it.
“I know he’s enjoying a much better relationship with his father, which is great. He’s as stable as he’s ever been in his life Monday to Friday, and that’s a reflection then of how he performs.”
Williams displayed a good performance level in pre-season testing, but George Russell still believes the British outfit is at the bottom of the field.
Contrary to last year, Williams executed a timely roll out of its 2020 contender in Barcelona and prepared well at the Circuit de Catalunya save for the issues it encountered with its Mercedes power unit.
Both Russell and rookie teammate Nicholas Latifi performed well behind the wheel of their new FW43.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz says the papaya squad is “shocked in a good way” by the performance level of its 2020 car in pre-season testing.
Sainz only clocked in P8 on the final day of running at the Circuit de Catalunya. But the Spaniard, who achieved on Friday McLaren’s fastest time in testing, offered a positive assessment overall of the team’s winter preparations.
“I’m happy with the progress made so far,” Sainz said. “We managed to have a good day of testing today.
“We managed to test three or four things that I had in the back of my mind and put a run plan together to make sure I tested them before Australia.
“I managed to get some conclusions, and for me a good test day is based on that.”
Fernando Alonso’s focus for 2020 is on the Indy 500, but the Spaniard could tack on more races this year with Arrow McLaren SP.
Alonso’s has kept his Triple Crown ambitions alive by signing up for Indy with Arrow McLaren SP, an opportunity that has come about as a result of his botched deal with Andretti Autosport which was shot down by Honda, Andretti’s engine supplier.
While the former F1 driver will go all in with McLaren at the Brickyard in May, the pair’s collaboration could include additional IndyCar race dates.
“That was part of the conversations I had with both teams – what they were thinking about that – and it’s still an open point to develop,” Alonso said, referring to his earlier negotiations with Andretti.
“Someone thinks that later in the year it can be a possibility to experience a normal IndyCar race, just to see how it feels and add some more experience.
“I have the thought that maybe that would be before the Indy 500 because it gives me a little bit of preparation, because this year I’m not doing F1 and I’m not doing the World Endurance Championship so my last race was the Dakar Rally which is completely opposite style!
“So maybe one race before or an extra test would be a help also for me, even if it’s not an oval race.
“So there are things that are under negotiations and something that took a role in the final decision [to join Arrow McLaren] as well.”
Alonso will be running at Indy in a third Ruoff Mortgage-sponsored Arrow McLaren SP entry, alongside the team’s full time drivers, Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew.
The Spaniard could perhaps add to his agenda the mid-May GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis which takes place on the Speedway’s road course, but only if it doesn’t upset his team’s preparations for the big event.
“Whatever I can do before the Indy 500, it can be only beneficial to my preparation, because I would like to be a little more active from now until the Indy 500,” he said.
“But there are other things that may compromise the Indy 500 car or the setup or the building of everything, so I don’t want to make any problems with that preparation.
“There are things that I will talk to the team about – they have much more experience than me – Sam [Schmidt, team co-owner], Zak [Brown, McLaren CEO], Gil [de Ferran, McLaren sporting director] – and we will figure out what is the best preparation.
“As I said, I am open to do more things than in the past.”
Racing Point technical director Andy Green says the team’s rivals are wrong to criticize its RP20, insisting the pink outfit’s 2020 design is “completely legal”.
The Silverstone-based outfit’s RP20 drew the scrutiny of several teams in Barcelona who believe the new car is a mere replica of Mercedes’ 2019 championship winning W10.
Racing Point’s impressive performance during pre-season testing only added fuel to the controversy, but Green was anything but apologetic for following a design philosophy that indeed took its inspiration from Mercedes’ W10.
In Barcelona, Green denied that suspension components had been transferred from Mercedes to Racing Point, insisting everything on its RP20 was designed and produced in-house, although its R&D was based on the Silver Arrows squad’s winning car.
“It’s something that we’ve been wanting to do for a very long time and haven’t had the budget to do,” he added. “This was the natural thing for us to do, absolutely 100 percent.
“It gives me encouragement that people are talking about us and people are complaining about us. That’s a good indication to me that we are doing something really good so I’m happy.
“If we were at the bottom of the pack no one would even be mentioning what we’ve done, at all.”
The confidential settlement reached between the FIA and Ferrari over a specific technical aspect of the latter’s 2019 power unit has reportedly generated an angry reaction from the Scuderia’s rivals.
The FIA made the bombshell announcement on Friday in Barcelona, stating that it had “concluded its analysis of the operation of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit and reached a settlement with the team.”
The crux of the matter evolves around the suspicion that Ferrari used a clever ploy last year to circumvent engine fuel flow limitations, allowing the Italian outfit’s unit to significantly increase its power output under specific circumstances.
As a reminder, Ferrari won three races on the trot after the 2019 summer break, and engine performance was very much at the center of its rivals’ attention.
The FIA published two technical directives ahead of last season’s US and Brazilian Grands Prix to clarify fuel flow restrictions and outlaw a potential ploy that would have allowed for a flow increase.
Oddly, Ferrari’s power advantage appeared to mysteriously evaporate after the publication of the relevant TDs.
Benson adds that “teams believe fundamental questions are raised by the way the FIA has chosen to end the Ferrari investigation”.
The FIA’s lack of transparency opens a can of worms that not only questions the legality of Ferrari’s engine but also the governing body’s integrity, and its ability to clearly rule on whether the Italian outfit’s unit breached the technical regulations or not.
Furthermore, the teams’ curious minds would rightfully like to know what the “settlement” between the two parties exactly encompasses.
Was Ferrari given a free pass in exchange for a financial compensation, or the promise of bringing its engine back in line with the regs?
The optics of the agreement – or rather the arrangement – clearly look awful for the FIA and set a muddy and dangerous precedent which the teams will judge as unacceptable as it potentially undermines their confidence in motorsport’s institution.
Formula 1’s winter testing in Barcelona was done and dusted on Friday, with the Mercedes team ending the second week of pre-season preparations at the Circuit de Catalunya in much the same rude health it had ended the first.
No one was able to beat the overall top benchmark time of 1:15.732s on the softest C5 Pirelli compound set by Valtteri Bottas in Week 1. The Finn himself also set the quickest time of Week 2 with a lap of 1:16.196s on the last day.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen tried hard in the final minutes of testing to match it, but ultimately fell just short with a best effort of 1:16.269s on a set of C4s. That was still good enough to push lunchtime leader Daniel Ricciardo down to third spot for the day and indeed the entire test.
The slowest ‘best’ laps of the 21 drivers taking part over the two tests were posted by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen (1:17.495s), Red Bull’s Alex Albon (1:17.550s) and McLaren’s (1:17.573s).
While Magnussen set his time on the C4 compound, Albon’s was on the harder C2 tyres and Norris set his time on a set of C3s, confirming that both were concentrating on distance simulations rather than qualifying runs throughout testing.
Overall in terms of speed, Williams’ best lap of the test was 1.259s faster than it managed in pre-season testing 12 months previously. It was also good news for Racing Point, whose best time was almost a full second quicker than last year.
Red Bull were similarly looking stronger, over eight tenths better than 2019, while Renault appeared to have gained around almost six tenths in top-line speed year-on-year. But the bad news for the rest of the paddock is that Mercedes were also nearly half a second up on their last year’s best.
McLaren and Haas were virtually unchanged on last year’s pace, while the only two teams that ended up slower than last year were AlphaTauri (by a mere 0.032s) and Ferrari (by a somewhat more troubling 0.139s).
Despite concerns about engine reliability that saw them notch up just 14 laps on Thursday afternoon, Mercedes also continued to top the overall mileage charts. Having completed 494 laps during the first three days of testing, they pushed on to a final tally of 903 laps (4202km) by the time the chequered flag came out on Friday afternoon.
That compared to 844 laps for a much-improved Ferrari at the end of week two, 802 for McLaren, 782 for Racing Point and 780 for Red Bull Racing. The rest of the teams all put in between 700 and 800 laps over the course of the test, with the exception of Haas which banked just 649 completed circuits of the Spanish track.
Those figures mean Mercedes also managed to hold on to the top position in terms of the combined efforts of the four engine manufacturers. The Silver Arrows works team together with customer squads Racing Point and Williams completed a total of 2422 laps for the two sessions.
Ferrari and its customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas were close behind with 2228 laps. Honda’s pairing of Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri ran 1549 laps, narrowly pipping the combined count from Renault and McLaren by just four laps.
When it comes to individual driver contributions, Lewis Hamilton clocked up the most laps of anyone in the test, with 466 putting him just ahead of Carlos Sainz (446), Charles Leclerc (442), Sergio Perez (441), Valtteri Bottas (437), Max Verstappen (414) and Sebastian Vettel (402).
As the only team to share its testing duties between three different drivers, it was no upset to see Antonio Giovinazzi with just 323 laps on the board, Kimi Raikkonen on 300, and reserve driver Robert Kubica with a total of 112 having been in the car for just two half-days.
Perhaps more of a surprise was the presence of Magnussen in this all-Alfa company, on just 250 laps. Much of that can be put down to his unfortunate accident, where a defective wheel spacer meant he missed out on almost all of his time in the car on the first Friday afternoon.
A special commendation for service above and beyond the call of testing duty goes to Charles Leclerc, who completed a whopping 181 laps in a single day on the final Friday. Max Verstappen had previously banked 168 laps on the first Wednesday session.
Lewis Hamilton hopes Mercedes will gain a significant edge this season thanks to its ingenious ‘Dual Axis Steering’ system mounted on its new W11.
Mercedes pulled the DAS device out of its hat in pre-season testing but hasn’t offered much insight into the device’s benefits which appear to range from tyre temperature management to drag reduction on the straights.
Hamilton himself says he doesn’t know exactly where or at what moment over a race weekend the DAS shall be deployed but the six-time world champion hopes it will prove beneficial.
Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto wants clarity from Formula 1 and the FIA on the procedures that will govern the entry of team staff into Australia in a fortnight following the coronavirus outbreak.
A cluster of cases involving the novel virus was identified in northern Italy and has put the country’s residents and travelers at risk of being forbidden entry into other countries or quarantined upon arrival.
Ferrari staff faced issues accessing the F2 test organized this week in Bahrain because of unforeseen restrictions imposed by the Kingdom. So Binotto is now seeking clarity from F1’s governing body that teams won’t be confronted with similar problems when heading to Melbourne later this month.
“I think that what we will need is simply to have assurance before leaving. I don’t think we can discover when [we are there] what can be or what will be the situation,” Binotto said, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“So if there are any medical screenings, we need to know about them. You need to know exactly what’s about. We need to understand what are the consequences in case of any problem.
“Obviously we need to protect our employees. We have got collective and individual responsibility towards them. And it’s important, really, to make sure that before leaving, the picture, whatever is the scenario, is known and clear.”
At a meeting on Friday morning in Barcelona with F1 chief executive Chase Carey, teams were updated on the current situation which remains fluid.
But AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost expressed his concern that restrictions or a confinement imposed on some team personnel could actually prevent an outfit from competing Down Under.
If such a plight occurred, Tost believes it would be unfair for F1 to go racing.
“We want to have a grand prix. Up to now. I don’t expect that there will come up any problems,” he said.
“But everything is changing hourly and this makes it difficult.
“If teams can’t run for whatever reason – I have not thought about this, also not I’m not a decision maker – then I think it would be unfair to start the season because this is a big disadvantage, whoever it is.
“Regarding Bahrain, if I’m informed right, people coming from Italy had a medical check and if they are not sick, if they don’t have the coronavirus, then they can, of course, work in there. And I expect something similar with Formula 1.”
With the Australian Grand Prix just 14 days away, the local organizer and the country will likely need to make a definitive call on their event in the coming days. And it isn’t looking good.
“I don’t want to say much because that’s when you get all the s**t but it’s really great so we are really happy,” he told the media after his final outing in the car on Thursday.
“I think they [Honda] are pushing as always,” he continued. “Like last year, they made a big step. And again this year it’s better again than last year. [In terms of] reliability we really didn’t have an issue during the whole two weeks.
“It’s always difficult to put a number but the overall feeling is that I kind of feel similar than last year in the car,” Gasly said when asked for his assessment of the AT01 overall.
“”I think its a little improvement, there’s nothing way better or way worse but I think the overall package is slightly better.”
Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe was pleased with the way that testing had gone for AlphaTauri, as well as for its ‘big sister’ team Red Bull Racing.
“Overall it was a very positive session, going through many different tests on the PU and gathering lots of data,” he commented.
“769 laps with Scuderia AlphaTauri and 780 laps with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing means 1,549 laps and 7,211km in total for Honda, and this is quite a respectable mileage.
“It is too early to talk about the competitiveness of both teams as everyone ran different programmes in varied conditions, such as track temperature, wind, humidity, which all have a significant impact on the modern F1 car,” he pointed out.
“But we can say it was a good preparation for the start of the season. Now we will go through the analysis of data and the PUs themselves that we ran over these six days, and that work will continue right up to the very last minute before the opening race.
“There are only 16 days to go before we race in Melbourne. We’ll be aiming to start the season in good form.”
Up front, da Costa established a 2-second cushion over Gunther by making better use of his four-minute attack mode. Meanwhile, the Brazilian’s teammate Jean-Eric Vergne was making good progress through the field, moving from 11th on the grid all the way up into the top 4.
As the front-runners engaged in energy management, da Costa fell back into the clutches of Gunther and was overtaken by the BMW charger before taking back the lead with a move on the outside at Turn 11.
In the remaining laps, the main spat pitted Gunther against a determined Vergne, with the reigning FE champion having the last word when he edged past the German in the inside of Turn 1.
But Gunther fought back, using his energy advantage to try and overhaul Vergne who aggressively defended his runner-up spot.
Eventually however, the BMW driver made it stick against the Frenchman just two corners from the checkered flag. The spirited battle offered da Costa an opportunity to extend his commanding lead and breeze past the finish line with 11 seconds in hand.
Behind Gunther and Vergne, who scored his first podium of the season, Nissan’s eDams Sebastien Buemi, while Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara and Jaguar’s Mitch Evans rounded off the top six.
Saturday’s results have put da Costa in charge in the drivers’ standings with 67 points, while Evans and Alexander Sims follow with respectively 56 and 46 points.
Racing Point raised eyebrows at the start of pre-season testing with their new ‘Pink Mercedes’ design, but their controversial strategy appears to be paying off handsomely if the pre-season testing lap times at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya are anything to go by.
Sergio Perez completed 154 laps on the final day of testing with only a minor electrical issue, and set a time of 1:16.634s in the process which made him the seventh fastest driver across the two three-day sessions, and put him ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“We’ve got plenty of useful data from these six days and I think we are now well-prepared to start the season,” said the Mexican. “Everybody has done a huge amount of work over the winter
“I’m looking forward to it and hoping we can be competitive from the first race – but of course, it’s going to be a long season. It doesn’t matter where you start in Melbourne, it matters where you finish in Abu Dhabi.
“For me, the plan now is to do some more physical preparation, with a bit of down time to relax as well before the travelling begins. It’s a long way to Australia, but I can’t wait to get out there and go racing.”
The team’s performance engineering director Tom McCullough gave testing the thumbs up as far as Racing Point was concerned.
“Overall it’s been a positive winter for us,” he confirmed. “We spent the morning finishing off our optimisation work based on the knowledge we’ve gathered of the car thus far.
“We had a small technical issue at the end of the morning session, which was traced to an electrical fault,” he revealed.
“While not a significant concern, we elected to carry out some precautionary checks as it’s important to understand and iron out these niggles before we go racing, which unfortunately cost us some running on the softer tyre compounds.
“We’ve learned a lot about the RP20 over the past two weeks. Now it’s a matter of ensuring we make the best possible use of that data ahead of the opening races.”