2019 Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries insists he is not frustrated by the lack of a chance for him in Formula 1 next season.
Last year, the top three finishers in the F2 championship were all promoted to Formula 1 as champion George Russell joined Williams, runner-up Lando Norris secured a McLaren race seat and Alex Albon was re-signed by Toro Rosso before becoming a Red Bull driver mid-season. De Vries was fourth in the 2018 championship and then won the title this year, but said he is at peace with not having made the same step.
“There’s a lot of things that play a role in actually making it to Formula 1 and not just delivering the job is enough. I accept that, I’m aware of that. I’m a realistic person and I’ve no hard feelings towards that.”
de Vries is racing for Mercedes in Formula E this season while the runner-up to him in the F2 championship – Nicholas Latifi – will race for Williams in F1, but the Dutchman says he is pleased to see another frontrunner get a chance.
“I’m very happy for Nicholas Latifi who will get the opportunity, he did a good season too, he finished second, he did a good job, and I think he deserves his chance,” he said. “I got an opportunity in Formula E with Mercedes-Benz EQ and I’m super happy and grateful with it, and I’ll do everything I can to make it a successful story together.”
de Vries also believes there is not enough respect for how tough it is to be successful in F2, as his title-winning season was rounded off with a scoreless weekend in Abu Dhabi.
“Sometimes I think people underestimate how difficult it is to get right,” he said. “For example, Virtuosi has been quite strong over a race distance this season, but in Russia they didn’t look so strong. DAMS also looked very strong all year in race pace, but then Monza was a very difficult weekend for them.
“Even from a Saturday to Sunday, on Saturday in Paul Ricard we did the fastest lap on the last lap and we won, and then race two was a struggle. So it just proves that the window is so narrow and people don’t fully understand the tires and everything.
“In F1 they struggle to understand the tires and they have hundreds of sensors on the car – more than that – to understand everything, and we have relatively none.”
Pietro Fittipaldi admits he is waiting to see what Robert Kubica decides to do in 2020 as he chases the reserve driver role at Haas.
The Brazilian has been a test driver at Haas this season but does not have the required Super License points for a reserve role with the team. Haas has offered Kubica a deal as reserve driver but it looks increasingly likely to miss out on the Pole, as he is also wanted by Racing Point.
“I’m waiting on (Kubica) to see what happens there,” Fittipaldi said. “I don’t know what the rumors are, what’s going on. That is a key part of it as well. I’d like to continue with the team and I’m pretty confident it’ll happen. But then I don’t know where Robert will play into it as well; if it’s going to happen, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be without a role.”
Fittipaldi hopes that Friday practice outings — which will be worth one Super License point per appearance next season — will allow him to reach the required number to become reserve driver next year.
“For sure if I continue with Haas I would like an increased role. The Super License is something I’m working on, but as soon as I get that I would like to be the reserve driver for the team. One step at a time though and I know there’s no in-season testing next year, so free practices will be important. So for sure I’d like to continue what I’m doing and then do more for next year. I’m four points away from getting that Super License.
“If we complete four FP1s next year then we get the points, but then there’s also other ways to race in a championship to get points. It’s important we get it.”
Amid uncertainty over whether he will continue as Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff insists he is not taking any decisions about his future likely, but suggested his inclination is to remain where he is.
The Austrian has been an executive director at Mercedes since 2013 but has been linked with the role of CEO and chairman of Formula 1 whenever Chase Carey is replaced. While Lewis Hamilton has admitted his own future — with Ferrari interested in signing the six-time world champion — is linked to Wolff’s, the team principal hints he expects both key members to remain with Mercedes at this stage.
“Personally, my role is a little bit different and what I found out is that I enjoy the relationships within the team and the relationships to the decision-makers at Daimler,” Wolff (pictured above, with Hamilton) said. “That is a fundamental part of my well being. They have really trusted us and given us all the room that we need to make this team successful, and I’m not taking it lightly to come up with the right decision for all of us.
“This is a process that is going to take a little bit of time but I don’t see any surprises actually as it stands. The two of us have been together for quite a while, we trust each other, we have gone through difficult times together and we have come out stronger with a better bond. Besides us there are many others who form part of that inner circle within the team. So of course we talk all the time where we see the team going and Lewis’ career going.”
Wolff says he is not concerned that there are already major headlines regarding the future of the likes of Hamilton, because nothing is ever new to him by the time it becomes public knowledge.
“In terms of the silly season it’s normal — you guys drop us little grenades, sometimes we pick them up and they explode in our hand and it’s part of the narrative. It’s good that over the winter these talks happen, but at the same time the two of us talk all the time about it.
“There have never been any surprises; when things come out in the press it was weeks or months that we knew about each other, what our thinking was. It’s part of Formula 1 I guess.”
The winners of this season’s FIA-sanctioned competitions were officially crowned on Saturday at the 2019 FIA Prize Giving ceremony at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.
The undoubted highlight of the evening was the presentation for Lewis Hamilton, who took the iconic trophy for his sixth Formula 1 world title. This puts him just one crown shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships. The 2019 season was a display of supremacy by the British driver, who equalled his 2018 achievement of 11 grand prix victories. Furthermore, Hamilton accumulated a record tally of 413 points in a season, something that has never been achieved before.
The six-time champion said, “It’s been the best year I’ve ever had in my career. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved as a team. To come into a sixth year, to have fought for a world title at the front and sustained the performance we have collectively I think has been amazing. And on the driver front, I’m definitely very happy with my performance this year. There’s been lots of great races, the last few years have been intense with Ferrari, but having another team up there in the loop has made it more challenging for all us.”
Hamilton’s contribution allowed the Mercedes team to secure its sixth consecutive manufacturers’ title, another feat that has never before been achieved.
The winners of the other categories, bar Formula 1, were awarded with stunning new-for-2019 trophies, designed by renowned American painter, sculptor and printmaker Frank Stella.
In rallying, Ott Tanak and his co-driver Martin Jarveoja have put Estonia on the map, ending French domination in the sport’s top category — the FIA World Rally Championship — that had lasted since 2003.
“When you’ve been targeting something like this for a long, long time, and then you actually achieve it, you feel a kind of relief,” Tanak said. “In the beginning, it was a dream, and for the last couple of years we’ve been close, but for different reasons, we’ve not managed to be the winners. Now that we’ve finally done it, it feels like I’ve lost a weight from my shoulders. It’s not been the easiest journey, I’ve been quite literally through the water and fire, but to achieve the title after all these battles, it tastes even better.” On the manufacturers’ side, Hyundai Motorsport finally clinched the crown, having finished second in the two previous seasons.
In what was the FIA World Endurance Championship’s first Super Season held across two calendar years, 2018-2019, Toyota won both the driver and team competitions. Endurance racing rookie Fernando Alonso teamed up with sports cars stalwarts Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima to win five out of eight races, including not one but two editions of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I remember every lap of this championship, which was strange as it lasted one year and a half!” said Alonso. “In 2018 I was combining two world championships — F1 and Endurance — which was very intense, but I loved the experience. Every world championship is unique, and it’s nice to sit here as world champion again. My first Prize Giving was in 1996 when I came with an FIA Karting world championship, and now 23 years later, I’m sitting here with the FIA World Endurance championship.
“It’s been a long career but, as long as you love what you do and you are performing at your best level, it doesn’t matter which category you are here for. The spirit and atmosphere you find in endurance racing is quite special — the friendship you have with your teammates in both cars — all this is unique and you can’t compare with the experiences I had before.”
The series’ LM GTE category also provided fans with a wealth of excitement during the Super Season, stemming from a healthy grid replete with dozens of entries. Winners of the LM GTE drivers’ championship were Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen of Porsche, who claimed their crown with victories at Le Mans and Fuji.
New team and driver entrants, and the increasingly competitive field, made for a far from an easy ride in the 2018/19 ABB FIA Formula E season. That didn’t stop Jean-Eric Vergne from taking three race victories, winning the championship and becoming the first back-to-back title-winner in the history of the championship. Together with teammate Andre Lotterer, Vergne helped the DS Techeetah outfit to clinch its first victory in the teams’ championship in a giant-killing fashion.
“I’m really pleased to have done it again,” said the Frenchman. “It wasn’t an easy season, but here we are — I would say, in a way this championship was harder than the first, because I think there were four races in a row where I didn’t score any points, with no one around me believing that I could do it, and I even lost belief in myself. But that’s really what I’ve learned from this season, is to never lose hope and to find the strength inside you to turn things around. Now that Formula E will become an FIA world championship from Season 7, I will have to come back to the prize giving then so I can be a world champion!”
In what has been the closest season in the World Rallycross Championship’s history, the drivers’ title fight came down to a gripping finale after which Sweden’s Timmy Hansen was crowned world champion.
“I had the perfect ending to an incredible season,” said Hansen. “The feeling of winning the title is actually quite different to what I’d dreamed of — I was extremely focused on my own job but looking at it now it was a crazy finale to the season and you couldn’t have written it better if it was a movie! I’m really proud of the top parts of my season, but I’m also really motivated to work on the parts where I can improve. I feel really blessed to have achieved this as a family — it’s as important as the title to me.”
The winning drivers, co-drivers and teams from the FIA Rally Championships were also awarded for their incredible achievements in some of the toughest and most varied conditions on tarmac, gravel or in the desert dunes across all the continents.
New to the family this year was the FIA Motorsport Games, an interdisciplinary event with a national focus in which drivers represent their countries, fighting for medals that contribute to overall medal standings determining the winning National Sporting Authority. On this occasion, it was Russia, with a gold medal in the Touring Car Cup won by Klim Gavrilov, two bronzes in the Karting Slalom Cup won by Olesya Vashchuk and Vladislav Bushuev, and the Drifting Cup won by Ilia Federov.
Individual medals were also awarded at the event, with Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Ukyo Sasahara winning in the GT Cup, Andrea Rosso winning the Formula 4 Cup, and Nina Pothof and Bastiaan van Loenen taking top honours in the Karting Slalom Cup. Dmitry Illyuk was awarded the Drifting Cup gold. Finally, Cody Nikola Latkovski won gold in the Digital Cup.
The FIA’s stars of the future were also honored in Paris, with champions from across the motorsport spectrum collecting their trophies.
Nyck de Vries was crowned FIA Formula 2 champion following a dominant campaign and takes his success into Formula E for the next racing season. In the new-look FIA Formula 3 Championship, Robert Shwartzman followed in the footsteps of his former and future teammate, Mick Schumacher, and emerged victorious. FIA Karting World Champions Marijn Kremers, Lorenzo Travisanutto, and Thomas Ten Brinke were also awarded their trophies.
A number of special FIA awards were also handed out. First, the FIA Special Award was given to Violetta Bulc for her commitment to her role of European Commissioner for Transport, and her ongoing work to improve road safety and mobility for all users.
The Rookie of the Year prize, voted for by members of the FIA Drivers’ Commission, was won by F1 driver Alex Albon, who started the season with Scuderia Toro Rosso before impressing on his promotion to Red Bull Racing. The British-born Thai finished eighth in the drivers’ standings in his debut season, following an impressive performance at almost every race.
The Personality of the Year award, voted for by permanently accredited media from the FIA’s major championship, was awarded posthumously to Niki Lauda, the three-time F1 world champion and executive director of the Mercedes F1 team.
The Action of the Year prize, voted for by fans of motorsport via the FIA’s online channels, was presented to F1 start Max Verstappen, who was honored for his spectacular battle with Charles Leclerc during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The pair raced wheel to wheel, with Leclerc edging Verstappen wide before the Dutch racer came back at him and overtook on the following corner.
Lewis Hamilton claims numerous drivers have been contacting Toto Wolff regarding a future seat at Mercedes — and suggests either Max Verstappen or Fernando Alonso is among them.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend featured a rise in speculation regarding Hamilton’s future as he was linked with a move to Ferrari and did little to quash the rumors. During the FIA Prize Giving events in Paris on Friday, Hamilton declined to put a deadline on when he’d make a decision on his future but admitted uncertainty over Wolff’s own position with Mercedes — the team director (pictured above with Hamilton and FIA President Jean Todt during the Prize Giving) has been suggested as a potential replacement for F1 CEO Chase Carey — is playing a part in his thinking.
“I’ve not really put a lot of energy towards it,” Hamilton said. “I love where I am, I love the people that I work with, so it’s really difficult to walk away from something that you love as much as I do. The team, the organization, all the way through to the bosses. I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13 so it’s really hard to imagine myself being anywhere else.
“What we’ve built over the period that I’ve been there, in the last seven years — but obviously Mercedes have been working longer than that — at the moment is dominant. It’s a strong force and I think it’s taken us time to build the strength in depth from within and have the consistency we have. It’s not something that has just come overnight, and other teams don’t currently have the togetherness that we have in place. It takes time to build those things.
“Of course, would it be the same without Toto? I don’t think so. But he’s got to do what’s right for him and just like I’ll know what’s right for me when I have to make that decision, he has to make the right decision for him and what’s best for him and his family and his future. Change is also sometimes a good thing.”
Hamilton hinted that a big-name driver present in Paris has been in touch with Wolff regarding a potential seat at Mercedes in 2021, having followed both Verstappen and Alonso on stage during the press conference.
“It’s an interesting time because there are lot of drivers who are seeking positions everywhere. The amount of calls that Toto gets from every driver — including the one that was up here just recently — asking to come, everyone’s trying to leave their team to come to where we are… which is an understandable thing because everybody wants to win and everybody wants to be a part of a winning formula.
“I don’t think it’s a stressful thing at the moment; there’s always been a clear pathway of communication between myself and Toto, there’s never been any secrets so that won’t change.”
With the world championship battle settled, Formula 1’s season finale figured to be a tougher sell with TV audiences. Sure enough, last Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix averaged an 0.30 rating and 473,000 household viewers on ESPN2, down 4 percent from this race last year on ESPN2 last year (3.2/494,000) although still up 6 percent from 445,000 viewers for the race on NBCSN in 2017.
The slight drop represented only the fourth race this year that wasn’t up year-on-year. In a record-setting season for its F1 television viewership, ESPN networks averaged more than 20 percent in audience gains and set seven event viewership records, according to ESPN.
Over the 21-event season, live race telecasts averaged 671,000 viewers, an increase of 21 percent over the average of 554,000 on ESPN networks last year and up 25 percent from the 538,000 average on NBC networks in 2017.
Seventeen of the 21 races saw year-over-year viewership increases and seven races earned U.S. viewership records. In addition, the young adult demographic (persons ages 18-34) was up 75 percent over 2018 and 89 percent over 2017.
“This was a fantastic season for Formula 1 on our networks,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president, programming and scheduling. “The viewership increases and event records demonstrate that the core F1 fans in the United States are tuning in and new viewers are watching as well.
“We look forward to helping Formula 1 celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2020.”
ESPN and Formula 1 recently announced a new, three-year deal to keep F1 races on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC through the 2022 season. As an additional element of the new deal, ESPN Deportes will serve as the exclusive Spanish-language home for all Formula 1 races in the U.S. starting in 2020.
Zandvoort’s new banked corners are taking shape as construction work continues to adapt the circuit for next year’s returning Dutch Grand Prix.
The first race of the European season next year will be held at the Dutch track, with a grand prix taking place in the Netherlands for the first time since 1985. In order to bring the circuit up to F1 standards a number of changes are being made, including the reprofiling of both the final corner and Turn 4 — Hugenholtz — to feature steep banking.
“With these modifications, Circuit Zandvoort becomes the most demanding and most beautiful circuit in Europe, perhaps even in the world,” Dutch Grand Prix sporting director Jan Lammers said. “Coming from Zandvoort myself, but also as a motorsport fan, that is making me quite proud.”
The work on the final corner is also intended to increase overtaking opportunities into Turn 1 — Tarzan — on what is a notoriously narrow circuit. Other circuit modifications taking place include an expanded paddock area and the incorporation of access tunnels and new gravel run-off areas.
Work on the track is expected to be completed in the next three months, with the race being held on May 3 next year.
Fernando Alonso insists he will return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2020 and says his strongest options are to race for McLaren or Andretti.
The Spaniard led a number of laps for Andretti on his first attempt at Indy in 2017 before retiring with a Honda engine failure, but a return with McLaren this year saw the team fail to qualify. With McLaren entering IndyCar full-time next year as Arrow McLaren SP, Alonso says racing for one of those two teams is most likely as he still has his eyes set on winning at the Brickyard.
“Indy is the only one missing,” Alonso told the BBC, referring to motorsport’s unofficial triple crown. “If I do that after winning Le Mans, WEC, Daytona, there is nothing more I could ask. Definitely I will try again.
“They are not the only options but for sure they are the strongest two. I have a loyalty to McLaren and there is also how good I felt in Andretti, and I feel part of that staff and team. I have a very good relationship there.”
Alonso will not make a decision on his Indy 500 team until after his first attempt at the Dakar rally in January, and then will look at the possibility at returning to Formula 1 in 2021 once May is out of the way.
“First I want to do Dakar and Indy and then see if I’m missing F1. This year, it was nice to be out of the F1 bubble but my friends are saying, ‘Now you are out of F1 it is the time to enjoy life a bit.’ And I say that what makes me happy is to race.
“F1 is still a possibility. The 2021 rules are quite interesting. Maybe it will move things around a bit and make the cars easier to race. If it turns out I miss F1, I am open to coming back. Also the driver market is very open for 2021, so there is no hurry to make a decision.”
Renault has announced its chassis technical director Nick Chester will leave the team after nearly 20 years at Enstone.
Chester has been technical director since 2013, having previously been engineering director on the race-winning E20 and E21 cars when the team was known as Lotus. A fourth-place constructors’ championship finish last year was followed by a disappointing fifth place for Renault this season as it was comfortably beaten by customer team McLaren, and Chester has been placed on ‘gardening leave’ as part of a major restructuring of its technical departments in the UK.
“I have enjoyed 19 years in a team with great spirit and have worked with an incredibly loyal and talented group of people,” Chester said. “I am looking forward to a new challenge and wish everybody in the team all the best for the future.”
The British engineer began work at Enstone when the team was Benetton back in 2000, and played a role in Fernando Alonso’s back-to-back championship victories in 2005 and 2006. Focusing on the team’s more recent history, Renault managing director Cyril Abiteboul praised Chester’s influence in moving the team forward since the French manufacturer returned as a full constructor in 2016.
“Nick has been a key part of Enstone for almost 20 years,” Abiteboul said. “His passion for the team has never wavered, despite experiencing some extremely challenging times. More recently, his commitment, technical insight and enthusiasm have inspired us to move from the back of the grid to the front of the midfield. We would like to sincerely thank Nick for everything and wish him every success in the next stage of his career.”
Renault has already announced that the experienced Pat Fry will join the technical management team at Enstone next year, following his own period of ‘gardening’ after leaving McLaren.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says the fuel in its car was checked on 10 occasions during the 2019 season before the infringement in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc’s car was found to have 4.88kg more fuel than Ferrari had declared was in it ahead of Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit, leading to an investigation that resulted in a €50,000 ($56,000) fine after the checkered flag. While Ferrari’s power unit usage — including accusations of potential fuel flow monitoring interference — has come under increased scrutiny in the latter part of the season, Binotto says to have the fuel amount checked is nothing new.
“You have a quantity of fuel to be consumed in the race — 110kg — which you have got direct measurements through the fuel flow meter or through the injectors, or eventually through the weighing of the car,” Binotto said. “You weigh it at the start of the race and you weigh it at the end, you do the delta and you will know how much you have consumed.
“To do that, you declare a certain quantity of fuel at the start of the race, that you are filling in the car. The FIA may sometimes check what has been declared by simply weighing the car and somehow try to verify if you have concurrence. This year we have been checked at least 10 times. It’s not the first time.”
Binotto also hinted there had been an error with the FIA’s readings, believing there was no discrepancy between the declared fuel and actual weight. Despite that view, the fine was handed out due to Ferrari being found to be in breach of the International Sporting Code because a technical directive had outlined the fuel declaration requirements.
With the drivers being told to use conservative engine modes at times during Sunday’s race, Binotto also explained such practice was normal given the high mileage on the power units at the end of the season.
“We had an engine failure in Austin with Charles and we know in terms of mileage we could have been at risk. I think we had to manage it to save the tires as well — at least on the hard to attempt a one-stop race, which was not the case. So I think overall it was simply the reason to manage engines, tires and also the race.”
Robert Kubica is close to signing a deal to be reserve driver at Racing Point in 2020, turning down a similar role at Haas as a result.
Haas had been keen to recruit the Pole following his departure from Williams in order to bolster its simulator setup and increase the experience level within the team. Team principal Guenther Steiner had previously stated he was waiting on a decision from Kubica, who wants to combine any role in Formula 1 — that his sponsor Orlen is pushing for — with a race seat in DTM.
However, Racing Point has also been working hard to convince Kubica to take on a reserve and simulator role in support of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, and RACER understands the 34-year-old is on the verge of turning down Haas in favor of a move to the former Force India team.
Senior sources at Racing Point insist no deal is yet signed but that they are hopeful Kubica will join the team, having now finished work with Williams — for who he scored the team’s only point this season — following Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Should Kubica opt for Racing Point, it would be a blow to Haas after the team was willing to give him Friday practice outings to help correlation between the simulator and the track, following a season where it struggled to get the most out of its tires and finished ninth in the constructors’ championship despite regular Q3 appearances.
Both teams have named unchanged race driver line-ups for the 2020 season, with Perez and Stroll staying with Racing Point and Haas retaining Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Formula 1 teams will be unable to cover their cars during pre-season testing to allow fans a better experience, following a rules tweak by the FIA.
The World Motor Sport Council met on Wednesday in Paris to approve any changes to the 2020 regulations, and made one change to “wording to prevent teams from covering their cars during winter testing, in order to make these events more appealing to the media and fans.”
At present, teams use screens in front of their garages (pictured above) during testing to prevent photography and rival teams being able to get a close look at their cars, but that often means fans in the main grandstands are unable to see the cars other than when they are on track.
The change to the wording will see the cars treated as if it was a grand prix event — where covers are not permitted aside from if they are clearly required for mechanical reasons — apart from if the floor is not on the car. Teams will still be allowed to cover their cars during its recovery and repair if it was damaged during track running.
Additionally, following a glitch at the Japanese Grand Prix this year, the FIA has reverted to using the checkered flag as the definitive end-of-race signal rather than an electronic board.
Nicholas Latifi admitted he was tired after his first day as a Williams race driver, after completing more than 100 laps in the afternoon of the Pirelli tire test in Abu Dhabi.
Williams was running Roy Nissany for a spell of both days of the test at the Yas Marina Circuit before Latifi took over on Wednesday afternoon. Managing 107 laps — nearly two race distances — Latifi ended up with a best lap 0.2s quicker than George Russell managed on a softer compound on Tuesday, and was happy with his efforts despite the workload.
“It was a good day — I’m a bit knackered right now, to be honest!” Latifi said. “It was a lot of laps in a very short period of time, I only jumped in the car at 12 o’clock. It was very productive. I got to experience the new 2020 tires — which is for sure going to be good experience going into next year — on both low fuel qualifying-style runs and then more importantly for me the full fuel race simulations, because that’s the one thing that I have still been lacking in terms of the experience.
“Plenty of laps, no issue and pretty smooth, so I’m pretty pleased with my first official day on the new job!
“When I walked in the paddock on Monday afternoon it already felt a bit different, but driving today is a different feeling behind the wheel. It’s quite cool.”
While Wednesday’s running has left Latifi aware of where he need to improve his fitness, he says his main focus over the winter is likely to be on preparations at the Williams factory to understand all the demands on him technically.
“To a certain extent it will be very similar to what I’ve been doing all my life because I’ve still been racing in competitive championships. For sure the training will change a little bit — after today I think I’ve definitely got to work on my neck a little bit more! But it will largely be the same.
“I think there will be a lot more preparation going on at the factory ahead of my first season because there are so many more things in Formula 1, like procedures that you really need to be on top of and not have any question marks in your head going into the first race of the season. So I think I’m going to spend much more time in the factory than I would have in Formula 2 and previous years.”
Pirelli would have no objection to use its 2019 tires next season after mixed feedback from drivers during the 2020 tire test in Abu Dhabi.
Romain Grosjean and Valtteri Bottas were both critical of the 2020 compounds on Tuesday, with Antonio Giovinazzi similarly finding little improvement in the new tires after a morning of testing on Wednesday. Pirelli head of F1 Mario Isola says there have been some positive aspects but that he is willing to not use the new tires if the teams don’t want to.
“The target is not to have a tire that is quicker or with the highest peak of grip, but to have a tire with more consistency, less overheating and a wider working range of the compounds,” Isola said. “This is the target — the teams know exactly what we are looking for so I am sure we will have good feedback in terms of the quality. Then we are open to any decision.
“Mixed (feedback so far), because some of them found an improvement in some characteristics of the tire or some compounds but not an improvement on some other characteristics, or in some cases the new tires are not working at the expected level. So that’s why it will not be very easy to understand the real performance of the tires.
“The current cars are very sophisticated, it’s very difficult. Every time you change a little bit — and the tires are an important part of the car — the feeling and the reaction is huge. So we need to sit down, look at the data, cross the data with the drivers’ feedback which is also an important part of our job, and finally understand which is the best solution together with the rest of the sport.”
With a decision required by Monday, December 9 to allow Pirelli to nominate the 2020 tire compounds for the opening races, Isola says seven of the 10 teams would have to request a change, otherwise the new tires will be used.
“For the moment the FIA has homologated the 2020 tires so this is the product for next year, unless after the test and each team has given feedback to the FIA there is a decision taken by at least 70% of the teams to stay on the 2019 tire. In that case next year’s tires will be the 2019 ones.
“We have no concerns because the 2019 product is very good — we had an exciting season with a lot of action and good racing so I’m not worried about staying on the 2019. In that case, what is important for Pirelli is to understand why we had a different result during our tire development tests compared to the final test. That is important to improve our process and our systems for the future.”
George Russell set the pace on the final day of the Pirelli tire test in Abu Dhabi as Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari.
Fresh from a day in his usual Williams, Russell took over from Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes and duly went quickest overall with a 1m37.204s on the 2020 C5 tire — the softest compound available — to lead Leclerc by a little under 0.2s. But Leclerc was the biggest talking point of a day featuring a couple of strange incidents as he crashed at Turn 13.
Leclerc caused what proved to be the only red flag of the whole two days of testing with a little over two hours remaining, sliding wide out of the final apex of the Turn 11-13 sequence and damaging his car against the barrier. Running was delayed by 25 minutes while the Ferrari was recovered, and once it was back in the pits the Scuderia found the damage was too great to get back out on track.
Despite the crash, Leclerc still ended up second fastest overall on this year’s C5, with Russell’s lap less than 0.1s adrift of the best time posted by Bottas on Tuesday.
Sainz was carrying an aero rake on the side of his car for the early running and had not factored in the extra width of his McLaren as a result, so when he pulled around Stroll in the pit lane he didn’t leave enough space and broke the aerodynamic device, limiting his early running.
Stroll’s day continued without trouble as he ended up third quickest on a 1m37.999s, 0.2s clear of Pierre Gasly who carried out the whole day of running for Toro Rosso. Sainz was then fifth, albeit 0.6s further back, as all of the top five bar Leclerc used the 2020 C5 for their quickest laps.
Seventh was Esteban Ocon who had a more productive day for Renault than on Tuesday. The opening day of the test — and his first day in the car since being confirmed as a Renault race driver in 2020 — yielded just 77 laps, but Ocon managed 128 on day two and went nearly a second quicker on the 2019 C4 tire.
Extra data-gathering equipment on Albon’s Red Bull. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT
Alex Albon was eighth for Red Bull — appearing to take a similar approach to Max Verstappen and setting his fastest time on this year’s C4 tire — ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi on his first appearance for Haas since May. Fittipaldi managed 135 laps on his first time in the car in six months and admitted he was tired afterwards, as the team focused on comparisons between the new tires and the 2019 rubber that it struggled with so much this year.
Behind Antonio Giovinazzi came the Williams pair of Nicholas Latifi and Roy Nissany as the only drivers to split running on Wednesday. Nissany only carried out 38 laps in the morning before Latifi took over to being work for 2020 when he will step up to the role of race driver, and the Canadian was 0.2s quicker than Russell managed in the Williams on the opening day, and 3.7s clear of Nissany.
Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean were not overly impressed by their first impressions of Pirelli’s 2020 tire compounds following the opening day of testing in Abu Dhabi.
All the teams are taking part in a dedicated two-day test at the Yas Marina Circuit where they can analyze the new 2020 tires and compare them to this season’s compounds. Bottas set the pace on Tuesday with his fastest lap coming on the 2019 C4 tire. After completing 138 laps, he admitted he was tired but had found little improvement with Pirelli’s new tires.
“After a race weekend and after such a long season, you can feel it, no question about it,” Bottas said. “At least I am in a better shape now after having the flu. But a long day of testing is part of the routine, so no worries. You just try to be as consistent as possible and repeat one run after another.
“Just the tires (were tested). I had to say it felt that nothing better would have been found from these new tires; I got the impression they were even a little bit slower compared to the old ones. They behaved in the same way.”
“They’re different,” Grosjean said. “There are some positives and there are some negatives. They did a big change, and are they what everyone would like to have? No.
“We have to look at how we’ve been running the cars and make sure that we are on the maximum of everything. But if you’re asking if I’m very happy about the new tires and if it’s going to solve some of the problems of thermal degradation sensitivity when following another car, I just have to tell the truth, and no it’s not going to change that problem fully.
“The degradation on some compounds was better. Being able to run lower tire pressures also helps you; obviously they don’t balloon that much. So they are the positives, but it’s not what you would dream of.”
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas set the pace on the opening day of 2020 Pirelli tire testing in Abu Dhabi, while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was next up despite a spin due to contact with Sergio Perez (Racing Point).
On a largely incident-free day of running at the Yas Marina Circuit, Vettel and Perez tangled at Turn 11 in the afternoon. Perez attempted to overtake down the inside at the end of the second DRS zone, but Vettel appeared unaware of the move and turned in. While the Mexican tried his best to avoid contact — bouncing over the inside curb as much as possible — his front right tire just tapped the left rear of the Ferrari and spun Vettel.
Neither car was damaged in the incident and both continued running untroubled, with Vettel ending up 0.8s behind pace-setter Bottas at the checkered flag.
The Finn posted a 1m37.124s fast lap late in the afternoon on the 2019 C4 tire, carrying out direct comparison runs between the 2019 and 2020 compounds.
First day on the new job for Ocon. Image by Andre/LAT
Ocon officially started work with his new team on Monday and completed 77 laps in a relatively limited day compared to most teams, registering the lowest total of any driver not sharing a car on Tuesday. The Frenchman was eighth overall, just 0.1s slower than Max Verstappen as the Red Bull driver completed the highest mileage of the day with 153 laps, almost exactly double Ocon’s tally.
Aside from Bottas, Vettel and Verstappen, three other drivers exceeded 100 laps on the day: Perez was fourth despite the contact with Vettel, and Romain Grosjean and Lando Norris also hit three figures in fifth and sixth respectively.
And aside from Bottas on the 2019 C4, all of the drivers ahead of Verstappen set their best lap on the 2020 C5 tire — the softest available compound — while the Red Bull driver posted his time on the 2020 C3.
Kimi Raikkonen was slowest of the race drivers taking part as his day was ended slightly early by a technical issue for Alfa Romeo, leaving him 0.6s slower than George Russell in the Williams.
Russell handed over to debutant Roy Nissany for the final two hours of the day, with the Israeli taking time to get comfortable with a modern F1 car and ending up 4.4 seconds slower than the regular Williams driver after managing 41 laps. Both will again be in action on Wednesday — as will Ocon — with Russell driving for Mercedes and Nissany carrying out the morning for Williams before Nicholas Latifi begins his preparations for 2020.
Esteban Ocon, who got his first outing in the 2019 Renault on the opening day of the Abu Dhabi tire test, said his return to Formula 1 is “a fantastic feeling!”
Renault opted to replace Nico Hulkenberg with Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman being released from his Mercedes reserve driver role to start work with his new team on Monday. The second day on the job involved him testing at Yas Marina Circuit, and Ocon admits it was a special feeling to get back behind the wheel after a year away from racing in F1.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to be back,” Ocon said. “I was so excited for today — I’ve been waiting for this day for months and finally it happened.
“It was a good first impression,” he addd. “The team gave me a very warm welcome which is always very satisfying — seeing some old faces and some new faces as well which is great.
“Now we have start work on all the little details. Towards the end of the afternoon, I started to get closer and closer to the limit, so it feels nice.”
While the teams are trying to get to grips with the 2020 Pirelli tire compounds, Ocon (who was eighth fastest overall after 77 laps) admits his own focus was simply on settling in at Renault.
“My main focus was to get back up to speed. It has been some time since I last drove, of course. Just trying to work on the big details before working on the small ones, and trying to get a sensible position in the car, too. Once we’d more or less done that, (my job) was also to get a feel for the car and the new tires.”
A special gift from the team for his first day on the new job. Image by Andre/LAT
Ocon will drive again on Wednesday and says he expects to be able to provide better feedback after the work done on the first day of the test.
“We got back up to speed and we also worked on the tires. From what I remember of 2018, it’s not far off, but I won’t go much into details. We’ve got good data to analyze. I think there will be a lot more time for comparison tomorrow. Today we focused more on short runs than long runs; tomorrow is going to be a bit more on long runs, I think.
“(The car) felt good. Obviously there is always a lot that you can improve. The engine is also something new for me since a couple of years ago, and there was good power. Of course, the balance — you always need to work on it, it’s never perfect. I think we have a solid base that we can continue tomorrow.”
I’ll admit it, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was not a classic, even if it did come alive in the closing stages further down the field. Different strategies all converging in the final laps and a number of last-ditch overtakes (take a bow, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz) provided an entertaining finish, but when there’s a dominant winner, a race is rarely remembered fondly.
In this weekend’s case, however, the dominant winner was part of something that might just make it a memorable grand prix indeed.
Hamilton, Wolff and the team celebrate in Abu Dhabi. Image by Etherington/LAT
Lewis Hamilton was at his absolute best on track. He struggled on Friday as he experimented with new set-up techniques and directions, but then turned it around, further increasing his pole position record and waltzing off into the distance when the lights went out.
But it’s not his performance behind the wheel that we need to talk about; it’s his performance behind the microphone.
When Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto was asked if he would like to sign Hamilton in 2021 — when the six-time World Champion becomes available — the Italian was understandably polite and positive in his response.
“Lewis is certainly an outstanding driver, a fantastic driver,” Binotto said. “Knowing that he’s available in 2021 can only make us happy; but honestly it’s too early for any decision. We are happy with the drivers we have at the moment, and I think certainly at one stage next season we will start discussing and understanding what to do.”
The question was actually the second part of one posed to Toto Wolff about Hamilton’s future being tied up with that of the Mercedes team principal. But it allowed Binotto the chance to talk the Briton up for two other reasons: Not only could it potentially destabilize the relationship between Hamilton and Mercedes if the former starts to doubt his future plans, it also acts as a warning to Sebastian Vettel to up his game or risk seeing his seat taken by his rival.
If I’m honest, at that point of the weekend it didn’t really feel like a massive story on the radar, because there were reasons for it to become one without any substance. But then Italian daily sports newspaper La Gazzetta ran a claim that Hamilton had met twice with Ferrari chairman John Elkann this year, and the matter gained momentum.
Hamilton was asked about Binotto’s comments and whether Ferrari is wasting its time after qualifying on pole, and he was surprisingly open with his response — just when you would expect him to bat away such a question.
“I think it’s never a waste of time to ever being nice to someone,” was Hamilton’s reply. “It has been a long, long time and a team that I’ve always appreciated over the years. So to earn the respect from someone from there who’s obviously very high up is obviously not a bad thing. I think they’ve got two great drivers as is so who knows what the driver market’s going to be doing over the next year.”
You could also take “someone from there who’s obviously very high up” as being either Binotto or Elkann, especially when given the context of his Sunday post-race quotes on the topic after being directly asked if he’d met with Elkann.
Might Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto have a new reason to smile in 2021? Image by Tee/LAT
“Naturally, everything that happens behind closed doors is obviously always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with…” was the first part of that response. Certainly not a refusal.
What’s even more interesting about the whole situation, and what is both adding fuel to the fire but also raising further questions is the way Wolff has responded. The Mercedes team principal said he would be “totally OK” with Hamilton meeting with Elkann and “would be the first one to cheer” if the relationship between himself and his star driver were to end.
Wolff and Hamilton have a strong and honest relationship, but Mercedes and Hamilton have an even longer one. To join Ferrari would mean leaving the company he has raced for — under the McLaren-Mercedes name and then for the works team — his entire F1 career.
Mercedes’ future in the sport has come under increasing doubt given parent company Daimler’s announcement it would cut 10,000 jobs as it seeks to costs by around $1.5B by the end of 2022.
Wolff has also been linked with Chase Carey’s job once the F1 CEO and chairman moves on, and perhaps Hamilton sees that as the moment to jump ship, or vice versa.
On the other hand, it could be that the recent Daimler announcements have made the Mercedes pair uncertain and keen for clarity on the team’s future. What better way to accelerate that process than to get people talking about the possibility of one, or even both, leaving at the end of next year?
Before you even think about overall commercial agreements between teams and F1, it’s contract negotiation time for Hamilton and Mercedes, as well as Vettel and Ferrari, and even Verstappen and Red Bull. The latter could be the perfect replacement if Wolff stays, Mercedes commits but Hamilton goes. Should Hamilton stay put, would Verstappen’s recent comments about Ferrari and its power unit endear him to Maranello? Probably not…
The driver market in 2021 was always going to be fun, but it has kicked off even earlier than expected. Big names are starting to maneuver themselves into position, and they want to know what their options are.
So, could Hamilton to Ferrari really happen? Of course it could. Yes, to have such speculation over Hamilton’s future out there serves both Mercedes and Ferrari — for the reasons mentioned before — but only at this stage. The rumors serves different purposes, but between them have really lit the fire this weekend.
Which means there’s every chance someone could get burned at the end of it all.
Max Verstappen insists problems with his Honda power unit during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix did not cost him a chance of victory.
The Red Bull driver was complaining early in the race of issues with the torque delivery, as well as commenting on the engine braking performance on Sunday evening. His race engineer told him there was nothing that could be done to rectify the problems, and although Verstappen finished a distant second to Lewis Hamilton, he says the concerns did not prove costly.
“After that our pace was quite decent, just Mercedes and Lewis, they were just a bit too quick. As a whole, I think it’s been a positive season and of course to be P3 in the championship is a nice ending.
“I just had some torque holes on throttle. There were delays and stuff, so it was not great and we couldn’t fix it, so we drove around the problem. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t have made a difference in terms of the result.
“Just when I go on throttle it’s not doing what I want … It did cost me lap-time – but like I said, it wouldn’t have given me the win.”
And although Verstappen insists there were no points lost as a result of the problem, Honda’s F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe apologized for making the driver’s life more difficult.
“It looks like a PU control issue,” Tanabe said. “We will investigate in more detail but the current investigation result shows it looks like Honda PU control caused that issue.
“We tried to improve it with some different settings during the race after the pitstop. Then the driver compromised the application of the throttle. We are very sorry about the trouble during the race.”
Carlos Sainz hailed his dramatic final lap overtake on Nico Hulkenberg was ‘like a world championship’ after it secured sixth place in the drivers’ standings.
“It wasn’t on TV? Aargh. No way!” Sainz said, with the move occurring as race-winner Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line. “It was the most exciting final lap I think I’ve got, it was like a world championship for me.
“I got close enough to Nico to throw a move into Turn 9, and decided to back out of it and try it in 11, but I didn’t get the run out of 10 that I wanted, so it meant I arrived too late and a bit far behind.
“I saw a gap on the inside, but it was really small, a bit like with (Sergio) Perez. so I said ‘OK, if it worked with Perez, I need to try to make it work with Nico.’ I threw the move and made it stick. It’s crazy, at the end of the championship, we were fighting on the last lap, in the last overtaking opportunity of the track. I made it stick. It hasn’t been an easy race, but I’m very happy with it.”
And Sainz knew the magnitude of the move as he had kept up to date with how the battle with Gasly and Alex Albon for sixth overall was panning out throughout the race at Yas Marina.
“I made sure I was aware of it.I knew. Well I could follow on the TV also,” Sainz said. “I knew Gasly was pretty much out of the race. When I was behind Nico in the first stint or second stint, I knew Perez and (Daniil) Kvyat were on the fastest strategy, which by the way is a pain, this medium advantage, having to start the race on the softs.
“They give them a massive advantage on the strategy. There was no DRS in the beginning, we couldn’t go through traffic. It just compromised our whole race. The whole race behind Lando (Norris), behind Renault with the dirty air, it was very difficult to manage the tires, and at the end I was going to get passed by Kvyat and by Perez, and I said our only chance is by getting Nico at the end and pitting for a medium.
“We did it. I think I did one of the fastest laps as soon as I pitted so I could show my pace in clean air, finally. Just got him on the last lap and made it stick.”
Lewis Hamilton believes it is only smart for him to consider his future options amid interest from Ferrari regarding his availability in 2021.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend saw Hamilton linked with a move to Maranello after claims he has already met Ferrari president John Elkann twice this year. With Hamilton and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto trading compliments through the press, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff saying he has no problem if his driver explores other options, Hamilton added further to the intrigue when asked directly if he had met with Elkann.
“Naturally everything that happens behind closed doors is obviously always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with,” Hamilton said. “But I think for many, many years I’ve never ever sat down and considered other options, because we’ve been … just driving straight ahead into the path that we’ve been on and the journey that we’ve been on.
“And to be honest, I still think we’re on that path and I think there’s very little that’s going to shift it from that but I think there’s no harm in… I know Toto is also looking at his options in terms of his future and only he will know what is the best thing for him and his family. So I’m waiting to see what he’s doing with that.
“I love where I am. So it’s definitely not a quick decision to do something else, but of course I think it’s only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want… if it is the last period or stage in my career. Actually I want to keep winning so I think that’s… I want to keep being able to fight with these guys (Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen) as well. I can’t really tell you what else is going to happen moving forwards.”
Hamilton was sitting alongside Leclerc at the time, and with Sebastian Vettel also out of contract in 2021 – making it most likely any move for Hamilton would be to partner Leclerc – the 22-year-old said he would welcome the six-time world champion.
“Well of course,” Leclerc said. “At the end of the day, we are in Formula 1 and we want to fight against the best. I’ve had a big opportunity this year to have Seb next to me, who is a four-time world champion and I’ve learned a lot from him and you can always learn from this type of champion.
Lewis Hamilton said that his dominant victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the perfect way to round out his record-breaking season.
The six-time drivers’ champion matched his own personal best tally of 11 race wins in a season with victory at the Yas Marina Circuit, and set a new record for most points in a season with 413.
Winning with a margin of nearly 17 seconds highlights how Mercedes did not let up despite winning both titles early, Hamilton explained.
“What an incredible year it has been. And what an incredible stretch it’s been with this team. After winning the constructors’ and the drivers’ championship, I think it was really important for us as a team to continue to push. You know, we hadn’t got absolutely everything from the overall perfect package.
“So, we were just trying to push the limits and push the boundaries, and I think this is the perfect way to end the season – on the right foot. It was a great weekend in the sense that there was a Ferrari and a Red Bull and a Mercedes in the top three — in the finishing order but also on the grid — and then a lot of young drivers behind me, making me feel young, which is great.
“I’m really just grateful to my team who have continued to push all year long and just have never lost sight of the objective. We’ve all had a common goal and inspired each other to continue to push and strive for perfection. So, incredibly grateful to everyone and I hope that everyone at Mercedes and our partners — I’m sure they are pretty happy.”
Hamilton admitted he had such a pace advantage that he was able to chase the fastest lap on old tires late in the race; but went on to say he is expecting an increasing challenge from Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc — who finished second and third, respectively — next season.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting to have the pace advantage to that extent. Our long run pace was quite good and I was told that we might be a tenth or two ahead; but then in the race we had a bit more of an advantage in that respect.
“And once I got out in the clear, I was able to manage my pace pretty well in that first stint and manage the tires.
“Basically, I just had to go as long as Max was going. Then we got onto that next set of tires and for this track the tire was good. The hard tire is quite resilient to any abrasion; it goes a long, long way. I think it can do the whole race stint.
“Towards the end of the race, I was like, ‘I want to have some (fun)… I’ve got to push and see if I can extract any more performance from the car’.
“I do wish that we had had some battles. I saw on TV (Verstappen and Leclerc) battling. I’m sure we are going to have some great races. We had some great races this year, Max and I; so congratulations to them for continuing to rise, and I’m excited to be among those guys and fight with them next year.”
FIA race director Michael Masi `has explained why the fuel issue with Charles Leclerc’s car was not investigated until after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Ferrari was found to have declared an inaccurate amount of fuel in its car to the FIA, with the actual amount being 4.88kg more than the team stated it was going to put in. The discrepancy was reported by FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer around 45 minutes before the race started, but Masi says there was no time for Ferrari to state its case before lights out.
“We have a judicial process to go through that is quite robust, there so the team can be given the opportunity to present its case,” Masi said. “With the report that comes out, from what I understand, it is quite an intensive process that is undertaken to actually do the check that was done and it was submitted at the earliest opportunity.
“Five minutes before pit exit opening or thereabouts there was insufficient time to summon people, listen to them all and hear the case correctly.”
The final starting grid was only published at 1634 local time — 36 minutes before the race start rather than two hours — and Masi says that was due to the FIA analyzing whether any penalty might be required pre-race.
Masi also highlighted how the fuel is measured, explaining why the process can take a long time to carry out.
“All the fuel is done on weight. It’s a random check. The car is weighed, then the fuel is pumped out and (the car) weighed again to compare the difference between the two and see what has been declared in fuel. If there is a difference then they have mis-declared for whatever reason.”
Ferrari was found to have been in contravention of a technical directive and therefore breached the International Sporting Code rather than the technical regulations, leading to a 50,000 euro fine but no race penalty for Leclerc, who finished third.
Charles Leclerc has kept his third place in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but Ferrari has been fined by the FIA for a fuel discrepancy.
Ferrari was placed under investigation before the race got underway as FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer found a “significant difference” between the amount of fuel the team declared was in the car and how much was actually being carried. The team was summoned to face the stewards and found guilty of breaching the International Sporting Code as it had been in contravention of a technical directive rather than the regulations. As a result, it was fined 50,000 euros.
“There was a difference of 4.88kgs between the team’s declaration for car 16 and the technical delegate’s measured fuel mass.
“The team’s declaration was therefore inaccurate and constituted a breach of the Technical Directive. This in turn constitutes an infringement of Article 12.1.1.i of the International Sporting Code.”
The fine means Leclerc keeps his third place, with the Monegasque saying he was not made aware of the impending investigation ahead of the race.
Charles Leclerc says he was unaware that his car was under investigation for a fuel irregularity when he started the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The FIA issued a document stating that there was a “significant difference” between the amount of fuel Ferrari claimed was in Leclerc’s car pre-race and the actual amount measured in the car. That led to an investigation, with Ferrari summoned to see the stewards after the end of the race, and Leclerc — who provisionally finished third — says he was not aware of the situation.
“To be honest I’ve got no idea and no details whatsoever of what’s going on for now, so I will speak to the team to understand that later,” Leclerc said.
“I’m very happy (with my race). Very happy with my season overall — this last race with a podium. Even though it feels a little bit as if we were too slow, overall it’s life. We just need to understand what made us OK in qualifying this year but struggle quite a lot in the race pace. We will learn lessons from this year, I’m sure, and we will come back stronger next year.”
“First we do not have many details, so I don’t think it is on the technical side; it is more on the sporting side, not for following instructions on the sporting code,” Binotto said. “We do not have details so we are quite relaxed, I have to say, because we know about the procedures we are applying. But let’s wait and see what the details will be and try to understand and try to eventually explain if there are any discrepancies.
“What it is related to is, normally you declare how much fuel you put in the car and sometimes they may weigh the car by emptying the car. So I think they found a difference there. I understand it is a sporting rule but we are not sure yet.”
Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to take his 11th win of the season.
Polesitter Hamilton was untroubled leading from lights to flag. An effortless getaway at lights-out ensured he could exact his Mercedes car’s formidable pace on the field, pulling away initially at almost a second a lap before moderating his pace in the face of lacking competition.
With his lead secure even after all his front-running rivals stopped earlier than him in vain attempts to execute an unlikely undercut, the reigning world champion needed only to massage his car to the checkered flag to take a comprehensive 84th career victory.
While Hamilton’s pace at the top step of the podium was never in doubt, the identity of the next-best driver wasn’t decided until Lap 32 in a flash of action in the emerging rivalry between Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc started third behind Verstappen but jumped him at the start and opted for an early stop on lap 12 to a new set of hards in an attempt force Red Bull Racing to fight on his terms.
Verstappen, however, was more easily able to eke life from the yellow-striped compound to delay his stop until Lap 25. The Dutchman emerged five seconds behind the Monegasque but with a substantial tire-life advantage, and by lap 32 he launched aa DRS-assisted attack at the end of the long back straight into Turn 8.
Verstappen moves into P2 on the inside of Leclerc at Turn 8
A great exit from Turn 9 allowed Leclerc a final attempt to retake second position, and though the pair bumped wheels, the Ferrari came off second best and was forced to yield, allowing Verstappen to gallop into the distance.
It guaranteed the Dutchman third in the championship standings ahead of both Ferrari drivers.
“We had to do a bit of a different strategy to Ferrari … after that I think our pace was quite decent,” he said. “To be P3 in the championship is a nice ending.”
Bottas leads Vettel and Albon. Image by Andy Hone/LAT
Ferrari’s attention turned to consolidating Leclerc’s third place from the fast-finishing Valtteri Bottas, pre-emptively pitting him for a new set of soft tires on Lap 38. He emerged only 1.5 seconds ahead of the Finn, but the new red-striped rubber had him rapidly build a buffer big enough to successfully defend the Finn’s late advances.
Leclerc’s result, finishing again ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel, ensured he ended the season as Ferrari’s highest point scorer in his first year with the team.
“I’m extremely happy about this year,” he said. “It’s been a great year — a realization of a dream since childhood.
“Now it’s up to me to work to get better and hopefully give them the success they deserve.”
But even with track position secured Leclerc’s third remains far from guaranteed. The Monegasque’s car was referred to the stewards for allegedly breaching a technical directive relating to the measurement of fuel in the tank.
A report from FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer found a “significant difference” between Leclerc’s declared fuel load and the amount found in the tank, and the stewards were due to hear from Ferrari after the race.
Bottas was forced to accept fourth at the flag after a strong recovery from the back of the field with a grid penalty for an engine change. Equipped with that brand-new power unit, Bottas was able to make up five positions on the first lap and steady progress thereafter to put himself in podium contention by the time he made his sole pit stop on Lap 30, switching from mediums to hards.
He pushed Leclerc hard in the final two laps as the Ferrari’s tires began degrading, but the Finn couldn’t get close enough to attempt a pass.
Alex Albon and Sebastian Vettel enlivened the battle for fifth late in the race, with the German passing the Thai on the penultimate lap courtesy of a late switch to a two-stop strategy putting him onto a fresh set of medium tires.
Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, and Lance Stroll make contact at the start. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT
But while the battle among the front-runners was staid, the battle for the lower points-paying places was anything but, with a variety of strategies converging in the final phase of the race.
The McLaren and Renault pairs controlled the final four points paces early in the race, but Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo lost out for stopping between Laps 8 and 12 when a circuit-wide DRS problem made overtaking difficult even with newer rubber.
Nico Hulkenberg was able to take advantage of the problem by stopping on Lap 18 just as the overtaking aid was re-activated, but the private McLaren-Renault battle was disrupted by some superb strategy from Racing Point and Toro Rosso.
Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat, starting 10th and 13th respectively, ran extremely long in their opening stints, rising to seventh and eighth before stopping on Laps 37 and 40.
Perez switched to the hard tire and Kvyat to the medium, losing five places apiece, but their late pace was so strong that Perez was able to snatch seventh from Norris on the final lap, with Kvyat only 1.2 seconds behind the embattled Briton.
Carlos Sainz was defenseless against the fast-finishing pair but managed to sustain immense pressure from Ricciardo and Hulkenberg to the flag to take the final point of the race, securing him an impressive sixth in the drivers standings ahead of Pierre Gasly.
Ferrari started the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Charles Leclerc’s car under investigation for a fuel discrepancy.
The FIA carries out random checks of the amount of fuel teams have put in the cars before the race, to monitor whether it matches with the amount the team claims to have run. FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer says the amount of fuel in Leclerc’s car did not tally with the amount declared by Ferrari and therefore has reported it to the stewards.
“The fuel declaration of car number 16 was checked before the car left the pit lane,” Bauer said. “There was a significant difference between the declaration of the team and the amount of fuel inside the car. As this is not in compliance with TD/12-19 I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.”
Ferrari has now been summoned to appear in front of the stewards after the race.
Leclerc was able to start the race from third on the grid as normal, taking second place from Max Verstappen on the opening lap.
Max Verstappen believes it will be tough for him to end the season with back-to-back victories despite qualifying on the front row for tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position since Germany on Saturday, with Verstappen only third quickest and over 0.3s behind the six-time champion. A grid penalty for Valtteri Bottas means Verstappen will start from second place, but the Red Bull driver — who won last time out in Brazil — says it will be tough to beat Hamilton.
With Bottas 0.15s quicker than Verstappen in Q3, albeit aided by a fresh engine for the final round, the Dutchman was still pleased with his own performance despite not securing the front row start on outright pace.
“I think today was the best that we could do; we all know that. Mercedes is quite dominant here. We tried everything we could. Overall, I am pretty happy. Still good to start on the front row. Of course I would have liked to actually qualify there, but still a lot of chances for tomorrow. We’ll see what happens.
Verstappen offered his congratulations to polewinner Hamilton after a qualifying session in which his Red Bull could not quite match the Mercedes’ pace. Image by Bloxham/LAT
“The lap was really decent; there was not much I could (have done) better. I mean, there is never a perfect lap. It was good (and) I was driving to the limits. We just seemed to lack a bit of grip compared to (Mercedes). They are especially quick in the last sector.
“They are always very dominant here on this track,” Verstappen continued, “and we tried to be as close as we could. Unfortunately, we were just lacking a bit too much in that last sector. But overall, I think I’m pretty pleased — for us, I think it was a pretty positive weekend.”
Toto Wolff insists he would be OK with Lewis Hamilton meeting with Ferrari chairman John Elkann and is open to the six-time world champion leaving Mercedes.
Hamilton’s contract expires at the end of next season, as does Sebastian Vettel’s deal at Ferrari. While negotiations are yet to start over a new Mercedes deal, reports in Italy claim Hamilton has met with Elkann twice this year, and Mercedes team principal Wolff (pictured above with his drivers and Vettel) says he is understanding if the driver is looking into other options beyond his current contract.
“I would be totally OK with that,” Wolff said. “This is a free world and I recognize that everybody needs to explore career options and make the best decision for themselves. And this is for drivers and everybody else included. So I have zero problems — racing drivers are always going to try to be in the quickest possible car, and the quickest team is always going to try to have the best racing driver in there. There is a good consensus between us of what we are trying to achieve.”
After qualifying on pole position, Hamilton thanked Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto for comments about how his availability can only be good for the Scuderia, and Wolff says he would even like to see such a headline move.
“I actually sat next to Mattia when he said that in a press conference, and he was asked a question about what he thought of Lewis and he said that he has the highest esteem for Lewis. You can also bet that if his chairman is meeting with him, he is not going to talk badly about Lewis either. So I am totally relaxed about the situation.
“We need to push very hard to provide the drivers with the quickest possible car, and if we are able to do this, I am 100 percent convinced we will have the best possible driver line-up in the car. Everything points to our relationship to continue, but in life you never know and therefore, as I said before, I am very open about this.
“I have started to embrace the fact that everybody has objectives and needs to have the best possible opportunities for his career. In that respect, I am absolutely open for everybody to explore options. But obviously my personal priority of the team is to continue this successful journey and we have been really benefiting from an excellent relationship, and if that ends one day I would be the first one to cheer.”
Lewis Hamilton says any interest in him from Ferrari is not a waste of time following comments from Mattia Binotto at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Of Hamilton, Binotto said, “Knowing that he’s available in 2021 can make (Ferrari) only happy,” with Sebastian Vettel’s deal expiring at the same time. Hamilton claims it is rare for Ferrari to say positive things about him, and welcomed Binotto’s words amid reports in Italy he has also met with Ferrari chairman John Elkann this year.
“I think that’s the first compliment I’ve had from Ferrari in these 13 years,” Hamilton said. “I don’t remember them mentioning me ever. So thank you and I’ll take it! It doesn’t really mean anything — it’s all talk, but it’s nice that they are finally recognizing me after all these years.
“It’s positive. I think it’s never a waste of time to be nice to someone, and as I said it has been a very long time and it’s a team I have always appreciated over the years. So to earn the respect from someone over there who is very high up is not a bad thing.”
“I think they have got two great drivers as it is and who knows what the driver market is going to be doing next year. I am not really focused on that at this second — I want to finish this season strong. I have got this incredible group of people behind me where I am and I feel I owe it to them to give my heart and my energy 100 percent, particularly as I am still in contract and negotiations haven’t started yet.
“I don’t know how the next phase of the contract is going to go; it’s weird you have to do it almost a year before it ends and it can’t be done towards the end, but it’s just the way it goes.”
Charles Leclerc wants Ferrari to provide answers after he ran out of time to start his final attempt in qualifying at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Leaving the pits to start his final run in Q3, Leclerc was informed that he only had a five-second margin to make the checkered flag and begin his flying lap. With a number of cars backing up in front of him, Leclerc was unable to cross the line before the session ended and so couldn’t try and improve his time, believing he missed out on second place as he ended up fourth.
“At the exit of P3 I knew I had a tight margin but to be honest I didn’t want to overtake Sebastian and be in front of him,” Leclerc said.
“P2 was reachable today and I couldn’t go again in Q3, so we need to analyze this situation. We will see tomorrow.
“I have no idea, but sometimes it happens, I don’t know whether the situation was unlucky or if we could have done anything better but yeah, we will analyze it and try to understand to not have it happen again, because it’s a big shame.”
“I will take quite a bit of risk at the start. I need to finish in front of Max for the championship so at the end, we will see what happens.
“I think the team was really clear about putting us both on the softs (tires). We were not really sure if we would get to Q3 on the mediums but after the first run in Q2 I had quite a good lap on the softs. I was confident about sacrificing (another go) in the case I had I couldn’t improve on the mediums on the second set. So we went on the mediums, and I gave it all to try and pass to Q3 and we made it, so it’s a good thing.”
Lewis Hamilton broken the track record at the Yas Marina Circuit to take an emphatic pole position for Mercedes at the F1 season finale.
The world champion’s time, 1 minute 34.779 seconds, was enough beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.2s, but the Finn will be forced to start from the back of the grid with a litany of penalties for making two unscheduled power unit changes this weekend.
Hamilton’s pole not only equals Bottas’s tally of five poles for the year, but it’s also the Briton’s first since July’s German Grand Prix, and Hamilton paid tribute to the Mercedes team’s work ethic to turn the tide back in his favor.
“It’s been such a long slog trying to get this pole position,” Hamilton said. “We just kept out heads down, continuing to try.
“We never give up. There’s always room to improve. There’s been a lot of growth in this whole year for so many people in the team … just constantly looking for those small milliseconds.
“It’s been a special car and it’s the last time I’ll get to qualify with it, so I’m glad I did it proud today.”
Hamilton and Mercedes ruled the roost again under the Abu Dhabi lights. Image by Steven Tee/LAT
Bottas knew coming into qualifying that he would be starting from last place thanks to his power unit failure during the Brazilian GP requiring a near complete new motor — and the team had to install another new engine on Saturday after a hydraulic leak during practice — but with second in the drivers’ standings secure, he was allowed to partake in qualifying regardless with nothing to lose.
The Finn said he would aim for the podium in a no-holds-barred race.
“I believe [a podium is achievable],” he said. “Anything is possible.
“We have a good car and some days it’s even better than Saturdays for us. We’ll give it all.”
Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull Racing and so will inherit a front row start from Bottas. However, the Dutchman said his 0.36s deficit to Hamilton’s benchmark was the closest his car could manage and remained pessimistic about his prospects in the race.
“I think today was the best we could do,” he said. “We all know that Mercedes is quite dominant here.
“We tried everything we could … we’ll just wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
More Vettel/Leclerc, angst at Ferrari? Image by Sam Bloxham/LAT
Charles Leclerc beat Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel to fourth and fifth at the end of the session, the pair around half a second off the pace, but the Monegasque appeared to complain that he’d been backed up by the German in preparation for their final laps, causing him to miss the checkered flag.
Vettel, however, was himself making space behind Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon and was in any case unable to improve to threaten the sister machine, while Albon qualified sixth and 0.4s further back.
Lando Norris qualified seventh at the head of the midfield, beating McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz 11-10 in their intra-team qualifying battle in his rookie F1 season.
But it wasn’t a perfect result for the team, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo splitting the pair in eighth. Sainz followed in ninth, the trio covered by just 0.023s.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified 10th for what looks set to be his final grand prix, 1.9s off the pace.
Pierre Gasly was just 0.035s behind Perez to qualify 12th, splitting him from Lance Stroll in the sister Racing Point machine in 13th.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 14th, less than 0.1s slower than Perez and with a 0.1s advantage over Kevin Magnussen — the Haas driver the slowest of Q2, in 15th.
Romain Grosjean was knocked out at the first hurdle by 0.3s, in a messy session for the Frenchman. He first complained of a lack of grip early in Q1 — he’d been forced to use a different-spec car after his Friday practice crash with Bottas — and was balked by Kvyat in the pit lane as he embarked on his final flying lap. The stewards were set to investigate the incident at the end of qualifying.
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen qualified 17th and 18th respectively, while George Russell beat outbound teammate Robert Kubica to 19th and 20th to clean-sweep the year’s intra-Williams qualifying battle 21-0.
Max Verstappen led a close final practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, edging out the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
The final qualifying session of the season looks set to be a tight battle for pole between the top three teams, as Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari were all covered by just 0.4s in FP3. Verstappen led the way with a 1m36.566s, but was less than 0.1s clear of both Hamilton and Bottas. The latter, though, will start the race from the back of the grid.
The final practice session of 2019 = our final practice best bits
Bottas actually took another new power unit on Saturday after Mercedes discovered a pneumatic leak at the end of FP2 that couldn’t be fixed. A new internal combustion engine (ICE), turbo, MGU-H and MGU-K comes with no penalty as the Finn was already set to start last for an earlier power unit change.
It is understood that the new power unit Bottas is running this weekend is of different specification to the one previously introduced by Mercedes, with an eye on its 2020 development.
In a session that was largely devoid of drama, Albon was also involved in the one incident of note. He ran off track at Turn 16 after fast closing on Nico Hulkenberg who was slow on the racing line. Both drivers summoned to the stewards after the session to discuss the matter.
Seventh in the final session was Sergio Perez as Racing Point showed strong pace, although he did have a reliability concern as oil was escaping from the rear of his car. The issue was highlighted when Kimi Raikkonen, following the Mexican, wound up covered in oil, but the team was confident the issue was not a major one. Perez ended up within a second of Verstappen at the checkered flag.
Perez car leaking oil, and Kimi gets some on his visor
Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly rounded out the top 10, with the latter pair fighting for sixth in the drivers’ championship as they both currently have 95 points.
Haas was competitive once again, with Romain Grosjean 11th and Kevin Magnussen 14th after just 12 laps in a session that is of limited value given the track conditions. Temperatures will drop significantly by qualifying, with that session taking place at sunset.
Lewis Hamilton says he is “making it a little bit more difficult for myself” at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by trying different setup approaches in search of more performance.
The Mercedes driver wrapped up his sixth drivers’ championship at Circuit of The Americas at the start of this month, and says that since then he has been working on different setup directions to try and tap into even more performance from both himself and his car. After finishing behind teammate Valtteri Bottas in both practice sessions on Friday, Hamilton admits he is not comfortable with the handling at this stage. While conceding the work could hurt his race pace, he thinks it could pay dividends next season.
“I think there was a bit of a difference between the hard tire and the soft tire — there is quite a big difference in characteristics between the setup and I am really pushing the car into a different place over the last two races just to explore,” Hamilton said.
“It is easy to go too far but I am sticking with it and hoping that it works. We already know what does work and I am not keen to do what does work — I am really trying to see where else I can exploit the car and the tires. That is making it a little bit more erratic and not as smooth and simple in terms of my driving style.
“I wouldn’t say that it is fun. It is still just as hard work and I am making it a little bit more difficult for myself than it needs to be, but I feel I need to go through that process to see if I can edge out a little bit more for the future.”
Hamilton — whose car carried No. 1 briefly in Friday practice (pictured) before reverting to its regular No. 44 — admits a lot of his work is speculative given the way next season’s car might react differently, but he sees potential in trying new techniques with the championship won.
“I am definitely hoping to unlock something and utilize a couple of different tools that I haven’t touched during the year, because they never really worked before. I am trying to explore and see whether or not I can get them to work. It is a pre-emptive thought for next year, even though next year’s car is going to be different. There still might be things I can apply but I am having to take it all with a pinch of salt at the moment.”
Sebastian Vettel insists he has a good relationship with Charles Leclerc and says it is key for Ferrari to be successful at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and beyond.
The two Ferrari drivers collided when fighting in the latter stages of the last race in Brazil, with the team holding clear-the-air talks back in Europe before flying out for the final race of the season. Vettel was not present to face the media in Abu Dhabi on Thursday as he delayed his arrival following the birth of his third child, but after Friday practice he was keen to talk up his relationship with Leclerc.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate what happened, and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Vettel said. “That’s clear. That’s the most important. The key for me is that we get along, we don’t have a problem with each other. I know that the outside tries to hype this a little bit, but actually there’s nothing to worry about from the inside.
“I think the lesson is that if we race each other then we need to give each other more room to make sure that we don’t touch. It was a very little touch, but the touch led to a result.”
Ferrari looks well-placed to challenge Mercedes at this early stage of the weekend as the two drivers ended up third and fourth in FP2, with Vettel saying he got away lightly with a spin at the end of the first practice session that resulted in his hit the wall at Turn 19.
“It was a bit of a surprise — I didn’t expect to actually spin. I knew that going in I would have to catch the rear, didn’t quite work. So it was a bit unfortunate, but there was no damage other than the rim, so I got lucky.”
Leclerc followed suit by touching the wall at the same corner in FP2, but he says that incident shouldn’t overshadow good progress made by Ferrari between sessions.
“The day started actually pretty badly for us, one of the hardest sessions of the year in terms of balance and overall quite a messy session,” Leclerc said. “But we worked very well between the sessions, and we gained quite a lot of performance for FP2.
“FP2 was pretty positive, apart from the race pace on the soft (tire), where I think we can do better. We need to work quite a bit on that, but the hard, the race pace was very strong, so that is a good thing.
“The whole third sector is pretty difficult because it’s overheating in the rear. Especially this corner, as soon as you go a bit too wide you lose a bit of grip, and I’ve been surprised by that.”
Valtteri Bottas will start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the back of the grid as a result of a power unit penalty.
The Finn retired from the last race in Brazil after a sudden increase in oil consumption led to his power unit shutting down. After analyzing the engine back at its Brixworth factory in the UK, Mercedes concluded he will need to take a new power unit. The FIA confirmed Bottas has taken a fresh internal combustion engine turbocharger and MGU-H.
With the associated penalty adding up to 20 grid positions, Bottas is required to start the race from the back of the grid but says he still hopes to be able to take a full part in qualifying.
“I still want to fight for pole position — it would be good fun, with a fresh engine as well,” Bottas said. “But definitely the main focus will be on the race preparation because I’m going to start from the back. We have to see what we can do with the setup, to prioritize the race pace and also the kind of work we’ll do in practice will be to maximize our speed in the race for this circuit and with the circumstances we have.”
Bottas is already secure in second place in the drivers’ championship heading into this weekend’s season-ending round, as he leads Max Verstappen by 54 points.
Valtteri Bottas has escaped with a reprimand following his collision with Romain Grosjean in second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
During the high-fuel runs during FP2, Bottas tried to overtake down the inside into Turn 11 from a long way back but Grosjean turned in, with the pair colliding at the apex. Both cars were damaged in the incident, with Grosjean not able to continue running despite making it back to the pits under a red flag.
Valtteri Bottas thought he had room to overtake on the inside
The stewards opted to investigate the collision after the session and handed Bottas his first driving reprimand of the season, with the Finn already due to start the race from the back of the grid due to power unit penalties.
“(Bottas) accepted responsibility for the collision and acknowledged that it was a failed attempt at an overtake which resulted in the collision,” the stewards’ decision read.
Bottas ended both sessions quickest on Friday and says the car felt good before the collision, putting the contact down to Grosjean not seeing him trying to overtake.
“The end of FP2 was a bit compromised with a minor crash I had with Grosjean — I think he didn’t really see me coming up the inside,” Bottas said. “My apologies but there was nowhere for me to disappear. I went for the overtake and that was it.
“Honestly, I thought he would see me coming. He wasn’t covering the line so I thought he was aware I was there but maybe he didn’t look in the mirror before turning in. I expected him to see me and I saw the gap decreasing and there was no escape.”
Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time of second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but went on to cause a strange collision with Romain Grosjean later in the session.
The Finn — also quickest in FP1 — was already at the top of the timings from the low fuel laps when he was carrying out race running and attempted to dive down the inside of the Haas from a long way back into Turn 11. Grosjean understandably turned in as the Mercedes had been a long way back on the straight, and the pair collided, causing both to spin and damaging both cars.
Grosjean reacted angrily over team radio while Bottas said the Frenchman left him no space, but the lunge came from far back and it was unreasonable for Grosjean to be expecting such a move.
Valtteri Bottas thought he had room to overtake on the inside
Both drivers were able to return to the pits under ether own power for repairs while the session was red flagged to clear the debris. Bottas even managed to return to the track with a new front wing, but Grosjean’s running was over.
The incident is likely to be investigated, although Bottas is already due to start the race from the back of the grid due to power unit penalties. Bottas was also informed he had a leak on his in-lap after the checkered flag.
Bottas wasn’t the only front-runner to be involved in an incident, with Charles Leclerc hitting the wall at Turn 19. Sebastian Vettel had spun and crashed at the same corner in FP1, and Leclerc then overcorrected some oversteer and tapped the barrier with the right-hand side of his car. He was able to rejoin after checks to his car and a tire change.
Leclerc ended up third behind the two Mercedes drivers — Bottas leading Lewis Hamilton by 0.3s — while Vettel was fourth and Max Verstappen fifth as the top five were covered by a little over half a second. Alex Albon was sixth but a second off the pace, with Grosjean seventh ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly.
The McLaren pair of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were just 0.1s outside the top 10, just ahead of Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen. Then it was a case of two-by-two as the Renaults, Alfa Romeos and Williams came in order. Daniel Ricciardo was nearly 0.3s slower than Nico Hulkenberg after switching to his race engine following a failure in FP1, ending up ahead of both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi by just 0.064s.
Giovinazzi followed Leclerc’s incident at Turn 19 with a spin at the same corner, somehow avoiding contact with the barrier as he swapped ends before reversing and returning to the pits.
A crash for Sebastian Vettel at the end of FP1 ended first practice early as Valtteri Bottas set the pace at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Vettel lost control at Turn 19 as he exited from underneath the hotel section, spinning and hitting the barrier with his left-rear corner. The suspension appeared to break on the first impact, with Vettel then rolling back into the barrier again and not being able to move the car.
The incident caused the session to end only a few minutes before the checkered flag, and left Bottas — who will have to start the race from the back of the grid — half a second clear of Max Verstappen.
Bottas will start from the back on Sunday due to a the power unit problem that he suffered in Brazil, which has required him to take fresh engine components this weekend.
Lewis Hamilton was third — 0.6s off his teammate — despite a sensor issue that sent his car into limp home mode earlier in the session. Hamilton also ran the number one on his car for the first part of the session before switching back to his usual race number of 44.
Vettel’s crash was the second stoppage, following an earlier issue for Daniel Ricciardo. There was a red flag with half an hour remaining when Ricciardo’s engine appeared to let go in the final sector, with the Renault driver stopping on the outside of the final corner. The failure led to flames coming from the back of Ricciardo’s car while he also deposited oil all over the track, with Pierre Gasly and Bottas — who were following directly behind — both sliding off the track on the slippery surface.
Renault soon confirmed an engine failure was to blame for Ricciardo’s problem, with a high-mileage engine at the end of the season being run to the end of its life in Friday practice before being replaced for the rest of the weekend.
Ricciardo finished 19th overall ahead of only George Russell, while Vettel’s crash left the Ferrari driver 1.9s adrift in fifth place behind Alex Albon.
Romain Grosjean was sixth for Haas, over two seconds off the pace, while Charles Leclerc did not set a representative time as he finished seventh in the second Ferrari. Kevin Magnussen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 in a session that has little bearing on the rest of the weekend as it takes place in full daylight compared to sunset times for FP2, qualifying and the race.
Formula 1 might talk regularly about trying to break America, but just over the border there’s a bit of a renaissance taking place.
In 2020, two Canadian drivers will be entering a race for the first time since 1981, when Gilles Villeneuve and his younger brother Jacques both tried to qualify (Jacques unsuccessfully) for the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. Nicholas Latifi becomes the 15th F1 driver from Canada, having been confirmed at Lance Stroll’s former team Williams next season.
There are of course parallels between the two, with both the Stroll and Latifi families featuring high on rich lists. Unsurprisingly, that has led to immediate judgment on both’s abilities behind the wheel.
But that does a disservice to drivers who have shown the ability to win races in the immediate classes below F1. However you gain the experience and develop your skills, all that matters is if you can perform in a grand prix car.
So what is Williams getting in replacing Robert Kubica with Latifi?
After practicing in a Williams at several GPs this year, Nicholas Latifi will race for the team in 2020. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT
By modern standards, at 24 Latifi is a late arrival in Formula 1. Born in Montreal, he only started racing karts at 13, stepping up to Italian Formula 3 at 17. But it has taken time for Latifi to start to look capable of performing at F1 level, with this year — in which he ranks second in the Formula 2 championship standings with four wins to his name, ahead of this weekend’s final rounds in Abu Dhabi — by far his most successful.
That success has come in his fourth full year in F2, but in his second year he had a top-five championship finish. The new car in 2018 stunted that progress as the rookies shone, and Latifi admits he needed more development time in order to have a chance of a succeeding at grand prix level.
“For sure I think if I had gone into Formula 1 two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have felt as ready and prepared as I do now,” Latifi said. “A lot of people don’t realize that I started racing quite late in terms of karting, so my motorsport age, I only started racing karts at 13 years old, compared to guys like, in extreme cases, (Max) Verstappen, Esteban (Ocon), I think they both had a kart at four years old.
“When you take that into consideration from when I started to when I’m in F1, it’s about 12 years. It’s the same for a guy like Max — 17 years old, 13 years from when he started driving. It’s about right, let’s say. Compared to the more recent rookies, I’m definitely on the older side, but in terms of my experience level in motorsport, I think it’s right for me. I feel the most prepared and ready than I’ve ever been, and ready to make the step up.”
But Latifi faces a tough task. Not just in terms of trying to perform, but also to shake off a pay driver tag that inevitably comes when a driver has wealthy backers or family. Deputy team principal Claire Williams admits there are more aspects in play than raw pace when it comes to picking a driver for her team at this point in its journey, but that doesn’t necessarily mean money.
“I wouldn’t say inexperienced, because I think Nicholas, as he just said, he’s been racing for half his life, he’s got a huge amount of experience from a racecraft perspective in the junior championships,” Williams said. “And likewise in George, they’ve both had great careers moving up the ladder into Formula 1.
“When you are a team that isn’t necessarily doing so well, you have to consider the personalities of the drivers a whole lot more than maybe you would otherwise. George and Nicholas have the type of personalities that we’re looking for, that truly understand the importance of playing their role in the development of the team and in motivating and inspiring the team.
“I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got two drivers that can do that. It’s always the case that with a rookie, which Nicholas will be next year, it’s going to take him a couple of races to get his head around things; but we know that he’s a quick study, and that he’s going to be there pretty quickly.
“We know that George has talent, and it hasn’t been any way a detriment to us putting George in as a rookie this year. In fact it’s been probably one of the best decisions that we’ve made over a handful of years. I don’t think it is a distraction in any way that we have two younger drivers in the car, because we know what they’re both capable of.”
Stroll leapt into F1 straight from winning the European Formula 3 Championship, and has been trying to develop in the spotlight. The podium in his rookie year shows his potential, as does six top-10 finishes this year in a less competitive Racing Point car than recently, but the jury remains out. Latifi has gone a different way in taking longer to prove himself at a lower level, but this year he was one of the strongest F2 drivers.
Latifi has delivered the goods in F2 this year, but how representative that is of his F1 potential remains a question mark. Image by Jerry Andre / LAT Images)
It hasn’t been a classic F2 season, so whether that translates into F1 performances remains to be seen, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the right driver for Williams right now. Latifi has gained experience with the team this year, brings funding, the right personality, a mature head even as a rookie, and in FP1 appearances has looked capable of exceeding Kubica’s performance level.
Plus, he’s one of few realistic candidates currently not racing in F1 to hold an FIA Super License, and Nico Hulkenberg already said he isn’t the right fit for Williams at present. Latifi ticks plenty of boxes.
In Russell, Williams has a driver who has impressed massively and appears ready to step up to the team leader role, one that you could argue he has taken on already this year. Williams can therefore afford to take a chance on a rookie alongside him.
Take someone like Stoffel Vandoorne as an example of a stunning junior career that didn’t translate into F1 success. Similarly, someone like Sergio Perez was “only” GP2 runner-up to Pastor Maldonado — and not as a rookie — before moving up but has duly proven himself as a more than worthy F1 driver.
That’s not to say expect great things from Latifi. It is to say he deserves the chance to try and prove himself behind the wheel of an F1 car, as he has done it in F2 even if it took time. If it works out on the track, great, but if it helps the recovery of one of the most iconic teams in F1 history through the multiple other facets Williams wants from her driver, then that’s a success, too.
Max Verstappen feels his three victories this season helped Honda commit to Formula 1 for a further year, and that they are just one sign of the huge strides the manufacturer has made this season.
It was announced on Wednesday that Honda will continue to supply both Red Bull and Toro Rosso (the latter under a new name) in 2021, with the original deal having been due to expire at the end of next season. Verstappen has won three races so far this year and while Honda’s long-term future in the sport remains in doubt, the 21-year-old believes recent success has helped secure the extension.
“I think in general it’s better for everyone — it’s better for Honda and better for Red Bull — that this is happening at the moment, but I was never worried about it,” Verstappen said. “I knew what I had at the time and for me it was just trying to get the best out of what I have at the moment. I knew 2020 was happening anyway, but I was never really worried about it.
“Of course I think victories and podiums helped this year for them as well to have the confidence and motivation to go further, because if you don’t do that you’re really struggling and at one point a manufacturer will say, ‘What’s the point of being in Formula 1?’ But I think this year Honda have made really big steps.
“Of course they had a tough time in the beginning when they joined F1 but they have learned a lot and I think they also get really excited. But as they said it’s not only about victories, it’s also costs and stuff. So I’m of course very happy that they’re staying on board.”
“It’s always difficult to judge if they’ve exceeded expectations, but what I think is very positive is that we had a target throughout the year and we have always been at the same level or above the target, which we’ve never had before. So that’s a good thing. They’ve always been very honest in what we would get, and sometimes we would even be a little bit better.
“They’ve been working flat out and the improvements we have made with the last two engines was a big one. We are very close to Mercedes — of course maybe in Brazil it looked like we were faster on the straights but you also have to look at wing levels and downforce levels.
“I’m very happy. Also the reliability throughout the whole year — we have never retired from a Honda problem, so I think that is very positive. We lost a lot of points because of reliability issues in the past which were both car and engine, and I think we have improved both sides. I am very pleased with that because if you want to fight for a world championship you can’t retire on those kind of things.
“They made a huge step forward. We have taken five or six engines but they were all because of performance upgrades. So we knew of course we had to start at the back — or five or 10 places — but it was all for performance which would help us over the races afterwards. It was not linked to an engine just being worn out, so that’s also a good thing for next year.”
Nicholas Latifi will step up from Formula 2 to Formula 1 in 2020, racing for Williams alongside George Russell next season.
The Canadian has carried out a number of Friday practice outings in his role as the team’s reserve driver this year, while currently sitting second in the F2 standings ahead of this weekend’s final round in Abu Dhabi. The 24-year-old will replace Robert Kubica at Williams next season following the Pole’s decision to leave the team, and Latifi says his promotion still doesn’t feel real.
“I’m extremely excited to be stepping up to a full-time F1 race drive next year,” Latifi said. “For me, it’s a dream come true and something I’ve been working towards for almost half my life.
“It still feels a bit surreal. I don’t think it will sink in fully until I’m on the grid in Melbourne next year.
“I can’t wait to take the next step forward as a full-time race driver. I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead, going into F1 as a rookie, but I’m extremely motivated and determined to give it my all. I’ll give maximum effort and do whatever I can to help push the team forward and to achieve results we can be proud of.”
Deputy team principal Claire Williams says Latifi has performed well for Williams in his reserve driver role this season and earned the chance to stake his claim in a race seat next year.
“I am delighted to announce that Nicholas will be stepping up to the role of race driver to partner George in 2020,” Williams said. “All of us at Williams have been immensely impressed at what he has achieved this year in FIA Formula 2, along with his commitment to the team, and the work that he has put in behind the scenes.
“Nicholas has become an established and well-respected member of Williams, and we look forward to him stepping up into this new role, as we look to fight our way back to the midfield.”
The confirmation of Latifi’s promotion completes the 2020 grid, leaving Nico Hulkenberg without a race drive in F1 next year.
Lewis Hamilton sent Alex Albon a private message apologizing for their collision that cost the Red Bull rookie his first career F1 podium in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Albon was running second to Max Verstappen when the race restarted with two laps remaining in Interlagos, but Hamilton then hit Albon while trying to overtake before the end of the lap in an attempt to challenge for victory. While the six-time champion took full responsibility at the time and immediately approached Albon after climbing out of the car, he also sent a message after the race to apologize.
“(I got over it) pretty quickly, actually,” Albon said. “When I looked at the weekend as a whole — there was Mexico as well but it was really the first time I could mix it and was mixing it with the top guys.
“There were a lot of positives there, with the negative being the crash but really on the global outlook of the situation it was a good weekend. It hurts but there will be plenty more chances in the future. Even Lewis was really good about it — he sent me a message on DMs so he was very apologetic.”
“There are different circumstances; of course I don’t blame Lewis wholly, there are ways I could have avoided the crash, you could say. I was surprised to begin with, but I think it was just one of those things. Just the way it happens and the way the corner is and things like that, it’s more just about waiting, really.
“It wasn’t always going to happen but there was a good chance it was going to happen very soon after that corner, into Turn 1 or whatever. So I think it was just the initial rush to overtake. It’s one of those things and it’s all gone now.”
Honda has committed to Formula 1 for a further year as power unit supplier to both Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
The Japanese manufacturer had only originally signed up to the sport until the end of 2020, with its current deals with the two Red Bull teams set to expire at the end of next season. Following the publication of the 2021 regulations at the end of last month, Honda has now confirmed it will remain in F1 for at least a further season, extending its partnerships with Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
Given the short-term extension into the first year of the new regulations, all three parties simply confirmed the news via Twitter ahead of this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It is understood Honda will use the time to further evaluate its F1 project moving forward.
At present, no teams have announced new commercial agreements with F1’s owners Liberty Media, with the current deals only running until the end of 2020. However, with Honda’s commitment to supplying Red Bull and Toro Rosso — set to be renamed Alpha Tauri next year — the following season, comes an indication of Red Bull’s commitment to the sport’s new regulations.
Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc have maintained a good relationship despite a few controversial “moments” between them this season, says team principal Mattia Binotto.
In qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel was unhappy that his teammate did not get in a position to give him a tow early enough in Q3. In Russia, the pair disagreed over the way they each approached the start. Most recently, the pair collided in the closing laps of the Brazilian GP.
Binotto professes happiness that their relationship survived the earlier incidents: “I think that what I read or hear is quite different to what I see internally,” Binotto explains. “It is true that in Monza it was not an easy situation to manage. They had to clarify, and they spoke face-to-face and openly. The same happened after Russia.
“From the start of the season, when they did not know each other, they have (developed) a good relationship and they are going well together. Certainly (Brazil) did not help, but I don’t see it is a drama; I see it more as an opportunity in the view of next year to clarify if needed.”
Binotto says he will not necessarily follow Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s lead in implementing a code of conduct between his drivers to avoid a repeat of such incidents, having told them they were free to race each other as Ferrari had already secured second in the constructors’ championship.
“I don’t know what Toto did. I don’t want to judge and I am not interested either. But certainly we need to clarify in the team what is silly and what is not — what the limits of the actions are.
“When you have a crash, something is broken, no doubt. When you are free to fight, you are free to fight — and it is only a driving matter how much you can take as a risk. But certainly, (in Brazil), the risk was not necessary…”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Formula 1’s top teams will face an extremely challenging and expensive 2020 chasing an advantage before the new 2021 regulations come into play.
New for 2021 is a budget cap which will be introduced at the same time as new technical regulations that have the potential to radically shake up the grid. With development of the new car taking place next year without the influence of the budget cap, and Pirelli keen to test new 18-inch tires on development cars, Horner says the big teams must spend huge amounts of money trying to gain an advantage from multiple avenues.
“What you have to remember about the budget cap is that it’s fixed for a five-year period, so for the top three teams, certainly, it will be a considerable challenge to position themselves to get under that cap for 2021 onwards,” Horner said. “And then once we are there, we have to stay there for five years.
“So while there may still be some divergence between the smaller teams and the larger teams (initially) over a period of time, hopefully as revenues continue to grow within the sport given the plans that Liberty (has) for it — and the growth that they expect to see during the next five years — I think things will naturally converge. (But) the frustration about the regulations are it makes next year very expensive. We will have, effectively, three things going on: the current car to develop; tire testing on behalf of Pirelli with a sort of an interim car; and then the development of a new car to a new set of regulations.
“Next year is a big challenge.”
Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur agrees that the big teams will be able to exploit the lack of a budget cap next season but says it is important the technical regulations remain largely the same for a number of seasons to allow the grid to close up.
For Alfa Romeo’s Frederic Vasseur and others, stability of the 2021 F1 regulations over an extended period is key. Image by Bloxham/LAT
“(Our) situation is a bit different compared to the big teams but for sure the budget cap won’t affect at all six or seven teams on the grid,” Vasseur said.
“It will affect the top teams, but they will have more resources to develop the new car next year as Christian said.
“The most important thing for me,” Vasseur added, “is the stability of the regulations over the (five-year) period. If we change the regulations again in ’23 or ’24, it will be very difficult for the small teams to have an advantage.”
Haas team principal Guenther Steiner now admits he wishes he had listened to his drivers more this season in order to help the team make progress with its 2019 VF-19.
A strong start to the year gave way to frustration as the team struggled with an upgrade introduced at the start of the European season. Looking back, Steiner concedes that was a crucial point in the team’s year, and he wishes he had paid more attention to the drivers’ feedback at the time.
“One thing I would do differently: After we introduced the upgrade in Barcelona, I (should have) listened a little bit more to the drivers and been a little bit more self-critical,” Steiner said.
Progress in developing the VF-19 has been wildly hit or miss since a major upgrade was introduced in May. Image by Dunbar/LAT
“(But) I would say there is a silver lining. We started to react during the summer break to work on the 2020 car – to try to avoid the mistakes we’ve made this year. We don’t want to repeat them. We’re just moving forward, analyzing and working hard on the 2020 car.”
While next year’s car has been the focus of development work for a number of months, teams are also faced with major changes in the regulations ahead of the 2021 season. Steiner has said Haas must be realistic with its expectations about where it will stack up in the new-look Formula 1 in just over a year’s time.
“As always, the big teams will always have an advantage. They just have more resources and more people to develop the 2021 car to the new regulations, while at the same time developing a 2020 car.
“The budget cap comes in place in 2021. In the first years, I don’t see a big difference in the pecking order. There will still be the big three and then the rest of us. We know that. Hopefully, the gap closes a little bit to the big ones over time.
“For sure, we will try to do our best with whatever we have to produce a good 2021 car.”
Lewis Hamilton says he will not let his pursuit of Michael Schumacher’s records take over his life as he strives to balance Formula 1 and other life interests.
Hamilton wrapped up his sixth drivers’ championship at this year’s United States Grand Prix, leaving him one shy of Schumacher’s record of seven. He is also just eight adrift of Schumacher’s benchmark of 91 grand prix victories, but says it is important that he doesn’t let his desire for more success consume all of his time.
“There are the drivers and athletes who train all day, every day, too much — they’re too focused; they’re too intense,” Hamilton told the Press Association. “I read ‘The Alchemist’ (by Paulo Cuehlo), and I liked the story. There is this kid who meets the King. The King says to him, ‘I don’t have time for you right this second, but take this spoon with a drop of oil. I want you to go round to my house, enjoy it, and come back to me later. But don’t drop any of the oil’.
“So, the kid goes around focusing on making sure he doesn’t drop any of the oil; and when he comes back, the King asks him: ‘Did you see my great sculptures? Did you see my great paintings?’ And the kid says he didn’t because he was too focused on the spoon.
“That spoke to me. You can focus so much on your career and doing the perfect job that you miss the world, and your whole life can go by.
Hamilton was speaking at the Gran Turismo World Finals in Monaco, and says he wants to use his influence to help future generations, having posted a number of emotional comments regarding the environment on social media last month.
“We all go through difficult days. I went through something yesterday, but I get positive messages from people, and I have good people around me, too. We all need to rely on each other. I am trying to have a positive impact. I look at Ayrton Senna. He was a star in the sky and I want to somehow get up there. It is important to find people like that, and that is what I am trying to be.
“If you look at young kids, they are pure spirits. We are not born with hate or negativity in our hearts. That is something we learn over time. It is passed to us by our parents, and whatever issues they have going on, and through people we interact with.
“It is always really important to stay true to your core values, and I am really fortunate that I have this amazing platform that I never thought I would have. I am trying to be the best person I can.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Alex Albon’s performance in Brazil shows he can fight with the best drivers on the grid.
Albon was retained by Red Bull for 2020 in the lead-up to the Brazilian Grand Prix and then delivered his most competitive race for the team at Interlagos. After overtaking Sebastian Vettel around the outside of Turn 1 on the first safety car restart, he was running second ahead before Lewis Hamilton tapped him into a spin on the penultimate lap. Horner says the way he raced both Hamilton and Vettel bodes well for the future.
“He looked really comfortable racing world champions and it was a huge shame for him to lose that podium on the penultimate lap,” Horner said. “Lewis has obviously put his hand up and apologized; unfortunately it doesn’t get Alex’s podium back, but he can leave (Brazil) with his head held high.
“OK, he didn’t get the trophy but he’s impressed the whole team with his performance and again, it’s an encouraging signal for next year.
Albon has also benefited from a consistently competitive Red Bull in recent races and Horner says Honda’s power unit progress has played a part along with getting the most out of its chassis.
“All aspects, working very hard on setup — the subtleties of changes — Honda are making good progress, it’s all those elements coming together.
“When I saw that the last five pole positions (at Interlagos) had all been Mercedes, it’s fantastic for Honda for the first time since 1991 to score pole and get the victory as well. It shows their hard work is paying off and it really feels like we are building a good momentum.”