F1, IMSA both a future option for Indy – Penske

Although the coronavirus pandemic obviously makes taking care of currently scheduled events his top priority for the near term, Roger Penske is seriously considering bringing Formula 1 back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as taking a look at an IMSA sports car enduro.

“My son Greg has met with Chase Carey (CEO of the Formula One Group) and had some preliminary discussions over the past couple weeks,” Penske told RACER. “Is it time to re-look at an F1 race? I don’t know yet if the economics make sense but we wouldn’t look at doing it before 2022.”

IMS hosted the U.S. Grand Prix from 2000-2007 on a road course built explicitly for F1 and a new scoring/media/hospitality tower was erected along with the pit suites. It’s estimated then IMS chief Tony George spent north of $60 million on the project and the first few years had massive crowds.

But following a disastrous 2005 race in which 14 of the 20 cars dropped out before the start because Michelin deemed its tires unsafe, attendance and interested plummeted and F1 was gone after 2007.

“I want to see F1 return at some point as well as sports cars. Indianapolis is for thoroughbreds and we want to make it special,” he said.

Penske, who fields cars in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA, is also keen for some kind of endurance race at 16th & Georgetown.

“I’ve had some discussions with (IMSA president) John Doonan and I think there is good potential to run an endurance race at the Speedway,” continued the man whose cars won last year’s Indy 500, IndyCar title, IMSA crown and Australian Supercars title.

There are currently three major long-distance races in IMSA — the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

The longtime car owner/business tycoon purchased IMS and the IndyCar series in January and has been in and out of Indianapolis a dozen times in the past three months — making physical changes to the track and planning what’s best for the paying customers.

“We definitely want to create more great racing and utilization of the Speedway,” said Penske. “We want things that will last a long time and keep our loyal fans coming to the Speedway and bringing their friends and family. It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to make a difference.”

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May European F1 races ponder rescheduling

While Formula 1 has only formally announced the postponement of its opening four races, it admitted in its statement announcing the latest round of calendar changes made necessary by the global coronavirus pandemic that the start of the 2020 season was expected to begin “at the end of May.” This put the following two races on the calendar — the Dutch Grand Prix at redesigned Zandvoort scheduled for May 3 and the Spanish GP at Barcelona set for May 10 — in the crosshairs. F1 subsequently confirmed that it is in talks with organizers of those races about the status of their events.

Dutch race officials released a statement that said: “Based on reports from Formula One Management and FIA, we are in joint consultation with them about the possible consequences for the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix. These are not yet fully known, but in the event of possible postponement, all tickets will remain valid. As soon as more news is known, we will share it with all parties involved.”

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, meanwhile, announced that all events at its facility scheduled to take place through mid-April have been postponed, while leaving the status of its F1 race open.

“Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will continue monitoring the evolution of the pandemic, staying in permanent contact with the different bodies and health authorities in order to continue implementing the applicable measures and recommendations, ensuring the health and safety of our visitors,” read the statement, which noted that the Spanish authorities are “already analyzing the different available options with Formula 1” should the current coronavirus situation force a change.

The next currently scheduled F1 race beyond these two would be the Monaco GP on May 24.

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Australian GP keen to reschedule later in 2020

The Australian Grand Prix organizers would like to host the race later in 2020, despite describing this weekend’s event as cancelled.

McLaren withdrew from the race once one of its team members tested positive for coronavirus, triggering a chain of events that ultimately led to the race being called off. That decision was only communicated just before FP1 was due to start on Friday morning, and in apologizing to fans for the timing, Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Paul Little said he is keen to host the race at a later date.

“To our race fans, I’d like to say we’re terribly disappointed that the event can’t go ahead,” Little said. “The reasons for that are well known, and I’m sure there’ll be questions about that shortly. But from the Australian Grand Prix point of view I just want to say sorry to our fans.

According to AGPC CEO Andrew Westacott, the decision to describe the race as “cancelled” rather than “postponed” – in contrast to the term used for the following three rounds in Bahrain, Vietnam and China – was made though a belief that a stronger message was needed to leave fans in no doubt that the weekend was off.

“It’s important we used the word ‘cancellation’ because of the imminency of the timing of it,” Westacott said. “Important to make sure that the fans in Melbourne at the gate knew that it wasn’t a postponement for some period of hours or days: the word ‘cancellation’ was used deliberately.

“In F1 you never say never. We have been working on the here and now with Chase (Carey), the FIA and F1, and we will work though matters but we haven’t started thinking about future staging or anything like that but it will happen in the fullness of time.”

One of the logistical issues that impacts on any hopes of trying to reschedule the race later in the season revolves around how long it takes to build the the track, which is a street circuit located in a public park.

“We can’t leave it here for months,” Westacott said. “One of the things we respect here is there are men and women’s football teams and sporting activities here. One of the privileges we have is to occupy a beautiful park in the CBD of Melbourne.

“We want to minimize the impact of the build and the dismantle. This changes the way we dismantle the circuit, but we can’t be leaving it here for days or weeks, and we will be dismantling and removing the infrastructure and returning it to the sporting clubs of Albert Park and Melbourne.”

Formula 1 has already stated it is targeting starting the new season in May at the very earliest due to the ongoing global health situation.

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Brawn defends F1’s handling of Australian GP cancellation

Ross Brawn believes Formula 1 handled the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix well, despite the last-minute timing of the decision.

The race weekend was called off just a few hours before FP1 was due to start, with most teams already in the paddock and fans being held and then turned away at the gates due to a lack of information being communicated on Friday morning. It had been made clear the race would be cancelled in the early hours following McLaren’s withdrawal when one of its team members tested positive for coronavirus, but F1’s motorsports boss Brawn says it wasn’t as simple as one entity making the decision.

“There was consultation with the teams, the medical authorities, the FIA and the promoters here,” Brawn said. “I’ve been up all night. We had so many issues to work through. We had to get the teams together again and hold a meeting. It all takes time.

“It’s not a total autocracy, as in, we just can’t make a decision. We have so many factors to take into account. I think we did a pretty good job of reaching the right conclusion with so many stakeholders involved. We’re talking to the FIA, which is in Europe on a Europe timezone, and we had to speak to (FIA president) Jean Todt.

Although little information was transmitted to teams and media from Thursday evening local time onwards, Brawn insists the sport was prepared to a certain degree.

“We had mapped out with the health authorities what would happen if we had one case, five case, 10 cases,” he said. “But what you never know with those cases is what the association is with the people around. Having one case with 14 people having to go into isolation, that effectively knocked that team (McLaren) out of operation.

“If that one case had been someone with a different profile, different responsibility, it might not have impacted a team that much. There are certain things you can spend forever predicting, and you’ll never know what is going to happen. In reality, we found the case, the person who was positive in the paddock. That is the credit to the authorities. They were identified, they were tested, the procedures worked.”

Meanwhile, Carey said it would be too easy to criticize F1’s approach based on hindsight, given how quickly the global situation has been changing.

“I think we made the right decision as it evolved,” Carey said. “I think we feel we worked well with all of our partners to make that decision. Obviously we don’t control how various events evolve — specifically some of the infections and some of the illnesses. We felt we made the right decision when we moved here.

“In hindsight you’re always going to look at things differently. So it’s difficult to go back and look at it moving forward. In many places around the world, clearly the situation in just 24–48 hours is very different than it was not that long ago. People were traveling through Europe and the United States; within 24 hours they are no longer traveling between those countries.

“So I think these are issues that you have to deal with in real time, make efficient, effective decisions and try and make sure you’re getting all the input and expertise you can to do the right thing. I think we got to the right place.”

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F1 postpones Bahrain, Vietnam GPs; season delayed to late May

Following yesterday’s cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, Formula 1 announced today that its Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix have also been postponed due to the continued global spread of coronavirus. The races had been set for March 20-22 at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, and April 3-5 at the new Hanoi street circuit.

The announcement added that “Formula 1 and the FIA say they will continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam to monitor the situation and study the viability of potential alternative dates for both races.” It went on to state that F1 and the FIA “expect to begin the championship in Europe at the end of May but given the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Europe in recent days, this will be regularly reviewed.”

The latter would mean at least postponement of the Chinese GP currently scheduled for April 17-19, the Dutch GP on May 1-3, and the Spanish GP on the following weekend of May 8-10.

“The global situation regarding COVID-19 is fluid and very difficult to predict and its right we take time to assess the situation and make the right decisions,” said F1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey. “We are taking this decision with the FIA and our promoters to ensure the safety of everyone involved in Formula 1 and our fans. The Bahrain Grand Prix is an exciting race in our schedule, and we look forward to being back there as soon as we can. We are also looking forward to Vietnam’s inaugural race and bringing the spectacle of F1 to one of the most exciting cities in the world.”

FIA President, Jean Todt added: “Protecting people first. Together with Formula 1, the Bahrain Motor Federation, the Vietnamese Motorsports Association, and the local promoters, postponing both the Bahrain and Vietnam Grands Prix, as with the Australian Grand Prix, was the only possible decision given all of the information currently available to us. We continue to rely on the input and advice from the World Health Organization and governments and will work with them throughout this unpredictable period to safeguard the fans, competitors and all of the motorsport community.”

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Hamilton slams “cash is king” F1 over Australian GP

Lewis Hamilton says it is shocking that Formula 1’s season is set to go ahead with the Australian Grand Prix in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The opening race of the season is due to take place on Sunday, although the announcement by McLaren that it is withdrawing after a team member tested positive for coronavirus could force reconsideration of that. While Hamilton says he wasn’t concerned for his own well being in traveling to Melbourne, he says the way the rest of the world is reacting to the global situation is not being reflected within F1.

“I felt OK traveling out here,” Hamilton said. “Naturally being on a flight with a lot of people and stopping at an airport full of people, I didn’t really think too hard on it, I was just trying to make sure that I was taking all the precautions I could and not touching things and using hand sanitizer.

“I am really very, very surprised that we are here. I think in motorsport it’s great that we have racing, but I think it’s really shocking that we are all sitting in this room. There are so many fans here today and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have already seen this morning that (Donald) Trump has shut down the borders with Europe to the States and you are seeing the NBA being suspended, yet Formula 1 continues to go on.

“I saw Jackie Stewart this morning looking fit and healthy and well in the lift, and I saw some people as I walked into the paddock, some elderly individuals. It’s a concern I think for the people here — it’s quite a big circus that’s come here and it’s definitely concerning for me.”

“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. I can’t add much more to it. I don’t feel like I should shy away from my opinion. The fact is we are here and I just really want to be as careful as we can be in touching doors and surfaces, and I hope everyone has hand sanitizer.

“For the fans, I really hope they are taking precautions. I was walking through and everything is going ahead as normal, like it is a normal day, but I don’t think it really is. I just hope all the fans stay safe and I hope we get through this weekend and we don’t have any fatalities or things in the future.”

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STRAW: Why Albon can succeed where Gasly failed

STRAW: Why Albon can succeed where Gasly failed

Forces of nature do not yield to the will of mere mortals. At best, human beings find a way to co-exist with such powers: working with rather than against them, and keeping out of the way when things get dangerous. You cannot tame these forces, and those who attempt to do so are often destroyed in the process.

This is something Alex Albon will be all too aware of in taking on Max Verstappen at Red Bull in 2020. While he realistically is unlikely to win this battle given how formidable Verstappen is, he can do what his predecessor, Pierre Gasly, didn’t and make his place at Red Bull secure for the long-term.

So what does Albon have that Gasly lacked? Certainly not speed because Gasly has that in abundance, as he proved once he returned to Toro Rosso last year. It’s not that he’s more determined, for Gasly dug deep during his horrendous first half of 2019 and didn’t give up even though there were times when he ran out of ideas for how to improve. And Albon doesn’t even have a better CV to fall back on, given his junior single-seater career was patchier than Gasly’s. The ultimate potential of the pair on most measures is, at best, the same and you could make a strong case that Gasly’s is higher overall.

Yet Albon has something Gasly needed but couldn’t find in the first half of last year, and it’s all in the mind. Albon’s mental strength, the capacity to bounce back from mistakes, to dig in and focus on extracting the best from himself under the most intense of pressures is the piece of the jigsaw Gasly appeared to, if not have lost entirely, misplaced last year.

Up against a force of nature like Verstappen, that quality is paramount because you are going to spend a lot of time on the back foot. The key is to be close enough to back up Verstappen and bring home big points – something Gasly failed to do.

Mental strength is an essential quality of any elite sportsperson. The most successful ones all have it to some extent, or the most intense process of natural selection that exists in sport would have eliminated them before they ever got to the top table of their chosen discipline. But with every rung you climb up the ladder, the atmosphere becomes more rarified, ever-thinner. There is further to fall, the pressures rise and you are judged by rising standards. As a Red Bull driver, Albon is in that elite group of just six drivers – he is compared to Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc – and the only way to stay in that position is prove that you belong. The standards he is judged by are, as a result, brutal.

Despite his relative inexperience, Albon’s place in one of F1’s ‘big three’ teams means he is judged against the sport’s very best. Image by Etherington/LAT

So far, Albon has stacked up well enough to earn himself a crack at a full season with Red Bull. But while he has not proved to be out of place in that company, he’s yet to prove emphatically that he belongs there.

Over nine races last year he did, however, prove that he was not overawed. Only twice did he finish behind any of the midfield cars: at Monza, when he was beaten by the slippery Renaults, and at Interlagos, where he was tipped into a spin by Hamilton. While Hamilton carried the can for that one and earned a penalty, Albon did also own some of the responsibility as he, by his own admission, left the door wide open because he wasn’t anticipating an attack until the main straight.

Albon will have had time to reflect on that, and other aspects of his game, over the winter. In that regard, while slightly less experienced than Gasly was heading into last season, Albon has a big advantage given he already has half a season with Red Bull under his belt. While he has set big targets for this season, the fact he has already banked that experience and, crucially, convinced the team that he has that fighting spirit about him that allowed him to deliver the attacking drives that Gasly couldn’t, is a big boost. Twice in his first four outings for Red Bull he converted back-of-the-grid starts into fifth-place finishes.

“I want to be up there fighting Mercedes, fighting Ferrari and fighting Max, of course,” said Albon during pre-season testing. “At the minute, I’m focusing on myself more than anything. Having that winter period to sit down with the team and look at the areas where I wanted a bit more feedback on what I’m doing, working with the team, in the simulator, everything. In a race year, you are always at the track and straight into FP1, so it was good to have the time away from the circuit to relax and speak about the goals for this year.”

Gasly’s ambitions were similar, although he went into the season on the back foot thanks to two crashes in pre-season testing. It wasn’t so much the accidents themselves, but rather the circumstances that stung. The second, on the penultimate day of testing, happened when he was under strict instructions not to damage parts given Red Bull was very short, and the accident also ruined Verstappen’s final day of running.

Gasly is clearly a confidence driver and that, combined with a tricky run of races, got to him. It’s no coincidence that one of his best performances in the first part of the season was in qualifying in Azerbaijan, when he was under no pressure as he’d already picked up a back-of-the-grid penalty for missing the weighbridge during practice. But the more Red Bull urged him to try and dial back the intensity and let his underlying ability and instinct come to the fore, the harder it became.

A driver who thrives on confidence, Gasly became increasingly vulnerable at Red Bull with every misstep in early 2019. Image by Bloxham/LAT

Whether or not Gasly was harshly treated by Red Bull, a common criticism of its attitude to drivers, despite it having done more to foster young talent in racing than anyone else over the past 15 years, is irrelevant. The situation, being in a top team, is an external factor that is far more significant than anything the team can do. Gasly put himself under pressure and seemed unable to adapt to the esoteric demands of the RB15 in a situation that asked more of him than any he has encountered before in racing.

That was a source of frustration for the team, particularly with Gasly focusing effort on producing a string of new seats in an attempt to get more comfortable in the car rather than focusing on himself. Too often, there were times when he got lost on set-ups while trying to optimize the car for one corner, which then led to losing out elsewhere. He struggled to get the overall compromise right. Albon avoided going down this rabbit hole.

He still has significant improvements to make, but Albon’s good start at Red Bull has bought him the time he needs to chip away at himself. There are two key areas where he needs to improve. First, he needs to close the pace gap to Verstappen after having been, on average and with anomalies discounted, 0.433 seconds behind him on qualifying pace last season. Red Bull will not expect him to close that gap to nothing, but it will be looking for Albon to settle in somewhere around the 0.1-0.2s bracket.

Albon also needs to minimize the crashes. While he didn’t do anything as catastrophic as the two shunts Gasly had in pre-season testing last year, he found the wall too often – in Australia, China, Hungary and Singapore, Russia, Mexico and Brazil. Admittedly, he usually bounced back from these well, never more so than in China, where he charged from a pitlane start to score a point for Toro Rosso in 10th place. But while a team will accept this from a rookie feeling his way, Albon will need to reduce the mishaps.

Most of all, what will serve Albon so well is that he has a phlegmatic reaction to things going wrong. While Gasly appeared to be pitched into a downward spiral by his problems and struggled to get into the right place mentally to regroup, Albon has shown he can do this. After all, his situation heading into last season was hardly perfect given his first F1 test came in pre-season testing and resulted in him binning it on his out-lap!

But he also passed other tests with flying colors. His first experience in the wet in an F1 car was in the German Grand Prix, in which he excelled. Arguably, he was the driver of the day on his way to sixth and avoided the mistakes made by many rivals. His performance was overshadowed on the day by Toro Rosso teammate Daniil Kvyat grabbing a podium with a risky switch to slicks. That’s the Albon Red Bull will want to see regularly.

Red Bull won’t expect Albon to beat Verstappen this year, but it will be looking for him to close the gap in qualifying. Image by Portlock/LAT

Albon is a driver who has been through a lot over the years, being dropped by Red Bull early in his single-seater career then facing up to the reality that the F1 dream was over before landing a shock call-up for Toro Rosso. Those tough experiences have cured him as a rock-solid competitor, one who should have the mindset needed to get the best out of himself this year. Then it’s just a question of whether that best is good enough.

As for Gasly, his response on the return to Toro Rosso was astonishing and a reminder of how capable a driver he is. Perhaps by rebuilding his confidence there, he might be able to convince Red Bull that a second go in the top team will have a different result? Certainly, he will have been cured into a harder character by the whole experience, and that will only serve him well.

But Albon is still on his first shot and usually you only get one of those at the very top of elite sport. That’s why the mental strength is so critical. You can have all the potential you want, but it’s the bit between the ears that draws it all together and allows you to manifest that underlying ability in the most high-pressure of circumstances.

The question then is whether he’s fast enough, good enough at managing the tires and consistent enough to be close enough to Verstappen to satisfy Red Bull.

Albon, so far, appears to have that strength and that is what gives him every chance of making 2020 the year he proves he belongs at F1’s top table.

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Hopes rising for Miami GP in 2021

Formula 1’s management team is encouraged by the progress it has made towards hosting a Miami Grand Prix in 2021, according to CEO and chairman Chase Carey.

A potential roadblock to the event — an attempt to force through anti-F1 legislation that would have required Miami Gardens’ approval in order to host the race — failed last month, moving the project at Hard Rock Stadium a step closer. Speaking on a Liberty Media earnings call, Carey says the recent developments have given added momentum to F1’s plans to add a second race in the United States.

“We were thrilled with the progress in the last few weeks in Miami as we come closer to finalizing that potential tent-pole event on future calendars,” Carey said. “We’re excited to partner with the (NFL) Miami Dolphins to bring a world-class event to the region and our second race to the U.S.”

“Positive steps the last couple weeks — we’re actively engaged with them,” he said. “I think we’ve got meetings over the next week or two to continue to nail things down. And we feel good about where we are with that race for 2021.

“I think, first and foremost, we want to make sure it’s a great race, a race that will live up to the potential of what that race is — which is a real tent-pole race for us, not just in the U.S., but around the world, a race that will capture the world’s imagination. So we want to make sure we do the race.

“We’re still focusing on trying to get things in place for 2021. Obviously, time gets shorter. But we are actively working on it and engaged with it and I think making good headway. We feel that (new races) are complicated. So nothing new — we’ve been through this before.

“The steps and processes we go through to ultimately finalize a race always have degrees of complications to them. But I think we feel good about the path we’re on, and we feel good about the opportunity to make the race in Miami a reality in the short term.”

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Racing Point excited by untapped potential in RP20

Racing Point is enthusiastic about the potential of its 2020 car and is still only halfway through learning about it after pre-season testing, according to the team’s technical director Andy Green.

The RP20 bears a striking resemblance to last year’s Mercedes W10, with Racing Point utilizing the Mercedes power unit, gearbox and wind tunnel among other aspects. The car is a big departure from last year’s RP19, and Green admits that means the team is still not able to exploit its full potential as it takes longer to gain a full understanding of its characteristics.

“There’s a lot of work to do and I’d say we’re probably about halfway through it. So it’s going to be interesting going to Melbourne, which is really where we turned our focuses (during testing), trying to understand how we change the car for all the different tracks that we’re going to, not necessarily optimizing it for Barcelona.

“But, so far so good. The car is responding, which is great, and we can move the balance from one end to the other and I think the drivers can feel the car underneath them, it gives them confidence to drive and gives them confidence to push, which is good. When conditions got tricky (in Barcelona), the car exhibited some really good trace compared to last year’s car, so it was very encouraging.”

Despite suggesting there is a lot more to come from the car, Green says there is clear correlation between what was developed in the wind tunnel and the performance that is being seen on track.

“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t happy with where we are, we are happy,” he said. “The level of performance that we’re seeing from the car is – it’s sort of as we expected after we got the data out of the tunnel, we got it in the simulator when the drivers drove the car a couple of weeks ago they were massively enthusiastic about it.

“They were prepared for what was to come, we were just unsure whether we’re going to realize the full potential of what we’re seeing in the simulation work. Everything that we’ve seen so far suggests that we’ve transferred across from the model size to the full size.”

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09

FIA admits to doubts over Ferrari’s power unit legality in 2019

The FIA has hit back at demands from seven Formula 1 teams that it disclose details of its settlement with Ferrari over its power unit in 2019, but admits it was not fully satisfied the Italian team’s power unit usage was legal.

A statement last week revealed the FIA had reached an agreement with Ferrari – the terms of which would remain confidential – following “thorough technical investigations” into the operations of its power unit. The seven non-Ferrari-powered teams – Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, AlphaTauri, Racing Point and Williams – all signed a joint statement on Wednesday calling for “full and proper disclosure” from the FIA, and threatening legal action if it didn’t feel teams are being treated fairly and equally.

“The FIA has conducted detailed technical analysis on the Scuderia Ferrari Power Unit as it is entitled to do for any competitor in the FIA Formula One World Championship,” the FIA statement read.

“The extensive and thorough investigations undertaken during the 2019 season raised suspicions that the Scuderia Ferrari PU could be considered as not operating within the limits of the FIA regulations at all times. The Scuderia Ferrari firmly opposed the suspicions and reiterated that its PU always operated in compliance with the regulations. The FIA was not fully satisfied but decided that further action would not necessarily result in a conclusive case due to the complexity of the matter and the material impossibility to provide the unequivocal evidence of a breach.

“To avoid the negative consequences that a long litigation would entail especially in light of the uncertainty of the outcome of such litigations and in the best interest of the Championship and of its stakeholders, the FIA, in compliance with Article 4 (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules (JDR), decided to enter into an effective and dissuasive settlement agreement with Ferrari to terminate the proceedings.

“This type of agreement is a legal tool recognized as an essential component of any disciplinary system and is used by many public authorities and other sport federations in the handling of disputes.

“The confidentiality of the terms of the settlement agreement is provided for by Article 4 (vi) of the JDR.

“The FIA will take all necessary action to protect the sport and its role and reputation as regulator of the FIA Formula One World Championship.”

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MEDLAND: Coronavirus puts F1 between a rock and a hard place

MEDLAND: Coronavirus puts F1 between a rock and a hard place

On January 21, a Chinese colleague asked some of us who work in Formula 1 and share a WhatsApp group if we were worried about coronavirus, and got largely ignored. At that point, it was something that was starting to flare up in China, but how big it could become was relatively unknown.

Fast-forward 42 days, and it’s all anyone in F1 is talking about.

There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding when it comes to how Coronavirus and F1 are intertwined, so I thought I’d try and explain just how tricky some of the situations are.

Promoters and governments are paying huge sums of money to host F1 races, and for the early rounds in Australia, Bahrain and Vietnam preparations are well advanced in terms of being ready for the grand prix. Certain staff are already in place as part of the setup, and huge amounts have been spent by all those involved to get there.

So calling a race off at this point would be hugely expensive, which means the default is to try and make it happen if the global health situation allows.

As it stands, Australia is pretty clear on its approach. Unless you have been in China or Iran in the past 14 days, you can enter the country. And there are no bans on mass gatherings or activities, so nothing that stops a race happening. In fact, the only issue has been that the few Chinese members of F1’s media entourage have had to stay away from home between the final test and the first race.

But those three words – ‘as it stands’ – are crucial, and are certainly giving F1 a headache.

On Sunday night, I started replying to a number of questions or comments on Twitter about the situation, jokingly calling it ‘Coronavirus Corner’. But it feels like I haven’t stopped since then. At that point, there were no restrictions that would impact the race, even if the situation in MotoGP was being used as a stick to beat F1 with.

MotoGP called off its opening round in Qatar seven days before the race because the Qatari government imposed restrictions that meant anyone arriving from Italy (a large portion of the MotoGP paddock) would immediately enter into a 14-day quarantine, therefore missing the event. Then Thailand postponed its round, much in the same way the Chinese Grand Prix was called off, as the organizers deemed that now is not the right time to host it.

F1 didn’t have any such restrictions in its host countries at that point, but on Monday, Vietnam took a similar stance to Qatar in imposing a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. As everyone would return home after the second race in Bahrain, the latter would impact on Ferrari, AlphaTauri, Haas and Alfa Romeo (as Ferrari customer teams using Italian engineers) and Pirelli, as well as a number of media and support staff.

The logistical requirements of F1 teams make for some vexing issues in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, particularly for Italian-based teams and suppliers. Image by Sutton/LAT

Of course, there’s a bit of time to react to that right now. But soon after, Bahrain announced it will ban anyone entering the country if they have visited or transited through Italy, Iraq, China, Hong Kong, Iran, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore in the 14 days prior to arrival. There is also a block on flights in from Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.

For anyone already in Italy, that announcement could be troublesome, as most will fly to Australia later this week and on to Bahrain within 14 days of that. But even if action has already been taken, a number of flights from Melbourne to Bahrain pass through Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the UAE.

That leaves the massive logistical headache of trying to re-route teams and personnel at the last minute, at huge expense. And some will fear they won’t be allowed entry on arrival.

Bahrain is going “to put in place specific measures for teams, administrators, broadcast and media” in order to facilitate entry to allow the race to go ahead, and have asked for all travel details of those attending in order to do so. Personally, that means needing clearance to arrive from Dubai, as my flight route for the opening two races is through Dubai to Melbourne and again through Dubai to Bahrain, and then back to Dubai to fly home.

The requirements for transit to and from Bahrain make it especially problematic. Image by Steven Tee/LAT

There is no centralized travel across such a large-scale operation, so for others involved in F1 the Bahrain restrictions have already meant changing flight plans to avoid listed countries, which costs money. I can tell you as a freelancer that the uncertainty has led to a number of plans being put on hold and work falling through (in my case, a TV company not committing to broadcasting on-site from the early rounds). I totally understand, as I haven’t even booked my flights to Vietnam yet for fear of losing thousands of dollars…

Even if the first two races go ahead with Bahrain exercising special exemptions, Vietnam still looks like being a problem if it doesn’t follow suit. And Vietnam is well within its rights to impose these bans. It might share a border with China — leading to skepticism that a low number of cases of coronavirus were all cured and there are currently none — but travel leads to the spread, and as a Western Europe-based sport (a part of the world that travels regularly) F1 is just as likely to bring cases with it. So the bans could well stay in place.

One solution that keeps being brought up is, ‘Can’t the Italy-based personnel just stay out between Bahrain and Vietnam to avoid the 14-day restriction?’ Yes, technically they can, but these are real people with families and homes. On top of the financial cost and logistical need to return to the factory to prepare for the next race unhampered, there could be many personal reasons why that’s just asking too much of people. And what’s to say the restrictions will still be in place when people need to fly out in four weeks’ time?

But none of this is bigger than the global health situation. If a government decides it is too risky to have a huge number of travelers hopping from one country to another and potentially taking a virus with them, then they must do what’s right for their own security. If that means imposing restrictions that lead to a last-minute cancellation of an F1 race, so be it.

For F1’s part, by working closely with the relevant authorities it tries to ensure as little disruption as possible, but knows it is allowing such a late change to be taken out of its hands as it rightly follows the advice of each host country.

While F1’s motorsport managing director Ross Brawn has outlined his belief that a world championship race can’t take place if all teams can’t enter a country, the lack of an official statement from F1 has been the right call in my opinion. It would be completely wrong to try and put pressure on local authorities and organizers by threatening to cancel the event on F1’s side, because it is not relevant in the bigger picture.

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Expectations rising at Red Bull after strong test showing

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner says expectations are rising for his team’s second year in partnership with Honda, after an encouragingly strong showing in pre-season testing.

Mercedes set the fastest times of pre-season testing as well as the highest mileage, but Red Bull also enjoyed plenty of strong running with both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon. Horner is encouraged by the signs from testing but also says the development of the Honda relationship is leading to expectations that it can exceed last year’s total of three victories.

“I think we’ve got a very strong team,” Horner said. “Our driver line-up and our team’s strength in depth, our engine partner is a key aspect as well and has been the missing ingredient for the past few years. That relationship with Honda really grew over the course of last year with the three victories we achieved, the pole positions we achieved, and of course heading into the second year with continuity and the power unit more integrated into the chassis.

“Our expectations are growing and rising and our targets are very high this year, so that is the challenge. We know we have some fierce opponents and great competitors. We do have the strength in depth within our team to hopefully put a real challenge together this year.”

While Mercedes hit reliability issues at times and Ferrari didn’t show the same raw pace as 2019, Horner sees the picture at this point as similar to 12 months ago.

“That is always the dangerous thing about pre-season testing, trying to draw too many conclusions. Ferrari look understated at the last test but they are starting to wind it up and I think it would be foolish to underestimate them going to Melbourne.

“Mercedes are the reigning six-time world champions and very much the favorites. Their form has always looked strong (in Barcelona) and you want to have your issues in testing, not when you are racing; so winter testing can sometimes be a little deceptive but I think it will be the same teams fighting at the sharp end of the grid this year.”

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ANALYSIS: Picking the pecking order after F1 pre-season testing

ANALYSIS: Picking the pecking order after F1 pre-season testing

Now Formula 1 pre-season testing is finished, it’s usually about the time I find a fence to sit on.

Don’t worry, I’m still going to do that in a bit. But first I thought I’d take an educated guess at the final constructors’ championship order at the end of this season, based on what we’ve seen in Barcelona, and also what we’ve heard. So, here goes:

1. Mercedes
2. Red Bull
3. Ferrari
4. McLaren
5. Racing Point
6. Renault
7. AlphaTauri
8. Haas
9. Alfa Romeo
10. Williams

You don’t need to screenshot that one, it’s going to be preserved in the RACER archives forever so you’ll be able to tell me how wrong I was come the end of November.

VIDEO: Chris Medland’s Barcelona week 2 wrap-up

As I mentioned, that’s based on a few different aspects rather than just the raw one-lap pace of any team, or the potential pecking order in Australia. Testing never gives the full picture because it’s one that evolves — different tracks suit different cars to a greater or lesser extent, development, weather, driver changes — there is so much that can influence the final standings.

Even if you nail the competitive order from pre-season testing, all you’re doing is confirming who was quickest with those cars in those conditions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in February.

For example, in week two Alfa Romeo test driver Robert Kubica’s quickest lap time was a 1m16.942s set on the C5 compound, while Alfa racer Kimi Raikkonen did a 1m17.415s on the same compound on the final day. I’m told the car was in comparable condition, so do you really think the half a second gap means Raikkonen was getting everything out of it on his run?

Anyway, all of that said, there seemed to be a picture emerging that the grid has become closer to a three-tier championship more than a two-tier one as seen last year, but every team will have someone to race with.

Hamilton and Mercedes have been typically fast, but reliability has been atypically shaky. Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT

Starting at the front, Mercedes definitely looks the class of the field. The car is quick on low and high fuel, but there is a question mark over reliability. The Mercedes power unit was not its usual bulletproof self — namely in the Williams but also on a couple of occasions in the works car — and that’s even before it will have been turned up to 11 during a race weekend.

All of the top three appeared to be hiding a chunk of performance, which means all three should extend their advantage over the rest of the midfield once we get down to the serious business of racing. How much performance was being held back is the big question.

On the face of it, Red Bull has the edge over Ferrari and will be giving Mercedes a real run for its money at certain tracks, but lagging behind at others. The comments were very confident ones from Christian Horner’s team, so perhaps it believes it has more to unleash than its rivals, but either way it’s good to see a Red Bull that expects to hit the ground running.

Does Red Bull have even more pace than its 2020 car has yet shown? Image by Steven Tee/LAT

Ferrari went for the opposite approach and showed very little of its hand, and then suggested it had shown a lot. Mattia Binotto rejected a Mercedes claim that the power unit was being run in a much lower mode than on Ferrari’s customer teams, and also talked up the threat from Racing Point.

But the race simulations don’t show such a threat, and Ferrari was burned last year when it thought it had the fastest car based on testing. Leaving no stone unturned this pre-season, the Scuderia is definitely the team to watch closest in Melbourne to understand if it has slipped back or offers a genuine title threat. It’s a much bigger spectrum of potential performance than most.

Behind those three, there’s another trio that look set for a big battle. Racing Point caught the eye with the Mercedes-inspired 2020 car, both in terms of looks and pace, but one-lap pace was stronger than race potential during this second week.

While the focus was on Racing Point, McLaren was quietly going about its work, amassing the miles and posting quick lap times on harder tires that were really the team’s quickest of the day but betrayed a car capable of matching what Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were doing. Race pace was even stronger, and with a much more evolutionary car and settled team than Racing Point, fourth place is certainly not a foregone conclusion.

That’s certainly true when Renault’s best laps are thrown into the mix. Some quick times towards the end of testing and solid race running from Daniel Ricciardo makes it a likely three-way battle for fourth. Renault’s hopes could well rest on how much it wants to focus on 2021, and whether the new front end concept on the RS20 is easy to develop and exploit.

Renault looks like a dark horse in more ways than one. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT

After that comes a group where three of the four teams were somewhat disappointing. AlphaTauri looked solid – actually, it looked great, because that is the best livery on the grid – but given the amount of hardware it shares with Red Bull, plus the progress Honda appears to have made over the past few seasons, it didn’t appear to be as close to McLaren/Racing Point/Renault as you’d expect.

Haas also didn’t tear up any trees, but it’s important to remember just how far off that team was at times last year. The raw pace from previous seasons doesn’t appear to be present in the 2020 car, but as a more consistent offering it should provide fewer headaches from one week to the next. And it appears to have an advantage over Alfa Romeo, although the Sauber-run team is comfortably within range if Haas suffers any repeat of last year’s woes.

Williams appears to be in much better shape than in 2019, although that’s a pretty low bar to clear. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT

And the same can be said for Williams — the one team of the bottom four that can’t really be called a disappointment this winter. OK, improving on last year’s car was never going to be that difficult, but the gap to the rest of the midfield was so big that it was unrealistic to expect it to be wiped out in one go.

The FW43 is slowest on qualifying pace but in touch with the rest of the field, to the extent George Russell will be targeting more than 19th place in Melbourne. But it’s in race trim where the car looks so much better, and really able to mix it with the likes of Haas and Alfa Romeo. It’s a definite step forward.

The latter part is crucial, as at least one team has confirmed they do not know any details, and it suggests they won’t be told. The FIA put out the statement after all press calls with the governing body and Ferrari were done for pre-season — and there were many over the two weeks — so Thursday’s media sessions in Melbourne are likely to be just as fascinating, if not more so, than Friday’s practice ones.

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Mercedes reliability a concern – Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes has plenty of problems to address ahead of the Australian Grand Prix despite setting the pace in pre-season testing.

Valtteri Bottas was quickest in both tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with his 1m15.732s from the first test standing as the fastest overall. Race pace also looked strong, but there were reliability concerns including a stoppage for Hamilton on Thursday, and the defending champion admitted the two tests have uncovered issues that Mercedes has to work on.

“I think we’ve had a good winter test,” Hamilton said. “It’s not been perfect, and we’ve found that we’ve got plenty of problems that we are trying to iron out. I don’t know how long it will take to iron out, but that’s never a bad thing to discover them through testing.

“I don’t know where everybody else is, I think I understand the car well so I’m comfortable and confident in terms of getting in the car for Melbourne and knowing that I’ll be able to attack and extract the most from it but whether that’s going to be enough to be ahead of others, we’ll find out.”

Despite ending the six days of testing with the highest mileage, Mercedes suffered power unit issues on both its own car and on the Williams that Hamilton admitted is a worry ahead of the first race.

“It’s a concern, yeah for sure,” he said. “Normally in this pre-season testing we’re much more confident in the reliability, so it’s not been perfect for us. I think we’re on our second engine already. It’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us, but I have every confidence in the guys back in the factory that they will analyze and do the best they can in these next two weeks to make sure we start off on the right foot.”

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Bottas narrowly leads final day of pre-season

Bottas narrowly leads final day of pre-season

The top three drivers were covered by just 0.08s on the final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Valtteri Bottas quickest for Mercedes as the softest tire compounds were used.

Bottas’ time of 1m15.732s from the first week went unbeaten, but a number of drivers carried out a soft tire lap at similar times in the day. There was a flurry of activity in the morning when Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and George Russell all posted attempts on the C5 compound within a matter of seconds, with Leclerc edging out the Mercedes and Renault.

However, Ricciardo then lowered his best to a 1m16.276s with a time that would leave him fastest at the lunch break and would only be beaten by Bottas and Max Verstappen in the afternoon.

While Bottas also used the C5 tire to improve and get down to a 1m16.196s, Verstappen’s best lap was on the harder C4, as a 1m16.269s left him second overall.

With Ricciardo third, Leclerc fourth and Hamilton fifth, it was Esteban Ocon — in the Renault during the afternoon — and Sergio Perez who also posted quick times. Although the Racing Point has looked good throughout pre-season and ended up with a 1m16.634s, McLaren’s best time of 1m16.820s on the C4 tire was not its most eye-catching lap.

You had to go beyond the final numbers to see the strength of Sainz’s runs for McLaren. Image by Zak Mauger/LAT

Carlos Sainz was immediately posting quick times during sunnier conditions in the opening hour and a 1m17.2s on C2 tires was a strong marker of the team’s pace. On this evidence, McLaren, Racing Point and Renault will all head to Australia targeting the title of best of the rest.

Sainz also enjoyed significant mileage, 163 laps being nine more than Perez and second only to Leclerc on 181.

Russell’s best time was within 0.7s of Bottas as Williams finished strongly, and 146 laps made up for some of the time lost to power unit problems during pre-season. However, there was still what was described as a “small issue with the engine” in the afternoon, and Russell believes the team remains the slowest on the grid.

Haas split running and Romain Grosjean was within a second of the ultimate pace while completing 86 laps, but Kevin Magnussen was hampered by a clutch issue early in his afternoon running. That kept the Dane in the garage for much of the session and he added just 29 laps to the total, partly thanks to a busy final half hour.

The opposite was true of Alfa Romeo — the only team not to get within a second of the fastest time of the day — as Kimi Raikkonen’s race simulation was cut short and the team opted to pack up early.

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Vettel fastest in Barcelona; trouble for Mercedes

Vettel fastest in Barcelona; trouble for Mercedes

Sebastian Vettel was quickest on the penultimate day of Formula 1 pre-season testing at Barcelona, while Mercedes had to cut its day short due to a power unit problem.

A scruffy day brought multiple spins and off-track moments – including all three of the top teams – but Vettel recovered from his own spin at Turn 5 to post a 1m16.841s on the C5 compound. Despite using the softest tire overall, Vettel’s lap was only the third-quickest of testing so far, and over a second slower than Valtteri Bottas managed last week.

Vettel’s spin saw him swap ends after getting wide on entry, rolling backwards through the gravel but then managing to rejoin. Although he brought out one of four red flags due to the gravel he deposited on the track, Vettel will be far happier than Lewis Hamilton after Mercedes suffered more reliability issues.

Valtteri Bottas had only completed 47 laps in the morning, meaning Mercedes ended the day with the lowest total of 61, and the Finn also went off at Turn 5. Bottas suffered a snap of oversteer but caught the rear, forcing him wide through the gravel.

Hamilton’s problem was especially frustrating as it ended a direct comparison with Ferrari: both he and Vettel were on race simulations on Thursday afternoon. Hamilton was using a softer compound for the first stint, but was clearly faster initially, before the two cars’ pace closed up later in the simulation until Hamilton’s problem intervened.

Car problems brought an early end to Hamilton’s day. Image by Sutton/Sutton Images.

Pierre Gasly ended up second with a late lap on C5 tires, capping what was a productive day for AlphaTauri. The Frenchman managed 130 laps, and was 0.225s slower than Vettel and narrowly edging out Lance Stroll, with Racing Point showed more strong pace both on low fuel and during a race stint.

Nicholas Latifi was fourth after Williams carried out its first qualifying simulations, posting a 1m17.313s on the C5 compound, although he also had a trip through the gravel at Turn 4 early on when drivers were struggling with low grip conditions. Running started on a wet track that took around an hour to dry enough for slicks, due to few teams opting to circulate on intermediates.

McLaren showed solid pace in fifth, although a bodywork issue interrupted a long run for Lando Norris after he felt something unusual at the rear of the car. His total of 113 laps ensured the top five all set times within a second of the overall pace and reached three figures in laps completed.

The same couldn’t be said for Max Verstappen, who had a difficult morning. The Dutchman spun at low speed at the chicane when carrying out aero tests, and then had a higher-speed off at Turn 5 that he attributed to dipping two wheels onto a damp curb. Verstappen was beached in the gravel and caused a red flag, and ended up completing just 31 laps.

The biggest off-track moment came for Antonio Giovinazzi, who spun at Turn 4 early on and hit the barrier, damaging the rear wing. Giovinazzi managed to limp back to the pits but left gravel and debris on the track as he did so, causing the first interruption to the day’s running.

There was solid mileage for Haas as Kevin Magnussen completed 111 laps, ending up 0.2s slower than Esteban Ocon on a 1m18.225s. Ocon admitted Renault did not make the progress it hoped for on Thursday morning, while Daniel Ricciardo was then 0.4s slower than his teammate in the afternoon.

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Racing Point’s Stroll upbeat over test pace

The penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona showed the race pace of the new Racing Point to be “promising” compared to Ferrari, according to Lance Stroll.

Racing Point’s 2020 car is similar to last year’s Mercedes and has been one of the talking points of testing, as it has shown strong performance out of the box. After finishing within 0.3s of Sebastian Vettel’s fastest time on Thursday and using a harder-compound tire, Stroll was downplaying how close Racing Point could get to the Scuderia but admitted he was encouraged by its overall performance.

“It’s early days,” Stroll said. “We’ve done a great job over the winter bringing this package to Barcelona and we’re still going to be working hard to try and find some more pace before Melbourne. That’s the goal. We’ll only see in Melbourne. There’s still three weeks — a lot can happen in Formula 1 in three weeks.

“It’s easy to get excited in testing, you never know what everyone’s doing, but I’m feeling good in the car and that’s the most important thing. In Australia we’ll see where we are relative to the others.”

Describing 2020 as the best pre-season he has personally had, Stroll also says Racing Point deserves credit for the work it has done in preparing for the new year.

“We’ve got a great group of guys and everyone did a great job in developing the car over the winter. We’re trying to do the best we can do with what we have and I think last year was a tricky year, coming in on the back foot with all the changes from 2018 to 2019. We had a really solid winter with a head start on this year’s car. The package we brought to the season is due to all the hard work from everyone back at the factory.”

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Williams getting frustrated with Mercedes PU reliability

Williams’ Mercedes power unit is becoming a source of frustration for the team after it suffered another problem on the opening day of the second Formula 1 test at Barcelona on Wednesday.

An oil system issue caused Nicholas Latifi to stop on track during the morning session and lose a number of hours while the power unit was changed, giving Williams its third PU in less than four days of pre-season testing. Deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted that the situation is troubling, given the reduced amount of testing days this season.

“We’ve had a few issues with some engine problems, which has been a little frustrating,” Williams said. “We’re on our third engine issue now which has obviously cost us quite a lot of track time, which is unfortunate. I suppose it is what can happen in testing, and I suppose at least it is not our issue that something has gone wrong with the car…

“Apart from that it has gone well – we’re covering the run program as we can with the limited mileage that we’ve got. I would be happier if we had got some more miles under our belt, I suppose.”

“The cause of the one today was an oil system issue, so it’s on the Mercedes side.,” she said. “There were some other issues last week. The one on Friday they are still investigating, so you should talk to them about that, I don’t think they’ve found the problem there. I think there was an issue with the MGU-H on the Thursday night one, an oil leak on the MGU-H.

“There was a sensor issue on Friday morning that obviously was our issue; that put us off the track for probably half an hour. That was the only issue that we’ve had.”

Despite the lack of running, Williams is hopeful the team can have two strong final days with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi to tick off more key items before the opening race in Australia.

“It’s still good,” she said. “I think everyone’s probably a little frustrated because we’ve obviously got – as everyone will – a very full program to get through. When you lose the number of kilometers that we’ve lost it is frustrating, because it  means you can’t prepare as best as you’d like to do ahead of going to Melbourne. You have to sacrifice certain parts of your program in favor of others.

“Obviously we wanted to do the full program, but it is what it is. We’ve just got to get on with it and hope that we don’t have any further issues in the next two days and we can get as many laps in as possible with George and Nicholas on Thursday and Friday to set us up in the best possible way for Melbourne.”

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Kubica opens second Barcelona F1 test on top

Kubica opens second Barcelona F1 test on top

Robert Kubica set the fastest time as the second pre-season test in Barcelona got underway on a day when the big three teams all faced some form of problem.

After a spin out of the chicane on cold tires early on Wednesday, Kubica went on to complete over 50 laps and post a 1m16.942s in his role as Alfa Romeo reserve driver. Using the softest C5 compound, Kubica was the only driver under the 1m17s barrier, and while the bigger teams were not focused on any sort of soft tire, low fuel running, they still did not enjoy smooth days.

While an earlier spin at the final chicane hinted at ongoing Red Bull handling problems at low speed – the team had experienced a number of similar spins last week – the latter incident appeared to be caused by a car problem.

Remarkably, AlphaTauri suffered problems at identical times to Red Bull, the first of which was not being related to the Honda power unit. Pierre Gasly was confined to the garage for much of the morning with an issue with a water pipe, and then Daniil Kvyat stopped on track at the exact same time as Verstappen, parking on the inside of Turn 9.

Given the timing of the simultaneous late stoppages, which caused a red flag with five minutes remaining, there is the possibility that the two teams were both carrying out fuel run-out tests.

 

Both AlphaTauris had to grapple with limited running time. Image by Dunbar/LAT

Despite those issues, all four Honda-powered drivers ended up in the top six, with Kvyat fourth and Gasly fifth ahead of Albon, while Sergio Perez took third with a late lap in the competitive-looking Racing Point.

Lewis Hamilton was seventh and Valtteri Bottas ninth on a day when all teams except for Haas split their running, but Mercedes’ concern came from a partner team. Williams stopped on the track when Nicholas Latifi suffered an oil system problem in the morning, requiring a power unit change. It was one of three power unit-related issues for Williams in pre-season so far, and deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted that the team was becoming “frustrated” by the lost time as Mercedes searches for a solution on the dyno.

Ferrari didn’t have a smooth day either, as Sebastian Vettel spun at Turn 8 after a trip through the gravel. The German was able to continue, but a red flag was required to clean up the gravel he’d dragged onto the track. In isolation it wasn’t an incident of great concern, but there were still no clues to the Scuderia’s potential pace, as neither driver escaped the 1m18s bracket. There was at least solid mileage, with over 160 laps completed.

On day when few teams carried out a significantly quick low-fuel run, all 10 cars were covered by 1.7 seconds. 

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Binotto: Ferrari opted against DAS due to legality concerns

Mattia Binotto claims Ferrari opted against pursuing a similar concept to the Mercedes Dual Axis Steering (DAS) in part because it presumed the system would not be legal.

Mercedes revealed the innovative steering system during the first pre-season test in Barcelona. The team kept the FIA informed throughout its development and is confident in its legality, and while Binotto said last week that Ferrari had never run such a system, he has since admitted that it had been considered but dismissed.

“I think it is difficult for us to judge (it’s legality). We don’t know their system, but I’m pretty sure the FIA will make the right judgement.”

Binotto also dismissed Mercedes’ suggestions that it had its power unit turned down during the first test, adding: “This seems to be very much what we are doing, but it’s not correct.”

However, the Ferrari team principal said he has no concerns over the lack of headline lap times at present, explaining the approach that the team took over the first four days of testing so far.

“I think we’re really focused on ourselves, trying to understand the car, to correlate the data with all the data we have got back home – wind tunnel data and simulations,” he said. “So the first week of testing last week was really focused on that – car understanding and mapping.

“This week will be a bit different. Today we are starting work on the set-up, try to optimize it, and certainly for the rest of the week we will try to push more for performance just to see where we are.”

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MEDLAND: Five things to watch ahead of the second F1 test

MEDLAND: Five things to watch ahead of the second F1 test

Formula 1’s pre-season schedule has been significantly cut this year, and the teams are already facing their final three days of running before heading out to Australia for the opening race.

On the face of it, the first test appeared to show a very strong Mercedes. But plenty of unknowns remain ahead of the start of week two, including some around the defending champions.

So as all the teams prepare for the second test, here are the main questions that need answering over the next three days:

1. Just how much performance has Ferrari been hiding?

On the face of last week’s standings, Ferrari is in big trouble. No real pace shown, and a power unit issue that meant it only barely finished ahead of Williams in terms of both fastest lap and mileage.

But as Mercedes pointed out in its post-test analysis, Ferrari hasn’t turned up yet. This isn’t sandbagging, this is just a very different approach after the nasty surprise the Scuderia got last year when a very strong testing performance did not translate into competitiveness once the serious business started.

Are there some (figurative) sandbags hidden behind those front wing elements? Image by Sutton/LAT

Ferrari has been thoroughly learning about its car, carrying out aero mapping and systems tests while running its power unit in a very different state to its customer teams. While Mercedes has hit the ground running once again, like-for-like comparisons have been tougher between the other front-runners, and neither Charles Leclerc nor Sebastian Vettel have done any low-fuel runs.

The situation 12 months ago is a reminder that it might only be on the final day that we have any real sense of the relative performance of Mercedes and Ferrari, and even then Australia could look very different. But there will be serious focus will be on the Ferrari lap times to at least get an understanding how much potential performance remains untapped.

2. Will DAS make another appearance?

There was major interest in Mercedes when it started running its Dual Axis Steering – DAS – system during the first test, especially when it became clear that it was an innovation that has been cleared by the FIA up to now.

The fact that the 2021 regulations outlaw such a system suggests it is here to stay this season, and Mercedes must see a significant enough benefit to have pushed on with development and testing in the knowledge it will only be allowed for this year.

How confident is Mercedes in its new steering system? Image by Dunbar/LAT

So while other teams will be scrabbling to understand how the system works and whether they can implement it on their own cars quickly enough for it to be worth the investment, it will be interesting to see how confident in the concept Mercedes is. Further testing this week would suggest more needs to be learned, but could also potentially give away further information to keen observers. The more it is run, the more other teams will be trying to crack its code.

If it isn’t seen regularly, it could well suggest that Mercedes is confident in the system and ready to race it, while also limiting what its rivals can learn about it.

3. How many major upgrades will be introduced?

As much as those rivals would love to introduce an innovation similar to DAS this week, the likely timeframe on its development is half a season according to Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. But just because Mercedes has a visually striking component on its car, doesn’t mean others won’t have developments of their own.

The second test is when significant upgrades are likely to be seen, because teams have completed the baseline running on the cars and are starting to understand how changes to bodywork and other new parts will impact performance.

The upcoming test is the best chance teams will get to try any major updates. Image by Mauger/LAT

Last year, a major step from Mercedes put it right back in the frame at the end of the second test after a slow start. This time round, teams are dealing with stable regulations and therefore should be able to work with a bit more certainty when it comes to updates.

Binotto has already suggested Ferrari won’t be significantly changing its car, but then he doesn’t need to show his hand at this point. The same goes for all teams, but with no in-season testing this year, this is the best opportunity to run a major update without the restrictions on track time during a race weekend.

Expect at least some of the 10 teams to end Friday’s running with a car that looks decidedly different to the one that rolled out on the opening day last week.

4. Do the other midfield teams have a response to Racing Point?

When Mercedes wasn’t the center of attention last week, a very Mercedes-looking car elsewhere on pitlane was. Racing Point’s 2020 design very much follows the philosophy of last year’s Mercedes W10, and to that end it was also clearly quick out of the box.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer was keen to point out a lot of hard work had gone into getting the team into such a position, and right now that position looks like being the midfield leader. But Racing Point’s strong start contrasts with a slightly disjointed – if sometimes quick – opening week from Renault, and a McLaren team that appeared to be focusing on mileage early on.

Racing Point has taken a very different approach this year – by adopting Mercedes’ very successful one. Image by Dunbar/LAT

Whether there is enough pace in either car to reel in Racing Point should become more apparent this week, as will the potential of an AlphaTauri that benefits from many Red Bull components and a rapidly-improving Honda power unit.

The midfield was extremely competitive for much of last year, despite McLaren’s comfortable advantage in P4 overall, and regardless of the final order that looks like having the potential to push all of the teams closer to the top three.

5. How competitive is Williams?

The feel-good story of last week was definitely Williams, as last year’s 10th-placed team was first out on track on the opening day. (OK, Carlos Sainz was waiting at the pit exit first, but Williams got the jump when the light went green, so let’s not ruin a good story…)

Mileage was solid – or brilliant, if you want to compare it to last season – and encouragingly, so was the immediate pace. But as previously pointed out, plenty of midfield teams are yet to show what they are capable of, and it remains to be seen if Williams has genuinely erased the gap to the rest.

The color scheme looks a bit mid-90s, but then, Williams was a powerhouse during that period. So maybe that’s a good sign. Image by Hone/LAT

While you could write down the back row of the grid at basically every qualifying session last year before the race weekend even started, Claire Williams has already boldly targeted challenging for Q2 this season, which would represent a massive step forward.

If that is achieved, it will say a lot about the work Williams has done after a number of years in decline. But even if it simply gets closer to what is a strong midfield, then that is still progress that should be applauded. When more low-fuel running is seen, we’ll start to get a picture of whether Williams can go with the rest or is still lagging behind.

(Disclaimer: These might not all get answered this week, but then where’s the fun in knowing all the answers before we go racing?)

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STRAW: Mercedes’ invisible advantage

STRAW: Mercedes’ invisible advantage

There’s a simple answer to what makes an all-conquering team like Mercedes so effective: “everything”. Unfortunately, it’s not a very illuminating response, so to understand what that really means, just look at its performance in pre-season testing so far.

Not only has it set the outright pace in the three days of running to date, but it has also logged the most miles, been fastest on race pace and wowed the world with the now-famous dual axis steering system that could have significant performance and tire management potential. Things always start well for Mercedes – the last time anything significant went wrong was in 2014, when Lewis Hamilton suffered a front-wing failure on the opening day of running at Jerez and crashed.

After six back-to-back titles, this is clearly not a team that is resting on its laurels. There’s a long way to go before the season even starts, so much can change, but right now the smart money is on Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes to make it an unprecedented seven back-to-back doubles. And this success is not because it’s a big team with a big budget – although these are preconditions of this level of success – but because of the way it operates.

This will to win is essential. While obvious, there are subtle differences in how the motivation impacts people. It’s not simply enough to create that motivating force, it must be constructive and applied in the right direction – although the pain of defeat does also feed into this.

Fear of failure can have its place, but it’s something Ferrari has been known to fall victim to, and after more than a decade without a world championship, it’s fair to say this is a team that has no recent memory of title glory to prevent that fear becoming counter-productive. While Mercedes can apply itself with confidence even when things get difficult thanks to a battle-proved way of working that has dominated F1, no other team has such a firm foundation.

But the real magic is that the desire to succeed remains, and the previous success does not appear to lead to complacency. Toto Wolff was asked recently about how he redefines targets this season to ensure the team keeps pushing, but he described an almost self-sustaining culture that has been created.

“Every year we try to set the right objectives, and objectives that are understood throughout the organization,” says Wolff. “I think it’s so important to wake up with purpose, and I don’t see a lack of motivation within the organization. The pain of losing is so much more intense, and lasts so much longer than the joy of winning. This drives us strongly, and the sheer thought of losing means you forget all about your previous achievements.

Mercedes doesn’t get beaten often, and when it does, the entire team feels it. “The pain of losing last much longer than the joy of winning,” says Toto Wolff. Image by Andre/Sutton

“Last year’s record doesn’t buy us any credit for the 2020 championship, so all lap times, all points go to zero and we are yet again facing another challenge. There is a reason why six [championships] was a world record, because it’s bloody difficult. And we want to push that needle further. We have a great group of people that has just found partners that share the same values and are really pushing us to be successful.”

That’s the perfect balance – self-assurance and confidence in your way of working because of previous success, but without the self-delusion of believing what happened in the years before means 2020 owes you anything.

This is part of the overall culture that is so critical to success. This is a team that works to build understanding between departments rather than conflict, minimizing the chance of buck-passing and a siege mentality within different parts of the team. In one of its previous guises as BAR/Honda, there were times when this was a significant problem at Brackley.

Fear of failure can become counterproductive if it leads to individuals refusing to raise their hands if a mistake has been made. That’s the difference between making failures individual or collective. This appears not to be a problem at Brackley. The team has looked perfect from the outside for years, but there have been constant problems of varying scales. What makes Mercedes so effective is the way that it tackles them.

You can also look at race strategy, where James Vowles has regularly been criticized. But while there have been errors – as there always will be when fighting for victory every week – he and his team have won countless more races than they have lost. By allowing him to accept an error and correct it, rather than blood-letting, the team grows stronger. The same applies throughout the team.

Then there is last year’s cooling problem. This originated from some ‘finger trouble’ when the cooling requirements were being generated for the 2019 car ahead of the season. But the team understood the real problem was the failure of the checks and balances, which were subsequently improved. Not only that, but Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains has also found a way to allow its engine package to deal with slightly higher temperatures. So not only has the fault been cancelled out, but actually the recognition of a cooling problem has led to a drive for further gains with the power unit. This is just one virtuous circle in a team made up of countless such systems, small and large, where every part has a knock-on effect for improving the other.

Not content with simply identifying the cause of last year’s cooling problems, Mercedes has used them as the catalyst for further gains. Image by Tee/LAT

The key here is the recognition that every department has its part to play, augmented by an understanding of the roles other parts play. Over the years, the team has worked hard to ensure that different departments understand the role of the others. To add to this, it has diverged from convention by sending all sorts of unexpected personnel onto the podium to accept the winning constructor trophy. As well as the usual technical personnel – although the net has been spread wide when selecting those individuals too – it sent up marketing head Victoria Vowles in Austin 2016, and communications director Bradley Lord appeared in Brazil.

This is a small detail, but it’s possible for the marketing and communications side to be seen as a distraction. This plays a vital role in the exposure and commercial appeal of the team, which is vital for budget and allows technical improvements. Once again, departments that can become polarized with one another are culturally able to understand the value of what each other does and therefore collaborate more effectively. Mercedes isn’t just the best team on the grid technically, after all. Every area of the operation has its part to play, and therefore its share in the spoils.

It’s also a team that has effectively been together a long time. While personnel come and go, there is remarkable continuity. Individuals such as sporting director Ron Meadows and trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin have been there since the BAR days – and they aren’t the only ones – while Lewis Hamilton has built a superb rapport with Pete ‘Bono’ Bonnington, his race engineer since 2013. This kind of understanding and collaboration can’t be underestimated.

The technical leadership of James Allison is also essential. His first role as technical director was with Renault, moving into the role ahead of the 2010 season, and he played a key role in the re-emergence of the Enstone Renault/Lotus team as a race-winning operation in 2012 before moving to Ferrari then, in March 2017, he started work at Mercedes.

Toyota’s unfortunate legacy was to prove that resources alone don’t equal success. Image by LAT

Ostensibly, the Mercedes concept has been evolutionary throughout the 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid era, but that belies the vast amount of work done. The DAS system has caught the headlines this year because it’s so visible, but it’s symptomatic of countless other innovations, modifications, miniaturizations and optimizations that have also contributed to making the car so good. One of the key jobs of the technical director is to ensure there is an overall concept that is logical and works over the range of circuits visited during a season, and Mercedes has done this superbly.

On top of that, it has also managed to weather one major rules change – the switch to higher-downforce cars in 2017 – and last year’s more minor tweaks without losing ground. It’s the only team to have gone through such as substantial chassis rules change and remain at the top of the pile. That’s a measure not just of how good it is, but also the planning functions, the capacity to balance up development of one year’s car with that of another, and to zero in on the right blend of characteristics to thrive. And never has the team appeared to go overly-aggressive just for the sake of it.

These are just a few examples of areas where the Mercedes team works so well. You could turn the spotlight on every single department and find countless such ways of working that have contributed to making the team so strong, but the common factor is the culture that Wolff – among others – instills. Yes, you can point to budget, facilities and sheer resource as crucial, but it’s how you use these that matters. As, say, Toyota showed in the first decade of this century, that simply gives you potential that, inadequately exploited, wins you nothing.

There remains one test for Mercedes to pass that it has yet to take on, and that’s responding to outright failure. There will come a time when it does not win the championship, and that will be the ultimate test of its culture and robustness.

But it’s so effective an operation that this reckoning might be some way off yet. Its rivals can’t hope for the 2021 regulation changes to trip up Mercedes – instead, they must find a way to become better, and raise the bar yet further for teamwork and culture.

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Szafnauer doubles down on Haas criticism, rejects claims of Racing Point similarities

Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer is still unhappy at the Haas business model in Formula 1 despite his own team’s decision to closely replicate last year’s Mercedes.

The 2020 Racing Point car is extremely similar to the championship-winning a decision that technical director Andy Green explained was taken to follow the same development path because the team already uses the Mercedes rear end. Szafnauer’s team has previously been outspoken about how closely Haas works with Ferrari in a similar capacity, but he said those reservations stand because he believes Racing Point is doing things differently.

“I don’t think it is ironic,” Szafnauer said. “We copied the Red Bull in the past too, but we copy it within the rules. So we see what they are doing, we take pictures, we try to understand it, we run it in the tunnel, and we do it ourselves.

“I think it is different. We are adding people. We are soon going to be at 500 (employees). The people that we are adding is all about design, development and manufacturing so we can develop our own. So although everyone says you copied a Mercedes, it is our own. It is our own design and it is our own development. It is our own wind tunnel model. It is our own concept.

“Yes, we look to see what is fast. We thought: that’s fast, can we do the same. No different than what we did with the Red Bull when we ran a high-rake concept. But the development is our own. We will add another 100 people so we can continue our own development. It is a little bit different than what they do.

“You can’t have a couple of hundred people and design your own car and develop your own car. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Szafnauer says purchasing parts is not an area of concern – both Haas and Racing Point outsource a lot of manufacturing – and that the original design of items are the area of contention.

“We don’t have a massive manufacturing capability, we buy as well,” he said. “But we buy from people that machine the parts. It is about design and development. It is the size of your model design and making capability for a wind tunnel. It is the size of your aerodynamic team.

“Our aerodynamic team total – total – is bigger than their entire team. So where are they getting it from? It is different, trust me it is different.”

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Williams encouraged by early FW43 pace

Williams is hoping its new car will be competitive enough for fight for positions in Q2 this season, after an encouraging start to testing.

The 2019 Williams was late to begin testing and well off the pace when it did eventually run, leaving the team well adrift of the rest of the midfield teams for the rest of the year. After an overhaul of personnel and systems, Williams enjoyed a much more productive opening test this year, with a best lap time just 0.014s off Ferrari’s quickest, and more mileage than Haas. Following the positive start, deputy team principal Claire Williams is targeting a car capable of fighting in the midfield, rather than simply closing part of the gap.

“We want to go racing,” Williams said. “We’re here in Formula 1 to go racing, that’s why Williams exists. We’re not here to do anything else, we’re here because we love racing, and last year we just weren’t racing.

Russell has said that the new car is more balanced and stable compared to that of a year ago, and Williams agreed there has been a clear improvement even if the overall competitive landscape is still unclear.

“It’s too early to really truly tell where anybody really is, as we’re all doing our individual programs,” she said. “So to compare and contrast is difficult. But certainly we feel we’ve made a step forward. It won’t be until we get to Melbourne that we’ll understand where we truly are in the competitive order. I’m sure we’ll get some more data next week when people start doing proper qualifying runs, but until then we need to wait and see.”

The midfield was extremely competitive in 2019, and Williams is aware how tough it will be to erase the deficit, but said the team is still undergoing a number of changes that will take more time to show progress.

“We are still on our journey to recovery and still putting bricks in the wall in order to achieve that,” she said. “Certainly, for everyone behind the scenes, we’ve undergone huge transformation and change, and what we would like to see now is the rewards of that change, as the business really is unrecognizable from where we were.

“Whether that be structures, processes, policies, in how we go about building a race car is very different to how it was in 2018 and prior to that. So to continue learning is obviously a key objective, we’re still going to be learning, in order to make continual improvement.

“I’m so pleased to see the changes we have made are being embraced by everyone in the team, but we’ve still got a long way to go to see Williams to where we want to see it.”

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Steiner pleased with Haas progress, explains final day issues

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner insists the problems the team faced on the final day of the first test were not significant given the strong start it has had to the pre-season.

Romain Grosjean spent an extended spell in the garage during the morning session before Kevin Magnussen crashed on his fourth lap due to a puncture, ending Haas’ running early. However, Steiner says both issues were relatively small and the fact the team didn’t run again on Friday was due to how productive the previous two days had been.

“The first two days were very good. For sure you always want to drive more and for sure we miss the hours at the end, but I won’t be standing here and crying about the three hours of testing we missed. All in all we had a good week. We have a lot of data crunching going on over the next few days and then come here again and try some more stuff and try to get even quicker.

Describing the space issue as “a pretty simple failure,” Steiner is not concerned by Haas’ quickest lap being some 2.6s off Mercedes and over a second slower than those posted by Alfa Romeo, Renault and Racing Point. He says his optimism comes as a result of how the team has progressed through its schedule, rather than from looking at lap times and mileage compared to its rivals.

“I don’t know about (times) because I don’t know what the other ones are doing. We went through our test program, we decided to do what we wanted to do and not to look at others because there is no pole position or points up for grabs in testing. We just went through our test programs and are pretty happy with what we achieved.

“Absolutely, we have a better understanding (of the car). We worked well with what we understand to make it better and then will see compared to the others how good it is. I wouldn’t commit here to say it because I don’t know, as everyone runs different programs.”

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Mercedes reveals testing analysis, questions Ferrari PU usage

Formula 1 teams often suggest lap times in pre-season testing are meaningless and that a true picture of the grid does not emerge until the opening race of the season in Australia. However, following the opening week in which Valtteri Bottas set the pace and Mercedes enjoyed a clear advantage in terms of the fastest lap set, that team has revealed its strategists spend much of pre-season analyzing rivals and can work out “surprisingly accurate” minimum performance levels. And that analysis, it says, suggests Ferrari has thus far been running its power unit at “much lower levels” than it is capable of.

“It is true, of course, that the strategists face a considerable string of unknowns. Fuel load, engine mode, tire performance and driver pushing level play havoc with the lap times and all of them are either unknown, or partially known. However, testing times are far from meaningless. If you look at them long enough, they gradually give up their secrets.”

After working out estimated fuel load levels — in part due to the fact the majority of teams follow similar procedures year-on-year — and using GPS data to understand power unit modes, Mercedes says the midfield is catching a closely-matched top three, but also questions Ferrari’s approach so far.

“At the end of the first day, a hazy pattern is present. By the end of the first test, that pattern comes into better focus.

“What, then, can we say about the leaderboard after three days? This is where life gets tricky because all these estimates are lower-bound estimates. You can say with some confidence that your competitors are ‘at least as fast as X’ but you do not know for sure how much faster they could have gone.

“No one wants the egg on their face of claiming that they are faster than another team, because they can never know for certain what was hidden or what is coming next. For example, will Red Bull bring a significant upgrade package to the second test? Why have Ferrari spent this test running their PU consistently at much lower levels than their partner teams?

“What we can say is that we predict the battle in Melbourne at the front is going to be tight. We can also see that the midfield have closed on the front and that there is some considerable midfield swing compared to last year’s competitive order. Testing times are not meaningless — they are a gold mine, if you’re prepared to sift through them with care and caution until a clear picture begins to emerge…”

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Bottas unleashes Mercedes pace; troublesome day for Ferrari

Bottas unleashes Mercedes pace; troublesome day for Ferrari

Valtteri Bottas ended the first pre-season test on a strong note while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel lost time with an engine failure on the third day in Barcelona.

In the morning session, Bottas used the softest compound of tire and went comfortably quicker than the rest of the field. The Finn posted a 1m15.732s to get within 0.4s of his pole position time from last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, a lap that is the current track record for a Formula 1 car.

That suggests that record is likely to be beaten next week when teams start to work more on performance, but on Friday there was no threat to Bottas’ time, as teammate Lewis Hamilton could only register a 1m16.516s on the same C5 compound. Nearly 0.7s of the deficit came in the final sector, where Hamilton was scruffy compared to his teammate in the lower speed section.

Esteban Ocon was third – 1.3s off the pace –  after a strong morning for Renault, but there was a more incident-filled afternoon for teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who caused one of four red flags on the day when he stopped on the run to Turn 9. Ricciardo did make it back out on track later on, but suffered a spin at the chicane, finishing with 93 laps to his name.

While Ricciardo’s stoppage was a short one, Ferrari lost significant running when Sebastian Vettel suffered an engine failure 90 minutes into the day. The team confirmed it will send the power unit back to Maranello for investigations, and Vettel did not return to action until the afternoon session.

Team principal Mattia Binotto insists that Ferrari is not yet doing any setup or performance work, but Vettel’s final position of 13th – some 2.6s off Bottas – will be a concern even if it just managed to reach the 100 lap mark.

Racing Point remained quick with Lance Stroll fourth-fastest and one of three drivers to exceed 100 laps. Antonio Giovinazzi’s final total of 152 was the highest; the Alfa Romeo driver ended up sixth.

Sandwiched between them was Daniil Kvyat, leaving AlphaTauri to finish all three days with a car in fifth position on the timing screens. Kvyat posted a 1m17.427s on the C4 compound, this time ending up as the lead Honda-powered car as Red Bull split running. Max Verstappen was eighth and Alexander Albon 10th, the pair combining for 169 laps – the most achieved by one team on Friday.

Honda had changed a power unit during Thursday’s running but reverted to the one that was removed on the final day, so will have been encouraged by its reliability.

The bottom two positions were taken up by drivers who hit trouble, with Nicholas Latifi 15th after suffering a loss of drive when crossing the finish line in the morning session. That was the second red flag after Vettel’s problem, and cost Williams a fair chunk of running, leaving the team with just 72 laps in total.

Things were worse for Kevin Magnussen, who suffered a puncture on just his fourth lap after taking over from Romain Grosjean in the afternoon session.

The issue caused Magnussen spin at Turn 8 and slide into the barrier, damaging the front wing and preventing the team from running again, with Grosjean’s best lap some 2.5s off the pace and 1.2s adrift of Ocon in third.

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Ferrari behind Mercedes and Red Bull – Binotto

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has acknowledged that his team’s SF1000 appears to be behind the rival new cars of Mercedes and Red Bull after the first three days of pre-season testing.

Mercedes has shown impressive pace on the final day of the opening test, with Valtteri Bottas posting a 1m15.732s, already within 0.4s of his record pole position time from 2019. With Red Bull also completing significant mileage, Binotto says the picture is not as positive as it was 12 months ago when Ferrari looked strong through pre-season, only to struggle at the first race in Australia.

“We changed the approach to the testing and the program,” Binotto said. “So we focused the first session of these three days to try to map the car with various aero configurations without really trying to optimize the setup and look for overall performance.

“On the other side, last year it was true that we were more optimistic at that stage of the year because the lap time was easy to find and find. Even if we haven’t focused on performance yet, it seems a bit more difficult (this year). We should not forget the history of last year. Let’s wait until next week and wait for Australia to better understand the true picture.

“These three days have been really important for us, because at least we have collected all the data and have a clear picture and better understanding. What will be even more important is to understand that we are developing the car in the right direction; but it is a very long season with 22 races potentially, so I think there will be time to recover eventually. Let’s wait for next week and Australia until we assess properly the true performance of everybody.”

Binotto also admitted his analysis is based on estimating what Mercedes and Red Bull are doing, although he says whether Ferrari has hit its own performance targets is currently unclear.

“I think it is simply about looking at the delta pace and eventually what we assess with fuel loads and engine modes. Looking at the picture at the front comparing it to ourselves, I think we are not as fast as them,” he said.

“It is difficult to say (if Ferrari is in line with expectations) because we are not looking at performance yet, we have not optimized the car. That will be clearer next week.”

Ferrari’s current fastest lap of testing is 2.4 seconds slower than the best by Mercedes — albeit on a slightly harder tire compound — and 0.6s off Red Bull.

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DAS already banned by 2021 technical regulations

The innovative Mercedes Dual Axis Steering (DAS) has already been banned from Formula 1 under the 2021 technical regulations, although it is set to remain eligible for the coming season.

Mercedes ran the new system on Thursday morning, with onboard footage showing Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel towards him on straights in order to create more toe-in with the front tires. DAS is likely to have some sort of aerodynamic benefit but is believed to have the biggest impact on tire temperatures, either cooling them if making the toe angle neutral or ensuring they are at the optimal temperature for the following corner at varying angles.

While rival teams will be trying to understand exactly how DAS works and what its performance benefits are, any use will be restricted to just this season due to a change in the regulations next year.

Article 10.5.2 of the 2021 year’s technical regulations reads: “The re-alignment of the steered wheels, as defined by the position of the inboard attachment of the relevant suspensions members that remain a fixed distance from each other, must be uniquely defined by a monotonic function of the rotational position of a single steering wheel.”

While the FIA is understood to have been happy with the concept’s legality this year, it is unclear whether the change was a direct move in response to Mercedes, with the regulations published last October.

“You have been very wise in noticing the change to the 2021 technical regulations,” FIA race director Michael Masi said. “We will see what teams can come up with within those boundaries of what the regulations are written for in 2021.”

“I have seen that there is a lot of discussion on it; personally on my side I haven’t looked in detail what it is about but I think we fully trust the FIA to show they have made the right decisions,” Binotto said. “I completely trust what they judge on it.

“Are we discussing with the FIA? Not yet — we will do for clarification, as it is important for us to understand, but as I said we will not challenge the FIA on their decision because we trust them fully in what will be or has been the decision on it.”

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MEDLAND: Why Racing Point is gambling on a pink Mercedes

MEDLAND: Why Racing Point is gambling on a pink Mercedes

If you replayed this week’s first test in black and white, there are times when you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a repeat of 2019. That the Haas looks remarkably like last year’s Ferrari and the AlphaTauri resembles last year’s Red Bull was to be expected, but a third lookalike appeared when the Racing Point emerged for the first time.

Technical partnerships are plentiful in Formula 1, and are often a point of controversy. But Racing Point – in its former guise of Force India – often rallied against them, stating the importance of being an independent constructor.

This year, however, it has opted for a car that looks very much like last year’s Mercedes W10 painted pink.

“It shares some resemblance in some areas, I have to say,” technical director Andrew Green admits. “Lots of cars look like other cars up and down the pit lane, and I don’t think ours is any particularly different to anybody else’s in that respect.

“I think what we have seen is a change in where we were last year. It is a conscious decision from about the middle of last year, when we saw where the RP19 was developing to and going – it wasn’t making the gains we were hoping for, and think it was clear that if we carried on on the route we were going, we were going to end up, at best, where we finished the championship last year. To us, that wasn’t going to be acceptable.”

On the face of it, the idea of copying Mercedes – the dominant team of the past six years – would be an obvious one. So it begs the question: why hasn’t Racing Point done this before? The answer is multi-faceted, but ultimately comes down in no small part to the team’s financial position, and a switch last year to using another key component of Mercedes’ success.

“We have one more year left in these regulations, and it was time to try something new and take a risk, and we’ve taken a very big risk with what we have done with the car,” Green said.

“It made sense to do what we’ve done, which is to take the underlying architecture of what we have from MGP for many years – we have been using their gearbox since 2014. We are a year behind with their gearbox, we always have been, and trying to develop the Red Bull philosophy – the high rake philosophy (when the gap between the car’s floor and the track is much higher at the rear than the front, with implications on downforce and drag) – which people have emulated up and down the pit lane, became increasingly difficult with the gearbox we have from MGP.

“They have a different philosophy with a lower rake, they are the only one on the grid, and it is difficult to try and shoehorn and develop around a different philosophy from the underlying architecture that you have.

“It was a question we posed ourselves: what should we do? Should we move across and try and develop a car to a different philosophy? And it seemed obvious: running a 2019 gearbox, the same gearbox they ran last year with the Mercedes power unit, and we’ve also got a few outboard suspension components that we had from MGP last year as well… we decided to take a risk, and that risk was effectively to tear up what we’ve done in the past few years and start again from scratch, and from what we could see and what MGP had been doing.

With one year left on the current regulations, Racing Point has opted to embrace some fundamental aspects of the Mercedes architecture rather than trying to design around them. Image by Sutton

“We have the same view everyone else has got, and there is nothing special in the information we have got. All we have got is what we see, and that’s what we’ve started from and developed from, and it’s a completely clean sheet of paper.

“And it’s a big risk – I don’t know if it is going to pay off. But I don’t think what we have done is particularly new, in so far as taking a team’s concept and doing it ourselves. That has been prolific in Formula 1 since the early days. I don’t think that is anything new at all. From double diffusers, to blown diffusers, to coanda exhausts [ED: when exhaust gases are redirected through the rear diffuser in pursuit of downforce], people have taken concepts and turned them into their own. We have done exactly the same.”

Now armed with much greater financial power, a slightly defensive Green also justifies the move based on the direction Formula 1 is taking next season. Yet there is no justification required other than the fact that it is within the rules, and it’s the fastest car the team can deliver.

“My question would really be, why hasn’t anyone done this before?,” he says. “When you look at it and look back at it, you think ‘crikey, this is something maybe we should have done earlier’. But unfortunately we didn’t have the resources earlier, or the people, or the funding to do this before. Now we have, and we have decided to do it for one year before it all gets thrown away anyway at the end of this year before new regulations in 2021. The risk of having to go back again was zero because it all changes in 2021.

“But if you are worried about cars looking the same, you might want to look at the 2021 regulations because they will all look the same and everyone is all going to converge to a solution very quickly, because areas of freedom are so restrictive.

“I don’t think what we have done is anything earth shattering or ground breaking. It’s been going on since the beginning of time, and we are a small team, we are only 400+ people, and we have got to cut our cloth to suit. For us, as a small team, we definitely want to be in the fast followers category rather than the pioneering, cutting-edge category, which I think the big teams have the resources to do. If we can lag a little bit behind we will, and as small team we will actively do that.”

In those comments comes a slight contradiction from Green. The limitations of the 2021 regulations and impending budget cap is designed to remove this small team and big team mentality, encouraging all of them to aim high.

But for now, following Mercedes’ lead is a risk worth taking, because the likely returns are so great.

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Vettel doubts unique Mercedes DAS is a game-changer

Sebastian Vettel admitted to being intrigued by the the innovative Mercedes steering system known as DAS that broke cover during testing at Barcelona on Thursday, but the German doubts it will provide a significant performance advantage.

Mercedes ran the DAS (for “Dual Axis Steering”) system for the first time on day two of pre-season testing in Barcelona, which allowed Lewis Hamilton to change the toe-in of the front wheels on the straightaways from the cockpit. Such a change could reduce drag, but could also help keep tire temperatures up in order to have better grip at the next corner, and Vettel said the system quickly caught his and Ferrari’s eye.

The four-time world champion is confident that any performance advantage is likely to be minimal, and will only be significant as part of the wider car package.

“It depends more on what you have around it, the car you are sitting in; I don’t think it will give you much,” he said. “Maybe I am underestimating it, but I don’t think it is the ticket to win; there are a lot more elements to building a competitive car.

“But for sure it is an innovation, and we will see whether it is something everyone has to pick up on or not.”

Hamilton insisted after his morning stint that the DAS was not distraction in the cockpit, and Vettel said drivers are happy to adapt their driving to new concepts – as long as they make the car quicker.

“I don’t know (how the DAS feels), but imagine you are used to running with running shoes and then you are asked to run with your flip flops,” he said. “You can do that, but it feels very different. Obviously it is not that extreme, but when you add something completely new, it feels strange and weird at first. But if it gives you an advantage or edge, then you can fulfill the task — you have the capacity to do it with enough practice.

“I don’t know if they will run it [in races]; it is too early to tell. From a driver’s point of view, it looks easy to push and pull the steering wheel. It is probably not (that) straightforward, but we (could) get used to it.”

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Raikkonen fastest in Barcelona; Mercedes sparks intrigue before hitting trouble

Raikkonen fastest in Barcelona; Mercedes sparks intrigue before hitting trouble

Kimi Raikkonen set the pace on the second day of pre-season testing in Barcelona but Mercedes was center of attention, with the discovery of an innovative steering wheel system being followed by a technical issue.

Mercedes sparked intrigue by running a unique steering wheel system on Thursday morning, with the DAS – Dual Axis Steering – being utilized by Lewis Hamilton. Onboard footage showed Hamilton’s steering wheel moving closer to him at the start of a straight, causing the front wheels to toe-in further, then return to their original position when the steering wheel moved forward again before braking.

Theories relating to the DAS suggest it could reduce drag on long straights while simultaneously preventing the tires from cooling too much in order to maximize grip at the next corner. 

Finns bookended the timing screens: Bottas’ problem left him was slowest overall, while Raikkonen went fastest with 45 minutes remaining on a 1m17.091s on the softest compound of tire. However, it was Alfa Romeo who caused the first and so far only red flag of the test so far with 15 minutes remaining when Raikkonen stopped on the run to Turn 9.

Sergio Perez was second-quickest as Racing Point’s impressive start to testing continued, with the Mexican driving for the full day and completing 145 laps, finishing 0.256s adrift of Raikkonen’s best on the C3 tire.

Renault was unable to match that sort of mileage during a disjointed day but still ended up third-quickest through Daniel Ricciardo’s a 1m17.749s. Ricciardo only completed 41 laps as he sustained some floor damage on a curb that required attention during the lunch break.

Alex Albon was fourth on his first outing in the Red Bull, with junior team AlphaTauri just behind. Albon’s best lap of 1m17.912s came on the C2 tire compared to softer compounds from the drivers ahead, with Pierre Gasly fifth and just 0.209s further back on the same tire. The only obvious error from Gasly came early on, when he spun on cold tires at Turn 9 and had a short trip through the gravel.

Vettel had his first taste of Ferrari’s SF1000. Image by Tee/LAT

While Mercedes was the focus of attention, Ferrari had another largely understated day but Sebastian Vettel did at least put his first miles on the SF1000. Vettel had been scheduled to drive on Wednesday but was unwell, and he took over from Charles Leclerc at lunchtime on day two to finish sixth quickest on the C4 tire, a second off the pace.

The two Ferrari drivers were separated by George Russell, with Williams enjoying another encouraging day. The 2018 Formula 2 champion was 1.175s off the fastest time, but using the same C3 tire as Leclerc.

Hamilton and Lando Norris rounded out the top 10, the McLaren driver carrying out what appeared to be high fuel running during the morning and lowering his best time later in the day.

Romain Grosjean managed an encouraging 158 laps for Haas but his final one ended in a crash when he lost the rear in Turn 4 and spun into the barrier. While Grosjean was able to limp back to the pits, the rear wing damage ended his running.

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Innovative Mercedes steering system is legal – Allison

Innovative Mercedes steering system is legal – Allison

Mercedes technical director James Allison is confident in the legality of an innovative steering solution that the team was discovered using during the second morning of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Onboard footage of Lewis Hamilton showed the defending champion pulling the steering wheel closer to him on straights, in turn causing the front wheels to point inwards slightly – or toe in – before both the steering wheel and wheels returned to normal position prior to braking. Allison says the system is called DAS – which stands for ‘Dual Axis Steering’ – and has been known to the FIA for some time.

“This isn’t news to the FIA, it’s something we’ve been talking to them for some time. The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems, and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements.”

The system caught the eye throughout Thursday morning, but Allison said it is just one of a number of innovations on the car.

“It’s fun of course, it really is fun, but perhaps one of the things that’s not greatly appreciated is that each of the cars we bring to the track are festooned with innovation,” he said. “It’s just not as obvious with a discrete, standalone system like this when you can see it with your own eyes.

“One of the things that gives me massive pride from working with Mercedes is to give me part of a team that doesn’t just turn the sausage handle each year, but is working out how we can work fast enough to bring these innovations to the track and make them stick. This is fun, but it’s only the tip of an iceberg of similar stuff that’s written across the car.”

Hamilton himself says the system is not distracting from a driver’s point of view, despite the steering wheel moving forwards and backwards in his hands.

“We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are okay with the project,” Hamilton said. “For me, it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

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Miami F1 race clears next hurdle, but hit by lawsuit

The planned Miami Grand Prix has passed another hurdle before the Miami-Dade County Commission, but now faces a lawsuit from the race’s main opponent.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan’s attempted to push through anti-F1 legislation that would have required Miami Gardens’ approval in order to host the race, targeting Hard Rock Stadium zoning rules that already allow for such an event. When that legislation failed in front of the County Commission, Jordan issued a lawsuit against the Miami Dolphins and Formula 1.

“This fight is not over,” Jordan was quoted as saying by the Miami Herald following the decision. “Formula 1, I don’t think they want this kind of publicity. But they better get ready.”

“We filed a lawsuit on behalf of Betty Ferguson, 12 other Miami Gardens residents and the three homeowner’s associations,” attorney Sam Dubbin said.

While the County Commission did not pass Jordan’s legislation, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was ready to veto it, as he had already done with another resolution late last year.

“This was just a rejection of some new measures that would make it more difficult for Formula 1 to actually come to Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez said. “I welcome the lawsuit, frankly, so that all of the relevant facts, the true facts of what’s going to happen there, will come to light.”

As it stands, F1 is due to host its first Miami Grand Prix in 2021, and in response to residents’ concerns has already made changes to the track to make sure it is exclusively on stadium land, as well as promising Friday’s practice sessions will not take place until after the end of school hours at 3pm local time.

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Ferrari taking different approach after 2019 surprises

Ferrari has taken a different approach to pre-season testing this year following last year’s misleading showing, according to Charles Leclerc.

In 2019, Ferrari appeared to be the class of the field throughout pre-season testing and was quickest throughout, but then struggled once the season started in Australia and didn’t win a race until after the summer break. After finishing 11th quickest on the opening day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this year, Leclerc says Ferrari has learned from last season.

“For now it’s quite difficult to comment as we didn’t focus on performance but more on trying to know the car at its best, before working on performance,” Leclerc said. “So for now it’s difficult to say but for sure there’s been a lot of work. It can only be an evolution — but to where exactly I can’t tell you, because we didn’t push the car yet.

“Of course we changed a little bit our approach compared to last year. Last year the testing was great but the first race was a bit less great and I think we’ve learned a few things from this. This year we’ve decided to focus a bit more on ourselves and trying to learn the car as much as possible in these first days and then focus on performance a bit later on. We will see if that pays off.”

“For sure we’ve got more flexibility in the car setup for this year, so this is always a good thing for both drivers because we adapt the details more in the car to our driving. We didn’t push the car yet but we know we have more flexibility, this is fact.

Sebastian Vettel was originally set to drive on Wednesday but felt unwell, leading to Ferrari having to change its driver schedule at late notice.

“6:45 a.m. this morning I got the call and I was sleeping at that time!” Leclerc noted. “It was pretty late but in the end it did not change much. For the mechanics it was not easy because to change the driver fit it always takes a bit of time. They had to do a late change but in terms of the plan it was basically the same.”

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New Red Bull is ‘faster everywhere’ – Verstappen

Max Verstappen says the new Red Bull RB16 is “faster everywhere” after completing significant mileage on the opening day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Wednesday’s running was uninterrupted and allowed Verstappen to complete over 2.5 race distances as he racked up 168 laps, finishing fourth quickest. Although he had two spins, Verstappen was encouraged by the performance of the car and says Red Bull has moved forward on all fronts.

“It’s been a good day and the car has been working really well together with the engine. That’s what we want to see and that’s the most important thing. I’m very happy about that — we just want to learn the car, try things on the car and look through the data and see what we can improve. It’s been a long day — first time back in the car so of course your neck is going to be stiff.

“The car is faster everywhere, which is a good thing, and the reliability seems even better. So that’s all very positive.”

Verstappen’s two spins both came at Turn 13, with the first one clearly caused by dipping his outside wheels in the gravel at turn-in. Despite suffering two of the bigger incidents on an otherwise drama-free day, the Dutchman says it is a sign of exploring the car’s capabilities.

“I touched the gravel and that’s why I spun (the first time). Then the other one at the same corner… Those things can happen when you are trying to see the limits of what the car can do. Luckily there was no damage, which is the most important thing.”

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Hamilton fastest as testing gets off to busy start

Hamilton fastest as testing gets off to busy start

Lewis Hamilton’s world championship defense got off to a strong start with Mercedes leading the way on a busy first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Valtteri Bottas was first to drive for Mercedes on the opening day, and set the pace in the morning session with a 1m17.313s to edge out Sergio Perez by just 0.062s. Both were on the C3 compound, but Hamilton then took over after an hour-long lunch break and was immediately on the pace, dropping the benchmark down to a 1m16.976s on the harder C2.

Hamilton’s ultimate lap time would have been even quicker but the six-time world champion opted to back off more than one occasion after setting the fastest first two sectors.

Max Verstappen was fourth quickest for Red Bull but suffered the majority of the major incidents on a day that remarkably ran without a single red flag. Stability in the regulations ensured strong reliability as all teams completed more than 100 laps, and there wasn’t a single on-track stoppage throughout the eight hours, but Verstappen suffered two spins.

The Dutchman first swapped ends after the lunch break when he dipped the outside wheels in the gravel on turn-in at Turn 13, unsurprisingly finding the car snapping away from him as he slid in to the run-off area. Later in the session, Verstappen spun at the same corner but this time when he suffered oversteer mid-corner and overcorrected. While he also took a trip through the gravel at Turn 8 when running slightly wide, on each occasion Verstappen returned to the pits without damage.

While a number of other drivers suffered lock-ups, Kevin Magnussen joined Verstappen in an off-track moment when he slid sideways at the high-speed Turn 9, catching the car on the outside of the corner and being able to continue around an escape road.

Magnussen ended up 14th of the 15 drivers to complete laps on Wednesday, but was just 1.4s off the overall pace as the whole field started the test closely matched. Only Antonio Giovinazzi appeared to carry out a very different schedule in the afternoon as he ended up 3.1s off the pace.

Robert Kubica officially debuted in his new testing role for Alfa Romeo, as the team revealed its fully liveried C39 for the first time. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton Images/LAT

AlphaTauri’s first official day saw Daniil Kvyat fifth fastest, 0.7s adrift of Hamilton and a little over 0.1s quicker than Carlos Sainz in the McLaren and the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo — on the C2 compound — and Esteban Ocon. Ricciardo had the lowest lap count of any driver with 54 as Renault worked well beyond the lunch break before his first taste of the R.S.20, on of two brand-new cars — along with the RP20 — seen properly for the first time this winter.

Ferrari didn’t register near the top of the times after a late driver change, with Charles Leclerc taking Sebastian Vettel’s place on Wednesday morning due to the German feeling unwell. Leclerc finished 11th fastest overall, 1.3s off Hamilton but with 132 laps to his name as only Verstappen and Sainz managed more. Vettel is scheduled to drive on Thursday, should he have recovered sufficiently.

Aside from Hamilton and Ricciardo, only Lance Stroll in 10th set his best lap on the C2 tire, with everyone else registering their times on the C3.

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Russell notes instant Williams improvement on ‘scary’ 2019 car

George Russell says there was a noticeable improvement from the 2020 Williams on its opening laps of pre-season testing compared to the difficult start last year.

Williams was late with its new car in 2019 and missed the first two and a half days of testing, before enduring a miserable season that saw it finish last in the constructors’ standings. The FW43 first ran during a filming day on Monday but after an encouraging first morning of pre-season testing — during which he completed 73 laps — Russell says there was a clear difference with how the car feels to drive.

“I’d say definitely the general handling of the car is much better,” Russell said. “From lap one today I had confidence to push the car to the limit, whereas last year it wasn’t a nice feeling in the early laps. It was actually quite scary to drive, actually, last year in the opening laps and trying to build that confidence.

“So already that’s better but not always a nice car to drive is a fast car. It’s a lap time based sport and it doesn’t matter how you get round the lap, as long as it’s fast, that’s all that counts. It has been improved in that area, now we just need to see if we’ve managed to smash enough downforce on the car to be able to compete with the guys around me.”

“We had an intense morning planned and to get everything in it was important to get out from the beginning but also off the back of last year it was psychologically important for all of us and for everybody whose worked day and night back at the factory to see their car go out first.

“From the struggles of last year, it was incredibly tough times for the people back at Grove last year, when they are working absolutely flat out to try and make things ready and work in double time. So it was a relief for all and now we can get cracking with our test program.

“Last year was far from ideal and the team have done a really great job to achieve that and the build quality of the car is so much better standard compared to last year. Things fit properly and the car looks better from a design perspective, so I think overall it’s been a very positive morning. Nevertheless going into next week and Melbourne, it all depends on lap times and we just need to focus on our program and get the most out of these two weeks.”

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Racing Point, Renault on track as preseason tests begin

Racing Point, Renault on track as preseason tests begin

Racing Point and Renault both revealed their 2020 cars for the first time in public when heading out at the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

After launching its new livery in Austria on Monday, Racing Point was the focus of much attention as the R.S. 20 carries a significant resemblance to last year’s Mercedes W10. Racing Point uses the Mercedes power unit and gearbox but has taken a clear change in concept by following the constructors’ champions lead from 12 months ago.

Sergio Perez was first behind the wheel of the RP20 and set the second-fastest time to Valtteri Bottas during the morning session, just 0.062s separating the Mercedes and Racing Point.

There were also clear similarities between the new Haas and last year’s Ferrari, and the AlphaTauri and the 2019 Red Bull due to technical partnerships, but the Renault was the other car that stood out when it finally emerged following a quiet build-up to testing.

Esteban Ocon in the new Renault R.S. 20. Image by Mark Sutton/Sutton/LAT

Renault opted against having a car of any kind at its launch even in Paris last week and then released very few images of its R.S.20 during a filming day on Monday, but a major change to the front end was instantly visible when Esteban Ocon took to the track. A much slimmer nose is similarly following the Mercedes-optimized direction, with Ocon ending the morning fifth fastest.

Most other teams had already released images of their new cars or run them during filming days, with only Alfa Romeo still to unveil its new look. The C39 was presented in the pit lane on Wednesday morning and features a similar livery to last year, with Robert Kubica spending the morning driving what appears to the naked eye to be a largely evolutionary car.

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Gasly eager to relaunch after rough 2019

Pierre Gasly admits the off-season break was an opportunity for him to be able to recharge and reset after a turbulent 2019 Formula 1 season in which he lost his Red Bull seat.

The Frenchman was promoted to Red Bull a year ago after impressing in his first full season with Toro Rosso, earning a call-up to replace Daniel Ricciardo. However, Gasly struggled with the RB15 and was replaced by Alex Albon during the summer break before he’d even scored a podium. After being demoted to the junior team, however, he bounced back to take a stunning second-place finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Despite that strong finish to the year with Toro Rosso, Gasly says he needed time off over the winter to deal with the challenging 12 months.

“I also just needed some time with the family, the people that know me. I just needed to recharge and come back with a blank sheet for 2020 and just be fully focused on the job. We finished the year really well, which was really important, and now I hope we can keep that momentum into 2020.”

Gasly says he has moved on completely from 2019, heading into the new year with the rebranded AlphaTauri team with a fresh outlook.

“Honestly I’ve completely turned the page on last year. It’s a completely new year, and a new chapter with AlphaTauri. There are a lot of things to take from last year — positives, negatives. I’ve reviewed everything and I’ve started the 1st of January fresh, so it’s only positives with me. I’m ready to build on the strong end of the year with Toro Rosso and it’s a new start with AlphaTauri.”

Despite that approach, Gasly insists he will make no fundamental changes to the way he goes about his work as he tries to convince Red Bull he is worthy of a second chance at the senior team.

“I think I’m even more specific on what I need personally, rather than doing something a bit more general. I know the areas I need to work on. I’ve only been two years in F1 so this year I’ll have double the experience I had at the same time last year. I do feel I understand a bit more what I need personally as a driver from the team, from my engineers and the areas I need to work on. We need to focus a bit more on the details.”

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Perez sets sights on best-ever season in F1

Sergio Perez believes he can have the best season of his Formula 1 career this year following major investment from Racing Point.

The takeover from a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll was finalized in the summer of 2018, but financial uncertainty prior to that had hurt the development of last year’s car. Strong upgrades ensured Perez was able to finish at the front of the midfield in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, and with a full year of work on the 2020 car aided by the additional resources, Perez wants to beat his previous best tally of 101 points and two podiums in 2016.

“Big targets for this year,” Perez said. “I really hope that this will be my best-ever season in Formula 1, that I beat all the other years in terms of results. That will be the target for the season.

“It should be a good improvement for us (on 2019). Obviously it’s all related to what others are able to do, but we are confident at the moment and we are in a much better place than we ever were for the start of the season, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Perez has already committed his future to Racing Point by signing a long-term contract prior to the announcement that the team will become Aston Martin in 2021, and says it is a show of faith in the team’s abilities.

“I knew what this team was capable of in the past with a big lack of resources, and I knew what was going on behind the scenes,” he said. “Next year we will be becoming a factory team, and also what’s going on right now in terms of budgets and how things are falling in place.

“We already showed last year what we were able to do, even starting off from a difficult year. This is the year that we have to make a good step. I think everyone is very confident right now, but I hope after Barcelona everyone is still very confident.”

The Aston Martin development has been one of the major storylines in F1 over the winter, but Perez says thoughts of 2021 – when there will also be significant regulation changes – shouldn’t overshadow what Racing Point can achieve this year.

“That is a huge step, to all of a sudden become a factory team with such an iconic brand,” he said. “I think it’s just great. It’s another big step in the right direction for the team, and this year we’re going to see big results from us.

“Obviously right now everyone is very confident, but hopefully once we are in Melbourne we are able to show to ourselves that we have done good work over the last [few] years, because this car is the work of so many years in the team. The team has gone through very difficult periods, and I hope finally this car is the one we’ve been waiting for.”

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Racing Point targets P4 with new RP20

Racing Point targets P4 with new RP20

Racing Point’s 2020 car has been unveiled at the headquarters of its new title sponsor BWT in Austria, and the team is aiming high for the new season.

The RP20 was unveiled in Mondsee near Salzburg just two days before the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona, with the team also being rebranded to officially become BWT Racing Point F1 Team. Following the end of the previous title sponsorship with Sport Pesa, the BWT expansion sees the standout pink livery remain, with team principal Otmar Szafnauer targeting fourth place in the constructors’ championship this season.

“It was an incredibly busy (winter). I think we took two days off, Christmas and New Years’, but the rest of the time we worked… we felt like one-armed wallpaper hangers. Seasons are getting longer… the nice thing is we only have six days of testing so that helps a little bit but there is no break, it is year round.

“The conundrum is really, when do you stop developing and start manufacturing? We were looking among the spares we had for Australia and our spares are going to be a bit limited… if you have too many parts it means you stop developing too early and you have too much manufacturing time. The successful teams, they can squeeze that manufacturing time.”

Szafnauer also admitted that the RP20 will look very different to its launch guise once it hits the track in Barcelona, with a number of parts not yet on the new car.

2020 is the last year the team will be named as Racing Point, with it set to become the Aston Martin works team next season.

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‘No fundamental concept changes’ on new Williams despite poor 2019

Williams has made “no fundamental concept changes” to its 2019 car with the new FW43 despite a poor season last year.

The late delivery of last season’s car, coupled with a poor design left Williams comfortably slowest of the 10 teams on the grid. It focused on addressing some key weaknesses during last year and design director Doug McKiernan says the team needed to maximize its resources, so decided against radical changes.

“The team at the factory have been working incredibly hard on the development of the car for the 2020 season,” McKiernan said. “We have paid significant attention to understanding the problem areas of the FW42 and we have carefully chosen parts of the car to develop, those that would give us the most performance for the resources we have.

“The main concept behind the FW43 is that it is a continuous development of the FW42, with no fundamental concept changes to the layout. The most important indicator that we are on the right path will be the level of correlation we have between the tool kit we use to design the car and what the track data is telling us.

“There has been a healthy development rate in the wind tunnel, and we have found reasonable improvements in the cooling efficiency. The team has addressed the mechanical issues that affected it in 2019, these include the brakes and the overall weight of the car. We have made some good progress across these areas and will continue to focus on them during the season.”

“The initiatives that we put in place to drive performance across all disciplines within the engineering department are evident in the design and development of the FW43,” Carter said. “It’s been great to see the hard work starting to pay off.

“The decision to retain some of the core architecture of the FW42 means there has been less resource invested in developing new concepts, which in turn has rewarded the design team with greater bandwidth to optimize their work, evident in both packaging and component detail. By preserving some key parameters, it has allowed for an uninterrupted development program within aerodynamics in order to maximize the efficiency of the resources.

“As we head towards the pre-season tests and then onto the race season, the most important measure will be the progress relative to our peers, along with our intention of continuing our recent record of reliability.

“Later this week, we will be looking at our single timed lap pace, our long run pace and the feedback from the drivers to understand where we are and what we do next. We have teams, both at the track and back at Grove, that will be delving into all aspects that define that lap time during the pre-season tests to ensure we are in the best possible place ahead of the first race in Australia.”

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AlphaTauri launches with striking new livery

AlphaTauri has launched as a newly branded team with a striking new image for the 2020 season.

The former Toro Rosso team has undergone a name and identity change to promote Red Bull’s fashion brand AlphaTauri. In an extravagant launch event that featured a fashion show — first of the AlphaTauri spring/summer collection, then of the new team kit — the new look was unveiled at Red Bull’s Hangar 7 in Salzburg.

In a major change from previous liveries, a white and matte blue design was displayed on a 2019 car, with heavy Honda branding.

At the same time, images of the 2020 car — known as the AT01 — were released online, incorporating a number of Red Bull parts due to a close technical partnership with Red Bull Technology.

Team principal Franz Tost reiterated the team’s target of finishing in the top five of the constructors’ championship, joking with drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat that a win is needed after second and third places last season.

“We have a very close relationship with Red Bull Technology,” Tost said. “We have the complete rear suspension from them, the gearbox from them, the hydraulics, the front suspension… That means also from the mechanical side we are very competitive.

“Expectations, we must be within the first five of the constructors’ championship. Our biggest competitive are usually Renault, McLaren, Racing Point and Haas. The rest we will see.”

The AT01 will run for the first time at Misano on Saturday, ahead of pre-season testing commencing on February 19.

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Alfa Romeo shakes down C39 in Italy

Alfa Romeo shakes down C39 in Italy

Alfa Romeo’s 2020 car was publicly revealed for the first time during a pre-season shakedown at the Ferrari test track at Fiorano.

In a similar move to last year, Alfa Romeo has run the new car in a temporary livery, with Kimi Raikkonen first to drive the black and gray C39 in Italy. The car features a complex nose arrangement including an air intake, and once again a similar front wing concept to Ferrari that sees the wing elements at their highest near the centre and tapering down towards the endplates.

After the shakedown — during which teams are limited to 100km of running — the new car will then make its way to Barcelona ahead of pre-season testing, where it will be unveiled in its race livery on Wednesday morning ahead of the start of the first day of running.

The majority of teams are carrying out shakedowns before testing starts, with pre-season shortened by two days. The AlphaTauri will run at Mugello on Saturday, with the McLaren MCL35 in Barcelona on Sunday ahead of Renault’s first appearance — also at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya — on Monday.

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Hamilton sees Verstappen comments as a sign of weakness

Hamilton sees Verstappen comments as a sign of weakness

Pre-season testing hasn’t even properly begun yet, but Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are already positioning themselves for the battle ahead in the 2020 Formula 1 season.

Verstappen was asked about Hamilton’s status as one of the most successful F1 drivers in history earlier this month, and responded by saying the six-time world champion “is very good … definitely one of the best out there but he is not God.”

During today’s debut of the Mercedes W11 at Silverstone, Hamilton took the chance to react to Verstappen’s comments.

“I find it funny,” Hamilton said. “I have always been known to be my talking on the track, often I tend to see that as a sign of weakness so…”

Hamilton — who suggested teammate Valtteri Bottas is likely to be his main challenger this season — added that he is impressed by how motivated Mercedes remains after a run of six consecutive championship doubles.

“I think everyone gets excited, everyone seems refreshed, revamped and ready for the challenges ahead.”

Bottas shakes down the W11. Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz AMG F1

Bottas was first to drive the new car on Friday before Hamilton took the wheel in the afternoon, and although 2020 could deliver a record-equaling seventh drivers’ championship for the Briton, he says it does not have a major bearing on this stage of the season.

“I think at this time of the year you don’t feel any pressure. It’s really just about having some fun. I mean, you are focused but it is really about enjoying the moment. The guys have worked so hard to put the car together and there’s only two of us that get to drive it, so it is pretty incredible.

“These guys have been working for months and months to build the car that we see in the garage today and to make sure that it is delivered for this day and running smoothly — and me and Valtteri get to go and kind of stretch its wings a little bit.”

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F1 launch diary, day 5: AlphaTauri

You could certainly tell which team is going through the biggest change ahead of the 2020 season by the chaos that was the build-up to the AlphaTauri launch.

After a lunchtime flight to Salzburg, a drive into a hotel in the city and another one back to the airport where Red Bull’s awesome Hangar 7 is located, I genuinely arrived at the venue with no idea of what was about to happen. There had been no schedule and no information following the invitation, just a tweet that suggested a launch was happening at 8 p.m.

And that was all because there was so much more to worry about than simply taking the covers off a Formula 1 car. This was a complete rebrand, designed to promote another Red Bull company in the AlphaTauri clothing business, so there was going to be something spectacular lined up. Media had just been invited along for the ride.

Despite the name, it’s bizarre to think you’re actually inside an airport hangar at Hangar 7, where classic machinery — planes, cars and other automobiles — usually fill a very modern building of glass and massive steel trusses. But everything had been moved back — even a beautiful old Douglas DC-6 that no longer fit fully inside the hangar — to make room for a huge stage where most of the action would take place.

A team member described the event beforehand as “Like Ferrari’s launch, only a bit more Red Bull-ish.” They weren’t kidding. There were dance troupes, musicians, athletes, celebrities and even a guy balancing empty glass bottles in weird combinations.

Eventually the latter led to an almighty smash and glass all over the floor, but that was the biggest error of the night, even if fans quickly grew impatient of a fashion show that preceded the car reveal.

As the Mercedes event on Monday (remember that?) highlighted, if you’re promising people a view of a new car or livery then it’s best to do that first rather than keep them waiting for too long. But after a long show that displayed AlphaTauri’s spring and summer collection, eventually the catwalk started displaying team kit and then a huge draped curtain dropped around the car.

What was displayed was a gorgeous new livery of matte blue and white, that was definitely worth the wait. It was on a 2019 car, but that was due to the AT01 being prepared to run at Misano on Saturday, leaving the drivers with a brutal alarm call to fly to Italy first thing in the morning.

Guests were free to sit by the car for photos, explore the planes on display – including a Honda Jet in the new F1 team’s livery – and then party into the early hours. There might not have been a launch event for the senior team, but Red Bull was certainly making up for it with the junior one.

While the drivers raved about the new look, they both said it will only remain a beautiful car if it proves to be fast. And with a new chassis that features many components from Red Bull Technology, it really should be.

Team boss Franz Tost joked that the team needs to pick up a win this year after Gasly and Kvyat finished second and third in Brazil and Germany respectively last season, but if nothing else AlphaTauri won the launch game this week.

And the biggest mystery of the winter was solved at the same time. It’s pronounced ‘Alpha T-ow-ree’ (like Kyle Lowry) not ‘Alpha Tory’.

Now, after four launch events in four different countries over the past 77 hours, where’s my bed?

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Mercedes W11 hits the track at Silverstone

Mercedes W11 hits the track at Silverstone

After launching its 2020 livery on a show car earlier this week, the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team took to the track at Silverstone on Friday to complete the first laps with the team’s all-new car for the 2020 F1 season.

The Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance, as the car is officially known, ran at Silverstone with Valtteri Bottas behind the wheel this morning, with world champion Lewis Hamilton taking over in the afternoon.

Today’s shakedown constituted an official 100 km filming day, which the team also uses as a final systems check before the first pre-season test in Barcelona.

“The shakedown has always been important, but it is particularly precious this year. It’s our last chance to make sure all is well ahead of the first official day of winter testing. If all goes well in the shakedown then we will be well placed to roll out the garage at nine o’clock in Barcelona and just start hitting the laps,” said technical director James Allison.

“With a shorter winter testing program, that last ticking everything off at the shakedown is proportionally more important so we are determined to squeeze every drop of goodness from it that we can.”

As part of the strategy of Mercedes-AMG, “EQ Performance” stands for the brand’s future Mercedes-AMG performance hybrid models.

The EQ Performance designation is meant to place the F1 car and its hybrid power unit at the forefront of the future Mercedes-AMG line-up, showcasing how F1 technology is pioneering the future of motor racing and automotive technology in general.

“W11” represents the fact that this is the eleventh Mercedes-made F1 car since the three-pointed star returned to grand prix racing as a works team in 2010.

“It’s a real privilege for Valtteri and myself to be the only people who get to drive this machine and I’m really looking forward to stretching its legs,” said Hamilton. “I’ve been in constant communications with the engineers, trying to keep an eye on everything that was happening at the factory. Today is a really exciting day – finally seeing in person what this team has worked towards so hard. As a driver, you’re just itching to get back into the car.”

As part of the car launch information, Mercedes confirmed Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne will also be one of two F1 reserves for the team this year, with the former McLaren driver sharing the role with Esteban Gutierrez.

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F1 launch diary, day 4: McLaren

Fresh from a late-night Eurostar back to London, it was another quick train down to Woking on Thursday morning for the McLaren MCL35 launch, where, unlike with Renault, there was going to be a car on display.

Despite being a team with a lot of momentum behind it following a clear step forward in 2019, the McLaren launch was, in a strange way, the one with the fewest question marks. Essentially, the message was clear: More of the same, please.

The car was rolled out onto the stage by fans — who had already had a view of the car — before the drivers and senior management joined the party. But there was nowhere near the fanfare seen at Ferrari.

McLaren has a lot to shout about after last season, with an exciting young driver partnership that has shown it can deliver, and a new team principal and technical director in place who weren’t there at the start last year. But this is a team that has learned from its recent history, and the launch followed a similar process to last year: The car was shown at the factory, the presentation was simple yet effective, and there were no outlandish statements.

In fact, rather than over-egging the potential for gaining on the top three, Zak Brown and Andreas Seidl were keen to highlight how tough it will be to match last year’s fairly dominant run to fourth place in the midfield battle.

And in order to try and achieve that, McLaren is not sitting still with its latest offering. There are clear differences between the MCL35 and its predecessor, with the sidepods significantly tighter as the team looks to make gains towards the rear of the car. Development of last year’s chassis was never a problem, but Seidl had previously pointed out that, to make further progress, an evolution might not be sufficient.

When the drivers face questions about training regimes, social media and the cancelled Chinese Grand Prix, you know there are no obvious weaknesses for either to address. In fact, the only potentially uncomfortable moments came when Carlos Sainz was asked about a 2021 contract, and Lando Norris had to admit he doesn’t know where Vietnam is on the map…

When you take the car and its updates out of it, this feels very much a continuation of the McLaren that excelled last year, and the stability should give it the best chance of repeating its strong showing. In turn, that should allow it to turn its attentions to 2021 early on, and all the pieces are in place to maintain the positive momentum.

After all, if Renault is to be its biggest threat, McLaren at least appears a little more settled in terms of having a form of car ready to display six days before pre-season testing, regardless of Cyril Abiteboul’s protestations.

Toro Rosso posed a stiff challenge to the French manufacturer towards the end of last year and there will be a very different image for that team in 2020. Tomorrow morning will be a flight to Salzburg, where the rebranded AlphaTauri will be presented — a team that features a few more unknowns.

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McLaren in ‘a lot better place’ than 12 months ago – Brown

McLaren in ‘a lot better place’ than 12 months ago – Brown

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown says his team is in a much better place ahead of this season than it was 12 months ago.

Team principal Andreas Seidl and technical director James Key both joined during the 2019 season, and were not in place when last year’s car was delivered. Even though the team improved markedly to finish in fourth place in the constructors’ championship, Brown says he notices the difference having his senior leadership team in place ahead of the new season.

“My role is to get the right people in the right place and give them the right resources. I think since we started making changes we’ve accomplished that. We had a pretty good car last year that got stronger over the second part of the year. I put that down to everybody, but a lot of it was the leadership from Andreas and James. As the car got more competitive, it wasn’t a coincidence that it was when they started to get stuck into things.

The team moving forward: Seidl, Norris, Sainz and Key. Image by Romney/LAT

“Now we’ve got our new race car, which is the first time we’ve had everyone in place. Andreas has brought a lot of clarity into how he wants to see the Formula 1 team run, and that’s been very well received. It’s a nice environment to walk around the factory and at the race track — it’s got a real team feeling. So I’m excited.

“That being said, the gap [between fourth and] third is still very big in Formula 1 terms, so I think we have to be realistic,” Brown added. “The first thing we need to do is not go backwards, and that in itself won’t be easy because we have great competition in the midfield.

“I’m very, very pleased, but we still have a long way to go.”

Key, who joined during the 2019 season, had time to analyze the MCL34 but this year’s MCL35 features much more of his input, and the technical director admits some significant changes have been made.

“Certain new concepts that we looked at alongside what we’ve learned from 34 last year have meant changes in a few areas,” Key said. “The bodywork is following a trend I think we’re seeing increasingly, with a very narrow sidepod — which is quite an exercise in packaging. You actually have to plan quite early for that kind of thing because it involves a lot of the engine installation and so on.

“We’ve done a similar exercise with the gearbox to match that philosophy.

“At the rear, there’s been a lot of work on the suspension, too. From the cockpit backwards is a very different approach to what we had before and what the conceptual side of things was. Equally there are a lot of technologies around the front which were only really possible with a new car.

“Having said all that, the 34 is very much the father of this car. We’ve tried to carry forward what we learned last year as we were going, and then add what we felt were opportunities we couldn’t unlock on the 34 with the geometry we had.”

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