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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
The smooth nature of the opening day and significant mileage meant there was little in the way of a major headline, with perhaps the most significant running coming from Williams. A year ago the team didn’t have a car built in time for the start of the test and it ended up well off the pace all season, but on this occasion George Russell was ninth fastest — 1.192s off Hamilton — and Nicholas Latifi 0.2s further back in 12th as Williams comfortably exceeded its mileage from the the complete first test a year ago.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
This is all very Red Bull. The car awaits, but for now a guy is painting driver portraits with the visor on a helmet. As you do #F1pic.twitter.com/xZHAA9R2tY
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?
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.
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.
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.”
The McLaren MCL35 was launched today at the McLaren Technology Centre, the third 2020 car to be physically unveiled: Ferrari’s new SF1000 was seen on Tuesday and the Red Bull RB16 hit the track at Silverstone yesterday.
The launch specification of the new McLaren features a slender nose and complex sidepods and rear wing endplates as well as an updated livery of matte orange and additional blue.
The team made a clear step forward in 2019, finishing a comfortable fourth in the constructors’ championship, but over the winter highlighted the need to make radical changes if it wants to further close the gap to the top three. Team principal Andreas Seidl said he expects stiff competition just to remain the lead midfield team.
“Carlos [Sainz] and Lando [Norris] showed real grit and determination last season and have continued to work hard in preparation for testing and the season beyond. We look forward to building on what was a very positive first year with them behind the wheel.
“Today is another step on our journey. It is important not to be complacent; this will be a tough season. Nothing comes easy in Formula 1 and the competition at the head of the midfield will be intense. We have six days of testing to prepare for the start of the new season and Carlos, Lando and the whole team here at the MTC and at track are ready. We go again.”
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown added that the team was able to build on last year’s momentum from a commercial perspective as well as a technical one, the new car being launched in front of a backdrop of 38 partners, many of them new.
“I’m immensely proud of the entire team today,” Brown said. “Last season we delivered what we set out to do – secure a hard-fought fourth in the constructors’ championship. Our positive on-track momentum and the renewed energy in the team has seen us grow our valued partner family and global fan base, and we look forward to a hugely competitive season. While we are enjoying going racing again, we remain measured and focused, and all of us at McLaren keep pushing fearlessly forward.”
A 4:15 a.m. alarm call greeted today’s trip to a launch, with a drive from Reggio Emilia to Bologna airport to fly to Paris at sunrise. That sort of pain isn’t reserved for journalists either, with Nicholas Todt and Ferrari Driver Academy member Marcus Armstrong on the same flight to the French capital.
Firstly, it was made clear the lack of a car was not a sign of any trouble. Managing director Cyril Abiteboul was honest enough to say the team was up against it a year ago (and it very nearly finished the new car late), but this time he was insistent that the build is on schedule. That’s good news for Ocon, who will shake the RS20 down in Barcelona on Monday.
But Abiteboul had another admission and that was of the fact he reads not only the coverage of his team in the media, but the responses of fans to that coverage. So he went on a fairly impassioned rant on the reasoning behind the lack of a car, stating the team would otherwise be judged on a fake show car that would be very different in its track spec.
He has a point, with teams regularly using different parts on a launch car to hide secrets or fill in gaps where components aren’t finished yet. Ferrari even admitted it had an old front wing on the SF1000 at yesterday’s launch…
What was most notable at Renault, however, was a change of tact. Abiteboul and Alain Prost set the tone in being more humble and admitting the team overreached a year ago, setting unrealistic targets and putting pressure on itself.
This time, fourth place was named as the aim, and Abiteboul said he expects that to be tough to achieve given McLaren’s strength last year. But what he really wants to see is signs of progress with an evolutionary rather than revolutionary car, in part because it will show to Ricciardo that the team is on the right track if he is to stay.
Ricciardo (third from left) exemplifies the relaxed atmosphere of Renault’s semi-launch.
From Ricciardo himself there was a calmness, an acceptance of where Renault stands and why. He says he has asked for specific areas to be improved, but knows that can’t happen overnight. The Australian carried himself well in fitting in with where Renault is right now, and also downplaying the potential for trouble with Ocon despite the Frenchman’s history with previous teammate Sergio Perez.
In contrast, Ocon was outlining just how committed he has been over the winter, taking no time off and piling on muscle after being left drained by his year as reserve at Mercedes. After a season not racing, Ocon clearly wants to make sure such a scenario never happens again.
While Ocon can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of this year’s car, plenty of the talk from senior management — including Pat Fry just one week into his new role at Enstone — was about 2021. It is clear that Renault sees that as a big opportunity to get to the front, and this year is almost a free hit.
A strong 2020 bodes well for the future, but a poor one won’t come with a hangover as there is such a big reset next year. We haven’t even seen this season’s car yet, but you can sense how eager Renault is to work on the one that will follow it.
Daniel Ricciardo says he is ready for the threat that Esteban Ocon will pose as his Renault teammate but doesn’t expect to have an explosive relationship with the Frenchman.
Ocon has impressed in his Formula 1 career to date but had a tricky relationship with his then-Force India teammate Sergio Perez as the pair often clashed on track. He was also involved in a controversial collision with Max Verstappen in Brazil towards the end of 2018, but Ricciardo says other incidents have no bearing on his relationship with Ocon.
“I’m definitely coming into it with a fresh approach and I don’t want to lay any rules down from day one, because I think already that will create a tension in itself like, ‘Oh so you’re anticipating something,’” Ricciardo said. “Like his relationship with Perez, obviously they they came to blows a few times and it’s a little bit like when I joined Red Bull — Mark (Webber) and (Sebastian) Vettel came to blows a few times, so a lot of people were like, ‘Are you going to have blows with Vettel?’ But the way I saw it was, ‘Mark and Vettel have their own relationship; that’s not my relationship so I need to establish something with him.’
“It’s a bit like Perez and Ocon and me and Ocon. Maybe he had his things in the past, even with Max, but I need to create something for myself with him. So I’m not going to come in with any kind of ideas or hesitations. I’m prepared for competition, but I’m not prepared for fun and games. If down the track fun and games appear, then I’ll deal with it at the time but I think I’m certainly coming in with an open mind and positivity, as opposed to, ‘Oh s**t, when’s he gonna blow up?’ I’m not thinking like that.
“I need to build something with him and I have every intention of building something positive. For sure on Sundays we’re going to race it out and maybe we’ll bang wheels at some point, but our best intention to try to get this team in a good place before they start losing energy focused on managing us. They they need to manage a better race car.”
For his part, Ocon says he doesn’t want to repeat the situation he had at Force India, believing his relationship with Ricciardo is already in a better place to avoid too many difficulties.
“What happened at Force India is not something I want again,” Ocon said. “It was not a nice atmosphere. We had respect, me and Checo, and it didn’t slow down the team or anything but the atmosphere between us was not so good. On track we came close too many times, that was clear, and that was not good. It’s not something I want to do again.
“Definitely the atmosphere is a lot better between me and Daniel than it was with Checo, so if we can keep working like that, even though it’s going to be different on track, it’s going to be a lot better for everyone to have a positive energy and a great working environment. Hopefully we’re going to be solid on that topic and be able to push the team forward.
“But no, we don’t want to have that happening. Of course it can always happen at the start or something, but in a race like it happened it was not acceptable.”
Red Bull’s 2020 Formula 1 car, the RB16, underwent Silverstone shakedown testing at Silverstone today, becoming the second team to physically launch its car.
Following Ferrari’s unveiling of the SF1000 on Tuesday night, Red Bull ran its new car early on Wednesday morning at the home of the British Grand Prix. Max Verstappen was behind the wheel to put the first miles on the car and check for any issues, with the team limited to a maximum of 100km on promotional tires under filming day regulations.
The RB16 features an innovative nose solution that appears to relate to an S-duct, while there are also some complex bits of bodywork along the side of the nose and the bargeboard area. The car is more neatly packaged at the rear, too, in the second year of the Honda partnership, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner telling RACER that this year’s power unit is “a beautiful installation.”
Unlike in previous years, Red Bull has opted against a camouflage livery for testing and instead has launched the car with its planned race livery, which is unchanged from last season’s design.
The Red Bull shakedown will be followed by a Renault season preview event in Paris later today, before McLaren launches on Thursday and Mercedes carries out a similar shakedown at Silverstone on Friday.
Indulge me a little bit, because I never do a diary, but this week is set to be one full of anticipation, hope, expectation and hopefully some wild predictions, on top of planes, trains, automobiles and some very early alarms.
Yup, it’s launch week in Formula 1. Well, launch fortnight I guess. No that’s not right, launch 10 days? Less catchy. Anyway, by the time I go to bed on Friday night I will have been to four different countries across four days to see four different teams launch at least something, (as Renault has already said we won’t be seeing its 2020 car).
Italy, France, the UK and Austria are still to come, but the first destination on Monday was nice and close to home — a short underground ride into central London and the Royal Automobile Club in Mayfair.
It was here that Haas launched the ill-fated Rich Energy partnership a year ago, but this time it was Mercedes announcing a new partner as INEOS came on board and gained a little splash of red on the 2020 livery.
To be fair, this was never expected to be a major event in terms of the livery or car launch (it was the 2019 car being used, the new one will appear on Friday at Silverstone), but could still prove to be the most insightful.
There have been so many question marks over Lewis Hamilton’s future, Toto Wolff’s position and Mercedes’ interest in F1 overall that even a 45-minute press conference was never going to be enough to dig into all of it. (Apologies to anyone who tuned into the live stream wanting to see the new livery, that was always being unveiled about an hour into the event…)
Wolff was open on all topics, even if he wouldn’t set any deadlines. On Hamilton, he described a new contract as “an obvious pairing going forward,” and a similar comment about planning for the long-term himself was anchored with the use of “when,” not “if” he would sign a new deal.
It was the team’s future that really got Wolff ticking, though. He strongly dismissed a report that Daimler could be considering pulling out of F1, criticizing such “nonsense” because it could worry the huge number of staff he has working below him. It was a far more convincing answer than the fact that a five-year contract with INEOS means Mercedes is going nowhere, given how that could just make the team more attractive to a potential buyer if needed.
Toto Wolff says the new five-year INEOS partnership is one example that Mercedes is in #F1 “for the long-term”: https://t.co/7z26HTI7cl
What the deal does do, however, is reduce how much money Daimler will need to put in once the budget cap comes into effect, with millions now coming from INEOS as well as a number of other major partners.
So the first launch event told us nothing about the 2020 season and how quick Mercedes will be, but then it was on to the next stop in Italy for the first appearance of an actual 2020 car.
TUESDAY – Ferrari launch in Reggio Emilia
I have to admit, the only time I’ve been to Maranello was in a McLaren 570GT, driving it from the French Grand Prix to the race the following weekend in Austria (tough, I know). I’d never been able to make it to an event at Ferrari’s headquarters if invited, so decided to drop in and turn a few heads with a rival supercar that drew a few laughs and frowns in equal measure from those in Ferrari gear.
And then I got invited to his year’s launch, could finally go, and it wasn’t at Maranello…
After an early-morning flight from London to Bologna, there was time to stop for lunch near the Gestione Sportiva, although a famous Ferrari haunt called Montana proved too full. Still, any ristorante in Maranello is crammed with Ferrari memorabilia and imagery, so I could soak up a bit more of the history before taking a slightly less exciting Italian model — a Lancia Ypsilon — to the launch venue.
The city of Reggio Emilia is the birthplace of the Tricolore — Italy’s national flag — and the Teatro Municipale Romolo Valli provided a stunning setting for the unveiling of a Formula 1 car. Tifosi were out in force outside the theatre before the event as the sun set on a remarkably warm February afternoon, and inside hundreds of Ferrari employees sat with sponsors and guests to witness some ballet alongside bold statements.
As the media we were placed — as Ferrari CEO Louis C Camilleri himself described it — “in the nosebleed seats” but still had a pretty special view of the event from above.
Even before Christmas, Ferrari was saying it would be first to launch its 2020 car, and it was. Sure, Haas and Mercedes have shown off liveries, but not the new designs. And what stood out from the vantage point up high was just how tightly packaged the rear end is.
To the naked eye, much looks similar about the SF1000 compared to last year’s SF90, but there has clearly been plenty of work gone into it. Mattia Binotto highlighted not only the packaging but tellingly suspension changes designed to make the car easier to set up. After all, last year’s car was blisteringly quick at certain times but woefully slow at others, so being able to find the sweet spot more easily could be crucial.
Before Binotto even spoke, Camilleri was keen to stress how much he values his team principal’s leadership skills and is backing his long-term vision. Not comments that regularly come out of Maranello…
And similar ones came from Binotto himself regarding Sebastian Vettel once the theatre was cleared and a press conference took place. Vettel is Ferrari’s preferred choice for 2021 onwards, the Italian insisted, even with Lewis Hamilton still yet to start talks with Mercedes.
The buzz around the city and big crowd outside the theatre just served to highlight that whatever happens at Ferrari, it’s always a big story. It was somewhat apt that its 2020 season kicked off in front of such an audience that is just waiting to be entertained.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says the new SF1000 retains the philosophy of the previous car, but features a significant increase in downforce that is likely to cost it some top speed.
Last season Ferrari was the dominant team in terms of power unit performance, showing impressive straight-line speed but often losing out to the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull through corners. In focusing on those weaknesses, Binotto says the team has found clear gains in terms of downforce but that brings with it additional drag that could impact on its previous strength.
“Certainly we increased the level of downforce, by doing that we increased as well the level of drag,” Binotto said. “We believe that we have a car that will be faster in the corners but probably be slower in straights. Where is the right balance? Difficult to know; difficult to know what the others are doing as well. Certainly we increased the downforce by quite a lot.”
Last year’s straight-line speed advantage was in part due to a front wing philosophy that was low-drag, and Binotto says the same approach will be taken this year even though the wing on the car launched in Italy is an old one.
“I think it is the right concept for us. We improved the downforce a lot, not only through the wing but if you look at the car itself — the turning vanes especially — quite a lot of high complexity, I would say.”
Binotto had referenced “very extreme” concepts on the car during the launch event, but says that doesn’t mean a departure from the direction Ferrari took with last year’s car.
“The rake is something we will try and test during Barcelona and the following races. The starting point of this car has been the one of last year, we haven’t changed the concept. So I would say the wheelbase and the rake are pretty much similar.”
Sebastian Vettel is Ferrari’s first choice for the future over Lewis Hamilton at this stage, despite both being out of contract at the end of the year, according to team principal Mattia Binotto.
Hamilton has been linked with a move to Maranello over the winter after the six-time world champion and Ferrari started trading compliments towards the end of 2019, and negotiations are yet to start with Mercedes over a new deal. However, Binotto says talks are already taking place with Vettel regarding 2021 onwards and lists the German as Ferrari’s preferred option to retain his seat.
“Seb is our first choice at the moment,” Binotto said at today’s launch of the team’s new SF1000 (pictured above). “It is something we are discussing with him and we will continue to discuss with him, but he’s certainly our first option and our preference at the moment.”
Pushed on if he could rule out a move for Hamilton in future, Binotto clarified: “No.
Vettel added that he is keen to extend his stay with Ferrari but is in no rush to conclude a new contract.
“As Mattia said, I think a strength is to live in the moment and what’s in the moment is right behind us (the new car),” Vettel said. “For sure I feel young enough. You spoke about Lewis — he’s even older if you consider that I’m old, so that’s not a limitation. I’m happy to keep going.
“If you compare to three years ago I didn’t have a contract until August, so strictly speaking I was out of business half a year before the season finished. So I don’t think it changes much. I’m focused on what’s going on in the moment, obviously at some point you have to sort out what’s going on in the future but I think we have enough time to do so, so I’m not taking any extra pressure.
“I feel good and confident. Last year was good for me in the sense of learning a lot of things and understanding things. Certainly there are things I can do better and I’m sure that I will do better this year. So I’m not stressed but certainly ambitious to prove it to myself.”
While Max Verstappen said he signed a new deal with Red Bull over the winter to avoid confusion within the team and allow him to be fully involved in the 2021 car’s development, Vettel doesn’t see the need to follow suit.
“I think it’s pretty clear this year’s rules are very different to next year; I don’t know how much of this year will go into next year. I think it’s a completely different project, but certainly there will be lessons that we will learn this year that will help for the future. As I said, I think we have enough time for those sort of things to find out, to sort out and to decide.
“The fact there is a new set of rules coming along I don’t think plays a big part. If anything it is the opposite. For the team, for Mattia, and top management it would be incredibly difficult to set the course already now. Next year is coming along with the new regs and so on, so it’s a major challenge, but it’s something all teams are facing and will have to face sooner or later this year.”
Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer insists the team’s impending rebranding as Aston Martin will represent a transition into a fully-fledged works team for the auto maker.
Lawrence Stroll has purchased a stake in the iconic British sports car company and will become its executive chairman, with the deal leading to Racing Point being rebranded ‘Aston Martin Formula 1 Team’ for 2021. While Aston currently has a title sponsorship with Red Bull, Szafnauer says his F1 team will become much more integrated with the car manufacturer and be a full works outfit.
“It’s significant news for Aston Martin and for Formula 1 itself,” Szafnauer said. “As one of the most iconic sports car brands in the world, Aston Martin needed a presence on the F1 grid and this solution delivers a fully-fledged works Aston Martin F1 Team from 2021 onwards. It’s news that will excite fans around the world and will shine a spotlight on a brand that is widely regarded as Britain’s finest luxury sports car manufacturer.
“It’s certainly provides a real injection of energy for the 465 loyal and hard-working staff in Silverstone. The team has been in business, under various names, for 30 years and is more than ready to become a manufacturer team. Lawrence spoke to the staff last week and set out the clear objective to establish Aston Martin as one of the top teams in the sport. Everyone is proud to represent a legendary car manufacturer returning to the pinnacle of motorsport.”
Explaining the benefits to Aston Martin, Szafnauer says there will be advances made within F1 that will make their way across to the road cars in future.
“Creating a works F1 team achieves a number of objectives for Aston Martin. It delivers a high-profile marketing platform for the road car division, which will enhance commercial appeal in all areas of the business.
“There is also the obvious technical collaboration between the F1 program and the road cars, with F1 technology filtering through to the products Aston Martin launches in the years ahead. This is particularly relevant to the mid-engine philosophy that is just around the corner. The competitive environment of racing is a rich avenue for innovation and the opportunity for technology crossover is incredibly exciting.”
Szafnauer also confirmed that the Racing Point name will completely disappear from F1 after this coming season.
The FIA will be able to outlaw innovations that “destroy the whole principle” of the 2021 regulations almost instantly if one team exploits a loophole, according to Formula 1’s managing director of motorsport, Ross Brawn.
Currently, any changes to the regulations during a season requires the unanimous agreement of all the teams, but with the 2021 rules designed to improve racing, the FIA and Formula 1 have worked closely together to deliver a radical new set of regulations. Both parties have also spent time trying to exploit any weaknesses in the original wording in order to close off as many loopholes as possible, and Brawn explained that there are no measures in place to allow the sport to react quickly if a single team takes advantage in a way that was never intended.
“The governance in the past has been the teams have to all agree to make a change,” Brawn said. “We’re pushing through governance where we can make changes much more on short notice than at the present time.
“If you exploit a loophole in the future, you can be shut down at the next race, which you could never do now. So the Brawn diffuser — as it happens, there were three teams that had it, so it would have carried on — but if one team stands out there with a solution that has never been conceived, and destroys the whole principle of what is trying to be done, the governance would allow, with sufficient support from the other teams, to stop it. This is a whole different philosophy.
“Then what happens is someone who has a loophole thinks, ‘Do I want to use it or do I want to tell the FIA about it as it wasn’t intended?’ You’ve found a loophole in the regulations and you turn up at the first race and the FIA say, ‘Sorry chap, that wasn’t intended, we’re going to hold a meeting now and if everyone agrees, apart from you, we’ll stop it.’”
“A great idea is the exploitation of the regulations within what was intended. If someone comes up with something that was a play on the words, or some interpretation that was never intended, it completely corrupts the principle.
“What is the choice? Either live with it for a year and have something which is not a great competition, or we change it, put it right and get the competition back to where it is.
“Would you take that risk of going into the championship with an interpretation that was risky if you knew it could be stopped? Therefore, the evolution and the way those things will develop will be different. The philosophy would be different.
“What we don’t want — and I say this with some hypocrisy [Brawn’s blown diffuser played a big part in helping the team win both world championships in 2009] — is that we don’t want a championship being won because of the loophole.
“We want people with an understood set of regulations that will be the best at what they do. I think they have to rely on us and the FIA, that we’re not going to penalize someone who has a great idea. That is subjective. But is a great idea the fact that someone put a comma in the wrong place in the regulations which means a lawyer can interpret it in a diverse way? I don’t think it is.”
New Formula 1 circuits are impressive facilities, some taking years to build at huge expense. They tend to require a significant amount of land, and as a result, are usually hidden in locations well outside of major population hubs.
So you’d be forgiven for thinking a street circuit is an easier option in terms of setting up a new race. Roads are already in place, as is the infrastructure around the venue, so you add some curbs, barriers and a pit building, and it’s job done, right?
The 2020 season currently features a record-breaking 22-event calendar that includes two new venues. One is a permanent circuit at Zandvoort being updated to Formula 1 standards, and the other is a new street track in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
In January it was announced that the Hanoi pit building had been completed, marking a major milestone in the track build, but the amount of work that needs to go into other areas of the project might surprise you.
The track length and layout itself changed as late as December – just four months before the inaugural race – when a 23rd turn was added, and as Le Ngoc Chi, CEO of the Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation, explains, development of a new track involves constant liaising with the FIA and Formula 1.
“The track was 5565 meters (3.46 miles) long, and now it’s 5607 meters (3.48 miles),” Chi says. “So it’s official and final, and approved by everyone. Everyone thought that [the extension] will just make a better track. Don’t ask me about the technical details!
“They still try to improve it, and try to make it safer, too. So even to this day, they’re still trying to change a little bit here and a little bit there in terms of the runoff. Obviously they’re not changing the track anymore because the track is completely done, but the runoff areas can still be fixed and revised a little to make it safer.
“The FIA is still asking us to put a bit more fence here, put more Tecpro [barriers] there, add SAFER barriers, just to make sure that it’s 100 percent safe. From the promoter point of view, of course financially that means we have to spend more money, but we are happy to do it because we will do everything to make it safe. That’s the most important thing that we want to deliver, so we don’t mind that at all.
“We are working very closely with the FIA right now to make it perfect in terms of safety, and with the F1 motorsport division to make it attractive, and make it more exciting for the drivers and for the fans.”
While there are ongoing changes and tweaks in order to produce the best possible circuit given the space available, some aspects are fixed. The track surface requirements are incredibly specific: a normal road is unlikely to do the job.
“The building of the asphalt is beyond anything that I’ve done and imagined before,” Chi admits. “It’s not regular asphalt paving like normal roads that you do; it’s just such a complicated and delicate process. For the choosing of the materials, we have to go to all kinds of different mines all over the country, not just one or two, from the north to the south, just so that we can find a mine that produces the quality materials.
When it comes to building an F1 track surface, not all asphalt is created equal. Image via Vietnam Grand Prix
“And in order to know whether it’s quality or not, we have to send off all the samples to different laboratories for tests – in Singapore, in Germany, in Vietnam, all over the place. Throughout the whole country, only one mine actually met with the requirement.
“Then we have to grind it to a certain result because the dimensions have to be a certain size, and then we have to transport it to Hanoi, close to the track, and then we have to build all new plants to produce the aggregate. Then we have to import all the specific machines for it – we cannot even use the ones that we use normally on the regular roads. And then we have to hire all those specialists from abroad to train our people.
“Not only that, when they do the paving, it has to be so specific. Normally for a regular road you can do it piece by piece, but for this we have to do a long stretch because you cannot create a lot of joins. Say, for example, you do one stretch that is one kilometer and then you do the next one, the joint has to be perfectly smooth, and that is also very hard to do.
“Only when you do the paving will you know whether the quality will meet with the requirement or not. So numerous times we have done the paving, and then we have to get them to mill it all up and redo it all over again. It is quite complicated, and a lot harder than the regular roads, but we went through all of that – it took us a while, but we went through all of that – and we got our track completed.
“I think that’s a very good accomplishment on our side, given the fact that we have never done that before. And now we have two newly-built plants with all the sources of materials that we know will meet with the requirements, and we can use that for the coming years. So I’m happy with that, and the fact that our people also know how to do very high level of operating Grade A tracks now.”
That level of detail doesn’t stop with just the paving, as the condition of those streets needs to be strictly maintained ahead of each race. And unless you want a riot on your hands, you can’t close the roads off forever.
For Vietnam GP organizers, the process of ensuring that the country’s first F1 race will meet the required standards has been an eye-opening experience. Image via Vietnam Grand Prix
“For the existing part of the street, in order to do the asphalt, we had to block the streets off,” Chi says. “When we were done, we opened the track for everyone to be able to commute and move around just like normal. We blocked it off for a month and a half. Everyone was not too happy, but when we opened it, it’s so funny… now one side of the street is new and F1 paved asphalt, and the other side is normal, so everyone’s driving on our side and the other side is completely empty!
“So we opened it for everyone to be able to transport on, and it’s the whole point of the street circuit. When we do that, of course we are worried about whether the regular daily traffic is going to create damage on our track. That was my single biggest concern before I opened it. So we have to take so many measures – we have to limit certain big machinery, and we have to refrain from oil leaks from all the machines and vehicles, because apparently oil leaks can dissolve the asphalt.
“So we have a team that patrols the whole track 24/7. First of all, if any machine has oil leak potential, we have to remove them. Or if a leak happens, we have to have all the chemicals to clean it right away. We will have to keep that until the track is open for the event, and make sure that it is perfect for the race.
“Afterwards we will leave it, and then before the next event we will repair it again. I understand now that maintenance is also a lot of work.”
Next up, items such as team buildings and a media centrer will be put in place, before moving on to grandstands that don’t require road closures. The delivery of medical vehicles – imported from Germany – is also being taken and marshals trained, while Chi says “10 zillion other things are going on at the same time in parallel”. But all fans are worried about is seeing an exciting race.
“I definitely learned a lot, even though I don’t know what I’m going to do with all that knowledge later!” she says. “I get to share all the hard work that the construction workers actually have to put in to give us such a nice track.
“When the event happens, people only see all the glamor or excitement, but now I understand the hard work behind all of that. The sweat, tears and all the hard work that people have put in to make it happen, makes me appreciate what we’re doing even more.”
Gene Haas is confident that his team has learned from a difficult 2019 campaign and applied those lessons to its 2020 car, which was unveiled today.
After finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship last year, the Haas Automation founder says he is expecting the team to bounce back from the disappointment to become regular point-scorers.
“We’ve been through a real education process – one that comes to all Formula 1 teams at some stage. I’m trusting we’ve learned from those lessons and have applied that knowledge into making the VF-20 a more competitive entry. It’s important to me that we’re back in the mix and consistently scoring points. We certainly have the capability, and we’ve proved as an organization we can do it.”
Team principal Guenther Steiner also admitted that the new car must provide a clear step forward compared to last season’s effort.
“It’s always exciting to see the development of a new Formula 1 car. Undoubtedly the VF-20 has to deliver where our previous car didn’t,” Steiner said. “With the regulations remaining stable into this season, it’s allowed us to improve our understanding of (last year’s) car and to scrutinize ourselves more in order to find solutions and applications to channel into the design of the VF-20.
“Last year was definitely a setback – one I would never have asked for. But you learn from such situations; we all have. Everybody on the team was forced to look at themselves and what they can do better. I’m looking forward to seeing the VF-20 make its track debut. As always in testing, you want many things, but lots of mileage, reliability and speed would be welcomed as we ready ourselves for the first race in Australia.”
Haas has become the first Formula 1 team to release images of its 2020 car.
Last year, Haas took on a black and gold color scheme as part of its title partnership with Rich Energy, but that deal fell apart during the season. As a result, the team has reverted to the more traditional livery seen in its first three seasons in F1, with a predominantly gray, black and red design that is very similar to its 2018 look.
The new car is called the VF-20, and will be officially launched on the morning of the opening day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, where the team will conduct a photo shoot in the pit lane. Kevin Magnussen will be first to drive the VF-20 in testing, handing over to Romain Grosjean for day two and then splitting the running between both drivers on the final day of the first test.
Alfa Romeo is taking a similar approach to Haas, with an expected digital launch to be followed by a physical unveiling in Barcelona’s pitlane.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says a philosophy change in terms of its new car has made the team better prepared for the new Formula 1 season than it has been in the last five years.
Four consecutive constructors’ championships from 2010-13 preceded a period of Mercedes dominance in the V6 turbo era, with Red Bull unable to mount a year-long challenge at any stage despite taking a number of race wins. Following its split from Renault at the end of 2018, Red Bull impressed with Honda last season and Horner says the team has made a concerted effort to have its new car ready earlier than in the past.
“There have been factors (causing a slow start) in recent years — we always had an engine transition and a front wing change,” Horner said. “We’ve changed our philosophy going into this year, being ready earlier.
He added that the stability of the regulations from last year to this one has also helped that process.
“The only regulation change this year is we’ve gone from eight days of testing to six. Other than that everything else remains the same,” Horner noted. “RB16 is very much an upgrade and evolution of RB15. It is focused on addressing some of its weak spots, and building on its strengths.”
“The team is really eager to go toe to toe with particularly Mercedes, and take that challenge to them, because it’s on those days that teamwork really counts — whether it’s world record pit stops, whether it’s getting the strategy right, reliability is going to be crucial…
“Of course the big factor for us to enable us to mount a challenge has been the power unit as well. Honda did such a great job in each introduction of an engine last year, bringing more performance, more power, and it feels where we’re getting very, very close now to Mercedes. And that then puts the emphasis on the team to come up with the right chassis. We know we’ve got the drivers to get the job done.
“So, going into this year we feel better prepared earlier than we have, certainly in the last five years.”
Mercedes has made a number of improvements to its Formula 1 power unit over the winter but is “fighting a few little issues” as it prepares for pre-season testing.
The offseason is a key time for power unit development as teams are limited in the number of components they can use during a season. Only two upgrades to the internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H are possible before penalties are handed out, but development is unrestricted with the launch specification, and Andy Cowell — who is managing director of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) — says there are still problems to resolve ahead of the launch of the W11 next Friday.
“So, lot’s of work going into building the right spec, getting it long run (on the engine dyno) and then providing the power units to the (customer) teams so that they can fire up their cars and then getting the hardware to go track testing for the car launch on February 14. And then off to Barcelona with three cars hopefully pounding ’round the track. Just six days of track testing, though, before we’re off to Melbourne.
“And with the race pool, a huge number of those parts are already made, assemblies going together and (we’ve got) the challenge of getting everything to the other side of the world. So, a busy time chasing bits of performance, getting the reliability there and getting a huge amount of hardware together and getting it to the other side of the world.”
As well as the works team, Mercedes currently supplies both Racing Point and Williams with power units, so HPP will receive data from three cars during pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Max Verstappen has called on Red Bull to get within 0.2s of Mercedes at the start of the new Formula 1 season to allow him to put pressure on Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes started 2019 in dominant fashion and won the first eight races of the season, finishing one-two in the opening five rounds. Red Bull ended that run with Verstappen’s victory in Austria and he went on to win twice more – in Germany and Brazil – but was unable to mount a serious title challenge. With Hamilton going for his seventh drivers’ championship, Verstappen says he wants to put pressure on the Briton, and believes Red Bull needs to be within 0.2s for him to be able to do that.
“Of course I would like to start there, because then it’s really on. I’m looking forward to it, because I know that when everything is good together, then as a team under pressure situations – like in Brazil for example, or other difficult races like Germany – you can see that the team is really excelling compared to the others. So I’m also looking forward to when we get that fight and we are really close, then I’m pretty sure that we can be the better [team].”
Verstappen signed a new long-term deal at Red Bull over the winter and the 22-year-old said it was important to ensure that there were no distractions within the team that can be caused by an ongoing contract saga. Hamilton has said he’s yet to start talks with Mercedes.
“I always felt very comfortable in the team, and never really wanted to rush anything because there was no need,” Verstappen said. “I think it all went very quickly, so for me last year I never really thought about it too much and then we sorted it over the winter time.
“I think it’s also a good thing because it takes away any doubts. There are no question marks anymore. When you go into a season when your contract is up at the end of the year, at one point it is going to maybe be a little bit awkward towards the next car a year after. So I didn’t want to have any of that.
“For me, this is the right place. I feel really good in the team, there are a lot of good people in the team and I obviously see the motivation and hunger to fight for victories and a championship.”
Red Bull has become the final team to confirm its launch plans for the 2020 Formula 1 season, with the RB16 set to be revealed on February 12.
Christian Horner’s team will shake down the new car at Silverstone next Wednesday, with a digital launch of the new car happening simultaneously in what will be just the second unveiling of the new season. Ferrari will go first on February 11, with the new Red Bull expected to appear on the morning of February 12 before Renault carries out a launch event later that afternoon in Paris.
“And let’s not forget that’s the reigning world champions,” Horner said. “So they would go into the season very much as the favorites. But I think the stability across all areas – with the drivers and the technical staff – we built momentum in the second half of last year and I think that we’re in a very good place to really take the fight to them this season.”
Red Bull is carrying out a similar launch plan to Mercedes, which will also carry out a shakedown at Silverstone on February 14 and simultaneously release images of its 2020 car. Pre-season testing gets underway in Barcelona on February 19, with a reduction to just six days in total ahead of the first race in Australia.
Formula 1 teams will have to start rotating staff members if the calendar expands any further, according to AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost.
The additions of new races in the Netherlands and Vietnam — coupled with only the German Grand Prix not remaining on the schedule from last year — means a record 22 races will be held in 2020. While FIA president Jean Todt recently drew criticism for comments regarding the privileged position that employees working in F1 have despite the growing calendar, Tost has regularly backed more races, and despite not yet feeling the need to take action he says a limit has been reached.
“No, we haven’t made changes (to deal with 22 races), it’s just one race more than last year,” Tost told RACER. “From the timeframe it’s nearly the same as last year, we start in March and the last race is at the end of November — there’s not a big change. In 2019 we started the season on the 17th of March and ended it on the 1st of December, and in 2020 we start on the 15th of March and the last race is on the 29th of November. There’s not a big difference.
“There’s one race more during the season, but we do not need to change people on a rotating basis. I think 22 is now the absolute limit. If we have more races in future then I think teams have to rotate people — mechanics, engineers — because otherwise it’s too much for them.”
One reason Tost is reluctant to make changes is because he wants to encourage stability at the former Toro Rosso team, having seen strong results in the second half of 2019.
“We’ve got a good team together now in Bicester in our aerodynamics department, and from the mechanical side we get the front and the rear suspension from Red Bull Technology — although it’s always one year older but nevertheless it’s much better than if we had to develop it by ourselves.
“It’s not that we have one totally weak area, but to be competitive in Formula 1 you have to improve everywhere. It starts in the design office, bringing the car to the starting grid hopefully underweight so that you have some more possibilities with the weight distribution; then the parts that are being designed and then manufactured in a way that you see there’s some progress, especially for aerodynamics; then from the operational side the race team, the pit stops should become better; and then from the race strategy I think we most often took the right decisions.
“We need to improve everywhere a little bit, just to make another step forward. If all the departments improve their work and come up with better solutions then in the end you have a good complete package together to be competitive and beat the others.”
Formula 1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey says the sport is “in the final stages” of finalizing its new commercial agreements.
The current agreements between F1, the teams and the FIA are due to expire at the end of 2020, with Liberty Media keen to change the revenue distribution that currently sees a number of teams rewarded for their historical performance in the sport, as well as Ferrari gaining a further bonus as the oldest team. Echoing comments made in Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, Carey believes negotiations are close to conclusion, and says they need to help bring the field closer together.
“We’re in the final stages of it,” Carey was quoted as saying by Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We have elements of the future resolved. We’ve had the rules, regulations, the cost cap, those things have been resolved.
“The underdog has to have a chance to win. Ultimately this season (2019) you really had three teams that were competing to win.”
F1 has already announced a number of new regulations for 2021 onwards, including a budget cap at $175m per season, with certain exceptions. Carey has previously admitted there will have to be compromises made in all aspects of any changes and admits the already agreed regulations were always going to receive some opposition.
“The nature of this process is you’re not going to get a unanimous view on anything. You had divergent views and what you try to do is have an honest engagement, take all those views into a camp and then decide what’s right for the sport. And there’s going to be things people like and things people don’t.
“But you’re always going to have a divergent set of priorities. What we have took time, and why it took time to get there … it (was) an opportunity for teams to debate why we agree or disagree, for us to build — which we built — with the FIA, the expertise, to be thoughtful about what we’re doing, and I think that’s what we achieved.
“We don’t delude ourselves that we’re trying to get to a place where everyone agrees with every component of what we put out there, and that’s what compromises are.”
Racing Point has confirmed that its 2020 car will launch on February 17 in Austria but says the new design will not be a significant change from its predecessor, despite new financial freedom during its development.
Financial trouble led to the former Force India team entering administration and being rebranded Racing Point after being taken over by a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll. While extra resources were instantly available, team principal Otmar Szafnauer says this year’s car is the first that will be fully developed with those finances but that doesn’t mean the car will be radically different.
“It’s not a clean slate because the regulations haven’t changed,” Szafnauer told RACER. “We started on the 2020 car in earnest in July, so hopefully that switch over quite early will help us, but it is a continuation.
“The regulations don’t change, so I don’t know if that helps or hurts us, but we have to just develop at a quicker rate over the winter than some of our midfield competitors — that’s going to be the trick. But I think we did that over the latter half of 2019, so if that continues then we should be in good shape.”
“The positive thing is the beginning-of-the-year car was developed in our financial troubles; the rest of the year when we were starting to update it was with our new financial structure, so we had enough money to improve the car.
“The nice thing is, although it was very, very tight in the midfield, in Abu Dhabi we were best of the rest. So the last race of the year, Checo (Perez) finished seventh, best of the rest, everyone ahead of Checo was in a top three team. That gives me hope and encouragement for 2020.”
The new Racing Point car will be unveiled at the headquarters of sponsor BWT in Austria on February 17, two days before the start of pre-season testing. That follows confirmed launches for Ferrari in Italy on February 11, Renault in Paris the following day, McLaren at its Woking headquarters on February 13 and both Mercedes and AlphaTauri — the latter also in Austria — on February 14.
The departure of Bernie Ecclestone was a seismic shift in Formula 1’s history, yet the confirmation that one of his successors will step down at the end of this month barely registers.
F1 has announced January will be Sean Bratches’ final month working in his role of managing director of commercial operations, confirming a story that we broke on RACER in October. In doing so, the sport is losing one of the main figures who took over the reins from Ecclestone, with Bratches having formed a three-man team alongside managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn and chairman and CEO Chase Carey.
On the face of it, little has changed in the sport. The same teams still race, at the same venues, at roughly the same time of the year. People moan about Pirelli and a two-tier championship, and Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton still win.
But Bratches wasn’t asked to change all of that. So just how should we view the American’s time in his role?
Firstly, we shouldn’t judge it against Ecclestone’s influence, as Carey’s role is much closer to what Bernie used to do. It was a new approach, and Bratches had the freedom to learn on a new job, but also had the unenviable task of instigating potentially major change after decades of ‘the way it was always done’.
The floodgates were opened by Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport, with a basically non-existent commercial arm being injected with huge levels of investment. There were so many potential opportunities to take on that it appeared resource was allocated to every single one, in the hope that some would work out.
Some did, some didn’t, and others haven’t yet but still might.
Bratches has largely been true to his word, when you can understand what those words are. He had a tendency to speak in jargon, sometimes saying a lot but not actually saying anything at all, and at others showing up a lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) from those of us trying to report what he was saying.
From the start he saw fresh opportunities for the sport and was willing to try and exploit as many as possible – such as eSports, podcasting and fantasy gaming – whether their potential returns were massive or minimal.
F1 wants to race in destination cities, but understanding how difficult such deals were to clinch, Bratches took the sport to some of the venues through the roadshow events. They weren’t all fruitful, but in major markets they represented a concerted attempt to put the sport in front of more people.
Perhaps the standout success has been the Netflix documentary Drive to Survive. The reach to so many new viewers who then turned more of their attention to the sport was so good that even Ferrari and Mercedes had to get involved after having initially dug their heels in.
Race promoters highlight the series as having a significant impact on their ticket sales and interest from fans – both new, and ones that had fallen out of love with the sport – and on top of the added exposure, the teams even got a little bit more revenue, too.
F1’s digital offering has been a massive improvement as well. Sure, the almost complete lack of social media usage prior to 2017 meant there was enormous potential for growth in this department, but while figures have relatively easily rocketed, the quality of the output on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that has fueled those increases has been impressive. It has also allowed teams a much greater freedom to tell their own stories.
But not every new venture has worked so well. The F1 TV over-the-top service has been a poor product, riddled with problems. That said, OTT is exactly what a major global sport should have, even if it risked upsetting the traditional broadcasters who were comfortable with the way things were (see also: Netflix). Regardless, it should have been of much higher quality. It also played a part in the ESPN television deal that doesn’t rake in the big bucks, although has resulted in higher audiences.
And while F1 TV goes down as a missed opportunity so far, there have also been obvious failings. Bratches – in charge of commercial operations – has failed to use any of the above to secure a new major global sponsor. In terms of races, Vietnam and Zandvoort are welcome additions in capitalizing on where there’s currently money, but a flagship new event in the United States remains a void that has yet to be filled.
Overall, the sport is in a better position on a number of fronts than when Bratches (and Carey and Brawn) started work. It probably hasn’t advanced as far as any of them would have liked, and there were bold claims that currently remain unsubstantiated, but it has taken steps in the right direction in a number of previously under-exploited areas.
Put it another way: Under Ecclestone’s stewardship, for all the good things he did, how much of the above would have even been attempted?
It’s perhaps too easy to simply say Bratches could have done better – of course he could – but the sport did develop on the commercial front. The next few years will show whether he built a strong platform for F1 to grow from, or if it was an inefficient use of the opportunities available that will need further design changes.
With Carey now taking on the majority of the responsibility that Bratches had, the next step has to be a greater success rate as Liberty learns from its experience so far.
Nicholas Latifi will race with the No.6 in Formula 1, utilizing 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg’s former number.
Rosberg used No.6 until winning the drivers’ championship, whereupon he immediately retired from the sport and therefore never chose between retaining the number or running No.1 the following year. Driver numbers become available again after two consecutive seasons of non-use, and Canadian rookie Latifi has made his pick based on his upbringing.
“Toronto is widely referred to as ‘The 6’, which is partly down to Drake, who’s also from Toronto. He mentions the name in one of his early songs, and one of his albums was originally called ‘Views from the 6’.
“Other 6 links are that Toronto was one divided into six districts, and that the two telephone area codes for Toronto start or finish with a six.
“For all these reasons the name has just stuck; anyone who’s from North America knows what ‘The 6’ is – especially if they listen to Drake…
“It also happens to be the number I used for three out of my four seasons in Formula 2. Although that was more by chance, as DAMS was given 5 and 6 because of the finishing positions in the championship. But as soon as we had those numbers, I knew immediately which one I wanted!”
Latifi will make his F1 debut for Williams this season alongside George Russell, earning a promotion to a race seat after finishing as runner-up to Nyck de Vries in last year’s Formula 2 championship.
Formula 1’s 10 teams voted to keep the 2019 Pirelli tires for the coming season because the new compounds would have required them to make last-minute car modifications.
The post-season Abu Dhabi tire test in early December gave all of the teams the opportunity to run the 2020 compounds for two days, but following that test they voted unanimously to keep the 2019-spec rubber for the new season. Pirelli head of car racing Mario Isola says that decision was not down to the tires not performing as expected, but rather a combination of factors with teams juggling new cars and major regulation changes in 2021.
“First of all, the test in Abu Dhabi was a representative test,” Isola told RACER. “It was a good test in a condition that was very similar to the race weekend, so you know that the track is representative enough – I’m not complaining about the quality of the test in Abu Dhabi.
“During the test it was clear that the 2020 tires had some positives, but the improvement of some of the aspects was not perceived during the test in Abu Dhabi, for a number of reasons – I’m not here to discuss the reasons, but that is the reality.
“It was very late in the year in a period in which all the teams were over-stressed about the design of the 2020 car, the design of the 2021 car – they started [on 2021] during the 2019 season, when they were [still] working on [improving] the 2019 car – so actually they had three projects running at the same time, and they had to delegate their resources to the three projects.
“Obviously when we discussed it after the test – because I had a lot of meetings and chats with the teams to understand their feedback – the feedback was not negative. It was, ‘we are very late in the year, because of the new construction that has different characteristics and a different profile compared to the old one, we need to make modifications to the 2020 car. The 2020 car is 95% finalized so we don’t want to change it again, we prefer to stay on the 2019 tires’.”
According to Isola, the decision should be viewed as a vindication of the work Pirelli did with last season’s tires, rather than any failure with the 2020 compounds.
“The fact that they say they prefer to stay on the 2019 tires also means that the 2019 tires work well. After the beginning of last season when there were some complaints and some discussion and we also got to the vote in Austria to return to the 2018 tires, I said ‘Wait a second, there is a learning curve every year which at the beginning you struggle a little bit to understand the tires but then everybody understands the tires and we can work on the current tires’, because all the indications on the 2019 tires were positive compared to the 2018.
“Less blistering – much less blistering – less overheating, compounds that were spaced in the right way in terms of delta lap time, not seven but five compounds that is a reasonable number, so in terms of integrity the product was perfect. No issues with the 2019 tire means we can continue with the same product for another year.”
The bubble well and truly burst for Haas in 2019, when the team finally faced its first genuinely troublesome season.
Its first year in Formula 1 only yielded eighth in the constructors’ championship, but that result – and the 29 points that came along with it – was far more than any other new entrant in the modern era had ever dreamed of. Manor, Caterham and HRT went to the wall with a grand total of three points between them.
Year two in 2017 was a step forward in both competitiveness and points even if the final finishing position was the same, and then 2018 was pretty spectacular for a three-year-old team. With nearly 100 points and fifth in the constructors’ championship, Haas definitely looked to be making the most out of its Ferrari-linked business model.
But last year verged on disastrous. There was clearly underlying pace in the car, but that wasn’t being exploited most of the time. Tire issues were initially used as an excuse until it became clear that the team was struggling to develop the car and get it working consistently. 28 points and P9 was the worst return from its four seasons in F1 to date.
On the one hand, the fact that Haas is only four years old should act as a form of dispensation for last year’s woes. After all, it was still racing with and often beating teams that have been around for at least a decade, and the fact that there was raw performance is one of the reasons the year retained a tinge of optimism within all the frustration.
But on the other hand, as the aforementioned examples of Manor, Caterham and HRT can attest, the newest team on the grid is almost always the most vulnerable. Sure, there is a different business model in place at Haas to any of those three, but at the end of the day it still comes down to whether those putting the money in feel they are getting value.
Grosjean’s fourth in Austria was the high point of Haas F1’s stellar 2018 campaign, but the team’s form dipped considerably last year. Image by Hone/LAT
Gene Haas has always appeared a little annoyed by the lay of the land in F1. He is a racer at heart – it’s why Guenther Steiner is able to run the team in the no-nonsense manner that he does – but as a racer, the Haas team owner wants to be competing on a level playing field. He gets to do that to a much greater degree in NASCAR than he does in F1.
The predominant reason for Haas entering F1 was to increase the global awareness of the Haas Automation brand, and in many ways you could argue that results aren’t needed to do that. The better the results, the more likely people are to know your product, but simply being one of the 10 teams on the grid does a lot of the heavy lifting from an exposure standpoint anyway.
So when you end up in a situation where you’ve already invested hundreds of millions of dollars and had the exposure that comes with that, but then find you’re getting diminishing returns as the team’s trajectory tails off, what do you do?
That’s surely a thought that has been crossing Haas’s mind over the past 12 months. Was 2019 just a blip, or is Haas going to settle into a back-of-the-midfield position? Either way, he now sees just how much return his brand gets from its investment in F1, and it’s an investment that has probably lessened for 2020 given the Rich Energy debacle and associated loss of revenue, on top of a lower championship finishing position (and a further loss of revenue).
So the coming year is likely to be crucial for Haas’s future on a number of fronts. Struggle, and the owner is going to be inclined to think 2019 was less of an anomaly and more a sign of a slide from that fifth-place peak. If that’s the case, is it worth still investing so much money? If not, does he restructure the team to try and attract more income, when its fingers were so recently badly burned by a title sponsor?
Gene Haas has already succeeded in gaining more exposure for his Haas Automation brand. Image by Hone/LAT
But even good results might not signal security. F1 is going through a period of transition, especially in terms of the 2021 regulations. If ever there was a time to be seriously considering your future in the sport, now is it.
Haas will want to be more satisfied with the next set of commercial agreements than the current ones, given the unexpected fight he faced to get a solid slice of the revenues as a new constructor. The budget cap certainly helps to give midfield teams a sense that they will have a much better chance to fight at the front in the coming years, but we’re still talking an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars just to reach that point, and it has to be worth it.
The resource restrictions also change the landscape in terms of the different business models of the teams. Claire Williams has been happy to state that her team is a big fan of the new regulations because it is so keen to remain a full constructor, rather than seeking to align itself closely with a bigger outfit.
If the new regulations dilute the advantage Haas can get from being so close to Ferrari and makes it more of a necessity to have greater independence, then such a change of model could cause a rethink of its participation. Once again, it will all come down to whether the American sees value for money.
And now is going to be the time that Haas is weighing all of the options up. Work has already started on 2021 designs, and it is set to be an expensive season for all involved in F1: an expense that you are only going to properly commit to if you see a long-term future in the sport. Hedging your bets at this stage would still cost money, but also likely hurt competitiveness from the start of the new regulations.
Of course, Haas might believe he still gets plenty in return for his investment, but the racer inside him will surely want that to come hand-in-hand with on-track success rather than simply making up the numbers and scraping around at the back of the midfield. So starting strongly and putting 2019 behind the team as quickly as possible could be worth a lot more than just championship points this year.
Franz Tost informed Red Bull of Alex Albon’s as early as pre-season testing last year, months before the rookie was promoted in the summer break.
Albon’s first time in a Formula 1 car came with Toro Rosso in Barcelona last February, and although he slid into the gravel early on, he impressed his new boss. After a strong first half of the year and with Pierre Gasly struggling, Red Bull took the decision to promote Albon in August, and Tost – who’s team will be re-named Alpha Tauri this year – told RACER he had been immediately convinced of Albon’s talent.
“He came to Australia, which is not an easy race, and didn’t score points, but in the second race in Bahrain he finished in ninth position, scored two points and this showed his potential. Furthermore, Red Bull observed him and then they decided to swap the drivers.”
Asked if he was giving Red Bull the same feedback directly as well as praising Albon in the media, Tost replied: “Yes, of course.
“We are always talking together – Helmut (Marko), Christian (Horner) and myself – discussing different drivers. I said from the beginning onwards during the testing in Barcelona that he really shows a good performance.”
Now, Albon is paired with a proven race-winner in Max Verstappen and yet to score a podium himself, and Tost says Red Bull needs to give the 23-year-old time while also urging him to not focus on his team-mate too much.
“He’s in his second season, and I always say that it takes three seasons minimum until a driver understands Formula 1,” he said.
“If you then have a driver alongside you like Max Verstappen, it’s on one hand very positive, because you can see where you gain time and where you lose time. But on the other hand, if he’s so fast it could be quite frustrating sometimes if you cannot match him. Alex should just concentrate on himself, he should learn, and then he will do it his way.”
The second season of W Series will expand the open-wheel championship for female racers beyond Europe, with a pair of races supporting Formula 1 grands prix in the United States and Mexico this fall.
W Series will race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, October 24, and at Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez in the capital, Mexico City, on Saturday October 31. The two F1 support races will provide a championship-deciding doubleheader on consecutive weekends to conclude the eight-round 2020 W Series championship.
“We at W Series are absolutely delighted that, in only our second season, our championship has been welcomed by Formula 1, and we’re utterly thrilled that the final two races of the 2020 W Series season will therefore take place as part of the Formula 1 platform,” said series CEO Catherine Bond Muir. “Our two all-new races will follow six races on the DTM platform, making a very varied, extremely exciting and truly international eight-race championship, in eight countries across the globe. I’m particularly pleased that W Series will now stage races outside Europe, and the USA and Mexico are of course both very important new territories for us.
“Interest in and enthusiasm for W Series was enormous in our first season, 2019, among media and fans alike, and the addition of two all-new W Series races on the Formula 1 platform will inevitably increase that enthusiasm and interest. Commercially, too, following the successful recent announcement of W Series’ new multi-year sponsor-partnership with ROKiT Phones, the fact that W Series will be even bigger and even better in 2020 than it was in 2019 will make the return on investment for our future sponsor-partners better and bigger, too.”
Ross Brawn, Managing Director, Motorsport for Formula 1, said the addition of W Series is aimed at demonstrating F1’s commitment to improving diversity in driving talent.
“In just one year, W Series has contributed significantly to increasing interest in the topic of diversity and inclusion in motorsport,” Brawn said. “We are convinced that our sport must offer equal opportunities for men and women to compete together — it is no coincidence that improving the diversity of the F1 grid by supporting and promoting driver talent from under-represented backgrounds is one of our strategic objectives.
“The ability for the great crowds who traditionally attend the Austin and Mexico City Grands Prix to see these talented female drivers up close will definitely further raise the awareness of the importance of inclusion and diversity in motorsport.”
The full 2020 W Series championship calendar is as follows:
St. Petersburg, Russia, May 30 Anderstorp, Sweden, June 13 Monza, Italy, June 27 Norisring, Germany, July 11 Brands Hatch, UK, Aug. 23 Assen, Netherlands, Sept. 5 Austin, Texas, Oct. 24 Mexico City, Mexico, Oct. 31
Honda is excited by the potential Toro Rosso has shown over the two years of its partnership so far, ahead of the team’s first season racing as Alpha Tauri.
The junior Red Bull team was first to partner with Honda following the Japanese manufacturer’s split from McLaren, and its work in 2018 was crucial in Red Bull then also making the switch last year. While Red Bull’s three victories were the headline results, Toro Rosso also had the most successful season in its history in 2019, and Honda technical director Toyoharu Tanabe believes there can be further progress as the power unit supplier improves its way of working with two teams.
“I’m basically satisfied with the two-team support for (2019). It was challenging, of course, then more staff here, more PUs here. So far everything went reasonably well for both teams. I asked the people, engineers and the mechanics here, what can we do for next year? So please review what we did this year, what was a concern? What was a problem? In terms of the trackside (operations), the management, I asked them to make a list and then discuss it internally, discuss with R&D, and then bring ideas for next year. That’s what I asked them.”
Honda supplied two teams last season for the first time since its return to F1 in 2015, and Tanabe said the concept of mixing experienced staff with new members across both Red Bull and Toro Rosso worked well.
“We support two teams equally, of course PU specification, everything equal,” he said.
“And then the number of engineers and mechanics was equal, the scale also equal, so when we started (2019), some people from the previous year moved to Red Bull, some were new to Toro Rosso. So we mixed the (experienced) people and then made our support level the same. We’ll keep the same style for next year. Not only next year – always!”
Alfa Romeo needs to find more consistency this season and avoid the big performance swings it saw in 2019, according to team principal Frederic Vasseur.
The Sauber-run team started last season strongly and was often in the mix at the front of the midfield, where Kimi Raikkonen finished in the top eight in five of the first 12 races. But there were also races where the team struggled to pick up points, and its only score in the final six rounds was the excellent 22-point return when both cars finished in the top five in Brazil. Vasseur wants Alfa Romeo to maximize its potential on a more regular basis.
“We have to sit down and really think about it because overall performance was OK but we still had too many missed opportunities during the season.”
If the inconsistency is a source of frustration for Vasseur, he doesn’t want it to completely overshadow the more positive aspects of the team’s season, seeing a much more competitive car on the whole than it had in the previous year.
“I think that we made a good step forward compared to 2018 in terms of general performance. It’s clear, it was something like 4.5% but perhaps it’s not enough. We want to get more, but one thing is the pace, the other one is the points. Let’s see I think it’s a good base for 2020.”
But when pushed on whether Alfa Romeo will be developing a 2020 car as an evolution of the previous one, Vasseur added: “We will do a completely new car, a completely new (concept).”