Mercedes fired up but expect difficulties in Baku
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says the team is “more determined and fired-up than ever” to bounce back at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix following its worst race of the year in Monaco.
The German manufacturer had a difficult weekend in Monte Carlo where they struggled for competitiveness with Sir Lewis Hamilton only able to take seventh while Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from second thanks to a botched pit stop.
Mercedes’ dramatic weekend and victory for Max Verstappen, meant that Red Bull moved to the top of both world championships for the first time during the V6 hybrid era. Red Bull currently has a one-point lead in the constructors while, Verstappen leads Hamilton by four points.
Wolff told Crash.net, “Weekends like Monaco are the ones that keep you coming back for more. Nothing comes easy in this sport, and that’s why we love it. We know that if you are not at, or close to, 100% then it will bite you.”
“On Monday morning I saw the same energy as when we returned from the Bahrain test and that pleases me. We dissected the weekend, asked hard questions of ourselves, and learned some crucial lessons. I wish we could have been back racing last weekend.”
The Mercedes boss however is expecting Baku to favour Red Bull but says the team is determined to recover from the misery of Monaco with a strong showing. He explained that street circuits are not particularly suiting of the characteristics of the cars.
Wolff is expecting that Red Bull will be strong again, with the focus for Mercedes being on exploiting the opportunities at circuits where they aren’t as strong. He again underlined the expectation of a swing back and forth between Mercedes and Red Bull throughout the season.
Despite arriving in Baku off the back of its second victory from the opening five races, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stressed his side is under no illusions that Mercedes will “bounce back hard”.
Adding “I think Azerbaijan is a very different kind of street circuit to Monaco. Very, very long straights. It’s been a very strong track for Mercedes in the past so we are not under any illusions that I am sure they’re going to bounce back hard there.”
Verstappen braced for Mercedes bounce back
Max Verstappen believes that Mercedes will bounce back in Baku following the teams disappointing weekend in Monaco. The Dutchman took the lead in the driver’s championship after the German manufacturer struggled for pace, and a wheel nut failure led to Valtteri Bottas retiring.
Despite Mercedes’ difficulties on the streets of Monte Carlo, Verstappen believes it will fare better in Baku. He told Crash.net, “The track is OK but probably not a favourite of mine if I’m honest. I’ve never been on the podium there so it’s time to change that. Let’s see how competitive we are, I do expect Mercedes to come back strong there though.”
While Verstappen and Red Bull have taken the lead in both the drivers and constructors championship, he isn’t getting carried away. He has never been on the podium in Monaco, saying his victory was very nice, but while he has the lead in the championship they need to be there at the final race.
Russell feels ready for Mercedes drive
George Russell says he, Mercedes and Williams all want his future decided before the summer break. The Englishman has been heavily linked to replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year after his stunning stand-in performance in last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix when Sir Lewis Hamilton missed the race after catching coronavirus.
The debate appears to be whether Hamilton will leave Mercedes if he wins his eighth title, although he has indicated he wants to continue beyond this year, or replaces Valtteri Bottas. All three drivers currently don’t have contracts beyond the end of the season.
Hamilton has also said “it would be great to get something in place before the break” about continuing with Mercedes beyond this year. Speaking to Motorsport.com, Russell said: “I think, naturally, we all want something decided either way by the summer break, really. I think it’s in everybody’s best interests.”
“But to be honest, I’m really not pushing the subject with anybody really, with Mercedes, with Williams. Because I am purely just focused on my job here. And I know that, as I’ve always said, if I perform to my potential [that I] believe I’m capable of, you’re putting yourself in the shop window.”
Russell believes that the race in Sakhir gave him the chance to prove himself, believing that it was a race where he proved his potential. He also says that he is not really pushing the subject and was enjoying every single race and says that Hamilton was still performing at an incredibly high level.
When asked if a decision “either way” meant there was a simple choice to be made between Russell joining Mercedes for 2022 or remaining with Williams for a fourth successive season, he replied: “I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of talk about a promotion to, or ‘a move’, I should say, to Mercedes.”
He said that Mercedes manages his career and they want what’s best for him, if they believe he deserves the opportunity he will be there. If not, they will find him find him another seat, but added “I feel like I’m ready to fight for world championships and fight for victories.”
Ilott believes he is in a good position to get into F1
Callum Ilott believes that he is in a “very good position” to step into F1 if the opportunity arises, despite not racing in single-seaters this year. The Englishman finished second in F2 last season, but was unable to get a seat in F1, instead becoming test and reserve driver for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.
He is also racing in sportscars with the Ferrari-backed Iron Lynx squad in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup alongside his F1 duties. Despite three of his rivals last season Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin making it into F1, Ilott remains confident that he can get a place in F1.
He told Motorsport.com, “Yuki made a great impression in Bahrain – it was really good to watch, actually. So from that side, it was a good benchmark to say, ‘look, here’s what one guy can do’. With Mick, we all know that he takes a bit of time to get there. But once he’s there, he will be good. And you can already see the pace is getting better.”
“I think they’re doing a good job, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the reference is even closer. And it’s easier for me to say, ‘well, I was in the middle of these two guys!’” Ilott believes he is in a very good position to get a seat, pointing out that other drivers have proved that you can take time out of single-seaters and return.
He says that the reason why he was left without a seat in F2 was that when Ferrari were making the decisions on placing its drivers for 2021 many of the teams had already decided on their driver line ups. Saying “it’s not so easy to then change teams again and be in another unfamiliar environment.”
“I finished second in the championship with five poles and three wins. I was as close as you were going to get to winning it – not that you don’t want to take that risk.”
Ilott says that he loves the F2 format, but there was one place better that he could go.
Norris can have a strong weekend in Baku
Carlos Sainz believes that his former teammate Lando Norris and McLaren to come back strong this weekend in Baku after being outpaced in Monaco. Ahead of the last race in Monaco, Norris texted Sainz saying the Spaniard had a good chance to win the race, based on Ferrari’s excellent low-speed corner performance.
Ferrari had their strongest weekend since 2019, with Charles Leclerc taking pole while the Spaniard finishing second taking his first podium for Ferrari. McLaren managed to mitigate the points loss to its competitor for third in the constructors’ championship with a third-place for Norris.
The fight now heads to the streets of Baku, which Sainz expects will be a strong circuit for Mercedes-powered McLaren because of its long straights.
Sainz told Motorsport.com, “I said before going into [last race] weekend, Monaco would be a good reference for me to know how confident I am in the new car, the new team and to be honest, I was feeling really at home since FP1, so I’ve been faster.”
“Going into Baku I think that we’re not going to be the best on that long straight but at the same time if we can make the time back on the on the tight part then, then we should be okay. I think the one who now should be excited about Baku is my friend Lando Norris.”
Sainz says that this year McLaren is a rocket on the straight and last year the car was not bad on the straight. He also pointed out in Monaco Norris had put himself in a position to win the race, which could be in again in Baku.
When asked about Sainz’ comments, Norris said McLaren had tanked some confidence in Monaco after struggling in Barcelona, but he didn’t want to head to Baku with too many expectations.
Saying, “We’ll see, these guys are quick in the straights. You need good straight-line speed, you need good confidence on the brakes with that kind of low downforce. In Barcelona, we struggled a lot and I think a bit of that is why we were thinking we were not going to be competitive [in Monaco].”
Sainz says Ferrari are still learning the car even though it’s pretty similar to last year, the small changes to the car can affect the car.
Ocon leaving contract talks to his management
Esteban Ocon says he is leaving the talks about renewing his contract with Alpine to his management but is flattered that the team is eager to keep him beyond 2021. The Frenchman has been one of the outstanding performers, leading the manufacturers charge as teammate Fernando Alonso continues to get back up to speed after returning to the sport.
Ocon’s performance has earned him praise in the paddock with Alpine already looking to renew the deal, with his current contract to due to expire at the end of the season. Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi said Ocon was “doing everything to make me consider keeping him in the team”, and that he was not considering any outside drivers for the 2022 seat.
Speaking about those comments Ocon told Motorsport.com, he was flattered to have read those comments but was keeping his head down and focusing on his own performance, leaving contract talks to his management. Saying “It’s always very praising, and I’ve seen the article from you guys. It’s always nice to get good words from your team boss.”
“At the moment I’m just focusing on doing the job I have to do on the track, which is to perform in the car, extracting the maximum out of it, thinking what we can do to improve things. As long as I’m doing that well, hopefully, things will go well for me. So we will see.”
Ocon says for the moment he is focusing on doing his job on track while his management is resolving his contract.
His management affairs are looked after by Mercedes, whose junior programme he signed for in 2016. He made his F1 debut later that year with Manor before a two-season stint at Force India.
The Frenchman was linked with a Mercedes seat for the 2020 season, only for the team to retain Valtteri Bottas, allowing Renault to snap him up on a two-year deal.
Sauber working to extend deal with Alfa Romeo
Sauber is working with Stellantis to extend its Alfa Romeo support and backing beyond the end of its existing deal in 2021. The Italian manufacturer became the title sponsor of the team in 2018 before the partnership was expanded and saw the team renamed itself the following season.
In October last year the deal was extended to 2021, however team principal Fred Vasseur is hopeful of continuing the partnership long-term. The Alfa Romeo brand is now part of the Stellantis group, created by the merger between Fiat-Chrysler owner of Alfa Romeo and Ferrari and PSA Group.
Vasseur told Motorsport Italy, “I think that we have a very good and positive discussion with them to extend the contract, and I hope that we will be [continuing]. They have to reorganise a little bit the situation on their side [after the merger], but I am quite happy and quite positive with the last declaration of Stellantis about the brand Alfa Romeo.”
“They want to be very supportive, and I think Alfa Romeo the brand is a huge asset for the group. It is a huge asset for F1 also at the end, because it’s an iconic brand, that [was] in F1 from the beginning.”
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares revealed in May that the group was committed to continuing its investment in Alfa Romeo for the next decade despite having fourteen brands now under its umbrella. In January it was reported that the team was going to continue its partnership with Ferrari, ending suggestions it could become a Renault partner team.
Outside of F1, the partnership has seen Alfa Romeo harness Sauber Engineering’s technical abilities to assist its road car design with models such as the Giulia GTA and GTAm.