F1 Today – Saudi Arabian Prixview – 02/12/2021

F1 Today

Hamilton “not comfortable” with Jeddah

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that he doesn’t feel overly “comfortable” about racing in Saudi Arabia due to the country’s human rights record, ahead of its Grand Prix. Since the race was announced last year, the race has been criticised by human rights groups.

In a letter from Human Rights Watch, the organisation express its concerns over what it calls “a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator”.

The report issued by HRW, which follows a letter requesting a meeting with F1 senior leadership and FIA president Jean Todt, says F1’s presence in the country risks “bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression over the last few years.”

Hamilton has been a vocal advocate of human rights and introduced a prominent rainbow helmet livery at the Qatar Grand Prix last time out – in support of the LGBTQ+ community – which he plans to continue using in Jeddah and next week’s final round in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking in Jeddah on Thursday, asked whether Saudi’s place on the calendar opposed the ‘We Race As One’ message that F1 has promoted over the past two seasons, Hamilton said: “I can’t pretend to be the most knowledgeable and have the deepest of understanding of someone that has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime.”

“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do, but it’s not my choice to be here. The sport has taken the choice to be here and whether it’s right or wrong, I think whilst we are here, again, I feel it is important to raise awareness.”

“For example at the last race [in Qatar] you saw the helmet that I wore, I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue.”

However, although Hamilton says there were changes which need to be made and F1 needs to do more, he cited the 2018 change in the law allowing women to drive. “some of the women are still in prison from driving many, many years ago”.

He added: “There is a lot of change that needs to happen and our sport needs to do more.”

Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal, the race promoter, said he welcomed Hamilton expressing his views and that he respected his opinion. Adding, “It’s good to see people stand for what they believe,” he said. “But at the same time, we have our culture, our traditions.”

“We understand and for someone with his background and with his culture, I totally understand why he does it. I think he should do what he do, whatever he supports, and think that he believes is suitable for him, we respect his opinion.”

 

Hamilton ready to help Russell to be next champion

Lewis Hamilton says he is ready to help his new teammate for 2022 George Russell become Britain’s next world champion when they become teammates at Mercedes. While Hamilton is expecting nothing less than a strong challenge from Russell when he steps up from Williams, the seven-time champion senses a golden opportunity to help guide his new teammate.

The seven-time championship believes that Russell’s positive attitude and strong work ethic, allied to them being at different stages of their careers with Hamilton 13 years his senior, opens an opportunity for them to work together as well.

Speaking to selected media including Motorsport.com about his thoughts on Russell’s arrival, Hamilton said: “I’m in a different place. I really want to see him succeed. There’s going to be a point where I don’t continue in this sport. He’s my teammate and he’s going to be the next Brit that I want to see win a world championship.”

“So I really hope that, while we are going to be competing and I want to win on track, I hope I can have a positive influence on how he conducts himself within the team. Whether it’s the time he commits to engineering, or how he churns through the data, or even just how he drives on track.”

Hamilton says he can see a similar situation to when he was teammates with Fernando Alonso in his debut season in 2007. He described Russell as super talented and there was already has a huge amount of respect. Russell, says Hamilton, will be quick as well as wanting to win.

 

How Verstappen can win title in Jeddah?

Max Verstappen can wrap up the title this weekend thanks to his eight-point lead in the driver’s championship over Lewis Hamilton. The Dutchman needs to outscore Hamilton by eighteen points in Jeddah, or the championship will go down to the wire next weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen needs to outscore Hamilton by eighteen points in Jeddah to seal his first championship. Currently, Verstappen is on 351.5 points with Hamilton on 343.5, meaning there is an eight-point gap between the two of them.

Hamilton could therefore stop Verstappen, no matter what his rival manages, by finishing fifth or higher.

There have been two eighteen point swings this season, in Monaco when Verstappen won and Hamilton was seventh, and at Silverstone where Hamilton won after the Verstappen crash.

The other possibility is that Hamilton could equal Verstappen if he wins with the fastest lap, and Verstappen finishes second. That would then create a ‘winner takes all’ or ‘highest finisher’ scenario next weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen only needs a twenty-six-point lead, while Hamilton can equal him on points, on countback on wins he has nine to Hamilton’s seven. Of course, the Mercedes drive can equal that, but the Dutchman has more second places meaning there wouldn’t be a tiebreaker.

Meanwhile, while the constructors can mathematically be wrapped up but that would require a freak result. Mercedes currently hold a five-point lead, meaning to seal the title they would need to finish one-two as well as the fastest lap, thus needing to outscore Mercedes by thirty-eight.

 

Bottas to play bigger role in title race than Perez

Sky Sport’s Martin Brundle believes that Valtteri Bottas is likely to play a more important role than Red Bull counterpart Sergio Perez in helping decide the 2021 F1 title battle between their teammates Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

Verstappen goes into this weekend’s penultimate race in Jeddah, with an eight-point gap over Hamilton after having scored nine victories to the Briton’s seven. Meaning he can seal his first championship this weekend if he outscores Hamilton by eighteen points.

The close title race means that their respective teammates are going into the final two races of the season. Both Bottas and Perez have scored one victory each this year, the Finn third in the standings, 13 points ahead of the Mexican.

Brundle reckons Bottas is more likely to play a role in the championship outcome, as the ex-F1 driver feels the Finn is capable of beating Verstappen, unlike Perez with Hamilton. Speaking to the media, the former F1 Driver said “I honestly think it’s possible Valtteri could finish in front of Max more than Sergio could finish in front of Lewis.”

“So I think that might just play into the title. One of these last two races, it’s just possible Valtteri will take some points of Max somewhere, and I don’t see Sergio taking points off Lewis.”

He added: “There is eighty-eight points on the table still for the constructors. So another one that could go either way. It just depends on… I don’t know if the Mercedes really flies and Valtteri has one of his on days like in Istanbul, for example, or the sprint race in Brazil.”

Brundle feels while both Verstappen and Hamilton deserve the title, he says the Dutchman has had more of the bad luck this season. He used Baku, Silverstone as examples of bad luck.

 

We did want to try and bring you a Max Verstappen story, but at the time of going to press there wasn’t one

 

Norris not taking beating Ricciardo for granted

Lando Norris says he is not taking it for granted that he has gotten the better of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo despite a stronger season. The Englishman has been one of the standout performers this season, currently leading his more experienced teammate by forty-eight points.

However, McLaren is aware that the problems that Ricciardo has in adapting to the car, but following his win in Monza he has appeared to be closer to Norris. This has made Norris aware that the situation could change quickly and bounce back if things came together for him.

Reflecting on this season’s rivalry with Ricciardo, Norris told Motorsport.com, “I think it’s been very good for me. It’s also been one of the parts making me enjoy a bit more the environment. There’s always that question of when you go up against a driver like that: are you going to do well?”

“Is he going to beat me in every single qualifying or race of the season? Those thoughts go through your head a little bit for the year. So when none of that happens then you feel like ‘okay, if I can do this against him and he could beat this guy when he was in the same car, then I must be in a decent place.’ So it makes you think of good things.”

However, Norris says that the strong season he has had doesn’t make him feel like the best driver in the world. Saying that when Ricciardo clicks he will be a very good driver with him hoping to still be quicker.

With McLaren locked in a tight battle with Ferrari for third in the constructor’s championship, both Norris and Ricciardo need to be at their best in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi. McLaren are thirty-nine and a half points behind Ferrari with two races to go, that is the largest gap this season.

Norris believes that Ferrari’s late-season engine upgrade has proved to be the game changer. Saying, “They were very good on energy before. They have a lot of deployment, which, in some circuits doesn’t make a massive difference, but in other circuits definitely helps.”

He says that McLaren is losing 20kph on the straights to Ferrari, which makes a big difference in terms of overtaking. Norris believes that McLaren has done a better job this season, but its been tough.

While Ferrari leads the constructors, both Norris and Ricciardo are ahead in the driver’s championship.

 

Vettel & Alonso believe Raikkonen will be missed

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso believe an “outstanding” Kimi Raikkonen will not only be missed as a driver but also as a person. Raikkonen’s two-decade career will come to an end next weekend in Abu Dhabi has announced his retirement in September.

The forty-two-year-old Finn made his F1 debut with Sauber in 2001 and went on to win the 2007 title with Ferrari, scoring a total of 21 victories with Ferrari and McLaren. Vettel was Raikkonen’s teammate at the Scuderia from 2015 to 2018, and the four-time champion is one of the few drivers the Finn considers his friend.

The German admitted he feels “great respect” for Raikkonen for the way he has stayed unchanged throughout the years.

Vettel of Raikkonen’s retirement said “I think it’s a natural thing. Time goes one way, and at some point, time comes for him, and at some point, time will come for me and at some point even time will come for Lando, even though that’s a long way to go.”

“It’s probably the most natural thing. Will he be missed? Yes. I think he was a true character, and I enjoyed the time I had with him as a teammate.” The four times world champion said that Raikkonen was one driver who hasn’t changed since he entered the sport in 2007.

Two-time world champion Alonso, who partnered Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2014, labelled the Finn a “very good person” who changes dramatically when he is away from the track.

He says, “I think Kimi will be missed in Formula One. I like him a lot, the way in his own way he loves the sport and has been for so many years in Formula One. I think he’s very honest always, which I really like that part of Kimi.

“I think outside he is maybe, mask off of being a cold and Iceman, there is a very good person inside that you meet from time to time outside the circuit.”

 

Aston Martin’s excessive drag behind poor season

Sebastian Vettel thinks excessive drag is Aston Martin’s main weakness as the team has struggled for performance this season. The British team was the team most affected by the reduction by twenty percent in downforce, meaning it has struggled to keep up with its midfield rivals, slipping from third to seventh in the constructors.

According to Vettel, the team has been held back by excessive drag and a lack of downforce, a dreaded combination which he acknowledged is “difficult to overcome”.

Vettel told a press conference in Jeddah, “We had races where the race felt really good, we had other races where I struggled a lot. Overall, what matters is how competitive you are. In competitive terms, I think our car is a bit too draggy.

“We are not having a super-efficient car, plus we don’t have enough downforce. That I think is the main weakness. From there, it’s difficult to overcome that.”

In Doha, his teammate Lance Stroll tried hard to overcome Aston Martin’s weaknesses by being smart about tyre wear, which opens up strategic options. Last time out in Qatar Stroll managed to bag sixth after pulling off a one-stop.

He explained “when the car is in the window, then we can do a reasonable job and get into points. It’s first not always easy to get it into that window, and second, it’s extremely competitive in the area where we race. It seems like halfway through the season maybe other teams made a bit more progress than us now.”

Aston Martin is hoping that next years regulation changes allows it to return towards the front of the midfield, with the longer-term aim of challenging for titles in the next five years.

Vettel says that while 2022 is still an unknown, the team’s growth back in the factory is impossible to ignore. Adding, “Obviously, the big unknown is for next year, what’s happening next year with the cars changing and so on, but we will only be able to answer that question next year.”

 

Capito test positive for Covid-19

Williams team principal Jost Capito has tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Capito, who joined Williams as chief executive officer in February 2021 before becoming team principal in June.

The German tested positive for the virus in the UK before heading to Jeddah, this means he could possibly miss the final race of the season next weekend in Abu Dhabi.

A team statement said: “There has been no wider impact on Williams Racing personnel and the team will continue to operate trackside as planned.”

The next fortnight in the middle east will be George Russel’s final with the team before his move to Mercedes next year.

Russell’s sixteen points have him on course for a career-best fifteenth place in the drivers’ championship, while he has also helped propel Williams to eighth in the constructors’ race.

 

Williams to carry tributes to Sir Frank

Williams will carry tributes to the team’s founder Sir Frank Williams at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, following his death aged seventy-nine on Sunday. Under his leadership the team won the constructors’ championship nine times and took drivers to the title seven times.

According to RaceFans F1 is planning its own tribute to Sir Frank ahead of Sunday’s race. The team was sold by the Williams family to current owners Dorilton last year. However, the team’s head of vehicle performance, Dave Robson, said its founder remained a uniquely important figure.

Robson said, “The sad events of last weekend mean that this is our first race weekend without Sir Frank Williams as the patriarch and figurehead of the Williams organisation. Although he had only very rarely been at the track in recent years, his passion, strength and unstinting enthusiasm providing additional motivation to those of us fortunate enough to race the cars bearing his name.”

“Frank’s legacy will live on and we will continue to race in the manner that he would expect, drawing upon his memory as a source of pride and inspiration. We send the Williams family our deepest sympathies and reassure them that we will continue to honour his legend”

The team has a connection to Saudi Arabia, with one of the teams biggest backers when it was founded being the countries national airline Saudia.

 

The weekend ahead

This weekend much of the focus will be on the championship battle, Max Verstappen we know has the opportunity to wrap up his maiden world title if he outscores Lewis Hamilton by eight points. I think that on paper this could be a Mercedes circuit however it in some ways reminds me of Baku, where Red Bull won in June.

This is another trip into the unknown as this is the only full night race on the calendar as we didn’t go to Singapore, but as we said in Doha, we don’t know how the teams will progress as we have never had two back to back night races. This is also a street circuit meaning there may bee a few opportunities to get things right when it comes to overtaking and mistakes will be made.

Jeddah, we know is the penultimate race of the season, meaning there is a lot to play for in all the championship battles. We need to remember there is also the battle between McLaren and Ferrari in the constructors, Ferrari I think have the momentum because they have been stronger at street circuits this season.

Off track, while there are concerns about human rights we don’t tend to hear about these concerns during the race weekends. You are likely to hear responses like going to these middle eastern countries can drive change etc. the other issue is this circuit isn’t a 100% finish so there could be teething problems.

 

You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix via Twitter @FormulaOneVault starting with FP1 Friday from 16:15 / 13:15 GMT, Qualifying 19:45 / 16:45 and forward race coverage 20:00 / 17:00 lights out 20:30 / 17:30
Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.