Aston’s licence to thrill as it launches F1 return
Aston Martin has launched its 2021 car, the AMR21 in an online launch marking the brand’s official return as a manufacturer to the sport for the first time in six decades. The team as expected unveiled the car liveried in traditional British racing green which hasn’t been seen in F1 since 2014, with hints of pink from its sponsor BWT.
Its drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll pulled the Union Flag off the car, which is largely based on last years RP20. The rebranded team has set its sights of regaining third in the constructor’s championship, after losing out to McLaren in the final race of 2020.
The AMR21, like all of the cars this season is an evolution of last years car following the decision to postpone the regulation changes by a year due to the pandemic.
Teams however have limited tokens they can spend in certain areas, technical director Andrew Green said the focus for the team over the winter had been on recovering the downforce lost under the rule changes for 2021, as well as updating the rear of the car to Mercedes’ 2020-spec.
One area it has spent its tokens is on the rear end which resembles last years Mercedes, this caused a row last year because of the saga over coping the 2019 Mercedes. Rivals saw Aston buying these parts from Mercedes as a ‘free’ upgrade when others are limited to just two ‘tokens’ on changes to mechanical parts of the car
He explained “The main drive in performance is aerodynamics, so there’s obviously a big push on the aerodynamic side. The regulation change that came through late last year had a big effect on the aero performance and we spent the winter trying to try to recover the losses from the changes in the regulations.
“That’s been a big focus. We’ve changed the rear of the car now to the 2020 suspension as supplied by Mercedes. That was always the plan. So those are the two main areas that we’ve been focused on over the winter.”
For the four-times champion Vettel it was his first public appearance since leaving Ferrari, he seemed to be more motivated than he did last season when he struggled to get to grips with the car. He will be partnered by Stroll, who took his maiden pole in Istanbul in November.
Vettel’s difficult and often turbulent six years with Ferrari has made him hungry for success and he needs to rebuild his reputation which has taken a hit because of on-track errors over the past four years which cost him chances of titles. He says “As a driver, I have always kept my eye on the competition and this team has consistently impressed me with what they have been able to do without the biggest of budgets.”
Despite the budget cap, Aston is set to increase its budget with the multi-millions invested in the teams factory and resources following the backing of Lawrence Stroll. The Canadian billionaire rescued what was then known as Force India from administration in 2018 and renamed it Racing Point.
Stroll Sr, told BBC News in January that his ambition is to turn the team he owns into title contenders and at the launch, he said the team’s “ambitions were limitless”.
Vettel “at peace” with poor 2020
Sebastian Vettel says he is “at peace” with his poor season at Ferrari last year and “excited” about starting work with his new Aston Martin team. The four-times champion was dropped by Ferrari during the sports lockdown in May last year before the season had even started.
Vettel says he had “high expectations” as the Aston Martin name returns to F1 for the first time in 60 years. He told BBC News, “I am not happy with last year in terms of performance – partly my performance – but I accepted it. There are things that didn’t go well, but I am looking forward to this year.”
Aston Martin is the rebranded name for the team formerly called Racing Point, which has set itself the target of regaining third in the constructor’s championship after losing out at the final race to McLaren last year. Vettel admitted last month that Mercedes “had to be the favourites.”
Vettel’s reputation in the last few years has taken a hit because of mistakes and his career unravelling since crashing out at the 2018 German Grand Prix, with more mistakes in wheel to wheel fights. Ultimately costing him titles, and him being overshadowed by Charles Leclerc.
The German says he has nothing to prove after the difficulties and disappointing final two years at Ferrari, in which he was out-performed by team-mate Charles Leclerc. He said he was confident he was still capable of winning another championship if he has a car capable of it.
Saying “It’s not a secret that at stages last year I was not at my happiest. This year I am very much looking forwards. Things are a bit different but from what I have seen the people are very capable and talented and it is the first time for the last few years that they are getting the oxygen to breathe.”
Bottas plans to “be more selfish”
Valtteri Bottas says he is planning to be more demanding and “a bit more selfish” with his Mercedes race team this year as he targets an elusive world championship.
The Finn his going into his fifth season with Mercedes, however, he is yet despite the dominance shown by the team since 2014 has yet to beat his teammate, Sir Lewis Hamilton, finishing runner up in the past two seasons.
Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff acknowledged at the end of last year that the team needed to give Bottas more support following discussions with the Finn, resulting in an added radio message in Abu Dhabi qualifying. In his first interviews of the year at the teams launch on Tuesday, he says its important to ensure the right level of pressure was being applied, allowing him to up his performance level.
Bottas explained, “Some of my years in Formula 1, definitely, I’ve put too much pressure on myself. There’s been times that I’ve taken too much pressure from outside, and also vice-versa, that there’s not been may be enough pressure from my side. It’s all about finding that balance and playing with that.
“The only thing to really let the team know in terms of how much they’re pressuring you is to discuss about things, and it’s the same thing with myself. I need to be self-honest with everything, and try and find a good way, and kind of happy head for every single Grand Prix.”
The Finn believes going into the new season is a fresh start and he absolutely believes he can fight for the title. He says however you need to take it step by step, Bottas took two victories last year. However, he struggles to show the same consistency as Hamilton marched towards his seventh title with eleven wins.
Bottas explained how he was focusing on demanding more from himself and the team around him going into 2021, ensuring the right support was in place for a sustained title challenge.
Saying, “This year, I’m demanding more from myself than ever. Obviously, I’m not overdoing things, but the ultimate goal for me this season is when I get to the last race in Abu Dhabi, I can look back and say that I did 100%, I did every single bit that I could to win the title.”
Bottas appears aware of the goal, but he knows that to beat Hamilton is going to be a difficult challenge. He admits he “can be more selfish,” but has in the past dismissed calls for him to play the phycological game with Hamilton like his predecessor Nico Rosberg.
Sprint race will cause controversy – Wolff
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff believes the introduction of sprint races is something the series “needs to do” despite accepting it will “create controversy”.
The sport is currently looking at the final details for the introduction of sprint races at three races this year to set the grid for the race on Sunday. These races are to be tried in Montreal, Monza and Sao Paulo after receiving “broad support” at the last commission meeting and a final vote expected at the next commission in Bahrain.
Drivers have so far been lukewarm over the plans, with many airing concerns that it could devalue the main Grand Prix on Sundays. But Wolff felt adding another race to the weekend schedule could be successful for F1, citing DTM’s decision to hold races on Saturday and Sunday since 2014 as proof of the benefits.
Asked for his views on the plan by Motorsport.com, Wolff said, “The sprint races are an interesting format in my opinion, and an experiment which I believe we need to do. I’ve seen in other racing series, like DTM, that the audience almost doubled with having a Saturday and Sunday race, and that obviously can be monetised.”
“I think if we were to do this without some interference to create a fake show, then there is merit to try it. I’m not sure we will like the outcome, because qualifying as we have it today is a real qualifying and a sprint race always bears the risk of damage which can be costly and a huge impact on Sunday’s grid and the ability to perform.”
Wolff believed that the plan will create some controversy, but giving it a go at three races was the right approach.
Mercedes blocked the plan last year because it could not support a “lottery” format by reversing the grid to favour its rivals, saying it went against the DNA of F1. Despite now being in favour of sprint races, Wolff said it was only because the grid for the Saturday event would still be determined by a regular qualifying session on Saturday, avoiding any artificial results.
Adding “Reverse grids have no place in any sport that is based on measuring and competing in the true sense of sport. We are entertainment, but the moment we slide into show and Hollywood, you will lose a lot of credibility as a sport overall.
“Not every decision that increases the entertainment factor is right for Formula 1. It always needs to be balanced between the DNA of true sport, best man and machine wins, and what the fans would like to see
Alonso will be ‘fully operational’ for Bahrain
Fernando Alonso is fit and ‘fully operational’ after jaw surgery and will be fine for Formula One’s pre-season testing in Bahrain, his Alpine teams CEO Laurent Rossi said. The two times champion fractured his jaw in a collision with a car while cycling in Switzerland.
On Tuesday Rossi said, “Fernando is doing very well, He had a bad incident. A bike accident is rarely something that goes easy, but he was lucky, and he ended up only suffering from his jaw… the rest is totally fine. Fernando is completely fit. He is totally operational.”
“We are even surprised that he’s recovered so quickly. He confirmed to us immediately almost after the incident that he will be in Bahrain, which has been confirmed with his doctors. It looks like he was right because he’s absolutely fit, and we are looking forward to seeing him next week in the car.”
Pre-season testing takes place 12 – 14 March in Shakir, Bahrain ahead of the opening race of the season at the end of the month.
Davide Brivio, the team’s new racing director, said Alonso was extremely motivated for his comeback after two years out of the sport and at the age of 39. Brivio, who has joined from MotoGP champions Suzuki, said the Spaniard was not returning just for the sake of it but wanted success.
Saying, “I can feel chatting with him, you can see how hard he’s working, how strong is his desire to be back. He’s quite demanding but that’s what I like. We need this type of driver that’s really keen to put everything together, to try the maximum.”
Alpine looking at switch to Mercedes engine concept
Renault is evaluating a switch to the Mercedes concept of a split turbo and compressor on its power unit as part of an engine overhaul for 2022. Last year the French manufacturer decided to delay the introduction of a new power unit by a year because of the pandemic.
It means that it will only have an upgraded engine this season, giving it more time to look at wider scale changes for 2022. One of the changes it is looking at is the Mercedes pioneered design of splitting the turbo and compressor elements of the power unit.
Ever since the turbo-hybrid era started, Mercedes elected to split the two elements so they were on either side of the internal combustion engine. They are joined by a connecting shaft that runs between the inside of the V-ban
When asked by Motorsport.com to clarify if it was likely to happen, engine technical director Remi Taffin said: “We could be going down that route….I’m pretty sure you’ve seen some photos, so I’m not going to lie. We are evaluating”
Images released when Fernando Alonso visited the engine plant in Viry appeared to show Renault trying out the idea on the dyno.
The images from Viry appeared to show the airbox pipework feeding down into the compressor, which was situated at the front of the power unit rather than the rear as it is on the current Renault engine. Taffin confirmed the move saying, “The simple answer is yes. We could be going down that route….I’m pretty sure you’ve seen some photos, so I’m not going to lie. We are evaluating.”
Renault says this year’s engine, which will run in the back of the Alpine car, features modifications that were originally planned mid-season in 2020 before things being frozen because of the pandemic.
Why Alpine isn’t appointing a team principal
Alpine will not be appointing someone officially to the role of team principal, with the team deciding to split responsibilities across a senior management duo. The rebrand of the former Renault team leads to a shake-up of the team, including the departure of team principal Cyril Abiteboul.
As part of the shakeup, Abiteboul role has been split between executive director Marcin Budkowski, and new racing director Davide Brivio. They will both report to Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi. Rossi said that the areas of responsibility for both men were clear, as he felt there was no need to make any further changes after last season.
Rossi explained to Motorsport.com, “Marcin will be in charge of the development of the chassis and the powertrain, so he’ll coordinate the whole development of the car. Davide will be racing director.”
“So the two of them will work in tandem to extract the best out of the car, that has been designed to put us into the best position in the future. The rest of the team are keeping their existing line structures: to Marcin in Enstone or to myself in Viry.” He says it is a bit of a different situation for a new manufacturer.
Alpine is taking a usual approach to the team’s structure but believes the situation could work well. He believes that roles and responsibilities are clear. It’s just we are calling them a little bit differently. Added, “We’re a French team at the end, and we had to put a bit of a French touch in the organisational structure as well!”
The structure will mean that technical director Budkowski will not need to attend every race allowing him to develop next years car. But the top management will attend every race, with Rossi believing having Davide’s experience means that he will not need to be there.
Saying “We have somebody in Davide who has got a lot of trackside experience, a lot of soft skills, acquired as a team manager in other categories. He knows how to manage drivers, he knows how to motivate them, he knows how to organise a garage.”