Wolff sets 2019 targets for Bottas
Mercedes F1CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says Valtteri Bottas must perform at the same level as Lewis Hamilton in 2019 if he is to keep his seat with the team in 2020.
Bottas had a disappointing 2018, despite his strong start to the season he failed to win a race while Hamilton went onto seal his fifth world title. With Esteban Ocon without a race seat for this year, the team have an alternative to Bottas should he be unable to raise his game.
Speaking to Autosport, Wolff says that the Finn knows exactly where he needs to be next year and warned that the challenge will be even harder this year as Hamilton keeps raising his game.
Wolff said “Valtteri knows exactly where he needs to be next year. He needs to have all the bad luck gone and perform on a level with Lewis. That is what is needed for the 2020 year. He knows very well that, and he has that in him.”
“Lewis improving means Valtteri needs to improve. I’ve seen that improvement all the time with him, but you are going against a five-time world champion. He needs a start where it’s right up there with Lewis and all the other drivers for the championship. That is what he needs.”
The Austrian believes that Bottas is capable of delivering performances to challenge Hamilton, but warned that the five times champion at the peak of his performance would be very difficult to beat.
Saying that “Beating a five-time world champion at the peak of his performance, is going to be very difficult and Valtteri knows that. But I think that he has it in him. He can win – he has proven it [in 2018] on a few occasions, but he had bad luck or was in a position where he could not win.”
Stroll aims to make Racing Point one of the greats
Racing Point’s owner Lawrence Stroll says he wants the team to use the 2021 regulation changes to make the team “one of the greatest teams in the paddock.”
The Canadian led a consortium which brought the assets of the former Force India team and was granted entry from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards under a new identity.
Racing Point has the same human resources as the Force India outfit that secured fourth in the constructors’ championship in 2016 and 2017 but is armed with fresh funding and a secure future. Stroll wants to use the proposed 2021 commercial and regulations changes to bring major success to the team.
In an interview with F1.com, he said “Short-term, we want to stay fighting where we are. Medium-term, we want to try and fight for third, instead of fourth. Long-term, when all the rules, change, hopefully, we will be one of the greatest teams in the paddock.”
When Stroll purchased the team, there was criticism from some that he only did so to give his son a drive, forcing out the highly-rated Mercedes protege Esteban Ocon. But, he insisted that he never planned to buy a team, claiming that it was a business decision based on the 2021 vision.
Saying “spending time speaking to F1 to understand their vision from 2021, which is some sort of budget cap and some sort of a better revenue distribution to the smaller teams.”
“I’ve been around the sport for 30 years. There’s only 10 teams and if you look at the value of the franchise, whether it be NFL, UK rugby or football, the value of an asset like this, treated properly, cherished over time significantly appreciates.”
Speaking about the team’s leadership, he said that the team already had great leadership in Team principal Otmar Szafnauer and technical director Andrew Green, two of Force India’s long-time spearheads, will lead Racing Point’s push, but Stroll will also be “very involved”.
Saying “It already has great leadership and management in the team. They have been doing this for a long time and doing a great job. So, it’s about supporting them.”
Renault believes it made the best ever gains
Renault says the gains it is seeing from the 2019 car and engine are the biggest gains it has ever made over the winter. The French manufacturer finished fourth in the constructors last season and is looking to get closer to the top three teams.
However, the team knows that it needs to make a good set forward if it is to start mixing it with the top three teams Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul says there is no evidence of the teams progress slowing down, and is saying that the gains are accelerating.
He told Motorsport.com, “The gains that we will be making on the engine are much bigger than we have ever done in a winter – much bigger – and the gains that we are currently doing in the wind tunnel are much bigger than we have ever done.”
“But, we have to be careful on the wind tunnel side, the aero side, as there is a big change of regulation. You all know that when it happens there is a big reset: you lose [downforce] and you quickly catch up.” But he says that it’s the impact of the teams’ investment in Enstone over the last three years which has begun to deliver improvements.
Abiteboul added, “The car we have been operating this year is more or less a representation of where the team was 18 months ago.”
He believes that there is now stability within the team and that level of resource in the team is good for what Renault needs to do.
Honda needs to understand reality
Formula One managing director for motorsport and technical director Ross Brawn, says that Red Bull must ensure that Honda are connected to reality and its priorities in order if the engine manufacturer is to succeed again.
Honda has convinced the Austrian team to switch from Renault for 2019 believing the manufacturer is capable of producing a championship winning engine rebuilding its reputation with the junior Toro Rosso team.
Honda re-joined the grid in 2015 with McLaren, however, three seasons of poor reliably and performance caused the team to switch to Renault. But last year Honda showed a step forward and convinced Red Bull to switch for 2019.
Brawn, who was team principal at Honda when the manufacturer withdrew, told Autosport: “The secret to success with Honda is sort of connecting the engineers to the Formula 1 challenges. When I arrived at Honda, the engineers were a little bit remote from the reality of what was needed.”
“My job was to connect the engineers and make sure they were working on the right things and they had the priorities, the information, the real picture about what was happening.” Brawn says that the connection with the people and understanding the priorities and focus on the important elements.
“When I arrived there was a view that their engine was one of the best. Because I was familiar with the Ferrari, it was clear it wasn’t one of the best.
One of the reasons Red Bull were convinced by Honda to make the switch was because of a leadership reshuffle that involved Toyoharu Tanabe taking charge of Honda’s trackside operations and life-long Honda engine guru Yasuaki Asaki being placed in command at its Sakura base.
Together, they have helped Honda improve the coordination of its priorities as well as execute its plans better. Honda says that it will be more vocal with Red Bull, after enjoying a better level of communication with Toro Rosso following the three years with McLaren.
Brawn added “Red Bull are a terrific racing company and they do great cars. It’s a special opportunity for Honda to succeed. I expect Red Bull to continue winning races. Whether there is enough there yet, in the first year of the partnership, to win championship, I don’t know.”
Ericsson warns of Leclerc’s threat to Vettel
Marcus Ericsson says that his former Sauber teammate Charles Leclerc can “kick some ass” during his first season at Ferrari. The Monacan and former F2 champion has been promoted to partner four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Leclerc had an impressive debut season beating the Swedish driver on track and scoring great results in 2018, with Ericsson believing that Leclerc will continue to shine at Ferrari. Speaking to Crash.net, Ericsson said, “I would be very interested to follow Charles at Ferrari.”
“I think he can do really well, already next year, and of course if he does really well there it would reflect good on me, so let’s hope he kicks some ass over there!”
When asked if he reckons Leclerc will surprise Vettel, Ericsson replied: “I think so. It will be interesting to follow but I’m pretty sure he will do really well.”
Leclerc’s form last season, earnt him praise from five-time champion Lewis Hamilton and his new teammate, four-times champion Sebastian Vettel. But, Hamilton has warned that Leclerc will need to raise his game in 2019.
Meanwhile, Mercedes reserve driver and long-time rival Esteban Ocon has tipped Leclerc to pose a threat to Mercedes’ recent dominance of the sport.
Ocon added “I think Charles will fight for the title next year for sure. At least it won’t be a surprise to me. I know he has a very good talent from day one. He’s one of the quickest guys out there, and I think he will show that next year, definitely.”
Leclerc and Vettel as teammates is set to be one of the biggest stories in 2019, as questions remain about the pressure now placed on the four times champion.
Managing director sporting and technical director Ross Brawn has warned his former team that Leclerc will be “less accommodating as Kimi” for Vettel and predicts a trickier driver dynamic than Ferrari has been used to in recent years.
The Week Ahead
Next week will be the first real full working week of the year for the teams, with the focus being on the key dates in the next two and a half months ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. The week will be busy leading up to Autosport International.
We already know that the two McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz will be speaking. Their words could be seen as key with the reset McLaren are hoping for this year, we need to see how they spin the year ahead and how open they are going into the season.
We will also hear from teams about upcoming launches, I think that is likely to get a better understanding of what’s ahead in the coming weeks. They are likely to be the week starting 11th February, but the timing and how is what we really need.
As we move later into the month and towards February we are going to begin to get quarterly and early full-year results. These are going to tell us about how the teams season went, but we won’t get the full picture until the end of the fiscal year in April.
Thursday is normally the monthly strategy group meeting, we will be watching that as the regulation changes are likely to be continued to be discussed.