Wolff expecting a close fight in Bahrain
Mercedes is expecting a close fight with Ferrari at this weekends Bahrain Grand Prix, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff being wary of Ferrari’s straight-line speed.
The German team appeared to have the faster car in qualifying in Albert Park, after Lewis Hamilton took pole and lead before the safety car allowed Sebastian Vettel to leapfrog him under the Virtual Safety Car to snatch victory for Ferrari.
While it appears that there is little between the two in straight line speed, and with Ferrari winning last year, plus second in the two previous races Wolff is expecting a stern test. Wolff told Sky Sports “Bahrain is a power-sensitive race with the long straights. We saw in Melbourne that the Ferraris, in particular, were very quick, so I expect it to be a close battle.”
“We’ve seen some great racing in Bahrain in recent years, particularly between our drivers back in 2014, so I think we can look forward to an exciting and competitive weekend.”
Mercedes will be hoping that the lessons they learnt in Melbourne will not see Ferrari take another win. The team said a glitch in software led to a miscalculation in delta time leading to Hamilton not told to push up to Vettel as their computers were predicting the German would drop out behind them.
The reigning world champions have now taken steps in a bid to avoid the same issue occurring in the future and Wolff is hopeful they will bounce back strongly.
Wolff says that the team did not perform at its maximum in Melbourne and the mistakes reminded them that Formula One is a sport which punishes every error.
He says that the team did everything to understand what went wrong and a process has been put in place to avoid similar mistakes.
Nine teams enter F1 eSports
Nine of the ten teams have been confirmed as entering the second season of Formula One eSports, with the Italian team Ferrari not entering the championship.
For the 2018 season, the teams will be allowed to select their own driver, with the second driver needing to contest four qualifying events in a bid to win a place in a selection process called the Pro Draft.
The qualifiers, which begin on April 13, will not be simple time trials or races.
For the first event, players must start the final five laps of the Chinese Grand Prix as Valtteri Bottas in sixth place and attempt to score a podium on a wet but drying track.
The fastest 10 players on each of the game’s three platforms – PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC – will then contest a live-streamed final, with the top three from each qualifying for the Pro Draft.
They will be guaranteed a slot with one of the nine F1 teams, while a pool of 40 drivers will be determined from the qualifiers and a ‘wildcard’ stage and be available for selection as well.
McLaren and Renault have already run their own selection processes. Once the teams chose there drivers they are allowed to contest the championship.
Some teams have slightly altered their names, Force India have entered as eForce India, Williams as Williams eSports, Renault as Renault Vitality, Haas as Haas eSports.
Record-breaking Bahrain GP?
This weekend could be another record-breaking weekend for Lewis Hamilton if the four times champion finishes in the points this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix it would give him his twenty-seventh consecutive finish.
If he does finish that would equal Kimi Raikkonen, who set the record in 2012-13. The Mercedes driver last retired from the lead of the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, and after losing out in Melbourne will be wanting to reassert his place as the current champion.
Hamilton was on his way to a comfortable win from pole position at Albert Park when an ill-timed virtual safety car and a computer bug threw Mercedes’ strategy predictions off and handed victory to Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel instead.
Mercedes have already said they are expecting another close battle with Ferrari and Red Bull. Vettel will be looking to mark his two hundredth start and take a fourth win in the Gulf that would make him the most successful driver in the history of the race.
However, Ferrari will also have to watch out for Red Bull, whose Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo set the fastest lap in Melbourne and piled the pressure on Raikkonen in his bid for a home podium.
Off the track, the main talking point will be the outlining by the sports owners outlining their vision on Thursday to the teams ahead of the renegotiation of the Concorde Agreement
Honda brings updated turbo’s for Bahrain
Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly will both have updated turbochargers and MGU-H’s for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, following Gasly’s engine failure in Melbourne.
Despite strong running in winter testing, Gasly was forced to retire with an engine failure thirteen laps into the race. Toyoharu Tanabe, technical director of Honda F1, revealed the internal combustion engine (ICE) on Gasly’s car had been damaged after an issue with the MGU-H and turbocharger.
This means that the Frenchman moves onto his second ICE of the season, meaning he moves one away from a grid penalty because they are only allowed three of each engine component permitted per car this season before a demotion.
Tanabe told Sky Sports “Replacing components for the second race is obviously a difficult decision and not ideal, given that the number of Power Units and ancillary components is now limited to just three per season.”
“However, we believe this is the right way forward and we will continue our development in order to ensure the same issue does not reoccur.” Honda is in the fourth season since they returned to the sport in 2015, but it has been blighted with reliability problems.
During testing, it appeared as if the reliability problems had been solved but it was a disappointing opening race. Both cars failed o get out of Q1 while Hartley was last of the drivers to finish.
But Gasly remains optimistic that Honda has made a promising upgrades to come and believes they will want to prove their doubters wrong in 2018.
“On their side they are pushing flat out because they really want to show everyone they can do proper engines,” the Frenchman said.
McLaren call for restrictions to level field
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier says that the next set of technical regulations, which are due to be introduced in 2021, need to include “enough restrictions” to ensure a level playing field.
In qualifying in Melbourne a second and three quarters separated Lewis Hamilton who qualified on pole and Pierre Gasly who was last. While that was the closest gap in the V6 hybrid era, there was still a second between sixth a seventh in Q3.
The top six cars as well remained well ahead of the midfield, with over a second behind the top six. Reflecting on how Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap dampened expectations of a closely fought season, Boullier told Motorsport.com “This is what it is. The regulation has been drafted a few years ago and this is where we are. As long as we can’t all reach a sort of plateau on the performance, it’s going to be the same.”
“Mercedes has designed a very competitive engine and car since the beginning [of the hybrid era] and it looks like it’s very difficult to catch them up.”
Boullier says that he hopes the blue print that Liberty are due to outline this weekend, will be enough to close the gap and level the playing field.
Liberty has proposed measures like spending caps and parts standardisation to close the gap. All the teams want a sport where cars are fighting it out on track and compete at a competitive level.
Vasseur warnings of mistrust between teams and FIA
Sauber’s team principal Fred Vasseur has warned that teams signing FIA personnel risks creating mistrust between other teams and the governing body.
Former FIA F1 technical director Marcin Budkowski is due to begin working with Renault soon, while FIA safety director Laurent Mekies will switch to Ferrari later this year. The moves have sparked fears that they could give their teams an unfair advantage.
Mekies’s move have led to accusations by other teams that Ferrari broke supposed gentlemen’s agreement struck over the amount of ‘gardening leave’ FIA staff would have if they left to join a race team.
Vasseur told Motorsport.com: “I think it’s a shame that we are not in the situation that the FIA could find a solution to keep their key guys. I remember perfectly the situation with Marcin, he was in all the wind tunnels two weeks before he left.”
“Laurent is aware of key details of every single car, even if he was more focused on safety he’s aware of the key structure.”
Ferrari who led the push for the rule, have been acused of breaking it. The other teams have concerns that Mekies knowledge of other cars could give Ferrari an unfair advantage.
Williams impressed by Renault turn around
Williams’s deputy team principal Claire Williams, says the process made by Renault since it returned to the sport as a works team has been “a remarkable turnaround.”
The French manufacturer took over Lotus at the beginning of 2016, when it only managed to score eight points in its first season finishing ninth. Last season, Renault made a step forward to finish sixth with fifty-seven points.
Renault’s upward trajectory appears to continue, in the opening race in Melbourne both cars finished in the points and Carlos Sainz was the fastest outside the top three. Speaking to Motorsport.com, Williams said, “Renault have definitely done a pretty impressive job – I think they are probably fighting, going to be snapping the heels of the top three.”
“That’s a phenomenal turnaround – to turn around a team in this sport takes a huge amount of hard work and effort. And they seem to have done a really good job.”
Earlier this year, managing director of Renault F1 Cyril Abiteboul said that the lack of investment by Lotus had left the team a decade behind its rivals.
Since the takeover, the team has invested and expanded its base at Enstone and recruited former FIA technical director Marcin Budkowski.
Last year, Nico Hulkenberg said the impact of Renault’s investment was clear to see. He said “You feel it eventually, yes, because it translates into performance. But it’s a factory team and if they want to get back to the front, that’s what they have to do and that’s what they are doing”