Leclerc ready for a title fight
Charles Leclerc believes he is ready to fight for the championship, but “shouldn’t be in the seat” at Ferrari if he did not feel that way.
The Monacan took his first win at the Belgian Grand Prix, which has earnt him praise from five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton after the race for his performances against Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari. But they remain tied on podiums, and Leclerc has taken more poles than Vettel.
Leclerc told Motorsport.com, “I think I’ve been in better form in qualifying since six races [ago. I’ve changed my approach a little bit. In the race, it’s been a bit of a different story.”
“I’ve been struggling a little bit in the two previous races but I’ve changed and it seems to pay off [at Spa] so that’s great. If I feel like I’m ready to be challenging for world titles, at the end, I have the car and team for it.”
“We obviously need to work because we are struggling a bit compared to Mercedes but on my side, yes, I’ve got a lot to learn, that’s for sure, but I feel ready,” Leclerc says you always need to be ready when you are in a position to win.
Leclerc joined Ferrari after just a single season with Sauber, he is likely to be welcomed as a hero at Monza this weekend after winning his first race and Ferrari’s first of the season.
He added, “The support I had even though I was not a Ferrari driver was unbelievable so I can’t imagine now. I just won my first race in F1, so I’m pretty sure the welcome will be great.”
“It was last year but probably even more now: firstly driving for Ferrari and secondly because I just had my first win in F1
Mercedes and Ferrari engine worries
Mercedes and Ferrari head into this weekends Italian Grand Prix with power unit reliability concerns following the failures from its customers at the Belgian Grand Prix.
All six Mercedes powered cars took a new power unit ahead of last weekends race, with the intention of making it to the end of the season with no further changes and thus no penalties.
However, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez suffered a failure in FP2, and then Robert Kubica had a different issue in his Williams at the start of qualifying. Both were forced to revert back to the Spec-2 unit, as the investigate the cause of the issues.
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal, Toto Wolff said “It didn’t compromise us massively. It did a tiny bit. We were not taking any risks in the race. But it was certainly not a comfortable situation. The failures looked to be different and are not analysed and understood as of yet.”
Ferrari also introduced its Spec-3 for its customer team Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, and the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, prior to its planned deployment with the works cars at Monza
However, the Italian suffered a failure in qualifying on Saturday, and Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto admitted that it was a cause for concern.
He said, “That’s a good point, no doubt. We need to analyse what happened because one of these failures should be down to something wrong, quite detectable.”
While the works cars were scheduled to take the new engine in Spa, Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur told Motorsport.com that there are no plans for Kimi Raikkonen to upgrade for the Italian manufacturer’s home race
Mercedes need “drastic improvements”
Lewis Hamilton believes that his Mercedes team needs “drastic improvements” in straight-line speed if they are going to be able to compete with Ferrari at this weekends Italian Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc beat Mercedes to take his first win and the teams first win of the season, making him and the team the favourites for Monza. The manufacturers’ aerodynamic philosophy for this season has given it a straight-line speed advantage all year.
Mercedes had a surprisingly big deficit in qualifying last weekend at Spa, although was much more competitive in the race. Asked by Motorsport.com about the same pecking order at Monza, Hamilton said: “It’s all straights, so it’s going to be a happy weekend for Ferrari, most likely.”
“In qualifying [at Spa] we’re losing over a second a lap. So, there’s not much me and Valtteri [Bottas] can do in that instance, and there’s not a lot of corners there to catch that up. It’ll be interesting. In the next few days, we’ve got to make some drastic improvements to our straight speed, somehow.”
The Englishman admitted that he didn’t know if that it was possible, but says Mercedes can do it. Over the balance of 2019, the German manufacturer s has established a clear advantage over Ferrari and has been 0.309% faster on average.
At Spa, Ferrari turned the tables dramatically, holding a pace advantage of 0.744%, yet Hamilton finished within a second of Leclerc in the race.
Hamilton added, “We’ll do our best, but position is also everything. We’ve got slightly better degradation than them, and it’s a longer race, isn’t it.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas added “hopefully we can have another close race like we’ve had [in Belgium. I think they’re going to be quick there, but last year they were quick as well and we managed to make their life pretty difficult.”
Leclerc’s win in Spa earned Ferrari a brief reprieve and although difficult questions remain, the team face increased pressure from the Italian media ahead of Monza over a lacklustre campaign.
Team principal Mattia Binotto, who celebrated his first win as team principal thanks to Leclerc’s success last weekend, says Ferrari must be “perfect” to take victory again.
He added “The best way to approach Monza would have been to have won many races before, and not only Spa. But certainly, as Monza is one of the most power-sensitive circuits, and we have proven our package is competitive at Spa, we may expect to be competitive at Monza as well, no doubt.”
Leclerc has established himself well inside the team up against four-time world champion Vettel and is matching his teammate on podiums and beating him in terms of qualifying.
Spa looking at modifications to Raidillon
Spa-Francorchamps is looking at changing the runoff area and build gravel traps through Raidillon, with urgency following the death of Anthoine Hubert in Saturday’s sprint F2 Belgian Grand Prix.
The Frenchman was killed after his almost stationary car was hit at high speed by Juan Manuel Correa, who remains in hospital. The FIA’s enquiry into what happened is already underway.
One of the areas which are being looked at is the run-off area at Raidillon – and whether it being asphalt was a factor.
Spa already had plans to revamp the Raidillon run-off for 2022, as part of its efforts to make the track safe for the Spa 24 Hours FIM Endurance World Championship motorcycle race. Following Hubert’s death, there will be renewed scrutiny over the gravel traps for racing cars and whether or not they should be introduced before 2022.
Nathalie Maillet, CEO of Spa-Francorchamps, told Belgian press agency Belga: “The circuit has always worked with the FIA to improve safety. We have to await its report and analyse the exact causes of the accident. We are working towards a FIM Grade C licence.”
“We are still in discussion with the FIA and FIM about the homologation of the circuit and work is [already] planned on the Raidillon for the Spa 24 Hours for bikes, which will take place in 2022. The run-off areas will be expanded and carefully designed to avoid frontal impact”
She says while they are not planning to change the actual layout of Spa, but are installing gravel traps is certain because bike regulations are more strict.
Maillet added that the accident doesn’t put the future of Spa in doubt, it was just a racing incident.
While F1 has moved away from gravel traps over recent years, favouring areas of asphalt, F1 race director Michael Masi is clear that safety is something that can always be improved.
He told the media, “I think safety is ever-evolving. There are few of you in this room who have been involved in attending F1 races for a lot longer than me and have seen the upward evolution of safety in that effectively short period of time once different technologies”
Verstappen to start last at Monza
Honda has confirmed that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start the Italian Grand Prix from the back of the grid, following a change to a new power unit.
The Dutchman will move to his fourth power unit which will see him exceed his allocation for the season. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly will also run the engine with the same punishment. Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe said: “We believe they can still race strongly on Sunday.”
The Spec-4 was run by Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon, and Gasly’s cars in Spa, although Albon reverted to a previous-spec engine for the race.
Tanabe added: “We gathered useful data in Spa, which we have used to make changes to power-unit settings and calibration in preparation for this race. We will try to maximise the potential of Spec Four and hope to get another positive result, maintaining the momentum we gained in Spa.”
Honda has not announced whether the drivers would use the engine throughout the weekend in Monza. Verstappen spoke in Belgium about the likelihood of taking an engine penalty at Monza and said he was unconcerned about it.
He said at Spa, “I think it can be all right to overtake. Even if you start from the back I don’t think it’s a big deal. We all know Ferrari is going to be really quick there, and if you start from the back you probably won’t catch the top four. Everything behind that I think it’s possible to catch up with.”
Red Bull’s team Christian Horner said the performance of the Spec Four engine was “encouraging”, adding, “Progress is definitely being made and [the engine] delivering what is expected.”
The team has taken what could be described as tactical engine changes, to allow the team to be in a good position in Singapore. Red Bull are expecting Singapore to be one of their most competitive of the season.
Honda is also determined to have as strong a showing as possible at its home race in Japan in October.
Ricciardo hopes Hulkenberg stays in F1
Daniel Ricciardo is expecting Nico Hulkenberg to have a “chip on his shoulder” but hopes his outgoing Renault teammate stays in Formula One after finding him “easy” to work with.
The Australian joined Hulkenberg at the French manufacturer at the start of 2019, but his teammate will leave the team and be replaced by Esteban Ocon for next season.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he was surprised to see Hulkenberg go, Ricciardo said: “Yeah, I had no indication prior to this week that he was going to go. I’m not sure yet what his plan is.”
“If he wants to keep racing in F1, I hope for him he finds something. He’s been, I want to say, easy to work with. We kind of just did our thing. He’s experienced, he’s been around. It’s kind of no-nonsense, ‘we’re here, we’re going to race’ and try to give the team as much info as possible.’
Ricciardo said it been a relaxed approach with Hulkenberg and says that he can still learn from him before the end of the season, with him expecting them to push each other “pretty hard.”
Hulkenberg arrived in F1 in 2010 with huge expectation after an impressive junior career that included back-to-back titles in European Formula 3 and GP2.
However, he has never found himself in race-winning machinery, and last year his seventh-place in the drivers’ championship was his career-best F1 finish.
Haas could be both his only and the most competitive option next year, but with limited options on the table Hulkenberg, he could end his F1 career without a podium.
Ricciardo said he expected a “top-tier driver” in Hulkenberg but also “he won everything as a junior but never had a top seat in F1, [so] probably a little bit of frustration, and a chip on his shoulder” as well.
“But in a way that was going to drive him to perform really well this year. Now having me in the team, if he beats me, it’s ‘well, you know he’s a race-winning driver’.”