Mercedes not believing they are ahead – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes are not buying into rival claims about the team being ahead in the pecking order ahead of next weekends Australian Grand Prix.
Ferrari and Red Bull have suggested that Mercedes are the favourites for the opening race in Melbourne after Mercedes set the fastest lap time and complete the most laps. However, six-time champion Hamilton, preparing to start his fourteenth season at the top level, says Mercedes are not listening to what others are saying.
He told Sky Sports, “I don’t pay attention to anybody to anyone else through testing. We literally just focus on our job and I have no idea what other people have been saying.”
“I’ve been here a long, long time so I’m aware of people bigging us up and talking themselves down so that they can potentially overachieve unexpectedly or whatever.” Hamilton says it doesn’t make a difference, despite some believing it’s a phycological battle.
Mercedes strong performance in testing means they are going to start the season as the fastest car. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “That’s always the dangerous thing about pre-season testing, trying to draw too many conclusions.”
“Ferrari have looked a little understated the last couple of tests, but they started to wind it up [on the last two days] and it would be foolish to underestimate them going into Melbourne.”
“Mercedes are the reigning six-time world champions and so they are very much the favourites. Their form has looked strong here and, of course, you want to have your issues in testing not when you’re racing.” Horner warned that testing can be deceptive but ultimately it would be the same teams fighting at the front.
Many pundits’ tips to prove Mercedes’ biggest threat once the season begins, Red Bull enjoyed a similarly productive winter with the RB16 also running fast and reliably.
Horner admits “our targets are very high this year” as they bid to launch a first sustained championship challenge of the hybrid era, with likely title contender Max Verstappen encouraged by pre-season progress
Zandvoort “really cool” – Verstappen
Max Verstappen has described the new layout of Zandvoort circuit as “really cool”, saying the circuit’s new banking, after becoming the first driver to drive the revised layout ahead of May’s Dutch Grand Prix.
The circuit is returning to the calendar after a thirty-five year break, with the circuit being remodelled to include banking to cope with the demands of what are expected to be the fastest F1 cars of all time
Speaking to Sky Sports at the reopening, Verstappen said, “It was really cool. The track was already very nice to drive before, but with the changes they made to the track it makes it even more special.”
“Especially like Turn Three and the last corner with the banking. Especially Turn Three, where the entry is very blind because there is just a big drop and when you’re sitting so low in the car you can’t really see it. But that makes it good and for sure a lot of fun when we arrive here for the grand prix.”
Although Verstappen was born in Belgium he races under a Dutch licence, making this his third home Grand Prix with Monaco being the place he lives. His appeal as a driver is one of the reasons the race is returning.
There is also hopes following pre-season testing, that Verstappen is able to challenge to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, with the new RB16 running fast and reliably in winter testing ahead of next week’s season-opener in Melbourne.
Asked if he felt he as though he should already have title wins five years into his career, Verstappen replied: “You always just have to be realistic. We just didn’t have the chance yet to fight for the title so you cannot force it or whatever.”
He says that the team are trying to push on, and has confidence this year that they can do a good job.
Bahrain suspends ticket sales due to Coronavirus
Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have suspended ticket sales to assess the situation around the Coronavirus. However, say that if circumstances allow more tickets will be released at a later date.
While also leaving open the option to give refunds if it is deemed that the venue has to decrease the size of the crowd from the current figure. A spokesman for the circuit wouldn’t say what percentage of the available tickets has already been sold.
The circuit said that it wants to hold a “safe and exciting” event, and has been working with government departments to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“In light of the continued global outbreak of COVID-19, the BIC has announced that it will be phasing the sales of Grand Prix tickets to ensure appropriate social distancing guidelines are met,” said the statement.
“As further facts emerge, the BIC is in close communication with both Formula One Management and the Kingdom’s health authorities to assess the developing situation and release further tickets or refund the face value of tickets depending on circumstances and updated medical advice.”
The circuit says they have introduced a number of public health measures ahead of the Grand Prix to ensure the safety of all spectators, teams and circuit staff. These include screening on-site, extra handwashing stations and medical protocols.
However, the race has been put into doubt because of restrictions on travellers who have been in affected countries in the 14 days before arrival, including Japan and Italy. In addition, there have been restrictions on flights from Dubai, a popular route for F1 travellers who use Emirates Airlines from Melbourne.
Prince Harry opens the Silverstone Experience
The Duke of Sussex was joined by Lewis Hamilton at the official opening of a new £20 million museum at Silverstone on Friday. The opening of the Silverstone Experience will be one of Prince Harry’s last public engagements as a royal before he steps down as a senior royal at the end of March.
Hamilton, a six-time Formula One world champion, was also in attendance before heading to Melbourne. The experience is the new home of the British Racing Drivers’ Club’s (BRDC) archive and also boasts hands-on exhibits for visitors.
Upon arriving, the royal was greeted by two more F1 drivers, Williams George Russell and Red Bull’s Alexander Albon. Also former world champion and former BRDC president Damon Hill.
The prince was encouraged to try out the interactive displays and met with local students in the Tech Lab section. He said “I’ll keep this brief – there’s nothing better than officially opening a building that is very much open.
“Tomorrow marks two years since we were last here and I can’t believe that you’ve managed to turn a World War Two hangar that was pretty cold, pretty dusty, two years ago into this remarkable experience.
“Thank you for being able to do that under a huge amount of pressure as well, thank you for providing so many of these opportunities for so many young people. Thank you for really putting a marker down for what British motor-racing means to the world.”
Williams a year ago “unrecognisable” to now
Williams believes they are now “unrecognisable” as a business from a year ago after making a series of changes in response to its recent on-track Formula One struggles.
The British team had its worst-ever season last year and only scored a single point, they struggled to find pace which would have allowed them to compete in the midfield. It marked the second straight year Williams had finished last in the constructors’ championship but prompted the team to review its internal processes and structures.
In Barcelona testing, the team hit the ground running with a filming day before racking up four largely-clean days of mileage. Speaking about her hopes for this season, she said she hoped the continued progress as the impact of the internal changes begins to show on-track.
She told Motorsport.com, “We are still on our journey to recovery, and we’re still putting bricks in the wall in order to achieve that. I think for everybody that’s been working behind the scenes at Grove over the last 12 months.”
“We’ve all undergone a huge transformation and change, and what we would like to see now is the rewards of that change. The business is really unrecognisable from where we were with everything. How we go about designing and building a race car is very different to what it was from 2018 and prior to that.”
Williams said she was pleased that everyone has embraced the changes, and they were beginning to see the rewards from the changes they have put in place. But, admits there was a long way to go until they are back where they want to be.
Many of Williams’ struggles in 2019 stemmed from a late car build that caused it to miss the first two-and-a-half days of pre-season testing. The team opted to outsource some of its manufacturing for the 2020 car to avoid a repeat and installed a new, comprehensive review system to keep the project on time.
13% drop in UK viewership
Just over 70,000 people watched each Formula One race online in the UK last year according to official figures. The F1 season is due to begin next weekend under a cloud of uncertainty as the coronavirus outbreak threatens some races.
Sky Sports holds exclusive rights to every race but the British Grand Prix, with highlights of all other races on Channel 4. This led to UK audiences reversing last year by 13.6% to 54.8m, as The Independent revealed. It has now come to light that the number of people watching online is just a tiny fraction of that.
Data from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) shows that across Sky Sports and Channel 4 a total of 1.5m people streamed the 21 races in 2019.
The British Grand Prix was the most-watched and streamed event, with it being shown live on Channel 4, Sky One and Sky Sports. However, faced opposition from the Cricket World Cup final, also partly shown by Channel 4 and Sky Sports, and the Wimbledon final.
The race was third in the ranking for the most online views on the day, bit was the most streamed event. With 75,971 people used Channel 4’s All 4 service with a further 44,665 watching on Sky.
At the other end of the spectrum, a total of just 42,688 viewers streamed the Japanese Grand Prix which suffered due to both qualifying and the race taking place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
F1 TV will not be fully available in the UK and Ireland until 2025. But, highlights all races are available to stream and catchup via All4 for free and limited highlights via F1 TV.
Online streaming, was largely via PC/laptops with 45% of all streams followed by tablets and smartphones. The trend reflects the size of the screens with the smallest ones attracting the smallest number of users. Larger screens appeal to older viewers so Liberty may need to drive down the average age of F1 fans if it wants to rev up interest in streaming the races online.
The Week Ahead
Next week the teams head to Melbourne for the opening race of the season, the story is likely to focus on Mercedes strong testing and where is Ferrari? It’s too early to answer these questions, but they look as if Mercedes is the team to beat this season still.
The news agenda will be dominated again I feel by F1 response to the Coronavirus, it’s a difficult one as we know the Chinese Grand Prix has been postponed. But we are beginning to see barriers being put in places in places like Dubai a key transit hub to places like Vietnam and Singapore.
This appears as it could continue well into the season and circuits are beginning to draw up plans. 2020 marks seventy years since the first championship, Barcelona is the closest race to the date and Monaco starts on the date of the first Monaco race. But, nothing has been announced.
The other big story is going to be Lewis Hamilton’s quest for a seventh title, that is really the theme for this year and into next year if he wins and continues into 2021. So, a lot of questions about that for him in the next week.
Ferrari’s poor testing and admitting they are behind means Melbourne for them is about seeing where they really are. But, we will look at that in-depth over the week. Testing does not show where the order is, however they won’t pull it out the bag.