“Can’t on mistakes” from rivals Red Bull – Hamilton
Sir Lewis Hamilton has warned he and Mercedes “can’t continue to rely on mistakes” from rivals Red Bull if they are to win the title this season. The seven-times world champion currently has an eight-point lead from three races thanks partly because of mistakes by Red Bull and Max Verstappen.
Hamilton said, “In terms of overall output through the weekend, we’ve done a better job. We have a good package but it has weak areas which we are working on. You’re seeing the closest battle you’ve seen for some time.”
“Max is performing exceptionally well. He has a championship-winning car and team without a doubt who can really pull off the job this year if we don’t do our job.” Mercedes went into the season behind Red Bull on pace over a single lap, but have managed to take two pole positions and wins.
Verstappen lost the lead in the first race in Bahrain when Mercedes’ strategists made Hamilton’s first pit stop earlier to jump him ahead. Verstappen had to hand the win to Hamilton after catching him and passing him late in the race because he had exceeded track limits in making the overtaking move.
The Dutchman’s pole time was deleted at Imola, while Hamilton made a rare mistake in the race damaging his car. The Mercedes driver was ninth at the restart, following a crash between Bottas and George Russell caused the red flag. While in Portimao, Verstappen lost pole after going beyond track limits when caught by a gust of wind on his fastest qualifying lap.
He then had a slide out of the last corner shortly before Hamilton passed him for second place, before the Briton went on to pass Bottas for the lead and win.
Hamilton said: “Definitely the first test didn’t look great and the first race we were still up there, but you could see the deficit to the Red Bulls. We are keeping our heads down and working away.”
The Englishman said he was really happy with the performance of his side of the team, but said he was always trying to raise the bar and trying to make as few mistakes as possible.
Verstappen said: “I always try to get the best possible results out of it. I went twice outside of the track limits where it cost me basically a pole and a fastest lap but it’s also because I don’t settle for second or third.”
The Red Bull driver says it is exciting and they finally have a car capable of having good results every weekend.
“Bull***” speculation about my future – Bottas
Valtteri Bottas has dismissed the report by the Daily Mail newspaper that Mercedes could replace him before the end of the session as “bull****.”
The British newspaper claimed that Mercedes was ‘losing faith’ in Bottas and that Sir Lewis Hamilton ‘could have a new team-mate before the end of the season’, with Williams driver George Russell the favourite to replace him.
The story followed a difficult Portuguese Grand Prix for Bottas, who has only scored thirty-two points through the first three rounds of the season, less than half of Hamilton. Asked about the reports ahead of this weekend’s race in Barcelona he insisted he was going nowhere.
He said, “I know that I’m not going to be replaced in the middle of the season. As a team, we don’t do that. I have a contract for this year and I think there’s only one team that does that kind of thing in F1, and we are not them. So no pressure from my side. I know how things are – there’s always bull**** around. That’s part of the sport.”
The reference to ‘one team that does that kind of thing,’ is no doubt a reference to Mercedes main rival Red Bull. Red Bull has twice in the last five years replaced two of its drivers mid-season.
He added, “If I do my job well the talking will stop pretty quickly.”
Bottas’s season has already face setbacks, he has not been able to challenge Sir Lewis Hamilton or Max Verstappen finishing third, and retired following a collision with Russell at Imola. The Finn is fourth behind both Hamilton and Verstappen as pull ahead.
Adding “There’s still twenty races to go which is a huge amount of points and I’m definitely not giving up on the goal this year. I believe that hard work will pay off so I will keep working hard and keep believing.”
There has always been speculation since Bottas joined Mercedes about whether he will stay at the team for the following season. Russell’s strong showing when standing in for Hamilton in Sakhir last December has only increased transfer gossip.
For now, Bottas is staying focused but admits he doesn’t know if he’ll be a Mercedes driver in 2022. Adding “It’s still early days – I haven’t thought about next year. I’m focused on the here and now. I have no idea and at the moment, I don’t care.”
Verstappen has “full trust” when racing Hamilton
Max Verstappen says he still has “full trust” when he is racing Sir Lewis Hamilton wheel-to-wheel, which has happened at every race so far in the 2021 season. The Red Bull and Mercedes drivers are separated by eight points going into this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was the victor in Portimao on Sunday, despite Verstappen getting by at the early safety car restart before Hamilton moved back ahead a few laps later following the Red Bull driver making a small mistake exiting the penultimate corner. That mistake followed their battle in Sakhir.
where Verstappen had to move aside and let Hamilton back by after completing his pass off-track, and the first real corner of the Imola race, where they clashed, with Hamilton forced over the kerbs with a damaged front wing.
When asked by Autosport, how much he was enjoying the close fight with Hamilton so far in 2021, Verstappen said, “It’s been really cool, especially when you race a driver, when you know that you can go to the absolute limit [with them].”
“I guess you can trust each other to just race super-hard. I think that’s always really nice because you can see the in the three races we’ve had it’s been really close to each other but predictable. Lewis has never had something like ‘oh, we’re going to crash’ or something. I always have full trust in Lewis that we’ll give each other enough space.”
Throughout the dominance shown by Mercedes in the turbo-hybrid era, Hamilton has said regularly he would welcome battles with drivers outside his own team, said he would “just second that”.
He added: “I think it is naturally down to respect and I think [we’re] both very, very hard – but fair, and I think that’s what makes great racing and great racing drivers and I think we will continue to keep it clean and keep it on the edge.”
Red Bull signs five more to engine programme from Mercedes
Red Bull has signed five Mercedes engineers for their new in-house engine facility. The announcement follows the signing of Mercedes engineer Ben Hodgkinson as technical director last month.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said the recruits “provide us with the strongest possible technical platform for the future”. The Austrian team are taking over Hondas power units at the end of the year when the Japanese company pulls out of F1 at the end of this year.
The new employees are Steve Blewett, production director; Omid Mostaghimi, head of electronics and energy-recovery systems (ERS); Pip Code, head of mechanical design Era; Anton Mayo, head of design for internal combustion engine (ICE); Steve Brodie, group leader ICE operations.
There is an engine development freeze being introduced from next season to prevent companies from having to develop two engine designs at the same time. Horner says that the project was enormously exciting undertaking but also an extremely demanding one.
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has said since the announcement of Red Bull Powertrains he had “expected” Red Bull to try to recruit some of their employees.
Wolff told BBC News, “This is just a battleground such as the one on track. You need to acknowledge that and the last few weeks were certainly very much pulling on both sides of the rope, which I enjoyed. It’s part of the competition.”
Red Bull engine plant is part of its Milton Keynes site, making it the only team other than Ferrari to build its cars and engines on the same site. Mercedes HPP is in Brixworth, Northamptonshire, about 30 miles away from the chassis base in Brackley.
It is understood that Red Bull has approached several Mercedes staff, who turned down the offer.
“We will lose some, we will win some. But at the end of the day, I believe in the philosophy of Mercedes, and I believe that we are a really good employer,” Wolff added.
Too much being made of drivers struggling with new teams
Fernando Alonso believes that too much is being made of drivers who have switched teams struggling this weekend, calling on people not to over-analyse his early results with Alpine.
The two-times world champion made his return with the former Renault team where he won both his titles in 2005 and 2006 and like the four other drivers, Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr, who switched teams over the off-season has struggled to get to grips with the car.
After the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Alonso said he “did not perform well”, there was much discussion about the performances and early results of the drivers that have joined new teams, a challenge that has been made more difficult by the slashed testing time for 2021 and the season’s carryover car requirements.
He told select media when asked about pre-season comments saying judge until after the first few races, Alonso said, “I’m still thinking the same – that I am at one point in my life where I feel good, and I feel capable of driving better than ever. But, that doesn’t mean that you don’t find difficulties while entering a new adventure, or in this [case a] comeback.”
“At the same time, I had one weekend where I was not totally comfortable – in Imola. the problem is that in Formula 1 there is a lot of media, a lot of articles, and unfortunately, two weeks between races, because if it was back-to-back from Imola to [Portimao], there [would have been] much less talk! And it was also a coincidence of not only me, [but a] few other drivers not being totally confident in Imola.”
Alonso firmly dismissed the suggestion that he was struggling in comparison compared to other champions that made successful attempts to win again in the championship history. Saying he has been under-delivering because now wasn’t the time to judge if he was underperforming.
FIA Circuit Changes
The race director’s notes says that the track limit will be enforced through Turns One and Two this weekend. They say that each time a car leaves the track at the second corner or gets pushed wide they must re-join the track going through the bollards.
On the second offence, drivers will be shown the black and white flag, with the third offence being reported to the stewards. In all cases, the drivers must re-join only when it is safe to do so, with any faster laps being deleted. This will no apply to any driver who has been deemed to have been pushed wide.
It also says that the bumps at Turn Eight have been extended towards TV3 (Seven), the kerb at Nine has been replaced.
While as previously announced La Casa (Ten) has been completely reprofiled into a long sweeping left-hander. As well as new kerbs at EuroCar (Thirteen)
Alpha Tauri should bounce back – Gasly
Pierre Gasly is expecting Alpha Tauri to bounce back this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix following a difficult weekend in Portimao. The Frenchman qualified fifth for the first two races in Bahrain and Imola but had to settle for ninth on the grid in Portimao. In the race he lost a position, eventually finishing tenth.
Gasly says that the team knew that the slow corners at the Algarve Circuit were not favourable to its car and it was a race the team were expecting. He told Autosport, “We finished pretty much where we expected – slightly better because I managed to pass Carlos [Sainz] in the end and get a point. So obviously it’s not much, but clearly the maximum we could expect from this weekend.”
“It has been a hard one, we struggled quite a lot on this track with all the low-speed corners and it’s an area we knew we had to improve already since the winter test. Now we have the proof that we are struggling compared to our main competitors, and at least it gives us a clear direction of development.”
He believes the Alpha Tauri should be more competitive and have more pace in Barcelona. Gasly explained the first two sectors with their high and medium-speed corners as well as second and third gear corners were not favourable compared to its main rivals Alpine, Ferrari and McLaren.
Gasly also says that Alpine was extremely fast in a straight line, and was able to overtake on the straights rather than in the corners. He also pointed out overtaking is more difficult in Barcelona and that the midfield pack was quite tight, creating good battles.
Gasly agreed that the slow corner performance is a particular concern for Monaco, saying it was one area the team needed to improve.
Expanding on the difference between the AT02 and last year’s AlphaTauri he added: “There is just slightly less grip so you’re sliding a bit more, you can’t carry the brakes into the corner as hard otherwise you’re locking. You can’t carry as much speed, otherwise, the front is not holding, and the traction is slightly more tricky.
Criticism from F1 rivals shouldn’t affect Mazepin
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner believes his rookie driver Nikita Mazepin shouldn’t be affected by the ample criticism he receives by his colleagues. The Russian drivers start to his career has been marked by mistakes and lack of pace compared to teammate Mick Schumacher.
In the opening three races of the season, Mazepin has been out-qualified behind the German on each occasion with an average gap of six tenths. On his debut in Sakhir, he spun out on the opening lap, while in the last two races he has finished a minute behind his teammate.
But Mazepin has also drawn the ire of several colleagues for allegedly blocking them during qualifying attempts, with the likes of Sergio Perez and Nicholas Latifi calling him an “idiot” in the heat of the moment.
When asked by Motorsport.com if the criticism Mazepin gets from fellow F1 drivers affects him, team boss Steiner replied his driver “shouldn’t be doing this job” if that were the case.
Steiner explained, “Obviously what is said in race circumstances when you go with these cars 300km/h and someone [is] in your way, you normally don’t say ‘oh, this guy was not very nice’. You call him something else, you know? I mean, who wouldn’t? I wouldn’t like what people say about me but if that affects you, you shouldn’t be doing this job.”
He suggested the ‘bad boy’ image is further being fed by F1’s broadcast team in the way it decides which team radio clips to air, calling it a “bit of attention-grabbing”.
The weekend ahead
Round four of the season takes F1 to Barcelona were much of the focus will be on the Mercedes and Red Bull battle. I believe the circuit is similar in some ways to Portimão where the teams were very close in qualifying and the race, but one pattern we have seen this year is that second lap hasn’t necessarily been the fastest.
The other thing this weekend is going to be how much progress the teams have made from last year and testing, that will be harder this year as we were testing in Sakhir. Teams normally bring rafts of updates to the cars, that could be key in the tight battles we are seeing.
McLaren I still believe are the leaders in the midfield, but can the pack close behind or can they make gains towards cementing their ‘best of the rest’ position. We need. To remember there is a long way to go in this championship, and Alpha Tauri could start to make gains in the fight as well as Ferrari.
Most of the attention will be on both Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso at their home races, Sainz I think is more likely to be the one who gets the headlines. But we have seen all the drivers who have switched teams this year struggle to get to grips with their cars.