Ferrari look to upgrades to restart season
Ferrari is to introduce its first engine upgrade of the season at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, as it looks to close the gap and end the domination by Mercedes this season.
The German manufacturer has taken four one-twos in the first four races, while Ferrari has faced setbacks with reliability issues and driver errors. They will be hoping that the new power unit, fuel and aerodynamic updates will move them forward.
Team principal and technical director Mattia Binotto, told BBC News that Ferrari was “pushing hard to make up ground.” He added that the engine had originally been scheduled for the Canadian Grand Prix next month, said Ferrari had made a “big team effort to bring these developments forward.”
“We are behind in the championship and we have to catch up, which we know means that our development work will be the key to this season,” said Binotto.
Ferrari has only managed three third places in the first four races. However, Charles Leclerc lost a near dominant win in Bahrain after an engine issue and Vettel was unable to capitalise because he had spun after being passed by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Leclerc also looked favourite for victory in the last race in Baku, but a crash in second qualifying ended his hopes. Vettel currently trails Valtteri Bottas by thirty-five points and is currently fifth, behind Hamilton, Leclerc and Max Verstappen.
Ferrari will be hoping the return to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, where Ferrari’s form in pre-season testing led Mercedes to conclude they were going into the season behind their rivals, will see the team face arguably the biggest test of the year so far.
They believe their struggles this season in the races where they have lagged behind Mercedes are largely to do with failing to get the best out of the tyres, rather than any fundamental pace deficit in the car.
Vettel said: “I’ve always had very positive weekends in Barcelona with Ferrari, even if we’ve never won. I hope this might be the moment to put that right.”
Leclerc adds “This is probably the track where it’s hardest for the driver to make a difference. The reason is simple – each one of us knows it by heart, right down to the smallest detail. I have good memories from February’s testing, even if the conditions were very different back then, with very low air and track temperatures.”
Honda “pushing the boundaries” – Horner
Red Bull say they know Honda has to “push the boundaries” if they are going to match Mercedes and Ferrari’s engine on power. The partnership in its first season has already shown some progress in performance and has taken steps forward.
However, they have already managed to show significant progress in closing ground up with the upgrade introduced at the last race in Baku. In that race, Max Verstappen finished fourth and team principal Christian Horner has been delighted by Honda’s work.
He told reporters after the race in Baku, “It’s been positive. It enables us to run the engine a little bit harder. It’s all part of that evolution.” The upgrade in Baku while aimed at improving reliability has also meant that the team will need to take a penalty later in the year because teams are only allowed three engines during the season.
But, Red Bull has always been open to taking penalties if that leads to long term gains, Horner says that Honda needs to push the boundaries which they are doing.
Verstappen added “I’m really happy because they keep pushing really hard to bring upgrades and that’s always good. I’m happier that we can say at the end of the season that we really closed the gap on Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of power, just because we used a few more engines. That’s fine.”
This weekend will be a key test for Red Bull, as the teams bring the first major upgrades of the year. The teams need a good aero package and Red Bull has planned changes to its front and rear wings, but its chassis hasn’t shone as yet, so the Barcelona changes are much-anticipated.
He added “It’s fairly subtle. It’s just evolution so it will be the usual front and rear wing upgrades, but it’s evolution rather than revolution.”
Renault confident its capable of “much more”
Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul remains confident that is capable of “much more” as they look to get there season back on track at this weekends Spanish Grand Prix.
The French manufacturer went into this season hoping to challenge the top three teams, after finishing last season fourth and leading the midfield last year. However, the team has been affected by bad luck, reliability problems and accidents leaving the team in seventh in the constructors.
Abiteboul is convinced that the true potential of his team has not been shown so far and he says sights are set on a ‘full recovery’ in Barcelona this weekend. In the team’s preview, he said “The start of the European segment of the 2019 Formula 1 season is an opportunity for us to reset.”
“Overall, it’s been a tough start to the year and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix capped off a run of results that fell short of our expectations. We know we are capable of much more and we need to target clean weekends and races to make the most of our potential.”
“To do so, we have work to do on all sides of our operation; chassis and engine on and off track, and work with the drivers to allow them to reach their respective capacities.” He says that he is motivated for a full recovery in competitiveness in Spain.
Abiteboul says he is aware of the tightness of the midfield can mean it can change quickly, but also the situation in the midfield can change in an instant. The team will be introducing some new updates for the Spanish weekend which will focus around the front wing and rear of the car.
Technical director Nick Chester, says “We have a few aero parts to add to the front wing and rear of the car. We are also looking at some mechanical tweaks to improve car balance. At this stage, there is a development race going on between the teams, but we will keep pushing hard to get best from it each weekend.”
Nico Hulkenberg has admitted that the start of the season has been hard for the team, but he is hopeful that its Baku struggles were a one-off
Regulation deal close but elephants remain
F1 teams believe that they are drawing close to a deal on the 2021 regulations, however, they still believe that there are “a few elephants in the room.”
Teams are currently reading through and are considering the widespread changes to technical regulations, financial restrictions and governance which were outlined at a meeting in Bahrain in March. Although the end of June deadline is unlikely to be met, with a compromise deadline of October now being likely as teams believe they are nearing a deal.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Motorsport.com, “There are still a few elephants in the room but yeah, it feels generally like on all front we are converging in the right direction. Hopefully, over the next few months, something can get sorted.”
Following an informal meeting in Baku, Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer said that progress is being made each time the parties meet. He says that a deal is closer, and they have given feedback to the FIA as requested.
Szafnauer added, “There are still some outstanding issues on some components that will either be supplied or not and when we know more information then I think we’ll get closer to that. But mid-year, something should be published.”
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams said her team is “really happy” with what has been proposed and would be keen to sign up now if what has been tabled so far was the final offering.
However, Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has expressed concerns that the wide-ranging changes are holding up individual elements being completed.
He said “There are so many important balls in the air, whether it’s prize fund redistribution or the cost cap, technical and sporting regulations. It is progressing slowly. We’d like to have it done sooner rather than later.”
Toro Rosso not getting results it deserves
Alex Albon says that Toro Rosso is not getting the results it deserves and has the potential to be higher than ninth in the constructor’s championship.
The Italian team looked strong in practice and qualifying in Baku, however, Albon and teammate Daniil Kvyat were unable to convert their best starting positions of the year into points. However, the British-Thai driver lost ground finishing the race eleventh.
Meanwhile, Kvyat also suffered a slump of pace in the opening laps before a recovery was cut short when he was reversed into by Daniel Ricciardo in a bizarre escape road incident. That followed his retirement in Shanghai following a collision with both McLarens.
Albon is insisting that the team has more potential than it had shown so far after three top 10 finishes between the two drivers in four races so far. He explained to Motorsport.com, “I think at the minute we’re just not really getting results we deserve. We’ve been qualifying good. Daniil proved it [in Baku], that the car is quick in qualifying.”
“It has been quick previous to that in the other races. Our issue really has just been always having one thing or another – so things not going our way. We don’t have the points that our pace shows.”
Albon admitted there was definitely some missed opportunities, but knowing that the car is quick he is sure Toro Rosso can fight back.
His race in Baku was over following a long first stint, but he believes the team may have been flattered a little by getting up to speed in practice earlier than others. Saying “I think maybe everyone caught up. The car felt good the whole race [in Baku] and I was happy with the balance.”