F1 Today – Driver Market Special – 07/09/2021

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Russell confirmed as a Mercedes drivers

George Russell has been confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes next season. The twenty-three-year-old replaces Valtteri Bottas who was announced by Alfa Romeo as the replacement for Kimi Raikkonen on Monday.

The Englishman who stood in for Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix joins Mercedes after three years outperforming his Williams team. He looked on course to take victory in the race in Bahrain for Mercedes in December 2020 and scored his first podium in a controversial race at Spa ten days ago.

Russell said he was “absolutely buzzing” at the move. Adding “I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it’s going to be a steep learning curve.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: “George has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.”

The move comes with a degree of inevitability about it, Russell has been a Mercedes protege since 2017 and has emerged as one of F1’s brightest new stars since he made his debut in 2019. Despite having one of the slowest cars on the grid Russell has managed to pull off remarkable qualifying results, including second at Spa in the wet eleven days ago.

In the race in Sakhir, he was on course for victory before a puncher led to a late pit stop and then a tyre mix up, dropped him to the lower end of the top ten. Wolff, who did not reveal the length of Russell’s contract, but suggested that he had a multi-year deal.

Saying “It’s a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands. My target must be to reward the trust that Toto, the team, and the board have placed in me by ensuring I play my part in continuing that success.”

“I want to do my new team-mates proud. Of course, one of those new teammates is in my opinion the greatest driver of all time.”

Wolff paid tribute to Bottas’ achievements and contribution over his five years at Mercedes and said: “This hasn’t an easy process or a straightforward decision for us.”


Russell is under “no illusion” of challenges

George Russell says he is under “no illusion” about the scale of the challenges he faces when racing alongside Lewis Hamilton next season. On Tuesday F1’s worst kept secret was confirmed, when it was announced he would replace Valtteri Bottas after five seasons with Mercedes.

With Bottas having played his part in a clean sweep of constructors’ championships for Mercedes since then, Russell needs no reminding about the contribution that will be expected from him.

Speaking about his Mercedes future, he told Motorsport.com, “I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Valtteri has set a high bar, consistently delivering week in and week out, scoring wins, pole positions and helping win multiple championship titles.”

“My target must be to reward the trust that Toto, the team, and the board have placed in me by ensuring I play my part in continuing that success and I want to do my new teammates proud.”

The move to Mercedes puts Russell up against Hamilton, the best driver statically of all time. While admitting he doesn’t want to be second fiddle to the driver he looked up to throughout his career he believes it’s a good learning opportunity. Russell says that he has looked up to since karting, describing Hamilton as “a role model both on and off-track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being.”

While Russell is excited about the opportunity, he admitted that it’s a day of mixed emotions having to leave Williams and say goodbye to his teammates and friends. Saying it has been an honour to represent the British team.


Bottas joins Alfa Romeo replacing Raikkonen

Valtteri Bottas will join Alfa Romeo next season, on a multi-year deal. The Finn’s departure from Mercedes has been expected for some weeks, and a return to Williams was also a potential option before it became clear that his destination was Alfa Romeo.

Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement announcement of his retirement was expected to kick start the domino effect in the driver market, with confirmation that Mercedes will prompt its junior driver George Russell from Williams in the coming days. Bottas is reunited at Alfa Romeo with team principal Fred Vasseur, with whom he worked at ART in F3 in 2009 and 2010, and in GP3 in 2011, when he won the championship.

“A new chapter in my racing career is opening. I’m excited to join Alfa Romeo for 2022 and beyond for what is going to be a new challenge with an iconic manufacturer. Alfa Romeo is a brand that needs no introduction, they have written some great pages of F1 history.”

“The potential of the set-up in Hinwil is clear, and I am relishing the opportunity to help lead the team forward up the grid, especially with the new regulations in 2022 giving the team a chance to make a leap in performance.” Bottas said he was grateful for the trust that the team has placed in him, as well as looking forward to working with the team.

Bottas is currently in his fifth season with Mercedes, having been recruited after the surprise retirement of new world champion Nico Rosberg at the end of 2016. He has scored nine Grands Prix wins, earned seventeen pole positions and fastest laps, one of the latter achieved in his Williams days. He was runner-up to his world champion teammate Lewis Hamilton in both 2019 and 2020.

The Finn says he remains fully focused on Mercedes fight with Red Bull in the drivers and constructors championship.

Vasseur stressed that experience was the key to choosing Bottas as a replacement for the retiring Raikkonen. the Frenchman said, “It is a pleasure to welcome Valtteri to the team and we are looking forward to our journey together. With him, we bring to Hinwil a strong team player with experience at the sharp end of the grid.”

“Valtteri has been an integral part of a team that rewrote the history books and he has four constructors’ world titles to his name.”


Alfa Tauri confirm Gasly & Tsunoda

Alpha Tauri has confirmed that both Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda next season. Gasly has driven for the team for four and a half seasons, apart from a brief spell at Red Bull in 2019, and this year was joined by the Japanese driver at the start of the season.

Gasly who took a surprise win at Monza a year ago had hoped for a re-promotion to Red Bull, who opted to retain Sergio Perez. Speaking about Gasly’s season, team principal Franz Tost said “I am confident there’s more to come and this is why we are excited to have him with us for another season. Furthermore, he is using his experience in F1 to help Yuki with his development.”

Tost had previously spoken about hoping to build the team around Gasly, also Red Bull has talked about changing it from a junior team into a more equal sister team. Alpha Tauri are currently sixth in the constructors’ standings, just behind Alpine.

Tost added, “This year we have seen that the positive relationship between the two, made of a competitiveness on-track and a friendship off-track, has proven effective for the team.”


Perez believes incidents cost him sixth at Zandvoort

Sergio Perez believes that incidents with Nikita Mazepin cost him a possible sixth place in the Dutch Grand Prix after starting from the pit lane. The Red Bull driver was knocked out in Q1 after failing to get a final lap in, which prompted the team to take a fresh until meaning he started from the pit lane.

The Mexican managed to fight his way back to eighth place at the chequered flag after a late stint on soft tyres saw him pass Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon to claw his way into the points.

Perez was forced into an early pit stop after flat-spotting his hard tyres when trying to pass Haas driver Mazepin, switching to mediums after only eight laps. He then had a run-in with Norris in the closing stages when trying to pass around the outside at Tarzan, resulting in contact between the two drivers.

While he feels the team had “managed to minimise the damage” after his qualifying setback, he believed that a top-six finish would have been on the cards without the two incidents.

Perez explained to Motorsport.com, “Our race was really complicated a lot, with Nikita in the beginning, I flat-spotted my tyres. He moved really late on the braking, and just to avoid him I flat-spotted my tyres, I had to come in and basically start our race again, and I think that cost us probably P6.”

“Apart from that it was a sensible race, apart from the touch with Lando as well, which cost a lot of right-hand side of the floor, it took away and I think that also cost us P6. But the positive is obviously Max [Verstappen] won the race for the team, and we have our new engine so we’re good for the rest of the year.”

Speaking about what happened at Tarzan with Norris, Perez felt he had “nowhere to go” because of the “unnecessary” move, but the McLaren driver made clear he was not willing to simply give up the position without a fight.

Norris added, “I think we can just be happy with racing him. He’s in a Red Bull, he’s in the quickest car on the track. I think any driver, no matter who it is, no matter if we were just purely racing against Max or Lewis [Hamilton] or whoever on track, you’ve got to treat them all the same.”

“I’m not going to make his life easy because I want those points just as much as he does. So yeah, I tried, I squeezed him a little bit but I didn’t force him all the way off the track or anything like that so we both fought each other hard.

The McLaren driver says Perez backed out of the move into Tarzan and he didn’t want to give him a lot of room, but feels he left enough space and still  managed to get past, none of us crashed, and I think he still went on to overtake another one, so yeah, nothing to say.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner praised Perez for a “fantastic” recovery drive after taking the penalty and the first lap flat spot. Adding “He was the only guy I could see really overtaking.”


Unknown challenges lead to lack of overtaking

Fernando Alonso believes the unknown challenges that the team faced with the tyres at Zandvoort last weekend led to a lack of overtaking during the Dutch Grand Prix. Zandvoort hosted its first F1 race in thirty-six years last weekend as Max Verstappen took a popular home victory in front of a baying Dutch crowd.

The circuit was significant development ahead of F1’s return, including the creation of banked corners at Tarzan, Hugenholtz and Arie Luyendijk, posing a new challenge to the F1 grid and putting particular strain on the tyres.

The tight, challenging layout made it difficult for drivers to overtake, with the top five drivers all finishing in the position that they qualified in. The two-time champion who started ninth and finished sixth believed the unknowns with tyres caused by limited practice long runs made drivers more cautious in pushing to overtake.

He told Motorsport.com, “Probably we need to review the race and what we can do better for next year. Tyres were maybe unknown, that was the biggest thing. We didn’t know what to expect, we never raced here, and we didn’t do enough laps on Friday.”

“So we were just managing the tyres until a point when you could make it [to the end] and then you push a little bit more. That’s probably a big factor to having a more boring race.”

Alonso felt F1 could take the positives from its return to Zandvoort, noting there were similar struggles to overtake at more established F1 tracks where teams had years of tyre data to analyse and lean on.

He says at circuits like this in Singapore, Budapest and Interlagos the drivers don’t have these problems but they are as bad for overtaking. But he still thinks the weekend was positive and Zandvoort provided a good weekend of action and an amazing atmosphere.


UK’s red list causing headaches for calendar

The Turkish Grand Prix remains the biggest headache for F1 as the country remains on the UK’s red list. Also there are renewed questions about the United States Grand Prix as Texas faces another wave of the coronavirus creating more headaches for Liberty Media when it comes to the calendar.

Istanbul remains the biggest headache for the F1 organisation, with a crunch point coming next week. The race was postponed in May due to travel restrictions by the British government placing a ten-day quarantine in a UK government-approved hotel on their return. So far that has not been lifted.

Whether the race goes ahead now hinges on the next review of the red list next Thursday. F1 issued a revised calendar over the recent Belgian Grand Prix weekend, with several changes intended to help with a smoother run to the end of the season.

If Turkey does not come off the list next week, the provisional plan is for only skeleton crews to travel to Turkey and for those people to remain out of the UK prior to the US GP two weeks later, either by travelling directly to America or by stopping elsewhere on the way.

However, that strategy is clearly not optimal and would still have to be agreed by the teams, should it become the only option.

F1 is currently in talks with the US and Texan governments about how many people will be allowed to enter the country given the stipulation that they must be “essential” personnel.

Last weekend, F3 moved its season finale from Austin to Sochi, citing “unavoidable logistical changes that heavily impacted the overall costs of the planned Austin event”.

Speaking about the calendar at Spa, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali says that the updated calendar issued at Spa remains solid for the time being. he told Motorsport.com, “So far all is what we delivered in terms of information, and so far, it’s all stable. So let’s hope that there will be no other situations that will get situation more critical, but so far, that is confirmed.”

The current schedule includes a “to be confirmed” slot on November 21, which has yet to be officially announced as Qatar as the deal for the event is still being put together. Domenicali declined to be drawn on the latest progress with the event, which if confirmed is set to be a night race.

It’s expected that Doha will host the TBA race and the FIA visited the Losail International Circuit over the summer and race director Michael Masi and F1’s sporting director Steve Nielsen pinpointed what would be needed to update it for an F1 race.

Among areas understood to have been highlighted were the pit entry plus barriers and kerbs that are more suitable for two-wheeled racing than F1 cars. Temporary buildings in the paddock for the use of teams will also have to be upgraded.


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