Verstappen signs contract extension
Max Verstappen has ended speculation about his future and a potential move to Mercedes after signing a three-year contract extension with Red Bull.
The decision by the dutchman to stay with Red Bull will be seen as a support for Red Bull’s and Honda’s partnership, taking three wins. Late last year Honda confirmed it will continue to supply Red Bull and sister team, Toro Rosso, until 2021. The Dutchman said he wants to win a championship with the team.
In a tweet, Verstappen said, “Very proud and happy that @redbullracing will stay my home until 2023. We started this journey together and they have supported me from day 1. I want to win with @redbull and @HondaRacingF1, our goal is to fight for a World Championship together. The best is yet to come! #YesBoys”
His contract was due to end at the end of the season, and there had been links to a move to Mercedes. Verstappen has been tipped as the driver who could define Formula One over the next decade, where he could win multiple titles.
Red Bull is confident that they can win more than three races in 2020. The former world champions are also hoping that regulation change in 2021 is the perfect opportunity to re-establish itself as the dominant force on the grid.
With that change on the horizon, team boss Christian Horner says securing Verstappen’s services beyond 2020 was essential. Horner said, “With the challenge of the 2021 regulation changes on the horizon continuity in as many areas as possible is key.”
“Max has proven what an asset he is to the team, he truly believes in the partnership we have forged with our engine supplier Honda, and we are delighted to have extended our relationship with him.”
Ferrari retain Wehrlein as development driver
Ferrari has retained Pascal Wehrlein as development driver this season, working on the team’s new simulator this season. With on-track testing being further reduced this season, teams are continuing to invest in R&D, with Wehrlein staying with the team it offers stability.
Team principal Mattia Binotto told F1.com, “We still have experienced drivers for  in the simulator. So Pascal is staying with us [in 2020] but we’ve got as well other drivers who maybe are not so much experienced in Formula 1, but have done many years of simulator.”
“Our simulator drivers are very well integrated in the team… The simulator is more and more important, that’s why we will invest on the simulator in the future.”
Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri echoed Binotto, adding that the road car business had helped to fund upgrades to the race team’s infrastructure.
“We’re… prepared to invest, and luckily the car business can support those investments, not only in terms of people but also in terms of infrastructure. One example is [that we] are building a new simulator,” he added.
2020 could become an arms race for the teams as they look to build resources before a budget cap is introduced next season.
Engine legality clarifications ensures level play field
Red Bull says that FIA clarifications about engine tricks that were issued at the end of last year were “enormously important” to ensure a level playing field this season.
Following a request from the teams the governing body issued a number of technical directives towards the end of last season explaining what competitors were and were not allowed to do with engine tricks. Scrutiny of Ferrari’s sizeable advantaged promoted concerns that they were exploiting loopholes in the rules to gain a power advantage.
Ferrari has not been found to have broken the regulations and insisted the clarifications did not force it to change anything on its power unit, the FIA directives have been welcomed by teams.
Red Bull, whose engine partner Honda is playing catch up in its bid to get to the top, the fact that there is clarity now about what is and is not allowed is a massive boost.
Speaking to Motorsport.com about the engine situation, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “The power unit aspect of the car is an incredibly complex piece of kit. And I think that the FIA don’t have the expertise that the teams have developed.”
“I think what has been clarified is a lockdown in various areas, which is focused on what’s happening going forward rather than looking behind us.” Horner says he is grateful for the clarification of the rules.
This season the governing body has introduced a second fuel flow sensor to help the clarification process this season. This was the response to fears that some teams had been tricking the monitor to use just one sensor so the additional measurement could not detect the fuel flow.
peaking at the end of last year, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said his outfit had proven the legality of its power unit by the way it passed all the checks that were done by the FIA.
He said, “If I look at the whole season, we have been one of the most checked teams, that was before or after the technical directives. When you got a performance advantage, and certainly we got it during the whole season, we have been the most checked.”
Binotto says the cars were compliant with all the directives and checks, with no changes to the way the engine operates.
Hamilton says “much more to do”
As he celebrates his thirty-fifth birthday and heading into a momentous year for him six-time champion Lewis Hamilton says there is “much to do”. The Englishman is the second oldest driver on the grid but is fast closing in on Michael Schumacher’s seven titles and ninety-one wins.
In his first Tweet of the year, Hamilton said, “There is much to do. Much work is ahead of us, but I try to set my sights high, on things which most people would say are impossible.”
The story of 2020 looks set to be dominated once again Hamilton’s quest for what a few years ago looked unlikely as he goes for Schumacher’s records. He is likely to surpass Schumacher’s this year – the most race wins (91), the most podium positions (155) and the most races in the points (221).
Hamilton starts the year on 84 wins, 151 podiums and 213 points finish.
Hamilton’s future is also going to be in the spotlight, his two-year contract is due to expire at the end of the year and he says he will take time to consider his options before putting pen to paper on his next deal.
Links to Ferrari emerged before last season ended in Abu Dhabi, but Hamilton has said he can still not envisage himself beyond Mercedes. The long term contracts by his younger rivals, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, has increased the likelihood of Hamilton extending his stay at Brackley.
Concerns over Australian bushfire crisis
Formula One says it is continuing to monitor the continuing Australian bushfire crisis ahead of the opening race of the season. The country is experiencing its worst fire season in its history which has claimed a record-breaking 8.4m hectares, an area larger than Scotland.
Air quality in Sydney and Melbourne has been at unhealthy levels as fires rage in New South Wales and Victoria. F1 says it is in constant contact with the race organisers on the issue.
Plans are already being discussed between the teams, organisers the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and Liberty Media for some form of support for the victims of the fires, although details are still being worked out.
At least 25 people and millions of animals have died since the fire season started in September and almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed. The race takes place in the Victorian state capital Melbourne on 13th to 15th March.
The sport will be aware of an image problem as climate change has been a major factor, with the sport poised to fly to the continent in a fleet of long-haul jets and literally burn carbon for fun for three days. The optics of that are bad, regardless of any help the sport can provide for victims of the fires.
Responding to climate change
Last year in response to the climate emergency called by some countries, Liberty announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, and plans are already afoot for the next generation of engines, scheduled to be introduced in 2025, to run on carbon-neutral synthetic fuels.
The current cars must have 5.75% of bio-components, and the plan is to almost double that to 10% in 2021. However, the 2030 target is ambitious as the idea to capture carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into liquid fuel by combining it with hydrogen from water.
FIA president Jean Todt told BBC News, “Motorsport can be at risk for two reasons – one, the environment, and two a big crash. Safety and environment are crucial to secure the future of motorsport.”
“We are working with the teams and engine suppliers and all experts available, and if costs are involved I am happy for the FIA to take that on board.”
F1 chief executive Chase Carey added: “We don’t have a completely detailed road-map but the role we want to play is a leadership role. [We hope to be] at the forefront of showing what’s possible.”
The actual on-track action contributes less than per cent of the sports 256,551 tones of carbon emissions in 2018. The biggest challenge is reducing the carbon emissions from the supply chains and logistics operation.
Difficult decision to flee injustice – Ghosn
Former Renault boss Carlos Ghosn says that his decision to flee Japan, where he was charged with financial misconduct, was the most difficult of his life.
Speaking at a news conference, Mr Ghosn said his treatment went against international standards of justice. He claimed he was left with no other choice but to flee to protect himself and his family. He described his treatment as “brutal”.
The Lebanese former CEO says that he was kept in a cell with a small window and only allowed to shower twice a week. He also spent 130 days in a windowless cell while in solitary confinement, he described his “feeling of hopelessness” as “profound”.
He added “I was brutally taken from my work as I knew it, ripped from my work, my family and my friends. It is impossible to express the depth of that deprivation and my profound appreciation to be able to be reunited with my family and loved ones.”
“It will get worse for you if you don’t just confess,’ the prosecutor told me repeatedly,” he said at the news conference. Lawyers for Ghosn believe it would be five years before he could expect a judgement, he said. As a result, he said it was not hard to come to the decision that he would either have to “die in Japan or get out”.
He described himself as a “hostage” of a country that he had served for 17 years as the boss of Nissan. Prosecutors have accused Ghosn of making a multi-million-dollar payment to a Nissan distributor in Oman.
Nissan, meanwhile, has filed its own criminal complaint against Mr Ghosn, accusing him of diverting money from the company for his own personal enrichment. He has also been accused of under-reporting his own salary and denies all the charges against him.
He says that the allegations are part of an attempted coup over concerns about Renault’s growing influence over Nissan under his tenure.
On Tuesday, Japanese authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Ghosn’s wife Carole, who was accused of giving false testimony.
Ghosn’s escape from Japan between Christmas and New Year saw him skipped bail to board a private jet that took him to Turkey before he travelled on to Lebanon, where he is a citizen, and where his wife was waiting.