Azerbaijan Virtual GP – Russell takes third back to back win
George Russell has secured a third back to back win after beating Red Bull’s Alex Albon in the Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc struggling in the Ferrari and finishing behind footballer Thibaut Courtois.
Russell’s performance in recent weeks, helps him build on his growing reputation ahead of F1’s restart next month, with Toto Wolff admitting he’s a contender for a Mercedes seat in 2021.
The streets of Baku lived up to their reputation and from the very start carnage followed, but the British driver stretched his lead from pole to seal his third win in a row, leapfrog Leclerc as the series’ most successful driver and top the unofficial drivers’ championship.
Leclerc has been one of the most consistently fast drivers in the eSports series but struggled to get going in Baku, where he infamously crashed in qualifying last year. He only managed tenth on the grid and then was caught up in a big major collision with Pierre Gasly
Albon was Russell’s closest challenger throughout but a late penalty ensured it was his fellow young Brit who came out on top in the Williams. Albon was unable to provide much competition for Russell, and Albon’s final hopes of claiming his first win since his win at Interlagos were dashed when he picked up a three-second penalty for corner-cutting.
Russell said, “I’m definitely going to want more of this when we get back to the real world. But I can’t guarantee that!”
Mercedes Esteban Gutierrez was third, after weeks of struggles despite winning in other series. Leclerc had a difficult race, tenth in qualifying then a crash at a start and twelve seconds worth of penalties left him fourteenth, the first time he not been on the podium.
McLaren’s Lando Norris who achieved his best finish in fourth. Renault junior Oscar Piastri, who will drive for reigning series champions Prema in FIA F3 this year, finished in fifth place on his series debut ahead of Haas F1 reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.
Ben ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly was eighth on his maiden Virtual GP outing, with long-time Mercedes simulator driver Anthony Davidson and popular streamer Jimmy Broadbent rounding out the top ten.
On their debut Pierre Gasly was twelfth and Sergio Perez was fifteenth. The unofficial drivers and constructors will be decided in Montreal this weekend.
Leclerc character is mix of Schumacher & Raikkonen
Former Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder has described Charles Leclerc characteristics as a mix of characteristics from world champions Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
Leclerc made his debut with the team, now known as Alfa Romeo, in 2018 before being promoted to Ferrari last season. Last season he emerged as one of the stars, winning two races and finishing fourth in the drivers’ standings ahead of four-time world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Leclerc was rewarded with a new long-term contract at Ferrari, keeping him at the team until the end of 2024. Zehnder who worked with Leclerc in 2018, says that he was special.
In an interview with Motorsport.com, marking half a century of Sauber Motorsport, Zehnder said “It was a very good season, it was a very interesting season working again with a young kid. We’ve done this before, but for the first time in a long time, we had a newcomer, a very special driver with a very special attitude.”
“I’ve never seen a driver like Charles before, and it was again very rewarding for all the work we had, for all the difficult times we had, to work with a kid again. I’ve always said that for me, from his speed, he’s Kimi Raikkonen, and from his working attitude, he’s probably Michael [Schumacher].”
Zehnder has been with the Swiss-based team since 1987, and has also worked with Sebastian Vettel. He also worked with Raikkonen when he was preparing for his rookie F1 season with Sauber in 2001, before linking back up in 2019 upon Raikkonen’s return to Hinwil, with the team now known as Alfa Romeo Racing.
Leclerc’s potential was also recognised by experienced Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson, who was not surprised to see the 22-year-old fare so well against Vettel at Ferrari.
Ericsson adds, “I could tell straight away that this guy is special, this is a special talent. When I saw him joining Ferrari and going up against Vettel, I knew he was going to be super-competitive.”
“But maybe not that he was going to be as good as he was, only in his first year with Ferrari. I could tell that he is a very, very special driver and talent. He’s definitely helped me to show what kind of driver I am.”
Hamilton’s hopes in the fight against racism
Lewis Hamilton hopes that “2020 may just be the most important year of our lives” in the global fight against racism.
The six-time champion has long championed diversity and equality and has posted passionately on social media this week in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and peaceful protests, after the death of George Floyd in the United States.
In another post on Instagram, he wrote, “We must unite! I have wondered why 2020 seemed so doomed from the start but I’m starting to believe that 2020 may just be the most important year of our lives, where we can finally start to change the systemic and social oppression of minorities.
“We just want to live, have the same chances at education, at life and not have to fear walking down the street, or going to school, or walking into a store whatever it may be,” added Hamilton. The Englishman says that Equality is paramount to our future, and that one we cannot stop fighting for.
Hamilton also reflected on the racist abuse he suffered as a young karter and how the events of recent days had “brought back so many painful memories from my childhood”.
When the season begins in Austria at the start of July, he is looking to become the second driver in the history of F1 to claim seven titles and pass Michael Schumacher.
Speaking about the removal of the statue of Edward Colson by protesters in Bristol, he said “Slave trader Edward Colston statue pulled down!!! Our country honoured a man who sold African slaves! All statues of racist men who made money from selling a human being should be torn down! Which one is next?”
Hamilton also spoke about racism when he was a kid, adding “Vivid memories of the challenges I faced when I was a kid, as I’m sure many of you who have experienced racism or some sort of discrimination have faced.”
“I have spoken so little about my personal experiences because I was taught to keep it in, don’t show weakness, kill them with love and beat them on the track.”
Hamilton condemns governments handling of Coronavirus
Lewis Hamilton has also condemned the British government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in another post on Instagram.
On Monday, the countries death toll rose by fifty-five, taking the total number of deaths from Coronavirus to 40,597, with 1,205 new positive infections. It now is the country with the second-highest death toll in the world behind the United States.
He said “I’m appalled at the UK government on how they have handled Covid [-19]. You should have closed the borders [sic] two months ago. How you can let people fly in from countries without being tested is baffling.”
Britain’s government has today introduced new restrictions which will impose a two-week quarantine on arrivals to the country from abroad. However, F1 will be granted exceptions which will allow its planned two races at Silverstone to go ahead.
Vocal stand on racism good for F1 – Wolff
Mercedes F1 CEO Toto Wolff thinks it’s a positive for his team and Formula One that Lewis Hamilton has been so vocal in taking a stand against racism. Despite the pandemic, protests have continued over the weekend, following the shooting dead of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Since the death of Floyd a week ago, the six-time champion has been speaking about his ‘rage’. Wolff says he grew up seeing discrimination first hand, but he thinks Hamilton’s experiences go far beyond that.
Saying “I was lucky enough that I was raised in a household with different nationalities, that I lived with a Jewish family for a long time when my family faced tough times, and I saw what discrimination looked like as an early child already.”
Wolff added, “think all of us have the power to make a change, and sometimes it needs events like the ones that happened a few days ago in the US to trigger a massive wave of support for any minority.”
Wolff says Hamilton is a global superstar, in a sport which is dominated by white males. He says as a team, Mercedes encourages diversity choosing purely on performance and don’t look on any culture, religion or skin colour.
He also says Hamilton has taught him about discrimination from Hamilton too, as he recalled one conversation that stood out.
Saying “He asked the question once: ‘Have you ever had the active thought that you are white?’ And I said, ‘No, actually, I’ve never thought about it.’ He said: ‘Well, you know, I need to think about it [being black] every day because I’m being made aware that I am.’”
Hamilton right to call out lack of diversity
Formula One’s motorsport and technical managing director Ross Brawn says the sport fully supports Lewis Hamilton’s comments on racism and diversity and says the sport is working on ways to provide greater opportunities for all to get into motorsport.
Hamilton, F1’s six-time champion and the grid’s only black driver, has long posted passionately on social media speaking out against racism and calling for greater equality in the sport.
Brawn, who was Hamilton’s first-team boss when he joined Mercedes and now plays a leading role in F1 as its managing director of motorsports, said F1 was fully behind its leading driver. He told Sky Sports, “Lewis is a great ambassador for the sport and his comments are very valid.”
Brawn said F1 was aware it needed to improve diversity across the sport and said creating greater opportunities at the grassroots level, for young drivers, engineers and other potential roles – was at the heart of the required change.
Brawn explained, “We are F1 have recognised for a few years now that we want to strengthen our diversity and our diversity programme. Both internally as a company, and externally, we started work on this a few years ago.”
“Our thoughts were that the reasons why we don’t have more diversity in Formula 1 it starts at the very beginning. It starts at grassroots level.” He pointed to the F1 in Schools programme as a good starting point saying that forty per cent were girls.
He says that the sport is looking very strongly at how we can support grassroots racing level.
Mercedes may enter other series to save jobs
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has suggested that the marque may enter other categories of racing to utilise surplus resources after the cost cap is imposed in 2021.
The budget cap will be reduced from £150m to £125 next season as a response to the coronavirus. This means that the top three teams are facing job cuts as they look to save costs, one option could be to redeploy staff to other programmes to prevent a mass exodus of staff with inside knowledge of its technology.
Wolff also stressed that the cap ensured that F1 made more financial sense for the marque. He told Motorsport.com, “First of all we’re living in a financial reality that is very different to pre-COVID,” said Wolff. “And we have accepted the lower budget cap and it is a must that successful F1 franchises earn money rather than lose money.
He told Motorsport.com, “For us it is also a way of making sure that Daimler not only appreciates the sporting and marketing benefits of the platform but also to make it as cost-neutral as possible. And I believe this is why we need to support such a cost cap.
“For us it means readjusting, it means changing the way we do things, and deploy personnel in new areas. We have a very strong department that is called Mercedes Benz Applied Science, where we work for high performance clients, and deploy our services.
Wolff again dismissed continued speculation that the German manufacturer may quit it works support of F1 and insists that racing is a “core exercise” to which the Stuttgart management remains committed. He says Daimler regards F1 as important as a marketing and research platform.
Pirelli confident that same tyres can be used in 2021
Pirelli Formula One boss Mario Isola is confident that the company’s current tyre specification can be used without problems until the end of 2021, hoping that the option to test prototypes at race weekends this year will not be needed.
The pandemic means the sport will use the same tyre specs for three seasons. Normally, the manufacturer develops new tyres to cope with the downforce levels that teams are expected to reach by the end of each season.
Last year, the teams voted to object the 2020 compounds in favour of retaining this year’s tyres. The pandemic which has led to the postponement of next years regulations, meaning that the same compounds will be used next year.
They will have had to successfully deal with downforce loadings generated by the cars from the start of the 2019 season all the way to the end of 2021. To mitigate that the FIA has mandated a small aero change to the floor regulations which will rein in downforce slightly in 2021, and Isola believes that will help the current tyres cope.
Isola told Motorsport.com, “We should start 2021 with downforce which is in line with the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. So we step back one year, or close to.”
“The idea was exactly this, to plan a reduction in downforce to make the 2019 tyres last until the end of 2021, without increasing the pressure too much because increasing pressure means that we go towards the issue of overheating and degradation.”
He says that Pirelli knows that the drivers haven’t been happy with the tyres, and they have worked together with the FIA and the teams in order to find a solution.
The pandemic has also restricted the tyre development programme, with the closure of circuits. No dedicated testing programme in place in 2020, so no new tyres are being developed for 2021. Also the company wants to focus on its 18-inch programme, and not be distracted by upgrading the current tyres.
The regulations however have been adapted to allow some testing in FP2 this season.