Mercedes doing “everything we can” for Hamilton
Mercedes says it will everything we can” for Lewis Hamilton to allow him to race in this weekends season finale in Abu Dhabi. The seven-times champion missed last weekends race in Bahrain after he tested positive for Coronavirus and was replaced by George Russell.
Hamilton has been in self-isolation in Bahrain since his positive test, with the ten-day period ending on Thursday. The Briton said earlier this week that he was back in training and “feeling great” after previously struggling with symptoms.
The FIA press conference line up lists Russell as appearing for Mercedes on Thursday, with his Williams replacement Jack Aitken also due to return.
Mercedes said in their preview for this weekend that Russell was not defiantly driving for Mercedes, and if Hamilton was well enough and wants to take part in the race he would be given priority.
CEO and team principal Toto Wolff said, “There are still some question marks over who will be in the car this weekend in Abu Dhabi. Lewis’s condition is improving, but we won’t know until closer to the time if he will be driving.”
“We’ll do everything we can to get him in the car and we know he’s determined to be back as soon as possible. But his health is our main priority, so we will see what the situation is and then make the call.”
Hamilton needs four negative tests to enter the United Arab Emirates for the weekend, as well as permission from government officials who oversee strict entry requirements for the race. The entire F1 paddock is in a lockdown on Yas Island, where the circuit is located, after arriving on special charter flights from Bahrain.
Mercedes, in theory, could leave it until qualifying to decide on who will drive this weekend, Nico Hulkenberg stepped in at Racing Point without any practice for the Eifel Grand Prix in October.
Mercedes have also announced a new livery for Saturday onwards, featuring all of the team member names. “We have a very special surprise this weekend in Abu Dhabi for our team members,” Wolff said.
Leclerc reflects on 2020
Charles Leclerc put in a brilliant qualifying in Sakhir Grand Prix only for a race day collision on the opening lap with race winner Sergio Perez took him out on the opening lap and earned him a three-place grid penalty for this weekend final race in Abu Dhabi.
Leclerc has emerged as Ferrari’s leader in a year where their car has under-delivered and they haven’t been able to challenge for victories and podiums. However, the night before Leclerc put in his best qualifying of the season putting himself fourth on the grid, while four-time champion Sebastian Vettel could only manage thirteenth.
The Monacan’s performance echoes those of Gilles Villeneuve or Fernando Alonso, this despite Leclerc only being in his third season. Leclerc told BBC News “That would be incredible love to do things differently. I always try to do things that people don’t expect, because that is what is exciting about the sport and you always need to surprise people on track otherwise it is too easy for them.”
“Sometimes it goes my way and sometimes it doesn’t and I learn from it, but it is good to hear that and I hope so – but I try to focus on myself and not think about these things too much.” In a wide-ranging long interview reflecting on 2020, Leclerc appeared to show both the kind-hearted warm side but also the hard self-criticism that has defined his first three seasons in F1.
Reflecting on his best race of the season in Istanbul, he was furious with his mistake at the final chicane on the last lap which cost him second place allowing Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel onto the podium.
Looking back now, he said, “That’s probably one of my best performances this year in a race and I’m aware of it and I was aware of it after the race when I calmed down. But on the other hand, I was so disappointed.”
He says he did a good job, but the result cost them, Leclerc has one of the best records compared to Vettel this season. He has scored 75% of Ferrari’s points, and out-qualified Vettel 12 times in 16 races so far at an average of 0.354secs.
Leclerc now has become the team defacto lead driver and that’s remarkable given his relative in-experience compared to Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Sergio Perez. But despite that he has regularly outperformed his Ferrari.
There have been a series of standout drives following that opener in Austria, among them third and fourth places in the two races at Silverstone. Also during lockdown, finished third in the F1 virtual Grands Prix unofficial drivers’ championship.
Leclerc a “clear leader” – Binotto
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto is confident Charles Leclerc will be a “clear leader” for the team like Michael Schumacher, believing there are similarities between the two drivers.
The Monacan driver joined Ferrari last season following an impressive rookie season with Sauber, now Alfa Romeo, in 2018. Leclerc has also been part of the junior programme since 2016, in his first season with Ferrari, prompting the team to sign him to a long-term contract running until 2024.
Binotto said some comparisons could be drawn between the rebuild taking place at Maranello upon Michael Schumacher’s arrival at the team in 1996, and what is currently taking place around Leclerc.
Speaking to F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast, Binotto said “I often compare it, I think there are similarities, no doubt. Ferrari at the time, 1995 to 2000, was investing. We were investing as we are investing today, investing on technologies, but investing on people as well, employing young people and young engineers.
“If I look at Ferrari in the last years, we have employed a lot of young engineers, which today are starting to become our foundations. There also was a leader as a driver, Michael at the time. I think today, we’ve got Charles. Obviously, he’s not as experienced as Michael, because he’s not a world champion, while Michael was.”
Binotto says that Ferrari has a clear on track leader, but he needs to develop as a team. The success of Ferrari tomorrow will be somehow dependent on the way he will behave as a leader himself. Saying Leclerc is developing as a leader, but is developing well.
This season Leclerc has delivered several standout performances, scoring two podium finishes to sit sixth in the drivers’ championship with almost triple the points of teammate Sebastian Vettel. With Binotto believing he is a stronger compared to last year.
FIA reject Ferrari’s request to run Sainz
The FIA has rejected Ferrari’s request to allow them to run Carlos Sainz to run in next week’s ‘young’ drivers test. Next weeks test had been designed for drivers who have started two Grands Prix, however, two times champion Fernando Alonso has been permitted to run.
A clarification was made that drivers who had not raced in 2020 would be allowed to join the test even if they had competed in more than two Grands Prix in their career. That stance opened the door for Alonso to join the test, with Red Bull also set to run former Toro Rosso (Alpha Tauri) driver Sebastian Buemi as well.
That exemption has prompted several teams to push to be allowed to run new drivers during the test. Ferrari, in particular, was especially unhappy about Alonso getting a run at what should be a young driver test, so requested permission for Sainz to be allowed to join.
Team principal Mattia Binotto said at the Sakhir Grand Prix that he had approached the FIA to request that drivers who are changing teams should be allowed to run too.
Binotto explained to Motorsport.com, “I think it’s quite a bit of a mess, and certainly we Ferrari, contrary to the fact that Fernando is testing in Abu Dhabi, we think it’s wrong.”
“We made it clear with FIA at the time during the various advisory committees. But having heard the decision, we have asked the FIA the permission for Carlos. We discussed it this weekend, but we have no feedback.”
According to the website and BBC News, race director Michael Masi has sent a note to all the teams informing them that there would be no change to the test restrictions.
Masi made clear that the FIA’s stance was that, for any driver who had taken part in more than two Grands Prix, they would only be approved to run at the test if ‘they had not competed in any F1 races during the 2020 season.’
Documents seen by BBC News, say “We would like to clarify that for drivers who have participated in more than two F1 races in their career, the FIA’s approval… will be subject to the condition that they have not competed in any F1 races during the 2020 season.”
If Lewis Hamilton doesn’t take part in Sunday’s race, George Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken will be eligible for the test as Abu Dhabi would be his second race start.
Buemi and Vips to drive for Red Bull in test
Red Bull have announced Juri Vips and Sebastien Buemi as its drivers for next weeks Abu Dhabi ‘young drivers’ Test. The two drivers will drive half a day each during the one-day test.
Vips recently joined the Red Bull driver poll after completing the required 300km during a private test for the team with an older F1 car. The Abu Dhabi test will be the Estonian’s first official F1 outing in the team’s current car.
Vips were Red Bull’s reserve driver for last months Turkish Grand Prix. He has sat out most of 2020, his Super Formula programme was cancelled after Japan closed it boarders, due to the Coronavirus pandemic. But he did a mixture of Formula Regional championship and eight races in Formula Two, where he replaced the injured Sean Gelael at DAMS.
Vips said, “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity that Aston Martin Red Bull Racing have given me to drive the RB16 at the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi.”
“This will be the first time I get to drive a current Formula One car as I did my 300km in an RB8. There will be a lot to learn but I will make sure I prepare as much as I can and it has been good for me to be with the team as reserve driver for the last few races.”
Buemi who started fifty-five Grand Prix, and has won three world championships across WEC and Formula E, will return to F1 testing for the first time since crashing at Silverstone last July.
The Swiss driver added, “I spend a lot of time working in the simulator and if you get the opportunity to drive the real car it’s much better for the correlation.”
“So, I can give feedback on how the simulator behaves compared to the real car. It also gives opportunity for an extra driver to provide feedback to the team. It’s a great opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it.”
“Abhorrent” behaviour by Mazepin
Haas has condemned the “abhorrent” behaviour of 2021 driver Nikita Mazepin in a video posted on Instagram and will deal with the matter internally.
The Russian was announced last week as a race driver for Haas alongside Mick Schumacher.
Last night, a now-removed post on Mazepin’s Instagram account, showed him reaching from the passenger seat of a car and inappropriately touches a woman’s chest on the back seat.
The woman is shown moving her hand in reaction to being touched, before raising a middle finger with the same hand that then covers the camera.
The video was shortly deleted, but not before it had been captured and has since been shared widely on social media. In a statement, Haas condemned the action and said internal action will be taken.
It said “Haas F1 Team does not condone the behaviour of Nikita Mazepin in the video recently posted on his social media. Additionally, the very fact the video was posted on social media is also abhorrent to Haas F1 Team. The matter is being dealt with internally and no further comment shall be made at this time.”
Mazepin followed the Haas statement by posting a message on Twitter apologising for his actions. “I would like to apologise for my recent actions both in terms of my own inappropriate heavier and the fact that it was posted onto social media,” Mazepin said.
“I am sorry for the offence I have rightly caused and to the embarrassment, I Have brought to Haas F1 Team. I have to hold myself to a higher standard as a Formula One driver and I acknowledge I have let myself and many people down. I promise I will learn from this.”
The incident comes a week after he was announced as a Haas driver, and a difficult Sakhir Grand Prix with his controversial defensive moves that resulted in two penalties, leaving him just one penalty point shy of a race ban.