Abiteboul leaves Renault ahead of rebrand
Renault’s F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul has left the car manufacture as part of a shake-up of the team, despite reports last week that he was to move to a new role following it rebrand as Alpine.
However today it was announced he would leave the company completely. His departure means that director of strategy and business development at Renault Laurent Rossi will take over as CEO of Alpine. Rossi will take charge of Alpine cars, its F1 team and other motorsport activities. He will report directly to Luca de Meo, Renault’s CEO.
Abiteboul’s role as team principal will be taken by its technical director Marcin Budkowski. Speaking about his departure, Abiteboul said that he felt that he was leaving behind a strong base for the French car manufacturer to grow.
Abiteboul said, “I would like to thank the Groupe Renault for having trusted me for many years, particularly with the relaunch and reconstruction of the team since 2016.”
“The solid foundations of the racing team and the entities in France and England built over these years, the strategic evolution of the sport towards a more economically sustainable model.”
He says that the Alpine protect gives the team renewed meaning and dynamism, puts the team on a very fine trajectory.
De Meo added: “I would like to warmly thank Cyril for his tireless involvement, which notably led the Renault F1 Team from the penultimate place in 2016 to the podiums last season.”
“His remarkable work in F1 since 2007 allows us to look to the future, with a strong team and the new Alpine F1 Team identity to conquer the podiums this year.”
Abiteboul joined Renault in 2007 straight from university. He began working for the F1 team from 2007 before moving up to become its executive director in 2010.
He joined Caterham in 2012 and became its team principal, before his departure in 2014. He returned to Renault as managing director and played a key role in the French car manufacturer’s return to F1 as a works team in 2016.
Shanghai set to be postponed
The Chinese Grand Prix is set to be postponed for the second year in a row because of the Coronavirus. Last year it was the first of ten races to be cancelled because of the pandemic which began in the city of Wuhan.
F1 unveiled a more usual calendar for 2021 in November, listing 23 races, but is already set to postpone the planned season-opener in Australia due to the ongoing pandemic and global restrictions in place. The promoter has confirmed the delay.
Yibin Yang told local media “We have been in contact [with F1] via conference call almost every week. Despite the calendar being in place, as usual, I think it’s hugely uncertain the F1 race would take place in the first half of the year, in April.
“We aim to swap it to the second half of the year, and we have formally submitted the request that we hope to move it to the second half of the year.”
The second free race weekend looks as if it will be filled with the Emilia Romagna/San Marino at Imola and the Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao, which filled gaps in last years calendar.
Motorsport.com says it understands the current plan is for Portimao to host the Portuguese Grand Prix on 11 April, replacing China, while Imola will stage a race on 25 April in place of Vietnam.
A rescheduling of the Chinese Grand Prix would only add to the challenge F1 faces in the second half of the year, with Australia also set to seek a revised date slot.
If these races are to be rescheduled it could lead to the postponement of the Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi race which is currently scheduled for 26 – 28 November and 03 – 05 December.
A spokesman for F1 said, “Formula 1 has set out a twenty-three race calendar for 2021 and we fully expect to deliver that plan. We proved in 2020 that we could return to racing safely and have the plans and procedures in place to do so again and look forward to starting our season in March.”
China has not hosted any international sporting events since the outbreak of COVID-19 and has already cancelled both the planned Sanya Formula E race and some test events for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics that were scheduled for early this year.
Hamilton’s qualities stretch beyond the track
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says that Lewis Hamilton’s qualities stretch beyond what he shows on the track, include him not thinking the universe revolves around him.
The Englishman delivered the strongest season of his career on his way to his seventh title equalling Michael Schumacher. The dominance however did raise questions again whether Hamilton’s success was down to the car or his performance as a driver.
Wolff told Motorsport.com, when speaking about Hamilton’s role in what Mercedes has achieved, saying neither team nor driver could be singled out as the most important factor. But, made it clear that being a top-line driver was about far more than just being quick out on the track.
He explained, “It’s not one dimensional. Formula One has always been about best man in best machine wins. The best men means the quickest driver, and the most intelligent driver.”
“[He is] the one that understands how the dynamics in a team works, its technical ability, and on the other side seeing himself in the right context within the organisation and not like a solar system where everything revolves around the sun.”
Wolff says the organisation around the driver needs to be at ‘absolute A-game’ so that performance can be delivered in various areas. These include engineering, commercial, political and communication to allow the wheels to keep rolling.
Mercedes and Hamilton remain in discussions about framing a new contract for this year, with the previous deal has come to an end of 2020.
While those talks could extend as far as the eve of pre-season testing, Wolff says he has no fears of Hamilton doing what former teammate Nico Rosberg did in 2016 and quit on the spot.
Adding “It doesn’t worry me at all, because I will always respect Lewis’s decisions. Whether this is staying with us for a long time, or whether that means leaving the sport and pursuing different interests.”
“I think we need to be ready for all kinds of curveballs being thrown at us. But at the same time, we talk a lot, and we are very transparent with each other. I think there is more to achieve together.”
Verstappen not worried about title clock ticking
Max Verstappen says he is not worried that “time is ticking” on his dreams of winning the world championship. Red Bull had set themselves the target a few years ago to make the Dutchman the youngest champion, however, he has already missed that target.
Mercedes dominance in the hybrid era has stopped him breaking that record, but the youngest-ever race-winner says he is far from concerned about the situation he is in. He told Autosport, “Of course I would like to fight for the championship [in 2021], but we’ll have to find out.”
“I mean, I’m still very young. And of course, you know, people say time is ticking. But I’m very relaxed and it’s life. Also, you know, sometimes you cannot force things, so I stay calm.
Red Bull believe they can make progress this year after getting on top of the issues with the car at the end of 2020, as well as Honda bringing a whole new engine for its final season in F1.
Verstappen added, “I do think we can make a big step. But I also expect others to have a step, so I just hope that, that ours is a bit bigger than the others.”
Red Bull admits it faces a huge task and needs more of an all-rounder capable of performing on all circuits.
Verstappen’s father Jos who raced in F1 between 1994 and 2003, believes that a good start to 2021 is more important for his son than how the last campaign finished. He added, “It is nice to win the final race of the season, but it is even better to win the first one next year,” he said.
“It is nice to win the final race of course for the feeling of people in the factory, this gives an extra boost to everyone. But it is even more important that we are able to win the first race next year, that would indicate that we have a car to compete with and that is what we have missed a bit.”
Verstappen Sr also believes that the changes to the regulations are “still quite significant.”
Sainz “annoyed” by talk of regretting Ferrari move
Carlos Sainz says he was “a bit annoyed” by the suggestions he might regret joining Ferrari. The Spaniard was signed by Ferrari last May after announcing it would not re-sign four-time champion, Sebastian Vettel, prompting the chain of driver changing teams for this season.
Sainz helped lead McLaren to finish third in the constructors’ championship in his final season with the team, Ferrari experienced a huge downturn in form as it slipped to sixth.
This led to suggestions that Sainz might come to regret his move to Ferrari, given the team’s step backwards and difficulty in competing with McLaren through 2020. Sainz says these suggestions of regret were frustrating and were based on assumptions being made too early.
He told Motorsport.com, “Certainly it was a bit annoying, because everyone was kind of implying that Ferrari was going to also be as bad in 2021, and you never know in Formula One.”
“[Ferrari] of course took a step backwards in 2020, and they were the first ones to admit it, and to be very self-critical. But people were just convinced that 2021 was also going to be a struggle.”
Sainz says having a two year deal with Ferrari and next years regulation changes makes this year less important than what people are thinking. Those suggestions of a difficult season were annoying but he “never said something or anything that I regret. I guess [I’m] happy for that.”
Despite its struggles, Ferrari ended the year with three podiums, one more than McLaren, and enjoyed a solid run of form across the final European races of the season.
Sainz says that the upswing in Ferrari’s performance was a decent confidence boost ahead of his move across for 2021. From what he has seen without driving the car, he believes they are moving forward.
Adding, “I’ve always said that if there’s a team that is able to turn things around quickly in Formula One, for me that is Ferrari.”
McLaren a “force to be reckoned with” – Sainz
Carlos Sainz believes that his former McLaren team are building up to become a “force to be reckoned with” in Formula One and can “hit the ground running” under the 2022 regulations.
The Spaniard left McLaren to join Ferrari this season, after pushing the team from sixth to third in the constructors, with Sainz scoring the team’s first podium in five-and-a-half years at the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Both Sainz and teammate Lando Norris picked up podiums last year, while the team is pushing ahead with important changes such as a switch to Mercedes power units for 2021 and plans for a new wind tunnel, as well as securing fresh investment from a US investment fund in December.
Sainz believes McLaren have come along way since he first drove a car at the end-of-season Abu Dhabi test in 2018, and that it was building towards becoming a front-running force soon.
Sainz told Motorsport.com, “I feel like this team has come forward a long, long, long way since that test in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2018. The group of people here is as strong as it can get. There’s still a bit of a long way to go on car performance. We’re still losing one second to Mercedes per lap.”
He says that the team will be ready to hit the ground running in 2022 with a much more specific and established structure.
Giovinazzi believes his starts have improved
Antonio Giovinazzi believed working on his start was one of the keys to his improved second season. The Italian was retained by Alfa Romeo last season despite a tough first full season in 2019, where he managed to out-qualify teammate Kimi Raikkonen nine times.
Both Giovinazzi and Raikkonen scored four points last season, but Giovinazzi continued to make progress and convinced the Scuderia to keep him at customer team Alfa for a third year in 2021. He particularly impressed with his starts last year, often making up positions on the first lap.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, he revealed that his improved starts are the result of a deliberate effort, watching onboards from his debut season and from his colleagues to see where he could improve.
He said, “After qualifying, of course, we do the debriefing [where] you watch maybe the lap you did [and see] maybe where you lost something. But after that moment I’m just focused 100% for the race and for the start especially.”
“Because with the cars that we have this year and then with the difficulty to follow and overtake, I think if you have a good start and good first lap and you gain positions there, then the race will be much more easy.”
Giovinazzi says that he has been watching videos of his starts and believes that works well, he says will continue with that this season.
Due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, F1 raced on several new circuits or tracks it hadn’t visited in years, which meant Giovinazzi would try and get his hands on footage from other categories to see where he could gain positions.
He says he had to seek out videos from other circuits and his starts in previous starts. Adding, “I try to learn something from the videos, but yeah, it was not easy. I would say it’s much more easy to have [a known quantity] like a Bahrain that you raced before and there’s so many starts that you can watch online and what can happen in each corner.”