Melbourne & Shanghai postponed
Formula One has announced formally that both the Australian, Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix have been postponed until November and December. The record 23-race schedule published in November had Australia opening on 19 – 21 March, followed a week later by Bahrain and then China on April 09 –11.
The race in Melbourne will now take place on 19 – 21 November, with the race in Shanghai yet to be confirmed. The ‘Emilia Romanaga/ San Marino’ Grand Prix will take place on 16 – 18 April and the TBA race moving to 30 April – 02 May.
The TBA race is expected to be the Portuguese Grand Prix after the race in Hanoi ran into difficulty. Liberty Media remain confident that they can hold all the races that are planned.
The revised calendar means the 2021 season will start a week later than expected, and end a week later. Its also confirmed the Spanish Grand Prix on 07 – 09 May after the organisers confirmed they have signed a new contract last week.
the second half of the season has been altered slightly to accommodate the Australian GP in Melbourne, which will host the third-last race of the campaign for the first time. The Americas leg will become a triple header with Austin on 22 – 24 October, Mexico on 29 – 31 October and Interlagos moving to the 05 – 07 November.
Melbourne’s race will slot in on 19 – 21 November, while the debut of Saudi Arabia moved to 03 – 05 December and Abu Dhabi 10 – 12 December.
The Chinese GP is only likely to take its place back on the 2021 calendar if another race drops out.
Stating that its postponement was due to ‘ongoing travel restrictions’, F1 said ‘discussions with the promoter and authorities in China are ongoing with the potential to reschedule the race later in the season if possible’.
Pre-season testing moved to Bahrain
The teams FIA and F1 have now agreed to postpone and move pre-season testing to take place instead of the Australian Grand Prix on 12 – 14 March in Sakhir, two weeks before it hosts the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Earlier this month before today’s official confirmation that the Melbourne race was postponed, teams agreed that the test should move to Bahrain rather than Barcelona if it was postponed.
Avoiding Barcelona guarantees good weather for the test as well as avoiding any COVID restrictions that might be in place in Spain. The test will take place on Friday to Sunday, eleven days before the race is due to be held.
The test will take place on a Friday to Sunday, two weekends before the opening event, with eleven days before the cars take to the track for FP1 in Sakhir.
Most of the teams were happy with that because it would give them an extra week before cars and equipment had to be shipped out, and it would reduce accommodation costs.
However, McLaren, the only team to change its engine supplier over the winter, was opposed to the idea, as the team wanted to keep the normal interval to have time to properly assess its new package. It’s understood that F1 was also keen to maintain a two-weekend gap.
The change to the calendar gives the teams an extra week in building the car and extends the winter break by a week. However, it places extra pressure on freight as now all parts will need to be flown to Bahrain rather than a later shipment to Melbourne.
It will also allow teams to develop in the garage during the gap between testing and the race, but it will be harder to fly parts between Europe and Bahrain seven hours flight time rather than two to three between their bases in Europe and Barcelona.
They can also potentially hold filming days in Bahrain in the days after the test. Bahrain last hosted a full pre-season test in 2014, which was the first season of the hybrid rules. However, it followed an initial session at Jerez.
Interlagos contract suspended by a judge
A Brazilian court has suspended the contract between Liberty Media and the promoter of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. The temporary suspension centres on the use of public funds to secure the race, and the level of transparency surrounding the deal.
Last month it was announced that former CEO Chase Carey had signed a five-year contract with a new promoter and that the race would no longer be known as the Brazilian Grand Prix. The contract was due to expire at the end of 2020, under that previous deal from 2015 the sport was not receiving hosting fees.
Last years race was cancelled due to Coronavirus, after plans to move the race to Rio collapse Carey found a way to keep the race at Interlagos. A deal was agreed for the race to be run by a newly-formed company called Brazil Motorsport, which is backed by the Abu Dhabi government through its Mubadala investment arm.
Brazil Motorsport is headed by former Olympic sailing competitor Alan Adler, who has long been involved in promoting major events in Brazil, including rock concerts, Cirque du Soleil shows, PGA tournaments and NBA pre-season games.
The change of name to Sao Paulo GP reflects a new level of support from the city, which was crucial to the new deal, as was the case last year with races such as the Styrian, Tuscan and Emilia Romagna GPs, all of which were helped by regional backing.
The true nature of the Sao Paulo financial support has subsequently become clear in legal documents that reveal how much the city is paying, namely 20m Reals, the equivalent of US$3.65, per year over the five years of the deal.
The council had not signed off on this, with their financial support only to cover renovation work. The financial information now revealed, the contract has been challenged by a public petition.
The legal action has been supported by local councillor and lawyer Rubens Nunes, who wrote on Twitter: “F1 is important for Sao Paulo and for Brazil – I’m a fan – but that does not authorise the city to enter into contracts without a bid, under secrecy and with a company without ‘expertise’ in the area, created a few days ago for this.”
The contract has been suspended by Judge Emilio Migliano Neto, pending further investigation.
They ruled “The facts reveal without a doubt, at least at this stage, that the principles of publicity and transparency are being violated in an explicit manner.”
“For this reason also [absence of bidding], there is a need to suspend the execution of the contract, to assess whether there were effectively resources to cover the expenses detailed in the signed agreement.”
Not surprised if rivals show interest in Gasly
Alpha Tauri team principal Franz Tost says he would not be surprised if rivals show an interest in signing Pierre Gasly, but doubts Red Bull would be willing to let him leave Alpha Tauri easily.
The Frenchman made his debut with the team, then Toro Rosso, in 2017 then was prompted to sister team Red Bull in 2019, however, he had a difficult first half of the season causing a swap with Alex Albon. Since returning Gasly has appeared to grow scoring two podiums and a maiden win, in 2020 he almost scored three-quarters of the team’s total points.
Gasly’s strong performances as Albon struggled at Red Bull, were not enough to earn him a seat with Red Bull. Admit the moves in the first lockdown the Frenchman was not one driver to seek a new drive for 2021,
Both Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz Jr have gone on to enjoy success after leaving the Red Bull family, with the latter joining Ferrari for the 2021 season.
Tost said that while he would not be surprised to see other teams show interest in signing Gasly in the future, he doubted Red Bull would want to let him go easily given its investment throughout his career.
He told Autosport, “You know if a driver is competitive like Pierre, then yes, of course, other teams will ask about the contractual details. They’ll want to know eventually when a driver is available.
“But he has a Red Bull contract, and I don’t think Red Bull will give him free at such an early stage. They invested a lot of money to build him up, and sooner or later, they want to get his fruits back and good results with him, win races, and also championships. We’ll see.”
Gasly’s surprise win at Monza cemented his place as Alpha Tauri’s team leader moving into the future as it adjusts to its new-found sister team status following its rebrand. He is to lead the team this year alongside Yuki Tsunoda who moves up from F2.
Last year Red Bull announced it now views Alpha Tauri as a ‘sister team’ rather than a ‘junior team’, now Tost says that Gasly’s performances mean they can build the team around him in terms of designing the car to suit elements of his driving style.
Saying, “He is now an experienced driver, and a successful driver as well. Any team always is oriented and concentrated to a successful driver.
“What does this mean? The team listens to the technical feedback of the driver, and of course, as a result of this, the new design of the car [is influenced].”
Ricciardo out-grew Renault environment
Daniel Ricciardo believes Renault grew out of the “timid” team environment he found upon arriving at Enstone, removing many of the self-doubts it faced.
The Australian joined Renault from Red Bull on what appeared to be a long term move on initially a two-year deal but announced he was joining McLaren in May last year. Ricciardo ended his final season with Renault with two podiums, the teams first since Sepang 2011.
Speaking at a round table event with various media, Ricciardo said, “I saw a lot more confidence in the team, just as far as personnel. There was that feeling now that, ‘yeah, we can do it’, where I felt like I walked into a bit more of a timid environment early on.”
“It’s not criticism. It’s just the team wasn’t used to it. They hadn’t been successful in quite a few years, so everyone can start to have some self-doubts.” In 2020, Renault was fourth in terms of the number of podiums behind, Mercedes, Red Bull and Racing Point.
Despite not winning a race with Renault, Ricciardo feels that the podiums showed progress for Renault, but says their real success will be taking the championship. He also says the third places were not a fluke, and the team persisted following several fourth places.
He added, “I think the turnaround as well, to see the step from last year to this year, shows that the work that was done last year, the building blocks definitely came to fruition, and we got a lot of use out of that learning from 2019.”
Ricciardo says he was not claiming it all but was trying to help out and move the team forward.
Sauber Alfa Romeo more than branding – Vasseur
Alfa Romeo team principal Fred Vasseur has labelled his team’s close links to the Italian brand as more than just a “nice reward”, saying the road car tie-up is crucial to the team’s future.
The car manufacturer became the title sponsor of the Sauber team in 2018, before taking over the entry of the team the following year. This was because of the teams closer partnership with Ferrari which included taking engines, gearboxes and other parts from Maranello.
This was the first major decisions made by Vasseur when he took over as team boss in 2017. He has described the closure and ever-growing ties with Alfa Romeo as essential to the team’s development.
Asked by Motorsport.com about the Alfa tie-up, Vasseur said, “I don’t want to speak about the financial aspect but for sure it’s a part of this, but it’s rather the motivation that you can add into the team, that you can afford the recruiting for the development of the company.”
“The fact that Alfa Romeo, the first world champion, is extending the deal with us and wants to develop the partnership is a nice reward, but it’s not just a reward, it’s a next step for us.”
The deal goes beyond the rebrand, as Sauber has also been involved in the development of the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA and GTAm road cars for 2020. Vasseur says they are collaborating a lot now on the automotive side.
He says it is important to build a strong collaboration between the two, it is also about the future of the collaboration that we have to continue to push into this direction.
Vasseur added, “For sure I know perfectly [well] that we need also to improve the performance on track, that it’s not just better to do aero development but that we need to have a global approach and global package.”