Mercedes admits to “tricky decisions” this year
Mercedes have admitted they are facing “tricky decisions” in the next few weeks as they decide to turn off developing its 2021 car to focus on developing next years car. This season all the teams face the difficult decision about when to stop developing this year’s car and switch to next years regulation change.
The scale of next years changes means that teams cannot afford to drop behind in developing the new cars, this is because the biggest gains in performance and building a good foundation are key to success next year. Meanwhile, teams also need to juggle the balance of not stopping development and risk losing out in this year’s championship, while not losing out next season.
The German manufacturer faces a particularly difficult situation because it looks to be locked in a tight fight with Red Bull for this year, and it knows that any early move to shut down work on its current car could cost it a shot at the title.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has admitted that there is no obvious answer, about when is best to focus everything on 2022, but he thinks all teams will face similar trouble. He told Motorsport.com, “It’s going to be the same for all teams to balance resource that is going into the 2021 car and power unit, and the 2022 one.”
“It’s clear that you can’t afford to not perform in ’21. But equally, the ’22 regulations are going to be in place for quite some years. Once you start with a deficit, it’s very difficult to catch up. So it will take a while for performance to converge. In that respect, these are tricky decisions that we are evaluating regularly.”
Although Mercedes took victory in Bahrain, they still believe that Red Bull has the fastest car, Wolff says he feels different to recent years where he has been confident with the team’s package.
Wolff doubts Bottas came close to retirement
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff doubts Valtteri Bottas came close to retiring from F1 following Mercedes’ use of team orders over two years ago after the Finn claims on Netflix series Drive To Survive.
In Sochi in 2018 Mercedes sparked controversy, after instructing Bottas to swap places with Sir Lewis Hamilton to protect a one-two finish. Bottas was disappointed and unhappy by the call from Mercedes, claiming in this year’s series the incident made him consider quitting F1.
Bottas said, “That was tough, tough to accept, I was pretty angry. Honestly, I was thinking, why do I do this? I was even thinking of quitting, of giving up. Straight after the race, I said I would not do it again.”
Wolff, who also manages Bottas, told Motorsport.com, that he did not think at the time that Bottas was close to retiring from F1 altogether in the wake of the incident. He said “No, he was very downhearted, of course. I understand that – but I don’t think he was close to retirement.
“Because he’s too much of a competitor for that. But I can imagine, in the heat of the situation, after the race, you don’t understand the world.” Mercedes has occasionally used team orders during Bottas and Hamilton’s time as teammates, aiding its constructors’ championship title victories over the past four seasons.
It has always tried to give its drivers equal treatment and only made calls to stop them attacking each other or to swap positions when deemed absolutely necessary. If the plan doesn’t result in gaining position it has often reversed the decision.
Reflecting on the call to swap the drivers in Sochi, Wolff said it was a “disastrous situation for all of us” as Mercedes tried to protect the team result amid pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Adding “I think it was necessary because it was all on the line with Sebastian. Valtteri held up the train, with Lewis squeezed in between.”
Wolff admitted Bottas hated it and could imagine that must have been for him, much worse.
Verstappen believes he can deliver “even better” performances
Max Verstappen says he can deliver “even better” performances with a Red Bull car which is capable of fighting for the championship this year. The Austrian team have gone into this season appearing to have the package to fight Mercedes all season, and nearly took a clean sweep in Bahrain.
The Dutchman took pole, before losing victory to Sir Lewis Hamilton after Mercedes went aggressive with their strategy getting the seven-times champion out ahead of him before Verstappen’s late move was deemed illegal by the team who instructed him to give the place back.
Speaking to Autosport about his expectations after finding itself at the front, after five years at Red Bull featuring battles to succeed against the formbook, with Mercedes usually in control. Verstappen said, “I think once you are in that position anyway, with having a car to fight for the title, everything becomes a lot easier.”
“Of course, there’s pressure to win a championship, because you’re fighting other people. But, overall, I think it’s a much better situation to be in, than always just not. Because then you have to take a lot more risks all the time to try and get a good result out of it.”
“I’m just looking forward and hoping of course that I have a car to be in a championship fight, because then that’s I think where I am even better, because then it’s a lot nicer and a lot easier to deal with.”
Aged just twenty-three and already in his sixth season of F1, Verstappen’s rise through the field does mean he is the only driver on the grid without any championships to his name, although he was ultra-successful in karting.
But the Dutchman does not see that as a potential weakness in his burgeoning F1 title campaign in 2021, as feels he can draw on the experience he accrued at the very start of his motorsport career.
He explained, “It’s very different [being in a title fight]. Of course, that scenario, you don’t need to win every single battle or race. But that’s a natural thing. It doesn’t mean that [because] I didn’t win a title, for example, that I don’t understand that. Because I think I won many titles in go-karting and it’s basically the same – you choose your battles.”
Alpine believes its weak on lap time
Alpine believes that the current weaknesses that have been exposed by its A521 is costing it vital lap time it needs to be fighting at the front of the midfield. The French manufacturer had a tough opening race in Bahrain, with neither Fernando Alonso or Esteban Ocon finishing in the points.
Alonso’s hopes of points were wrecked after a sandwich wrapper got caught in the car triggering his brakes to overheat, while Ocon was left on the backfoot by poorly timed yellow flags in qualifying that led to him being dumped out in Q1. Even without those difficulties, Alpine didn’t appear to have the pace to seriously threaten main rivals McLaren, Ferrari and AlphaTauri, which is why the outfit is planning a development push.
Executive director Marcin Budkowski said: “The Bahrain race weekend confirmed some of the weaknesses of our package, which we’re working hard to improve and gain the few tenths of a second that we are currently missing to fight at the front of the midfield.”
Alpine has already said it was planning to bring an aerodynamic update for Imola this weekend, using Friday practice to better understand what design direction it needs to take with further improvements. Budkowski added: “We have an aerodynamic upgrade package coming to the car for this grand Prix. Also, we have some test items to assess during Friday practice, which will help define further upgrades planned over the next few races.”
Alonso says the target for the team this weekend must be to finish in the top ten. Adding, “I think we have to fight to score our first points of the season on Sunday Let’s hope all our bad luck for the season was used up in Bahrain.”
The two times champion believes they could be pretty close and a few tenths could make up a few positions.
F1 revises format at Imola due to Prince Philip funeral
Organisers of this weekend’s Emilia Romanaga Grand Prix have announced a revised event timetable because of the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh “as a mark of respect”.
Prince Philip died at the age of ninety-nine last Friday, with the British Royal funeral taking place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor at 3 pm this Saturday.
This means the third practice has been moved to 11:00 local time 10:00BST and Qualifying to 14:00/13:00, to avoid a clash with the funeral which starts at 15:00. while Friday’s two practice sessions have been brought forward by half an hour due to F1 regulations.
The regulations require at least a nineteen-hour window between FP2 and the start of FP3. Sunday has been unaffected by the changes as well as the length of the sessions.
A minute silence will also be held before the start of qualifying in line with many sporting events in the UK and commonwealth.
In a joint statement from F1 and governing body the FIA, it was also confirmed that there would be a minute of silence ahead of qualifying for people to show their respects. Saying “The whole of Formula 1 wishes to pay tribute to Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, who dedicated his whole life to Great Britain and served his country with pride and devotion.”
Various F1 teams and drivers have already paid tribute to the duke. Meanwhile, several sports have rescheduled fixtures to either lunchtime or late afternoon.
Tsunoda already making a valuable contribution
Alpha Tauri technical director Jody Egginton says that Yuki Tsunoda is already making a valuable contribution to car development by raising new questions and ideas. The Japanese driver made his debut after stepping up from F2 and scored points in Bahrain last month.
In that race, Tsunoda impressed after pulling off a number of overtakes on his way to ninth becoming the first rookie to score points on debut since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016. The team has spoken about the important role Tsunoda’s teammate, Pierre Gasly, will play through 2021, leading its development direction thanks to his greater F1 experience.
Egginton told Motorsport.com, the balance of one experienced driver and one rookie left the team in a “different scenario” to many of its rivals, but that Tsunoda was already complementing Gasly well.
Adding, “Pierre is a solid reference back to last year, and he’s able to tell us in detail what’s changed, what’s better, what’s worse, so that’s good. That combined with the correlation, it helps us potentially answer some of the questions Yuki might have. Because we’ll say, ‘okay, that’s expected, that’s not expected, we’re going to work on this.’ So it steadies the ship a little bit.”
He says at the same time Tsunoda is asking questions like ‘OK, that’s quite an interesting thought.’ Egginton also says that he has a different driving style which opens up different questions, but the key thing was he has the speed to contribute.
Tsunoda has enjoyed an accelerated rise through the ranks to reach F1, having been racing in Japan’s national F4 championship just three years ago. An impressive rookie season in F2 last year saw Tsunoda finish third in the championship and earn an F1 graduation that was aided by an extensive private testing programme.
Egginton was impressed by the speed last season which meant he deserved his shot, but he admitted that F1 was a steep learning curve for any driver. Tsunoda, he says was absorbing the information and communicating well, as well as working well with the team.
He added, “We had a few ups and downs [in Bahrain]. He’s been very quick. We had a few little issues with the car, and he’s taken that in his stride. It’s frustrating for him as it is for everybody. If it wasn’t frustrating for him, that would be a worry, actually. But he bounced back from it.”
“It’s really refreshing with the young guys in the team. I quite enjoy the challenge, and the team is good at it. Without being big headed, the team’s good at working with young drivers.”