Vettel rivalry the favourite of Hamilton’s career
Sir Lewis Hamilton says his rivalry with Sebastian Vettel ranks as his favourite from his career so far, believing that the battles over the years have brought them closer together.
Speaking alongside each other in the press conference ahead of the Emilia-Romanaga Grand Prix, Hamilton was asked what his favourite rivalry in F1 history was, Hamilton, picked “mine and Seb’s battles”, calling them “my favourite up to now”. Since 2010 the two drivers have won nine of the ten championships between them.
Many of those titles saw both of them in close moments and accidents over the last decade. Hamilton expanded on his answer by explaining how he had total respect and appreciation for all of the work that both he and Vettel put in when they fought each other, and was full of praise for the now-Aston Martin driver.
Hamilton said, “Knowing how hard it is to be where we are today, knowing I was racing against an incredible driver, and not only that, but a great man in Seb. He’s a four-time world champion.”
“Ultimately when you’re racing against another team at the same time, Ferrari who were very strong at the time – it took a lot out of both of us in that period of time to remain focused, to deliver weekend in, weekend out.” He says the rivalry was difficult for them, but has also brought them closer together and they have huge respect between them.
Hamilton’s anticipated fight against Max Verstappen for this year’s world championship is already being talked up as a possible great F1 rivalry. Saying he “can’t assume” what will happen so early in the season, but spoke about how he relished close title fights.
Adding, “For me, I think fighting with Seb, fighting with Valtteri [Bottas], you just want to be fighting with the best drivers and [it be] as close as possible. Then you can hopefully try and eke out a bit more than your competitors to get the results.”
He says the battle with Verstappen would have a different dynamic to his fights against Vettel given the Red Bull driver’s reduced experience.
Ferrari recovery in full swing – Leclerc
Charles Leclerc says Ferrari’s comeback to the top of F1 is in fully swing following “significant step forward” with their 2021 car but insists the team won’t let a close battle for third distract them from their big long-term goal. The team arrive in Imola for their home Grand Prix following an encoring start to the season in Bahrain, with both Leclerc and new team-mate Carlos Sainz scoring points.
While that may not sound like much for the sports most successful teams following its worst season in four decades, that will be seen as a success for the team. Leclerc told the press conference ahead of the Emilia-Romanaga Grand Prix, said “It is a step forward. A significant step forward.”
“We’ve seen in Bahrain we’ve made a better progression compared to the other teams from last year to this year, so this is positive. It’s an overall improvement. The power feels better. The balance in the corners and the actual grip feels better. It’s not one thing in particular, it’s that the whole package feels better and this is positive for the future.”
Ferrari has made a strong start to the season along with their former main rivals McLaren, this year the midfield battle is shaping up to be incredibly close. Leclerc says the realistic goal is for the team to be finishing in third behind both Mercedes and Red Bull, but he says the team knows five teams are in the midfield battle.
Leclerc is certainly optimistic about Ferrari’s 2021 but remains adamant that both he and the team want much more than battling in the midfield. He admitted they are not fighting where they want to be, but all the team focus will be trying to start next year strongly when the regulations undergo a radical change.
Adding, “I don’t think we are getting carried away by the fight [for third] there will be during the season, I think everyone is well aware there is much more to gain to prepare for 2022 in the right way because these new cars will last for much longer, many years after 2022.”
Verstappen calls track limits in Bahrain messy
Max Verstappen says that the FIA’s policing of track limits in Bahrain three weeks ago was “messy”, and wants talks to ensure guidelines do not change mid-race again. The Red Bull driver was engaged in a very close fight with Sir Lewis Hamilton, was settled when Verstappen went off track in the closing stages.
Verstappen overtook Hamilton around the outside of Turn Four with four laps to go, but exceeded track limits when doing so, meaning he had to give the position back. Hamilton was then able to hold on for victory by 0.7 seconds. Hamilton himself had also been running wide at the same corner throughout the race after FIA race director Michael Masi wrote in his event notes that track limits would not be policed there as they were in practice and qualifying.
But a query from Red Bull about how often Hamilton was running wide prompted race control to warn Mercedes that he was gaining an advantage by running off-track, suggesting a change in policy mid-race.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff both questioned the approach to track limits after the race. Horner said that track limits should not be “shades of grey”, while Wolff also called for greater clarity.
Verstappen said in today’s press conference, “Things can be easily resolved if you just put a wall there or gravel, it would help a lot. In qualifying we had to stay on the kerb, so that is also what I was doing in the race, to be clean, but then I heard that Lewis was just going wide, so I did it for two laps, but then I was not allowed to do it any more.”
“I don’t think you should be able to change it through the race. Either you can go wide, or not. I can understand of course with my overtake outside of the track limits that that’s not allowed, so that’s fine.”
This debate is likely to be discussed at Friday’s driver’s briefing, when the drivers will discuss the matter with Masi. Many drivers, teams and fans were left confused with what appeared to be a mid-race change in the policing of track limits.
No strained relationship with Hamilton – Russell
George Russell says his relationship with seven times champion Sir Lewis Hamilton had changed, after reports that they were no longer on speaking terms. Russell replaced Hamilton at last years Sakhir Grand Prix after he caught coronavirus.
Russell produced a stunning display on debut for Mercedes despite minimal preparation, qualifying second and leading the majority of the race before finishing eighth due to a pit error and a late puncture. His performance in that race has prompted speculation that Russell could replace Valtteri Bottas next season, with all three drivers out of contract.
The report was sparked by Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff was recently asked in an interview with Austrian newspaper Österreich about a rumour that Hamilton and Russell were not on speaking terms. Wolff said in the interview that he was unaware of any rift, but recognised the competition between the older and younger generations in F1.
Asked about that report ahead of this weekend’s race at Imola, Russell made clear that his relationship with Hamilton remained unchanged, and that nothing should be read into them not speaking specifically about the Sakhir race.
Saying, “I think the question towards me was did you speak to Lewis after Bahrain, and no, we didn’t speak, as we wouldn’t speak after any other race. We are racing against each other. If we see each other in the paddock, we would speak.
“We’ve seen each other this year, a little fist bump along the way, and that’s the same as it’s been since 2019 and last year before the Bahrain Grand Prix. My relationship towards Lewis is the same as it is with a lot of the drivers up and down the paddock, which is completely fine. So there’s no hard feelings and no issues between myself and Lewis.”
Russell has been seen as one of the options for Mercedes next year should it replace one or both its drivers. Mercedes has always stressed its first port of call when discussing plans for 2022 would lie with current drivers Hamilton and Bottas.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he had given any consideration to life outside of the Mercedes umbrella for 2022 should a senior seat not be available, Russell said the idea was not “even crossing my mind at the moment”.
Alonso delays autobiography till he’s fully retired
Fernando Alonso says he has delayed publication of his autobiography until after he’s fully retired because he wants to be able to tell the ‘truth’. The Spaniard had originally planned to write the book after leaving McLaren in 2018, but he says continuing his career and returning to the sport this year meant it did not make sense to go ahead with the original plan.
Having promised that the book would tell the ‘truth’ about his career, which could include some fascinating insights into his championship-winning period at Renault and his tumultuous time at McLaren in 2007, he reckons it would not make sense to reveal things while he is still competing.
Speaking about the book during an Instagram Live with Alpine, the two time champion said he book was definitely going ahead – but would not be out for some time. Saying, “I’ve been working on a book for a couple of years already. I planned originally to send it out in 2018 when I left F1.
“But then we postponed it for quite some time now because I realised that I kept racing in different categories and am now back in F1. So I will do it when I stop, and I can tell my own experiences and my own truth of things. Because if the book comes out while I’m racing, then maybe it’s a little bit strange. So I prefer to finish and then tell my experience of my life in motor racing.”
The autobiography is currently set to be released in September 2022, which appears unlikely as the comments by Alonso and his two-year contract ends in December of that year.
Alpine dismisses reports of positive covid test
Alpine has dismissed reports that Fernando Alonso or Esteban Ocon could be out of this weekend’s Emilia-Romanaga Grand Prix, after testing positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday local media in Imola reported that either Alonso or Ocon have tested positive for coronavirus.
These rumours were intensified when images started to emerge of the team’s reserve driver Daniil Kvyat heading to the circuit. an Alpine spokesperson confirmed to Crash.net that the rumours are false.
It is understood that Kvyat was at Imola to undergo a seat fitting with Alpine in case he is needed to deputise for one of the team’s regular drivers in the future.
The Russian, who lost his Alpha Tauri drive to Yuki Tsunoda for the 2021 F1 season, had previously been unable to complete a seat fitting at Alpine due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Alpine is bringing a “pretty decent upgrade package” to Imola as it looks to register its first points of the campaign after failing to score in last month’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
FIA Circuit Changes
The FIA has announced they are to impose strict track limits for this weekends Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix to penalise drivers who gain an advantage by running off track. One of the talking points following the opening race in Sakhir was the policing of drivers would run off the track.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff said was confusing, FIA race director Michael Masi has detailed how the situation will be monitored for this weekend’s second round at Imola.
Almost identical rules were in force at Imola from qualifying onwards at last November’s event. Drivers will have their times deleted if they go beyond the red, green and white kerbs at Acque Minerali (Turn Nine) and Rivazza (Turn Thirteen).
The race directors note states, “A lap time achieved during any practice session or the race by leaving the track on the exit of Turn Nine or Thirteen, will result in that lap time being invalidated by the stewards. A driver will be judged to have left the track if no part of the car remains in contact with the track.”
During the race, three such indiscretions in total across any of those three corners will result in a driver receiving a black-and-white warning flag, with any further instances referred to the stewards who could impose a penalty.
Saying “On the third occasion of a driver failing to negotiate Turn Nine Exit and/or Turn 13 Apex and/or Turn 15 Exit by using the track during the race, he will be shown a black and white flag, any further cutting will then be reported to the stewards. For the avoidance of doubt, this means a total of three occasions combined not three at each corner.”
Additional deterrents have been added to the 4.9km layout for 2021 – with yellow bumps added behind the apex of Turn 13 and the one at the apex of Turn 14 extended.
Talking Points Imola
Round two of the season takes F1 to Imola for the first four races of the European season over the next seven weeks, following the fight between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Bahrain 2021 is shaping up to be the head-to-head contest to open the year that everyone had been longing for.
Hamilton may have won in Bahrain extending the record of the number of wins in every season he has competed in, but he is under no illusions that things are about to get any easier from Imola.
Lando Norris is another driver to have made great start to the season, outshining his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, showing he is almost an equal to the Australian who has raced in the sport since 2011. The Englishman moved ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc later in the race and finished a very strong fourth to open his account for 2021 in fine style.
Yuki Tsunoda made the best debut for a rookie since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016, the Japanese driver looks to be a driver to watch for the future. His accomplished race craft leading Ross Brawn, F1 managing director motorsport and technical, to describe the 20-year-old as the “best rookie F1 has had for years”.
Imola bears the name of both Enzo and Dino Ferrari, at Ferrari’s home race they are looking better than four and a half months after its difficult third act of the Italian horror show things still appear difficult for Ferrari, although improvements are being made.
While it is unlikely to carry them to race win 239 any time soon, the season target of fighting for third in the Constructors’ Championship looks likely to be achievable on early evidence.
Two ‘new’ names made their track debuts in Bahrain Alpine, and Aston Martin had a difficult race. Aston Martin only scored points with Lance Stroll in Shakir, while Alpine is looking for its upgrades to deliver a step forwards.
Any reset for Sebastian Vettel following his move to Aston Martin resulted in a difficult weekend where problems with yellow flags in qualifying and the rear of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine in the race caught the headlines and collected penalties. The four time champion is known for his analytical approach, but after six years at Ferrari, the acclimatisation process to an all-new car and engine continues.
Haas admitted they aren’t expecting results from Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin who had a difficult weekend in Bahrain. Mazepin is still under pressure after an off-track incident groping last December, hopes of putting that behind him saw his race end at the third corner.
The weekend ahead
This weekend is being seen as the weekend where we should get more of an understanding of the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull. We had an epic fight in Sakhir where Red Bull looked to be the faster but Mercedes was better on strategy. This could become the story of the season for the championship battle, but you still need to be cautious this is only round two.
Mercedes was quite good in November’s race around Imola, historically it’s a circuit that tends to favour high speed and downforce leaning it towards the world champions. But we know that Red Bull aren’t far behind and overtaking has been difficult here in the past and we know it isn’t a circuit with great overtaking opportunities.
The midfield battle as we always say was close in Sakhir and in last years race, there was a brilliant scrap between Renault (Alpine) and Alpha Tauri for fourth and fifth. We know strategy plays an important role in the outcome of the race because of the difficulties overtaking, as well as the higher possibility of a safety car.
This is Alpha Tauri’s home race as well, they went really well in Italy last season and there car suited Imola and looked to be the strongest team in the midfield finishing fourth. Pierre Gasly I believe can deliver as you need to believe the car does suit this Imola circuit.
Williams we know is targeting certain types of circuits to score most of their points this year, given how strong they were last season and nearly scoring points before George Russell crashed at Acque Minerali last year you need to believe this is a race would be on the target list.