Hamilton’s warning as he chases seventh title
Lewis Hamilton has warned his rivals that he will be a “machine” and on “another level” in 2020 as he chases a record-equalling seventh F1 title. This year the Mercedes driver can equal Michael Schumacher’s record of race wins, posted a picture on Instagram of himself at home, hugging a wooden pillar and smiling.
He wrote, “I am at peace when I’m here, can focus and build my mind and body so that I can come back year on year. I’m going to be a machine this year, on another level than ever before.” This year, Hamilton if he wins a seventh world title and takes a ninety-second win, he will become statistically the most successful F1 driver of all-time.
Hamilton is out of contract at the end of the season, but after Ferrari announced Charles Leclerc on a five-year deal and Red Bull announced Max Verstappen until 2023, it is highly likely that he will stay. Reports in the Italian media suggest that Hamilton is in talks with Mercedes over a new two-year contract.
Hamilton has won five of his six titles with Mercedes, who are looking for a seventh successive clean sweep of the championships this year. Mercedes also powered his first title with McLaren in 2008, he is the sports most successful driver with a single-engine manufacturer.
The Silver Arrows started the 2019 campaign with eight victories in a row, although Red Bull and Ferrari’s form after that streak hinted at a competitive 2020, particularly as stable regulations mean the cars will be largely unchanged.
Mercedes confirm launch plans
Mercedes have announced their 2020 car will make its track debut on Friday 14th of February during a shakedown at Silverstone. Lewis Hamilton, who is looking for his seventh title this year, and teammate Valtteri Bottas will look to lead the team to a seventh successive title of the hybrid era.
The car will make its on-track debut three days after Mercedes’ main rival Ferrari’s 2020 unveiling is poised to kick off ‘launch season’. The team once again is using a ‘filming day’ to gather information ahead of testing.
Pre-season testing, which has been reduced to six days in 2020, will kick off on February 19 in Barcelona.
Leclerc’s brother Arthur joins Ferrari
Ferrari has announced that they have signed Charles Leclerc’s brother Arthur to the Ferrari Driver Academy, and the 18-year-old will join Prema Powerteam in the Formula Regional European Championship.
Charles took two wins and seven pole positions on his way to fourth in the F1 championship in his first season with Ferrari in 2019, and that led to a new long-term contract. Now Arthur has joined the junior programme following his first season of German F4 with US Racing.
Arthur Leclerc was a late starter in motorsport, contesting his first full season in cars where he finished fifth in French F4. He’ll now join reigning Formula Regional champions Prema, with which his brother secured his graduation to F1 with a dominant Formula 2 campaign in 2017.
He said, “I am really happy to announce that I will drive in Formula Regional with one of the best teams in junior series. I did my very first test in single-seaters with Prema two years ago and I have always dreamed to race with them.”
“This great opportunity comes with another big chance for me, as I am proud to announce that I am joining the Ferrari Driver Academy. I am very grateful for the support and the trust given to me. I cannot wait to be back in the racing seat.”
Also joining the FDA is karter Dino Beganovic. After three years of world championship karting, the 15-year-old will mark his first season in cars with a full season in Italian F4 races, with additional selected German F4 races.
While Gianluca Petecof retains his place on the programme, he finished fourth and then second respectively in the Italian F4 Championship with Prema.
Petecof will now join Leclerc in the Formula Regional European championship, again with Prema.
W Series added to support programme
The W Series has been added to the support programme for the United States and Mexico Grands Prix in October, organisers announced on Thursday.
The W Series, conceived as a platform for women to gain experience and climb up the motorsport ladder to compete with the men, started last year with six races at European circuits. The two races in North America will form the season finale, while the other six rounds will continue as DTM races.
The organisers of the series have made it clear they want to expand the series with the aim of getting a woman on the F1 grid for the first time since 1976.
F1 motorsport managing and technical director, Ross Brawn said in a statement, “In just one year, W Series has contributed significantly to increasing interest in the topic of diversity and inclusion in motorsport. We are convinced that our sport must offer equal opportunities for men and women to compete together.”
“It is no coincidence that improving the diversity of the F1 grid by supporting and promoting driver talent from under-represented backgrounds is one of our strategic objectives.”
W Series chief executive Catherine Bond Muir said she was thrilled her championship would be a part of the two weekends. Saying “I’m particularly pleased that W Series will now stage races outside Europe, and the USA and Mexico are of course both very important new territories for us.”
It is likely that both championships could be decided at either race weekends, Lewis Hamilton has wrapped up his last four titles in Mexico or Austin.
Both circuits have also been keen to show greater inclusivity in a male-dominated sport and have space on support programmes without the usual junior series.
The 2019 title, with a prize of $500,000, was won by Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, who is also a development driver for the Williams.
W Series advisor and commentator David Coulthard added, “It [the agreement] demonstrates very clearly the extent to which W Series has quickly been widely accepted as part of the international motorsport calendar.”
Williams set “very ambitious targets”
Williams says they have set “very ambitious targets” for 2020 as the team looks to recover from the most disappointing season in their history, and are eager to show just how much progress they’ve made.
The British team are the most successful private teams in the sport, with nine constructor championships and seven drivers. But in the last two years have hit rock bottom, finishing last in the championship. Last year they only scored a point and also suffered the embarrassment of missing the first two days of pre-season testing.
Even more worrying for the team was just how far they drifted away from the pack, with George Russell and Robert Kubica regularly a second a lap slower than their closest rivals. The team knows they have a big task on their hands even to close the gap to the midfield.
Speaking to Sky Sports, deputy team principal Claire Williams said, “We have been working so hard at Williams and I talk about it so often now, how much work has gone on behind the scenes for the past 14 months.”
“It’s just frustrating that everyone just sees a Williams at the back of the grid. That work has been done but it hasn’t filtered through to the race track because that takes time.”
Ms Williams says her teams performance targets where to be fighting in the midfield again, but says they don’t know where they are compared to the rest of the field, and that would be key in setting the teams fortunes this season.
Adding, “It’s not going to be until testing or maybe even the first races of the year where we truly understand where we are competitively. But the work has gone in, the work really has gone in over the winter.”
Williams also added in another interview, that she had been overhauling its structure and processes behind the scenes, as well as focusing on “aero, finding performance, and some mechanical issues.”
The team will be hoping to make the same leap as McLaren, they finished ninth in 2017 but last year were up in fourth, securing a podium in the process. “They had an enormous leap,” Williams admitted.
Although that sort of progress is exactly why she isn’t getting ahead of herself ahead of this year despite what she sees as major positives back in the factory.
Saudi Arabia could host F1 soon
Saudi Arabia has announced plans for a Formula One race to be held near the capital Riyadh in 2023. The Qiddiyah circuit is part of a new entertainment and sports complex outside the capital Riyadh, designed by ex-F1 driver Alexander Wurz.
The country first held Formula E 2018 at a circuit in Diriyah in 2018 just outside the capital. Chief executive officer Mike Reininger told BBC Sport the track would be “ready” to host a Grand Prix in 2023.
Adding “We’re building a facility in the hope there will be a deal struck and there is a race here in Saudi.”
Reininger said negotiations were ongoing between Saudi authorities and F1, adding: “The formalisation of a race is not for us at Qiddiyah. It is outside the confines of the project itself. But we are building a facility that will be able to host a really world-class event as one of the signature items we will have on offer here at Qiddiyah as we open in 2023”
Reininger says he was not engaged directly in the discussions, with the ASN driving the talks. The Qiddiyah Circuit was unveiled on Friday alongside F1 driver Romain Grosjean.
The track is FIA Grade One standard, capable of hosting both F1 and MotoGP, and is part of what Reininger described as “a bigger universe of motorsport activities”.
GPDA chairman Alex Wurz told BBC News, “It’s a privilege of a lifetime to design the motion and mobility zone in Qiddiyah, including the Speedpark track. The project offers us amazing opportunities to design a track, a true racing arena for the drivers and spectators.”
“The design offers amazing elevation changes, making use of the stunning natural landscape. Equally, it is made to challenge drivers and engineers alike.”
The circuit is expected to debut in 2022, although next year has not been ruled out. Although insiders believe it will be unlikely to happen, plus the calendar for this season is seen as the maximum, but it is possible that Barcelona drops off at the end of 2020.
Going to Saudi Arabia is a lucrative for F1 in terms of hosting fees that would be expected to be in the region of $50m a year but would inevitability draw criticism from human rights groups.
Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia has “an appalling record on LGBT rights, women’s rights, extra-judicial killings, beheadings, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and their involvement in the ongoing conflict in Yemen”.
Channel 4 changes programme format
UK free to air broadcaster Channel 4 has announced changes to its coverage for 2020, like last year the network has highlights of all races as well as live coverage of British Grand Prix.
According to Motorsport Broadcasting, under the new three year deal with Sky Sports, it will now be allowed to show seventy per cent of the race. Also, will be allowed to show its highlights for European races between 18:30-21:00, with more race action.
It is expected that Steve Jones will lead the coverage with commentators Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. While Eddie Jordan (chief analyst), Mark Webber and Billy Monger are expected to continue as analysts.
On Thursday, deputy presenter and pit-lane reporter Lee McKenzie said on an Instagram Story she would do ‘some races’, two will be Mexico and Austin as she will be presenting W Series.
The Week Ahead
We head towards the end of January and the teams are beginning to get ready for testing. The news this week has centred on launches, reserve drivers and looking ahead to 2020, I expect this to continue until the end of the month.
Also, the other thing is reserve drivers’ teams have started to confirm their reserve drivers, these mostly come from Formula Two and Three. Teams language I think is important, how many focus not only on this season but the big regulation changes next year.
This week we also got the start times for sessions this year, there are no real surprises. We might get now an idea of support events and those Liberty want to build around the race weekend, this week saw W Series added to the North American leg. What else does Liberty have in mind for the sports seventieth year? That’s something I think we will know nearer to the start of the season.