Red Bull hopes for title push
Max Verstappen’s victory in the final race of 2020 has given Red Bull hope that it finally has a car which can push for a championship this season.
The chassis and large parts of the cars have been frozen for cost savings due to the pandemic, but Red Bull are hoping that the RB16B has ironed out most of the problems with the car. They hope that the final season with Honda they can challenge Mercedes for the title.
However, the team knows that in recent years they have finished the season strongly, but has struggled to translate the strong finish into a strong start the following season. Red Bull has been one of the best teams in terms of progress throughout the year.
It is something that Red Bull’s team management is well aware of. Last year, boss Christian Horner felt that, with there being so much carry over between the 2020 and 2021 cars, it would help it perhaps change its fortunes this year.
Horner said in Abu Dhabi a month ago “I certainly hope so, because it’s not a start from scratch again. It’s the first time in F1’s history [that this has happened], and it is why we called the new car, 16B, as opposed to 17, because there’s so much of it that is carried over.”
While the chassis remains stable, the 10% cut in downforce and aerodynamics to improve racing it has retained some hope of some performance swings this season. Red Bull has traditionally been very strong with its aero package but knows the dominance of Mercedes since 2014 is a tough challenge.
For the aggression in pushing hard with development and gunning for more performance parts as much as possible, may well work in bringing lap time gain, but equally, they could bring a downside too. In constantly trying new parts, it means Red Bull is often chasing a new understanding of the platform it has on a Grand Prix weekend.
Speaking about whether the perception of Red Bull’s slow starts was a reality, Max Verstappen said at the end of last year, “Well, it definitely looks like that. We know that we have to improve a bit in the beginning of the year.”
“But I think yeah, with COVID, and then no track running which we depend on quite a lot, it didn’t help our case. We had to rectify a few stuff. And yeah, then with so many races in a row, you lose a lot of points. And then retirements, that doesn’t help.”
The biggest challenge is breaking the pattern of slow starts and hitting the ground running in Bahrain with testing and the Grand Prix. Mercedes have been beaten in Sakhir twice in the hybrid era on the Grand Prix layout,
Pushed a little on what he felt it would take for Red Bull to break its cycle of poor starts, Verstappen responded: “Maybe, like I said, I think we just depend a bit more on track running. So we have to find a way of making sure that what comes out of the wind tunnel works straight away on the car, and it’s immediate, and puts us in the right direction.”
That appears to be a clear message, get the car working well or lose ground early on. The biggest factor in this is making sure its wind tunnel and track correlation is spot on, and not trying to run before it can walk in trying to eke out small improvement gains with new parts.
The other key factor Red Bull has is Sergio Perez who has been a consistent driver throughout his career. The Mexican could push Verstappen and has experience in pushing a team to get the most from its car.
Vettel represents “important” moment for Aston Martin
Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer says the arrival of Sebastian Vettel represents an “important” moment in the team’s development.
The four-times champion joins the British manufacturer after six disappointing seasons with Ferrari, where Vettel failed in his boyhood dream of winning a championship with Ferrari. Szafnauer told Sky Sports, “It’s hugely exciting for everyone in the team.”
“That’s why he is such an important signing for us. He brings a winning mentality and we will all undoubtedly learn a lot from him on this journey.”
The team has been rebranded from Racing Point allowing them to set their sights high for future years. Szafnauer says representing the iconic brand was a huge privilege for every member of the team.
He added, “It might sound daunting, but we’ve been competing in Formula One for thirty years [under various names], winning races and taking podiums along the way – often against the odds.”
“We’ve earned a well-deserved reputation for punching above our weight, so we’re confident we can do the Aston Martin name proud right from the get-go.”
Szafnauer says a lot of work has gone into this new era which should not be underestimated. Most of this work has been made more challenging against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, while the team had their most successful season since the 1990s when it was Jordan.
He added, “Everybody involved should be extremely proud of that achievement and I think it demonstrates that while this is a new team name and identity, we have retained the strong backbone that has guided us through some tough times to where we are today.”
The Silverstone based team has built a reparation over the last decade as one of the most efficient with its resources, they are hoping the new investment from Aston Martin will establish them as a top team.
Vesti announced as Mercedes young driver
Mercedes have announced that Formula Two driver Frederik Vesti has joined the team’s young driver programme. The Dane finished third in Formula Three last season and makes the step up to F2 with ART this season.
Vesti is a former Formula Ford and Formula Four race winner and won the 2019 Formula Regional Championship F3 title for Prema. After stepping up to FIA F3 with Prema last year, he won more feature race wins than any other driver.
Speaking about his opportunity, Vesti said: “I’ve dreamed of being a Mercedes junior and worked so hard for it, for so many years and that motivation has lifted me every single day.”
“To now be working with Mercedes, the best team in the world is a massive boost for my career and I am really looking forward to building a powerful relationship in the future.”
Mercedes has followed the career of the Danish driver for many years and hopes that he will have a title-winning F3 campaign in 2021.
Gwen Lagrue, Mercedes’ driver development advisor, said, “Fred’s commitment and dedication is something we love to see and hugely respect. I remember him sending me updates on his debut seasons in single-seaters and letting us know details of his progress, which is something we always appreciate.”
“His Formula Regional European Championship in 2019 was impressive and in FIA F3 last year, he was very consistent. We are happy to welcome him into the Mercedes family and look forward to seeing him fight for the title this season in FIA F3.”
Mercedes young drivers currently include George Russell, who made his F1 debut as a Mercedes driver in Sakhir last month, Esteban Ocon who drives for Alpine.
In karting, it has Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Alex Powell, plus it looks after Eurocup Formula Renault driver Paul Aron.
ART has confirmed that one of Vesti’s F3 teammates will be Russian Aleksandr Smolyar, who had an impressive rookie campaign last year.
Return to Mercedes “much better” for McLaren
Lando Norris believes McLaren’s return to Mercedes engines this year will be “much better” for the team. In September 2019, it was announced the team would switch to Mercedes who they won three titles with during the two-decade partnership.
McLaren parted with Mercedes in 2015 to return to Honda, however that relationship proved fraught because of the lack of performance from the engine. They then teamed up with Renault until 2020, before it decided to focus from 2021 on its works team now called Alpine.
In 2019 it was announced that McLaren would start 2021, when the regulations were due to change to create closer racing, with a three-year deal Mercedes. However, the regulation change has been delayed by a year because of coronavirus with a token system for limited upgrades.
This token system means McLaren has been forced to give up two of the tokens to adapt the MCL35B to fit the Mercedes engine. Norris believes despite that the new power unit would “complicate things” and instead offer a step in performance.
Norris told Motorsport.com, “I think all round, it’s a better package. It’s more power. Touchwood, it’s more reliability. It’s a slightly better-fitting package, so as just a whole, there’s a lot of positives about it.”
“I’m not into everything, so I’m sure there are maybe some negatives there, and we have a good relationship with Renault, so things are very smooth now and we know them, and there’s going to be a lot of new things.”
The Englishman admits that there will be things they need to understand, that means that some things may not be natural with understanding how the power unit works. But is confident that they can do a great job in the transition to Mercedes.
McLaren will become the fourth team on the F1 grid to be powered by Mercedes, joining Aston Martin and Williams as customers alongside the works squad. The switch comes off the back of McLaren’s strongest season in eight years as it finished third in the constructors’ championship.
The team could be fighting with Aston Martin after they fought very closely for third. This could be a more even fight between the two car manufacturers as they will both be using Mercedes engines. While Lewis Hamilton has even talked up the chances of his former team fighting for wins in the future.
Norris admitted he struggled with the 2020 car which carries over into 2021, but believes he can unlock more performance.
Nissany confirmed as Williams test driver
Williams has confirmed that Roy Nissany will continue as the team’s test driver this season. The twenty-six-year-old will have three outings in practice sessions at Grands Prix, plus one day of pre-season testing in Bahrain as part of his deal.
That means it race drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will have one day in the car each before the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on 26 – 28 March.
Pre-season testing has been reduced to three days over the weekend of 19 – 21 March at the Sakhir Circuit. Last year, Nissany took part in practice sessions for Williams at the Spanish, Italian and Bahrain Grands Prix.
He said, “I am truly honoured to continue being part of Williams. Since we started, we have made huge progress across many areas – on top of the great FP1’s, we had a lot of productive work behind the scenes.
“While dedicating as much as I can to the team, I enhanced my skills and my capabilities as a driver. I am very keen to continue this form in 2021.”
Team principal Simon Roberts added: “We were very happy with the contributions Roy made both through his work on-track and in the simulator at Grove, which all aided the lap time gains we were able to make with the FW43.”
Pandemic opens eyes unsustainable financial nature
Alpha Tauri team principal Franz Tost says the impact of the coronavirus pandemic “opened the eyes” of F1 teams over the unsustainable financial nature of the sport.
Last year, the budget cap for this year which had been set at $175m was reduced by $30m to $145m to cover the reduced income, caused by the revised calendar. Also, many circuits were not paying hosting fees to Liberty Media, resulting in losses in 2020 although full results aren’t expected until April.
Tost explained how a growing realisation from teams over the challenges F1 faced prompted the level of collaboration that allowed the changes to be pushed through.
Tost told Motorsport.com, “Regarding the cost cap, the top teams would not have been so open to reduce the amount of money which they want to spend, to $145 million for the first year, without these COVID-19 problems.”
“Everybody realised how difficult it could become in the future. Formula 1 teams hardly work together, because everyone has their own interest, and unfortunately does not look at the big picture.” He believes the special situation caused by the pandemic has opened the eyes to the fact there is less money on the table.
Already the plan for a normal 2021 has been abandoned, with Melbourne, Shanghai, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi being postponed due to the pandemic.
But the sport is confident that the revised twenty-four race calendar, with Imola being added as the replacing the Shanghai race, and the Vietnamese round abandoned and it’s expected to be filled by Portimão.
Earlier in the month, before the revised calendar was announced, Tost said he was hopeful that things would come under control and that fans can return this year.