Toro Rosso notices a big difference with Honda
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost says he has seen a “big difference” with the teams new status as a works team for the Japanese manufacturer Honda.
The Red Bull-owned team has only been a customer team since the drinks company bought the team in 2005. Since the Austrian company brought the team, they have only been a customer of first Cotsworth, followed by Ferrari and Renault.
Speaking to Motorsport.com Tost has explained, “It is a big difference, believe me. This starts already with a design of the car.”
“In the past, we just got a power unit and suppliers said: ‘Look, this is the power unit, with the pipes, with all the aggregates, just put it into your car.’”
“Our designers are sitting together with the Honda engineers, they think ‘OK, how can we create the oil tank, for example, in front of the engine, how to put it in a best possible way into the chassis’.”
Last season the team publicly fell out with there previous suppliers Renault, over the causes of the team’s poor performance and reliability. However, Tost says that Honda has given the team input on the engine side allowing Toro Rosso’s engineers to set up the power unit.
He added “You should have seen the smiling faces of the engineers when they came back from dyno run with the gearbox and the power unit. They said: ‘Hey, we could change the mappings during the running’”
Tost says that the team having an impact can help both sides with cooperation. Honda enjoyed their best winter testing since returning to the sport in 2015. But the Frenchman says this season is about preparing for 2019.
Alonso a different driver – Boullier
McLaren’s racing director Eric Boullier says that Fernando Alonso is a “different” Formula One driver heading into this season. The British team has switched to Renault engines this year, which the Frenchman says has revitalised by the switch.
Alonso has only managed eighty-two points in the last three seasons, with his best result being in a number of fifth places. Boullier told Motorsport.com “the drivers, especially Fernando, will not miss any opportunity to tell us where we are wrong”.
He said: “Watch him, it’s a different Fernando here this year. You can see he’s here [at the track in pre-season testing] before lunchtime when it’s not his day to run.” He added. Boullier said that Alonso was in a different mindset and was spending more time at the factory, as he was more engaged.
Though pre-season testing was difficult for the team and finished bottom of the lap count, McLaren left Barcelona on a much more positive note after a good final day.
Despite the difficulties, McLaren still completed more laps across a weather-hit two weeks than last year with Honda. Boullier said the “massive boost” in morale has been evident throughout the winter.
“You know you have a race-winning engine in the back of the car. So you might not be the best in the pitlane but it’s still good enough to fight for podiums and race wins.” He added.
Boullier says there had been a clear boost in the teams morale. He also praised the team for keeping the motivation, trying to be the best race car and the change is a massive boost.
Ocon says he needs to confirm place
Mercedes young driver Esteban Ocon says he needs to “confirm” his place in Formula One in his second full season in the sport. The Frenchman made his debut in mid-2016 with Manor, before an impressive first full season in 2017.
Ocon will want to prove himself to Mercedes this season as the team do not currently have any drivers under contract for 2019. Although four times champion Lewis Hamilton is expected to re-sign for the team.
There are three others drivers who will be looking to get the seat alongside Hamilton, including current race driver Valtteri Bottas and reserve Pascal Wehrlein and George Russell.
Speaking to Autosport, Ocon said “I think it is one of the most important years of my career. After learning a lot last year everybody is waiting for me to confirm this year, which is quite normal.”
“My career’s managed by Mercedes so my bosses set me some targets for this year and I have to respect them. I feel like if I do a strong job here there will always be plenty of opportunities.” Ocon said the most was his development over the winter.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is expecting that Ocon will outperform teammate Sergio Perez this season, with the Frenchman identifying qualifying as an area he needs to improve.
Ocon was out-qualified by Perez in the first half of the season, but the Frenchman performed better in the second half of the season. Ocon added, “I felt that all through the year I was fast through the race but I was lacking a bit of qualifying pace, especially in the beginning of the year.”
“That was gone by the end, I was feeling better and stronger in qualifying. It was more normal and coming to me.”
Williams warns not to judge driver decision on testing
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams has warned against the teams’ performance in winter testing to judge the team’s decision to partner Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll as the team’s race drivers after they were both outpaced by reserve driver Robert Kubica in testing.
The Polish driver was a strong candidate for the seat, but the team decided to give the seat to the Russian. Kubica shared the car with Sirotkin on the second day of the first week of Barcelona pre-season testing, before splitting duties with Stroll on day three of the second week.
However, there were some questions about the team’s decision after Kubica outpaced both drivers, and set the fastest time for the team in testing. Asked about the Barcelona lap times said about the 2018 driver line-up decision, Williams said: “I think it probably says that it’s been a very challenging test schedule, not least because of the weather.
“People may go out and they may do a run on a soft tyre in perfect conditions and then the other drivers may not have that opportunity, because the weather might not be so great, or we’ve chosen to go for a different set-up direction that isn’t necessarily the optimum one.”
She added that you cannot necessarily judge it to that level. The team carried out an ‘extensive evaluation’ in Abu Dhabi to decide on the team’s line up.,
Elaborating further on the Barcelona test results, Williams said: “I think you can look at the timesheet and go ‘wow, Mercedes are at the top’. That’s probably about right.
“But I think when you are looking and trying to compare drivers, within one team during a test session, while you don’t actually know yourself the programme that the engineers are running.”
Wolff expects a three-way fight
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says he is expecting this season to be a three-way fight between the German manufacturer, Ferrari and Red Bull. Mercedes who have taken four consecutive drivers and constructors titles remain favourites this season.
While the lead driver Lewis Hamilton will be looking to beat Sebastian Vettel to equal Juan Manuel Fangio on five drivers championships. Speaking to BBC News, Wolff said “Our drivers seem reasonably happy with our car, but it remains to be seen how well it performs driven in anger.”
Mercedes have dominated Formula One since the introduction of the hybrid power units in 2014, winning every single drivers’ and constructors’ championship.
However last season the team came under pressure from Ferrari. This season, Wolff said that the team faces new challenges because of the reduction in the number of power units to three. That means that reliability could be a headache for all the teams.
Wolff added “The reduction in the number of power-unit components means that reliability will again play an important role in 2018. Our reliability in testing looked good but we need to be careful to draw any conclusions from that.”
“Despite getting some good mileage with the new car in Barcelona, many of its components have not even come close to the life they need to complete during the season.” Mercedes appear to be sticking to the mentally of not taking things for granted.
Hamilton added “I personally feel stronger (than last year). That’s a positive. I don’t know where we are in terms of the pack but reliability has been fantastic and the car feels great.”
Grosjean eyes Le Mans debut
Haas’s Romain Grosjean is hoping that he will make his debut in June’s 24 hours of Le Mans. If the Frenchman does take part in the race, he would be the second current Formula One driver to take part.
In January, McLaren announced that Fernando Alonso would drive in all World Endurance Championship round for Toyota which does not clash with a Grand Prix, which includes the prestigious endurance race at Le Mans.
Should Grosjean contest the race, it would create a busy June and July because he would race for five consecutive weekends. But Despite the impact , t would have on his race schedule in the middle of the season, Grosjean will consider any opportunities to contest the race.
Speaking to Racer, Grosjean “Yes, Le Mans 24 Hours is one that I’m looking at. If there’s a great opportunity I may just jump in [this year]. It would be five weekends in a row or something like that.”
“But I’ve got to train for a triathlon first. I’m trying to do a first triathlon this year, so I have a deal with my wife who says if I go and do another race I have to drop that one! I’d pick Le Mans.”
However, Grosjean says he is yet to ask his Haas team and he will fully accept the decision if they say no.
Rosberg joins Sky Sports
Former world champion Nico Rosberg will join Sky Sports at key races this season. The German who is the only man to beat Lewis Hamilton in a head to head fight, will be seen as a key member of Sky’s team because of his insights.
Rosberg said “Although getting behind the microphone doesn’t quite match the thrill of getting behind the wheel, I got a taste of it with Sky Sports last year and loved it.”
“2018 should be a fascinating battle, and hopefully I can offer fans a bit of an insight into the teams, the personalities and everything it takes to be an F1 driver. I can’t wait to get started.”
Rosberg is yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes to continue his ambassadorial role this season.