Mercedes data shows Red Bull has the advantage
Mercedes engineers have said their analysis from testing shows Red Bull is likely to hold the advantage they showed in pre-season testing going into next week Bahrain Grand Prix.
In last weekends test in Sakhir where the opening race takes place, the German manufacturer struggled throughout the test, with Sir Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap over a second off Max Verstappen’s best time in the Red Bull.
Several variables, such as fuel loads and engine settings, may have skewed the competitive order during the test, but after seven years of dominating the sport, Mercedes is preparing for a closer battle this season.
Head of strategy James Vowles said, “I would say Red Bull are ahead on performance, they are the class act from the test, but it is a test, it is not a race, and it is one event out of twenty-three. Are we going to have a close season? I would say so.
“Red Bull are a fierce adversary, they’ve got a strong package and clearly came out of the box very, very quick. The result of that is across the season and across different types of track layouts, I am sure you will see us move forwards and backwards relative to them, but I don’t believe we are going into this particularly finding all the performance that is missing or being ahead of them.”
Watching the on-board footage from the test, you can see Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas working hard to correct sliding, with one of the areas highlighted as its main weakness following the three days of testing. The team says it was poor handling compared to Red Bull.
Vowles say that is a far observation which was mirrored in lap time was handling of the car, and that at the time of recording of the debrief the team did not have answers.
Director of trackside engineering, Andrew Shovlin, said the track conditions contributed to the problems Mercedes faced but admitted that they appeared to impact the W12 more than other cars.
Saying “The wind made it tricky. When the wind is behind the car you lose a lot of downforce because effectively the airspeed is reduced so some corners where the wind was behind, it was prone to doing that, and then also the tyres are quite easy to overheat on that circuit and if you start sliding, you tend to lose grip and it gets worse. So, there are a few problems.”
Hamilton encouraged by F1 diversity push
Sir Lewis Hamilton feels encouraged by F1 plans to further its push to improve diversity in 2021 but says the focus must be on actions over slogans this year. While 2020 will be defined for the Englishman by his seventh title, the events of the last year with the Black Lives Matter movement, the push for greater diversity with the ‘We Race As One’ campaign.
The Englishman is the only black driver, Hamilton led the calls to improve diversity within what he called “a white-dominated sport”. A pre-race gesture took place in which drivers were allowed to take a knee or show their support for the End Racism campaign in another way, while teams ran with anti-racism messaging on their cars.
Details of what was discussed at the Bahrain Summit between the GPDA and Liberty Media have not been made public yet, but it has announced that improving diversity will be at the core of its revised We Race As One campaign in 2021, revealing plans to help improve minority representation across motorsport as a whole.
Asked by Motorsport.com, bout the discussion and what was in place for 2021, Hamilton called it a “really good meeting” and praised Domenicali for taking “a really great first step”.
The Mercedes driver explained how there was a renewed focus in 2021 on taking action as a series to improve diversity, believing it to be more important than slogans. He explained, “Stefano has taken the time to sit with us all and be open in terms of having this discussion of how we can work together to improve the sport. We didn’t really necessarily have much of a discussion about [the pre-race messaging]. They explained to us their plans and we can go back to them.”
“It wasn’t that everything had to be done there on the spot, but they are making some adjustments, which I think are positive. Last year there were a lot of slogans. Obviously ‘We Race As One’, but action is needed this year. That was something that was spoken to us and was expressed to us.”
Sir Lewis says that it was important we continue to have this conversation as the sport continues to push for greater diversity and incursion. He believes that F1 and his vision are aligned.
Recently F1 director of strategy and business Yath Gangakumaran announced plans to offer scholarships to students from diverse and traditionally under-represented backgrounds, funding their university degrees and help find pathways to work within the industry.
Ferrari shakes of “strange” atmosphere
Charles Leclerc says that Ferrari has now shaken off the “strange” atmosphere at the team from early 2020 when it came to terms with its struggles. The Italian manufacture had its worst season in four decades last year as it slumped to sixth in the constructors, managing just three podiums.
The team was compromised by the lack of straight line speed because of a technical directive banning something it was doing with its 2019 power unit as well as a aerodynamic concept which proved draggy.
Meanwhile, when the season finally started in Austria it had already announced Sebastian Vettel would be leaving the team at the end of 2021, signing Carlos Sainz as his replacement. As the reality of Ferrari’s plight became clear to the team in the early part of last year, a “strange” atmosphere emerged at Maranello, according to Leclerc.
Asked by Motorsport.com, about the atmosphere at Ferrari last year, Leclerc said, “At first there was a strange atmosphere at first in 2020 where we realised the reality of things, that it was quite a lot worse than what we expected.”
“There was a time where it was not great. But very quickly the mentality changed and there was a huge motivation to try and come back to where we want to be. I think this didn’t change for this year. With Carlos, he is bringing experience from other teams too, that he’s very interesting and that he’s also giving us new worlds to explore.”
He says this will be interesting to see if the team remains as motivated as last year as well as being ready to push with better days ahead.
Ferrari’s performance last weekend in the Sakhir Test showed a encouraging step forward, with team Mattia Binotto declaring that straight-line speed was no longer a disadvantage heading into the 2021 season.
Asked about the team’s performance gains through pre-season testing, Binotto said he was pleased with how the data was matching up with Ferrari’s expectations at the factory.
Saying “We tried to develop as much as we could the back of the car. What was more important for us was to understand the correlation with the wind tunnel and the simulations, so gathering data and comparing.”
Jeddah announces layout for Grand Prix
Organisers of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix have announced the layout of the temporary circuit on the streets of Jeddah ahead of the construction of a circuit in Qiddiya.
The circuit in the capital is set to be the sport’s fastest street track with average speeds of 250kph (155mph), the circuit will feature 27 corners and run to 3.8 miles in length. It will replace the Azerbaijani capital Baku as the second longest circuit on the calendar.
F1 also says that the track, which features high-speed esses, chicanes and several long straights, has the potential for three DRS overtaking zones. F1 motorsport and technical managing director Ross Brawn, said “It’s always very exciting to release the details of a new circuit and the Saudi Arabia Street Circuit is no exception.
“We have worked very closely with the team at Tilke and with the promoter to ensure we have a track that provides exciting wheel-to-wheel racing for our fans and challenges all of the drivers.”
“The design brings out the best of a modern street circuit but also has fast-paced free-flowing areas that will create fast speeds and overtaking opportunities. The setting is incredible, on the Red Sea, and we can’t wait to see the cars on the track in December.”
The race will make its debut on the weekend of 03 – 05 December, being postponed by a week to make way for the postponed Australian Grand Prix.
F1 is the latest international sport to agree to stage an event in Saudi Arabia, with boxing, football and golf also holding high-profile events in the country in recent years. However, the country has faced criticism from campaign groups for its human rights record. Amnesty International UK have accused organisers of ‘sportswashing’.
Silverstone sets out plans for key workers tickets
Silverstone has announced they will be giving away thousands of tickets to this year Formula One and MotoGP British Grands Prix to key workers who have served throughout the pandemic.
Subject to government restrictions, the circuit is hopeful that fans will be able to go ahead with fans after last years F1 races took place behind closed doors and MotoGP was cancelled. From the start of the pandemic, Silverstone said it intended to show its thanks to the key workers from the pandemic by offering free tickets for the 2021 British Grand Prix, with further details being announced on Thursday.
Silverstone has allocated 10,000 tickets to give away across the F1 and MotoGP British Grands Prix, and Silverstone Classic, which is scheduled for 30 July to 1 August.
Tickets will be given away using the Blue Light Card scheme that rewards workers in the NHS, emergency services, armed forces and social care. Blue Light Card holders will be able to enter a ballot to win a pair of free tickets to one of the three events. The ballot for the F1 race will be open until 25 May.
Managing director Stuart Pringle said, “Working with Blue Light Card gives us the reassurance that our tickets will reach those we are all so indebted to and we hope as many as possible can join us this summer to experience live motorsport, something we have all missed over the past 12 months.”
“The last year has been a challenge for everyone but particularly for those working on the frontline, putting their lives at risk, to keep our country and population safe under very difficult circumstances.”
The race in July is due to take place after restrictions are eased, the current plan by the government says large outdoor seated venues will be permitted to allow up to 10,000 fans or 25% of the total seat capacity – whichever is lower – from 17 May. This could then be increased as early as 21 June.
Silverstone is also open to the use of possible vaccine passports for those attending the Grand Prix, with Pringle saying last month that the proposal was “worth exploring”.
No issue with my representation in Drive to Survive
Gunther Steiner says he has no issues with how he has been represented in Netflix’s Formula One Drive to Survive series as the third season is released worldwide on Friday.
Since the series began in 2019 giving fans unparalleled behind-the-scenes access, the Haas team principal has become one of the stars in the storylines, most notably for his forthright demeanour and interactions with his drivers.
Steiner as expected takes centre stage in the episode “Guenther’s Choice” and “Man On Fire” centred on the events in Bahrain, including Romain Grosjean’s crash, George Russell’s debut with Mercedes, as well as the change of driver line up for 2021 and the Nikita Mazepin groping incident.
Steiner is yet to watch any of the three seasons of Drive to Survive and refuses to watch it, but said he had no issues with how Netflix delivered its storylines, saying it was the job of filmmakers to make events as dramatic as possible.
Steiner told Motorsport.com, “We know filmmakers, they get the best they can out of it – that’s pretty clear. I don’t know how much was played up, and therefore I’m not with those who are critical about it. I don’t know how they managed the stuff. That’s why I don’t have much of an opinion about it.”
Adding “As long as stories told there are not completely wrong. I didn’t hear that, actually, that it’s untrue. Maybe sensationalised a little bit, but otherwise I don’t think much is changed in principle, at least that’s how I understand it.”
The pandemic has changed the way the series was made, the film crew from Netflix was required to embed itself within particular teams across race weekends, drawing them closer to their subjects. In previous seasons, the team was able to react to events as they happened.
Steiner added “They behave the way you don’t even notice them after a while. They become part of your daily life. That’s why there aren’t really any problems. They’re all super nice people. They just do their job.”
The week ahead
The week ahead will be about building up to the opening race of the year, you always see spin about Mercedes being on the backfoot and this appears to be louder following testing you need to believe there could be truth in this. Red Bull was strong in testing and you need to believe their spin on this will be ‘it was only testing.’
We also have the summit between Liberty and the drivers, I think this will be interesting with seeing what the expectations are and the future of ‘We Race As One’ campaign. We generally need to be careful as answers to who are the strongest will not be answered by one race.
The other thing is how close is the midfield, we saw as we expected in testing the midfield teams were close but what does that mean in racing situations? There are a lot of unanswered questions which is normal. We unpacked a lot of this in the last few days and we can do this better after the race.
The thing we will see in the next week is how the drivers who have changed teams settle in on there the first weekend. There is a lot to learn and we will have a clearer understanding of the field following qualifying. Bahrain remember is a guide because it’s the first race and also a night race, which makes it a bit misleading.
Join us for our Bahrain Prixview and build up to the opening race of the season throughout next week with full coverage from 11:15 GMT next Friday for first practice. F1 Today is back Monday