Leclerc getting a sense of championship push
Charles Leclerc says he starting to sense his first F1 championship push after storming out of the blocks in 2022, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen demanding more from their teams ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix to get their seasons back on track.
The Ferrari driver heads into Ferrari’s home race in Imola, with a thirty-four point lead, as the Tifosi decent on the circuit for the first time since 2006. While it’s too soon for title predictions ahead of the fourth race of twenty-three, the near-perfect start for Leclerc and Ferrari has made him the early favourite, particularly given the relative struggles of his expected closest rivals.
His nearest challenger is also a surprise George Russell after last years title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are only fifth and sixth in the standings with both pace and reliability concerns. While Leclerc talent has been clear since joining Ferrari in 2019, he has been unable to challenge consistently at the front.
After his win in Melbourne, he said “Obviously we only had the third race, so it’s difficult to think about the championship, but to be honest, we’ve got a very strong car, a very reliable car too.”
“We’ve always been there, so I hope it continues like this and if it does, then we probably have chances for the championship, which obviously makes me smile after the last two years that have been difficult for the team and obviously for myself.”
Imola, the circuit officially named after Ferrari’s founder Enzo and his son Dino, will welcome back fans for the first time since 2006. Leclerc is looking forward to the weekend but warned that Ferrari could not put extra pressure on itself at its home Grand Prix.
Leclerc’s rise to the front comes as the drivers who were expected to lead the way in the title race drop down the order. Melbourne was a sign maybe have how far Mercedes have drifted into no man’s land, but Russell still holds second after maximising results in the opening three races.
With a lack of balance and porpoising issues aplenty, Mercedes say there is no quick fix to the W13 and there is not expected to be a significant upgrade for the start of the European season, despite Hamilton’s hopes.
Speaking on visits to Kula Lumpur and Sao Paulo in the last week Hamilton said, “There will be a lot of calls, really trying to rally them up… we’ve got some improvements that we need to make and we need everyone’s support in doing that.” He vowed there would be no stone unturned and the teams knows where they need to gain performance.
For Verstappen, speed hasn’t really been the issue. Finishing races has while not close to Leclerc, Verstappen was on for comfortable second places in both the Bahrain and Australia races, which would have nicely complimented his Saudi Arabia win – before having to retire his Red Bull car.
Leclerc unharmed in robbery
Charles Leclerc has escaped unharmed after being robbed of a $320,000 Richard Mille watch in Italy on Monday night. Reports in Italy say the Monacan was spending the Easter weekend in the Tuscan city of Viareggi.
Last night they were in the unlit Via Salvatori area when Leclerc was recognised by fans and stopped for photographs and autographs. Following the scrum around him, it emerged that a thief managed to snatch Leclerc’s watch from his wrist and escaped before he had even noticed.
With the thief having got away, Leclerc reported the matter to the police, who are now investigating and looking into whether the robbery was opportunistic or planned in advance. Leclerc’s trainer Ferrari, who is from Viareggio, made clear his annoyance in a social media post on Tuesday.
Writing on Instagram, Ferrari wrote about the lack of lighting in the area of the city where the robbery took place, which has been the subject of complaints from local residents for a while.
He wrote, “Via Salvatori has been completely in the dark for months. We have been reporting this for months. Well, yesterday evening in Via Salvatori, they robbed us. Think of arranging the lamps sooner or later? Asking for a friend.”
Richard Mille is a long-time sponsor of Leclerc, and became an official partner of Ferrari last year.
Last year during the chaos at the Euro 2020 final at Wembley McLaren’s Lando Norris had a prototype Richard Mille snatched from his wrist.
FIA urged to reforming collaboration regulations
F1 teams and the FIA have been urged to consider a rethink of how teams work together, amid renewed unease from some of Haas’ rivals about its close relationship with Ferrari.
The impressively strong start to the season for the US-owned team has once again prompted questions about whether or not it has benefited too much from its close ties to Ferrari. Since entering the sport in 2016, Haas has been open about buying as many parts as possible from Ferrari and this year setting up of a Maranello hub and the addition of a number of the Italian team’s former staff.
That has prompted fears that Haas could be gaining from shared knowledge, something which teams that work in complete isolation cannot get. The FIA is fully satisfied, however, that the Haas/Ferrari partnership is above board, but that has not stopped some calling for the regulations to be tightened up in the future.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff said: “I think it needs reform, because we want to avoid these kinds of discussions that we have now, and the polemic around the last few days or last few weeks. Everybody deserves to perform well, and people should get credit when they’ve done a good job.”
He drew comparisons to the scandal around Aston Martin (then Racing Point) and Mercedes sharing a wind tunnel and the near copy of the 2019 Mercedes in Racing Points 2020 car, saying since then they have been handling them with the ‘utmost diligent’. Adding “going forward, if we were to need to compromise our, let’s say, income ability, we need to do this, because none of the teams should be able to cooperate in a way that we’re seeing today, with some of the teams.”
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, who has been one of the hardest critics of these types of agreements, repeated his belief that F1 should go hard line on the matter, and stop any form of cooperation between teams. Saying “It’s clear for us that Formula 1 should be a championship of 10 constructors, or 11 or 12, which means there should be no transfer happening of any IP which is related to core performance.”
“The maximum that should be allowed to share is the power units and the gearbox internals. That’s it, there should be no sharing of any infrastructure and so on.” He believes once you start transferring IP between teams it becomes difficult to police.
Not all teams are in agreement that things need to change though. Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur felt that the rules that were in place were effective enough saying “I’m not sure that we have to change the regulation, it’s exactly the same story on the financial side – that we have to apply the rules.”
Alpine boss Otmar Szafnauer backed Seidl’s view that the key to the matter is that the FIA is properly able to police any transfer of knowledge between teams.
Alpine welcomes with concern VW’s interest
Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi has welcomed the impending arrival in Formula One of the VW Group but stresses that new entrants should be given treatment that is fair to existing manufacturers.
It looks incredibly likely that once the 2026 engine regulations are finalised that both Porsche and Audi are set to enter the sport. A new power unit budget cap is set to include an extra margin for new entrants as they develop their engines over the next three years, in order to help encourage them to come in.
Porsche and Audi are both expected re expected to run independent projects, with the former developed in conjunction with Red Bull Powertrains, and the latter hailing from Audi Sport’s base in Germany. However, rivals are concerned that collaboration between the two brands could see them get around the budget cap.
The other problem could be about any potential carryover of intellectual property from Honda to Porsche via Red Bull, which could call into question the Stuttgart manufacturer’s claim to be a new entrant.
While Rossi says the potential arrival of the VW is positive, it must not disadvantage long-term suppliers. He told Motorsport.com, “I think it’s nice, I think is good for the sport. But we need to really pay attention to a couple of things, actually. We need to check and make sure that two separate teams are two separate teams.”
“We need to make sure that if they’re entering the arena as teams, are they works teams, is it coming from Porsche, from Audi, is it coming from Red Bull or Honda? Do they have specific treatment or not? So basically, is the sport going to be better off, or is it going to be worse off?”
Alpine’s concerns are shared by both Mercedes and Ferrari who share similar views. Rossi says that if favouritism is shown to new entrants suddenly current manufacturers get the wrong end of the stick. Adding “I guess it’s the same concern for most teams here, but especially for us as a works team, because we’ve invested literally billions over the past 20 years, 40 years, for Renault in Pus.”
‘Shocker’ to lose Monaco – Gasly
Pierre Gasly says it would be a ‘shocker’ if the Monaco Grand Prix loses its slot on the calendar. With the addition of Las Vegas and Doha, next season the sport is reaching the limit of twenty-four races, causing increasing competition among the current venues to retain their places on the calendar.
Meanwhile, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has been clear that even classic circuits need to earn their spot and cannot rely on past glories to guarantee future Grands Prix. That has prompted suggestions that Monaco, which has its own unique contract and production deal, could lose their place on the calendar.
Gasly says he would find it difficult to accept Monaco losing its place, as the race has been such an iconic event in F1’s history. He told Motorsportt.com, “That would be a bit of a shocker if Monaco gets taken out of the calendar. “It’s probably the most iconic race in the world. Talking to non-F1 fans, everyone had heard about Monaco for various reasons, whether it’s racing, whether it’s party-related, whether it’s all of the action that happens around the Grand Prix.”
“It’s a very iconic weekend. I think, and I really hope, we get to experience it as drivers because it’s probably the toughest track of the season, the most challenging, and is my favourite one.”
He echoed the increasing concern from drivers, fans and teams since the 2008 financial crash that historic races such as Monaco, Spa, Monza and Silverstone, are important enough to retain on the calendar.
Gasly says the three most important races for him are Monaco, the French and Belgian Grands Prix, with Belgian being his home race geographically where he usually has a lot of support.
Adding, “I think they are very iconic tracks, especially Spa and Monaco, they are my two favourite tracks. I think they are part of the history and DNA of Formula One and they should be on the calendar every year.”
Monaco’s contract expires at the end of May, but the president of the organisers the Automobile Club de Monaco’s president, Michel Boeri, said this week he was adamant a new deal would get sorted with F1.
He told local media, “I’d like to refer to what has been read in the press, where it is said that we may struggle to keep organising Grand Prix races beyond the 2022 event, so as early as next year.”
“It was implied that the fees required by Liberty [Media] were too excessive for Monaco and the Grand Prix would no longer be held. That’s untrue. We are still in talks with them and must now seal the deal with a contract.”
Pirelli finalises the first batch of tyre tests
Pirelli has finalised the first batch of dates for its 2023 tyre testing programme, with the schedule obliging four teams to stay on at Imola next week. The Italian manufacturer has struggled this year because of the expanded calendar to find slots after Grands Prix weekends tyre development after races.
With so many back-to-back races in 2022, traditional test venues such as Barcelona and Silverstone were not possible as their races are followed by other events.
However, by opting for the weeks after the Emilia Romagna, Austrian, Hungarian and Italian GPs, Pirelli has managed to secure seventeen car test days, with the total brought up to eighteen by a single standalone day at Mugello. The current regulations allow for twenty-five days including wet weather.
Teams are using 2022 cars, but under tight restrictions on what they can do within the Pirelli test programme any track running with current machinery is usually seen as advantageous.
The eighteen days are spread across nine teams, with only Haas not participating. Williams, which opted out of last year’s running due to the expense of creating a mule car, is involved this time. While Red Bull, Ferrari and Alpine have opted to split their two tyre test days across two different venues.
The programme starts next week in Imola, with Alpha Tauri, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Ferrari all participating, the last two attending only for a day apiece. Ferrari will then use its second day at Mugello on June 24, on the Friday after Montreal.
McLaren and Williams will run two days apiece in Spielberg after the Austrian GP in July, where they will be joined by Alpine and Red Bull Racing for a day each. Mercedes and Aston Martin have both agreed to use their two days in Hungary, just prior to the summer break.
The final day of running, and the final dry tyre date confirmed thus far, is earmarked for Red Bull Racing at Monza.