No plan to move away from Mercedes – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton says he is “not trying to move” away from his Mercedes team in this year’s driver market. The six-times champion is one of many top drives who are out of contract at the end of 2020.
Hamilton said on Instagram: “There is no dream of another team. I am with my dream team. There’s not a thing in my way, as I’m not trying to move. I’m with the people who have cared from day one.” Hamilton added that Mercedes are “the best team”.
The comments were in response to reports last week that a move to Ferrari has been hampered by signs that Sebastian Vettel was moving towards a new contract with the Italian team. Vettel, like Hamilton, is out of contract at the end of the season, while the German’s team-mate Charles Leclerc has a contract until the end of 2024.
In a news briefing last week, Vettel made it clear he wanted to stay at Ferrari beyond the end of this season and added: “Whatever the deal will be like, it is whatever I and the team will be comfortable with. In terms of duration, normally the contracts I had in the past were all a three-year deal.”
The other drivers who are out of contract are, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz. It looks likely that Bottas would remain with Mercedes, and McLaren retains Sainz. But negotiations are likely to be hampered by the coronavirus.
Wolff buys stake in Aston Martin
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has bought a stake in Aston Martin. The British manufacturer is controlled by the owner of Racing Point, which will be rebranded next year, Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
Wolff has bought a stake of just under 5%, which will become 0.95% after a rights issue in Aston Martin on Monday. A Mercedes spokesman said the move did not affect Wolff’s role as an executive and shareholder at Mercedes F1. He said Wolff’s purchase was “a financial investment”.
Stroll’s takeover of Aston Martin was approved by shareholders earlier this month. He became executive chairman after injecting £260m of new capital.
Wolff has brought 14.5m worth of shares at the current price of 55pp, giving him a shareholding of £7.975m at today’s prices.
Wolff owns 30% of the Mercedes team and is in negotiations with Ola Kallenius, chairman of parent company Daimler, about an extension of his contract beyond the end of this year. Daimler is also a shareholder in Aston Martin, having taken 5% of shares in 2013 in return for supplying engines and electronic components.
When Wolff joined Mercedes he was forced to sell his shares in Williams. But Daimler does not see Wolff’s shareholding in a company that by next year will have its own works F1 team as a conflict of interest because it sits along with its own.
The Mercedes F1 team also have engine and gearbox supply and technical co-operation agreements with Racing Point.
However there will be questions about the long term future of Racing Point’s independence, the team has been labelled a B Team after during testing when they saw the similarity between this year’s Racing Point car and last year’s Mercedes.
Chinese GP – Leclerc takes second win of season
Charles Leclerc has taken victory in Sunday’s virtual Chinese Grand Prix, taking back to back wins after beating Red Bull’s Alex Albon. The Ferrari driver faced tougher opposition throughout the race but still took victory from pole position.
Leclerc started the race from pole alongside Albon, after Williams George Russell was awarded a five-place grid penalty for blocking in qualifying. That moved the Thai driver to the front row, from where he undercut Leclerc for the race lead during the pitstop in the 28-lap race.
That brought him out ahead of the Ferrari, but behind the Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, even assisting him at one point in holding Leclerc up. But Albon was soon re-passed by the Ferrari, with Leclerc building a lead after lap eleven which he maintained until the end.
Stoffel Vandoorne won on the road in a race-long battle with Bahrain Virtual GP winner Guanyu Zhou for third place. However, he was awarded a five-second penalty for track limits, which promoted the Chinese driver into third.
Red Bull junior Liam Lawson was the leading driver on the alternative strategy in eighth place on his series debut. Russell’s teammate Nicolas Latifi was ninth ahead of Carlos Sainz.
The next round of the series will be voted by fans, as the Dutch Grand Prix circuit was not Red Bull junior Liam Lawson was the leading driver on the alternative strategy in eighth place on his series debut.
Mallya loses extradition appeal
Former Force India team principal Vijay Mallya has lost his appeal in a High Court in the UK against his extradition to India. Mallya is wanted by Indian prosecutors to stand trial on corruption and fraud charges relating to the collapse of his airline in 2014.
The Indian businessman has fourteen days to appeal to the Supreme Court in the UK. If the embattled tycoon decides not to pursue that route, the case would then go to the Home Secretary Priti Patel.
The ruling from the high court said, “We consider that while the scope of the prima facie case found by the SDJ [Senior District Judge] is in some respects wider than that alleged by the Respondent in India [Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED)], there is a prima facie case which, in seven important respects, coincides with the allegations in India”
Mallya has been wanted to stand trial for financial misconduct and fraud charges related to Kingfisher Airlines, which collapsed in 2012 with more than $1 billion in unpaid loans. He denies any wrongdoing and offered to repay back the loans, India argues that he has no intention to pay back banks.
The extradition case against Mallya was lodged by India after he moved to the UK in March 2016, where he has been residing since his passport was revoked. He was arrested the following year and granted bail.
Since then all his worldwide assets have been frozen, and a special court ordered banks on January 1 to seize assets worth Rs 11,000 crore (£1 billion) – much higher than the amount lenders were seeking.
Silverstone open to closed circuit race
Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle says the circuit would hold two successive Grand Prix’s without spectators to help Formula One fightback from the coronavirus.
Pringle said earlier this month that Silverstone was ready to help the sport in any way, with two consecutive races discussed, and talks between F1, teams and the FIA have ramped up in recent weeks, with all European races taking place behind closed doors a strong possibility.
The race currently expected to be the second round of the season, after the French government announced a ban on mass gathering until the middle of July. Pringle told The Guardian “We have discussed all sorts of permutations including hosting two races over one weekend and two races over consecutive weekends.”
“I have complete confidence in our ability to put on these events. We have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, we can turn that on definitely.” All options appear to be on the table but looks likely that the race could be run behind closed doors.
Liberty has stated that the original 2020 calendar is no longer applicable and it is attempting to redraw an entirely new schedule in consultation with race promoters. Committing to beginning the season will depend on confidence that the new calendar is feasible.
Silverstone has set the deadline of 30th April to make a decision on whether to postpone. That decision will be made with government advice and public safety paramount. “It’s important any discussion of a return to racing is appropriate. Otherwise, we risk being a distraction to the main message which is stay at home and we don’t want to do that.”
Return to racing in 2020 “critical” – Williams
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams says a return to racing this year is “critical” for an independent team like Williams to survive, while also urging F1 to speed up a change to its “unsustainable” model.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused the first nine races to either cancelled or postponed. While F1 still plan to stage an eighteen race season, that relies on various factors even if Grands Prix take place without fans in attendance.
Race weekends are a major revenue stream for the team, prompting concerns about many outfits’ financial security. Concerns that Williams, whose father founded and built up one of F1’s most iconic and successful teams, shares.
Williams told Sky Sports, “It is an incredibly difficult environment that Formula 1 finds itself in right now. That is why we have spent so much time locked away in so many team principals’ meetings to do everything we need, to make sure all of us come out of this, at the end of this year, unscathed.”
“A big part of that is when we can go racing again, particularly for a team like ours – one of the few true independents left. We don’t have the backing the majority of our competitors have.”
In a wide-ranging interview, she said that the teams have agreed to an outline plan to start the season in Austria in July behind closed doors followed by potentially two races at Silverstone also without fans. Williams is confident her team would be on the start line, should those July races happen.
Bit admits the situation is fluid and no one knows the situation with the coronavirus but is hoping for as many races as possible in the season. The lockdown measures vary from country to country, and with thousands of people crossing borders, it could cause a headache.
She said “This is unprecedented and this is crisis mode and it is incredibly difficult to navigate your way through. Survival is critical, and we have to put the work in now, so that should a similar situation arise, god forbid, we are all much better protected.”
Williams believes the sport has united and the bigger teams understand the work they need to do to ensure the smaller teams’ survival.
Speaking about her father’s health, Sir Frank is a high risk given his age and health problems, Williams said, “The poor man has been in lockdown for longer than any of us. He is in week eight or something like that. He has fantastic carers and lives at the factory. He is surrounded by his cars and the like. He is in great form and I hope that continues.”
Coronavirus will level field – Norris
Lando Norris reckons the responses to the coronavirus pandemic from F1 and the FIA regarding team operations has created a “level playing field” on car development.
The Coronavirus pandemic has lead to the summer shutdown being brought forward and extended to thirty-five days, because of social lockdown restrictions in place across much of Europe, where the teams are based.
It has also been agreed that the cars developed for 2020 will be used next year, with some limited areas of development, and the rules reset has been delayed to 2022 in a bid to ease the financial burden on the teams. Norris says that as “everyone is on shutdown”, the situation means no team can gain a potential performance advantage.
Norris told Motorsport.com, “No one in this current period right now can be developing and doing anything in terms of trying to make the cars quicker, apart from being at home and thinking about stuff like that,”
“So I think everything that they’ve done and the decisions that they’ve made are the best for everyone. Whether it’s for the leading teams or whether it’s for the slower teams, I think it is a level playing field at the moment in terms of what everyone can do.”
The Englishman believes that there will not be an advantage of the bigger teams spending money. Norris says that he is happy with the decisions the team is making and what they are doing.
Asked if what he will be doing during the F1 hiatus – apart from during the shutdown period – included studying telemetry remotely, Norris said: “It quite easily can be [done]. I’ve got a hard drive with pretty much every single thing that I need on every video from last year for myself – from pre-season testing, data.”
Norris says that the team are still in contact so things can be discussed, he says sim racing is good as your still learning about car control. He says that normally don’t get much driving time.
Adding “it’s just trying to keep or bring yourself back to the reality of what it’s like in F1 compared to just driving on the simulator. Whether it is looking at some video or some data or something like that, it’s a good thing.”