Braced for difficult weekend – Alonso
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso admits that the team is bracing themselves for a ‘difficult weekend’ at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, despite the hopes that engine supplier Honda has made progress.
It was a frustrating pre-season, with the team struggling with the poor reliability and a lack of power from the new Honda unit. Alonso has no illusions that things will be dramatically different when the F1 season begins in Melbourne this weekend.
Speaking to Autosport, Alonso said “After a difficult two weeks of testing we’re prepared to face a difficult weekend in Melbourne. We’ll do our best with what we have”
“there’s a lot of hard work and collaboration happening within the team, but the lack of time before the first race means you have fewer options for big changes,” Alonso says the first thing the team needs to work on is reliability before they can make any assumptions or predictions about performance.
Honda has also been focusing on the engine mapping, which is believed to be the root cause of the issue. Honda F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa says there have been changes to aid the driveability.
Hasegawa added, “In terms of performance, there has been room for improvement with mapping in order to have better driveability, and with further analysis, we were able to make additional changes to be ready for Melbourne.”
I will be treated equally and ready to challenge
Mercedes Valtteri Bottas says he has confidence that the team will treat him equally and he is ready to challenge his new team-mate Lewis Hamilton for the title.
The Finn is preparing to make his debut this weekend for Mercedes replacing world champion Nico Rosberg who retired at the end of last year. Bottas told Sky Sports “I don’t fear that I will be the No 2 at Mercedes.”
Bottas says that Mercedes do not have a number one or number two driver and as long as he does perform to the level of the car it should be all good.
Speaking about going up against Hamilton he said “I am very excited about going up against Lewis. He is a three-time world champion and a great reference point. Everybody knows exactly how good he is as a driver.” Bottas says he hopes they can have a strong season and in testing, there was good team spirit.
Mercedes have dominated the sport since 2014 but this season’s regulation changes mean they face a stern test to retain their titles.
Team boss Toto Wolff admitted yesterday they don’t have the gap they had last season over Ferrari and Red Bull. Bottas says his goal is to start the season in a good way, but get the results early on and take it from there.
FRIC Row – Wolff accuses Red Bull of seeing ghosts
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has accused Red Bull of seeing ‘ghosts’ if they thought the team was bending the rules on engines. Mercedes are at the centre of two queries about the legality of their car.
In December Ferrari ask the FIA to clarify the legality of the kind of trick suspension systems run by Red Bull and Mercedes, Red Bull wrote to the FIA more recently to check about teams burning oil as fuel.
It came against the backdrop of suspicions that Mercedes could have been getting a boost in qualifying by doing just that. But Wolff denies the team is doing wrong, saying there extra performance in qualifying was because of good engine mapping.
Asked by Gazzetta dello Sport for the reason why Red Bull had sought clarification on the matter, Wolff said: “They have seen ghosts. We have had for years a map that allows us to use more horsepower in qualifying.”
“It is nothing new. Maybe in Australia there will be protests, but Mercedes feels safe.” Wolff believes Mercedes will have a fight on their hands to retain their titles.
Many believe that Red Bull would be there biggest threat this season, however, Ferrari emerged as their closest challengers. This didn’t surprise Wolff “It is a solid team, with the right resources, capable engineers and an energetic and motivated leader,” he said.
Deterioration in relationship might be good
Daniel Ricciardo has admitted deterioration in his relationship with Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen could be a good thing if it means they are fighting for the championship.
The rivalry between the two is one of the most exciting prospects this season, as Red Bull is expected to be one of Mercedes closest challengers because of the regulation changes. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s once close relationship deteriorated during the three years they were battling each other for the title.
With the Ricciardo / Verstappen relationship expected to be the best lineup this season, the Australian believes tensions will develop if they get close to achieving their goals. Speaking to F1 Racing he said “ We’re not Lewis and Nico yet but I hope we can be in that position because we would both absolutely love to get to a point like that, where we’re fighting”
“When we are, that basically means we’re doing what we want to and reaching what we want to achieve in the sport, so it’s hard to predict or anticipate what will happen, but I think that would be a nice position to be in,” he added.
Last year’s race at Sepang gave the indication of how close the two could fight on track.
But, Verstappen says he does not foresee any problems emerging. Saying “The most important thing is that you need to respect each other, on and off track.”
Top three target unrealistic
Force India Team Principal Vijay Malaya, has set his team the target of finishing in the top three, but his deputy Bob Fernley says the team’s chances may have been dashed already.
Last season the team finished fourth in the constructor’s championship, at their launch Malaya said there aim was breaking into the top three was “Ferrari have come out of the blocks much better than I thought. As a result of that, I think it has also dragged Haas up a little bit from where we thought they would be.”
He added “ I think Renault have gone a good job, better than we thought they would, and McLaren are worse than we thought they would be.
“Obviously our primary aim is to retain that fourth place, so we always assumed that the top three would be unobtainable unless one of them made a mistake – and they haven’t.”
Fernley says the team is 1.5 seconds but has fears it is likely to increase as the season progresses.