Hamilton and Vettel prepare for a fight
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are set to fight it out this season as the fight each other for the chance to become a five-time champion. Vettel and Hamilton came to blows last year, However, on the whole, it was a hugely respectful fight.
Both drivers would go down in history if they become a five-time champion as they would be only the third driver to gain a fifth title, equalling Juan Mang Fangio.
Speaking at a joint FIA press conference on Thursday, both Hamilton and Vettel spoke about that fifth title. Hamilton told the media, “The ultimate goal is to be the best and to be the best you’ve got to go up against the best.”
“He’s got the four world titles, which was the most of any other driver at the time, and I think this is an exciting year for Formula 1 fans, being that we have two four-time world champions battling it out.”
Vettel claimed all four of his titles back to back with Red Bull between 2010-13, stealing Hamilton’s record as the youngest champion. However, now the German wants the “ultimate satisfaction” of winning one with the most famous team Ferrari.
Vettel added, “If I look at the people I raced throughout my career then it’s always been the same people, and then you care more about who you race against – it gives you more satisfaction.”
Inside the paddock, the feeling remains that Mercedes will remain the team to beat this season, however, it is believed that they have another tough season and need to again fight for the title with Ferrari.
Red Bull could become a factor in this fight for five, however, the engine competitiveness may ultimately be determined by the relative power of their Renault engine compared to those of Mercedes and Ferrari could be a factor in the fight for five.
Ricciardo added “Hopefully we are deep in that front group. Really hope Lewis is right and we have the chance to fight for the title.
Alonso hopes to be in top three by midseason
Fernando Alonso says he knows that his McLaren team will not be fighting for victory this weekend in Australia, but says that the team should be fighting with the top three by the middle of the season.
After three difficult seasons with an unreliable and underperforming Honda power unit, the team switched to Renault for 2018. However, the partnership with Renault has been shaky with the teams’ technical problems.
Despite the struggles so far, the Spaniard believes it won’t be long until McLaren are fighting at the front again. Alonso told ESPN, “I understand that we are not at the level of Mercedes now or the level of Red Bull or Ferrari, or that’s what we think after winter testing, so we are not in that leading group yet.”
“But we should be there in a couple of races time or in the second part of the championship or something, because we are McLaren so we should be there.”
Speaking about his 2012 title bid with Ferrari. Alonso said that McLaren is not in that group to fight, but hinted that with a good step up in performance they could be by the end of the season.
Alonso is no doubt that McLaren must start delivering results this year. Saying “Obviously it’s an important season for us, with many changes on the team, especially on the power unit. It’s time to get some results for the team after three difficult years.”
“It’s difficult to know where we are right now because winter testing is always only testing and we need to discover a little bit of things in the first few races.”
FIA move to address Mekies concerns
The FIA is moving to address the concerns of the teams over members of the sport’s governing body joining teams, against the growing concerns and controversy over the move of deputy race director Laurent Mekies to Ferrari.
The controversy, which started in September, was the second high profile departure from the FIA after technical director Marcin Budkowski joined Renault. In the wake of that move, the teams agreed on a minimum twelve-month gardening leave before they can join teams.
However, Ferrari’s rivals have accused Ferrari of breaking that gentleman’s agreement. In his media briefing, race director Charlie Whiting said no formal complaint has been made to the FIA and acknowledged that some had expressed their frustration in the media.
“I can understand why some teams may be a little upset, but I think the sort of information that Laurent had available to him was somewhat less sensitive than Marcin. I’ve not actually heard any team complain to me about it.”
“I’ve read a few stories, but no team has approached me and expressed any displeasure about this. Maybe when we meet in a couple of weeks’ time with all the teams, it might come up then.”
Whiting also said that the Strategy Group and Commission has suggested guidelines but these are still being worked on between the teams and lawyers.
Speaking about who will replace Mekies, Whiting said that there has been a temporary reshuffle to fill his post until they can appoint a new deputy race director.
He added “We have people within our own ranks, or especially here in Australia we’ve got a very good team locally here, so we can call on upon a number of people to help out as and when necessary.”
Whiting clears up fans concerns
The sport’s governing body the FIA has played down the impacts of the ability of fans to identify drivers following the introduction of the Halo this season.
The move comes after Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, a critic of the cockpit protection device, suggested that fans were “not going to have a clue who is who” now the flip-flop-shaped halo head protection device sits above and around the cockpit of the 2018 cars.
But Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s race director, believes there are already clearer visual markers on a car to indicate who is driving it than simply the respective driver’s helmet design.
Speaking in his media briefing, Whiting said “I’ve always personally felt it’s much easier to try and look at the colour of the onboard cameras. Max (Verstappen) and Daniel (Ricciardo), for example, don’t look dissimilar [with crash helmets on].”
“Last year it was much easier with those two cars because the numbers were very prominent, which they weren’t until last year. That actually worked quite well.” Whiting pointed out all the numbers and driver abbreviations were around the areas where the camera sit on the car.
Asked about the third DRS zone added to the circuit he said that Melbourne wasn’t the best circuit for DRS and the third zone was added to allow cars to close up for the other two.
Asked if there will be standing starts after Safety Cars?
“The Safety Car will be operated in exactly the same way as it always has. There will be no standing starts after a Safety Car period. There’s only a change if the race is stopped.”
Haas “back to square one” – Steiner
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner says that the team are “back to square one” ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, despite the teams promising form in testing.
Despite the team not using the softer compounds of tyres in testing, the American team managed to set the sixth fastest overall time which was around a second slower than the fastest overall time set on Hypersofts by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The promising pace from Haas, prompted four times champion Lewis Hamilton to say the team will be “up there this year”, the reigning champion labelling its cars as “very, very fast”.
While Steiner welcomed the praise, he insisted the team has not achieved anything yet and remains cautioned about its prospects. He told Motorsport.com, “It’s flattering, but we are realistic. We are cautiously optimistic about it. We don’t put ourselves under pressure because of the test results.”
“We are all cautiously optimistic but we know we have a lot of work to do to get the result which apparently seems to there. It’s not done yet. There’s nothing done yet. We haven’t achieved anything.”
Steiner, however, remains cautiously optimistic but says there was still a long way to go.
While his team boss downplayed expectations, Romain Grosjean reckoned there is a reason to be optimistic and is expecting Haas to be within half a second of Ferrari.
“I think Ferrari, everyone talks about the engine, it’s a big part, but we have the suspension, hydraulics, the gearbox as well, and all of that is a big part of our car,” said Grosjean.
“That’s why when Gene [Haas] says ‘I want to be within half a second of Ferrari and I don’t think that’s unrealistic. We’re going to fight some big really teams, which is amazing in our third year.”
The Weekend Ahead
This weekend, the formula one season begins in Melbourne which always seems to have a buzz about the media, teams, drivers and fans. Its now time to get some answers to the lingering questions we have about all the teams.
One thing Mercedes couldn’t answer in Barcelona which they will want answers to this weekend is have they tamed the ‘divaish’ tendencies they had last season. Testing as we know was distorted by the weather, that could have an impact on the cars this weekend.
As we said in testing, you still need to take a pinch of salt this weekend as until we get a pattern emerging in the coming month we will get an idea of the pecking order.
Albert Park is a street circuit while overtaking is possible last season we saw a drop in overtaking cross the season. But we know that it will become clearer in Bahrain. Mercedes have won three out of four in the hybrid era, but last season Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel took a surprise win.
Daniel Ricciardo has to be the focus this weekend as its home race, he hasn’t always gone well here for various reasons. But Red Bull could be in the mix this weekend as they appear closer throughout winter testing.
Formula One Vault will bring you full coverage and analysis throughout this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix. We will bring you our evening round-up in Notebook and our Review on Sunday evening. F1 Today will return on Tuesday evening, you can read the Prixview here.