Mercedes insist they are still the “challengers”
Mercedes are still insisting they are still seeing themselves as the “challengers” this season despite their commanding start to the season at the Australian Grand Prix.
Despite their expectations and many others, the German manufacturer put in a strong performance comfortably beating Ferrari who set the pace during testing, with a one-two while the Italian team slumped to fourth and fifth.
Mercedes are additament that the shock result in Melbourne is not a start of a pattern which will develop this season, especially with the very different circuit this weekend in Sakhir. F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports, “After the Barcelona test, we felt that we were the challengers.”
“Whatever the Melbourne result says, our mindset hasn’t changed since then. One race doesn’t determine the pecking order for the rest of the season. We need to extract every bit of performance from our package.”
Ferrari is confident that their car remains the faster car, but believe they were hampered by handling and grip resulting in a lack of speed. Lewis Hamilton said he agreed with that assessment.
After the race in Melbourne, he said “I’m sure Ferrari…something’s not been right [in Melbourne] but I’m pretty sure that car is still good. I think it’s going to be a really interesting season.”
Ferrari’s problems were increased and added to when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel. But Verstappen has also warned about reading too much into Melbourne.
He added “Starting the season with a podium in Australia is really positive but Melbourne is not a typical circuit, so we can’t get carried away. I don’t think we will really know where we stand until after China.”
Honda has “enormous” power
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff believes that Max Verstappen’s overtaking move on Sebastian Vettel at the Australian Grand Prix shows that Honda now has “enormous” power.
The Dutchman proved the potential of the new Red Bull-Honda partnership with a third-place finish in Melbourne last week, overtaking Vettel on the outside run down to Turn 3 on lap 31. Speaking about the form of Honda, Wolff said: “We saw how they’ve eaten up Sebastian into Turn 3.”
“Power was enormous, and seeing them come back strong makes me happy because it’s a good group or people and they’re really decent men.”
“The combination with Red Bull will certainly become a threat. The level of performance is such that you must certainly have them in the calculation for the championship.”
Although Honda can provide some headaches for Mercedes this year, Wolff says he is pleased that the Japanese manufacturer is now finding success in Formula 1 after a difficult return with McLaren.
“It’s the first podium since their return and they deserve it,”
Schumacher to make test debut
Motorsport.com says that it understands that Mick Schumacher will make his test debut with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in Bahrain next week. The third test of the year will be after the race weekend where he will make his Formula Two debut.
Although there hasn’t been official confirmation yet of Ferrari’s plans for the Sakhir test, sources have revealed that Schumacher is scheduled to drive for the Maranello outfit on the Tuesday before running for Alfa Romeo on the following day.
The German will get his first taste of a modern F1 car, after driving his father’s 1994 championship winning car at the 2017 Belgian Grand Prix. After his two races, he will spend Monday with Ferrari to work on preparations for his first run in the SF90 on Tuesday.
Schumacher was signed up as a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy last winter following his European F3 championship success, with the Italian outfit eager to help guide him to F1 in the future.
Vettel believes Leclerc is a threat
Sebastian Vettel says that new teammate Charles Leclerc will put him under pressure throughout this season. The four times champion managed to outqualify and finish ahead of his new teammate.
However, the Monacan did spend most of the race closely following his teammate, before the team instructed him to drop back in the closing stages. Vettel already predicted that Leclerc would represent a “full rival” in their first year together and, in the wake of Melbourne, the German says the 21-year-old is expecting a fierce battle.
Vettel told Sky Sports, “He’s done really well from what I’ve seen so far and he will put a lot of pressure on me the whole season. I’m aware of that and it will be very close. He’s very talented.”
“I’m sure we will have tough and tight battles this year but more than anything I hope we have a lot of fun together.”
An error on his final lap in Q3 put Leclerc on the back foot in the fight with Vettel, on a weekend where Ferrari generally performing well below their own expectations after topping winter testing.
But although the team’s failure to finish on the podium went down as a big disappointment, Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto was happy with Leclerc’s debut showing.
Financial rules key to Concorde Agreement
Renault’s F1 managing director and team principal Cyril Abiteboul believes that reaching agreement on financial rules should be the first priority in the discussions about the next set of regulations which are due to be brought in 2021.
The cost cap proposal is a key element of Liberty’s plans and one of the most controversial, as teams have questions about how it will be implemented fairly and regulated. Next week, a key meeting of the Strategy Group and F1 Commission London will see some progress made.
Abiteboul told Motorsport.com, “There is a lots of dialogue between the teams and F1 and the FIA, in particular on the budget cap. That’s a very complex set of new regulations, and something that did not exist. So every day, every week, we are making progress to address some of the concerns.”
“As far as Renault is concerned because we think that something needs to be seriously done to contain the costs to be competitive in F1, we are massively in support of the budget cap.”
“That’s why we’re working very actively to make it as robust as possible, and according to what will be our assessment at the end.”
Abiteboul says that it is important that decisions are made soon so teams can start planning and decide on the future of the sport and whether to commit to a new Concorde Agreement.
Saying “In order to do that we need to seriously get things ticked off, in particular on the financial side, on the governance.” The three areas which need clarity on are the financial distribution, governance and the budget cap, the key areas which will show the sustainability of the business model.
“Then I would almost say that the set of regulations is secondary. Once the budget cap is introduced then we move the exposure to the cost of the regulations, and then they can define almost any regulation they want.”
Abiteboul acknowledges that it’s not easy for F1 and the FIA to come up with solutions that will satisfy all the teams.
Brown calls for a leveller payment structure
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has warned that the team could walk away from the sport if the problems are not addressed by the end of the year. On Tuesday, teams will meet with Liberty and The FIA to discuss how to put in place a plan into place.
However, they must agree by 30th of June on new sporting, technical regulations as well as a new Concorde Agreement which are due to come into effect in two years’ time.
Brown told The Guardian “For McLaren, it has to tick two boxes: to be financially viable and to be able to fight fairly and competitively. If it wasn’t that, we would seriously have to consider our position in F1. That’s not a position we want to be in.”
“People throw it out there as a negotiating tactic but this has to be a fiscally responsible, competitive racing team and, if we feel the new rules don’t put us in that situation, we would have to review our participation in F1.”
Liberty want to even up the grid through fairer revenue distribution, creating equal racing and better governance. McLaren is broadly supportive of the changes, although it could lose its historic bonus.
The financial element has been a thorny issue and will not be easily solved. Under the last deal Ferrari received an estimated $68m bonus for taking part, with Red Bull and Mercedes also receiving additional payments of $35m. All three teams and McLaren also received an estimated $30m-plus constructors’ championship bonus payment.
However Brown is calling for the bonuses to be performance related and with less focused on history, but he accepts that there need to be some recognition of history.
He added “Once it is levelled, that should accelerate everyone’s competitiveness. F1 has had dominant periods but a great F1 is no one dominates any more.”
Some teams have questions about how it will be enforced and there has been warnings that some teams may walk away if the direction isn’t right for them.
Miami GP heads for a key vote
Plans for a race on the street of Miami could move a step closer on Wednesday when a key vote on the race takes place. Last September the City Commission delayed the vote, but the plans will be debated for the first time.
The commission agreed to delay the race this year last August, with the consensus, was that it would be sensible to take some time to consider the plans and hear objections. Over the past six months, F1 personnel have continued to work closely with the key parties in Miami to move things along.
The deal is complicated because it involves three organisation promoter South Florida Racing, the City of Miami and the Bayfront Park Management Trust. The latter organisation has jurisdiction over the land used by a significant part of the track around the harbour front.
Now the resolution has fallen into place it can move to a vote by the commission. The race was due to debut in October this year in between Japan and Mexico, but discussions about a fan festival to support the race in Austin continues.
The resolution that will be voted on notes that: “The City Commission wishes to authorize the City Manager to execute the Host City Agreement and the Park Use Agreements for the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix, between the City of Miami (“City”), the Bayfront Park Management Trust (“Park”), South Florida Racing, LLC. (“SFR”) and Formula One World Championship Limited (“Formula One”), in a form acceptable to the City Attorney (collectively, “Agreements”).
“The City Commission wishes to allow SFR and Formula One to run the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix from 2019 through 2029 with a fan festival to be held in October of 2018 pursuant to the Agreements.”
The paperwork suggests that one of the issues that had to be addressed was the nature of the negotiations surrounding the contract, in effect waiving the degree of transparency that is usually required by the Miami city code.