F1 Today – Bahrain Prixview – 25/03/2021

F1 Today

Mercedes “not the fastest”

Sir Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes are “not the fastest” team heading into the first race of the new season in Bahrain. A fortnight ago in testing the world champions struggled with the handling of the car with the Englishman saying the title fight would “absolutely” be closer than 2020, which he and his team dominated.

The seven-time champion said in the press conference, “It’s massively exciting for us as a team. We’re not the fastest. How are we going to work to get to where we want to be? That challenge is so exciting.”

Hamilton says that over the last week and a half since testing finish, they have been doing their best to understand the problems they were having, mainly problems with an unstable rear.

He added “I am fully confident they have done the absolute best. But it is going to be a continued battle to get the car to be where we want it to be.” Through out last year there were many historic miles stones for Hamilton, this year he could win his eighth title passing Michael Schumacher and five more wins would see him reach a hundred wins.

Drivers are free to show their backing for any cause that falls within that description but Hamilton said he would continue with what he did last year.

He said: “We have an amazing platform here. It is great to see the steps F1 and Mercedes are taking in terms of making the sport more diverse. I plan to continue to take the knee because what is really important is when young people are watching and they see us taking the knee, they will ask their teachers or their parents, ‘Why are they doing that?’

 

MPs and Human rights group calls for investigation into Bahrain

British MPs, human rights and unions have written to Sir Lewis Hamilton, Liberty Media and the FIA calling for an inquiry into allegations of human rights abuses associated with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ten years since the start of the Arab Spring and the suppression by the regime the race has been controversial. The letter requests the establishment of a “commission of independent experts to investigate the human rights impact of F1’s activities in Bahrain” and cites among others the case of an 11-year-old boy who was arrested for joining protests against the November’s.

The Letter demands the sport lives up to its public commitment to a human rights policy it adopted in 2015 and notes that since 2011 when the race was cancelled amid protests at the suppression of Bahrain’s Arab Spring movement. They say the situation has deteriorated over the last decade.

They say “The situation in the country has only worsened,” the letter reads. “Any semblance of democracy has been abandoned as the government outlawed opposition political parties, forcibly closed Bahrain’s only independent newspaper and severely curtailed freedom of assembly, forbidding unlicensed gatherings of more than five people.”

An F1 spokesman said in response to the call: “We fully believe that sport has always had a unique role in bringing different cultures together and crossing borders, being a force for good. We believe that shutting countries off from sport is not the right approach and engagement is far better than isolation.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian says it has learned that F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has rejected the calls for an investigation into the human rights abuses.

Sir Lewis Hamilton who has been the sports moral compass over the last year was moved when at last year’s race he received a letter from 11-year-old Ahmed Ramadhan, a Bahraini whose father Mohammed wrote to Hamilton telling him he had been arrested after supporting Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement and then allegedly framed in a murder case and who is now facing execution. “Lewis, Please save my father,” read his son’s plea on the drawing.

“I think the saddest thing for me was that there’s a young man on death row … and when his son writes me a letter it really hits home. All lives matter,” Hamilton said at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.

Hamilton’s meeting with the crown prince Salman bin Hamand al-Khalifa was cancelled last year after he caught coronavirus. The Bahraini government have always denied claims of mistreatment or human rights abuses, saying all cases are investigated independently.

In the press conference, Hamilton said he was committed to address those issues in private, and educate himself on the human rights abuses in Bahrain. But he added it was not in his powers to decide where he races and say “human rights I don’t think should be a political issue. We all deserve equal rights.”

A government spokesperson said, “Bahrain has a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind and has put in place internationally recognised human rights safeguards.”

“A range of institutional and legal reforms have been implemented in close collaboration with international governments and independent experts, including the establishment of a wholly independent Ombudsman – the first of its kind in the region – which will fully and independently investigate any allegation of mistreatment.”

 

Leclerc to “choose fights better”

Charles Leclerc says he has learned to “choose my fights better” in 2021 after crashing out of two races on the first lap in 2020. The Monacan crashed with then-teammate Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap in Styria, and with Sergio Perez in the Sakhir race, which also took Max Verstappen out.

On both occasions, Leclerc was forced to retire as a result of the contact while trying to make up for Ferrari’s lack of performance in qualifying. In the press conference for the Bahrain Grand Prix, he was again going to have to be willing to take risks to improve Ferrari’s chances in races in 2021 in the pre-event press conference, Leclerc said: “Let’s wait and see where we are again because I think there are positive signs from the test.

“And then we will see for sure from Saturday onwards. But I think I’ll probably choose my fights a little bit better. Last year, if you take here [in the Sakhir GP] for example, I was fighting with a Red Bull, which wouldn’t have been possible to keep behind for the rest of the race.”

“So that was a bit silly to have a crash at that point of the race for these type of positions that we wouldn’t have been able to keep anyway. But, on many other occasions it helped us to achieve better results. So, I will choose my fights better, but if I have to be aggressive at one point to get better results I will do it.”

Leclerc explained that the crashes were the results of “a difficult moment for the team” and said that he was “just extremely motivated to do something special and that motivation translated in crashes on the track – which was not great”.

 

Verstappen winning title would be Red Bull’s best yet

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Max Verstappen ending Sir Lewis Hamilton’s run of four and Mercedes run of seven back to back titles. Hopes of a much closer battle between the rivals are rising as the sport prepares to start a new season in Bahrain on Sunday.

Mercedes have won every title since 2014 while Britain’s Hamilton, who can become the first driver to win 100 races, is bidding for an unprecedented eighth championship double. Following testing, Red Bull are expected to be the favourites after Mercedes struggled in testing, with Verstappen setting his sights on Hamilton.

Horner says “Arguably winning with Max would be our biggest single achievement in Formula One for the size of the challenge. They (Hamilton and Mercedes) are absolute titans of the sport at the moment. I think that it would be our biggest achievement if we were able to beat them.”

“Lewis is the most successful driver of all time and he’s only just achieved those records so he’s still at his peak and what he’s achieved in the sport is unsurpassed. He’s going to be a huge adversary this year and he goes into the season absolutely the favourite to defend his multiple championship-winning run. We are still very much the underdogs but we are a challenger and will never give up.”

 

Perez future in his own hands – Horner

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that Sergio Perez’s future at Red Bull beyond this season rests in his own hands. The Mexican has joined the team alongside Max Verstappen, which the team hope will allow them to mount a serious title challenge to Mercedes.

Speaking about Perez’s contract, Horner said, “There’s nothing pre-written that it’s only a single-year deal. It depends how he fits in the team, how he delivers. It’s very much in his own hands. It’s all about what they do in the car at the end of the day… it’s now down to him to make good use of it.”

Perez won the Sakhir Grand Prix in December having lost his seat with Aston Martin after the team decided to replace him with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. Horner added “It was only a unique set of circumstances… that allowed us to wait until after the season to make a decision. And the back end of the year that Sergio had was so compelling that you couldn’t ignore a talent like that.”

Horner has worked with the Mexican before, having signed him for his Arden Formula Two team following Red Bull’s decision not to take him into their young driver programme. Perez then graduated to F1 with Sauber in 2011.

 

Sprit race talks set to continue

Another round of talks will take place this weekend in Bahrain in an attempt to try and iron out the financial details around the plans to trial qualifying sprint races at three Grands Prix this season.

As reported earlier this month there are a lot of issues surrounding the idea for three Saturday sprint races have been agreed upon amongst teams. However, one factor that continues to divide them is over the compensation that teams will be offered for the potential extra costs that could come as the result of Saturday sprint races.

One of the biggest concerns is for extra damage that is associated with racing, including the likelihood of more broken front wings due to first-lap incidents. The latest report by Motorsport.com, says one factor that continues to divide them is over the compensation that teams will be offered for the potential extra costs that could come as the result of Saturday sprint races.

One of the biggest concerns is for extra damage that is associated with racing, including the likelihood of more broken front wings due to first-lap incidents. It has been reported that teams will be paid around £1m to cover extra costs on top of the budget cap, however, some teams are pushing for more.

The website says they want as much as three times the amount on offer, up to around an extra $1 million, with the new cost cap limit also being increased by such an amount. The plan doesn’t have universal support as the smaller teams fear the bigger teams will use the payment to get around the budget cap and spend on performance.

No agreement has been made and the next round of talks set to take place over the weekend. If enough progress is made, and the consensus is reached among the vast majority of teams, then F1 could choose to put the sprint race proposal to a vote over the next few days.

Should the sprint race plan go ahead, then the idea is for them to be trialled at three races this year, the British, Italian and Sao Paulo Grands Prix. Under the plans, the normal qualifying format would take place on Friday for the roughly half-distance sprint race on Saturday, the results of that race will then set the grid for the race.

The shorter sprint is set to offer a small number of points too, with three on offer for the winner, two for second place and one for third.

 

Alpine cannot afford difficult season – de Meo

Renault CEO Luca de Meo says that the Alpine team cannot afford to have a “s***** season” this year despite its focus on the new regulations in 2022. The rebranded team will make its on-track debut at this weekends Bahrain Grand Prix, with Fernando Alonso making his return to F1 after two years away alongside Esteban Ocon.

The Renault team finish fifth in last year’s constructors’ championship amid a close battle in the midfield with McLaren, Racing Point, Ferrari and AlphaTauri that looks set to continue into 2021.

De Meo says he wants the team to build on its performance last year, while a great deal of focus is being placed on next year’s rule change, it could not afford to write this year off.

He told Autosport, “For a successful season, I think we are in competition with ourselves. I think my expectation is that we get better and better every race. We’ll try not to go back from the previous position of last year, but it will be complicated because you have teams that improved a lot.”

“We are very much focusing also on 2022. For us, the real big challenge will start in 2022. But of course, we don’t want to make 2021, let’s say, a shitty season.” De Meo says that Alonso wants to win all the time, with Ocon wanting to prove himself and cannot waste time after years at the end of the grid.

Adding, “So they have a motivation. And we need to give them a good service as a team, to the drivers. So we are there to work and we will see how we can improve race after race. Let’s see what happens. Because also the others are getting stronger and stronger.”

When de Meo became Renault CEO last summer he set out plans for a ‘Renaulution’ within the French manufacturer. He explained how he wanted Alpine’s F1 efforts to be better integrated into the wider Renault group than the team has been in recent years.

Saying they wanted to integrate the F1 story into a wider story of the mainstream Renault group and Alpine story.

 

Schumacher “super excited” for debut

Mick Schumacher says he “super excited” to begin his Formula One career at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The German’s debut is one of the most anticipated debuts in the sport’s history, thirty years after his father Michael started his record-breaking career, Mick makes his debut with Haas after winning last year’s F2 titles.

This week he has given a series of interviews, but realistically 2021 is set to be a difficult season for the twenty-two-year-old because Haas has decided to focus its efforts on next year’s regulation changes. Despite this Schumacher is naturally eager to get started at the top level.

He told Sky Sports, “Obviously, I’m super excited about the first race in Bahrain. I’m so happy that I’m finally there, finally able to race with everybody and to show my potential working with a great team. I will learn and improve as a driver and as a human.”

Schumacher in the last three years has won both the F2 and F3 Europe series, six of the current drivers he will be on the grid with also raced against his father,  including Lewis Hamilton who matched Michael’s record haul of seven titles last year.

Schumacher said “I have a lot of respect for all of them both as drivers and as people. It’s going to be nice starting on the same grid as them and being amongst the top 20 drivers in the world. I’m really happy about that.”

Kimi Raikkonen who is the most experienced driver in F1 history and replaced Michael when he retired for the first time in 2006 has spoken warmly about Mick. Asked about the widespread goodwill shown towards the younger Schumacher, Raikkonen said: “For sure part of it’s that [because he’s Michael’s son], but he’s not in F1 because of his second name. It will be exciting to see [his progress], hopefully, he has a decent car.”

Michael has not been seen in public since suffering severe head injuries in a skiing accident on a family holiday in the French Alps in December 2013. Mick was fourteen years old at the time of his father’s accident.

 

“Back at home” and “confident” – Alonso

Fernando Alonso says he feels like he’s “back home” in Formula One and is “very confident” ahead of his race return at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The two times champion is making his return to the sport after two years away with his third stint with Alpine, formerly Renault where he won both his championships in 2005 and 2006.

Despite spending the last two years experiencing different motorsports, Alonso admitted there was always an urge to come back to F1. He told Sky Sports, “I’ve always been considered the F1 guy in different paddocks. When I was in Le Mans, I was the F1 guy, when I was in Dakar I was the F1 guy, and now that I’m back in F1 it’s like coming back home in a way.”

“The last two years I challenged myself in completely different environments and I think coming back now and trying to be successful again in Formula One was the biggest challenge that I had last year when I decided to come back and when I was thinking what to do next.”

In the build-up to this season, Alonso has insisted that he is a better driver than he was before but the performance of his Alpine team is a bit of an unknown. Renault were fifth last year following a very competitive midfield fight, while the newly-rebranded Alpine had a rather quiet pre-season test at Sakhir two weeks ago.

He added. “I think we have a good team, we have good potential, we saw some progress last year in Renault and I’m very confident that it’s going to be a good 2021 for us.”

 

Williams plays down reports of a return to Renault

Williams have played down the reports and speculation that they could become Renault’s B team with the team determined to maintain its independence for the long term.

The team was brought last September by the US investment fund Dorilton Capital, who have set themselves the target of moving themselves up the grid. Part of this has been building a closer technical partnership with Mercedes. There has been speculation that it could return to Renault power, as its CEO Luca de Meo says the manufacturer is open to closer ties with customers.

Williams CEO Jost Capito says that while the team is open to the idea of technical alliances, and indeed will always need an engine supply from a manufacturer, he does not want it to give up any of its independence.

Speaking about the potential for a future manufacturer to enter F1 with Williams, Capito told Motorsport.com, “If we would improve and can improve the results, we will be more attractive for OEMs coming in, but our clear objective is to stay an independent team and not being bought by any other team or by an OEM.”

“Williams has always been independent and not what you see with these A and B teams. For us, a B team is a team that doesn’t have the independent ownership, or has some ownership from an OEM or from another Formula One team. And on that definition, we don’t want to be a B team.”

He says that the team wants to be a ‘A Team’ because racing was the teams core business and should stay as the core business. Despite the reports of a tie up, Capito is clear that his outfit will respect the contract it has with Mercedes and has no intention of changing partner yet.

Adding, “We have a good relationship with Mercedes, and we have a contract that goes still a couple of years, and we respect this contract, because we are very happy with the relationship.”

 

The weekend ahead

This weekend as we said after testing Red Bull are expected to be the team to beat, but no one is writing off Mercedes. The fact is we don’t know for sure if we saw the true performance of Mercedes and they are going to be close, but the question remains how much of a smoke screen was put up by Mercedes. We cannot conclude one race we need a couple of races to get the true picture of the grid.

Bahrain for me is about learning where we are, and which teams are in which position. Testing was limited and sometimes trickier when it came to conditions with the weather and wind direction. Mercedes was disadvantaged by this as well as technical issues with the car.

Red Bull I think need to come out the box strong in these opening few races if they are going to have a serious possibility of challenging Mercedes. Sergio Perez will need time to settle in, but when he does Red Bull will be a force.

This circuit requires high speed and downforce, we have seen the circuit the past the circuit have mixed results when it comes to racing. Ferrari are one team to watch as we want a bit of recovery from the team. We have a very tight midfield as these cars are very much a carry over from last year, but patience remains my main word this weekend.

 

You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix via Twitter @FormulaOneVault starting with FP1 Friday from 14:15  / 11:15 GMT, Qualifying 17:45/14:45 and forward race coverage 17:30/15:30BST lights out 18:00 / 16:00
Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.