Mercedes play down undefeated start
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are playing down the teams undefeated start to the season, both stressing that the car is not yet the easiest to drive.
The German manufacturer has become the first team since 1992 to start the season with three consecutive one two’s, while their main rivals for the championship Ferrari, has struggled to get their challenge up and going.
However, while delighted with the way the team have executed the opening three weekends, Bottas says Mercedes will not be lulled into a false sense of security. He told Sky Sports, “We can’t feel invincible. It’s only three races of the season done. All the wins and one-twos have not been easy.”
“We have been performing on a very high level as a team in all the areas and that’s why we’ve been able to achieve those results. But it’s only three out of 21 and we need to keep pushing because everyone is very motivated to finish races ahead of us.”
Teammate Hamilton agreed, adding “So far the car is a little bit harder to work with this year. It’s definitely not easier.”
Bottas says that the past few years the team’s car has been very quick, but not the easiest car to get right in terms of set up, but when they do get it right it can be very quick.
Mercedes performance with three one-twos in three races was something no one would have predicted after Ferrari’s strong performance in testing. However, Baku is likely to give Mercedes a whole new challenge as it features the longest straight of the season.
Bottas added: “As we have seen in the past few years, our car is very quick but it’s sometimes not so easy to get it completely right in terms of set-up. It’s not always the easiest car to drive but once you get it right, whether it’s me or Lewis, it’s very quick.”
Vettel “absolute belief” in being champion again
Sebastian Vettel insists he still has “absolute belief” he can beat his rivals to become world champion again. The Ferrari driver hasn’t won a title since his fourth consecutive title in 2013 and has over the last two seasons his title challenges in the past two years disintegrate over the second half of the season.
Vettel is already thirty-one points off championship leader Lewis Hamilton, and despite having twice benefitted from team orders in the opening three Grand Prix’s, he is only a point ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc.
Asked if he was still sure he could first beat Leclerc and then beat Hamilton over a season, Vettel said: “I have the absolute belief that I can be world champion.”
Vettel also insists this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP is not decisive to him and Ferrari getting their title challenges back on track.
The Scuderia were pre-season favourites for both titles after testing in Barcelona, but Mercedes have three consecutive one-twos in the first three races to open healthy advantages at the top of the standings. Vettel added, “I know some people like to put it that this is the decider, but we have a lot of races left.”
“Hopefully at one point we can look back and say this was the decider or the decisive moment but right now I don’t know and I don’t really care. We want to win, but that’s for any race we go to.”
“I think we have a very strong package and I’m confident if we can get it in the right place then we should be able to show that and give the others a very, very hard time.”
Ferrari’s poor start to the season has left their drivers behind both Mercedes and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Vettel has insisted that he expected Red Bull to be in the mix, and their challenge to only get stronger as the season progresses.
Adding “Going into the season after the test I think we looked in very good shape, we lost a bit of that but also Mercedes looked very strong and so did Red Bull.
“We expected it to be a three-way fight, which maybe it hasn’t been so far at all the races, but I certainly think that Red Bull will be one of the contenders as we go on.”
Ferrari is hoping that the first round of major upgrades will improve the car overall and not only be limited to Baku’s unique street circuit.
Verstappen open to penalties for performance
Max Verstappen says that he doesn’t mind taking grid penalties for engine parts later in the season if it means that Honda’s engine performance continues to improve.
In response to an issue that Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat suffered in Shanghai, the Japanese manufacturer has brought an upgrade to the fourth race of the season in Baku. But the old power units will be expected to be used on Friday’s, while it also means that all the Honda users are destined to take penalties well before the end of the season.
Verstappen, who is well used to taking penalty hits from Red Bull’s Renault days, backs Honda’s strategy. He told Motorsport.com, “Actually I’m really happy because they keep pushing really hard to bring updates and that’s always good. I think I showed last year than even when you start in the back you can still finish on the podium.”
“I’m happier if we can say at the end of the season that we really closed the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of power because we used a few more engines. It’s fine.” The Dutchman also accepts the upgrade is focused on reliability rather than performance, he hopes that the team can run it longer.
Asked about the comparison with Honda’s main rivals Verstappen said that the Japanese manufacturer had closed the gap to Mercedes, but not Ferrari. While acknowledging the fact they remain behind Mercedes and Ferrari, he hopes to go for the maximum results.
Saying “I think in the race, in general, we are a bit more competitive so again, in qualifying it’s mainly just Ferrari that stands out, like it’s massive.”
Teammate Pierre Gasly also welcomed the fact Honda has brought an upgrade ahead of its rivals. Adding “What we know is Honda is working really hard. I think we’re all happy with the progress they are doing. We know we will get some more upgrades through the season.”
News in brief
Downtown Miami race scrapped
Plans to hold a race in downtown Miami next October have been abandoned according to local media because of the disruption for businesses and residents. However, the idea of holding the race in the city remains an option with a new location near the Hard Rock Stadium is being considered. The stadium is owned by Liberty’s CEO
Russell limits media duties
Williams was forced to limit the media duties of George Russell on Thursday after feeling unwell in recent days. Russell was due to speak to the media in the FIA press conference, but there is a suggestion that Russell won’t be able to drive this weekend, but reserve driver Nicholas Latifi does not yet have a super licence that would allow him to race.
Straight line speed “one of the best things” – Sainz
Carlos Sainz says that McLaren’s straight-line speed has been “one of the best things” about this season. Sainz has switched to McLaren from the Renault works team but is continuing for a third straight season using the French manufacturer’s engines.
Renault’s reliability remains dubious but it has made a performance step in 2019, while McLaren also appears to be able to run with less drag this year.
Asked by Motorsport.com, about his prospects in Baku this weekend, the Spaniard said “We’ve definitely been more competitive on the straights in the first three races, but we were also running a bit less rear wing than our main competitors.”
“So, if all of a sudden, everyone equalises their wings towards a more low-downforce set-up like we were running in China or Bahrain, suddenly we could see that straight line advantage going away for us.”
Sainz will be hoping to score his first points for McLaren after a difficult start to the season.
No “clear solution” for Williams
Robert Kubica says that Williams does not have a “clear solution” to the differences between his and teammate George Russell’s cars this year. Despite running similar or identical set-ups to Russell, Kubica has felt his car has a different aerodynamic behaviour to that of his British teammate.
The Pole saw some signs of encouragement after Friday practice in China but struggled again on Sunday, saying he has had “no race pace” since his return to F1. Kubica says the team has been looking to find answers, but are still to find a solution.
Speaking in Baku, he said, “I don’t know exactly how we are going to, let’s say, approach this week, but I would say from what I know people have been working on it and trying to understand, but I think for now we don’t have a clear solution.”.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he had experienced something like this where the two cars respond so differently, he said: “No. Unless there was a problem. In this particular case, no.”
He says that this is a new track for him, and his focus is on getting a good feeling. This will be Kubica’s first proper street race in F1 since Singapore in 2010, but his reparations have been somewhat hindered by Williams’ simulator not having an updated version of the circuit.
Giovinazzi given penalty
Antonio Giovinazzi is to take a ten-place penalty for this weekends Azerbaijan Grand Prix after he and his Alfa Romeo teammate Kimi Raikkonen take Ferrari’s new spec control electronics for this weekend.
The upgrade was both used by Ferrari and Haas in Shanghai, but Alfa didn’t take the upgrade because it had some bespoke installation work would have had to be done in the field at the last minute.
When Giovinazzi subsequently suffered a failure in qualifying in Shanghai, team boss Fred Vasseur took full responsibility for not authorising the change and vowed to use the new units in Azerbaijan.
Raikkonen will probably take a penalty later in the season should he suffer a failure with one of his three CE units in the rest of the year. Drivers are only allowed two for the season.
The Weekend Ahead
Baku is a place where Sebastian Vettel really needs to get his act together as Ferrari need to start scoring points after Mercedes scored three one-two finishes in the last three races. This weekend Ferrari needs to get there act together and deliver results.
Charles Leclerc could be a real headache for Vettel, he has performed well in Baku winning in F2 and last year scored his first points here last year. Leclerc has stepped up this year and he could repeat his performance from Bahrain he could be fighting for the win.
But we know that in Baku anything can happen, we will be watching Honda and Red Bull as we know they have an engine upgrade following what happened in China. It, however, is unlikely that the team will be challenging the top two.
Full look ahead in our Prixview
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekends Azerbaijan Grand Prix via Twitter @F1VaultLive starting with FP1 Friday from 12:45 AST / 09:45 BST, Qualifying 16:45/13:45 and the clocks go forward race coverage 15:40/12:40