Ferrari and Red Bull will be closer
Lewis Hamilton believes that Ferrari and Red Bull will be a “lot closer”, bracing himself for a three-way battle at this weekends Bahrain Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team were “pleasantly surprised” when they managed to beat Ferrari in Melbourne. Ferrari went into Melbourne as the favourites, however, the Italian Manufacturer was well off the pace. Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, he said “I fully anticipate it will be a lot closer this weekend. I assume [Ferrari] are working hard on understanding where perhaps it went wrong.”
Hamilton and Mercedes are expecting that Ferrari will bounce back this weekend in Sakhir, adding “Coming into this weekend, obviously, we have the pleasant surprise of being fast in the last race, but it could change here.”
He is also hoping that Red Bull are stepping up and Hamilton believes that the performance of the Honda engine is only within 10 brake horsepower of both the top cars.
“If you look at their GPS speed on the straights they are pretty much just as quick as us so that’s a great start for them and I really hope the reliability’s strong for them so they can stay in the fight.”
Following testing, Hamilton had claimed that Mercedes were half a second off the pace, but then Mercedes and teammate Valtteri Bottas comprehensively beat Ferrari in Melbourne. Despite that result in Melbourne, he maintained his cautious stance ahead of a much-anticipated second race of 2019.
Explaining “I know some people thought that we were sandbagging in testing but, honestly, we came into the first race thinking it’s going to be a lot closer and didn’t think that we’d be ahead.”
Media overplayed team order – Vettel
Sebastian Vettel has accused the media of overplaying Ferrari’s decision to tell his teammate Charles Leclerc to hold the position in the closing stages of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, saying it was not a “team order.”
As Leclerc closed the gap to Vettel in the closing stages of the race, but when he asked if he could attempt a pass for fourth place, his engineer told him to back off. The two drivers were on different strategies, with Vettel nursing a set of medium tyres after pitting early on lap 14, while Leclerc was pushing on a set of hard tyres 14 laps younger.
He explained “Well I think from the team’s point of view it was quite clear that fourth and fifth was the best result we could get. Obviously, you never see completely what’s going on at that point in the race, both of us had to manage quite a lot to make it to the chequered flag.”
Team orders are a controversial subject, especially for Ferrari, as teams have often accused of altering the outcome of races by favouring one driver over another.
The most famous example came in 2002 at the Red Bull Ring, when Rubens Barrichello was ordered to give the lead of the race to Michael Schumacher to help bolster the German’s championship points tally.
Asked if Number One status at Ferrari added any extra pressure on him to prove he was quicker than Leclerc, he added: “Yeah, I think if you want to win you always have to justify it, you always have to prove that ultimately you can go faster than the others.
Human rights groups urge F1 to take a stance
Human rights groups have called on F1 and the FIA to seek the immediate release of a jailed female activist and blogger ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), along with others have sent a letter to Jean Todt and Formula One’s general counsel Sacha Woodward-Hill.
They called on the governing body a high-level delegation to visit Najah Yusuf, a mother of four now serving a three-year sentence, and jailed reporter Ahmed Humaidan. The race has become a controversial, since the governments clamp down on protesters since the so-called Arab Spring reached the Gulf kingdom in 2011.
Writing on The Guardian website Wednesday, under the headline “every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of F1”, she accused Bahrain’s ruling family of using the race to “whitewash its disregard for human rights.”
She added “During this period, Formula One has consistently ignored the abuses that occur. The Bahrain authorities have said Yusuf’s conviction was unrelated to the grand prix.”
The Bahrain authorities have said Yusuf’s conviction was unrelated to the grand prix.
Ricciardo gets new Renault chassis
Daniel Ricciardo will have a new chassis for this weekends Bahrain Grand Prix as Renault has made a precautionary change.
The Australian endured a nightmare home race in Melbourne, after losing his front wing on the opening lap, having ventured onto the grass off the start line. He then retired after 28 laps as a precaution from 16th position.
To ensure that no residual damage is carried over, the team has given him a new chassis with his old one will be retained as a spare.
Ricciardo said in Bahrain “I guess it was from the impact at the start. They don’t know 100 percent if it was from that – that is the assumption for now. But to play it safe we are changing chassis.”
After missing out on Q3 in Melbourne the French manufacturer has brought a number of upgrades with the hope of overtaking Haas and closing the gap to the top three teams.
Stroll strongest teammate on race pace – Perez
Sergio Perez says that his new teammate Lance Stroll is already closer to him on race pace than any of his previous teammates, despite a relative lack of experience.
Stroll who joined Racing Point for his third season, made a decent start to life at his father’s team recovering from a Q1 knock out to finish ninth. Perez himself dropped out the points finishing thirteenth.
Stroll showed stronger pace than Perez after the pitstops and the Mexican, who has shown himself to be particularly good at managing the Pirelli tyres over race distances for several seasons now, says he’s been surprised by Stroll’s immediate strength in this area compared to previous teammates Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg.
Perez told Motorsport.com, “In a way, Esteban and Nico were quite a similar approach and they always seemed to struggle a lot with race pace. But with Lance, his race pace is, from all the teammates, the closest to mine.”
“He’s already, on Sundays, quite good. I was quite surprised because going for a long run I seemed to find it a bit easier with my previous teammates, but it’s not the case now. It’s what you need to score points, especially with this tight midfield.”
Alonso to test in Bahrain
McLaren has announced that Fernando Alonso will take part in next weeks post-Bahrain Grand Prix test. The two-time champion walked away from the sport at the end of last year but has remained as an ambassador and advisor to the team.
Announcing his new role, the team said he would drive the 2019 car to further its development for this year and 2020. McLaren has now confirmed that Alonso will drive in next week’s test at the Bahrain circuit.
Alonso will drive on both days, on each occasion at the wheel of an MCL34 McLaren is running to aid Pirelli’s tyre development. Carlos Sainz will drive on Tuesday morning and his teammate will drive on Tuesday afternoon.
The decision locks the team into running a rookie on one of the days at the third Barcelona test in May. Norris will be still classed as a rookie until the Chinese Grand Prix, as the regulations say that a rookie test driver mustn’t have started more than two Grand Prix’s.
Norris will satisfy that criteria next week as Bahrain will only be his second F1 race.
This means Bahrain may not be Alonso’s only chance to get behind the wheel of the MCL34 until the fifth test in Abu Dhabi in December.
FIA split Whiting role
The FIA has opted to split the role of race director and technical director for this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. F1 is yet to announce a successor to Charlie Whiting who died suddenly in Melbourne two weeks ago.
Michael Masi will remain as acting race director and safety delegate for this weekends race, however, he will not be the race starter. F1 event logistics manager Christian Bryll will take over as race starter, while Colin Haywood, the race control systems manager, will act as Masi’s deputy race director.
The FIA is considering its longer-term plan to replace Whiting, who held all three positions for many years. He was also a prominent figure away from race weekends, working on many of the FIA’s commissions.
The FIA is expected to split Whiting’s various responsibilities amongst multiple personnel.
The Weekend Ahead
Bahrain is our first proper race circuit of the season, so this may give us the first hint of who is ahead and by how much. Historically the circuit rewards downforce and that may help teams like Red Bull, but also this will show whether the tweaks to the regulations have worked.
Mercedes have been beaten by Ferrari here in the last two years, and we should see Ferrari try to put right what when wrong in Melbourne. If Melbourne gave great racing the midfield battle should be close, but we know this is a desert.
The story of the weekend won’t be clear from just the track times and what we learnt in Melbourne we still need time to assess what is really going on. Keep an eye on Red Bull, last year Honda proved really strong so one of the talking points last year and following Melbourne is the progress made.
McLaren is at the owner’s home race, this weekend they will want a good home result and want a good points haul. But the undoing could be the ultra-tight midfield, and that race proved as exciting as the battle for second in Melbourne.
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekends Bahrain Grand Prix via Twitter @F1VaultLive starting with FP1 Friday from 13:45 AST / 10:45 GMT, Qualifying 17:45/14:45 and the clocks go forward race coverage 17:40/15:40 BST