Hamilton not looking for “childish” war of words with Verstappen
Sir Lewis Hamilton says he is not looking to play mind games with title rival Max Verstappen, believing it can “get a bit childish” entering a war of words. The Mercedes driver lost his lead in the driver’s championship for the first time since 2018 after finishing seventh.
In Wednesday’s press conference before the race weekend, the seven-time champion said Verstappen he “feels perhaps he has a lot to prove” with aggressive on-track moves in wheel-to-wheel battles. In response after winning the race, Verstappen said in what some say were a dig at Hamilton, that actions speak louder than words” in an apparent dig at Hamilton, who struggled for form through the weekend.
Verstappen said, “You have to talk on the track and that is what I like,”. “We as a team so far made the smallest mistakes. and that is why we are ahead. I hope we can keep that going for the rest of the season.”
Asked about Verstappen’s post-race comments, Hamilton claimed that he was not looking to engage in any off-track mind games and that he wanted to avoid a war of words.
Hamilton said “I’m not playing mind games. It is interesting what Christian [Horner] comes out with, but I couldn’t care less. They did a great job this weekend and that is that. We have had some good races also, but as I said there are seventeen races to go. So it starts to get a bit childish when you get into a war of words.”
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff was more receptive to the back-and-forth comments between Hamilton and Verstappen, believing the off-track battles was just another part of the battle for the championship.
Adding, “We have a fight between outstanding drivers. The championship has swung in both directions, things are being said that are good for entertainment. I would attribute that sentence [by Verstappen] to the entertainment factor, and great to talk about it and write about it. This is action on the track, and soap off the track.”
Mercedes needs to understand Monaco struggles – Allison
Mercedes’s chief technical officer James Allison says that the team needs to figure out why Monaco is the teams Achilles heel after they struggled once again last weekend in the principality.
The German manufacturer lost the lead of both the drivers and constructors championship after Sir Lewis Hamilton only finished seventh, while teammate Valtteri Bottas retired following a wheel nut failure.
The result saw Hamilton drop to second place in the drivers’ standings behind race winner Max Verstappen, whose victory also helped vault Red Bull to the top of the constructors’ table.
Throughout the weekend Mercedes appeared to struggle to match Red Bull and Ferrari on pace, at a circuit where it accepted where it has struggled in the past. The team has won in Monaco just once in the last five years, taking victory in 2019 courtesy of Hamilton.
Allison explained, “I think if you are a proper anorak and if you look at our team’s performance at this track over the last several seasons, you would see that in years where we have won championships at some ease, we have nevertheless struggled here.”
“Although we have generally been on a path that has delivered a car that is broad-sworded weapon that you can attack most tracks with, this has been an Achilles’ heel. Ironically [for] a car which one of its best weapons has been the usage of its tyres at circuit after circuit after circuit, this particular track, we always struggled a bit with that.”
Allison believed that the team need to understand why their tyres died earlier than their rivals, as well as what they are doing wrong every year. Mercedes have also struggled in Singapore, another street circuit, CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says they need to accept there would be certain layouts that exposed weaknesses.
Wolff said, “We had outliers, such as 2019 I believe, in terms of pace, but it is similar to the kind of events we had in Singapore in the past. It’s somehow ingrained in the DNA when our car goes well or not, and the answers are not always easy to find. It seems to be like an inherent DNA in the car.”
Hamilton felt the longer wheelbase design that Mercedes has traditionally pursued with its cars left it on the back foot for Monaco every year. Saying “This has never generally been a strong track for us. We have the longest car, the longer the car means it is like a bus to turn through corners, so it is not as nimble as the others on a small track like this but it is great elsewhere.”
Leclerc vows not to be hard on himself
Charles Leclerc says he won’t be too harsh on himself for his qualifying crash which prevented him from starting his home Monaco Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver took provisional pole in Q3 before thumping the barriers at the swimming pool section, severely damaging the right-hand side of his Ferrari in the process.
The incident brought out the red flag meaning none of the other drivers was able to improve their lap times, meaning Leclerc would take pole despite his off. Ferrari decided not to replace the gearbox avoiding a grid penalty, which proved to be a huge backfired gamble, as on the way to the grid he reported mechanical issues, which were attributed to the left-hand driveshaft.
The team was unable to repair the damage in time, meaning Leclerc failed to start his home Grand Prix despite taking pole. Leclerc is notoriously self-critical, but after his qualifying mistake, he said he was “not too harsh” on himself because a crash in Monaco qualifying is never far away.
He told Motorsport.com, “Of course you can always learn whenever things are not going the way you want to, but I feel like I’ve done a good job this weekend anyway. In the last attempt of Q3, I just tried a bit too much and went into the wall, which are things that can happen in Monaco.
“It has happened in the past and many times I’m very, very harsh with myself, but if there was any time during the weekend where I had to push especially Q3 in Monaco, it’s part of the game. So yeah, you can always learn from it, but I am not too harsh on myself for that.”
The Monacan admitted not starting his home race, especially after taking pole in what some believed could have been Ferrari’s only chance to win a race this year. He has never managed to finish a race in any category in Monaco.
Leclerc says anything can happen, but it was important to remember the positive signs of improvement after being so far back last year. He says even if it was Ferrari’s only chance to win a race this year, it didn’t mean there hadn’t been any progress.
Adding, “So we are we are on the good road, we are working well and surely the luck was not my side this weekend. And it’s life, I’ll just get over it. I will think about Baku, I’m very, very motivated to be back in the car and hopefully have a very good result soon.”
Ferrari talks never serious – Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo has revealed he held contract talks with Ferrari but that the conversations were never serious enough to discuss financial numbers or contract length. The Australian moved from Red Bull to Renault in 2019 and from Renault to McLaren at the start of 2021.
On both occasions, he was linked to a move to Ferrari, who would sign Charles Leclerc in 2019 and Carlos Sainz in 2021. Asked what happened during the contract talks in an interview with ESPN, Ricciardo said: “It was never close enough that there was an exchange of any paper.”
“There was a bit of phone calls but even then it never got to details: numbers, years. It never got to, let’s say, step two. It was always at a basic level.” Ricciardo’s Italian heritage means he has often been seen as a good fit, but that the furthest they got.
He says that he was a Ferrari fan as a child but did not have his heart set on driving for the Italian team when he started out in Formula One.
Adding “Growing up as a really young kid before I was racing, it was Ferrari [that I supported. We were, I guess, a Ferrari family because my dad was born in Sicily, but that was kind of it, and in saying that, dad was also a massive Senna fan so we didn’t live and die by Ferrari.”
McLaren’s Gulf livery a one-off for now
McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl is insisting that the popular Gulf Oil livery used in last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix remains a one-off for now. For the weekend the team announced they would be using the iconic powder blue and orange colours with a retro design.
Drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris also sported special race suits and helmets for the Monaco weekend, celebrating Gulf’s history in motorsport as part of the partnership with McLaren. The design proved to be a big hit with fans, leading to merchandise range being produced by McLaren to sell out quickly, and for many to call for the Gulf livery to be used more frequently in the future.
However, Seidl explained to Motorsport.com, the plan remains for it to remain a one-off for now. He said, “On the livery, the only thing I want to say at the moment is it was clearly a one off-livery at the moment.”
“It was planned for the iconic race here, celebrating the historic partnerships we have with Gulf that goes back to the ’60s with Bruce McLaren. That was the idea behind this project between Gulf and us. That’s all I can say at the moment in terms of future plans.”
The Gulf livery managed to buck the trend of disastrous weekends when teams run one-off liveries. Mercedes had a difficult weekend in 2019 when it had a livery showing scratched paintwork from the white colours it used in the 1930s, at Mugello last year, Ferrari’s 1,000th race livery saw them finish eighth and tenth.
F1 working to ensure that sprint races aren’t “a blur”
F1 says its working with Amazon Web Services to ensure that sprint races are not “a blur” for fans by providing relevant information through its partnership with Amazon Web Services. In April, the teams agreed to trial three 100km sprint qualifying races to set the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
Silverstone will stage F1’s first sprint race in July at the British Grand Prix, rejigging its weekend schedule by running qualifying on Friday evening. Over the last few years, AWS has provide in-race insights to fans through a variety of graphics, including overtaking chances, braking performance, and speed traces. By the end of the year, AWS will offer 18 different graphics through the F1 Insights partnership.
Speaking to Motorsport.com, F1’s technical consultant Rob Smedley explained how series officials are working to predict scenarios in sprint races and ensure it does not pass by too quickly without giving fans enough understanding.
He explained, “We’re discussing what we think the likely outcomes and scenarios are going to play out over the weekend. Obviously, we’re trying to be ahead of the game. If you think about it, it’s the first time that we’re actually on the same footing if you like as the teams, because we’re learning at the same rate as the teams.
“So it’s quite nice. But you’ve got to be able to convey that as well. The sprint qualifying session and the weekend format is only going to be a success if we’re able to kind of keep the fans abreast of what’s happening.”
Adding “If it’s kind of a blur and it’s all different, and you don’t really know what’s happening until the end, I think we’re going to lose some of the advantage of the sprint qualifying.”
Sprint races are also due to take place at Monza and Interlagos, but the details haven’t been finalised. But Smedley believes the AWS partnership was important to understand the elements of sprint qualifying and its place within the weekend format, as well as conveying that information to fans.
This process involves identifying ‘what we can do, what we need to do, as well as what are the important parts of the actual sprint qualifying race.’ It also needs to explain the race into the overall story of the weekend.
Engineers ‘massive’ role in Ocon’s strong start
Esteban Ocon believes that his engineering team has formed an “excellent team” on his side of the Alpine garage which has aided his impressive start to the 2021 season. In the opening five races he has scored points in four races and finished ahead of his teammate Fernando Alonso at every race.
The Frenchman’s performances have drawn praise from the paddock, with questions already being asked if it’s too early start to talks over extending his contract with Alpine beyond the end of the season.
The team’s executive director Marcin Budkowski praised Ocon for being a “significantly improved” driver in 2021 and said the French driver was “bonding better” with new race engineer Josh Peckett, who replaced Mark Slade for this year.
Asked by Motorsport.com about the impact of the change, Ocon said that Peckett played a “massive role” as his race engineer, and was impressed by the motivation being shown by his crew.
He added, “I also have Stuart Barlow as my performance [engineer]. and they’ve been basically forming that duo back in the Manor days as well. We were working kind of together. They were on Pascal Wehrlein’s side back in the day, but they are complementing each other.”
Ocon says they are an excellent team, motivated, young and hungry for the same aim, performing, extracting and doing the best they can with what they have.
Last season, on his return after a year out, he struggled to match his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, but following his podium in Sakhir in December he appears to be growing getting more confident in the car. He explained that he now felt “a lot better” and “a lot more confident”, and that he could get the car into a better performance window to bring out the best in himself.
Adding “I feel like we are setting up the car a lot better, and I’ve gained a huge amount of performance with that. But we started to get that into the last events last year. And I out-qualified Daniel in Abu Dhabi, also. So it started to come on the right way towards the end of the year with the podium.”
The week ahead
Next week F1 returns to Baku for the first time since 2019, the big question I still think focuses on the battle between Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton. You have to say that while Red Bull have the upper hand in terms of the driver’s championship, history tells us that Mercedes tend to bounce back stronger following weekends like Monaco.
This week we have I think seen the start of ‘press wars,’ between Verstappen and Hamilton, this is part of the game. Hamilton wants to unsettle Verstappen, we need to see how he responds to the next few races and these games are where the title can be won and lost.
We are entering a busy phase of the year, but its not the busiest when you three triple headers in September and October. The next six races take place over nine weeks, this is very important for Red Bull as history suggest going into the autumn Mercedes up their game.
Remember, we still don’t know when or where the championship is ending and how many races are going to happen with the covid situation. Remember, Verstappen, as far as we know hasn’t had covid or a vaccine, we need to be warry drivers can catch the virus and miss races.
I think that we are going to see the same thing happen in the McLaren / Ferrari battle, the fight for third in the constructors is well and truly on. Charles Leclerc following his crash in Monaco needs also to show he can bounce back, hopefully, he won’t ‘beat himself up,’ as he has admitted to doing in the past.
Baku is taking place behind closed doors and that will be strange in a middle of a city without ‘proper’ spectators, you need to imagine though people will be watching from windows. We should have a good weekend