Ericsson on stand by for Alfa
Marcus Ericsson has been placed on stand by to replace Kimi Raikkonen at this weekends Belgian Grand Prix after the Finn pulled a muscle, but however he still expects to race.
Ericsson has remained Alfa’s reserve after losing his race seat with what was then Sauber at the end of last season, is skipping this weekend’s Portland IndyCar round to be present at Spa. Raikkonen today confirmed reports that these reports in recent weeks are correct.
He told reporters at Spa, “I pulled a muscle and we will see how it is. We need to have some back-up plan. In my head, it should be fine but you never know.”
“It would be stupid not to have our third driver in case I couldn’t be driving, then it is the worst-case scenario. There is a reason why every team has a third driver. It is a normal story. It is a difficult situation for him also because he had a race, but that is how it is.”
Raikkonen wouldn’t elaborate on how he had sustained the injury: “Sport. It is dangerous. I always said it is more dangerous – drinking is probably safer. Usually, you don’t get injured, you just get a hangover.”
Ericsson is bidding to secure a new deal to continue in IndyCar for 2020, but skipping the Portland race for an unnecessary appearance at Spa represents a frustrating interruption to his efforts in the United States.
Mercedes confirm Bottas for 2020
Mercedes has confirmed that Valtteri Bottas for next season after excising an option to extend his contract. CEO and team boss Toto Wolff decided to retain the Finn rather than promote reserve driver Esteban Ocon.
Ocon has joined Renault for 2020 after a year on the side-lines. Wolff was concerned in the latter half of the first part of the season that Bottas’s form had slipped following his good start. But the team has taken stability over the uncertainty of taking Ocon.
Wolff told BBC News, “For 2019, we set Valtteri the challenge of coming back even stronger than we saw him in the first part of 2018 – and he has achieved that, with some really impressive performances in the early races this year.”
Bottas, who joined Mercedes in 2017, is second in the championship, sixty-two points behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Ahead of this weekends race at Spa, he knows he needs to start winning if he is to stop Hamilton from claiming his fifth title.
He added, “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me. My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick-start the second half of 2019.”
Bottas had gone into the European season equal on points with Hamilton but lost a chance to cut Hamilton’s lead in Germany after crashing out. A collision in Budapest meant he was only eight in the race.
Wolff ultimately decided against the potential risk of introducing an unknown element into the team. He also had concerns that putting the 22-year-old Frenchman up against Hamilton so soon could damage his career and has instead freed Ocon to join Renault.
Mercedes introduces engine upgrades
Mercedes are planning to introduce an engine upgrade for both the works team and its customer teams at this weekends Belgian Grand Prix. F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff said its High-Performance Powertrains team at Brixworth had worked through the summer break to improve reliability and performance.
Validation work at the factory on the team’s second upgrade of the season has produced encouraging signs. The plan is to give the new engines to works drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as well as both the Racing Point and Williams.
Mercedes says this will occur “barring any unexpected surprises between now and practice”.
It is the second engine manufacturer to commit to an upgraded engine at Spa after Honda announced it will give its ‘Spec 4’ engine its debut this weekend.
Unlike Honda, it shouldn’t mean all its drivers need to take grid penalties, however, should Bottas needs a new control electronics or energy store.
However, Racing Point driver Lance Stroll is poised for grid penalties, because he suffered a dramatic failure when Mercedes introduced its first upgrade of the season in Canada.
Albon to start last as Honda introduces a new engine
Alex Albon will make his Red Bull debut this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix from the back of the grid as Honda introduces the ‘Spec 4’ will only be used on two of the four cars they power, those of Albon and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, who both take grid drops.
The British-Thai driver has swapped with Pierre Gasly to partner Max Verstappen for the rest of the season, as a consequence of the swap they both take each others engine allocation.
Honda’s technical director Toyoharu Tanabe, said “As usual, we have focused on improving both reliability and performance, in the hope of achieving even better results with both teams in this part of the season.”
“Our plan is that only Albon and Kvyat will run it at Spa, for strategic reasons, looking at the rest of the season as a whole.” Its also believe that both Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly will take the new engine at next weekends race at Monza.
Albon’s grid penalty at Spa means he is set to sit out qualifying and admitted starting at the back eases the pressure on his debut. He added “We’ll just go into the weekend more focused on race pace, which means more laps. I still would have liked to have given it a go and see how I could have done in qualifying and try and start further up than I will be.”
Gasly shocked at Toro Rosso move
Pierre Gasly says he was shocked to be demoted from Red Bull to Toro Rosso at the start of the summer break. Earlier this month, the team shocked the sport when they announced that Alex Albon would replace him for the remaining nine races.
The future of Gasly been under increasing speculation amid a tough start to the season next to Max Verstappen, the 23-year-old has suggested he had been told his seat was safe. Speaking about the decision ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, he said “It was kind of a shock and I’m disappointed because it’s not what I had been told before, also after, Budapest.”
Asked what had changed, Gasly said, “I don’t know. Anyway, it’s not going to change the season right now. This is past and I just need to focus on the present and the future and the things I can change with Toro Rosso now.”
Hamilton rested and ready to go
Lewis Hamilton says he is rested and recharged ahead of the second half of the season but says his large championship lead will not lull him into a false sense of security.
The season resumes at awesome Spa-Francorchamps this weekend with Hamilton holding a sixty two-point championship lead after winning eight of the twelve races in the first half of the season. He told Sky Sport “I didn’t go into it thinking ‘okay, I’ve got this gap, I can enjoy it more’. I was going to have a good time whatever the case and make sure I come back focused.”
Hamilton is now the championship favourite as he seeks his sixth world title, but the five-time champion says he must maintain his usual intensity. He added “It doesn’t make any difference: I know how much work I’ve still got to do. If I don’t turn up this weekend or the following ones, if I don’t deliver in these next races and make mistakes, I could easily lose the championship.”
He says that he is coming into the second half of the season, as he says he does every year, continuing to improve.
Its looks unlikely that anyone can stop Hamilton claiming that sixth title. The form of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen before the summer break suggested the Dutchman may at least emerge as the world champion’s most regular challenger for race wins over the remainder of 2019.
Valtteri Bottas remains Hamilton’s nearest championship pursuer, but Verstappen is just seven points behind the second Mercedes. Hamilton added, “It could be either [Valtteri or Max] as main rival.”
Track limits warning
The FIA has warned drivers that their lap times will be deleted if they are found to have abused track limits at Spa-Francorchamps Raidillon corner.
The FIA has been tough on drivers trying to straight-line the track at the top of Eau Rouge, and a detection loop was brought in to play a few years ago to help better police matters.
Ahead of this weekends race, in his briefing to teams and the media ace director Michael Masi issued revised event notes that confirmed that lap times in practice, as well as qualifying, would now be erased.
He wrote: “A lap time achieved during any practice session or the race by leaving the track and cutting behind the apex of Turn Four (middle of Eau Rouge/Radillon), as judged by the detection loop in this location, will be invalidated by the stewards.”
“On the third occasion of a driver cutting behind the apex of Turn 4 during the race, he will be shown a black and white flag, any further cutting will then be reported to the stewards. Each time any car cuts behind the apex, teams will be informed via the official messaging system.”
The only circumstance under which a driver will not be punished is if the FIA judges that he was forced off the track – but this will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Twenty-two race calendar
Formula One has confirmed a twenty-two race calendar for 2020, with the addition of Vietnam in April and the return of the Dutch Grand Prix. Like this season it will begin in Melbourne on 15th of March and finish in Abu Dhabi on the 29th November.
Bahrain follows a week after Australia, and the other events a week apart are the Netherlands and Spain on the first two weekends in May; Azerbaijan and Canada in early June; France and Austria; Belgium and Italy; Singapore and Russia; and the USA and Mexico.
The race at Zandvoort is returning to the calendar after a thirty-five year hiatus, while Hanoi makes it debut on the calendar. Vietnam makes it debut on weekend of the 3rd-5th of April.
Teams had to give permission to extend 2020 beyond 21 races, as that is defined as a maximum in the sport’s rules.
The Weekend Ahead
The season resumes at Spa this weekend, the big question is how big are the teams’ upgrades and can anyone catch Mercedes. It is likely I believe that Mercedes is going to remain the team to beat, how close then is Ferrari and Red Bull are.
Mercedes go into this race as the favourites however need to be warry of Max Verstappen who will be eyeing his first home win. Although Verstappen races under a Dutch licence he was born an hour away in Hasselt. Making Spa and Zandvoort, along with Monte Carlo, his home races.
Can Ferrari start building towards becoming a championship rival once again, they were very good in Montreal and this is a power-sensitive circuit. They, however, know Mercedes is quicker in the corners, but Spa is a race where anything can happen.
We know that this is going to be a test in two ways for Honda, this is a power circuit and with two drivers taking grid penalties it’s a test of how much progress they are making. Also, this weekend can be an indication for Monza, generally straight-line speed can be carried over.
The story of the summer was the swap between Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, it’s a question can they deliver. Gasly I believe has more to lose having been demoted to Toro Rosso, can he save his career and find a path back to a stronger midfield team.
These next ten days with Monza next weekend, are key in the outcome of the championship. Can Valtteri Bottas claw back some pace on Lewis Hamilton, he can be strong in Singapore, Sukuza and Austin, meaning he needs good races.
You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix via Twitter @F1VaultLive starting with FP1 Friday from 10:45 CEST / 09:45 BST, Qualifying 14:45/13:45 and forward race coverage 14:40/13:40 lights out 15:10 / 14:10