F1 Today – Bahrain Prixview – 02/03/2023

News & Analysis

Stroll to race in Bahrain following injury

Aston Martin have confirmed Lance Stroll will return to the team for the Bahrain Grand Prix after missing pre-season testing through injury. The Canadian injured his wrist in a cycling accident and was replaced by reserve driver Felipe Drugovich for the three-day test last week.

The team said both reserve drivers, Drugovich and Stoffel Vandoorne, will be at the Sakhir circuit if needed. The 2023 season-opener in Bahrain takes place this weekend.

In a statement, Stroll said he was “frustrated” at not to be involved in testing but added the team felt it was best he focused on his recovery for the record 23-race season ahead.

In his first interview since the accident, he said: “It was an unfortunate accident. I fell from my bike when my tyre caught a hole in the ground. But thankfully the damage was not significant and a successful minor surgery on my right wrist fixed the problem very quickly.”

Last year Stroll finished fifteenth in the driver’s championship last year and will be partnered by two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at Aston Martin for the new campaign.


Leclerc ‘confident’ Ferrari can overcome Red Bull’s advantage

Charles Leclerc says he is “confident” Ferrari can overcome an expected early-season advantage for Red Bull to enable him to win a maiden drivers’ title in 2023. The Monacan finished as runner up last year, but the Monacan’s championship challenge fell apart through a combination of technical, strategic, and driver errors.

Last weekend in Sakhir, Red Bull laid out an ominous marker at pre-season testing where this weekends opening race takes place. But mystery remained around Ferrari’s competitiveness, partly due to their decision to run an alternative testing programme. Leclerc told Sky Sports, “From what I can see, it seems Red Bull is a bit ahead. But it’s a long season, our goal is still to win the championship.”

“I am confident. We have great guys in Maranello, I think we have shown it with the big step forward from 2021 to 2022. There were too many mistakes in 2022, we know that, but we’ve been very honest with ourselves in order to get better for this season.”  Leclerc said even if they were starting on the back foot in terms of performance he was sure they could come back.

He says the team along with every other team didn’t show everything in testing, but there is speculation that Red Bull could be up to half a second faster a lap faster than their rivals in Bahrain. As Leclerc pointed out, the full picture will not be clear until qualifying on Saturday.

He added,  “I also believe fully in my team and in the upgrades that we are bringing. We have a view of what we are bringing in the next few months and it looks positive.”

Meanwhile, Red Bull’s has been seemly confident despite Max Verstappen having a few balance issues. The 25-year-old has generally been quick to let his team know when he’s unhappy with something on the car, as was often the case in the early stages of last season, but has been almost exclusively positive as he prepares to go for a third successive title.

Asked where the RB19 has improved on its predecessor, Verstappen said: “Everywhere, that’s the aim. You always try to improve it. It feels nice, well balanced of course. Every team lost a bit of performance with the (raising of the) floor. But you always try to gain that back in a way, so you have to find a bit of a new balance with the car, but it’s been good.”

Asked where Red Bull’s biggest challenge was likely to come from. He said, “The teams close to us, but also I think at the end of the day, from ourselves. Because we have to stay on top of things and we can’t afford to make too many mistakes


Hamilton committed to Mercedes beyond this year

Lewis Hamilton says he is committed to Mercedes beyond this year even if the team have the “difficult” 2023 season many expect, insisting there has been no contract “hold up” and that the car will improve.

The seven time champion heads into his sixteenth season in the sport off the worst season of his glittering career, where he failed for the first time to take a pole position or race win, and was beaten only for a third time by a teammate in the drivers championship.

Despite that Hamilton and Mercedes have started talks over a new deal, it has been mooted that the lack of signature and Mercedes’ form on the track were linked. While the racing is yet to start, the rumour mill is already in full-swing with talk already suggesting that contract talks were underway, with Hamilton saying they were just “rumours.”

He added, “Having a difficult year, like we had last year, I’m still here/ Whether or not we have a difficult year [this year]… I’ll still be here. There is no hold-up with our contract. I’ve always been very, very relaxed and don’t feel like I need to get it done right this second.”

Hamilton’s answer came just before he admitted he was not sure whether Mercedes were third or fourth fastest heading into the opening race – possibly behind Aston Martin – and comfortably short of Red Bull’s speed.

But he added: “I’m a fighter, and we fight as a team. I love the challenge of finding solutions and I still believe I’m able to put the car in places that perhaps others are not able to, and I love that challenge. Of course I wish to be starting the season with a great car, but it’s the journey I think that really counts.”

Looking ahead to 2023, Hamilton also said he had “prepared” himself for fighting for a record eighth title despite Mercedes’ apparent lack of pace to start the year.

He added, “I do believe I’ve got the team still that are championship-ready. There are some positives there and I think it’s a good foundation to build on.”


Borgudd dies following a battle with Alzheimer’s

Tommy Borgudd who raced in over three hundred and seventy races died last week following a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Already a budding musician, he joined the merchant navy at 14, refocusing on cars in his early twenties.

The Swede reached F1,  in what was a bit more than a cameo role, for a world championship point for sixth place in the 1981 British GP was a mighty effort with ATS – was remarkable. He made ten race starts, before running out of money towards the end of 1982.

1973 Scandinavian Formula Ford Cup gold gave him a potential leg up to F3. He led late on his debut in a rented March at Kinnekulle in 1975 before he was taken out, but a point was made. He was

But Borgudd never gave up, going on to win the 1994 Nordic Touring Car crown in a Mazda and four lucrative European truck racing titles.

Music opened doors for the drummer, who competed at home from 1968 with a Formula Junior Lotus 22 acquired from jazz legend Chris Barber in London, then Formula Ford-ised. The nickname ‘Slim’ stemmed from a New Orleans blues gig where shipmates cajoled him into stepping up to join Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim, whose drummer had tweaked a wrist.

Amongst his contemporaries on the 1960s Swedish music scene were Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, later of ABBA, for which Borgudd played session drums. He will be remembered as a perennial hard tryer, fine musician and good bloke.


UK MPs express “grave concerns” over “sport-washing”

British Members of Parliament have expressed “grave concerns” to FIA and F1 bosses over their role in “sports washing” ahead of the 2023 season starting in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

A cross-party group including former Labour leader and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and his former shadow finance minister John McDonnell has called for an independent inquiry into the championship and governing body’s activities in countries with “questionable human rights records”.

It also includes Westminster leaders of the SNP Ian Blackford, Liberal Democrats and former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Sir Ed Davey, and Green Party Caroline Lucas. As well as Davey’s predecessor Tim Farron.

This comes ahead of the opening round of the 2023 campaign in Bahrain this weekend before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on 19 March. In a letter addressed to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and FIA single-seater chief Nikolas Tombazis, the MPs cite the execution of 81 prisoners in Saudi Arabia in one day in 2022.

Controversy has become an annual discussion about the race in Bahrain since the 2011 Arab Spring. They already note that Bahrain has the highest imprisonment rate of its population of any country in the Middle East and North Africa territory, with an estimated 1300 political prisoners.

The MPs write that they “condemn F1’s refusal to engage with key stakeholders including human rights groups, such as the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy when awarding Bahrain the longest contract in F1 history [until 2036], breaching F1’s own policy”.

They call on F1 and the FIA to establish an independent enquiry to assess the “adequacy and effectiveness of your current human rights policy or lack thereof.” the MPs view the urge the two parties to “use all available leverage to make representations to Bahrain for them to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners”.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, added: “MPs are right to expose Formula 1’s role in sportswashing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s rights record. F1 leadership cannot simply claim that their presence in these countries has a positive impact, when evidence demonstrates otherwise. F1 continues to profiteer from brutal Gulf autocrats, making multi-millions whilst victims pay the price.”

The group leading signatory, a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Sheffield City Council, Lord Scriven, said: “We are asking them to do things to improve the way the sport operates around human rights, they are not extreme or radical things, they are issues that we would expect any sporting organisation with any moral leadership at the heart of how motor sport’s is governed and operates.”

In response, an FIA spokesperson said: “At the pinnacle of motorsport, F1 events take place across a huge spectrum of different countries and cultures around the world. It is our belief that the most fundamental goal of motorsport, and all sport, is founded on the desire to increase our common ground and cultivate the principles of cooperation and commonality between people.”

“The FIA, as is the case with other international sporting federations, cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Domenicali said: “For decades Formula 1 has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.”


Gow gives update on stroke recovery

BBC F1 presenter Jennie Gow has given an update on her recovery following a serious stroke in December. The broadcaster told the broadcaster’s season preview, that said she was “progressing well” since her stroke at the end of December.

In a message on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast, Gow added “my speech has been the thing that is most affected”. Co presenter and commentator Jack Nicholls said: “We wish Jennie all the best and hope to see her again soon.”

The Southampton-born presenter, who grew up in Wargrave, Berkshire, began her broadcasting career at BBC Radio Solent before working for commercial radio stations in the south of England. Gow has covered F1 and other motorsport events for the BBC, ITV, Netflix and Sky, as well as reporting on the sport for BBC News both in the UK and internationally.

she said: “I’m progressing relatively well since having my stroke at the end of December. It’s not quite the off-season I’d had in mind. As you can probably tell, my speech has been the thing most affected, ironically, but we’re working on that.”

After the show went out on Tuesday, the presenter tweeted: “My 30 second appearance on the Chequered Flag preview show was difficult for me to record in so many ways, but is hopefully another step forward on my road to recovery.”

The BBC announced that Roseanna Tennant would stand in as the corporation’s F1 presenter and correspondent while Gow continues her recovery. She has previously presented Racing Torque for BBC Local Radio, but continues as a presenter for F1TV.

In other developments, F1TV and Channel 4 have announced that they will share commentary from 2023. Commentary will continue from Alex Jacques with David Coulthard, Billy Monger and/or Mark Webber. With Monger, Lawrence Barretto and Lee McKenzie as reporters.


Susie Wolff appointed F1 Academy managing director

Susie Wolff has been appointed as the managing director of the F1 Academy, the all-female driver category that aims to develop and prepare young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.

The role is part of F1’s commitment to maximising the opportunity and potential of young female drivers to reach the highest level in motorsport, with the role aimed to support the fifteen F1 Academy drivers through this journey.

Wolff who was the last woman to drive on a Grand Prix weekend will be responsible for spearheading the development of female motorsport talent, with a focus on creating a successful pathway to higher categories in the F1 pyramid. She said, “The F1 Academy presents an opportunity to promote genuine change in our industry by creating the best possible structure to find and nurture female talent on their journey to the elite levels of motorsport, both on and off the racetrack.”

“There is a lot of work to be done but there is also a clear determination to get this right. In doing so, I believe the F1 Academy can represent something beyond racing.” She said it can inspire women around the world and combined bother her experience as well as her passion for diversity and empowerment

Wolff has a wealth of experience in motor racing as a professional driver, team leader and advocates for greater participation for women in all levels of motorsport. This includes previously being the Williams F1 Racing team development driver, racing in DTM and Formula Renault and leading the VENTURI Formula E team as Team Principal.

Also ambassadorial work for Mercedes, where her husband is CEO and team principal.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said “It is fantastic news that Susie Wolff is joining the F1 Academy as Managing Director. Susie is an incredible person who understands what it takes to reach the highest levels of motorsport, both as a driver and Team Principal.”

“She has a wealth of experience and first-hand knowledge that will be of huge benefit to all of us and the drivers who are on their journey to progress through the racing pyramid. “

Bruno Michel, as the General Manager of the F1 Academy, will continue to report to Domenicali and run the operational aspects of the F1 Academy as he has done successfully with F2 and F3, plus continue to be the day-to-day liaison with all the teams relating to the technical and sporting side of the category.


The weekend ahead

Going into this weekend it’s thought that Red Bull continues to be the favourites despite the change in the regulations. They looked last week to be very strong in all conditions to be the quickest and reliable, however last years opening race proved to be a nightmare as they saw both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez retire from the race.

The Sakhir circuit favours high downforce and straight line speed where Ferrari look to be strong, this weekend could give us a much better understanding. While we had testing last week, its not always the best for understanding the field but while its more reliable there are so many the chance of surprises. Mercedes look to be the biggest unknown, yes the car is better but how close are they to Ferrari and Red Bull.

Ferrari we think are Red Bull’s closest challenger and we know they hold the win record and won in Bahrain last year, but can they make a big but consistent jump this year to fight for the championship. It will be interesting to see how Fred Vassuer handles his first weekend at a top team which should be fighting for the championship.

Aston Martin were the biggest surprises in testing, but is that genuine? Its unusual when the regulations have been stable to see such a big jump in just one winter break they could be challenging. But we know teams should be running to the regulations, but we know their isn’t legality checks during testing.


You can join us for coverage of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix with reports and analysis on our website and in This Grand Prix, on Sunday evening. FP1 starts Friday at 14:30 AST / 11:30 GMT,  Qualifying Saturday at 18:00 / 15:00 and the race Sunday at 18:00 / 15:00
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