Mercedes upgrades a “decent step” – Bottas
Valtteri Bottas believes that the upgrades Mercedes have brought to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix should be a “decent step”, as it seeks to close the gap to Ferrari.
The German manufacturer dominated the first half of the season, but since the summer break has struggled to match the Ferrari. This weekend the team has brought a small aero upgrade to the car for this weekend and Bottas is confident that it will improve the performance of the Mercedes in the final part of the season.
The Finn believes it’s a solid aero package, which in theory should give the team more performance. He told Motorsport.com, “How much [it works] is something we’ll find out. We have some rough numbers about it, but should be a decent step, in terms of upgrade packages so far.”
“It’s been a pretty good car this year, but it is again a track with a mixture of different things. There are some decent straights where we definitely have a disadvantage compared to Ferrari, so they’re going to be gaining time to us there.”
Bottas says the team knows that they should be good in the sections which are full of corners and that the upgrade package could be even better. He admits that if they are beaten this weekend they will need to work harder next season.
The current champions took there first win since the summer in Sochi, maintaining a 100% record in Russia after benefitting from the team orders controversy at Ferrari.
When asked if the volatile situation between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at Ferrari could help Mercedes regain its advantage, Hamilton said: “No because I don’t think we need help. That’s not the way I look at things.”
Adding, “We want them to be at their best so we can challenge them at their best and ultimately if we beat them it just makes it better. There’s been a lot of noise made after the last race.”
Vettel clearly not Ferrari’s number one – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton believes the controversy around Ferrari’s team orders at the Russian Grand Prix, proved that Sebastian Vettel is “clearly not” their ‘number one’ driver anymore, but doesn’t think the team prioritising Charles Leclerc is a good idea.
One of the stories of the season has been the battle between the German four-time champion and the race where Vette refused to swap places with the young Monegasque, who he had just passed for the lead.
Hamilton says he believes that the order has made it clear that Ferrari has switched their focus to Leclerc, who has more poles and victories than four-time world champion Vettel this season.
Ahead of this weekend, he told reporters, “It’s an interesting dynamic they have there because obviously Seb was number one and now clearly not. From the energy, the outlook, they’re trying to ramp Charles up to be.”
“That good for a team? I don’t think so. But that [having a number one] is the philosophy they’ve had for forever.” However, Hamilton admitted that it was just an “assumption”, but urged Ferrari to find the right way to “manage” the pair and their “friction”.
Following the race, both Leclerc and Vettel put the slip up down to a miscommunication. Asked if he felt sorry for Vettel, Hamilton added: “I don’t know what Seb’s feeling… I’ve not had a team back the other side so much, so heavily, before.”
Clear air at Ferrari – Leclerc
Charles Leclerc insists “everything is clear now” following the controversy with teammate Sebastian Vettel at the Russian Grand Prix
Ferrari’s race fell apart when Mercedes finished first and second, Ferrari found their team tactics called into question after what emerged as a pre-arranged plan for Leclerc to ‘tow’ Vettel at the start caused radio consternation among the drivers after the start.
Ahead of the race, the plan appeared for polesitter Leclerc to ‘tow’ Vettel at the start caused radio consternation among the drivers after the start. Leclerc said team principal Mattia Binotto held separate talks with both him and Vettel in the days after Russia, and that there were no problems moving forward into Suzuka this weekend.
In the press conference ahead of the weekend, the Monacan said, “There were some misunderstandings from the car, but we’ve had a discussion and everything is clear now. It felt like it was a huge deal from the outside – which it definitely wasn’t – but now everything is fine.”
Asked what was not clear, Leclerc replied: “That’s clear from the beginning of the season, we need to obey team orders. What is clear is that the situation wasn’t clear for both of the drivers starting the race. So that’s the most important [thing]. We spoke about it and will make sure this situation doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Vettel who disobeyed his team’s orders to swap positions with Leclerc at the start of the Sochi race. Admitting that there were “certain things we could have done better” but echoed his team-mate’s assertions that the dispute was sorted.
Asked what it could mean for similar scenarios in the future, Vettel added to reporters in Suzuka: “We didn’t write anything in stone – I don’t think it’s necessary.
Red Bull can close the gap – Verstappen
Max Verstappen is hopeful that Red Bull can close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari at Honda’s home race the Japanese Grand Prix, because of the development of its power unit.
At the last race in Sochi, Verstappen followed teammate Alex Albon by taking a tactical engine change to give him the latest specification of the engine this weekend. They are hoping that they can be in the fight for the podium.
Asked by Sky Sports about the new fuel, Verstappen said, “We always want to try and improve like everyone else and this will help us a little bit forward. It’s difficult to say how much but of course, we want to take the fight to Ferrari and Mercedes.”
“We lately have been a little bit behind, but let’s see. It’s again a new weekend, a different weekend probably also with the weather coming in, but still a lot of opportunities for us to do well.”
Honda both own and operate the circuit, they are currently enjoying their most competitive home outing since returning to F1 in 2015 amid a successful first year in partnership with Red Bull.
The last time a Honda-engined car finished on the podium at Suzuka was 2004 when Jenson Button was third for BAR. That according to Verstappen is the target this weekend. Honda’s last home win was with Gerhard Berger in 1991.
Asked if he could take a fourth consecutive podium, “That’s definitely the target.”
Typhoon Hagibis – decision on qualifying to be made on Friday
Organisers of the Japanese Grand Prix will decide tomorrow whether to postpone qualifying as Typhoon Hagibis moves in. The storm s expected to make landfall on Saturday on the south coast of Honshu island, where Suzuka is located.
A statement from F1 bosses said: “Every effort is being made to minimise disruption to the F1 timetable. However, the safety of fans, competitors and everyone at the Suzuka circuit remains the top priority.”
Governing body the FIA and F1 said it was “closely monitoring Typhoon Hagibis and its potential impact on the Japanese Grand Prix”.
The storm is believed to be the biggest of the 2019 storm season and has already led to the cancellation of England v France and New Zealand v Italy at the rugby world cup.
F1 organisers are waiting to see whether the storm continues on its current track before deciding whether to cancel qualifying on Saturday.
That decision is expected to come before the end of Friday and will primarily be down to Japanese local authorities, whose responsibility it is to decide whether to close the circuit and advise people to stay indoors to reduce the risk to life from the storm.
Qualifying was cancelled because of typhoons in 2004 and 2010, with qualifying being run on Sunday. The last qualifying to be postponed was in 2015 in Austin due to a Hurricane.
Typhoon Hagibis – Drivers call for postponed qualifying
Formula One drivers say qualifying cannot take place on Saturday at the Japanese Grand Prix if Typhoon Hagibis. On Thursday, The FIA and F1 however will not make a decision on any postponement until Friday.
Lewis Hamilton and others have backed their position after England’s Saturday meeting with France in the Rugby World Cup was cancelled well in advance of the expected arrival of the storm. The super typhoon is expected to hit with winds of between 100 and 140mph and exceptionally heavy rain.
Drivers were unequivocal that they could not take to the track under such conditions but confident that the right decision would be made on whether to hold qualifying.
The director of the GPDA, which represents drivers, Romain Grosjean, told The Guardian, “There’s supposed to be gusts of wind at 120kmh on Saturday and if that is the case, I don’t think it’s safe to be on track or in the grandstands or anywhere. I don’t think there’s any point in discussing it. I believe they are going to take the best decision.”
On everyone’s mind will be the fifth anniversary earlier this week which led to the death of Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman crashed into a recovery truck in wet conditions during the race in Typhoon Phanfone, he suffered a diffuse axonal injury and passed away in July 2015.
Qualifying has been postponed until Sunday morning twice here before in 2004 and 2010. Contingency plans are already in place to do so again.
Stewards are “trigger happy” – Magnussen
Kevin Magnussen says he is still perplexed by the “trigger happy” stewards who punished him at the Russian Grand Prix, because he is adamant, he did nothing wrong.
The Haas driver was awarded a five-second penalty for not going through the cones at Turn Two, after running off the track in his battle with Sergio Perez. After the race he slammed the decision, which cost him one place, as “bulls***”, while his team boss Gunther Steiner blamed a “stupid idiot steward” for what happened.
Although Magnussen has calmed down, the Dane says he remains disappointed about what happened because he did not break the specific instructions about what drivers should or should not do when they run wide.
The notes from race director Michael Masi ahead of Sochi, said “Any driver who fails to negotiate Turn 2 by using the track, and who passes completely to the left of the first orange kerb element prior to the apex, must re-join the track by driving to the left of the white blocks and remaining to the left of the orange block in the runoff.”
However, the incident saw Magnussen resulted in him missing the apex and running across the kerb – so the rules were not explicit about what he had to do. Adding, “We were told one thing and I didn’t do what was said to be classified for a penalty.”
He tried to explain to the FIA to get to the left of the cones, but the angle he was at meant it was impossible to get around the first one. Magnussen thinks that the stewards were too eager to hand down a punishment instead of carefully examining what the rules stated.
The weekend ahead
The story of this weekend is likely to be Typhoon Hagibis, this is a concern as we have already explained above. It’s going to be a question of how much the teams and drivers can get done in qualifying, and be prepared for disruption.
We have already this week explained what the top three drivers need to do in terms of the championship. But this has been a circuit which suits Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton winning all but one race in since 2014. But they will it hold up against Ferrari?
Honda has targeted there home Grand Prix as one where they want to be in the mix, in Singapore and Sochi all its drivers took tactal grid penalties. But they could have a weakness in on the straights where they lack compared to Ferrari and Mercedes.
The midfield battle will be as close, Sukuza is not the easiest place for overtaking, but the slipstream is powerful and that can create opportunities through the First Turn and into Casio Triangle as well a Spoon. The weather could be a very powerful factor in terms of strategy, the undercut can work here.
Formula One Vault will bring you full coverage of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. With reports and analysis through out the weekend.