Mercedes on the back foot – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton believes that his Mercedes team are going into this weekends Australian Grand Prix on the back foot. It is believed that the teams’ main rivals Ferrari are expected to be ahead when the track actions begins on Friday.
Hamilton admits that Mercedes “have work to do.” In Barcelona, the German team struggled to keep pace with Ferrari, although it is expected that Mercedes are a lot closer when it comes to race trim, this weekends race is expected to give a better idea of the pecking order.
Hamilton told Sky Sports: “It might be closer than we think, it might be a bigger gap than we think. We don’t know what they’ve got up their sleeve.”
Some paddock analysts believe Ferrari, who will pair Charles Leclerc with Sebastian Vettel this year, could be as much as four-tenths of a second ahead for the Albert Park curtain-raiser. Vettel said “At this point, we are all hunters and we are all hunted. Hopefully going away from here we will be the hunted.”
During an emotional press conference, following the death of race director Charlie Whiting, Hamilton added “As a team, we’ve learned a lot from the package we had in testing and how we can optimise it better for the first race. I feel we have made improvements already and I’m confident we can be in a better shape.”
While some believe Ferrari are the front runners with Mercedes not far behind, the rest of the field is far less certain when it comes to race modes. Although the midfield remains close, how close they are to the top two and where Red Bull is one off the biggest questions.
Red Bull, who have switched to Honda power, are thought to be in close proximity to Mercedes while Alfa Romeo and Haas may well challenge Renault to be the ‘best of the rest’
Clear answers are not expected until after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku at the end of April.
Bottas will be more selfish
Valtteri Bottas says that he wants to be more selfish and not be a supporting role to teammate Lewis Hamilton. As he enters his third season with Mercedes he wants to be winning again and to challenge for this year’s title.
With the reset in place, Bottas who has not won a race since Abu Dhabi in 2017 will be hoping that the reset for this season will give him a chance to fight to seal his teammates crown. It has been confirmed by him and Hamilton that they are largely ‘free to race’.
Bottas told ESPN, “In this sport if you want to win you need to be selfish, it is that kind of sport, even though it is a team sport you need to think about yourself. It’s something I’ve kind of also realised over the past years and especially last year.”
“I definitely only have one career and I don’t want to be in the situation that after the season where I should have done this or that. I’m really pleased to kind of start a new page, knowing at this point of the year that anything is possible.”
The Finn said that was a kind of good feeling, following a season where he failed to meet his own targets knowing that it is now possible again. Bottas says the key to his new approach will be being more guarded with his time to ensure he is in the best possible position at the start of each race weekend to maximise results.
He believes changing things off track will help his performance this season and being himself with a work-life balance is key and says he more relaxed.
Adding “Over the winter some things have been different, like with my coach again we looked through the travel plan and everything, all the details that we think is going to be best for my performance, like where I am between races, where do I fly, when do I fly.”
‘Free to race’ says Ferrari and Mercedes
Sebastian Vettel has confirmed that he and his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc are free to race this season, despite Ferrari saying they could favour the German.
Earlier this year, team principal Mattia Binotto has said Ferrari might give Vettel priority so they could avoid “mistakes you may have in an ambitious situation”. However, speaking at the press conference on Thursday both made it clear that they remain free to race, within reason.
Vettel added “It is very clear we are free to race. Charles will do his best for himself and the team – it is the same for me.” Ferrari have failed to capitalise on situations in the past two years when they were poised to run Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton close for the titles but stumbled through driver or team errors.
Leclerc, who joins Ferrari in just his second season in F1 after impressing for Sauber last year, said: “I completely understand the decision. As in any team, there needs to be a number one and a number two in the 50-50 situation, but it is my job then to turn things around.:
However, Leclerc hinted that there may be certain situations where Ferrari could use team orders, but refused to give any examples. Saying “To have any proper examples, I don’t know, we will see at the first race. It is all very new to me but we are free to fight. In qualifying, I can try to go faster than him which won’t be easy.”
At the same press conference, Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, confirmed that the German team were employing the same tactics at this early stage of the year.
Hamilton added, “We’re free to race like every single year. was said back at the factory and repeated [in a team meeting] today and that’s how I like it. It means we both have a fair shot.
Whiting dies suddenly ahead of the Australian Grand Prix
Formula One race director Charlie Whiting has died suddenly aged sixty-six ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The sports governing body the FIA confirmed this morning that he had pulmonary embolism on Thursday morning in Melbourne, three days before the first race of the 2019 season.
The British engineer who has been in the sport for five decades was one of the most respected, influential and well-liked figures across five decades in the paddock.
The British engineer began his career with Hesketh in 1977, before joining Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team where he was the chief mechanic and then chief engineer. He then joined the FIA, becoming a central part of the organisation’s running of F1 ever since.
The FIA has confirmed that the Australian Michael Masi will take Whiting’s place as race director, safety delegate and permanent starter this weekend in Melbourne.
His death leaves the sport with a big hole to fill, he was the go-to man from safety to technical to sporting matters. F1 has lost a man who did the most difficult jobs, pretty much wrote the rules by himself, and he did all this with a lightness of touch, approachability and ready sense of humour.
Whiting combined unquenchable energy, something close to workaholism and an easy manner to run the most complex of sports.
Tributes to Whiting
Formula One has been reacting to the death of race director Charlie Whiting has died suddenly aged sixty-six ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The sport’s governing body the FIA confirmed this morning that he had a pulmonary embolism.
Lewis Hamilton told BBC News he was “incredibly shocked to hear the sad news. What he did for this sport, his commitment, he really was a pillar. Such an iconic figure and he contributed so much.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: “I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Charlie’s passing this morning. He was a pillar of our Formula 1 family – balanced in his approach, subtle in his understanding and always with the interests of Formula 1 as his main focus.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc “Horrible news from Melbourne. All my thoughts goes to Charlie’s family. The motorsport world will miss you. R.I.P.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen “Like everybody said it was a big shock. Also because I spent the day with him in Geneva a few weeks ago and we had a good chat about a lot of things. When I left, at the time, I was like, ‘see you in Australia for another season of racing’. And then obviously when you hear this news it’s unbelievable.”
Williams tweet “We are terribly saddened to hear of Charlie Whiting’s passing. Charlie was a true legend of the sport and will be greatly missed. Everyone’s thoughts at Williams are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”
McLaren “All at McLaren are shocked and deeply saddened at the news of Charlie Whiting’s passing. Charlie will be remembered as one of the giants of our sport, as well as a great colleague. Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with all of his loved ones.”
Robert Kubica, who drives for Williams, said: “It is a hard moment. I saw Seb walking with Charlie yesterday and thought I would not interrupt them. He was a kind of icon of F1, but not only F1. He was a racer, keeping up everything in the regulations, he was the kind of person where you can always trust and commit.”
FIA nominates new starter
On the eve of the opening race, the FIA has made changes to the set up of its officials, following the death of Charlie Whiting. The sporting regulations require the FIA to nominate a race director and permanent starter for each grand prix, both of which must be present at the start of the event, and a safety delegate.
With Whiting due to hold all three positions prior to his passing on the eve of the grand prix weekend, the governing body has had to reorganise its set-up. Michael Masi will step up to acting race director from the deputy role, he worked with Whiting last year at a number of races,
As well as continuing that arrangement for 2019, alongside fellow deputy Scot Elkins, Masi accepted the role of Formula 2 and Formula 3 race director for this season.
Masi’s assumption of the race director duties places him in charge of the officials and the management of the Australian GP.
He will now be the kingmaker, with the power to suspend any of the sessions, controlling the use of the safety car, and referring incidents to the stewards. As permanent starter, he will be responsible for controlling the lights that signal the start of the grand prix.
But there has been no announcement about who will replace Masi as deputy race director. That role is key, as the deputy race director controls race control for the opening few laps while the race director starts the race.
You can read more on this story and his life here
Excitement out ways Russell’s concerns
George Russell says his excitement about entering his first season in Formula One outweighs his concerns about Williams form as he enters into his first season.
The F2 champion enters his first season on the back foot compared to the other two rookies Lando Norris and Alexander Albon, as his team struggled for performance and reliability in testing plus the departure of chief technical officer Paddy Lowe has meant the team has been in turbulence.
Russell told Sky Sports, “I’m extremely looking forward to it. This is Formula 1 and there are thousands of people who would dream to have my position. F1 is not like any other sport.”
“In football, there are 20 teams in the Premier League with 20 or 30 players in every team. If you can’t make it in the Premier League, you go to the league below, or you go to play in Holland, or Germany, or Italy. But in F1, it’s just the 20 best drivers and already being here is a huge achievement.”
Williams suffered delays in building its 2019 car, leading to it missing the first two and a half days of testing. Russell acknowledges external expectations are low, but believes that could actually play to the team’s advantage.
He added, “From my side and the team’s side, we are going in there with no pressure on our shoulders. Everybody is expecting us to finish last by a long way, come out of the garage and for the wheels to fall off the car.” But it is Russell’s early belief is that the FW42 does not retain the same fundamental problems as its predecessor.
He believes that the car has good foundations in a car with the driveability and now the focus needs to be on making the car go quicker and putting more downforce on it.
F1 vows to investigate human rights abuses in Bahrain
Formula One says they will “continue to investigate” alleged human rights abuses in Bahrain. Representatives met with campaigners on Wednesday to discuss Najah Yusuf, who was jailed two years ago.
Protest groups including Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy claim Yusuf had been given a three-year sentence because she protested against the 2017 race.
The UK Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven met F1 officials outlining campaign groups claims of alleged sexual assault during Yusuf’s interrogation as well as claims that a coerced confession was used to convict her.
Following the meeting, F1 bosses said the sport is “committed to respecting internationally-recognised human rights in our operations globally and we take all such responsibilities seriously”.
A statement continued: “As part of that commitment, we obtain from every national promoter of a Formula 1 Grand Prix its commitment to respect internationally recognised human rights. We continue to remind all promotors, including Bahrain, that peaceful protest at all our events is a democratic right.”
Lord Scriven says he has been told by F1’s general counsel Sacha Woodward-Hill would look into the matter.
“I am relieved that Sacha and Formula 1 have expressed genuine concern and have an open mind to investigate further the particular circumstances which have led to Najah’s imprisonment and the violations of her human rights since her arrest,” Lord Scriven added.
Grosjean fine with Netflix slating
Romain Grosjean says that he has no issues with the damming comments made by Haas team principal Gunther Steiner made is the Netflix series about Formula One, as he admits that he was not good enough at the start of 2018.
One of the talking points from the series is the way that Haas boss Steiner lets rip at Grosjean on the back of his early 2018 struggles. As well as swearing at him on the pit wall, Steiner speaks out at a team dinner at the French Grand Prix which Grosjean is not present at.
In the programme, Steiner said “Romain is not here,” said Steiner. “Maybe he is not here because he doesn’t have any points. Or I didn’t invite him because he doesn’t deserve any food.”
Although Grosjean has yet to see the Netflix series in full, he says that Steiner’s attitude is nothing that worries him. Telling Motorsport.com, “I know Gunther, and he’s calling a cat a cat,” said the Frenchman. “So that’s fine by me. We’ve had discussions and we’ve never lied to each other. He always tell the truth and that’s something I appreciate.
He says he changed the direction of the boat and hopes that the rest of the series reflects that.
Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz says that his social media has increased by fifteen thousand since the release of the series. Adding “So it shows there’s lot of people in the US and globally watching this thing and getting interest in the athletes and the drivers and it’s been a great response.”
The Weekend Ahead
This weekend F1 heads to Melbourne for the opening race, but I feel that the most important thing now in the wake of the death of Charlie Whiting is that we have a good race. Expect maybe a minute’s silence before the race and this weekend is now about his legacy.
On the track, we have been saying since testing that this season will again be a close fight between the top two teams. But the biggest question is how close is it between Mercedes and Ferrari? Ferrari has won in Melbourne for the last two years, thanks to errors by Mercedes.
There are so many stories which could come out of this weekend, but the thing we are all watching is the gaps, Ferrari are believed to hold a slight advantage over Mercedes. But we don’t really know for certain that this is really the pace or not.
Daniel Ricciardo will be the main talking point, he is heading to his home race with Renault for the first time. Ricciardo will want a strong weekend, but remember Melbourne hasn’t been the best weekend for him historically.
The other story is Charles Leclerc his first weekend for Ferrari, today we reported that he is free to race this season, despite Ferrari saying they could favour Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc will want a strong start and to prove he isn’t Vettel’s number two, but we will see if Ferrari are to keep to their word!
Red Bull and Honda are another topic, and how they get on will be interesting. We expect them to maintain third, but we just don’t know and they could be under pressure from Renault this weekend.
We will bring you full coverage and analysis of this weekends Australian Grand Prix, with reports and the Notebook roundup in the evening. You can read the Prixview here