Hello welcome to This Week, next weekend F1 returns to Vegas for one of the most anticipated races of the season. However, the theme this week has been looking ahead and reflecting on lessons that can be learned from Sao Paulo has been what Mercedes called fundamental errors, tyres concept could change again.
Rumour continued with Sergio Perez and in a sport where you are only as good as you’re last result and always compared to your teammate there was always going to be talk.
Pirelli are working on a new tyre concept for 2025 which they are hoping reduces degradation to improve the on-track racing, while still allowing for varied pitstop strategies. Last year’s complete overhaul of the technical regulations saw a switch of aerodynamics but drivers have complains that the altered airflow has led to the drivers complaining how easily the tyres overheat.
While F1 has desired multiple pitstops to create divergent strategies, and this means that the tyre must markedly degrade, drivers have increasingly spoken out against the high wear that prevents them from pushing throughout a stint. Pirelli I think needs to balance the two when they re-entered the sport in 2011, they had been tasked with a similar thing.
Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola told select media, including Motorsport.com, “Without high degradation, there is no reason to target a two-stop race. But also, I believe that most of the action on track is due to tyre degradation and how you are able to manage tyre degradation.
“If you reduce that, I am convinced that the risk is to have a train of cars because obviously, if you can push, I can push, everybody can push. It is not a different tyre for each driver. I understand drivers who are complaining about high tyre degradation because they would like to push more, and this is a clear indication.”
I think no one wants to go back to the early Pirelli days as it is not suited to the ‘intentions’ we have seen by F1 with the FIA to create closer racing but in the early Pirelli days, we did see serval tyre failures. Motorsport.com understands that Pirelli will work with F1 and the teams to conduct its investigation since its own simulator tools to predict strategies do not account for the effects of running in traffic.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff says he says the team made a “fundamental” error in the way they set up the car last weekend in Sao Paulo describing it as a “nightmare” weekend. Last year’s race winners could only manage eighth a minute behind winner Max Verstappen.
The Mercedes team principal said the lack of pace was “totally baffling” given they had appeared to make a promising step forward at the previous two weeks in the USA and Mexico. I think Interlagos is a very different to Austin and Mexico City, being a more twisty and technical circuit.
Mercedes struggled badly with tyre wear in both the Saturday Sprint and Sunday Grand Prix – an attribute that is usually one of the car’s strengths – with the team also behind rivals on straight-line speed having run a higher rear-wing level. I think they played it safe given what happened with Lewis Hamilton being disqualified from second place for excessive skid-block wear on the underside of the car, in Austin.
Post-race, Wolff conceded that they “ran the car way too high. It’s something that you probably feel that you carry that on [after what happened in Austin].” Obviously that costs the team’s performance, he says the slump could not be explained by a minimal difference in ride height or wing level alone.
We know that this season that Mercedes has been unpredictable and early on this year the team committed to a fundamental change for 2024, the team believe that this validates their decision for the change for next year. But whether they can close the gap next year to Red Bull next year.
Max Verstappen has admitted he has plenty of learning to do ahead of next weekend’s Las Vegas Grand Prix. While the Dutchman has dominated the season with eighteen wins he has admitted to struggling with the street circuit on the simulator.
Speaking after winning the Sao Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil, Verstappen said: “There’s still a lot to do. I still need to go on the simulator. I still don’t even know the track, to be honest. The last time I tried it on the F1 game, I think I hit more walls than I was going straight. So, let’s hope that’s not the case when I start driving there!”
Anticipation for the showpiece event has been building throughout the season, with expected cool evening temperatures only set to add to the drama. I suspect that given his performances this season he should quickly get to grips with the circuit, but given the extremities we are expecting with the weather and the events in Singapore I don’t think Red Bull can guarantee victory.
The forecast is for temperatures to be as low as 10 degrees Celsius when the cars take to the track for the evening sessions, which Verstappen thinks could cause some “surprises”.
Christian Horner has clarified recent comments about Sergio Perez’s future that some interpreted as a sign the Mexican may not be with the team next year. For weeks now there has been rumours Perez could lose his seat if he loses second in the drivers, which increased at his home race, where Horner said it was the team’s “intention” to keep Perez for next season.
He said in Mexico, “Checo has an agreement with us for next year and that’s our intention, for him to be in the car in 2024. We’ll give him all the support we can to ensure that he finishes second [in the drivers’ championship] but there’s no prerequisite that if he doesn’t finish second, you’re out.”
Asked by Motorsport.com in Brazil if there was anything significant in his choice of the word “intention”, Horner made it clear there was no doubt that Perez would be with the team next year – and it was only circumstances beyond the team’s control that would mean he would not be.
Charles Leclerc crashed on the formation lap because of an electronics issue in Sao Paulo. The Monacan suffered a power unit and hydraulic failure on the formation lap, triggered by an electronic command issue. That pitched him into the barrier, and despite his best efforts to get the car going again, he was unable to do so.
Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur confirmed that the Leclerc’s failure to get away from the accident scene had been caused by “the same issue, the system switched off the hydraulic and engine”.
He added, “I went to the corner, I lost the power steering first, and then the engine cut off for safety reasons, and then the rear wheels locked up, and that made me spin. So I had no control over the car to any point. Hydraulics, that is what I felt. But at the end, I don’t think that is the issue, speaking with the engineers. We know what that is, but I cannot go too much into details.”
Leclerc says without the electronic issues he could have kept going, but as he tried to restart he lost the hydraulics leading to his retiring his Ferrari. Vasseur clarified that the problem had not occurred this season: “No. At least not in the last 10 months! It was the first time.”
His non-start came after a string of disappointments over the course of a season that has seen him fail to win a race. While still sitting in the car he used team radio to vent about his continuing bad luck.
Vasseur clarified that the problem had not occurred this season: “No. At least not in the last 10 months! It was the first time.”
team principal Andrea Stella says tyre wear is now the biggest performance differentiator between his team and Red Bull. Lando Norris took pole and finished second in the sprint in Interlagos, he also finished second after starting sixth following a brilliant first start to the Grand Prix which on the second start saw him start second and then shadow Verstappen for much of the race.
Norris was the only driver able to stay close to the Dutchman, finishing just eight seconds behind after matching the Red Bull’s lap times for large spells of the race.
But as the high-degradation race progressed, Norris could clearly be seen sliding backwards throughout his stints, explaining that “I’m not far behind for the first 10-15 laps in but that final phase, I just drop off a bit too much.”
Stella acknowledged that amid McLaren’s impressive developments this season, which has turned into the most consistent challenger of Red Bull in recent months, tyre management is the one area that still sets Red Bull apart. The Italian explained, “I think the difference is mainly in terms of lap time on used tyres. We have seen that in new tyres, we can fight for position.”
One of the stories of this season has been McLaren from struggling at the start of the season to being part of the leading group behind Red Bull, the biggest thing the team has improved is tyre management.
Stella said he was surprised at the extent Ferrari and especially Mercedes struggled to keep tyre degradation under control in Sao Paulo, with Lewis Hamilton sliding back to eighth and George Russell on the verge of dropping out of the points altogether before his retirement.
Norris is “excited” about McLaren’s prospects heading towards the 2024 season and has optimism they will be able to compete against Red Bull for race victories. As we know one of the stories of the year has been the turn around by the team, last weekend the Englishman was second, McLaren fifth in six races.
A maiden Grand Prix victory may well remain elusive in the final two rounds of this season with Verstappen and Red Bull proving almost unbeatable, but Norris says there is no shame in that right now for McLaren given where they started the year and the fact they are competing against the most dominant combination of all time in terms of winning percentage during a season.
Sitting alongside Verstappen in last Sunday’s post-race press conference, Norris said: “I’ve just been just saying to Max, since we bought this upgrade to Austria, I’ve been the second highest scoring driver on the grid.”
“I think we’ve been the second highest scoring team, potentially. Of course, we’ve taken some massive steps forward and at the same time, considering we’re talking about fighting the Red Bull, I think it’s still a very, very good thing, for what we’ve achieved this year.”
If the season started in Austria Norris would be second behind Verstappen, who would still be champion, in the drivers.
Norris, who had been asked whether McLaren could give him a car to compete for wins and maybe even the title in 2024, added: “For us to go from where we were in Bahrain to getting close and talking about fighting a Red Bull I think are very good signs for us.
Yuki Tsunoda believes AlphaTauri are now the “dark horse” after a major upgrade has put the team firmly in the hunt for seventh in the constructors’ championship. In the last three races, thanks to an upgrade moved them from last to eighth, seven points behind Williams with two races to go.
The team debuted a substantial update package that included a new floor, revised engine cover bodywork plus suspension and chassis geometry to increase downforce. Given that step forwards and consistent scoring makes the Japanese driver believe that the team are a dark horse.
Tsunoda told Motorspport.com, “It’s a big surprise. I think we’re right now a dark horse, especially compared to our other competitors. So, I think it’s good. So far, we are scoring points three races in a row. So, a very good rhythm. We need to just keep doing like this for the rest of the races. Now we are closer to P7 in the team’s championship. I think it’s possible, and we will do our best.”
The final fortnight of the season for the smaller teams is always key given it is worth millions of pounds in prize money, and I think Alpha Tauri has gone backwards given last year had nearly triple the amount of points.
Meanwhile, AlphaTauri’s rivals all drew blanks at Interlagos. Both Alfa Romeos retired with technical faults, Kevin Magnussen and Alex Albon were eliminated in a hefty Turn 1 shunt while their teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Logan Sargeant failed to score.
Haas has had its protest to change the results of the United States Grand Prix rejected. The American team launched a protest based on claimed track limits transgressions by several cars that finished ahead of theirs
Track limits controversies are common at a number of F1 tracks, especially Austria’s Red Bull Ring, Losail in Qatar and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
A statement rejecting Haas’ appeal added: “The stewards find their inability to properly enforce the current standard for track limits for all competitors completely unsatisfactory and therefore strongly recommend to all concerned that a solution to prevent further reoccurrences of this widespread problem be rapidly deployed.”
It added: “Given the number of different circuits where significant track limit issues arose this season, acknowledging that the FIA in conjunction with the circuits have already made significant strides, further solutions should be found before the start of the 2024 season.”
The verdict added that track limits offences were “almost universally enforced” based on images from a fixed CCTV camera. However it accepted the camera used to police track limits at Turn Six in Austin “did not meet [the required] standard”.