Hartley: Toro Rosso “in good shape” for British Grand Prix

Brendon Hartley has said he believes his Toro Rosso team is set for a strong result in this weekend’s British Grand Prix, following a series of performance updates in the last few races.

“I think we can be in good shape following the power unit upgrade that came in Canada,” Hartley said. “The aero upgrade in Austria also arrived at the right time because [at Silverstone] you need as much downforce as possible.

“I’m hoping for a strong weekend and better luck than in recent races.”

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Hartley added that he is excited about his first British Grand Prix as a Formula One driver:

“I’m looking forward to tackling [Silverstone] in a modern F1 car, because it’s going to be crazy quick. The track has been resurfaced this year, so there will be even more grip than in the past.

“Silverstone is a real driver’s track and it has often produced great racing especially when the weather is at play: it’s one of the originals and it has a lot of character and a great atmosphere.”

Toro Rosso’s last outing at Silverstone was one of the low points of its 2017 campaign, with Carlos Sainz retiring after a collision with Daniil Kvyat on the opening lap.

The Red Bull junior team is looking to bounce back after an equally frustrating Austrian Grand Prix last weekend, which saw Pierre Gasly struggling throughout the race with floor damage after a first lap clash with Stoffel Vandoorne, and Hartley retire on lap 54 with a mechanical failure.

Charles Coates, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Feature image by Peter Fox / Getty Images, courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault: “We must do better” in Silverstone

Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul has said his team “must do better” at the British Grand Prix than it has in the previous rounds in Austria and France.

The French marque endured a pointless race at the Red Bull Ring last weekend, with Nico Hülkenberg retiring due to a fiery engine failure and Carlos Sainz falling foul of tyre blistering, while in France the week before an MGU-K failure almost dropped Sainz out of the points in the closing laps.

“The sign of a good race team is the ability to react quickly and come back stronger,” Abiteboul said ahead of the British Grand Prix. “Even in the short turnaround between Austria and Silverstone, we must improve reliability, recover our more usual competitiveness level and further our understanding around tyre management.

“We know Silverstone will be a tough challenge but we will keep pushing to get back on target.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Abiteboul added that Austria in particular was “a crash landing” after eight consecutive points for the team:

“Although the circuit did not play to our strengths, we must do better. It certainly benefited our rivals, who took advantage of three retirements in the top teams to finish higher than usual in the rankings.”

Renault remains in fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship after Austria, but their absence from the top ten meant that Haas—who finished fourth and fifth in Spielberg—closed to within 13 points in the standings, and could overtake Renault this weekend if the French team run into any more misfortune in Silverstone.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Boullier resigns as McLaren race director

Eric Boullier has resigned from his post as McLaren’s race director, as part of a “leadership restructure” announced by the team ahead of the British Grand Prix.

Boullier had been facing pressure over his role this season as McLaren continued to struggle for performance despite switching from Honda to Renault power for 2018. When questioned at the French Grand Prix, Boullier insisted that he wouldn’t step down, although his departure with immediate effect has now been confirmed by the team.

In the announcement Boullier said: “I am proud to have worked with such a brilliant team over the past four years, but I recognise now is the right time for me to step down.

“I want to wish everyone at McLaren the best for the remainder of the season and for the future.”

Steven Tee/McLaren

As well as Boullier’s resignation, McLaren’s restructuring sees the team’s chief operating officer Simon Roberts move to oversee production, engineering and logistics, and Andrea Stella being appointed trackside performance director.

McLaren has also created the new role of sporting director—concerned with “[maximising] the effectiveness of the team’s racing package”—for former Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said these changes are in response to “systemic and structural” problems with McLaren’s management, “which require major change from within” to correct.

In a statement, Brown said: “With today’s announcement, we start to address those issues and take the first step on our road to recovery.”

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren

Le Mans LMP2: G-Drive takes maiden Le Mans win

The #26 G-Drive of Jean-Éric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov put in a commanding display at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the outfit’s first win at the event.

The #26 initially had a poor start, with Vergne losing places at on the opening lap and dropping to seventh. But after recovering one place to sixth, Vergne then went a lap longer before pitting than the leading group and the offset was enough to bring the #26 out into first, where it remained for the rest of the race to finish fifth overall and two laps up on the rest of the LMP2 field.

#36 Signatech Alpine A470 / Andrej Alesko, WEC Media

Finishing a distant second behind G-Drive was the #36 Signatech Alpine, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão.

For most of the race, the #36 had been locked in a close fight over the runners-up spot with the #23 Panis-Barthez Ligier, with the two cars trading second and third throughout Saturday evening and into the night.

But with four hours remaining on Sunday morning, Will Stevens brought the #23 Ligier into the pits with technical issues—he was kept there for over an hour, dropping him to 11th and allowing Signatech Alpine to finish second unchallenged.

Panis-Barthez’s lengthy stop promoted the polesitting #48 IDEC Sport Oreca into third, until gearbox problems ended the latter’s race within the final hours.

In the #48’s absence, the #39 Graff Oreca inherited third and held the position until the chequered flag, with Tristan Gommendy fending off a late charge by former race winner Loïc Duval in TDS Racing’s #28 car.

#47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 / Marius Hecker, WEC Media

Juan Pablo Montoya ended his Le Mans debut in fifth in the #32 United Autosports after a puncture in the penultimate hour dropped the Colombian a lap behind the LMP2 leaders. Jackie Chan DC Racing’s all-Malaysian #37 car finished sixth while the #31 Dragonspeed, which had started second and led early on, finished seventh.

Racing Team Nederland’s #29 was the highest Dallara finisher in ninth, sandwiched between the #38 and #33 Jackie Chan cars. There were issues for the #35 SMP and the #47 Cetilar Villorba Corse, with steering problems for the former and a late crash for the latter putting them 12th and 13th in class respectively.

As well as the #48 IDEC, there were four other retirements in the 20-car LMP2 field. The #34 Jackie Chan became the first after suffering an engine failure during the night, and was followed two laps later by the #40 G-Drive, which was spun into the Porsche Curves wall by José Gutiérrez. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing also retired, and United Autosports’ #22 car crashed out from fourth with four hours left.

The #44 Eurasia did not retire, but went unclassified as it failed to complete the final lap of the race.

#22 United Autosports Ligier JSP217 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Renault warns Red Bull over further engine decision delays

Renault has warned Red Bull that it will be forced to withdraw its offer of a 2019 supply if the latter cannot reach an engine decision before the Austrian Grand Prix.

Red Bull initially said it would use the Canadian Grand Prix, in which both Renault and Honda introduced their first major upgrades of the season, to judge which of the two engine manufacturers to ally with in 2019.

But after the race Christian Horner said the team would use the next round in France to gather more data before announcing their final decision at their home race in Austria.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, Renault’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul has warned Red Bull that if they insist on waiting until Austria to decide, they will only have Honda to choose from.

Speaking to Motorsport.com, Abiteboul said: “They have all the information they need now. I don’t see why they are going to further delay the decision.

“As per the regulations, [the deadline] was May 15, and then we accepted to extend that a little bit on the back of twelve years of good collaboration. But past a certain point, the offer we made…will not stand.”

Renault Sport F1 Team

Abiteboul added that Renault was “already behind” with sourcing components for its 2019 plans, and would have to prioritise that over waiting for Red Bull:

“They wanted an offer, we’ve made an offer, that offer has to be accepted in the next few days.

“We are not talking about Austria. Austria, we won’t be here, and [Red Bull] will be talking directly to Honda.”

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Zurich ePrix: Di Grassi wins as penalties shrink Vergne’s title lead

Lucas di Grassi ended his season four win drought by rising from fifth to first in Sunday’s Zurich ePrix, while title challenger Sam Bird finished second to slash Jean-Éric Vergne’s championship lead by almost half.

Lucas di Grassi, Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

The race began in mixed-up fashion, with Techeetah’s Andre Lotterer starting well from second to threaten maiden polesitter Mitch Evans off the line. But although Evans managed to defend from Lotterer and drop him back into pressure from third-placed Bird, the Jaguar driver was unable to pull clear of the cars behind as he struggled with rising battery temperatures.

This brought di Grassi right onto the back of the podium pack, once the Audi driver dispatched with Jérôme d’Ambrosio for fourth place. By lap 13 di Grassi had passed Bird at the hairpin—taking advantage of the Briton’s battle with Lotterer ahead to close in on the pair—and three laps later did what Bird was unable to and took second from Lotterer.

With Evans’ battery issues continuing out in front, di Grassi was quickly onto the gearbox of the Jaguar—and on lap 18 the outgoing champion made his move on the run to Turn 1, and breezed past into first place.

Once in the lead di Grassi continued to build a gap to those behind him, and at the end of lap 39 crossed the finish line 7.5s ahead to take his first and Audi’s third win of the 2017–18 season.

Jean-Éric Vergne, Techeetah / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

But while last season’s champion enjoyed his best Formula E weekend since last year’s Montreal finale, current championship leader Vergne suffered huge losses at the Zurich ePrix.

Coming into the weekend with a mathematical chance of clinching the title, Vergne qualified near the back of the grid in 17th while his only remaining rival Bird was set to start from the second row.

Vergne made good progress in the early stages and before the halfway stage had already got his Techeetah up into the lower points. But on lap 17 Vergne came together with Felix Rosenqvist while taking eighth, sending the Mahindra driver into the wall at Turn 1 and triggering a full course yellow to remove the debris.

Felix Rosenqvist, Mahindra Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

This proved to be the defining moment of the race, as shortly after the halfway pitstops it was announced that Vergne—along with Lotterer, Evans and Sébastien Buemi—had been given a drive-through penalty for speeding under the full course yellow.

These penalties drastically altered the order. With fewer than ten laps remaining, Lotterer, Evans and Buemi dropped from second, third and fourth respectively, while Vergne was once more put outside the points after his trip through the pitlane.

Worse still for Vergne, the penalties for those in front meant that Bird was elevated to second place, where the DS Virgin driver finished to add another 18 points to his championship challenge.

Jérôme d’Ambrosio, Dragon Racing / Courtesy of ABB FIA Formula E

D’Ambrosio completed the podium in third, his and Dragon’s first podium since the 2016 London ePrix, while Lotterer held on for fourth.

Buemi recovered from his penalty to take fifth, one place higher than he started, after using his FanBoost to pass Evans in the closing stages—Evans lost a further place to Nick Heidfeld before the end, and finished behind the German in seventh. António Félix da Costa and Oliver Turvey were promoted into the lower points by the penalties ahead and a retirement for Nico Prost, and finished eighth and ninth respectively.

Meanwhile, Vergne fought his way back into tenth place to take the final point of the day. The Frenchman had been set to add another point with the fastest lap, until his Techeetah teammate Lotterer take that honour away in the final stages.

Vergne’s low finish and Bird’s podium mean the gap at the top of the standings is now down from 40 to 23 points with only the double header in New York—which Bird dominated last season—left to go.

Monaco GP: Red Bull out in front on Thursday

Red Bull got their Monaco Grand Prix weekend off to a strong start by locking out the top two positions in both Thursday practice sessions.

Daniel Ricciardo finished marginally ahead of Max Verstappen in each session, and staked his claim as the driver to beat this weekend by lowering the circuit’s unofficial lap record to 1:11.841s in FP2.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

On lap times alone, neither Mercedes nor Ferrari seemed to have an answer to the RB14 on Thursday. Championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were Red Bull’s closest challengers in FP1 and FP2 respectively, but despite their best efforts on the hypersoft tyres neither came any nearer to the pace than a 1:12.4s.

Last year’s Monaco poleman Kimi Räikkönen could get no higher than fifth fastest in either session, and at best was seven tenths off Ricciardo in FP2, while Valtteri Bottas was the slowest of the top teams’ drivers, finishing seventh in the morning and sixth in the afternoon.

Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull was particularly surprising, given the Scuderia’s control of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix and the expectations that they would be in front again this weekend.

However, this does come with the caveat that Ferrari rarely shows its hand on the opening day of practice, and is likely to turn up the performance of the SF71H on Saturday.

Jerry Andre/Williams F1

Thursday’s running gave a confusing picture of how the midfield teams will line up this weekend.

Force India and Williams were surprising stars in the morning session, with Sergio Pérez and Sergey Sirotkin ending FP1 in eighth and tenth respectively, while Esteban Ocon was just bumped to eleventh in the closing stages.

But in the afternoon, despite all four of their drivers improving on their earlier times, the two Mercedes customer teams were kept out of the top ten by Renault and McLaren.

And although that restored some normality to the midfield order, one team was conspicuously absent from the best-of-the-rest battle: Haas.

Haas F1 Media

Apart from a late charge to ninth for Romain Grosjean in FP1, Haas spent most of Thursday struggling to get off the bottom of the timesheets—in FP2, they were indistinguishable from the Williams’ and Saubers.

In their absence, Toro Rosso quietly impressed. Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly were regular features in the top ten throughout the day—especially during the more representative second session—even if they did get bumped down to a best finish of eleventh by the end of play.

The STR12 also looked like one of the most comfortable cars around the Monte Carlo circuit, and its performance in the opening practice sessions should put Toro Rosso in a good position to pick up some more points if anyone else is caught out in front.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Monaco GP preview: all to prove for rebounding Ferrari

The Monaco Grand Prix—jewel in the crown of the F1 calendar, and the sixth round of the 2018 season.

It’s been a topsy-turvy season so far. Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel had the early advantage, winning the first two races on the trot and taking a firm hold on qualifying. But in the last two rounds in Baku and Barcelona, they have been pegged back by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who now leads the drivers’ championship by 17 points over Vettel.

Ferrari Media

That deficit means Monaco is a must-win race for Vettel. With the next few rounds from Canada through to Germany likely to favour Mercedes, he’ll need to come away with maximum points from Monte Carlo if he is to keep the title from slipping away during the European season as it did last year.

But although Monaco is expected to be another Ferrari track as it was in 2017, Vettel cannot afford to be complacent this weekend. His lost victories in China and Azerbaijan are proof enough that even with the quicker car, nothing is assured.

Perhaps most importantly, Vettel will have to make sure he avoids any more “red mist” moments if events in the race do turn against him. A clumsy attempt to retake the lead, like the one Vettel launched at Valtteri Bottas in Baku, will be much more costly here in Monaco than settling for second.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

With Monaco typically not suiting Mercedes, Vettel’s strongest challenge for the win this weekend is expected to come from Red Bull. The RB14 was quick through the twisting final sector in Barcelona—generally a reliable indicator of Monaco pace—and Hamilton has tipped it rather than the Ferrari as his biggest concern on Sunday:

“If you look at Daniel Ricciardo [in Spain] he was much quicker in the last sector, and the last sector is all about downforce,” the championship leader said. “They’re going to be rapid in Monaco, and very hard to beat.”

If Red Bull is as fast around Monte Carlo as Hamilton fears, then Ricciardo is almost certainly going to be a contender for the win. The Australian’s four Red Bull starts in Monaco have so far yielded three podiums, as well as his infamous pole and near-win in 2016.

The same cannot be said of Max Verstappen, however. The Dutchman has a far-from-stellar record around Monte Carlo, finishing there for the first time only last year after crashing out in 2015 and ’16. Verstappen will need to conquer whatever Monaco issues have been holding him back in the past if he is to stay on Ricciardo’s level this weekend.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso has been upbeat about returning to race at the principality after missing last year’s event for the Indy 500, and understandably so: Monte Carlo has always been a strong venue for McLaren, and became a trusty source of points during their troubled Honda years.

However, qualifying is key in Monaco and so far in 2018 that has been McLaren’s weakness. The team will need to replicate last year’s Saturday performance, which saw Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne qualify in the top ten, or they may find themselves too far back to challenge for more than a handful of points.

Renault will likely be McLaren’s biggest rival this weekend. The Enstone team overtook McLaren for fourth in the constructors’ standings in Spain and has every chance of increasing that gap come Sunday—especially as Carlos Sainz has finished in the points in every race he’s contested around the Monte Carlo circuit, even dating back to his Formula Renault 3.5 days.

Haas should also be quick enough to pose a threat to both Renault and McLaren, given the mechanical pointers the VF-18 takes from last year’s race-winning Ferrari. But even if the American team qualifies well on Saturday, their race is set to be much harder as Romain Grosjean comes to Monaco weighed down with a three-place grid penalty for his first lap collision in Barcelona.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Outside of the three “Group B” teams, there are a few wildcards who might scrape into the points on Sunday.

Toro Rosso has perhaps the most realistic chance. The Red Bull junior team’s high-downforce designs have served them well around Monaco in recent years, with points finishes in every year since 2015, and the lack of emphasis on engine power will help Honda close up to those in front.

If Toro Rosso is competitive in Monaco, that will please Brendon Hartley enormously, with the Kiwi in need of a good performance as rumours about his future continue to swirl.

Also in the mix with Toro Rosso is Sauber. The C37 has been a surprise points-scorer this season, and with an on-form Charles Leclerc looking to impress on home soil it would be unwise to bet against Sauber adding to their 11 points total in Monte Carlo.

And then there’s Force India and Williams. With Monaco’s downforce demands not suiting either team’s 2018 aero designs, both will be hoping some traditional Monte Carlo madness can bring them into the lower reaches of the top ten.

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

Barcelona test: Latifi pleased with “smooth” Force India debut

Force India’s new development driver Nicholas Latifi has said he is pleased with his first on-track outing for the team at the Barcelona in-season test, after completing a programme of 107 laps and finishing fifth fastest.

This was Latifi’s second experience of F1 testing, having performed a similar role for Renault last year, and his first with Force India after missing a scheduled pre-season testing day due to illness.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

“It was a very good first day on track with the team and I finally had the chance to put to practice a lot of the procedures and processes I had learnt in the simulator,” Latifi said.

“I am pleased with how the day went; we ran smoothly with no big dramas. We completed lots of laps and I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.

“I am glad I could help the team with their testing programme and I am looking forward to being back in the simulator with this new knowledge of how the car behaves on track.”

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India’s chief race engineer Tom McCullough called Latifi’s first outing with the team “a very solid performance”, saying that the Canadian “settled in well with the team from an operational point of view and was on top of the various switches and procedures straight away.”

Latifi is due to pilot the VJM11 again in “a number” of currently unspecified Friday practice sessions this year, and may return for the second in-season test in Budapest in July.