Belgian GP: Verstappen takes pole ahead of Russell as Norris crashes at Eau Rouge

Max Verstappen has taken pole for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Williams’s George Russell, who put in a great performance in challenging conditions. Lando Norris crashed at Eau Rouge in the early stages of Q3, raising even more questions about the barriers at that corner.

The beginning of Q1 was initially delayed for 12 minutes because of heavy rain, but when it began both Russell and Nicholas Latifi headed out on track as the sole cars on intermediates. It was a decision that every other driver soon followed when the rain eased, as the times began to tumble.

Intermediates were the tyres of choice for Q2 as well. Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas left it late to get a good lap in, being brought in for new sets and only moving out of the drop-zone in the closing moments.

The rain came down heavier for the start of Q3.

Sebastian Vettel was one of the first drivers to head out, and he almost immediately radioed his engineer saying he thought the session should be red-flagged because of how bad the conditions were.

It was indeed red-flagged a couple of minutes later, but only after Lando Norris crashed heavily at the Eau Rouge/Radillion complex. Vettel pulled up alongside the McLaren to check that Norris was okay, voicing some very angry comments over the radio. “What did I say?” he demanded.

At the time of writing, Norris has been taken for a precautionary x-ray on his elbow, but he managed to get out of the car on his own at least.

Following as his crash does from the six-car pile-up during W Series qualifying yesterday at the same corner, there is certainly a debate to be had over the barriers at Eau Rouge. Norris was sent spinning back across the track, and it was only good fortune that meant no-body was following close behind and put in danger of collecting him.

After a half an hour-long delay Q3 restarted.

Hamilton took provisional pole after the first runs, only to be bested by George Russell. It looked for a moment as if the Williams would actually take pole, only for Verstappen to cross the line and go fastest of all by three tenths.

More of the same can be expected for the race tomorrow in terms of weather, and we are certainly in for an interesting 44 laps!

International Women’s Day 2021 – Interview with Simona de Silvestro (Part 2)

Read 1st part here: bit.ly/2OdD9nN

As part of a series of interviews leading up to and following on from International Women’s Day, we spoke to Simona de Silvestro about her 2020 season and her plans for the coming year. This is the second part of that two-part interview.

Of particular note in 2021 is de Silvestro’s return to the Indy500, this time as part of an all-female team run by Beth Paretta and backed by Roger Penske.

“For her to choose me, and especially with Roger Penske behind it, for me it’s a big honour,” she said. “Hopefully we can fill as many positions as we can with talented females.

“The 500 is really special to my heart. It really made me as a racing driver and really put me on the map, so I’m pretty happy to come back and I really can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of an IndyCar. I’m stoked about it.”

When asked if the team had any long-term ambitions, de Silvestro said, “From the team’s perspective I think that’s the plan. I think they are going to plan to be full-time on the grid next year. For me personally I’m pretty lucky to be in the position that I’m in – I’m works driver for Porsche and them letting me to the 500 is pretty cool.

“But I think that’s the goal for Beth, to grow this team. I think that she has the right tools to do it, and she’s the right person for it as well, so I think it’s quite exciting and I’m excited to be part of it from the beginning, [knowing] that the first time this team turns a wheel at the 500 I’ll be [driving]’.

Photo credit: The Porsche Newsroom

De Silvestro said the team’s decision to integrate women into all aspects of the team and not just the driver line-up was “important”, and that she thinks “with the team really pushing this, hopefully we will get a lot of young talented women coming in, and hopefully the other teams will maybe steal them from us.

“If you look at my career insights, I’ve been doing racing for a long time and it feels like now these opportunities are coming in with the right people around us. We have really great guidance with Team Penske behind us, so for whoever is coming in I think it’s the right place at the right time and that’s what’s really exciting.”

Looking back on her career, de Silvestro says she was always just focused on putting in the best performance that she could, but that she has noticed some changes when it comes to women in motorsport.

“If I look at my career, when I was in IndyCar, I felt at the time that I was pretty quick. We had podiums, we were running really strongly against the other drivers, but I didn’t get that chance to be in a top team, and I think that’s really what’s changing. I’m the first female who has ever been signed by Porsche as a factory driver and that’s a huge achievement, and for them to trust that I can get the job done.

“If a female driver can win races, I think I can open a lot more minds. I think we need this little bit of a push to show that it can be done and hopefully in 10, 15 years it won’t even be an issue anymore, and whoever is the fastest driver or the best mechanic or engineer gets those positions in those big teams.

“I think the platform that Beth [Paretta] is putting together can showcase that, and I think that’s really special.”

As well as the Indy500 de Silvestro is continuing her involvement with Porsche in 2021, although she hasn’t yet revealed which category she will be involved in with them.

“The thing that I can say is that I’m a reserve and development driver for the Formula E programme which is pretty exciting,” she says, “and the rest will be communicated pretty soon hopefully!”

When asked what advice she would give to young women looking to get involved in motorsport, de Silvestro says, “Believe in yourself, and I think a big thing as well is communicating what you aspire to do, because at the end of the day… you always need people around you to help guide you.

“Sometimes you will get no’s, but most of the time you will find some people who believe in the same dream and they will support you to get there, and that’s really important.”

International Women’s Day 2021 – Interview with Simona de Silvestro (Part 1)

From Formula E and IndyCar to V8 Supercars and GT racing, Simona de Silvestro has had a wide and varied career. She is one of the most high-profile female racing drivers and, in 2020, competed in ADAC GT Masters for Porsche. She was kind enough to speak to us as part of our series of interviews leading up to and following International Women’s Day.

As mentioned, 2020 saw de Silvestro take part in ADAC GT Masters as a factory driver for Porsche. COVID-19 saw her build-up to the season look fairly different to normal.

“I had just come back from Australia actually because I finished my supercar racing over there,” de Silvestro says, “and then started my new venture with Porsche. It was really strange because we came away from Christmas and we had all this testing planned and then all of a sudden there was really nothing going on for quite a long time.

“From that point of view it was definitely quite strange because since I was16, everything goes on from March and it gets pretty busy. Having the time and the big break was really strange.”

When asked how COVID affected her training, she says, “It definitely [affected] the driving side. I didn’t get into a car for a long time and I had a pretty big break, but physically it was quite good.

“Luckily, where I am in Switzerland was pretty chilled in the sense that you were still able to go outside and hike and things like that. So I actually felt really prepared on the physical side because I could really just focus on that.”

Photo credit: The Porsche Newsroom

Despite the lack of track-time compared to previous years, de Silvestro still looks back on her 2020 season positively.

“It was good to learn a new car and I think a few races went quite well,” she says. “It was a bit of a mixed-up season but I’m pretty happy that this year it seems like things are starting to get a bit more normal.

“I think all of us got a bit used to it and are a bit more flexible. It’s good to see that everyone is adapting and that things are moving on and pushing on.”

One of the defining characteristics of the extended off-season at the start of 2020 was sim-racing. Drivers from any and all categories took part in virtual races to keep fans – and themselves – occupied. De Silvestro was one of those who got involved and she admits that although there were some positives to it, it isn’t something she would be quick to return to.

“I’m actually glad [sim-racing] is not happening anymore because it took a lot of commitment and it’s definitely not the same as driving a race car,” she says, “but it was still quite fun. We did the 24 Hours of Le Mans virtually with Porsche and that was a whole new experience. I never thought that I would go to my first Le Mans virtually!

“I think you just need a lot of patience for it and I don’t really have it, so the gaming part is not so much my thing. But everyone had a go at it and at the end I definitely became much better with computers and all that, so that’s a plus.”

In part two of our interview with de Silvestro she talks to us about her plans for 2021, including a return to the Indy500 as part of an all-female team.

Read 2nd part here: bit.ly/3bs5qQf

McLaren launches 2021 contender

McLaren have become the first F1 team to unveil their 2021 challenger in a launch held at their factory in Woking.

Externally, the MCL35M is quite similar to its 2020 predecessor, featuring the same orange and blue livery. The most notable difference is around the power unit with tighter bodywork and a narrower floor.

McLaren Media Centre

Speaking of the launch in a press release, CEO Zak Brown said, “After a challenging but rewarding 2020, we have firmly hit the reset button for this season as we continue on our path towards the front of the grid. This will be an even tougher season but we’re ready to meet the challenge. I want to pay tribute to Formula 1 and the FIA and our fellow teams in continuing to work hard for the benefit of our sport as we strive to bring exciting racing to fans around the world.”

McLaren’s driver line-up has partially changed for 2021. Lando Norris is staying on for a third season, while Daniel Ricciardo is now driving alongside him. He replaces Carlos Sainz, who has moved to Ferrari for this year.

Team Principal Andreas Seidl said, “Together, Lando and Daniel comprise one of the most competitive driver line-ups in the sport. With these two behind the wheel of the MCL35M, we know we’ll have a team that gives total commitment in the pursuit of on-track performance as we head into the 2021 season.”

After using a Renault power unit from 2018 to 2020, the 2021 McLaren features a Mercedes power unit. McLaren previously worked with Mercedes between 1995 and 2014, a partnership that yielded three drivers’ championships and one constructors’ championships.

McLaren Media Centre

Speaking of the partnership, Technical Director James Key said, “One of the key elements of the MCL35M design is the integration of the Mercedes-AMG power unit, which has taken a considerable effort from the team in Woking, as well as our colleagues at Mercedes. Despite our limited scope for installation in a homologated car, the team has done a fantastic job of optimising our design work.”

The MCL35M will run for the first time at Silverstone tomorrow as part of a filming day.

Honda to leave F1 at the end of 2021

Honda has announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season.

The Japanese manufacturer stated its desire to realise “carbon neutrality by 2050” as its reason for withdrawing.

“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies,” a statement read, “including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”

Honda only returned to F1 back in 2015 as a supplier for McLaren. This relationship – which lasted until 2017 – was fraught with unreliability and performance issues.

They have, however, since made improvements. They joined forces with Alpha Tauri (then named Toro Rosso) in 2018 and Red Bull in 2019 and have powered them to a combined five race victories, making them the only power unit supplier to win races with more than one team since the start of the hybrid era in 2014.

Their withdrawal, though, now leaves both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri in something of a limbo and with not much time to find a new supplier.

If they are unable to find an alternative, then Renault are bound by the regulations to supply them. This is because Renault currently supply the least number of teams, with Mercedes and Ferrari already at the maximum permissible number of three.

However, Red Bull’s split from Renault in 2018 was acrimonious to say the least and it would no doubt be with great reluctance that both parties rekindle that relationship.

Honda’s withdrawal might also have implications for Japanese F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda is a Honda-backed driver and there were rumours that he was set to be promoted to Alpha Tauri in the near future. However, with Honda now out of the picture that promotion is uncertain.

Red Bull have said that they “acknowledge” Honda’s decision, and have thanked the manufacturer for “its exceptional efforts as power unit supplier”.

Hamilton takes 91st pole position ahead of British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has taken the 91st pole position of his career ahead of tomorrow’s British Grand Prix, three tenths in front of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and over a second clear of third-placed Max Verstappen. It makes Mercedes the first team in F1’s history to take eight consecutive pole positions at the same circuit.

Hamilton suffered a spin at Luffield on his first run in Q3 but recovered to post two laps good enough for pole, the quickest being a new track record of a 1:24.303.

Charles Leclerc got to within a tenth of Verstappen in what is Ferrari’s first second-row start of the season. McLaren’s Lando Norris will line up a very respectable P5.

Lance Stroll only just made it through to Q3 and qualified P6 ahead of Sainz and the two Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon.

Having struggled all weekend, Vettel will line up only tenth for tomorrow’s race. What’s more, he will be starting the race on the soft tyres rather than the more favourable mediums.

Alex Albon failed to make it through to Q3 for the second race in a row and only managed P12 behind the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly. He suffered a hefty crash during free practice on Friday and was plagued by an electrical issue on Saturday morning.

Nico Hulkenberg, drafted in at the last possible moment to replace Sergio Perez after Perez tested positive for COVID-19, qualified P13.

Daniil Kvyat will start P14 ahead of George Russell, who made it through to Q2 for the third consecutive time in his Williams. He was, however, investigated for failing to slow for yellow flags after his team-mate span at Luffield in Q1.

Both Alfa Romeo cars failed to make it through to Q2 yet again, as did both Haas cars. Nicholas Latifi will line up P20 after his aforementioned spin.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Bottas wins chaotic Austrian Grand Prix as Norris claims debut podium

Valtteri Bottas has taken victory at a chaotic Austrian Grand Prix that saw just eleven cars reach the chequered flag, with Charles Leclerc in P2 and Lando Norris claiming his first ever podium in P3. Lewis Hamilton finished second on the road but dropped to fourth due to a five-second penalty he received for a collision with Alex Albon.

The race was sedate enough for the first ten laps. Bottas built up a 3.2-second gap to Verstappen, while Norris slipped back to P5 behind Albon and Hamilton. On lap 11, though, Verstappen lost power on the approach to Turn 3 and told his engineer that his car kept going into anti-stall. He limped back to the pits and retired on lap 13.

LAT Images

The next casualties were Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Ricciardo pulled into his garage with a cooling issue while Stroll, who had been struggling with a lack of power for several laps, retired due to a sensor issue.

Bottas had built up a six-second gap to Hamilton by lap 17, but on lap 21 Hamilton set a new fastest lap and began to reel his team-mate in. Four laps later, the gap was down to 3.8 seconds.

Lap 26 saw the first safety car of the race, brought out due to Kevin Magnussen suffering a brake failure at Turn 3. A flurry of pitstops ensued with every driver opting for the hard tyres except for Perez, who went with the mediums.

When the safety car period ended, Vettel lunged down the inside of Carlos Sainz going into Turn 3. He misjudged the attempt and span, dropping down the order to P15. While the incident was noted, no investigation was deemed necessary by the stewards.

On lap 42, Bottas and Hamilton were warned about sensor issues that had been detected in the gearbox of both cars and were told to stay off the kerbs. This warning was repeated several times and the gap between the two widened as Hamilton eased off slightly. Despite this apparent issue, the duo were still over ten seconds ahead of third-placed Alex Albon.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 51 saw the next retirements. George Russell ground to a halt from what had been a promising P12 and brought out the second safety car of the day. Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, ran off the track at the final corner and pulled into the pits with seemingly the same brake problem that curtailed team-mate Magnussen’s race.

Red Bull chose to bring in Albon for a change to the soft tyres, losing P3 to Perez in the process, while both Mercedes stayed out on hard tyres that had already completed 25 laps by that point.

The Safety Car came in on lap 54 briefly, after which Albon re-took third place from Perez after Perez locked up going into Turn 3.

At that exact moment, however, the safety car was brought out again, this time because Kimi Raikkonen’s front-left tyre had come clean off the chassis going into the final corner. It was initially unclear whether it was Albon or Perez who had been ahead at the moment the safety car came out, but it was decided a few laps later that Albon had been slightly ahead of Perez and thus the Red Bull driver slotted into P3.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 60 saw the safety car come back in and Albon set about chasing after Hamilton on his newer soft tyres. He saw an opportunity going into Turn 4 and went for it, only for the two to come to blows. Albon span and fell down the order to last place. The incident was duly noted and investigated, with Hamilton being given a five-second penalty.

Albon slowed a couple of laps later, saying over the radio that his engine was stopping. He wound up finishing P13, or last.

Between lap 64 and lap 66, Leclerc got past Norris and then Perez to find himself in P3 behind the Mercedes duo. It looked as if Perez was in with a shout of finishing on the podium due to Hamilton’s penalty, only for his hopes to be dashed when he was awarded a five-second penalty of his own for speeding in the pitlane and then being overtaken by Norris.

Lap 70 saw the last retirement of the race when one of Daniil Kvyat’s tyres disintegrated going into Turn 1. He managed to bring the car to a stop behind the barriers at a marshall post.

Bottas crossed the line to take the chequered flag at the end of lap 71 with Hamilton in P2, Leclerc in P3 and Norris in P4. Hamilton’s penalty, though, dropped him to P4 and promoted Leclerc to second and Norris to the final podium position.

[Featured image – LAT Images]

2020 Mercedes-AMG Petronas Preview

Mercedes head into the 2020 season aiming to win their seventh consecutive constructors’ championship, a feat never before achieved in F1’s history. Likewise, Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his seventh title, which would put him level with Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list.

Hamilton is also on the verge of potentially matching and even surpassing Schumacher’s record of race wins, which currently stands at 91. Hamilton goes into 2020 just seven behind that tally. Given he has won an average of ten races a year since 2014, that is a real possibility.

Bottas, too, will be hoping to further add to his tally of seven race wins, in what is his fourth year with the team.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes’ form in pre-season testing should give them the confidence that they are able to achieve their goals, even though there are potentially a few concerns and question marks to be addressed too.

They completed 903 laps across the six days of pre-season testing, the most of any team and 59 more than second-placed Ferrari. Bottas also posted the fastest lap of the entire test – a 1m 15.732 set on the third day of the first test.

Mercedes were also responsible for potentially the biggest headline to come out of pre-season testing when they debuted their new dual-axis steering system, known as DAS. It was noticeably used more in the first week of testing than the second, and it will be interesting come Australia to see in which situation it is used more – long runs or qualifying runs.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Things were not all good for the Silver Arrows, though.

Hamilton ground to a halt with an oil pressure problem on the second day of the second test, an issue that meant he completed just 14 laps on that particular day. Bottas also suffered an electrical issue, in the first week.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes’ customer team Williams had four power unit problems in just six days of testing, and there are a few worries about the reliability of Mercedes’ engine.

If those problems can be resolved, and considering the stability of the regulations for this year, Mercedes should be in a prime position to begin to realise those dreams of a seventh consecutive championship.

With the Australian Grand Prix now less than a week away, we don’t have long to wait to find out if that is true.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

International Women’s Day 2020: Interview with Juju Noda

   Juju Noda has a lot of pressure riding on her young shoulders.

The Japanese star – who turned 14 last month – has received a lot of international attention over the past few years as a result of driving various single-seaters in her home country despite her young age.

By the age of nine she had already tested F4 cars, holds the F4 lap record at the Okayama International Circuit, drove a Formula 3 car at the age of 12, and competed in a Japanese category called Formula U17, which uses F3-spec cars, when she was 13. Bear in mind, Max Verstappen was 16 when he first drove an open-wheel car.

Unable to progress any further in Japan until she is 16 due to minimum age restrictions, Noda has moved to Europe for the 2020 season, where she will be competing in Danish F4, and was kind enough to speak to us for International Women’s Day here at The Pit Crew Online.

Jenny Rowan: How would you reflect on your 2019 season?

Juju Noda: It was a very good season. I managed to drive F3 hard and I even managed to break lap the lap record of F3N Class (Dallara F312 with Volkswagen Cox engine) at Okayama International Circuit. I also won all four races of the season.

JR: There has been a lot of hype surrounding you and your career – how do you feel about the attention you’ve been getting and how do you deal with it?

JN: I think it is something necessary if you want to be competitive and professional. If you cannot deal with it, that means you are not good enough. To be honest, sometimes it is a bit hard to handle but I always do my best.

JR: Do you see your age as an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to competing against drivers who are potentially several years older than you?

JN: In the future it will be an advantage but right now it is not. Instead, there are many limitations regarding what to drive and where to drive and it is a bit inconvenient.

JR: Have you already tested the car you’ll be driving in Danish F4 and, if so, how did it feel?

JN: Yes, I drove it in Spain in January and February. The car is quite heavy and not very forgiving but I must get along with it if we want to be competitive. I feel like I want to be friends with it and get along well!

JR: What ambitions do you have for the 2020 season?

JN: I want to learn and enjoy the season as much as possible. Hopefully towards the second half of the season I can be competitive. But I don’t want to be impatient.

JR: What are your ambitions more widely regarding your career?

JN: I want to be one of the best drivers in the world and reach places like Formula 1, Formula E, Le Mans, IndyCar or NASCAR. I will do my best to succeed!

Featured image courtesy of  Sergi Garcia”

Bottas quickest on final day of pre-season testing

Valtteri Bottas finished top of the timesheets on the final day of pre-season testing, setting the second fastest lap time of the entire winter.

His best time of a 1m 16.196, set on the C5 tyre, put him only +0.073 ahead of Max Verstappen. Verstappen also set his fastest time on the C5 tyres, but his previous best lap – which was set on the medium C3 tyres – still put him a very respectable +0.188 behind Bottas.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was only +0.007 behind Verstappen, with Charles Leclerc, who completed the most laps of anyone with 177, in fourth.

Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top five with 90 laps to his name, aiming to bounce back after his engine failure yesterday confined him to the garage for a significant chunk of time.

Esteban Ocon finished in sixth ahead of four drivers who each completed over 140 laps each: Sergio Perez (153 laps), Carlos Sainz (159 laps), George Russell (143 laps) and Daniil Kvyat (157 laps).

Romain Grosjean in eleventh was the last driver whose fastest lap fell within a second of Bottas’ time, with Kimi Raikkonen behind in twelfth.

Kevin Magnussen suffered a clutch-related issue that saw him stuck in his garage for a few hours. The problem was eventually rectified and he emerged on track for the final thirty minutes of running. He completed just 25 laps.

Alex Albon rounded out the timesheets, +1.607 away from Bottas and with 59 laps to his name.

The Australian Grand Prix is next on the agenda for the teams with the problem of the coronavirus hanging over everybody’s heads. It is scheduled to take place between the 13th and 15th of March.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]