Lando Norris: “I’m not going to get carried away” with Q3 performance

McLaren rookie Lando Norris says he isn’t ‘going to get carried away’ with himself and with the performance of the car, despite a Q3 appearance on his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix.

Norris qualified P8 with a time of 1:22.304, putting him ahead of the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and home-favourite Daniel Ricciardo. It is McLaren’s first Q3 appearance since the Monaco Grand Prix of last year.

Speaking of his performance, Norris said, “I loved it but I’m not going to get carried away! I was very nervous at the start of the session with it being my first-ever F1 quali and never having been here before. But I managed to put the laps together today – the team were fantastic.

“Our aim was to get into Q2 but it turned out to be even better, and it’s a great confidence boost for everyone. It’s going to be a long, tough race and that’s what I must concentrate on now.”

Norris’ team-mate Carlos Sainz, by comparison, will start from P18, having been forced to back off when he encountered a puncture-riddled Robert Kubica in Q1.

 

[Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren]

Hamilton steals the show in Albert Park qualifying

Formula One is back with a bang, and Albert Park’s two days of running have culminated in a scattergun grid, topped by Lewis Hamilton.image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports.

The five time World Champion picked up his stellar form from 2018’s end, landing his sixth consecutive pole in Melbourne and, surprisingly, scorching the tipped favourites Ferrari on one lap pace.

The session started with a twist – 1st to 18th were separated by just a second, and when Red Bull newbie Pierre Gasly didn’t show in the final minutes, he surfed down the order to 17th.

 Lance Stroll joined him in the Q1 dropzone, as did an unlucky Carlos Sainz, who found his final sector to be compromised by a limping Robert Kubica who had moments ago brushed the wall and picked up a puncture. Kubica and his teammate George Russell endured a nightmare, their Williams over a second away from the nearest car.

 Q2 saw many new, and returning, faces still in the hunt. Daniil Kvyat’s impressive return to the frontline ultimately earned him 15th place, while his teammate Alexander Albon placed his Toro Rosso a more than respectable 13th on his first qualifying outing.

 The home boy, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, didn’t have the session he had hoped for: general consensus was that the Renault is the 4th quickest package, but neither he nor Nico Hulkenberg were able to extract it and line up 11th and 12th, the German getting first blood.

The two extremes of the F1 grid, 19 year old Lando Norris and 39 year old Kimi Raikkonen both stole the show in the midfield, to earn a McLaren and Sauber representation in Q3.

Norris ended the final session in eighth place, marking an admirable U-turn from the dismal form McLaren had the season prior, while Raikkonen achieved a solid 9th. Sergio Perez brought up the rear, while once again the Haas package looks strong around Albert Park, with Romain Grosjean 6th and Kevin Magnussen 7th.

 But it was Hamilton who ultimately stole the show – while Valtteri Bottas had the initial time to beat, he came back with a splendid lap on the edge that showed while the Mercedes might be a nervy car to drive, the pace is there in abundance.

Bottas lines up second on the grid, with Sebastian Vettel behind in 3rd and an opportunistic Max Verstappen completing the second row, ahead of Charles Leclerc.

Charlie Whiting: The man behind the button

Today, we woke up to the tragic news of the passing of FIA race director Charlie Whiting, aged 66. The sudden nature of his death has left those that know him shocked to the core, as well as those who saw him on F1’s world coverage. We at the Pit Crew Online would like to honour the legacy and nature of a man who kept F1 held together for over 30 years.

If there’s one word to be uttered about Charlie, is that oft-used one, ‘unique’ – but in this case, it’s a fitting description rather than a generic throwaway comment. He was a man both of principle and forgiveness, a finger that could wag if the need arose, but an arm around the shoulder if the moment required.

To say Charlie was well respected by the FIA, teams, staff and drivers is an understatement. He was as inseparable from the F1 circus as they were, and in some cases even more so. Charlie was able to command respect without seeking it. His diligence, humility and wise nature lent itself to the role of race director.

But he was also the glue that held races and rivalries together, a powerful arm inbetween sides but with a distinct human heart regulating his parity. He did it so well – the videoed briefings of the 2017 season in particular highlighted this. He was the air conditioner cooling the emotions of 20 men of intense flame. Charlie could articulate the law of the rulebook in such a way, that it never felt like a lecture but, rather, helpful advice.

Charlie also gained the respect of his peers with his humble rise to the role of race director. He would peek over fences, watching whatever motor races he could attend back in the 1960s, his unrequited admiration for racing driving his ambitions. By the 1970s, he was within the F1 paddock, working within the Hesketh and Brabham teams.

This is key to the makeup of Charlie’s apt way of handling things – he had the perspective not just of a director, but of a team staff member and an avid fan. Charlie never lost that sense of belonging of his childhood gaze upon the fastest machines, and his consideration for what the fans want to see coincided with his experience in a team infrastructure, finding a balance so many others were, and still are, unable to do to such an extent.

What we ought to remember Charlie as most, however, is a loving, attentive and passionate man who was able to enjoy the lighter side of his role in racing, and his life in general. Mark J. McArdle, the man behind the infamous Fake Charlie Whiting Twitter account, was taken to Charlie’s heart, and the two grew an incredibly close connection given Charlie’s commitments. He was always able to find the time, both within racing and outside of it.

And so we must say this: thank you Charlie. Thank you to the man who made sure red flag sessions were done by the books. Thank you to the man who could keep the drivers and teams calm before, and after, battle. Thank you to the man who kept the F1 circus rolling, for all those decades. Thank you to the man who could not be faulted for his dedication. And finally, thank you to the man behind the button – the credit to not just sport, but all those who knew him.

Rest in peace Charlie Whiting.

 

 

[Featured image – Wikimedia Commons]

Renault driver line-up ‘perhaps the strongest on the grid’ according to Abiteboul

Renault’s managing director Cyril Abiteboul has said he believes the team’s 2019 line-up of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo to be ‘perhaps the strongest on the grid’.

Ricciardo will be making his Renault race debut at this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix alongside Hulkenberg, who starts his third year with the team, and Abiteboul is optimistic about what the pairing can deliver.

“The first race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, is a high point of the season,” Abiteboul said, “but even more so this year as Daniel Ricciardo makes his race debut for the team. We head there united and with strong determination.

“We have a new car that has shown potential in Barcelona. The power unit has made progress and or driver line-up of Daniel and Nico is perhaps the strongest on the grid. We’re looking forward to seeing them showcasing their experience and talent on track. There is a lot of expectation for the first race, especially with Daniel’s debut for the team coming at his home Grand Prix.”

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS19.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Friday 1st March 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

Ricciardo announced his shock move from Red Bull – where he had been since 2014 and with whom he had won seven Grand Prix – at the Belgian Grand Prix of last year. The Australian, too, is positive about the prospect of racing for his new team, even if it is unlikely they will be at the same performance level as Red Bull immediately.

“My first impressions, on a whole, have been positive,” Ricciardo said, “and we’ll continue to learn more throughout these early races. It’s going to take some time to get used to everything, but that’s not unexpected.

“We’re realistic in our approach and we have work to do. We have a decent platform to build on now and we always strive for better. We’ve found some things during testing which we’ll dissect and see what we want to take forward, but our bigger steps will come during the next few months.”

 

[Featured image – Renault Sport F1 Team]

The fastest lap frenzy: what impact will it have?

Formula One’s hybrid era is known for a lot of things: the vanquishing of the V8 banshee scream, abundant engine penalties and, most importantly, the ever-widening chasm between the series’ Goliaths and Davids.

The Davids are now so hamstrung that some previously balanced stats now read as though they were handed to us as a death note. Since Williams’ brief giant-killing stage subsided in 2016, only five podiums have featured a non-top three driver – Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez (twice) in 2016, Lance Stroll in 2017 and Perez again last season.

Wins? You have to reach as far back as the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, when Kimi Raikkonen prevailed with Lotus-Renault. Even then, Lotus was arguably only slower than the Red Bull and Mercedes, making it a loose inclusion.

Teams now race in an era where clinging to within a second of sixth is the podium result itself, and the elite dangle their cash reserves in front of prospective B-teams like a carrot laced with the poison of compliance.

Liberty Media understands this is an issue. Not enough to actually re-shape F1’s tainted foundations, but enough to feel a cosy rug can hide the living room mess for the time being. Their latest idea to give a helping hand to the midfield is a point for fastest lap.

Photo by Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

If passed, the rule can only be described as compromised and pretty exploitable.The picture that sprung to mind was of a Williams or a Toro Rosso giving up a futile chase for 16th and deciding, “to hell with it, softest tyres and a low fuel load – this point is ours”.

In an extreme case, you’d get a real two-tier series. The ones that are able to keep their noses in the standard ‘overtake to get points’ race do as planned, while the no-hopers battle it out among themselves to nab that extra point.

As a result of the alarms that started blaring in the heads of the rule-makers, it was decided that it would take a top ten finish to secure the point for fastest lap. But what might sound like an intriguing plan likely won’t pan out as hoped.

Only four races since the turn of the hybrid era have had a non-top three car take fastest lap within the top ten.  Even then, only three are truly valid—Bottas’ fastest lap in Russia 2014 was in, what was at that stage of the season, arguably the second fastest car. Perez’s in Austria 2014, Daniil Kvyat’s in Spain 2016 and Fernando Alonso’s at Britain 2017 are the only fair examples. Would they have affected their championship standings? No. The last time a fastest lap would’ve changed the midfield championship order was in 2009, when Adrian Sutil’s Italian GP fastest lap would have placed him ahead of 16th place Sebastien Buemi.

ravas51 / Wikimedia Commons

History suggests points for fastest lap are a blue moon level of useful for the midfield drivers. But let’s talk the other extreme—title fights. Of the seven showdowns decided by a solitary point or less, the one that had the potential to decide the title by way of a point for fastest lap was 2008.

Felipe Massa nailed the all-important lap of laps in the title-decider, which would have put him and Lewis Hamilton equal on points—and with six wins to Hamilton’s five, Massa would have been crowned champion on countback. So let’s take a trip through time and ask ourselves: would it have enhanced the fight?

Fans hold Brazil 2008 as one of the finest races of all time. No lap has ever threatened to break rib cages and set hearts free from the body than that final lap at Interlagos, as Hamilton chased the fifth place he needed to deny Massa the title. But if fastest lap points were on offer, they would have nullified that excitement—Massa set his fastest lap early in the race, and as the last laps were rained out there was no chance of that changing. Massa and Hamilton were fighting just to keep their chariots on the island, rather than go purple on the timing screens.

Ferrari Media

So in no case in history have we had a true fight for the title where the fastest lap rule can be used to enhance the show. We’ve also seen that for ten years now, no midfield runner has benefitted from a fastest lap in meaningful fashion. All we’re likely to be left with is low hanging fruit for sixth place, the usual 40 seconds ahead of the midfield pack.

While Liberty’s attempt to spice things up is admirable, the gatekeeping only serves to give free reign to whatever Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull finds itself in the barren wasteland between the podium fight and the midfield. History spells out irrelevance at best for this latest experiment, insult-to-injury annoyance at worst. Oh how I want it to succeed, but the results of the past only suggests it’s bound for the future’s scrap heap, along with the other well-meant distractions from F1’s real issues.

F1: Drive to Survive available on Netflix

Today Netflix launched their long-awaited F1 documentary series. In ten episodes of around thirty minutes each, this series offers a unique view of the world of Formula One. Whether you’re a huge F1 fan or new to this sport, this documentary captures all drama involved in the race to the chequered flag.

Following drivers and team principals, every episodes focuses on different subjects. So in one episode Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso are the main players, whilst Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen and Gunther Steiner shine in another.

Daniel Ricciardo in Aston Martin RedBull Racing garage at the 2018 Mexico Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the main criticisms directed towards the show was the absence of Ferrari and Mercedes. They didn’t allow Netflix to follow them throughout the season as they were in a heated fight for the championship, and all focus should be on that. After watching the series it is clear they are missing, but it doesn’t really have a big impact on the documentary as a whole as all the other teams make up for that. Red Bull, Renault, Haas and all the others offered Netflix a huge amount of freedom to record whatever they saw fit, which can be seen quite easily. Steiner calling Gene Haas after their Australian GP drama is one of those examples.

The fact that this series is supposed to reach not only F1 fans but also people who don’t watch F1 regularly, makes for a bit of a problem. On the one hand, the series goes further than what F1 fans normally get to see on their TV – the pit crews, principals and family of drivers are all there to add a whole new perspective. On the other hand, the voice-over sometimes is a bit too dramatic and every little aspect of F1 gets explained, which slows down the tempo of the series.

In the end, it still offers unique insights in the life of the drivers, exclusive behind-the-scenes drama and that all uncensored. From the makers of Senna, a highly praised documentary movie following the life of Ayrton Senna, Formula 1: Drive to Survive is a must see for all F1 fans. All ten episodes are available to watch on Netflix right now.

Will it be the end for Williams Racing?

When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.

The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.

It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: George Russell, Williams FW42 during the Barcelona February testing II at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 26, 2019 in Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.

Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.

Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.

Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.

Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.

Featured image courtesy of  Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

F1 Testing 2019 Review: Ferrari Favourites?

The 2019 Formula One season is just one week away. Eleven days, and we’ll see who wins the opening race. The excitement of a new season already begins at the winter tests at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. How did the teams perform at testing? Who impressed, who need to improve? Take a look at the interactive testing review beneath to find out.

(If the embed code isn’t here when submitting for review, here it is: <iframe src=”https://player.slices.co/stories/-L_JUwAbj0-6MvRdxd3E” frameborder=”0″ width=”100%” height=”600″ allowfullscreen></iframe>   If it’s there, just delete this message of course)

 

 

 

 

Fernando Alonso named as McLaren Racing ambassador

McLaren have announced the continuation of their relationship with double world champion Fernando Alonso, naming the Spaniard as a McLaren Racing ambassador.

They also revealed that Alonso will drive alongside Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in selected tests over the course of the 2019 season to aid in the development of this year’s car, and also of the 2020 design.

“Becoming a McLaren ambassador is a true honour,” Alonso said. “It is a special team, and despite the challenges we have endured recently, it remains so. I said before I stopped racing in Formula 1 last year that I see myself with McLaren for a long time to come, so I am delighted at this new role and the ability to stay closely involved with the team I feel is my spiritual home.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, in the pit lane | LAT/McLaren

Speaking of the announcement, McLaren Chief Executive Zak Brown said, “For any race team, having someone of Fernando’s class on hand to provide support through his experience is of huge value. His insights and perspective will be welcomed by both our drivers and engineers alike, while his stature and character remain highly appealing to our partners and fans.”

Alonso retired from F1 at the end of last year with two titles and 32 race wins to his name, four of which came during his first stint at McLaren in 2007. He rejoined the team in 2015, where an underwhelming Honda power unit put a stop to any hopes of adding to his tally.

As part of his pursuit of motorsport’s Triple Crown, Alonso will make his second Indy 500 appearance later this year, having first competed at the event with McLaren in 2017.

“We have the Indianapolis 500 in May of course, which I am looking forward to immensely,” Alonso said, “but this is just the beginning of many things we can do together. I am particularly passionate about nurturing young talent, whether that’s with my own team or helping the new generation of Formula 1 drivers at McLaren unlock their true potential. This is important to both the team and myself, so will be an especially rewarding part of my role.”

 

[Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren]

Problem-free start to second test “a huge relief” for Williams

Williams’ George Russell has described the first day of the second pre-season test as “a huge relief” for himself and for the team, completing all the planned running with no issues.

“It was a good day,” Russell said. “Our plan was to get as many laps on the board, make sure we had no issues and that’s exactly what we did. We have learnt so much about the car on lower fuel and higher fuel which gives us a good indication moving forward into the next few days.

“All in all, it was a huge relief to have a day like today and we completed our test plan as intended.”

Russell posted the ninth fastest time of the day using the C5 tyre – the softest compound available – and also completed 119 laps, the third most of the day.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 26th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

It comes after a less-than ideal first test for Williams, which saw delays with the production of parts for the car force the Grove-based team to miss the first two days of running.

Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe added, “It was a good day of testing with George driving the car. We completed 119 laps without any significant reliability issues, so we achieved the entire programme that we had planned from the start of the day.

“Well done to the team, a great job by everybody to get a car that can do the laps without incident to make a solid start to the second test.”

 

[Featured image – Williams F1]

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