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]

MotoGP Valencia Test, Part 1: Ducati, Yamaha and Honda

Tuesday saw the beginning of the 2019 MotoGP season, as preseason testing started for the premier class in Valencia, following the conclusion of the 2018 World Championship on Sunday.

There was plenty to see: the Ducati GP19 had been highly praised ahead of the test; Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda) would get his first taste of the Honda RC213V; Yamaha had two new engine specs to try in their search for tyre life; Franco Morbidelli (SIC Racing Team ) took to the Yamaha M1 for the first time; Danilo Petrucci moved to factory Ducati; Johann Zarco moved to KTM, as did Tech 3; and there were four rookies getting the chance to try out MotoGP machinery for the first time.

However, things did not go the way the teams would have liked. The first part of the morning was unusable for them because of overnight rain. Zarco was the only rider to go out before the track dried, but only for a couple of laps.

Eventually, the track dried and the riders were able to get their 2019 campaigns underway.  Starting with Ducati, they did not manage to get much of anything done on the first day. Andrea Dovizioso spent the time he had making a base setting with the GP18, since he did not have the opportunity to run in the dry in the weekend. This was the same for everyone, of course, but the time Dovizioso spent on the 2018 bike meant he did not get to try the GP19 until Tuesday. It was the same situation on the other side of the garage, as Danilo Petrucci was acclimatising to his new box, and new team. That said, when they got around to the new bike, Dovizioso was enthused by what his team had discovered, and Petrucci essentially said the GP19 was perfect. Nonetheless, the next test in Jerez will be important for the factory Ducati team to confirm what they found in Valencia, and to determine their direction for the winter before Sepang.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) was also highly impressed with the first version of the GP19, saying he couldn’t understand how it was derived from the GP17 he has ridden in the 2018 season. Miller noted that the biggest thing with the new bike compared to the 2017 Desmosedici was the ease with which the 2019 bike changes direction. They have only had one day on the GP19 so far, but already the three factory Ducati riders look strong for the new season.

 

Valentino Rossi during Testing in Valencia. Photo curtesy of Movistar Yamaha Factory Racing

 

The factory Yamaha squad’s entire focus over the course of the test was on the two new engine specs they took with them. On Monday, the focus was on an engine which they had already tried at Aragon. Both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales were happy with the engine, especially Vinales who was particularly enthusiastic about the engine braking. Rossi reflected Vinales’ opinions, but was more realistic in insisting that there is still work for Yamaha to do before they’ll be in a position to fight consistently. A newer engine spec on the second day seemed indifferent to the one tried on Monday. Vinales could not decide which he preferred, whilst Rossi didn’t seem too happy with either of them. Whilst both of these engines helped in the engine braking, they were still not helping with the acceleration or the tyre life either. However, both riders were happy with the direction after a 2018 season plagued with technical issues.

Yamaha also had Jonas Folger out for his first MotoGP experience since September 2017. Whilst the German’s work in these two days was perhaps not so important, he could be critical for Yamaha come the middle of 2019.

 

Marc Marquez during the Valencia Test. Photo curtesy of Repsol Honda Team.

 

Honda face a difficult winter, and Valencia was the beginning of that. Marc Marquez is injured, as is Jorge Lorenzo (who is new to the bikes) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who may still be unfit come the Sepang tests in 2019. Stefan Bradl was on the LCR Honda on Tuesday, but was just testing different suspension, whilst Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) got his hands on 2018 HRC machinery, and was somewhat taken aback by the progression made from 2017 to 2018. Marquez was limited in his track time, due to that injured left shoulder, but had three bikes to test. One was the 2018 spec, there for comparison, and then he had two black bikes, which were 2019 prototypes. Marquez couldn’t say much of his testing, but it seemed as though at least one new engine spec was there for him to try. There was also a new chassis for Marquez to try, but because of limited track time, he and Honda will need to use the Jerez test next week to confirm their feelings from Valencia.

 

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Is Lando Norris a future Formula One star?

Until recently, Lando Norris was a name relatively unknown outside of junior categories. This is all set to change.

The seventeen year old is no stranger to success. Bursting onto the scene in 2014, he finished a respectable third in the Ginetta Junior Championship, taking four wins from twenty races. Norris had his first taste of success the following year at the 2015 MSA Formula Championship, where he took the title by sheer consistency. Last year, he enjoyed a similar run of success, dominating the 2016 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship as a rookie. It was a strong showing for Norris and a clear indication of his potential as he took six poles and five wins from seven rounds. He commanded the 2016 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Championship, taking an impressive ten poles and six wins. Norris also won the 2016 Toyota Racing series in a domineering fashion, his closest rival a massive 135 points away.

Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT Images

His success last year caught the eye of one of Formula One’s most successful manufacturers. In February 2017, McLaren announced that Norris was joining it’s Young Driver Programme in wake of Stoffel Vandoorne’s graduation into the racing seat. It seemed like a good match. McLaren seemed the perfect choice to nurture Norris’s career through junior categories, having done so with Lewis Hamilton and Stoffel Vandoorne to great success.

Norris moved into the Formula 3 European Championship with Carlin in 2017. He faced tough competition from the might of Prema, the defending champions and Maximilian Günther, the runner up to Lance Stroll in 2016. Norris’s career in Formula Three got off to a strong start. He secured pole and the win in the opening race at Silverstone. However, in the second race, his Achilles heel became evident. He was slow off the start, hindered by the damp track and lost positions, finishing ninth. Norris’s bad luck with starts continued in the third race of the round and he was unable to challenge Günther and Callum Ilott ahead.

In Monza, however, he returned to his winning ways, scooping a win and two second place finishes in the three rounds. In Pau, Norris continued to look strong, taking two pole positions. However, he was unable to convert these into race wins. In the second race, he was jumped at the start by Günther and in the third race, he led comfortably, his poor start jinx was seemingly behind him until a front-suspension failure pitched him into the barriers.Again, in Hungary, Norris was plagued by bad starts. He lost positions in the races and only scored one podium finish. At the Norisring, Norris showcased his hunger to win by starting in a lowly fourth and hunting down his rivals to secure his third win in the championship.

Norris seemed unbeatable at Spa. He snatched two pole positions, taking a light to flag victory in the first race. His demons of a bad start seemed forgotten, even when he came under pressure from Ilott. The second race, however, saw the youngster swamped by his competitors, eventually picking up suspension and bodywork damage that ruled him out of the race. He seemed to put that disappointment behind him in the third race of the round. Starting in fourth, Norris surged through his rivals with ease, seemingly motivated by his failure in race two. He showcased some excellent overtaking manoeuvres, securing his fifth win of the season. Norris’s performance in Monza showed what he was capable of, that he could produce results and he wasn’t afraid of reaching the top.

Norris tested for McLaren in Hungary earlier this week, collecting the prize for winning the 2016 McLaren Autosport BRDC award. In previous years, familiar names such as Jenson Button and Paul di Resta have won the award, taking place in testing in older machinery. Interestingly, Norris was able to drive the most current car, showing how much faith McLaren already had in the teenager. He did not disappoint either. Norris completed a sensational run in which he closely challenged the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen for the top spot. Clocking 91 laps, Norris treated Formula One to a mastershow as he produced a fantastic lap of 1.17.385, just 0.271 seconds off the pace of Vettel’s Ferrari. Norris also proved invaluable to the McLaren team as he gathered valuable aero data, long-run pace and set up adjustments. Éric Boullier in particular, was singing his praises at the end of the test. Norris showed that he could get to grips with the mechanics of a Formula One car and that he was a force to be reckoned with.

So could we see Norris in Formula One anytime soon? Norris certainly has the potential to be a contender for the McLaren seat in a few years time. Fernando Alonso’s contract is due to expire at the end of this season and seeing Norris’s raw pace and ease with the controls of the McLaren could certainly make him a strong contender to stand alongside Vandoorne. His strength in Formula Three, a series that has produced many F1 drivers in recent years, coupled with his exceptional testing certainly have made McLaren take notice. They seem to be the perfect fit for Norris, being a team with an extensive driver’s academy who have moulded Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen into F1 drivers, both of whom still compete in the Championship today.

Norris currently lies in second position in the Formula Three Championship. The strong showings in Formula Three show that Norris has something special. He is performing well in the face of tough competition. Norris is still inconsistent at times, particularly in his race starts but he seems to be overcoming his demons. And as Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi show, drivers don’t often come into Formula One polished. If Lando Norris does manage to make it into Formula One, he is likely he will be the same to begin with. Fortunately, for Norris, McLaren are a team that are patient and allows their junior drivers to develop at their own pace. This is clear from Vandoorne’s recent performances, blossoming after a shaky start at the wheel of the McLaren.

Credit: Mark Sutton/LAT Images

It seems unlikely however, that with Alonso’s departure, that Norris would be filling the vacant seat next year. Although, Norris could potentially acquire enough points for a 2017 FIA Super Licence next season and he would be eligible later this year when he turns 18, McLaren may not want to take on another rookie driver so soon after working to develop Vandoorne’s ability. McLaren may desire a bigger name and a more experienced driver to work alongside the team for the 2018 season, one that could potentially bring in more sponsorship deals. They may bring Jenson Button back for a season and send Norris to Formula Two or another series, in a situation similar to Vandoorne’s, to hone the teenager’s race craft and prepare him for Formula One. His status also depends on how successful the Formula Three season is for him. He needs to showcase his talents and prove to McLaren that he is a winner in all aspects and worthy of taking Alonso’s position away. His status as a British driver, and one that could follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hamilton could certainly improve his prospects of driving for McLaren in later years. Norris is capable of producing results when qualifying doesn’t go well for him and he is experienced at carving his way through the field to reach the top step. It’s a hunger that undoubtedly, would be welcomed in Formula One.

It still remains to be seen what will happen next year at McLaren. It is dependent on Norris’s results and whether McLaren are ready to take a chance on a driver from Formula Three, as Toro Rosso and Williams did before them. Norris has proved so far that he is a diamond in the rough. He can produce sensational results both in his own series and in F1 testing, and he has the drive and hunger to succeed. The way he conducted himself within the test shows clear maturity and work ethic, factors that are critical to success in Formula One. There are elements of his driving that could be improved, but these can be honed as he continues to develop in his career. If McLaren are willing to shape him into the driver they need, he could well be a commanding force in years to come.

All images courtesy of McLaren.