Tagged in: Formula One

Max Verstappen has unfinished business at Baku’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen has unfinished business to take care of at this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix while also looking to reassert himself as Red Bull’s lead driver.

The Dutchman was heading for triumph at the Baku street track last year when a tire exploded and pitched him into the barrier on the high speed run along the city’s Caspian Sea waterfront.

Mexican teammate Sergio Perez took the gain instead and returns triumphant and as a potential title contender after his victory two weeks ago in Monaco.

Verstappen will be determined to stop him becoming the first driver to win twice in Baku.

“I’m looking forward to returning to Baku, we have some unfinished business there after last year,” said the 24-year-old who has a nine point lead over Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc with Perez a further six behind.

“Last year was unlucky, simple as that,” he said.

“It was a very painful one, but that happens. That’s racing… it’s different cars, different tyres (this time) and we go again.”

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Perez, who was also on the podium in Baku twice while racing for Force India, is in the form of his life and with a new two-year contract with Red Bull freshly signed.

The 6km long Baku street track, a mix of flat-out blasts and tight corners lined by unforgiving barriers, is famed for unpredictable races and has produced five different winners in five years on the calendar.

Leclerc is familiar with the track’s pitfalls, having crashed while on course for pole position in 2019.

The Monegasque and Ferrari, chasing a first title since 2008, will want the weekend to go perfectly after potential wins slipped through their fingers in Monaco and Spain.

Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton will also be keen to make amends after failing to capitalize on Verstappen’s retirement last year when he went from second to 15th in Baku, having accidentally triggered a ‘brake magic’ function on his steering wheel.

His Mercedes team are the most successful in Baku, with three victories. A fourth looks a distant prospect unless the track throws up another surprise.

“Baku often produces some fun and crazy track action, and the layout generates good racing opportunities,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.

“So, let’s see if it lives up to its reputation this weekend.”

The possibility of podium appearance by a midfield team is always there. Apart from Perez’s Force India exploits, Sebastian Vettel was second last year for Aston Martin with Pierre Gasly third for AlphaTauri.

Lance Stroll’s first top-three result came in Baku with Williams in 2017.

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Max Verstappen wins wild Spanish Grand Prix as Ferrari’s race implodes

Max Verstappen won an action-packed Spanish Grand Prix in which his championship rival Charles Leclerc retired, Red Bull employed team orders to ease Verstappen’s path to victory and George Russell secured his second podium of the season for Mercedes.

Verstappen recovered from a mistake on lap nine — which saw him run through the gravel at Turn 4 and lose position to Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez — and secured the victory on lap 49 when Perez was ordered to move over and let Verstappen pass for the lead.

The controversial decision from the pit wall was labelled “very unfair” by Perez over the team radio, but he still obeyed the order when his teammate appeared in his mirrors and lined up a pass.

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Verstappen’s conquest means he holds a six point lead over Leclerc heading to the Monaco Grand Prix after the Ferrari driver was forced to retire from a comfortable race lead on lap 27 with a power unit issue.

Verstappen ended the race 17 seconds clear of Perez once the second Red Bull driver made an additional pit stop to secure the fastest lap towards the end of the race.

Russell finished third, a further 10 seconds behind Perez and one place ahead of Carlos Sainz, who recovered to fourth after a mistake at Turn 4 on lap seven dropped him from fifth place to 11th.

Lewis Hamilton took a remarkable fifth place finish after a collision on the first lap with Kevin Magnussen punctured his front left tyre and dropped him to the back of the field. Hamilton initially recovered to fourth place, but lost a place back to Sainz after his Mercedes team told him to back off in fear of the car overheating and failing to make the finish.

Valtteri Bottas took sixth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris, who battled flu-like symptoms in 35 degrees Celsius heat to finish eighth.

Fernando Alonso crossed the line a lap down in ninth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who took the final point on offer in 10th.

Team orders are allowed in Formula One, but are rarely used so early in a season when both drivers are still in contention for a title and both fighting for a win. However, with Ferrari appearing to have the fastest car all weekend, Red Bull clearly wanted to capitalise on Leclerc’s power unit failure and bank maximum points with minimum risk.

The next round of the championship will take place in Leclerc’s home country of Monaco next weekend.

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Australian Grand Prix organizers unveil track changes

Australian Grand Prix organizers will hope the days of single-lane racing at Albert Park are over as they unveil long-awaited alterations to Melbourne’s lakeside circuit this week.

Albert Park has hosted Formula One’s Australian stop since the state government snatched it from Adelaide some 25 years ago, turning public roads and car parks into a race track for a few weeks every year.

Until this year, the circuit had stuck resolutely to the layout of the first race in 1996 despite the vast evolution of the cars.

Though one of the more visually pleasing tracks on the calendar, it drew criticism for lacking passing opportunities, gripes that only grew in volume as the cars sped up.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas won in 2019 for Mercedes — the last edition of the race before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic — having led from the first turn, a fairly typical outcome in Melbourne.

The upgrade may reduce the chances of similar processions.

It has seen the bumpy street circuit resurfaced and shortened by 28 metres, with seven corners modified and two turns taken out altogether, bringing the total down to 14.

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One of the more significant variations is the widening of turn one — the scene of some memorable crashes as cars jostled for position in a narrow funnel after taking off from the grid. The corner is now 2.5m wider, giving drivers more racing lines in the crucial opening moments.

Turn six, once a tight right hander, has been widened by more than 7.5m, which is expected to hike speeds by 70km per hour; and the old chicane between turns nine and 10 has been removed, effectively transforming the section into a 1.3km straight where drivers will put the foot down.

After breakneck speeds from turn six through to turn 10, turn 11, widened by three metres, will be a key attacking zone, with the camber also altered to force harder braking to negotiate the corner.

The changes have paved the way for four DRS zones, where drivers can adjust flaps on their rear wings to reduce drag and improve their chances of overtaking. The pitlane has also been widened by two metres with the intention that its speed limit will be raised from 60kph to 80kph. This could lead to more strategic options for teams due to the reduced time spent pitting.

Organizers hope the circuit’s upgrade will prove a hit with the drivers and a thrill for returning motorsport fans.

McLaren’s Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo said fans should expect a different kind of race.

“Not taking credit, but I was a little bit involved in the talks about revamping the circuit a few years ago when they had the first idea of what to do to try to make the racing a bit better,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“I think it is going to be a different spectacle this time around. We obviously have to go there now and let our actions to do the talking, but on paper I think there is promise with that.”

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Bahrain Grand Prix signs new deal to remain in F1 until 2036

The Bahrain Grand Prix has signed a new deal to stay on the Formula One calendar until 2036.

The kingdom of Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to host an F1 race in 2004 and the new contract will take the event beyond its 30th anniversary on the calendar

Bahrain will host the opening round of this year’s F1 season on March 20.

Bahrain has held a race every year since 2004 with the exception of 2011 when the event was cancelled due to civil unrest in the country.

Since 2014 the race has been held after sundown under floodlights, but as of 2022 the circuit has pledged to ensure all energy used at the race comes from sustainable sources.

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“I am delighted we will be racing at the Bahrain International Circuit until 2036 where more incredible racing and excitement will be on show to thrill our fans,” F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stated.

“Since 2004 we have had some fantastic races in Sakhir and we cannot wait to be back there for the start of the 2022 championship as we begin a new era for the sport.

“Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to welcome Formula One and it has a very special place in our sport, and I personally want to thank HRH Prince Salman and his team for their dedication and hard work throughout our partnership and look forward to the many years of racing ahead of us.”

The new deal is the longest for any venue in F1 and means F1’s four races in the Middle East — counting Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — will all run into the 2030s.

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Max Verstappen will run number one on car as champion in 2022

Max Verstappen has confirmed he will run the number one on his car in 2022 as Formula One world champion, something no driver has done in F1 since 2014.

There has not been a number one car on the F1 grid since Sebastian Vettel’s in 2014, when the Red Bull driver was a defending four-time world champion.

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Since then, Lewis Hamilton has opted to keep his career number 44, while Nico Rosberg retired after winning the championship in 2016, meaning he did not have the chance to run it the following season.

Verstappen, who normally races with number 33, wants to make the switch for 2022.

“Yeah, I will run it,” Verstappen said on the subject. “How many times can you do that? I don’t know, maybe it’s the only time I can in my life.

“I think it’s the best number out there. I will definitely put it on the car.”

Verstappen’s championship was confirmed late on Sunday evening after the FIA dismissed a protest into how the final laps of the race unfolded.

A late safety car period helped Verstappen pit for fresh tyres, with a controversial FIA call to let lapped cars unlap themselves effectively moving Verstappen right up behind Hamilton for the restart.

When that restart took place, Verstappen caught and passed Hamilton and held the lead to claim his maiden championship.

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Mercedes to leave Formula E after 2022

Formula E champions Mercedes will withdraw from the all-electric series at the end of the Gen2 era in 2022 to concentrate on Formula One, the carmaker said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes three days after Dutch driver Nyck de Vries acquired the Formula E world championship title after finishing eighth in the season’s final race in Berlin, with Mercedes also winning the teams’ title after Stoffel Vandoorne’s third place.

“Mercedes-Benz today announced that it will conclude its ABB FIA Formula E success story as a team entrant and manufacturer at the end of Season 8, in August 2022,” the manufacturer said in a statement.

“Moving forward, the company will concentrate its works motorsport activities on Formula 1, reinforcing the sport’s status as the fastest laboratory for developing and proving sustainable and scalable future performance technologies.”

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In December, German manufacturers Audi and BMW confirmed they would exit Formula E at the end of this year.

Mercedes announced a new strategic direction for its brand in July, with the aim of going all-electric by the end of the decade.

“As part of the new strategic direction, the brand has deliberately chosen to shift resources for this accelerated ramp-up of electrification, including the development of three electric-only architectures to be launched in 2025,” the carmaker said.

“Therefore, Mercedes will reallocate resource away from its ABB FIA Formula E World Championship programme and towards applying the lessons learned in competition to product development in series.”

This decision leaves Mahindra, DS Automobiles, Jaguar Land Rover, Porsche, Nissan and NIO as manufacturers who have committed to the Gen3 rules that will run until the end of the 2025-26 season.

Race teams Andretti Autosport and Envision Virgin Racing are also expected to continue, while Mercedes affiliate Venturi Racing will be required to find a new powertrain partner.

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Hamilton plays down blow of another loss to Verstappen

Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton played down the pain of his latest defeat by Formula One leader Max Verstappen in France on Sunday and said the race was a real reflection of Red Bull’s pace.

The Briton had won at Le Castellet in 2018 and 2019, with no race last year due to COVID-19, but his hopes of a hat-trick ended when resurgent Red Bull out-smarted the champions on strategy.

The seventh race of the season was a reversal of the Spanish Grand Prix in May when Hamilton hunted down Verstappen, who stated then that he felt like a sitting duck, in the closing laps to win.

This time it was the champion who was on the receiving end as Verstappen made a second pitstop and used his fresher tyres to make up the time and overhaul Hamilton on the penultimate lap.

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Asked how gut-wrenching the feeling had been, Hamilton — now 12 points behind his Dutch rival — said it had not been at all.

“I think we did a great job today and it just didn’t work out,” he added.

“I’m not massively disappointed. I think I did the best job I could today. Of course, there were things we could probably have done slightly better but overall they have been quicker than us all weekend.

“It’s a true reflection of the pace they have.”

Hamilton had arrived at Le Castellet having scored just seven points from the past two races won by Red Bull and lagging Verstappen by four.

The 36-year-old recognized that another chance to win had e slipped through his fingers, his tally still stuck at a record 98 career victories.

“If we look in hindsight for sure if we’d have stopped earlier, before they stopped and come out ahead and just gone onto a two stop, we probably could have won the race,” he said.

“But it would still have been very difficult. Their pace was generally very, very strong.

“If he (Verstappen) had not made a mistake in turn one, they would have just led the race all the way probably.”

Verstappen started on pole but went wide at the start, letting Hamilton to take the lead which the Mercedes driver held until the pitstops, when the Dutch driver got back in front before taking a gamble and pitting again.

“Lewis’s tyres were really worn,” Verstappen said of the closing stages. “It was a fairly easy pass.”

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Hamilton ready for new contract talks with Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton is ready to start new contract negotiations with Mercedes, meaning he would stay in Formula One beyond the end of 2021, and is hoping to have a new deal in place by August.

After eight years at Mercedes, the seven-time world champion signed a one-year deal over the winter, meaning he will be out of contract again at the end of 2021.

The one-year deal came as a surprise following a rushed negotiation period at the end of the year, which resulted in team and driver agreeing to start their next contract talks earlier this year.

“We never want to be in the position that we were in in January, in February [this year],” Hamilton said. “It ruined my whole winter and I’m sure it wasn’t helpful for Toto’s, in terms of being out to be off and relaxed, so it felt like we didn’t really have much of a break.

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“I think we have to be sensible. Naturally we don’t have to rush anything, but I think we have to be sensible and start conversations.

“They’re very complex, it’s never a super simple procedure and so hopefully soon we can start, as long as it doesn’t interfere the actual job.

“We still have 19 races to do, but it would be great to get something in place before the break so then we could, again, be in that break and have a clear picture of the future.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is confident Hamilton will commit to F1 for more than a single year under his next contract.

“Yes, it should be [more than a year],” Wolff said. “We don’t want to be in a stressful situation every single year where we are absolutely flat-out trying to win races and needing to negotiate. I would rather that doesn’t happen every year.

“We just need to spend a day or two together, put it out there and decide which are the difficult components.

“We will then lock the door and won’t walk out until it is sorted. That works best for us, and it has worked best for us in the past.”

At 36 years old, Hamilton stated he still feels fit enough to continue in F1 over the coming years.

“There’s still some life in this old dog!” he joked. “I would say I’m more conscious than ever about my body, about my training regime.

“I’ve been training myself for a long time now but constantly growing and learning how to look after, naturally, the vessel that I’m given and feeling great.”

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Horner sees great races ahead for Perez despite Imola blank

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner forecast great races ahead for Sergio Perez despite the Mexican failing to score from his first front row start in Formula One on Sunday.

The 31-year-old driver, now a veteran of 193 races, concluded 12th in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola while Dutch team mate and title contender Max Verstappen won from third on the grid.

Perez lost out at the start as Verstappen took the lead from Mercedes’ seven-times champion Lewis Hamilton, on pole, with the Mexican dropping to third and then fourth as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went past.

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He then collected a 10 second penalty for overtaking while the safety car was deployed but was fourth again by the time the race was halted halfway through. Following the restart he spun and dropped to 14th.

“It was tough for him, he had such a good Saturday. The race just didn’t go his way,” said team boss Christian Horner.

“A couple of little mistakes, particularly the spin behind the Ferrari. Tough for him because we should have taken a lot more points out of Mercedes.

“He had good pace in the race and there’s still a long, long way to go.”

Horner stated Perez, a winner in Bahrain with Racing Point (now Aston Martin) last year, just needed time to get used to the adjustment of car.

“It’s different to what he’s used to. He did a mega job to put it on the front row, only just missed out on that pole position,” he said.

“There’s great races to come from him in the future. We could see in clean air his pace was strong.”

The Mexican ended fifth in his first race for Red Bull in Bahrain after starting in the pit lane.

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Hulkenberg joins Aston Martin as reserve, development driver

Nico Hulkenberg has been presented as Aston Martin’s official Formula One reserve and development driver this season, the team stated on Thursday.

The experienced German stood in for Mexican Sergio Perez and Canadian Lance Stroll last year when the Silverstone-based team competed as Racing Point, with both drivers testing positive for COVID-19.

Perez has since moved to Red Bull, with Germany’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel arriving from Ferrari.

Hulkenberg, 33, is a Le Mans 24 Hours winner and has started 176 F1 grands prix in a career that started with Williams in 2010 and included stints with Racing Point’s predecessors Force India.

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“It’s great to get this deal signed up with plenty of notice,” Hulkenberg said in a statement. “Last year, I didn’t have quite as much time to prepare before jumping in the car.

“Obviously, I’m hoping that Sebastian and Lance enjoy uninterrupted seasons this year, but the team knows it can rely on me to step in and do an excellent job.”

The German had also been linked to a reserve role at champions Mercedes, who provide Aston Martin’s engines.

Mercedes have Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne and Dutch driver Nyck de Vries as reserves but both are competing in Formula E and the calendars overlap at some races this season.

The role has become more important during the pandemic, with Mercedes calling on Williams driver George Russell in Bahrain last December when seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton contracted the virus.

McLaren have an agreement with Mercedes to use their reserve drivers if needed.

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