Magnussen facing normal rookie struggles, says Boullier

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier says that Kevin Magnussen’s recent struggles are par for the course for a rookie driver – especially one with an underperforming car.

“Obviously it’s a completely normal process for a young rookie driver who is stepping into F1 with a difficult car to drive,” the Frenchman said today. “It reminds me of my experience with Grosjean and Petrov. They went through the same processes and it’s part of let’s say the learning curve, unfortunately.

“They need experience, they need to be able to understand the car. An F1 car set-up wise is much more complicated than the junior categories. So it’s just part of the learning process. He’s not helped by the fact that he has a car which is difficult to drive today.”

Meanwhile Boullier says that the team’s form should take an upturn in the coming races.

“In Spain we will see an interesting upgrade on the car. Everything is planned until Silverstone – every race we will see a different upgrade, a different package. The good thing as I’ve said is we have picked up a very, very good rate of development in the wind tunnel, and then it’s just up to us to manufacture the parts and bring them on track.”

With regard to the chances of winning a race in 2014 he added: “Obviously we have to believe that we will win a race. If you look at it in detail it obviously looks like we are stepping back since the beginning of the season. It’s true that Australia was a bit opportunistic, but we also prepared ourselves to be ready to pick up points and even podiums from the others.

“I’ve made it clear that a lack of downforce is hurting us when you have very hot temperature conditions, or very cold, like we had in China. There is a technical reason for that. I think what’s going on in Woking is very positive, and we will be able to keep pushing and bringing let’s say very aggressive and strong development over the course of the season. I think we will put ourselves in a position, maybe not in the first part of the season but maybe later, to fight for a win.”

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Toto Wolff: “We have to stay with both feet on the ground…”

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff insists that the team has to keep its feet on the ground despite its flying start to the season.

Wolff pointed to the fact that Nico Rosberg had to work hard to get up to second place in China after dropping as low as seventh on the first lap.

“It was not easy in the first stint, in terms of performance, the cars were different,” said Wolff when asked by this writer. “Nico lost the telemetry before the formation lap, so you’re basically blind in the car. The way he handled the situation was really good. In the first stint it wasn’t easy for him to overtake cars, and he was following Ricciardo, and there was just no way even on the straight to get past him.

“It just shows you need to get things right, and you have to qualify well. Then at the end strategy-wise we took the right decisions. We were pushing the second stint quite long because we knew that at the end he had to manage the tyres, and this is I guess why Alonso had to back off at a certain stage, because he knew he was not going to finish the race on that pace.”

Regarding the opposition, he said: “We have to be cautious. They’re coming, you saw Alonso today, you saw Ricciardo, last stint again times to our cars. It is quite interesting because what you saw also in the last couple of races that you have situations in the race on worn tyres where suddenly the times seem to be much more closed up.

“As I mentioned Ricciardo was matching Lewis’s times and Nico’s times. In the second stint it wasn’t the case, Lewis was holding but Nico was struggling behind Ricciardo. So we have to find out the way our competitors supply the energy and how the efficiency and fuel consumption works, because it looks like sometimes they go faster and then they don’t seem to manage it until the end of the race.”

Wolf admits the start to the season was better than expected, despite the clear hints from testing.

“Yes it is better. I think you cannot go into a season with these new regulations and think we’re going to make four wins in a row. And I guess that also in a couple of years we’ll look back at the statistics and say, wow, that was a run. You can’t take it for granted. You spot yourself looking… We have one car leading and the other car is fifth or sixth, and you say that’s not good. We have to stay with both feet on the ground and keep the development curve steep and keep pushing, because no doubt it’s going to close up.”

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Sebastian Vettel: “There are a lot of things that I don’t really like…”

Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing struggle to match team mate Daniel Ricciardo’s impressive form with the Red Bull RB10 have been one the stories of the season so far.

Vettel finished fifth in China, having run second in the early laps.

“The start was good, the first stint I was pretty happy, and then on the primes I was struggling more than we wished,” he said. “In the end obviously the gap to the cars in front is too big.

“I don’t think there was a problem with the car. At the moment he [Ricciardo] just seems to get more out of the car than I do. I’m sure there are a lot of things that I don’t really like at this stage, but in the end we have the same car. The gap for sure is too big to be just something small. In terms of set-up I know there is not too much difference, so we need to have a look, and keep working.”

Vettel insisted he had no problem about letting Ricciardo by after he was told they were on different strategies, although ultimately they both pitted twice.

“Initially I didn’t understand, but once I was told that we were on a different strategy there was no point to block him further, but also if you look at the raw result in the end it was quite obvious that he was quicker today.”

Meanwhile Vettel insisted that overall the team is in a much better position than could have been expected prior to the season.

“Right from the start it’s been a positive start to see that the car is more or less reliable, and see that the car is quick and has potential. We know that our main weakness compared to our rivals in down the straight, and from a driver point of view there’s not much you can do. It should be the easiest part, but we’re struggling with that. We need to obviously work on that front.”

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Christian Horner: “Sebastian is having a tough time at the moment…”

Christian Horner expects Sebastian Vettel to get to the bottom of the problems that have held him back thus far in 2014.

The World Champion is not fully comfortable with the RB10, and has been suffering through being harder on the tyres than team mate Daniel Ricciardo.

In China Vettel was asked to move over and let the Australian past, and a discussion followed before the pair finally changed places.

“Obviously Sebastian is having a tough time at the moment, because he hasn’t got that feeling from the car that he’s looking for,” said Horner. “He’s tremendously sensitive to certain aspects of the set-up, and he’s not getting the feedback from the car that he wants. And then the compound effect of that is that he’s damaging the tyre more.

“Which is very unusual for Seb, as we’ve seen since Pirellis were introduced. It’s highly unusual for him to be going through the tyre life quicker than the average. That’s just the culmination of the issues that he’s currently got, and as soon as we’ve worked those out he’ll be back with a bang.

“He’s just going through the tyre quicker, the tyre’s opening up quicker with him because he’s not found that sweet spot that he requires. Whereas Daniel as we saw on Friday had extremely good tyre degradation, and did so again today.”

Horner said he understood why Vettel was initially reluctant to let his team mate past.

“He’s a racer, and of course he asked us first of all what tye is Daniel on? And then at that point what he didn’t realise was that we were looking at a different strategy, because Seb was going through the tyre phases quicker, to convert Sebastian onto a three-stop. As soon as he understood that he immediately let him through, and you could see that he simply didn’t have the pace to hold him back. Therefore it was pointless.

“The situation was that his tyres were quite a bit older at that stage, he was going through the tyre quicker, and it looked like a three-stop. The problem was that the windows of traffic weren’t opening up for him behind. We could see that with our lack of straightline pace that overtaking, despite fresher tyres, would be difficult. So therefore in the end we concluded that a two-stop would be the best strategy for him as well.”

On the pitfalls of team orders he said: “We’re doing our best as a team, and obviously we’re trying to beat the cars ahead of us. It’s not just about out guys racing themselves. They race for a team at the end of the day, and they both understand that. Our objective is to maximise our chances, and our best chance in the race today was with Daniel.”

Meanwhile Horner was full of praise for Ricciardo’s performance.

“It was a massive performance by Dan, he’s been hugely impressive all weekend. He’s really been outstanding this season, in all four Grands Prix this year I think he’s done a tremendous job. His confidence is growing.

“He seems so calm in the car, his feedback is exceptional when he talks on the radio it’s like he’s having a coffee in a coffee shop up the road, especially with the lack of noise now you can hear it perfectly. And he’s enjoying what he’s doing, he’s enjoying being a Grand Prix driver, he’s enjoying driving for the team.”

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Nico Rosberg: “It’s really a pleasure to drive this car…”

Nico Rosberg managed to recover to second place after a difficult race in Shanghai, and in so doing ensured that he still leads the championship.

His pit wall lost telemetry even before the start, and that contributed to a bad getaway that saw him drop to seventh. He also survived first corner contact with Valtteri Bottas, after which he had to fight his way back up. He now has 79 points to the 75 of Lewis Hamilton.

“I’m definitely in the lead and that’s good,” said Rosberg. “Especially considering that the whole weekend was really, really bad for me. It went completely wrong in so many different respects. Also, in the race we had no telemetry so there was no communication between the car and the pits, so they had no idea what was going on on track, and that’s why the start was also so bad, and a lot of things came together. So I’m pleased with second and I just look forward to a normal weekend again in Barcelona, full attack again.”

Regarding his drive through the field he said: “It’s really a pleasure to drive this car at the moment. It’s incredible the car that the team has built – fantastic. So thanks to the whole team. And Mercedes. This thing is so quick. It really increases the enjoyment level even further.

“Set-up-wise it was a good team effort this weekend. Because it’s a very unique track here with the understeer being the main problem and the front-left tyre, so you really have to change everything, adapt to the needs of the track and we did well as a team. It wasn’t perfect in the race but it was definitely pretty good.”

Rosberg admitted that the telemetry issue was frustrating, especially as he had to give the team fuel consumption information from his dashboard.

“My telemetry failed, so I was completely on my own out there. The team doesn’t see any information from the car. So I had to do all the things on my own out there and, for example, it was then telling the team what my fuel level is so that they could judge if I was using too much fuel or if I’m safe – and I had to do that in Turn One, and Turn One is a difficult corner anyways, so I didn’t enjoy that point.”

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Nico Rosberg: “I’ve got my eyes set on Lewis…”

Nico Rosberg starts the Chinese GP from fourth place, separated from Lewis Hamilton by the two Red Bulls – and thus he has to get past them to take the fight to his team mate.

Rosberg says tyres will be the key at a track that always put a big strain on the front left.

“It will be a tough race, because the left front tyre is a big issue,” said Rosberg. “For sure there will be things happening, some people will struggle more than others. I had a good run on Friday, so I’m going into it confidently, knowing that I’ve this Red Bull package in the middle, which is not very helpful. But that’s the way it is, and with the top speed that I have I’m hoping that I manage to get by them somehow.

“I’ve got my eyes set on Lewis, who’s that bit ahead. But the Red Bulls also had a good race speed, and they seemed to be OK with the front graining on Friday. So it’s not going to be easy to get by them. I hope to have a good start, maybe with the engine power that we have I can get a bit of a run into Turn One. We’ll see. But it won’t be easy, for sure.

“Then from there we just have to see how it goes with strategy and try and get my tyre management right. There will also be some interesting things going on also with option and prime, because the option grains that little bit more, so it’s not really clear which tyre is better at which point in the race. So that will open up the race a little bit tomorrow, and throw in also maybe some surprises, and some opportunities also.”

Rosberg, who had a scrappy Q3, was once again beaten by his team mate in a wet session.

“Even if everything would have gone right for me today, he was faster. So he’s just been doing a good job in the wet, that’s clear. Again today he was very quick. But also one must say that the set-up is completely wrong for the race today, we’re set-up for front left graining for tomorrow, which is the opposite of what you need in the wet, and the rear was just all over the place today. So that’s a little thing just to throw in. But nonetheless definitely he did a good job, and up to now in the wet, yes, he’s had an edge over me in qualifying at least.”

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Honda: No plans to extend supply beyond McLaren

Honda F1 boss Yasuhisa Arai was non-committal today when asked about plans to extend future power unit supply beyond McLaren.

McLaren will initially have exclusive use of the new V6 when the Japanese manufacturer rejoins the sport next season.

“For year 2015, McLaren is our only customer,” said Arai in China today. “I don’t think about the future, because we want to concentrate on next season.

“Of course we want to have good results next season and see the results from other manufacturers. If teams want to use our engine or power unit, we can deliver after year 2016, but right now there are no plans.”

Meanwhile Arai confirmed that Honda’s new UK F1 base, not far from Red Bull Racing in Milton Keynes, will be ready soon.

“We will open June this year. Now it’s still under construction but that factory is to do the engine maintenance for the races and rebuilding the Formula One engine and also to go to the race-track for the track side service.”

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