Max Verstappen: “It’s all in your confidence…”

Max Verstappen was the star of first practice in Monaco on Thursday when the Toro Rosso driver finished the session in second place, behind only Lewis Hamilton.

Remarkably it was also the 17-year-old’s first ever experience of the circuit, while all the other 2015 rookies have driven there in other categories. Rain meant that FP2 didn’t play out properly, and he hit traffic on his early run, so he didn’t have a chance of a repeat. It will be fascinating to see if he can carry his early form into the rest if the weekend.

I was surprised,” said the Dutchman. “After the flag I was looking up at the screen and I couldn’t find myself, and then I went a bit up and went alright – that is a good lap then. The whole session I was building up slowly but already from the simulator to here, I think it was very helpful and it felt straight away very good on the track, and I could get a lot of confidence in myself. The laps were just coming.”

Verstappen said it didn’t take long to get up to speed: “Ten laps. You don’t want to take a lot of risk in the beginning, so you adjust your braking points lap by lap and cornering wise, I felt quite comfortable from the start. If you adjust the braking points, you get more temperature with the tyres and the brakes and everything, it just works better.”

Crucially, he’s fully confident in the car.

It is really predictable round here, and that is very important if you know what the car is doing and you get a lot of confidence. Basically, a street circuit is all about confidence and feeling with the car, even set-up changes don’t make a massive difference, it is all in your confidence.”

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I haven’t given up on a top drive, says Hulkenberg

Confirmation that Lewis Hamilton is committed to Mercedes for another three years has put the focus back on the driver market – and the lack of potential openings in the top teams.

The likes of Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg have been on the cusp of moving up a rung in recent years, but neither has managed to do so, and it could argue that time may run out for them as younger drivers with momentum behind them move into the frame over the next few years.

Hulkenberg is adamant that he has not given up hope of making the move.

“I think a lot about it is timing, and the driver market, how it was the last few years,” he said in Monaco today. “There’s a lot of good drivers around that have taken up the good seats, and there are only obviously a small number available. I very much like to think that there’s still an opportunity for me. The future will tell.

“Of course it’s a bit of a disappointment that I’m not there yet, where I want to be. I’d love to be in a car that’s capable of winning, and fighting for the title. Of course there’s a bit of disappointment there. If you live in that thought obviously that’s not going to help, you’ve got to keep working and move forward.”

The German admitted that it’s become harder to make an impression this year, given that Force India’s competitiveness has dropped off: “It’s more difficult obviously if you don’t have the potential or the tools to do these kinds of things. It hurts. I think people know that it’s not necessarily the driver who’s not delivering, and we know that. It’s just what it is sometimes, it’s F1.”

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GPDA set to launch fan survey – but will it make a difference?

The Grand Prix Drivers Association is set to formally announce details of its Global Fan Survey in Monaco on Thursday afternoon.

As revealed here over the Spanish GP weekend, the organisation wants to interact with fans, and find out what they want from F1.

I think the fans are very important, their opinions,” said GPDA director Jenson Button today. “And that’s exactly why the GPDA has a global fan survey which will be announced tomorrow. I think it’s massively important because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fans. This is a sport that needs fans, we have millions of fans around the world and it’s always interesting to have their opinion.

To see where they think the sport it, where they think the sport can go. Obviously we all have our own ideas, which is great, and I think the sport is in a good place right now – but there’s always room for improvement – as there is in any sport, especially a sport that’s always changing like Formula One in terms of technology and what have you. So, I think it’s really important, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.”

Asked if he thought the results would have any impact he added: “I think our aim is just to put them in place and to see how it goes. I think that it’s very interesting to see which direction the supporters of this sport and the fans of this sport feel that the sport should go in.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to change anything, it’s just interesting for us as drivers but I think for us collectively in Formula One, to get a better understanding. And I don’t think it’s been done for a while, so I just think it’s necessary to do and hopefully we’ll get some positive results.”

My earlier story on the GPDA’s plans can be found here:


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Felipe Massa: “I like the idea of refuelling…”

Felipe Massa says he supports the move towards the return of refuelling in 2017, as well as the general push to have faster cars.

The Brazilian is also keen on the plan for teams being able to choose which tyre compounds to use, a change set to be introduved for next season.

“I like the idea of refuelling because the race is quicker, the car is quicker,” said Massa when asked by this writer. “We race with a very heavy car and the race is very technical today. It used to be a lot nicer for the driving point of view, and that’s why I like the idea of the refuelling.

“Plus for the teams to choose the tyres, we can see a change because of of that. For sure in most of the races I don’t think Pirelli choose the wrong tyres. Some of the races they are a little bit too conservative, some of the races, not. If you take 85-90% of the races, it’s more or less correct. But you will see things… Especially the teams that don’t have a good car they will choose, and they will risk. Maybe it can change a little bit especially the qualifying, because the team has quicker tyres for the qualifying, and maybe they can go back in the race. We need to understand, but I think it’s OK to have it.

“Maybe some changes for the fans or the people are OK to have, so we’ll wait and see. The cars should be quicker as well. I think they will put more downforce on the car, more power in the engine, plus maybe wider tyres. I think it’s difficult to say before, before you drive the car, it’s a little bit difficult.”

Asked about the Strategy Group’s target of quicker lap times he said: “Maybe 5-6 seconds is a little bit too much, but for sure we want to go as fast as we can, for sure we want competition as well. I remember before when we had a lot of downforce maybe you didn’t even see overtaking in the race, and now the DRS helps.

“This is the only doubt that we need to understand, that they still keep the challenge in a good way. We have already good power from the engine, so maybe we’re going to have a little bit more, which will be more interesting, it’s fine to have. I think more important than the power is the noise for the people.”

Meanwhile when reminded that fuel stops can go wrong – as happened to Felipe in Singapore in 2008 – the Brazilian made it clear that he remembers that race more for the ‘Crashgate’ scandal.

“In Singapore the refuelling was not a problem, the problem was the mechanic that pressed the button at the wrong time. Even if it was not the refuelling and the tyres were not there I was going out with a problem anyway. Especially in Singapore the biggest problem was a fake race as well. So many things happened in that race, it wasn’t just the refuelling that was a problem. It was a race that was supposed to be cancelled, and it was not, unfortunately…”


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Hamilton staying at Mercedes until 2018

Lewis Hamilton has finally committed to Mercedes and signed a three-year contract extension that commits him to the team until 2018.

The two parties have been negotiating for months, and despite suggestions of a flirtation with Ferrari the reigning champion was always going to end up signing a deal – it was a matter of finalising the details.

Mercedes is my home and I couldn’t be happier to be staying here for another three years,” he said. “This is a company filled with real passionate racers, from the board room to the factory floor, and an incredible hunger to win. Even after the success of last year, that hunger is greater than ever – and it’s the same for me, too.

The Mercedes car I am driving right now is the best I have ever had in my career; it’s just so much fun to be out there every weekend, on the limit and fighting to win at every track. Mercedes-Benz began supporting me in 1998 so I am very proud that this contract means I will mark 20 years with Mercedes in 2018.”

Toto Wolff commented: “Continuity is one of the key factors for delivering success in Formula One and we now have that in place. Lewis enjoyed an historic World Championship season with Mercedes-Benz last year and it was a priority for this season to renew his contract for the next term. We have taken the right amount of time with the process and not rushed ourselves.

The result is a strong agreement that will enhance Lewis’ association with the Mercedes-Benz brand, and that recognises and respects the market value of Lewis and of Mercedes in Formula One. Lewis’ sporting track record speaks for itself and he is a great personality for the company. Personally, I am looking forward to continuing to race with the strongest driver pairing in Formula One and to more historic achievements together.”

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Lynn aiming to shine in Monaco after Williams test boost

GP2 frontrunner Alex Lynn made a good impression on his first test for Williams in Barcelona last week, and the Briton subsequently had the chance to sample Monaco on the Grove team’s simulator – which was a useful boost ahead of his debut on the streets of the principality.

Lynn, who won the Sunday GP2 race in Spain, is hoping to use the his Williams test role as a springboard to an eventual race seat.

“I think it was a great first day with the team,” he told this writer. “You always go into quite confident, expecting it to go well, and I think it went as expected. We didn’t get a huge amount of laps, because we were limited on engine mileage.

“But we managed to do some stuff for Monaco and correlation for the upgrades the team brought to Barcelona. We got up to speed quite quickly, so the team could get on with their work, and I got used to driving an F1 car a bit more. All-in-all it was a really solid and very successful day.”

One of the big benefits for Williams that that Lynn does a lot of the team’s simulator running, and it was important to let him get a feel for the actual car: “It’s massively useful to be honest, because Valtteri and Felipe, with their busy schedules, don’t get a huge amount of time in the sim. Giving me some time in the real car it allows us to crack on with the nitty gritty in the simulator to try and get it as perfect as possible.”

Barcelona was the only day of track running on Lynn’s schedule, but he says he is not frustrated by that.

“It is what it is. I got my opportunity, and I’m glad I gave a good account of myself. Hopefully the team were happy. At the end of the day if I impressed them then my next time in the car shouldn’t be too far away. But at the moment my attention switches back to performing in GP2. That’s my way of, let’s say, impressing.”

Meanwhile the former Macau GP winner says that while this week will be his first experience of Monaco he’s determined to get up to speed quickly.

“It’s going to be a special first lap, that’s for sure! And probably an eye-opening one. I feel as prepared as I can be going into the weekend. I’ve done a lot of work with the team to get myself as comfortable as I can, and then it all comes down to not crashing in free practice and learning as much possible.

“I know that last year DAMS had a very good car there, so that’s one factor taken out of the equation. And then it will come down to me learning quickly and adapting. I’m not underestimating how hard it’s going to be, but I do expect to adapt quickly and make progress very quickly. That’s the aim in many ways.”

He had an extra bonus today when David Coulthard joined him for an early morning bike ride and gave him some pointers.

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Bottas the man on every top F1 team’s shopping list

Valtteri Bottas continues to figure high on the shopping lists of leading teams that might be looking for a change of driver in the future.

The Finn underlined his position as the man that all team bosses are watching by holding off Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps in Bahrain, and then doing the same with Kimi Raikkonen in Spain. Despite missing the first race in Australia the Williams driver lies fifth in the World Championship, ahead of team mate Felipe Massa.

His manager Didier Coton says that while there is no substance to the recent stories linking the Finn to Ferrari it does no harm to have Bottas recognised as the man in demand.

“For a driver like Valtteri it’s a nice return on the sacrifice and commitment that he’s put into the sport and into his driving,” Coton told this writer. “It’s all positive. Frankly speaking what people call the ‘silly season’ is not on yet’, so let’s stay relaxed about it. What happened last week [with Ferrari], I don’t know where it came from. It’s a rumour, and it was launched by I don’t know who.

“Personally I consider that Williams is a top team. Valtteri is with Williams and he’s concentrating on that. We saw again in Spain that he did a great race, and we will continue to speak with them, and see after.

“Our job is to look at what he wants to achieve, and it’s our job to help him to achieve that. Sometimes it’s a long term objective, it’s not something that will happen in one year, it may happen in two years or three years. So the most important thing is to build a path to that objective, even if it takes a bit more time.”

Coton indicated that it would be wrong to assume that Bottas has no ongoing ties with Williams after this season: “I cannot go into details of contracts, but you have free agents and free agents.”


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