Fernando Alonso: “The car is easy to drive…”

Fernando Alonso had a solid first day back in the McLaren Honda today in Malaysia as he logged 45 relatively troublefree laps.

He finished FP2 in 16th, a place ahead team mate Jenson Button, and the only drivers who were slower than the McLaren duo were Romain Grosjean, who did very few laps before he was sidelined by a technical issue, and the two Manor drivers. Nevertheless Alonso is pleased with progress.

“It felt great today in the car,” he said. “Finally after the gym, after the simulator, whatever you do it is never the same as the car, so I enjoyed so much driving here. The conditions obviously are extreme, very hot, and physically it is very demanding. I am not 100 per cent physically and fit after two weeks on the sofa, and two weeks of not in the car.

“It was really the second day of testing for me because I have one good day in Barcelona with 63 laps. and today 45. The rest of the days were seven laps, nine, eleven, so today I really enjoyed it. Definitely a step forward, a big step forward for us.

“It’s much better. The experience that we had in winter was a lot of problems, after four or five laps we stopped and we had to change something, but today we ran 45 laps with zero problems, everything went as we predict. We will see tomorrow in qualifying. We were I think 4.6s behind pole position in Australia, here could maybe be 3-3.5secs, so that is a 1 or 1.5s gain in two weeks, so it’s a big step forward.

Regarding the latest updates he said: “I think there are a lot of things going on in the car now. There are big steps on aerodynamics, a lot of understanding of the power unit, interaction between everything in the car. Every lap is a learning curve for us. In terms of driving, I felt great. The car is very consistent, the car is easy to drive, and it gives you confidence to push to the limit.

“We had some issues today on braking, with front and rear locking that was a little bit inconsistent, and we are looking at this. Hopefully tomorrow we can push more.”

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James Allison: “We do look as if our pace is reasonably good…”

Ferrari technical director James Allison says it’s too early to judge Ferrari’s true form in Malaysia following a promising first day for the team in Sepang.

Kimi Raikkonen was second fastest in FP2 and some 0.373s off Lewis Hamilton, although admittedly the Briton did not have an easy day. The red car looked particularly good on the medium option tyre, although Sebastian Vettel didn’t get a clean run on it and was thus down in seventh.

“I don’t know, we’ll find out on Sunday!,” Allison said when asked about prospects for the race. “But we do look as if our tyre deg is quite good, and we do look as if our pace is reasonably good. But everyone uses the Fridays differently, so you never know what the others were doing. But we feel it’s been a good day.”

Regarding Raikkonen’s pace he said: “The car’s going well, he’s going well, and so is Sebastian, to be honest. If you look at where Sebastian was in FP2, his best time was set on the prime tyre, and Kimi’s on the option, albeit a scrubbed option. So I think both of them are going well and I expect Kimi will have a good race on Sunday, as should Sebastian, based on the pace we saw today.

Asked by this writer about closing the gap to Mercedes he said: “It would be nice if they could feel us breathing down their collars, or even in the course of time get ourselves in front of them. I think the delta we saw in Melbourne probably was a little unkind to us. I think we probably should have been a little bit ahead of the Williams in qualifying, and then driven up the road 15 or 20 seconds more than we did. It would be nice to have a clean qualifying here and see what we can do.”

Meanwhile Allison made some interesting observations about the improvements seen in this year’s Ferrari package.

“In pure lap times the gains are almost equal, chassis and power unit wise. I guess on the chassis as normal the lion’s share of the gains are aerodynamic, because that’s the thing that has the most authority to put lap time on the car. So on the chassis side its 80/20 aero versus some quite useful gains that have been made in the cooling efficiency of the car, which then translate into aero by allowing you to run the car tighter at the back.”

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Horner behind push to allow teams fifth power unit

The F1 teams look set to agree to a change in the power unit allocation for this season from four to five – despite the demise of the German GP dropping the race total from 20 to 19.

This year the allocation is supposed to be down to four after the FIA set it at five for the first season of the new formula in 2014. However, after teams experienced problems in Australia – notably Red Bull and McLaren – there are fears that there will be a gradual reduction in the amount of laps run on Fridays as everyone seeks to keep their engine allocation alive, and thus avoid grid penalties.

Concerns that fans will thus get a raw deal have thus been used to push forward the idea, which was discussed by team bosses this morning. If unanimous agreement on the details can be found, it could be implemented straight away.

“I suggested the idea,” Christian Horner told this writer. “The objective is really to make sure that cars are out on the track, otherwise as we get further into the year it’s going to become harder and harder and teams are going to become more restrictive. There seems to be unanimous agreement on it, so that’s a positive sign.”

It remains to be seen whether the extra power unit would simply be added to the current allocation, or specifically earmarked for Friday use.

“It’s to be decided,” said Horner. “I don’t mind whether it’s a Friday engine or we just go back to last year’s rule, it doesn’t matter.”


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Lewis Hamilton: “The Ferraris look great, they really do…”

Lewis Hamilton finished Friday on top of the times at Sepang, but it was a far from easy day for the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton stopped on track in FP1 with what turned out to be an inlet issue, and by the time it was addressed he had missed the first half of FP2. He also suffered with telemetry issues in both sessions which further restricted his lappery.

“Firstly it was just an amazing job done by my guys to rebuild the car and get the engine back on, and gearbox and everything, and get me back out,” said Hamilton. “I’m very grateful for that. Particularly here where it’s so hot it’s so difficult for the tyres and everything, it was really important to get back out and do some laps.”

He added that the lost track time was costly: “It affects you quite a bit. Fortunately I got a few laps of a longer run at the end, but in terms of my set-up I’ve not made any changes, so I’ve just driven what I have. It’s quite a bit off with where I probably need it.

“I know my lap wasn’t spectacular. As I said I think I’ve got some improvements I can make with the balance and the settings, they were all kind of brought from the last race. I’m sure we’ll tweak it and improve it a little bit.”

Meanwhile Hamilton admitted he was impressed by the main competition.

“The Ferraris look great, they really do. It’s surprising to see how good their times are. We’ll see whether that continues through the weekend.”

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Suspended fine for Williams after tyre mistake

Williams has been handed a €10,000 suspended fine by the FIA after the team made a mistake with tyre usage in FP1.

All drivers are given a set of primes which can only be used in the first 30 minutes of running and which are then handed back to Pirelli. However Felipe Massa was still using his after the 10.30am cut-off point today.

The stewards noted: “The competitor admitted the infringement and sought to mitigate. Having considered the facts the stewards accept that the infringement was inadvertent and no advantage was gained as a result. In the circumstances the stewards decided that a suspended penalty was appropriate for the infringement.”

They noted that the suspended fine would become payable if the team committed another similar offence.

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Williams reserve role for Adrian Sutil

Adrian Sutil has joined Williams as its reserve driver for 2015, and thus the former Force India and Sauber driver has landed an unexpected chance to at least keep a foot in the F1 door.

In theory he would have stood in had Valtteri Bottas not been passed fit this weekend.

The team noted: Adrian will spend time in the team’s race simulator to ensure he is fully accustomed to the Williams Mercedes FW37 controls and procedures, should he be required to step into the cockpit at any time during the current season. He has also spent time integrating himself into the team to ensure he is fully prepared to join Williams Martini Racing at any event, should the need arise.”

I’m delighted to have Adrian join our stable of drivers for the 2015 season,” said Sir Frank Williams. “Adrian brings extensive racing experience, having competed 128 Formula One races during his career. Having most recently raced during the 2014 season also gives him excellent knowledge of the current generation of race car and new Hybrid power units, which is invaluable for anyone needing to step into the cockpit in 2015.

The fight for a top Constructors’ Championship position will be intense this season, therefore we have selected a driver with recent race experience and are confident that if the need arose, he would be a solid pair of hands to race the FW37 and assist our 2015 campaign.”

Sutil added: “To work for Sir Frank Williams and his team means a lot to me. I would like to thank everyone at Williams for their belief in my qualities and the opportunity to work with such a successful and competitive outfit.”


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Red Bull’s call to rein in Mercedes is “funny,” says Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton said today that he finds Red Bull’s call for the FIA to rein in Mercedes as “funny” – given the success that RBR had in previous years.

Hamilton is adamant that Mercedes has worked hard to get where it is today.

“I find it quite funny,” he said when asked by this writer about Christian Horner’s comments. “It’s an interesting opinion coming from individuals who have had so much success. Also it’s only been one race, so to already have comments after the first race is what I find funny.

“And then on the personal side it was a big step for me to come to this team that had had so many years of poor performance – they hadn’t had the success of other teams. Not once did this team ever complain to others in order to equalise things, they just worked their arses off. We came to this team and saw them making that progress, and now they’re the best team, we’ve pulled together and done an amazing job.

“It’s not just me here it’s more than a thousand people working back at the two factories to build the best car, and we’ve done that with the same rules and the same resources that the other top teams have generally had. I’m really very proud of that. I think it’s kind of a funny situation.”

Hamilton is confident that Mercedes can stay ahead as this season unfolds: “With my understanding of the rules and how F1 is, and knowing how limited your time is in the wind tunnel and development, we all have that same amount of time. Providing we push forward thr same speed as everyone else, we should stay ahead. I believe the team will do that. Of course we never knew what others were going to do coming into the season, we didn’t know how much improvement others would have done.

“But we’re obviously very pleased with the work the team has done – obviously we were pretty competitive last year, and to still make an improvement on top of that is pretty exceptional. It’s a true showing of how amazing this team is now. If these people stay in the same place, and the right philosophy is taken, this team will be strong for many, many years.”

Meanwhile Lewis is hoping that he can keep up his Australian GP form.

“It’s only one qualifying session and Nico didn’t get his qualifying session right. I’m happy that I was able to perform that way and I plan to keep performing in that way. It still wasn’t perfect and I can improve, and with the race I think it just continued generally what I was doing for. There’s not really much progress – it’s small increments.

“I think Nico will be quick this weekend and he’ll be pushing as hard as he always did last year in qualifying. I’ve just got to try and keep up the momentum from the last race if I can.”


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