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Mercedes looks for answers as Hamilton struggles for grip

Lewis Hamilton admitted that Mercedes has a lot of work to do after the team struggled badly in afternoon practice in Monaco on Thursday.

The former champion was fastest in the morning session, but the team lost its way in the warmer conditions in the afternoon, as both Hamilton and his team mate Valtteri Bottas struggled for grip. Lewis was only eighth fastest, and was 1.1s off Ferrari’s pace.

“I can’t, because I don’t understand it,” said Hamilton when asked to explain it. “P1 was really good, the car was feeling great. Then there was night and day difference, black and white. P2 was a little bit different, we couldn’t work the tyres for some reason, lots of sliding about.

“Lot of studying to do to find out where we went wrong, but I’m confident in my guys. I don’t know if it’s set-up. It’s just with the tyres, I don’t know why the tyres weren’t working.

“That’s something we have to study and figure out for Saturday. It gives the guys here more time to work on the car, spread over two days, rather than everything tonight.”

Asked about the challenge of driving round Monaco at the record speeds seen today he said the higher downforce levels made it easier.

“It’s the same as before. The car is a lot better, it’s got more grip. If anything, it might be easier. It feels great. Monaco is always amazing to drive, and it’s definitely the best car I’ve driven round here.”

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Pascal Wehrlein: “The health and fitness is no issue any more”

Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein was one of the unexpected stars of the Spanish GP as the German used a one-stop strategy to earn eighth place.

He actually finished seventh on the road, but lost a spot to Carlos Sainz after receiving a five-second penalty for going the wrong side of the bollard at the pit entry. He started on the soft tyres and pitted for mediums under the VSC after 33 laps.

“A really exciting race, a really hard race,” he said. “We did only one stop, so from the first lap on the most important thing is to drive as quick as possible, but also manage the tyres. This was quite hard. The first soft stint, it went forever, and then the cars from behind with fresh tyres and a lot more pace were coming, and it was really important to defend the position. In the end I had a good fight with Sainz, and managed to keep him behind me.

“Then with the five seconds penalty its P8 in the end. Definitely a lot more than what we could have expected from this weekend. I’m looking forward to having some updates on the car for the next race, and hopefully we can see these results more often.

“I think it was the perfect strategy for today. Plan A was one stop, Plan B was two stops, and we committed to the one-stop since yesterday, and I said I want to try one-stop, otherwise there are no points we can get from this race. We have to take the risk. At the end it paid off, and I’m really happy about it.”

The result was particularly welcome after Wehrlein’s fitness issues earlier in the season: “I think I showed already in Bahrain I’m back. It’s just nice to see that my back is fine, I am performing at a very high level, and the health and fitness is no issue any more.”

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Lewis Hamilton: “I think it’s going to be tough race…”

Lewis Hamilton will start the Spanish GP from the 64th pole position of his career, despite failing to improve on his second run in Q3.

The Briton’s first run time thus did the job for him, although he only just stayed ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who would have stolen pole had he not had a poor end to his lap.

It started out that we were potentially a tenth ahead of the Ferraris, but in P3 it seemed that we were lot closer, so, quite level. So it was really intense for us, making sure we pulled out every millisecond we can. We made some changes as we got into qualifying, and the car felt great, so I was very happy with it. The Q1 lap was very, very good. The Q2 lap was so-so, but good enough. Then the first lap of Q3 was very good and the second lap was up, I think almost two tenths. I didn’t finish it that way, but still it was good enough to keep me ahead.”

Hamilton is expecting a close race on Sunday, with Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen all in the frame.

I think it’s going to be a tough race tomorrow, for sure. You see how close it is between us and it’s all milliseconds between us. I think it’s the third longest run down to Turn One so of course it’s going to be important to get a good start, but we’ve worked hard on them, so I’m going to try to do the best job I can.

Valtteri’s had some great starts so I’m going to try and follow in his footsteps there and then yeah, positioning can help a lot here and being on the clean side of the grid is an advantage generally. Usually it’s a little bit of an advantage and hopefully I’ll be able to utilise that – particularly compared to Sebastian – and then in the race it’s just about looking after those tyres. It’s a very, very long, hard race, both physically and mentally and for the car and the tyres – but we’ve prepared in the best way we can and I think hopefully got the car in a much better position than I did in the last race.”

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Sauber and Honda finally confirm deal

Sauber and Honda have finally confirmed that they will become partners in 2018, ending the Swiss team’s long relationship with Ferrari.

Honda’s announcement makes it clear that it still expects to be supplying McLaren next season as well.

Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn said: “It is a great honour for the Sauber F1 Team to be able to work together with Honda in the coming seasons. Our realignment is not just visible through the new ownership but also now with our new technological partnership with Honda.

We have set another milestone with this new engine era, which we await with huge excitement and of course we are looking for new opportunities. We very much look forward to our partnership with Honda, which sets the course for a successful future – from a strategic as well as from a technological perspective. We thank Honda for making this great partnership happen.”

Katsuhide Moriyama, Chief Officer, Brand and Communication Operations of Honda, added: “In addition to the partnership with McLaren which began in 2015, Honda will begin supplying power units to Sauber as a customer team starting from next year. This will be a new challenge in Honda’s F1 activities.

In order to leverage the benefits of supplying to two teams to the maximum extent, we will strengthen the systems and capabilities of both of our two development operations, namely HRD Sakura and the operation in Milton Keynes. We will continue our challenges so that our fans will enjoy seeing a Honda with dominant strength as soon as possible.”

The deal obviously gives Honda the chance to place one of its proteges, such as F2 racer Nobuharu Matsushita, with the team.



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Vandoorne lands 15 place grid penalty

Stoffel Vandoorne has landed the first power unit related grid penalty of the season at only the fourth race of the season.

The McLaren driver will drop 15 places for Sunday’s race after more Honda problems in Sochi this morning.

This year grid penalties click in when they take their fifth elements, and a change to the FIA Sporting Regulations means that drivers can no longer stockpile examples by making multiple changes on one weekend, a ploy that was used by the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the past.

Vandoorne started FP1 with a new turbo and MGU-H, putting him on the verge of penalties. He then experienced a loss of power, due a suspected MGU-K issue.

It was decided to change the ICE (V6), MGU-K, MGU-H and turbo for FP2, which means the fifth examples of the last two. He gets 10 places for using the fifth example of one element, and five further places for the fifth example of another.

Meanwhile Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have taken a further step towards penalties by using new turbochargers. Both men are now on their third turbos of the season. Apart from the two works drivers Romain Grosjean is also now on his third Ferrari turbo, Carlos Sainz has taken his third Renault MGU-H of the season, and Alonso has used his third example of both items.

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F1 Strategy Group favours Shield over Halo

The F1 Strategy Group met today – with new F1 boss Chase Carey attending for the first time – and agreed several Sporting Regulation changes for 2018, which will now have to approved by the FIA World Motor Sport Council.

Chief among is the decision to pursue the “Shield” cockpit protection system rather than the Halo, which was hitherto the favoured solution. The Shield is in essence closer to the Aeroscreen proposed by Red Bull.

In addition aerodynamic restrictions around the engine cover will mean the end of shark fins and T-wings as we currently know them, while there will be standing starts after red flags, instead of resumptions behind the safety car.

The FIA summarised the planne changes as follows:

– A number of more integrated solutions for additional frontal protection have been studied, and the decision has been taken to give priority to the transparent ‘shield’ family of systems. The FIA aims to carry out track tests of this system during this season in preparation for implementation in 2018.

– Changes in the regulation boxes around the engine cover have been made so that designs incorporating the ‘t-wing’ and ‘shark fin’ will be strictly limited.

– Measures will be taken to ensure that oil will not be used as fuel. In addition, only one specification of oil may be used for any given power unit during an event.

– Pirelli will be allowed to develop 2018 wet weather tyre compounds using previous specifications of cars and wheel dimensions.

– In the event of a red flag period during a race, the race will be resumed from a standing start

In addition teams have been told that from as early as next month’s Spanish GP “the sporting regulations will be strictly enforced to ensure that visibility of drivers’ names and numbers on the cars will be clearer.”

The FIA also reported that Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas and Sauber, the only teams outside the Strategy Group, will now be invited to meetings: “Representatives from the non-member teams will now be invited to meetings of the F1 Strategy Group to have access to the discussions, demonstrating the effective commitment of both the FIA and the Commercial Rights Holder to improve transparency in the sport.”

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Wolff admits concern over team orders

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits that it was difficult to make a call on team orders that favoured Lewis Hamilton only three races into the new season.

In Bahrain Valtteri Bottas was asked to move over and let Hamilton past not just once but twice during the course of the race, as their different strategies played out.

We don’t like it at all,” said Wolff. “We haven’t done it in the last years or have tried to avoid it as good as we can. Until today, we have tried to avoid it as good as we can. It’s a moment of realisation that if you don’t react, you’re going to lose the race. Then you have to make an unpopular call.”

He added: “It was our mindset and racing philosophy until now that we have given them both equal opportunity. Like today, you have two cars starting on the front row. If they run second and first, you just have to let them race. When you have a problem on the car like we had in the afternoon, that would have been a situation we would have considered – to swap them – but with a Ferrari in between, we couldn’t. Three races into the season, you don’t want to go there yet.”

Wolff admitted that on the first occasion the team had waited too long, effectively costing Hamilton some momentum.

You’re always more intelligent afterwards, what could have been. It’s a call you don’t like to make. I think both have to have a chance of winning the race and having the best possible result. And it’s only when the moment comes, you realise if you’re not changing anything, you’re going to lose the race, that is the moment when you have to make that unpopular call.”

He said the team could not give priority to whoever got pole.

No that would be too harsh, it would be the opposite of what we have done through the years. It’s important as we start the race, to give them equal opportunity. We would have probably taken a different decision if Valtteri had run in the front with the problem on the tyres and Lewis would have been second but with Vettel in between, there is nothing we could have done. That’s why it was the perfect storm.”

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