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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McLaren finally confirms Button for Monaco

Three days after the initial announcement McLaren has finally confirmed that Jenson Button will stand in for Fernando Alonso in the Monaco GP.

Button agreed a deal as reserve driver for 2017 and was always the obvious candidate for the drive. Any reservations he might have had have obviously been eased by the special appeal of Monaco and the fact that the track could be one of McLaren’s best opportunities to score points this season.

“I’ve won the race before, in 2009, and it’s one of my all-time favourite race tracks,” he said. “It’s a tricky street circuit on which a good driver can really make a difference – and, although the McLaren-Honda MCL32 hasn’t begun the season well, I think it may be more suited to Monaco than to the faster circuits that Fernando and Stoffel have raced it on so far this season.

“OK, I realise we won’t have a realistic chance of repeating my 2009 victory, but I think we’ll have a opportunity to score world championship points, which will be very valuable to the team in terms of constructors’ rankings.

“I’ll drive the MCL32 around Monaco in the McLaren sim beforehand, and I reckon I’ll be ready for the race after doing that. I’m supremely fit, having done a lot of triathlon training recently, so I have no worries on that score. And it’ll be nice to say ‘hi’ to all my old Formula 1 mates too, and hopefully to give the fans something to cheer about.”

Racing director Eric Boullier added: “I was truly delighted when Jenson accepted our suggestion that he race at Monaco instead of Fernando, and I know I speak on behalf of everyone at McLaren-Honda, and all our sponsor-partners and fans too, when I say that it’s great news for Jenson, for McLaren, for Honda, for our sponsor-partners, for Monaco, and for the sport of Formula 1.

“Jenson is a class act. He’s a superb driver – fast, smooth and precise – and he won’t have lost any of his competitive edge over the past few months. After all, he’s missed only a handful of Grands Prix since his last outing in Abu Dhabi in late November last year, and he’s as fit as a fiddle. Also, he’s always been good at Monaco. He’ll do a great job for us, I’m sure of that.”

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Sebastian Vettel: “Maybe I ‘chickened’ onto the brakes a bit too soon…”

Sebastian Vettel appeared to be favourite for pole in China after topping the morning free practice session, but as in Australia the German had to settle for second place on the grid.

Vettel admitted that he had perhaps been a little too cautious at the end of the lap, but he still did enough to beat Valtteri Bottas by just a thousandth of a second.

It was a nice session, I enjoyed it a lot,” said Vettel. “I think if we could have been a bit quicker at the end I would have enjoyed it a bit more. I think I was very happy with the lap I had. Last corner maybe I lost a little bit – maybe I ‘chickened’ onto the brakes a bit too soon. Obviously it was very close with Valtteri, good job we got just enough margin to make it to the front row.

I think our car is strong no matter what. It obviously depends what these guys are doing. Certainly we’ve seen also in the previous years that in quali they seem to be able to really get on top of what they have. I think we can still improve. Let’s see what the race looks like tomorrow. The conditions will be quite different. Maybe we should put fuel in the car and race now.”

Vettel said he’s enjoying being back in the hunt for victory after a frustrating 2016.

Obviously it’s a lot of fun when you fight for poles and wins. Certainly enjoyed Australia a lot, despite the outcome on Sunday which obviously was fantastic – but in general, to be able to fight at the front for the podium, and really fight for it is a great feeling.

We didn’t really have much expectation because it’s a completely different track but on the hand we did know that our car is working well. So, just need to keep it up. Need to try to improve it whenever we can. So overall, I can only give it back, and hopefully there’s a lot more for the rest of the season. But this is only race two. A lot of things can happen but we need to obviously give everything we have to stay there.”

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Malaysian GP dropped for 2018

The Malaysian GP will be dropped from the 2018 calendar in a joint decision by F1 and Sepang International Circuit.


First held in 1999 and subsidised by the government, the race has long struggled to get a full crowd and break even.

As previously announced the French GP returns to the calendar next year, while Hockenheim’s ongoing contract – which only covers even-numbered years – means that the German GP will bring the schedule up to 21 races.

It’s always sad to say goodbye to a member of the Formula 1 family,” said F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches. “Over nearly two decades, the Malaysian Formula 1 fans have proven themselves to be some of the sport’s most passionate supporters.

As we said in Melbourne, we have big plans for bringing our global fan base closer to the sport than ever before, providing an enhanced digital experience and creating new events. We’re looking forward to talking more about these plans as the season progresses.

We will have 21 exciting events to look forward to in the 2018 calendar, with the additions of the French and German races.”

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Giovinazzi replaces Wehrlein for Australian GP

Antonio Giovinazzi will stand in for Pascal Wehrlein for the rest of the weekend after the German admitted he didn’t feel fit enough to do a race distance.

Ferrari third driver Giovinazzi will thus get a chance to make his F1 debut after testing for the Swiss team in Barcelona.

Ferrari proteges Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc have both been linked with FP1 running for Sauber and Haas, with the Sauber reserve role obviously of interest to the Monagasque driver given the potential problems for Wehrlein.

Wehrlein said: “My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team.”

Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned.”

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