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Lewis Hamilton: “It’s going to be tough out there for everyone”

Lewis Hamilton believes that World Champion believes the chances of recovering to the points in Belgium will be much tougher than Shanghai, where he started from 22nd and finished seventh.

In Spa he will start 21st after Fernando Alonso’s power unit penalties ensured that Hamilton won’t actually start last.

Hamilton says the high pressures mandated by Pirelli will make it hard to keep the tyres alive over a stint, especially as he tries to fight his way through the pack.

“It’s completely different to China,” said Hamilton. “In China we didn’t have [tyre] failures the previous year, and therefore they didn’t put the pressure up to a ridiculous number. That is the case here. They had failures last year, they’re nervous of failures this year, so they put the pressures up to 23 or 24 whatever it is, which is so high, I’ve never seen pressures like that in my whole racing career. That doesn’t help.

“Plus it’s very hot, and being at those pressures, we get blisters. In China the tyres went a lot longer, it was cooler, and the tyres behave more like normal tyres. Here there’s not really much you can do to stop the tyres from blistering and overheating. Tomorrow is going to be interesting with that, so it’s definitely a much harder race than China ever was.”

Hamilton said one of the big problems will be running in traffic.

“As I said before its going to be a very, very hard race. If I had a choice of tracks to start dead last and overtake, this is definitely not in the top three for me in terms of an overtaking circuit. Whilst you can have a good tow up to Eau Rouge, being this hot, it’s going to be hard to follow.

“Being in the traffic it’s very unlikely I’m going to get to my stop target or go longer than the guys in front of me. I envisage tomorrow it’s even going to be hard to get into the top 10 with the tyres the way they are. I hope that I prove myself wrong, and I hope that I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Hamilton insists that he will start from the grid rather than pitlane, despite the obvious risk of getting involved in a first corner accident.

“I never like to start from the pitlane. It means you have to wait for them to come past you in the pitlane exit. By the time I get round the corner they will be half way down the hill, almost going into Eau Rouge, the last car.

“That means then I have to catch up. Of course, there’s a possibilities of me crashing in Turn One and you avoid it, but there’s also possibilities that there’s not, and then I just give up seven seconds or whatever it is. I can’t afford to lose any time. So my plan is to start from the grid.”

Regarding a realistic target he said: “All I can hope for is just to aim as high as possible, and try and get up as high as I can. It feels unlikely that it will be a podium position, but it’s not impossible. Things could happen, safety cars, all these sorts of things. But with these tyres the way they are, which is a bit of a mess, it’s going to be tough out there for everyone. It’s definitely going to be tough to come through and get on the podium and win.”

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Verstappen and Ricciardo made own tyre choices, says Horner

Red Bull Racing decided to split the starting tyre strategies of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo at Spa because the team doesn’t know whether a first stint on the supersoft or soft will be the better choice.

However the drivers made the decision for themselves as Verstappen had a clear preference for the supersoft, and Ricciardo preferred the soft. They will start second and fifth, split by the two Ferraris.

In Spain the two ran different strategies, and Verstappen came out on top, much to the frustration of his team mate.

“From a team perspective because it’s unclear what is the better strategy at the moment,” Christian Horner told this writer. “So to split them made sense. When we discussed it this morning we put it open to the table. Max was keen to start on the supersoft and Daniel was keen to start on the soft, which made the situation very easy.

“The drivers and their respective engineers picked the strategies, and from my perspective and a team point of view it covers both options. We’ll know tomorrow which one is the right way and which is the wrong way.

“It will be a fascinating race, to see how the strategies unfold. It’s going to be all about tyre deg.”

Horner agreed that as the fastest supersoft runner in a battle with four cars starting on softs Verstappen will not been in a direct fight with his rivals: “He’s got his own race going on, and it will be up to him to get through the traffic and get on with it.”

Horner said the team had expected to find it hard to beat the Ferraris, although Ricciardo made his life harder as he didn’t have a good Q3.

“We always knew here this circuit was always going to be a bit more of a Ferrari circuit than a Red Bull circuit, so to have outqualified them and be right with them was better than we expected coming into the weekend. As soon as Ferrari turn the engine up they are in good shape.

“For Daniel the first run in Q3 looked to be the quicker, because the wind changed between the two runs. He had a bit of a moment in Turn One, and of course that hurts you up the hill. He did a reasonably recovery on run two, but the circuit had lost a little bit of pace.”

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Alonso joins Hamilton and Ericsson with Spa grid penalties

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Marcus Ericsson have all logged grid penalties in Spa for taking sixth power unit elements.

Hamilton took a sixth turbo and sixth MGU-H for FP1, which means he gets 15 places (10 + 5), and then repeated the exercise with his seventh elements in FP2, adding 15 more places for a total of 30.

He also has taken a fourth and fifth ICE (V6) and fourth and fifth MGU-K, without penalty.

Mercedes is in effect stockpiling power unit elements for the remainder of the season, so that Hamilton won’t get penalties at a future race.

Meanwhile Fernando Alonso has taken his sixth examples of all six elements for FP2. He had his fifth examples fitted for FP1, but suffered a water leak from the ERS and did not set a representative time. All elements used today were off the latest updated spec.

Honda noted: “During FP1, we found a water leak from the ERS. Detailed investigation will follow, however, we have swapped out the whole of PU to ensure Fernando is out and running in FP2.”

Alonso will thus take a 35 place penalty for the change (10 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5).

Finally Ericsson is on 10 places after taking his sixth turbo of the season.

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Nico Rosberg: “Of course I’m aware of Lewis’s misfortune…”

Nico Rosberg said today that Lewis Hamilton’s Spa grid penalty has not put him under any more pressure to make the most of the World Champion’s bad luck.

Hamilton is set to start close to or at the back of the grid after taking new power unit elements, potentially leaving the way clear for Rosberg to bag maximum points – but the German says that nothing can be taken for granted.

“It doesn’t change the pressure that I would put myself under this weekend,” he insisted. “Because I would love to have a great weekend, and get the best out of it and win the race. Of course I’m aware of Lewis’s misfortune of having to get the grid penalty, and that’s going to make the weekend less difficult for me for sure, because he is my direct biggest rival.

“Nevertheless it’s still going to be a challenge, because if we remember four weeks ago I finished behind two Red Bulls. So I still need to beat all the opposition, and even Lewis, you always need to reckon even with him, because with a bit of luck and safety cars at the right moment there’s no reason why he can’t come very far back through the grid, especially on a track like here where you can overtake very easily.”

Rosberg says he can’t take any solace from the prospect of the Red Bulls or others taking points off Hamilton.

“No, because I don’t look at points and I would just like to win the race, and the Red Bulls being stronger is going to be a bigger challenge this weekend to try and win the race here, and that’s how my thinking goes.”

Rosberg says he has returned to action this weekend fully refreshed after the break.

“I was training a lot, so it was a unique opportunity to actually raise the fitness level in the middle of he season, so I made the most of that. I even enjoyed that, so I was pushing hard on that. And of course no racing, so the rest of the time was just free time with my family. It was amazing, very lucky to spend so much free time with my little daughter and my wife. I really made the most of it.

“It took a few days to digest Hockenheim for sure, because that was a big disappointment. But from then on I didn’t think about racing. I was just loving the time, I had an awesome time down there. Now I’m back today not thinking about the past at all, just here knowing that I have the opportunity to be on pole this weekend, and to win the race. I’m looking forward to that challenge, focussing, and I want to get that.”

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Track limits freedom requires rule change, says Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone says that track limits could not be properly freed up this weekend because the Strategy Group didn’t actually vote on the subject, and a rule change would have to go through proper procedures.

The Strategy Group discussed the subject after Ecclestone put curbs on the agenda, and it was agreed in principle to relaxing track limits. Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene was particular supportive, believing that cars going wide added to the show.

However at Hockenheim Charlie Whiting has resisted the push for a relaxation and imposed strict track limits at Turn One. He decided overnight to allow drivers a little extra leeway there from FP3 onwards, while keeping a limit in place.

Arrivabene, Toto Wolff and Christian Horner lobbied Ecclestone on the subject last night, and the last two met with him again this morning. However Bernie acknowledges what what was agreed in the Strategy Group did not go through the full process.

“What was decided was we’d give it a go and then afterwards evaluate,” Ecclestone told this writer. “Charlie sort of feels that we should stick more to the rules. There are rules that say where you can and where you can’t drive.

“It was me that put it in the agenda for the Strategy Group – the public don’t understand this and don’t care. But in the mean time we have got rules, and we need to stick to them.

“Although it was discussed in the Strategy Group and it was more or less unanimously accepted, we couldn’t do it because the Strategy Group didn’t actually vote. If they had voted it would have had to go to the F1 Commission to get approval. So it really couldn’t happen. We have to do it properly. We need to write a regulation, and vote on the regulation.”

Ecclestone denied that the saga had created some tension between the FIA on one side and and the teams and himself on the other.

“No, not really. It’s just a little bit frustrating because they think what the hell difference will it make? But when you let that go through then it’s what the hell difference will it make to something else?

“In the end it’s the stewards who make the decisions. If by chance people cross the white line, what happens? It’s the stewards who decided if they are reprimanded or not. I think the stewards look upon this as, perhaps if they don’t get an advantage, it’s not terrible. If they get an advantage, for sure they take their times away. If someone goes off because they haven’t got any choice, if they had to miss another car if you like to avoid an accident, I think the stewards will look at it and say it’s the right thing to do.”

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Postponing Halo is the correct call, says Horner

Christian Horner insists that the F1 Strategy Group has done the right thing by postponing the introduction of the Halo to allow for more research and development.

He says that the sport had to get it right first time, especially as any solution will also be used in other categories.

“We’ve agreed for a system to come in in ‘18, but the system needs to be fully researched, fully developed, fully tested,”  said Horner. “And at the moment other than a couple of install laps from a couple of drivers, there’s been no mileage put on this. We’re testing tyres for miles and miles before they’re introduced next year. The same has to go with a safety component in order to ensure that we haven’t introduced a risk that wasn’t previously there as well. I think the right things being done.

“The analysis, the research the development of the system is going to be really ramped up over the next 12 months to ensure that when it is introduced, it’s introduced properly, and not just for F1, across the different categories. Because this has a knock-on effect all the way down to entry level at F4 or Formula Renault. It’s important we get this right.”

Horner doesn’t expect a ‘revolt’ from the drivers over the Halo issue.

“I’d be surprised. A couple of drivers who have driven with the system haven’t been entirely happy with it either, and they’ve only done an installation lap. So it’s not been tested, it’s not been fully proven at variants of different circuits. Of course the objective is to improve the safety for the drivers, but to do it in way that doesn’t introduce any unforeseen aspects that could interfere with that. So I think the logical and sensible thing is being done – further testing, further development to get it on all the drivers’ cars.”

He also made it clear that timing had become a problem in terms of teams being a long way down the line with car development.

“The big issue for next year is that many teams – not ourselves but many of the smaller teams – have to freeze their chassis designs at the end of this month. We’re already late for them with a big regulation change. For this to be delayed for another month or another six weeks, will serious compromise them for next year’s championship.”

Asked about the implications of a serious accident in 2017 where the Halo could have helped he said: “It’s very difficult. There are always, ‘what ifs’? What if it was introduced and it created an accident, or a driver couldn’t get out of the car, or a piece of material was deflected into the driver? There are so many what ifs.

“This system is an interesting one, and it just needs further development to ensure that when it is introduced it provides the safety that the drivers are looking for, and of course all the teams are looking for their drivers.”

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Ferrari confirms Allison departure

Ferrari has confirmed that James Allison is to leave the team, following weeks of speculation about the Englishman’s future.

Allison and the Maranello team have “jointly decided to part ways,” according to a Ferrari statement. Following the tragic death of his wife in March Allison had indicated his preference to return to the UK.

Mattia Binotto, the head of the power unit department, will take on the role of Chief Technical Officer.

“The team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together,” said Maurizio Arrivabene. “And wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavours.”

Allison said: “During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it. I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”

The 46-year-old Binotto is a Ferrari veteran, having joined the team in 1995, and progressed through the ranks of the engine department.

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Hamilton wants clarity on yellow flag rules

After losing pole to team mate Nico Rosberg in Hungary a frustrated Lewis Hamilton has called for the FIA to clarify to what extent drivers are expected to slow down for yellow flags, and in particular double waved yellows.

Rosberg took pole despite passing through a double yellow zone on that lap, albeit just as spinner Fernando Alonso had got under way again. Rosberg lifted when he saw the yellows, but only lost a minimal amount of time, and has since been exonerated after an FIA investigation.

Hamilton had passed the scene moments earlier, when Alonso’s car was still stationary, and had to abort his lap.

“It just needs to be clarified now,” said Hamilton. “Us drivers need to understand the yellow flag situation, because obviously in the way that it’s written is potentially not the way it’s interpreted, either by the stewards or the drivers. So more clarification would be good. For me there was no question I had to lift, because Fernando was on the track. Perhaps for Nico, Fernando had cleared, but there were still flags, so it was a different scenario.”

Hamilton was keen to point out that double yellows mean be prepared to stop: “When it’s a yellow flag it says you have to be prepared to slow down, or you have to slow down, and lose some time. If it’s a double yellow – there could be a car on the track, there could be a steward on the track, you don’t know what’s around the corner – you have to be prepared to stop, that’s what it says.

“Nico only lost a tenth through the corner, so if that’s what we’re really allowed to do in the future, even though you lift and approach the corner with due care, if that’s allowed on double yellow… Because I thought that was the case on a single yellow, but maybe on a double, I thought you had to pay more caution to it. So if it’s only a tenth that you have to lose, that’s now different for all us drivers, we have to approach it potentially differently.

“But I’m not sure that’s the safest approach. We’ve instances in the past – I seem to remember Maldonado nearly hit a marshal in Monaco one time, because he hadn’t slowed down enough, and there was a marshal on the track. It’s really to make sure that it’s very, very clear to us. It’s not particularly our safety, it’s if there’s a car, a driver on the track, or a marshal.”

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Sebastian Vettel: “It’s something we need to fix…”

Sebastian Vettel says that Ferrari has to get to the bottom of its gearbox issues after he picked up his third five-place grid penalty of the season at Silverstone, resulting in him dropping form sixth to 11th on the grid.

The German was most concerned about the fact that he had the same failure on Friday and in FP3 this morning.

“It’s difficult to remember all of them!,” said Vettel. “One was a consequence of what happened in China, the second one I don’t remember, and this one here obviously was after the failure this morning. It was something new we haven’t suffered before [Silverstone]. Obviously we need to understand, because we had the same failure yesterday and this morning.

“I think the problems that we had yesterday and today, that’s a weakness, and we need to stop it. Obviously I think the other occasions it was more a consequence of other things happening, especially the first one – if you crash, obviously it was a mild crash, but still a little crash in China, and we had to change it. You see other people crashing and they have to change it. They are not made for crashing, if you see what I mean. Surely the issue that we had yesterday and today was something new, and we need to fix it.”

Vettel said the fact that the problem did not occur for a third time in qualifying gave him some confidence heading into the race.

“I think we took some precaution going into qualifying. We didn’t have the failure in qualifying, we didn’t see the failure on Kimi’s car, so I’m fairly confident that we will be fine tomorrow. But surely we got caught out twice with the same problem. We didn’t have it before, so it might be something related to the track here. It happened also at the same place, at the end of the lap onto the main straight, so we need to have a look and really understand what happened.

“Rest assured that we are looking into that. It’s a very high priority, obviously it cost us five positions today, and if it happens again it will do the same again. It’s something we need to fix. Plus if it happens in the race, you don’t finish.”

Vettel admitted that he had not had a great qualifying session, and felt he should have been a couple of spots higher than sixth he earned before his penalty.

“I was on a good lap the first attempt, and then obviously lost the rear in Stowe. I was able to catch it, but the majority of lap time was lost. And then the second approach I started similar to before but just went in a little bit too deep and wide in Turn One, and then it was difficult to recover from there. I didn’t have good laps at the end of qualifying when it mattered. I think the pace was actually OK, we were able to split the Red Bulls, but we didn’t in the end, so that’s a shame.”

Vettel said he had no problem with the track limits rules imposed this weekend.

“We spoke about it yesterday, everybody was there, so we all agreed on it. That’s it. So it’s OK. I don’t personally care if we can go out or not, it just has to be clear, and it was made clear yesterday.”

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Mercedes lets its drivers race under threat of team orders

Mercedes has confirmed that its drivers are free to race each other for the World Championship – but the team has imposed new “rules of engagement” to minimise the risk of further contact between the pair.

The team issues a statement today following meetings between the team management, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg.

“Our drivers were informed that they remain free to race for the world championship,” the statement said. “We believe this is the essence of Formula One, including between team mates. As passionate racers, we want to see them racing, and so do the fans of Formula One.

“However, this freedom comes with a duty for our drivers to respect the values of the team. In the past five races, there have been three incidents which have cost us over 50 points in the constructors’ championship.

“We have therefore strengthened our Rules of Engagement to include much greater deterrents to contact between our cars. With these in place, we will trust our drivers to manage the situation between them on track. Their destiny is in their own hands.”

Mercedes added that in certain circumstances points for the team will be a priority.

“The drivers were also reminded that we may issue instructions during the race to protect against a potential loss of constructors’ points, such as we did at this year’s Monaco GP when Nico was instructed to let Lewis pass.”

Mercedes concluded: “If the drivers do not honour the revised Rules of Engagement, we may impose team orders as a solution of last resort.”

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