Ricciardo admits talks with Ferrari before McLaren deal

McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo says he held talks with Ferrari regarding a move to the Italian outfit for 2021 but admitted not “diving too deep” into the discussions.

Ricciardo’s transfer from Renault to McLaren next season was announced earlier this month, the Aussie replacing Carlos Sainz who will fill Sebastian Vettel’s seat at Ferrari.

Ricciardo was often cited as Vettel’s successor at the Scuderia even before the news of the German driver’s departure from Maranello. And the 30-year-old — who had been linked to Ferrari in the past — confirmed that the most recent speculation was not wide of the mark.

“There have been discussions already from a few years back, and that continued all the way through to now,” Ricciardo said in an interview with CNN.

“I won’t deny that, but obviously it’s never really come to fruition.

“I’ve never really chose to dive too deep into it. Everyone says it would be a good fit, obviously, with my name and all the background stuff, but I try not to get emotionally caught up in any kind of situation.”

Ricciardo believes that Ferrari’s decision to recruit Sainz was a logical one.

“I see how Carlos is a fit for the team. So I don’t really look at it like ‘why not me?'” he said.

“Carlos had a very strong 2019. He’s a bit of hot property right now, and I guess it’s a good fit for where they are at.”

Regarding his decision to not extend his two-year contract with Renault, Riccardo said the choice had not boiled down to a specific issue or aspect associated with the French outfit, insisting there is no “black and white answer”.

“There wasn’t any moment, which was like a light bulb and said: ‘Yes, that’s what I need to do,” explained the Aussie.

“Equally, there wasn’t something I saw in McLaren, which created that or there wasn’t something in Renault, which created the moment of ‘I have to move on.’

“The discussions with McLaren go back to even before 2018, and I guess continued over time.

“Obviously it’s not an overnight decision. I guess to compare as well the two [teams], I don’t think that’s fair.”

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Qiddiya circuit seen as potential venue for 2023 Saudi Arabian GP

Saudi Arabia’s future F1 plans continue to unfold, with a dedicated circuit designed by former driver Alex Wurz to be built at Qiddiya, just outside Riyadh.

The new track is expected to be the “centerpiece” of a the Qiddiya entertainment mega-project which is part of the country’s Saudi Vision 2030 initiative which aims to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependency on oil by diversifying its economy into a multitude of sectors such as infrastructure, recreation and tourism.

Qiddiya chief executive Mike Reininger said that negotiations between Saudi authorities and Liberty Media are ongoing, with venue’s infrastructure ready to host a race from 2023.

“We’re building a facility in the hope there will be a deal struck and there is a race here in Saudi,” Reininger told BBC Sport.

“The formalisation of a race is not for us at Qiddiya. It is outside the confines of the project itself.

“But we are building a facility that will be able to host a really world-class event as one of the signature items we will have on offer here at Qiddiyah as we open in 2023.”

Qiddiya’s FIA Grade One standard track project was formally unveiled at an event on Friday attended by 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill, former driver David Coulthard and Haas’ Romain Grosjean.

Design and layout for Qiddiya’s racing complex was handled by former Benetton and Williams driver Alex Wurz, whose company has been involved in the design of several circuits in the past.

©Qiddiya

A two-time Le Mans winner, Wurz is also the chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association of which Grosjean is a director.

“It’s a privilege of a lifetime to design the motion & mobility zone in Qiddiya, including the Speed Park track,” Wurz said.

“The visionary Qiddiya project offers us amazing opportunities to design a track, a true racing arena for drivers, spectators as well as the viewers at home.

“The design offers amazing elevation changes, making use of the stunning natural landscape. Equally the design is made to challenge drivers and engineers alike. And from our simulation runs, I can assure you it is absolutely thrilling as an on and off track experience. Qiddiya has all it takes to become the motorsport capital of the world.”

Rumors of a race in Saudi Arabia emerged last this year, but earlier this week the Daily Mail reported that all parties were closing in on a deal reputed to be worth an enticing $60 million for Formula 1.

However, putting the Kingdom on F1’s map will inevitably draw criticism from those who will underline Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights track record.

But F1 – which rightly claims it is a non-political organization – has never shied away from controversial territories that trample rights, such as China, Russia or Bahrain.

Even in sports, money talks and moral walks, unfortunately.

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Horner hopes for no 'rabbits out of the hat' in 2020

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that all the signs are there for a ‘classic’ championship season in 2020 – providing none of the teams are able to pull off a last minute surprise advantage over the rest of the grid.

“Unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat, I think we’re set for a really exciting year next year between, Mercedes, Ferrari and ourselves,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “It could be a real classic season.”

Although Mercedes described 2019 as one of their toughest and closest seasons so far, they still finished more than 200 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors championship.

And Lewis Hamilton easily clinched the drivers title with 413 points, compared to 278 for his nearest non-Mercedes challenger, Red Bull’s own Max Verstappen.

But Horner said he would be surprised if the Silver Arrows were able to repeat that sort of dominance in the standings again in 2020, given that the sport’s technical rules are essentially unchanged this year.

“We’ve got continuity across all aspects of next year with drivers – with regulations, with engine supply, with engine regulation,” he explained.

Horner drew comparisons with the last time that the rules had been unchanged between seasons, which turned out well for Red Bull at the time.

“If I look back to 2017, we had a fantastic car at the start of the year. We should have been on the front row in Melbourne, and we won the second race in China.

“We had a very, very competitive car [at the start of 2017],” he continued. “That was with stability of regulations, and we have that again from 2019 into 2020.”

Horner added that he expected the Red Bull car that will line up in Melbourne in March will essentially be an upgrade of the RB15 which closed out last season in Abu Dhabi, without any big changes being planned.

That should enable Red Bull to get a stronger, more consistent start to their campaign compared with 12 months ago, when off-season changes to the aerodynamic and tyre specifications intended to encourage closer on-track racing caused Red Bull some early headaches.

“The front wing regulation change and the tyre change over the winter seemed to affect us perhaps more than our opponents,” Horner acknowledged.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB15.

The team had also been busy transitioning from one engine provider to another, working with new partners Honda to improve the performance of the power units to put them on a level footing with Mercedes and Ferrari.

“At that time we were still catching up on from the power perspective,” Horner concurred. “But I think from Austria onwards, we really got on top of that.”

Red Bull was certainly increasingly competitive as the season went on. Verstappen clinched three wins at Austria, Germany and Brazil, and successfully claimed his maiden pole position in Hungary followed by another in Brazil.

“The second half of the year for us had been very competitive,” Horner agreed, while sounding a note of caution about what 2020 lay in store for the team. “You can’t gauge what others are doing [until pre-season testing].”

Teams aren’t expected to make big developments to their car this year, given that a major overhaul to F1’s sporting and technical regulations is planned for 2021.

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Berger says 'experienced' Vettel can't be dismissed

Former F1 driver Gerhard Berger won’t write off Sebastian Vettel for the 2020 title fight, insisting the Ferrari driver’s vast experience remains a big asset.

Vettel, who won just single race in 2019, was outscored in the championship by Scuderia teammate and two-time winner Charles Leclerc last season and outpaced in qualifying by the Monegasque.

The 32-year-old’s contract with Ferrari runs out at the end of this year, and many believe that if the German is swept under the carpet by Leclerc, he’ll be heading into retirement after Abu Dhabi.

But Berger refuses to dismiss the four-time world champion as a contender for the 2020 world crown despite Ferrari sending a clear signal about the future when it extended recently Leclerc’s contract until the end of 2024.

“We don’t know if it’ll be a decisive year for him personally, he’ll determine that himself” Berger told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Is he driving his last year and wants a good retirement? Does he want to extend his stay at Ferrari for another three years? Does he want to take Leclerc apart?

“It’s clear that with Leclerc, he has a tough nut to crack. But he can’t do it. Regardless of whether you drive a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull, you always have a tough nut to crack.

“That used to be the case with the top teams. There are always two alpha animals that go head-to-head until one remains. When I went to McLaren, I had Senna. You can’t run away from it.”

©WRI

While Leclerc ended the season with an upper hand overall on Vettel, Berger believes the German’s form in the latter part of the season proved that he should still be a force to be reckoned with.

“In the last third of the season, Vettel showed that he can do that [go head-to-head with Leclerc] very well,” added the former McLaren and Ferrari stalwart.

“There’s no question that Leclerc has the future ahead of him and Sebastian is in the last stage of his career.

“But he has some insane experience, he has been world champion four times, has been with Ferrari for five years.

“From this he can draw and balance out the boy’s bravery. It will be an interesting duel, but I don’t dare to predict the outcome.”

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Bottas reveals 'final step' needed to beat Hamilton

Valtteri Bottas believes that less mistakes and solid consistency are key to beating Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton over the course of a full season.

After a winless campaign in 2018 and a winter of introspection, Bottas hit the ground running in Australia last year, the Finn trading race wins with Hamilton in the first four races of 2019.

But therefatre, Bottas gradually lost ground on the reigning world champion, allowing Hamilton to accumulate the race wins and detach himself at the top of the drivers’ standings.

Bottas fought back, securing wins in Japan and Brazil but it was too little too late for the 30-year-old who knows however what he’ll need this year to keep himself in contention for the world title, from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi.

“It’s quite clear in my mind,” he said. “We’re definitely [working] with the engineers and with the team on my development programme.

“Things we’re really focusing on [is] the race week and for my performance that final step I need is consistency.

“Still more adaptability to different circumstances [as well], but the main thing is minimising mistakes.

“There were some qualifying sessions where I made mistakes and that compromised the Sunday and then there was some races where I made mistakes, for example, Hockenheim, I lost a big chunk of points there so [it’s about] trying to get rid of those.

“There’s still a lot I feel I can improve. It’s fine details here and there, a lot related to driving style and tyre management. But it’s a whole lot better than last year.”

©Mercedes

One of Hamilton’s biggest assets is his ability to deliver a peak performance, lap after lap, race after race, regardless of the track or conditions.

Bottas’ ambition of rivaling his teammate on that level is a tall order, but it will be the price he will need to pay if he wants a real chance to defeat F1’s mega star.

“It feels like I have to dig very deep to find anything more from my side – how I can be a better driver, how I can perform better, how I can work better with engineers,” he added.

“It definitely keeps me working hard because it’s just not easy to beat him. And it requires a lot. That’s pushing me on every single day.

“I believe there’s always something that I can do better and I can fix those weaknesses. Maybe I’m a bit more stubborn.”

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Hamilton steps up to donate to Australian bushfire relief

Lewis Hamilton has donated $500,000 to Australian wildlife charities and rural fire services battling the country’s massive bushfire crisis.

The six-time Formula 1 world champion took to social media on Thursday to pledge his donation, a gesture that will perhaps incite his colleagues and other prominent F1 personalities to follow suit.

Spurred by high temperatures, wind and a three-year drought, the bushfire crisis escalated dramatically at the end of December, with Victoria and New South Wales bearing the brunt of the disaster.

While loss of human life has been limited, the crisis has taken a massive toll on the southern states’ wildlife, land and homes. On Kangaroo Island, a haven for wildlife, strong winds amplified the blazes, threatening to wipe several towns off the face of the map.

“It breaks my heart to see the devastation the Australian bushfires are causing to people and animals across the country,” Hamilton wrote on Twitter.

“I’m pledging $500k to support the animals, wildlife volunteers and rural fire services. If you are able to, and you haven’t already then you can donate too.”

The Mercedes driver reiterated his call for donations on Instagram.

“It saddens me deeply to know that over 1 billion animals in Australia died a painful death, no way out, not their fault,” he wrote in a post.

“My love of animals is no secret and I can’t help but grieve for the defenceless animals thought to have died so far, pushing certain species closer to extinction.

“I’m lucky enough to visit Australia often and I know first-hand how beautiful the country is. Keep fighting Australia.

“I’ve spent some time speaking to people in Australia who are working at the heart of this and I’m filled with admiration for everything they are doing.”

“I implore you to join me in thinking about the impact we are having on our planet. Let’s work together to make small changes, and encourage our family and friends to do the same, so we can help shift the direction we’re going in.”

“I’m donating $500K to support @wireswildliferescue @wwf_australia and the Rural Fire Services. If you are able and haven’t already, you can donate too. Every little helps.”

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Ricciardo and Ferrari: 'My name is always going to be there'

The 2020 season has yet to get underway, but Daniel Ricciardo admits that it is nice to already be “talked about” as a potential Ferrari driver for 2021.

The recent signings of Charles Leclerc at the Scuderia and Max Verstappen at Red Bull have cleared up earlier than expected a few of the uncertainties linked with the 2021 season.

However, the big question that will continue to tickle everyone’s mind in whether Lewis Hamilton will remain with Mercedes for his final stint in F1 – the most likely forecast – or move to Ferrari for the ultimate challenge?

Sebastian Vettel’s contract with the Scuderia runs out at the end of this year and few are those who believe the German will prolong his stay with the House of Maranello, although a lot will likely depend on the four-time world champion’s performance in 2020.

For many, Ricciardo might just turn out to be Ferrari’s most reasonable choice for 2021, as a proven race winner, as a driver capable of pushing his younger teammate and as a man whose non-disruptive character would help maintain just the right blend of intra-team competition and harmony at the Scuderia.

Queried on the fact that pundits are putting his name at the top of Ferrari’s list for next season, Ricciardio insists its but a logical choice.

“I guess it’s probably always going to be there”, he told Australia’s Sunday Times. “They always linked me to that, with my Italian roots.

“But it’s nice to be talked about and still relevant and kind of in the mix as far as names getting thrown around.”

In the interim, the 30-year-old still has another year on his contract with Renault to fulfill.

“I would love for 2020 to work out and I stay, that’s the easiest and happiest scenario, I wish for that,” he said.

But the Honey Badger may wish even more for Ferrari to come knocking…

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McLaren intends to go to the limit on expenditure

McLaren says that it intends to match the top three Formula 1 teams in terms of expenditure once the sport’s new budget cap comes into effect in 2021.

From next year, teams will have to keep their spending to under $175 million per season. That will certainly cramp the style of teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull who are used to being able to spend their way to success but is still a figure that the smaller teams on the grid can only dream of having on hand.

However for the resurgent McLaren team, which finished 2019 as ‘best of the rest’ in fourth place in the constructors standings, the budget cap represents a unique opportunity to get on equal terms with the top teams.

“There’s a clear commitment that we will run at the budget cap because obviously that’s the only chance to be able again to fight the big ones,” team principal Andreas Seidl told Autosport magazine this week.

“You need to be on a level playing field in terms of budget,” he explained. “[So] we will run at the budget cap, because obviously that’s the only chance to be able again to fight the big [teams].”

But despite McLaren’s commitment to matching the top teams in terms of expenditure in 2021, Seidl ruled out front-loading the effort by throwing even more money into their operation this year before the budget cap takes effect.

Seidl said that even if the team was handed an extra million dollars in 2020, there was only so much that was realistically achievable in the situation.

“You first need to be able to digest that and put a structure in place that actually can produce more output in this short period of time,” he explained.

“In the end there’s a limitation placed on the [computational fluid dynamics] side, on the windtunnel side,” he continued. “There’s only so much you can do, and aero will in the future be the key performance differentiator.

“This is why I’m not too worried about the budget gap not being in place in ’20,” he continued. “[I’m] also not too worried about the quotes I’m reading at the moment that it will be the most expensive year ever for the top three teams.”

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL34.
In addition, McLaren ends its engine partnership with Renault with a return to Mercedes power units from 2021, which will limit the advance development work that can be crammed into the next 12 months.

Formula 1 CEO Chase Carey has also said that he’s not concerned about the top teams throwing money at the problem this year before the new rules take effect.

“In 2020, all the teams will participate in effectively a dry run in terms of shaking out the bugs of accounting for the costs,” Carey predicted in October. “”Some teams had concerns or issues going on but they are increasingly supportive.”

But neither the new budget gap nor a wide-ranging overhaul to F1’s sporting and technical regulations is going to close the gap between the bigger and smaller teams overnight.

“They will have a head start simply because of where they are right now,” acknowledged Seidl of the current advantage held by the Big Three squads.

“They do a better job they have better methodologies in place, they have better processes in place and so on,” he added.

With that in mind, Seidl confirmed last week the latest changes in the McLaren management structure with the promotion of engineer Andrea Stella to the role of racing director.

“We have to keep this momentum up and simply have to keep on pushing in order to achieve our ambitious targets,” he noted.

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Williams insists 'two difficult years don’t define a team'

After a dismal couple of seasons, it looks like Williams has an almost insurmountable task ahead of it if it’s to become a major player in Formula 1 again in the future.

Williams recently celebrated 40 years as an independent constructor in the sport. It has been behind seven successful driver championship campaigns, and won nine team titles between 1980 and 1997.

But after finishing fifth in the constructors championship as recently as 2016 and 2017, the last two seasons have seen the team firmly mired at the bottom of the standings and was only to claim a single championship point in 2019.

“We have had two difficult years,” deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted to RACER magazine. “But two difficult years doesn’t define a team.”

She insisted that the team’s fortunes would soon begin to bounce back.

“What I’ve seen in this team this year is an extraordinary level of resilience and tenacity, also a willingness to put in the hard work to turn things around.”

“I’ve always said that work is never going to be the work of a moment,” she continued. “It takes time.

“But we have undergone considerable transformation in the team in the past 14 months, and we are seeing the dividends of that work starting to pay off now.”

One bright spot for the team has been the performance of rookie driver George Russell. Although he wasn’t able to finish in the top ten in his maiden season, Williams still declared that she had “been blown away by George” in 2019.

Russell remains with the team next year, where he will now be partnered by Nicholas Latifi following the departure of Robert Kubica from the driver line-up.

Now it’s up to the team to develop and deliver a car over the off-season that will allow them to show what they can do in race trim when F1 resumes in Melbourne in March.

“We have to make sure we give George and Nicholas a car in which they can display their capabilities,” Williams acknowledged. “That’s what we’re all working towards back at the factory.”

Crucially, the team needs to avoid a repeat of the disastrous situation at the star of this year when the FW42 wasn’t ready to take part in the opening days of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

“We have targets for next year, as does every team up and down the paddock,” Williams said. We are pleased, and comfortable with those targets, and where we are at the moment.

“But it’s always a challenge for any team to meet the targets that it sets,” she admitted. “It’s a challenge to get the cars ready for testing.

“But we have to get it right next year, and I believe that the FW43 — next year’s chassis — will be an improvement upon this year’s.”

Williams can take some comfort from the revival of another famous British marque. McLaren slumped to ninth place – last-but-one – in the 2017 championship during their disastrous engine partnership with Honda.

But the following year they improved to sixth, and in 2019 they clinched ‘best of the rest’ status in fourth place behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

A similar renaissance would be sorely welcome to all at Grove. The team hasn’t been on the podium since Lance Stroll finished in third place in Baku in 2017, and not won since Pastor Maldonado’s unlikely victory in Spain in 2012.

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Nicolas Todt: 'Leclerc is my greatest pride"

Driver manager Nicolas Todt, who was instrumental in guiding Charles Leclerc’s path to Ferrari, says the Monegasque is his greatest pride.

The Scuderia announced on Monday that it had rewarded Leclerc with a new five-year contract that secures the two-time Grand Prix winner’s future with the Italian outfit until the end of 2024.

Todt, who managed the careers of, among others, Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat and also co-founded the very successful ART Grand Prix outfit, has been looking after Leclerc’s interests since the latter’s karting days when the son of FIA president Jean Todt stepped in at a time when the future Ferrari driver’s funding had dried up.

“I signed Charles at 14,” said Leclerc, speaking to Motorsport-Magazin. “He should have stopped karting because he ran out of money. I decided to help him.

“I introduced him to Ferrari a few years ago and today he drives there. And no one can say that he got there just like that. He’s there because we did the job.

“For me, someone like Charles is my greatest pride, the fact that he went there and delivered.”

Leclerc’s case underlines the necessity for a manager to identify as early on as possible young talent in order for an investment, in time or money, to pay off.

Todt’s company – called All Road Management and founded in 2003 – regularly scouts the junior ranks and currently has several promising young talents in its stall.

“I love finding future stars and helping them make their dreams come true,” admitted Todt, who puts his own money behind the young drivers he handles.

“I am the only manager who does it that way, that is my specialty,” he said.

“It’s easy to say: you have to do this, you have to do that. As long as it’s not your own money, you can give advice.

“You can say ‘buy this house’. But do you say: ‘Buy this house, we make 50/50?’ Then it’s a completely different thing. If I believe in someone, then I invest.

“Of course, I also try to find sponsors who help me. But if I don’t find sponsors, I’m the one who has to invest.

“I did that with Jules [Bianchi], I did it with Charles, and I do it with drivers who I think are special.”

Todt admitted that a young driver’s performance in the junior ranks is not a guarantee of future success, as Red Bull has often found out.

But the 42-year-old only invests in those for who he has the strongest conviction.

“One can also make a mistake,” he said. “I really need to be as sure as possible that my choice is right. But you can’t just make good decisions. Mathematically speaking, this is not possible.

“Check out Red Bull: They had 15 drivers in the past. Of the 15, maybe two or three are in Formula 1 today.

“You make bad decisions along the way. And I can’t afford to have 15 drivers because I don’t have the budget. So, I take a driver or two and hope that my choice was right.”

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