Smedley warns that 'it can get worse' at Williams

Rob Smedley, Williams’ former head of vehicle performance, says the Grove-based outfit’s plight could actually get worse in 2020.

Williams has been fighting a depressed state of affairs since 2018, the former championship-winning team scoring 7 points that season and just a single top-ten finish in 2019.

Weighed down by engineering failures and organizational deficiencies, Formula 1’s third most successful team hit “rock bottom” last season according to its deputy team principal Claire Williams.

But Smedley, who left Williams at the end of 2018, knows from experience that a team’s decline can be locked in a bottomless pit.

“There would always be a philosophy that it can’t get any worse,” Smedley told Reuters‘ Alan Baldwin.

“Having been around the block a few times in motorsport, and Formula 1 in particular, (I know) the reality is it can get worse than this.

“We talk about how it can’t get much worse than 2019, but we said that about 2018. And we said that about 2017. The reality is that 2020 can actually be worse than 2019.”

Claire Williams recently said that her team’s wretched season was necessary for Williams to make the right decisions to enable a comeback.
But Smedley warns against entertaining such a mindset, although he would like nothing more than to his former employer succeed.

“Anyone who thinks that you can turn things around from where Williams are now to suddenly arrive back in the top five of the championship, they are very much mistaken. It is just incorrect,” he said.

“Now I’m on the outside I can hope, but when I was on the inside I didn’t want to just hope.

“It’s a tragic case. I’m not of the generation that can’t remember when Williams won a world championship.

“To see the decline there, it’s heartbreaking really as a Formula One fan.”

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Leclerc skydiving stunt did not go down well with Ferrari

Charles Leclerc admits that his recent leap of faith from 13,000 feet led to a reprimand from Ferrari as he had not asked his employer permission for the stunt.

With the F1 season done and dusted over a month ago in Abu Dhabi, Leclerc sought to sustain his adrenalin level, indulging in some high-altitude thrill by skydiving for the very first time.

The Monegasque undertook his initiation in Dubai and jumped in tandem with an instructor, an experience that elated the two-time Grand Prix winner but failed to impress his employer, whose permission he had “forgotten” to seek.

“You normally should do, [and] I do,” explained Leclerc last weekend at the Autosport International Show during a Q&A with fans.

“I didn’t for skydiving, because I just told myself that in case it will go wrong I will not be here to be told off!”

“So, yeah, I just went for it, and then they were a little bit upset. At the end, I won’t do it a second time.

“It was amazing. But it was just to do it once.”

 

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1st skydive today. What an amazing experience, jumping alone is next on the list 😬

A post shared by CHARLES LECLERC (@charles_leclerc) on Dec 2, 2019 at 6:28am PST

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Zak Brown just bought a factory tour of Red Bull Racing!

Up and down the pitlane, F1 teams rival in ingenuity to get a sneak peak at what’s going on under the skin of a competitor’s design, but McLaren’s Zak Brown wants to see where it’s all coming from.

Spy games have always been part of Formula 1, but whereas in the golden age of motorsport, before the era of closed garages or concealing screens, when an engineer would just walk up to Colin Chapman’s latest creation in the pitlane and freely eyeball the design, today’s snooping involves various ploys and tactics to gain knowledge.

Teams employ photographers who snap cars from all angles, on and off the track, while Red Bull tech boss Adrian Newey can often be seen strolling on the grid before a race, peering at anything of interest to his designer’s eyes, and sending the good people at Ferrari into a frenzy whenever he pauses for a gaze at the red cars.

But Brown has taken the gamesmanship to the next level, although it’s all for a good cause.

The Halow Project – promoted and supported by 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill – is a charity which supports young people with learning disabilities on their journey into and through adulthood.

The charity set up an auction this week, with one of the prizes being a guided tour of Red Bull’s Milton Keynes factory by Mr. design guru himself Adrian Newey.

For Brown, the opportunity to get a glimpse into the sanctuary where it all happens for Red Bull was too good to pass up, so the McLaren boss forked out a generous amount for the privilege.

However, valuable intel will be hard to come by for Brown.

“Nothing to see there Zak, moving on…”

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Russian GP likely to remain on 2020 calendar despite major WADA ban

The World Anti-Doping Agency hit Russia on Monday with a major four-year ban on hosting International sporting events, but the country’s F1 race should be exempted from the injunction.

An investigation by WADA concluded that Russian authorities had tampered with drug-testing data earlier this year.

The agency has unanimously decided to ban the sporting giant’s athletes from taking part in major sporting events under Russia’s banner, meaning the country will not be represented at next summer’s 2020 Olympics or at the 2022 World Cup.

WADA’s punishment also restricts Russia from organizing major sporting events in the country.

“Russia may not host in the Four-Year Period or bid for or be granted in the Four-Year Period, the right to host (whether during or after the Four-Year Period) any editions of the Major Events,” read a statement from WADA.

The country’s Russian Grand Prix falls under the definition of ‘Major Event’ organised by a WADA co-signatory, in this case the FIA. However, competitions which have contracts in place and that cannot be canceled should be exempted from the ban.

Russia has been granted a 21-day right of appeal with the Court of Arbritation for Sport.

Russian Grand Prix organisers have issued a statement in which they uphold their right to keep their event on the FIA F1 World Championship calendar.

“The contract for the Russian round of the Formula 1 World Championship was signed back in 2010, long before the circumstances being investigated by WADA. It is valid until 2025, and the Russian round is included in the FIA international sports calendar for 2020.

“If, after an appeal, the WADA wording on the cancellation of a major event, provided that it is legally and practically possible, remains the same and refers to the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, there is no legal and technical possibility to withdraw and reassign the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix to another country.

“We are confident that the Russian Grand Prix will take place in 2020 and subsequent years. We invite everyone to Sochi and ticket sales are in full swing.”

Russian athletes will still be able to compete in international events providing they can prove they are untainted by the doping scandal and they compete under a neutral flag.

The provision should therefore not impact the programmes of Russian drivers competing in a variety of categories, starting with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, the only Russian driver currently competing in F1.

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McLaren 'open-minded' about relationship with Alonso

McLaren boss Zak Brown is keeping an open mind when it comes to the future of the team’s relationship with Fernando Alonso, at least where other categories than F1 are concerned.

Despite quitting F1 at the end of last year, Alonso has remained a member of the McLaren family, testing with the papaya squad in F1 earlier this year and running for the Woking-based during its ill-fated attempt to qualify for the Indy 500.

After concluding his duties with Toyota in the WEC, the Spaniard is now focused on his Dakar endeavor, but Brown said in Austin that he would soon be sitting down with Alonso to discuss potential future plans.

“At the end of this year, we’ll have a conversation about what the future may or may not look like.” Brown said. “We’ve got an IndyCar team now, we continue to look at WEC.

“We’ll sit down with Fernando at the end of the year and just talk about what does he want to do moving forward, what do we want to do moving forward, and is there something there working together that makes sense.”

©McLaren

What wouldn’t make sense for Brown would be return to F1 for Alonso, it least with McLaren. The American has now permanently ruled out that prospect, although the two-time world champion remains in Brown’s eyes one of motorsport’s greatest talents.

“You know I think he’s an immense talent,” Brown added. “I’ve got a really good relationship with him.

“I think with the different racing activities that we’re doing, if there’s something that we have that makes sense to put Fernando in a car, I still think he’s one of the fastest drivers in the world.

“We’re set with our direction in Formula 1 with our current drivers, but depending on what other activities are, very open minded continuing a relationship with Fernando.”

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McLaren remains alert to Renault threat for P4

McLaren might have edged slightly further ahead of Renault in Japan, but the team is still anxious of the threat posed by the French squad in the battle to be ‘best of the rest’ in the constructors standings.

McLaren scored ten points in Suzuka with Carlos Sainz finishing in firth place. But Renault picked up nine points with both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg both finishing in the top ten.

It’s left McLaren with a 34 point lead over Renault for fourth place in the championship, with just four races remaining. A single bad weekend for either team could dramatically alter the balance of power, as McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl is keenly aware.

“Our position in the constructors’ championship is not yet secured and we must keep pushing to ensure we leave nothing to chance,” Seidl said in the team’s preview for the Mexican Grand Prix.

“As we head into these final few races, our focus remains on maximising the opportunities to score points through work at the track and back at the factory.

“It’s still all to play for and I look forward to some exciting racing.

“We go to Mexico with clear objectives in mind,” he continued. “The high altitude at the track poses an interesting challenge when setting up the car on Friday. We’ll be working hard to optimise our aero package for qualifying and the race.”

Also on the agenda is doing whatever is possible about securing sixth place int he drivers championship for Carlos Sainz.

Despite his success in Suzuka, the Spaniard remains at high risk of being caught and passed by Alexander Albon, now that the the Thai driver has transferred to the Red Bull team.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) McLaren signs autographs for the fans.

Albon was fourth in Japan, meaning he cut Sainz’ lead in the standings to just 12 points.

“Jumping to sixth position in the drivers’ championship after another strong weekend in Suzuka is encouraging,” Sainz acknowledged. “It only adds up to our motivation to keep pushing until the end of the year.

“It won’t be easy to keep that position but I’ll fight for it with everything we’ve got,” he promised.

“I’m excited to get back in the car for the Mexican Grand Prix. It’s an amazing event and a challenging circuit, so I’ll be making sure I give it my all and aim for good points once again.

“I enjoy the city a lot and how all the Mexican fans support the grand prix, so I look forward to meeting many of them over the weekend.”

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Typhoon Hagibis predicted to hit Suzuka on Saturday

Typhoon Hagibis now has Japan’s main island in its sights, with meteorologists predicting a potential disruption of proceedings at Suzuka on Saturday.

Hagibis – which the U.S. military has put on par with a Category 5 hurricane – is currently still intensifying although it’s expected to weaken once it makes landfall.

But the sheer size of the storm means that areas not located directly in its path could still be impacted.

Steffen Dietz, Formula 1’s former weatherman, posted his latest assessment of Hagibis on Twitter.

“Hagibis is still a powerful super typhoon with gusts above 300 kph”, wrote Dietz.

“Numerical models are in good agreement regarding track through Friday, afterwards some uncertainties arise.

“From today’s point of view landfall is likely between Suzuka and Tokyo on Saturday.

“Distance to the passing eye/center of the already weakened typhoon will play a huge role. At this stage about 100 mm of rain and gusts around 100 kph are possible at the track during Saturday.

“For race day conditions should improve significantly.”

F1 and the FIA are obviously closely monitoring the situation, but for now, no changes to Saturday’s schedule have been announced.

In 2004, the Japanese Grand Prix weekend was also disrupted by a typhoon that forced organisers to postpone qualifying until Sunday morning.

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'Not much time' to get Hanoi ready, admits Tilke

Formula 1 circuit designer Hermann Tilke has revealed that race organisers are scrambling to be ready in time for next year’s inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix which is set to take place on April 5.

Since 1999, Tilke has been the engineer behind modern racing facilities including Sepang, Bahrain, Shanghai, Istanbul, and Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. He also designed the new Circuit of the Americas race track in Austin, Texas in 2012.

Tilke has also been in charge of developing street circuits such as Marina Bay in Singapore, and Sochi Autodrom in Russia. Now he’s overseeing preparations in Vietnam where the Grand Prix will be held on a temporary street circuit in the capital city Hanoi.

“The latest project is in Hanoi and we hope to be ready for next year,” he told La Repubblica this week. “There’s not much time available, but we are used to that.”

The project involves the construction of two-thirds of the 5.56km track, with the rest made up of existing roads located near the city’s My Dinh stadium.

“The whole track has a nice combination of fast corners and long straights, so it will be difficult to find a good set-up for the teams,” Tilke said earlier this year.

The construction work also includes pit lane itself together with key supporting facilities. Building began in March and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

That leaves just a little over three months before Formula 1 arrives for the first-ever Grand Prix in the country. But race organisers are confident that it will all go according to plan and envisage a long-term future for the event.

“Vietnam is the right country at the right time in the right place,” Vietnam Grand Prix Chief Executive Le Ngoc Chi told Reuters. “We are not the shooting star.

“We have to deliver this event successfully,” she insisted. “We didn’t just come on the scene to stay for one year.”

Hermann Tilke (GER) Circuit Designer.

Tilke himself has come under fire from fans and pundits for delivering ‘boring’ circuits. He explained that the tracks that he designed – including Hanoi – were inevitably the result of juggling pre-existing constraints and limitations in the initial choice of venue, over which he had little control.

“We never had a clean sheet of paper to start with,” he explained. “It’s always a piece of land that we do not own, so we need to respect cultural and historical traditions.

“Then there are the costs, with investors wanting multi-purpose facilities,” he pointed out.

“There are many limitations, one of them being the safety regulations that have evolved since the death of Ayrton Senna and are still evolving.”

Tilke said that he would love more input on track design from current drivers, adding that Michael Schumacher had been the most enthusiastic contributor in the past.

“I owe a lot to him,” Tilke said of Schumacher. “I showed him my first sketches and he always gave me a lot of his time, providing useful suggestions to improve them.

“Today some drivers help me, but none of them like Michael did.”

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Ocon vows to bring 'a new perspective' to Renault

Esteban Ocon will tap into his diverse past motorsport experiences to help bring “a new perspective and fresh advice” to the Renault F1 team in 2020.

After a year on the sidelines dedicated to simulator work with Mercedes, Ocon will return to the F1 fray next season with the ambition of helping his new team move up the grid and into the tight space currently occupied by the sport’s unassailable front-runners.

The 22-year-old will obviously rely on his talent to move the needle for Renault, but also on the precious knowledge he’s accumulated with Mercedes this season and the expertise he previously acquired in the sport.

“I’m currently working with the world champion team which has dominated Formula 1 for a few years. I learned a lot from Mercedes this year,” Ocon said in an interview with Auto Motor und Sport.

“I will also contribute my experiences with Force India. You must not forget my time in other racing series, like the DTM for example.

“I see certain things from a different angle and bring in a new perspective. They expect that from me.

“They want fresh air, advice and a different way of thinking. I hope I can help move the team forward.”

Ocon says the knowledge he’s gained this year during his forced sabbatical with Mercedes goes beyond the technical insight acquired from his countless hours in the Silver Arrows simulator or sitting in on debriefs.

The future Renault charger insists that standing on the other side of the fence has taught him a lot about how things work outside of the cockpit.

“What the team expects from a driver, how the team reacts to difficult situations, how to deal with their drivers, these are aspects that you usually do not notice,” he said.

©Renault

“The driver in the cockpit doesn’t hear everything. I was able to look at it for a year from the outside.

“This will help me to make the right decisions and respond correctly to different scenarios, to make the team happy.

“I was in the middle of ‘silly season’, so I now know the politics around it. The work on the other hand is very complex. I prefer racing.”

Ocon’s basic contract with Renault is a two-year deal, which provides him in advance with a clear mind for 2021.

“Long-term contracts give you security in this sport,” he said.

“Sometimes a drive will quickly slip through your fingers. I learned that in 2018.

“It’s good that I do not have to worry about the next two years. I can concentrate on racing and I am not distracted from the outside. That whole thing is a job in its own right in Formula 1.

“This year I had the time to take care of it because I wasn’t driving. But you cannot combine both. I’m in the fortunate situation where I have people in my environment who help me.”

Speaking of those who are helping him, but from a driver’s perspective, Ocon underscored the precious support and counsel that he’s receiving from Renault advisor and four-time F1 world champion Alain Prost.

“I’ve been in contact with him a lot lately,” said Ocon. “He will be a great help to me.

“He’s become a mentor, a teacher, and he’ll give me good advice. When I talk to him, I never want it to stop. I am absorbing his words and we talk for hours.”

Prost never delivered a world title to Renault during the three seasons he raced for the French outfit. Can Ocon succeed where his illustrious countryman failed?

“I don’t know, we have to be realistic. That dream is far away,” he concedes.

“It is impossible in the current situation, but in Formula 1, many things can change quickly.

“The 2021 rules could upset everything. You never know who will build the best car. But right now, it looks too far away.”

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Steiner enraged by Haas drivers' 'unacceptable' clash

Guenther Steiner cut a gloomy figure on Sunday afternoon at Silverstone, the Haas boss railing against his drivers following their opening lap contact that destroyed the team’s race.

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were jockeying for position at the start when the Frenchman brushed his teammate on the exit of Turn 5 as the pair head on to the Wellington straight.

The contact appeared harmless at first glance but resulted in punctures for both men. Magnussen pitted on lap 1 and Grosjean a lap later, but the damage sustained by both cars would eventually prove terminal and send the duo into retirement shortly after.

Predictably, Steiner was unimpressed, insisting his drivers’ antics had ruined the team’s afternoon and thwarted an opportunity for Haas to further evaluate the different specifications Haas was running at Silverstone in a bid to solve its car’s chronic issues.

“Both of them are in trouble.” A very angry Steiner said.

“It’s not acceptable. I was pretty clear after Barcelona what not to do. We’re in a difficult enough situation trying to get the car back on track and they’ve got the chance where it seems like our long runs are OK.

“Then they crash into each other at Turn 5, and that’s not acceptable.”

Asked what his drivers had to say for themselves, Steiner said he had done th talking in the team’s post-race briefing.

“They didn’t speak. I told them. To explain something like this, you don’t need a lot of time.

“You can say a lot in only a few words and I’m obviously disappointed to have to say it. Everybody is working hard to get out of the hole we are in.

“The drivers are given a chance to score points or, at least, learn something and they do this. I don’t need an explanation.”

Looking ahead, Steiner admitted he would need to find a solution to keep his drivers from running into each other in the future.

“I don’t have a solution,” he admitted. “I need to sleep over it, I need to wind down and come up with a solution. Coming up with a solution is my job.

“Everyone here works for the team, and I’m the first one to work double the time and I want everyone to be steering the same direction.

©Haas

“When I saw the clash happen, I couldn’t believe it. We had two cars running into each other, and it’s a disaster.

“The clear instruction was even if someone was to give up [track position], give it up and we’ll sort something out during the race. We discussed this after Barcelona.”

“We said that if you give up a position and we know you’re in the right, then we’ll give it back to you.”

As consequential as the incident was for Haas, the on-track clash was labeled a racing incident by most observers.

“I am not jumping to who is to blame. I didn’t like the move but it’s the team thing. They aren’t happy now but we’re not either – we lost two cars,” added the Italian.

“I’m going to sit down during the week with a clear head and think about what to do, because it’s not acceptable.”

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