Wolff explains why he's guarded ahead of the Mexican GP

Toto Wolff sees a few good reasons to be cautious ahead of next weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, suggesting that both the venue and the weather could pull a fast one on Mercedes.

The Silver Arrows squad was beaten to the checkered flag by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in Austin, but Lewis Hamilton extended his lead in the world champion, courtesy of another mistake by arch-rival Sebastian Vettel.

The Brit just needs to score a lowly seventh-place finish in one of the next three races to secure his fifth title, yet Wolff is urging his team to keep its head down.

“While Lewis was able to extend his lead over Sebastian Vettel in Austin, we lost points to Ferrari in the constructors’ championship,” said the Austrian.

“We have a battle on our hands and we will have to keep pushing to win both titles.

“We cannot be happy with the result in Texas, but it provides us with an opportunity to learn and come back stronger.”

Wolff underlined the main characteristic of Mexico City’s track: it’s altitude, where engines struggle to breath, which in turns levels the playing field in terms of output.

©Mercedes

But another factor could also wreak havoc on Hamilton’s title celebration prospects.

“Our next stop brings us to Mexico City where we will face a very different challenge,” he said.

“The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is an outlier given its high altitude and the demands this puts on the cars and power units.

“It has been one of the weaker tracks for us in previous years and we expect a hard fight with Ferrari and Red Bull.

“The weather forecast predicts conditions similar to those we had in Austin which might throw everyone another curveball by limiting dry running.”

“We know that it is not going to be an easy race, but everyone in the team is focused, motivated and determined to keep the pressure on until the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.”

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Brawn wonders if less data could produce 'a better show'

Formula 1 sporting boss took away a few interesting observations from last weekend’s US Grand Prix, suggesting the existence of a correlation between Sunday’s thrilling race and the teams’ limited amount of dry running in free practice.

Free practice on the opening day at Austin saw relatively limited running – and no running on a dry track – as the weather wreaked havoc on teams’ plans, a situation that in turn led to a shortfall in data.

And it is that deficit that may have leveled the field to a certain extent, according to Brawn, as teams head in Sunday with a lot less information to rely on to determine set-ups and strategy.

“The three drivers on the podium crossed the line within the same three seconds,” observed Brawn in his post-race debrief.

“They all ran different tyre strategies, through choice in the case of Raikkonen and Hamilton, and by necessity for Verstappen who started from the penultimate row of the grid.

“That’s unusual in Formula 1, where the level of sophistication in terms of simulation and strategy is so high that one doesn’t usually get such a variance, especially when it involves the top three teams,” he admitted.

“This was probably down to the fact that no one had been able to run dry weather tyres on Friday as the track was wet throughout the three hours of practice.

“That meant the teams had less data than usual on which to base their race plans, and thus the margin for error increased.

“So, does less data produce a better show?” he asked.

“It’s definitely more uncertain and therefore another topic for discussion when looking at ways to make our sport even more exciting, from the first lap to the last, as was the case in Austin.”

Weather is obviously a random factor but Brawn suggests that less running in the future, or access to less data, could be seen as a means to spice up proceedings.

“To use a football metaphor, when two teams play perfectly, a nil-nil draw is the logical conclusion,” explained Brawn.

“In Formula One, when the simulations are all worked out to the smallest detail, then they all converge towards the same best possible strategy.”

The former Ferrari strategist admitted however that less track time, or a change to the weekend format, would only compel the top teams to boost their simulation resources.

“I think you will just have more simulations and more computers running in the background, trying to emphasise how to put the car on track,” he said.

“But the more you limit track time the more variability you have.”

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Hamilton troubled by speed difference between F1's cars

Lewis Hamilton says the gap in pace between Formula 1’s front runners and the rest of the field is a “serious” problem for the sport.

The Mercedes driver is stating the obvious, and reminding everyone of a problem that has lingered in F1 for many years, but the Brit insists the issue is compounded by the difficulty to overtake.

“As you get within five seconds, you immediately feel the effect of the turbulent air,” said the leader of the world championship.

“The other guys are doing their own races so they don’t want to slow down much for you. I was stuck behind the Toro Rossos and just couldn’t get close to them,” Hamilton added.

“It’s a difficult situation. The difference in speed between the cars is too much. It’s a serious problem for our sport.”

Hamilton reiterated his sadness to see former top teams Williams and McLaren stranded at the back of the field, insisting their presence there only further demonstrates a need to revamp the rules.

“How can Williams and McLaren be three seconds behind? It’s too much,” said Hamilton.

“We need to change the rules to reduce these speed differences, and then we’ll get great races like we see in MotoGP.”

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Bold Marko sees Red Bull and Verstappen as title contenders in 2019

It’s an audacious prediction but Helmut Marko believes a Honda-powered Max Verstappen can deliver the championship to Red Bull next season.

The Milton Keynes-based outfit will be make the temerarious switch from Renault to Honda next season, and the Japanese manufacturer’s clear progress this season bodes well for Red Bull’ and Verstappen’s title ambitions according to Marko.

“Max never surprises us with how good he is,” Marko said after the Dutchman’s impressive run to second in last Sunday’s US Grand Prix.

“We will have the Honda engine next year and this project is very promising. I think we can fight for the championship next year,” he added.

Marko believes the senior bull outfit will reap the benefits in 2019 from the massive groundwork done by Toro Rosso this season.

“This benefits not only us but them as well,” Marko told motorsport-magazin.com.

“Honda is already ahead (of Renault), not only in qualifying but in the race too.”

The man Marko claims can go for gold is equally bullish on his prospects for next season.

“I’m very excited about next year, because Honda is obviously very fast in qualifying now,” Verstappen told Speed Week.

“Of course we want to finish this year as well as possible, but the whole team is already looking forward to the next season. Everyone is really motivated.

“The data coming from the test stands is very promising.”

Verstappen said that Honda’s complete design and engineering freedom – a stark contrast from its days with McLaren when it was forced to comply with the team’s requirements – is a big boost for the Japanese engine supplier.

“They have been able to do their own thing and build the engine to their liking. They no longer have to deal with the team they were dealing with,” he said.

“Also, some new people have come on board, the management is new, and the whole thing looks very good.

“Of course we’ll have to see how it develops, but it’s going in the right direction and I’m happy about that.”

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Brawn: 'Vettel mistakes can no longer be seen as coincidence'

Formula 1 sporting boss Ross Brawn believes Sebastian Vettel has perhaps lost his way, suggesting his recent string of mishaps was not the product of coincidences.

Vettel’s already complicated task of hanging on to his title hopes against rival Lewis Hamilton was rendered even more unsurmountable after two errors last weekend in Austin.

The Ferrari driver was handed a three-spot grid penalty for speeding under the red flag in free practice, and then spun on the opening lap of Sunday’s race after a contact with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

His latest mistakes added to a costly tally that also included a run-in with Valtteri Bottas in France, a blunder at Hockenheim that cost him a sure win and another first lap set-back in Monza when he collided with Hamilton.

Brawn, who successfully managed several title bids for Ferrari during its golden Schumacher era, casts a critical view on Vettel’s campaign which has been marked by too many errors and lost opportunities.

“On Friday there was a small one, when he failed to slow sufficiently for red flags, and he paid the price with a three-place penalty,” said Brawn.

“Then, in the race, he yet again collided with a Red Bull, this time Ricciardo’s, and once again Vettel came off worst.

“It was another lost opportunity to close the gap in the title fight, especially when we saw what Raikkonen did with the same car.

“I certainly don’t want to put Vettel in the dock, but these incidents can no longer be seen as coincidence.

“Rather they would seem to indicate that Sebastian is a bit out of sorts at the moment.”

While Brawn is convinced that Vettel’s talent remains intact, he suggests that Ferrari must find the way to harness the German’s potential.

“Now, any hope of bringing the drivers’ title back to Maranello is dwindling and the time has come to do the maths,” said Brawn.

“Their most important task is to work out how to help Vettel make the most of his massive talent.

“You don’t become a four-time world champion for no reason and Sebastian has definitely not forgotten how to win.

“In a sport as complicated as Formula 1, you only reach your goals if all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place,” he added.

“If just one piece is missing everything is compromised.”

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Magnussen and Steiner hit out at F1's fuel flow rules

Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and team boss Guenther Steiner denounced Formula 1’s current fuel regulations following the Dane’s exclusions from the US Grand Prix.

Magnussen’s efforts in Austin yielded a solid and well-deserved run into the points, only for the team’s ninth-place finish to be dismissed by the stewards after it was found that it had infringed the 105kg fuel limit during the 56-lap race, a rule also transgressed by Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

A disappointed Magnussen later revealed that his Haas VF-18 had exceeded the mandatory fuel flow limit by a mere 0.1kg!

“The car was very good, we had good pace and I was able to put pressure on the Force Indias,” said the frustrated driver who believes that the fuel flow rules compromise the racing.

“I passed Perez just after the pit stop and I was faster than Ocon, but I had to save so much fuel that I couldn’t afford to attack him.

“It’s a shame that we have fuel saving in Formula 1 and not being able to attack. At the end of the day, what the fans want to see is great racing.

“We can’t do it because we have to save fuel. It’s disappointing.”

Guenther Steiner echoed his drivers’ grievances when it came to criticizing current regulations that, in his view, run counter-point to what the fans want to see.

“In the end, that’s our responsibility to control the fuel amount, but I still disagree with Formula 1 having to run on these rules,” said Steiner.

“I hope next year, with having 110 kilograms, this will change, but we change another rule and put a big front wing on, so maybe this will be the same.

“One day we’ll get to have a good show, but at the moment it isn’t.”

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Albon's path to Toro Rosso not yet cleared by Nissan

Alexander Albon is expected to replace Brendon Hartley at Toro Rosso next season but only if Red Bull can convince Nissan e.dams to release the 22-year-old from his 2019 Formula E contract.

The Thai-British racer – a former member of Red Bull’s young driver programme – was unexpectedly approached by Helmut Marko recently, the energy drink company’s motorsport boss holding talks with Nissan that precluded Albon from taking part in last week’s pre-season FE test in Valencia.

Clarity on the driver’s contractual situation is now being sought, but Nissan e.dams boss Jean-Paul Driot admits the state of affairs has frustrated Nissan’s management.

“We are very much frustrated within DAMS and Nissan e.dams because as far as DAMS is concerned and Formula 2 is concerned, we have done a lot in order to help Alexander Albon race, financially speaking.

“We gave him a good car – because the year before the team he was with [ART Grand Prix], he didn’t really perform – and with us he has demonstrated that he is very quick, which I never doubted.

“We took him for a three-year contract [in FE] and suddenly out of the blue – because we helped him a lot to brush and to shine his image – Toro Rosso came with Dr Marko to say that he wanted to have Albon in a car.”

Driot admits that he doesn’t want to stand in the way of a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Albon to become a Grand Prix driver, but Nissan may not agree.

“When you ask a blind man if he wants to see, you know the answer. When he [Marko] talked about Formula 1 to a driver who was always dreaming to do so, you know the answer as well.

“So we are negotiating with Toro Rosso, Nissan have top management who were not really happy, as you can imagine.

“[They are] very unhappy because we had signed him for three years. But we are trying to find a solution.”

As talks continue with all parties, Driot knows that enforcing Albon’s contract would not lead to a productive collaboration between team and driver.

“We are trying to find a solution because when you have a driver who doesn’t want to drive any more, what do you do? But we have a contract and that is clear,” he added.

“Nothing is done at the moment, and this is why we put Oliver Rowland in the car – as a kind of third driver – and we will see in the coming two-three weeks how it develops.

“We are discussing with Toro Rosso in order to see how we can find the best solution for everyone.”

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Brown: 'Vandoorne should have been more aggressive with us'

McLaren boss Zak Brown believes Stoffel Vandoorne should have perhaps displayed more character during his two-year stint in F1 with the Woking-based outfit.

Heralded as a bright young talent when he made the grid in 2017, Vandoorne’s failed to deliver on the team’s expectations, although the reverse also holds true given McLaren’s dismal period of under-performance, its worst in its 50-year history.

In short, the Belgian was in the right place at the wrong time, but Brown also wonders if his driver’s personality and character are suited for the fiercely competitive and cut-throat world of F1.

“Was he too corporate? No, I wouldn’t say that,” Brown said.

“He’s a very, very nice guy, but maybe he should have been a bit more aggressive with us.

“When Fernando doesn’t like something about the car, he does not hesitate to raise his voice. Maybe for Stoffel it was more difficult for him to do that in this environment.”

Fernando Alonso regards his current team mate as one of the best drivers of his generation, and the Spaniard hopes Vandoorne’s move to Formula E will be a successful one.

“Stoffel was unlucky to be with McLaren at this time, with the cars he had at his disposal in these two years,” he said, speaking to Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

“I think it’s a good thing for him to change. He won in every category he ever did, but Formula 1 is the only discipline in motor racing where talent is not enough to overcome the weaknesses of the car.”

Indeed, success in Formula E for Vandoorne would contradict the old silly saying that nice guys always finish last…

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Wolff: Vettel on track for 'easy' Austin win without spin

Toto Wolff is convinced that Sebastian Vettel’s loss when he spun on the opening lap of the US Grand Prix led to Mercedes’ gain as the German had the pace to win on Sunday.

Demoted from second to fifth on the grid following a penalty received for excessive speed during a red flag period in free practice, Vettel launched his race with the bit between his teeth.

As he battled Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo for position on the opening lap of the race, the two cars made contact and Vettel spun, leaving him to chase from behind in a race in which he would eventually finish fourth, thus surviving to fight for the title another day.

“Imagine Sebastian not spinning out on Lap 1, I think he would have probably won the race easily,” admitted Wolff.

“It’s stressful, the drivers’ championship, we’re in a solid position, but I always said we mustn’t drop the ball.

“We’ve seen that in the past with other teams, and with the constructors’ championship, that is very important for the team.

“Nothing is done yet. There are 129 points to be scored with 66 that we have.

“Of course that is a good buffer but there is no reason to giggle away and think that you have the trophy in your hand because we can see that we haven’t got in our hands.”

Forced to run his race on a two-stop strategy after an early VSC period, Hamilton struggled with tyre management in Austin, a fact that also impacted the level of performance of the Silver Arrows squad relative to Ferrari’s winning SF71-H.

“But there was more on top of that, which we’ve just been talking about – and to how much of an extent that is,” said Hamilton after the race.

“In the race there was some debris, some damage on the floor, all these different things add up. A couple of tenths in floor damage, [but you] have to assume everyone else had the same thing.

“We had another problem that we just discovered but we don’t know how much time that is.

“We were forced into a two-stop race for certain things we had that weren’t ideal with the car,” he added

“We didn’t know that was going to be the case when we got into the race. If we hadn’t had the problem we’ve had, tyre usage wouldn’t have been anywhere near as big an issue as we had.”

Mercedes tech boss James Allison suggested that the team’s relative underperformance had also been caused by a lack of dry running at COTA.

“We normally get the car in a happier place than this, but with Friday being washed out we were blind to the problems we experienced today,” he said.

“They were cruelly exposed today and they led to the disappointing outcome.”

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In a nutshell: which tyres for the German GP?

Formula 1 returns to Hockenheim next weekend, a track where Grand Prix racing’s latest-spec wider and faster cars have never raced.

The German venue, which has retained an atmosphere of tradition despite its revamped lay-out, is a favourite among many drivers for its blend of long straights and technical sections.

Pirelli’s range of tyres at Hockenheim will include the medium, soft and ultrasoft compounds, the Italian manufacturer thus offering another ‘step’ in its selection, a combination last seen In Chian earlier this year.

“Germany is a bit of an unknown quantity, with no Grand Prix having taken place there since 2016,” says Pirelli’s F1 boss Mario Isola.

“In the meantime, a lot has changed on the cars as well as of course, the tyre range, while the Hockenheimring itself is substantially unaltered.

“Once again, we’ve decided to incorporate a step in the tyres that we’ve nominated in order to provide a roughly equal performance gap between the chosen compounds.

“This contributed to a great race in China, with some interesting repercussions on strategy, so hopefully itwill be the same again.

“The data collected in free ractice will be especially important as teams re-acquaint themselves with the circuit and also work out how best to use the tyre nomination to their advantage.”

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