Russell bullish on Williams after 'big aero reset' for 2020

After a maiden Formula 1 season spent mostly at the back of the grid, Williams’ George Russell hopes the team is capable of making significant progress in 2020 to put it back on an equal footing with its midfield rivals.

“The rate of improvement we are on is really strong,” he told Autosport magazine. “If everybody else doesn’t improve at all, we’ll be well and truly in that fight.”

Russell explained that the improvements were part of a major overhaul by the team in all departments, and in particular in its approach to aerodynamics.

“The team took a big reset with an aero philosophy,” he said. “We had to take that hit in performance to rebuild those foundations, so starting [last] season we were not surprised, the position we were in.

“We did hope to improve at a greater rate than we did, but those foundations took longer to put in place than we all anticipated.

“Now we can really see it in the windtunnel tracker of the downforce we had at the start of [last] year, to what we have in the car now, to what we believe we will be starting with [in 2020].

“The only thing we don’t know is how much everybody else will improve,” he acknowledged. “Everybody has improved, but we believe we should be improving at a much greater rate.”

With a full season of F1 under his belt, the 21-year-old Mercedes protégé will now effectively be team leader following the departure of his former team mate Robert Kubica. The Pole’s place will be taken by Canadian rookie Nicholas Latifi.

©Williams

“I want to see progress in myself and I want to see progress in the car,” Russell said of his expectations for his sophomore year. “I do believe that we will be stronger.

“And going to 2021, which will have all of those foundations built again, it should definitely be well and truly on its way.”

Although Russell finished last year as the only driver not to score a single championship point, the Briton is not downhearted about the slow start to his F1 career and recently got the thumbs-up from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

“We are absolutely certain that he has the qualities of a potential future Mercedes driver,” Wolff told RaceFans‘ Dieter Rencken. “He has the raw speed, he has the talent, he has the intelligence.

“There is a reason why he’s won GP3 and F2 as a rookie. It hasn’t been done many times before. And he has a flawless record in Formula 1.”

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Wolff: Three teams could win wide-open 2020 title

Toto Wolff expects 2020 to be Mercedes’ hardest year yet in its efforts to secure a seventh consecutive world championship.

Although the Silver Arrows finished last year over two hundred points clear of its nearest rivals in the constructors championship, it proved to be a tough fight against the resurgent Ferrari and Red Bull efforts.

And Wolff told the official Formula1.com website that the new season will see the big three teams get even closer together, with no room for mistakes if his team is to come out on top again.

“It’s fair to say that there are three teams capable of winning races today and probably winning championships if things are being put together,” said the Mercedes team principal.

“I don’t think we are going to see the kind of 10 race wins or 12 race wins per team for next year any more,” he continued. “I see this very much as being a much tougher season.

“But obviously we will be trying everything to optimise our weaknesses and continue to perform well.”

Wolff added that he was also wary about the big improvements being shown in the midfield, with McLaren making big strides to finish fourth in the 2019 standings and poised to do even better this year.

“McLaren have massively caught up,” he acknowledged. “Probably the steepest performance slope of all teams. They will be there or thereabouts, in my opinion.”

There will be a big change to F1’s sporting and technical regulations after the end of 2020, which is something that Wolff would prefer not to see. Rather than promoting closer competition, Wolff suggested that the new rules would actually hinder the progress being made toward tighter racing.

“We have always defended the standpoint that by [leaving] the regulations alone, performance convergence would happen,” he stated.

©Mercedes

“At least there’s a high probability that convergence happens rather than throwing the dice and introducing something new, and I think we have seen that.”

The imminent new rules have also raised speculation that Mercedes might call it a day in the sport, having achieved all that they could possibly have hopes for in terms of trophies and titles.

But Wolff insisted that the team and its parent business had no plans to pull out of the championship after this season.

“Leaving the sport now would certainly not be the right thing from a commercial point of view,” Wolff told Motorsport-Total.com. “It now becomes a new opportunity.

Citing improved figures on Grand Prix spectators, new interest from sponsors, and a big growth in digital subscribers, Wolff added: “We should be aware of the opportunities ahead of us, and focus on making it a good deal for everyone.”

And while he was broadly in favour of expanding the current field of ten teams on the grid, Wolff said that the current line-up “should be proud that we are part of such a limited field of starters.

“But if there is interest in new teams joining the field with a solid foundation, why shouldn’t we talk about it?”

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Jordan 'certain' that Hamilton will move to Ferrari

Former Formula 1 team boss Eddie Jordan reckons that Lewis Hamilton will definitely be tempted into a switch to the Ferrari squad in 2021 after his current contract with Mercedes expires.

“I’m absolutely certain that in 2021 Lewis Hamilton will move to Ferrari,” he told Top Gear magazine this week. “It would be the right time for Lewis to go to Ferrari.

“He’s coming to the end of his career but he still wants to win his seven or more titles,” he added.

And Jordan controversially suggested that Hamilton wouldn’t be alone in making the move from Brackley to Maranello at the end of next season.

“Lewis would only go to Ferrari if someone could protect him against any possibility that Charles Leclerc could usurp him,” Jordan continued.

“The real belief that I think Lewis will go to Ferrari in 2021 is that Toto Wolff’s contract also expires at the end of next year,” he explained. “So Ferrari would bring Toto along too.

“Toto goes with him, because as I said, Lewis won’t leave himself exposed, and it will be his way of bringing an equaliser.”

Wolff’s future in the sport has indeed itself been the centre of recent speculation. Doubts about Mercedes’ long-term future in the sport as a works team have given rise to growing gossip linking him to a move into a management role with F1’s owners Liberty Media.

“[Toto] knows Mercedes’ long-term future in Formula 1 is not a certainty,” Jordan pointed out. “Indeed, Lewis has mentioned Toto’s contract on more than one occasion, which is unusual for an F1 driver to do.”

While the Austrian recently hinted he was more likely than not to stay where he was with the Silver Arrows, Jordan thinks he’s too tempting a prize for rival teams not to make a bold move for his services.

And after a season of costly mishaps and miscues at the Scuderia, Jordan reckons that Wolff is exactly the sort of personality that Ferrari needs to bring in to take charge if they want to win the championship.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 with Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG team principal

“What they don’t have is that person on the pit wall to guide the team, in terms of how they structure the race strategy,” he said. “Toto knows that. Racing is in his blood, and he’d love to have a name like Ferrari on his CV too.”

Even if Ferrari did secure the services of Hamilton and Wolff, Jordan thinks it unlikely that they would ever be willing to give up their rising young star Charles Leclerc, who has already given Sebastian Vettel such a hard time in 2019.

“Do Ferrari need two number ones? No, but they won’t let go of Leclerc,” Jordan stated. “It would be a huge feather in Leclerc’s cap to potentially beat Hamilton in the same car. He has the potential to be a great.”

But what about Ferrari’s other current driver, himself a multiple world champion?

“Vettel will retire at the end of 2020, he can’t go back to Red Bull because he’d get creamed by Max Verstappen,” Jordan reasoned. “However if Mercedes did decide to stay on in F1, it might work for Vettel to go there. [It would be] a consolation prize for losing Lewis.”

The theories about Hamilton and Wolff both seeing red in 2021 might seem a little far-fetched.

But the 71-year-old Irishman – who ran the eponymous Jordan Grand Prix team between 1991 and 2005 – still has deep contacts within the F1 paddock. And other recent wild theories that he’s come up with in the past have ended up turning out to be troublingly accurate…

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Hamilton not denying Ferrari contact, dismisses 'quick decision'

Lewis Hamilton didn’t deny meeting with Ferrari chairman John Elkann, but the six-time world champion insists that any decision to leave Mercedes would not be a quick or easy one.

Hamilton’s current contract with Mercedes expires at the end of 2020, but a whirlwind of speculation regarding the Briton’s future has already started.

Asked on Sunday in Abu Dhabi about a report from Italy claiming that Ferrari’s Elkann had contacted him on at least two occasions this year, Hamilton was coy but didn’t deny the story.

“What happens behind closed doors is always private with whoever it is you end up sitting with,” Hamilton said.

“For many, many years I’ve never, ever sat down and considered other options because we’ve been just driving straight ahead into the path that we’ve been on.

“I know Toto [Wolff] is also looking at his options in terms of his future. So, I’m waiting to see what he’s doing with that.”

Indeed, the Mercedes boss’ plans twelve months down the road are also the subject of conjecture, with Wolff rumored to be considering an offer from Formula 1 to follow Chase Carey as the sport’s chief executive officer.

However, pundits are linking that prospect – considered as remote by many – to Mercedes’ potential retreat from F1 as a works outfit at the end of next year, a scenario also seen as unlikely.

Queried on his star driver’s future, Wolff is confident that Hamilton will extend his allegiance to Mercedes, putting the Briton’s chances of racing on with the Silver Arrows outfit beyond 2020 and 75%.

“But equally, there is a 25% chance that we are not in control of,” said the Austrian who is giving Hamilton a free rein to negotiate with Ferrari, insisting that it is “a free world” and recognizing that “everybody needs to explore career options”.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1; and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari, in parc ferme.

Regardless of the outcome, Hamilton has vowed to take his time and think long and hard about his F1 future.

“I love where I am so it’s definitely not a quick decision to go do something else,” he said.

“But of course, it’s only smart and wise for me to sit and think of what I want, if it is the last period or stage in my career.”

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Mercedes heads to Abu Dhabi 'with a point to prove'

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the Silver Arrows outfit heads to Abu Dhabi with “a point to prove” after its disappointing performance in Brazil.

At Interlagos last time out, Mercedes collected just a meager seventh place finish after a 5-second penalty linked to a collision with Alex Albon demoted Lewis Hamilton off the podium, while an engine failure forced Valtteri Bottas into retirement.

“Brazil was a disappointing race for us; we did not have the fastest car on track and we lost a lot of points owing to our own mistakes,” said Wolff who will return to the helm at next weekend’s season finale after his one-off absence in Brazil.

“We analysed what went wrong, both in terms of our reliability and our decisions during the race, to make sure we don’t repeat them.

“It was a good learning experience for the entire team and something that will make us stronger in the long run.

“The underperformance in Brazil means we head to Abu Dhabi with a point to prove.”

Mercedes can boast of a positive track record at Yas Marina, and the German outfit is determined to uphold its credentials at the venue.

“The race is one last opportunity for us to add another victory to the record of the W10 and it’s one more chance to put on a great show for the fans before the winter break,” added the Austrian.

“We’re looking forward to the fight because we know that in Formula One, you’re only as good as your last result.”

Having wrapped up its sixth consecutive double Constructors/Drivers title, 2019 could be perceived as another banner year for Mercedes. But the loss of non-executive chairman Niki Lauda and other personalities have understandably put a damper on the team’s elation.

“This season has been a real rollercoaster for us,” admits Wolff. “We’ve seen great on-track battles and we’ve loved the competition.

“We are very proud that we came out on top and managed to put the Mercedes name in the history books of Formula One with our sixth consecutive double title.

“On the other hand, it’s been an incredibly hard year where we had to say goodbye to too many friends.

“We were hit hard by the passing of Charlie, Niki and Anthoine, as well as important members from our team who we have tragically lost this year.

“At Mercedes, Niki left a void that we will never be able to replace – as a source of inspiration, as a voice of reason, but most importantly as a great friend. We hope we did you proud, Niki.”

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Mercedes boss Wolff to skip Brazilian GP

There will be no Toto Wolff in the Mercedes garage at the Brazilian Grand Prix this weekend as he will miss the race to “focus on other open topics”.

It will be the first time in six-and-a-half years that Wolff won’t attend a Formula 1 race, but with Lewis Hamilton securing the Drivers’ title at the United States GP and Merc wrapping up the Constructors’ Championships in Japan, he decided now is a good time to miss a grand prix.

“Brazil will be the first race since 2013 that I won’t attend,” the Austrian said.

“With both Championships secured, it gives me more time in Europe to focus on other open topics.

“It’s great to be able to do this and to know that the team will represent the three-pointed star in the best way possible both on and off the track.”

Technical director James Allison will be the most senior Mercedes member for the race at Interlagos.

Wolff also paid tribute to staff at the Mercedes factories Brackley and Brixworth after Mercedes’ sixth consecutive double, but added that they are all “hungry” for more success.

“It is always a special moment and this year’s was particularly special as our sixth consecutive double sets a new benchmark in our sport,” he said. “But despite this record-breaking achievement, I still feel a lot of hunger and desire for more achievements.

“There’s no sense of complacency, everybody is still determined to keep on improving. It’s an inspiring group of people that fully lives up to the Mercedes aspiration of being the best.”

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Wolff and Hamilton bracing for challenging Mexican GP weekend

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and championship leader Lewis Hamilton both believe the Silver Arrows squad is in for a tough time in Mexico City.

After Mercedes wrapped up the Constructors’ championship in Japan, Hamilton heads to Mexico with a mathematical chance of sealing the Drivers’ title thanks to a 64-point lead in the standings over teammate Valtteri Bottas, the only man that can theoretically undermine the Brit’s plans to conquer a sixth world crown.

However, Hamilton is playing down his odds of uncorking the champagne on Sunday afternoon, fearing Ferrari and the straightline speed of its SF90 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – not to mention Mercedes’ recent track record in Mexico – will thwart his chances of success.

“I think Mexico is generally our worst race of the year because of the way our car is set up and it’s going to be a tough one for us,” Hamilton said.

“The last few have been pretty shocking, even though we’ve won the title there.

“I’m hoping for a better weekend, but I think it’s going to be very hard to beat the Ferraris with those long straights.

“We have no hope of getting by on those straights, that’s for sure. But even if you look at the others, the McLarens are picking up some serious speeds on the straights, so are the Red Bulls so I think it will be a tricky one.

“I don’t anticipate it will be Mexico. I think we will be battling for a good few races.”

Ten days after celebrating his team’s sixth consecutive title, Wolff insists Mercedes will approach next weekend’s round with anything but a sense of immunity.

Wolff knows all too well how Mexico City’s specific challenges can throw a spanner into the works.

“There is no sense of entitlement in this team for future success, so we were quickly back to our usual race preparation routine after Japan,” Wolff said in the team’s preview.

“We know that the four remaining races are not going to be easy and we expect Mexico to be the most difficult one for us.

“The high altitude of the track brings some fairly unusual challenges as the low air density affects the downforce of the car, the cooling and the engine performance.

“It’s a combination that doesn’t particularly suit our car, but we will give it everything to try and limit the damage.

“We look forward to the fight and to the amazing Mexican crowd that shares our love for racing and turns the weekend into a brilliant celebration of motorsport.”

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Vergne: Eco-conscious Hamilton 'should switch to Formula E'

ABB FIA Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne has said that his F1 counterpart Lewis Hamilton should consider dropping out of the Grand Prix circuit, and move to the all-electric series instead.

Vergne was speaking in response to Hamilton’s social media posts this week in which he expressed despair over what was happening in the world, particularly the state of the environment and the threat of climate change.

Hamilton was seeking to promote a vegan lifestyle, but his comments attracted criticism from those people pointing to his jet-setting life-style and the environmental impact of F1.

Vergne said he agreed with much of what Hamilton had to say – and suggested that switching to Formula E would give the five-time world champion a better platform to promote his views.

“To be honest with you not even two years ago I would have disagreed with what he said,” Vergne told Motorsport.com this week.

“But today I have a greater awareness – thanks to people like him, thanks to many other athletes in the world that are basically saying the same thing.

“He probably receives a lot of criticism [for] racing in a petrol car creating a lot more pollution than any other sport in the world.

“[But] he’s a lot more aware about the problems we are facing as human beings,” Vergne insisted. “He even sold his jet.

“I agree 100 per cent with him and I want to achieve more in Formula E to join him, that he’s not the only racing driver speaking his mind.

“The younger generation needs to grow up with the things that we can teach them, exactly like Lewis did.

“That’s why I think it will be a logical step for him to come in Formula E, to do a lot more than just being a racing driver.

“A lot more than just being the greatest racing driver of all time, but to change people’s mentality and inspire younger generations.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has already indicated that he wouldn’t get in the way of Hamilton trying out the latest Formula E car.

“Lewis follows a lot of motorsports and we have certainly already talked about Formula E,” reported the Daily Express newspaper.

“When we were both unable to sleep in Shanghai, it came on TV and we sat together watching. We exchanged some ideas there then.

“Lewis is a versatile driver who really has an eye for that sport,” Wolff confirmed. “If the popularity for Formula E will increase, then he really is someone who is open to it.

“But for now, his focus is still on Formula 1.”

Mercedes is making its debut as a Formula E constructor this season, with a racing line-up consisting of former McLaren F1 driver Stoffel Vandoorne and newly crowned Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries.

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Wolff: McLaren engine deal won't boost Mercedes 'influence'

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says the German manufacturer will not gain more political “influence” in Formula 1 thanks to adding its engine supply deal with McLaren.

In 2021, Mercedes and McLaren will rekindle their past relationship and renew a collaboration that brought 78 Grand Prix wins and three drivers’ titles to the Woking-based outfit.

McLaren will join Racing Point and Williams as Mercedes customers, but Wolff denies the addition of a third team to its constituency will strengthen its influence or political clout in the sport.

“I think the argument of having an additional power unit supplier isn’t valid anymore in this day and age,” Wolff said, quoted by Crash.net.

“Every team needs to look out for their own advantage, bearing in mind in the greater scheme of things that we want to have an attractive show.”

Wolff doesn’t deny that Mercedes’ customers are attentive to its views on engine regulations, but its influence rarely exceeds those boundaries.

“It’s clear that when the discussion is about power units, our customers will listen to what our opinion is, but I haven’t seen any power unit customer that was dealing on eye level with the supplier to having their hand tweaked when it comes to chassis regulations.

“I can clearly say that I’m not expecting McLaren, nor do I expect Racing Point or Williams to ever decide against what their priorities are,” added the Austrian.

“The rational for the deal was not an influence but the rational for the deal was a commercial background to increase our earnings at HPP and benefit from the learning of running the engines in four different teams.”

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No 'spygate' impact on Mercedes/McLaren says Wolff

Last week’s surprise announcement that McLaren had signed a deal to resume using Mercedes power units in 2021 sent quite a few shockwaves through the F1 paddock in Sochi last weekend.

McLaren used engines from the German manufacturer from 1995 until 2014. But that relationship was strained in 2007 by the explosive revelations subsequently dubbed ‘spygate’.

The controversy ended up with McLaren being stripped of its championship points for the season and handed a $100 million fine, after the team was found to have received confidential technical information from a high-placed Ferrari employee.

At the time, McLaren was effectively operating as Mercedes’ works team. The Silver Arrows returned to Formula 1 in its own right in 2010 by taking over the Brawn GP team, and McLaren subsequently ended their partnership.

A disastrous three-year alliance with Japanese manufacturer Honda ensued which came to an end in 2017, with McLaren using Renault power units in the last two seasons before deciding to return to the Mercedes camp at the end of next season.

Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said that the events of over a decade ago had no part to play in the future relationship between the two companies.

“I think that it was a dark time for McLaren and Mercedes back in the day,” Wolff said at the weekend. “It cost us both quite some money to remedy the actions of individuals.

“[But] we have moved on,” he insisted. “It’s 12 years later, and it hasn’t played any role in the decision.

“In this respect there are no feelings at all,” he added.

Even so, the new deal between McLaren and Mercedes has sparked a number of conspiracy rumours, such as whether the German team is setting up McLaren to take over as the ‘works’ operation in advance of a possible departure from F1 in favour of a focus on the all-electric Formula E championship.

That’s been fuelled by Mercedes’ change of heart about supplying engines to McLaren. When McLaren previously sought to return to the Mercedes fold in 2017 they were turned away, forcing them to partner with Renault instead.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

© Mercedes

“I think the situation has changed a little bit,” Wolff explained. “We were very strict straight from the beginning that we said we want to give 100 per cent concentration on our works team.”

But as Mercedes started expanding the number of teams it supplied engines to, it found it helped the development program.

“We had three customers back in the day, and we actually learned and realised that it was an advantage of having more power units out there.

“We believe that from a power unit side, there is more learning for us in this exercise with having more competitive customers, adding to the two that we have [currently Racing Point and Williams].

“We rate McLaren strongly,” he added. “The steps that Zak and Andreas have initiated already look very promising. So the advantages outweigh the potential deficits of fighting a hard competitor like McLaren in the future.”

The new deal has also sparked speculation that Fernando Alonso might be tempted back to the team by the new engine deal received short shrift.

Alonso was racing for McLaren at the time and was one of those at the centre of the ‘spygate’ revelations. CEO Zak Brown stated that the new McLaren/Mercedes partnership placed no limits on who the team’s drivers would – or would not – be in future.

But team principal Andreas Seidl told the media in Sochi on Sunday that he had every intension to move forward with the current young line-up of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.

“I think we have not a single doubt in terms of these two guys being the future for us,” he said. “[They have been] great for us. Great for the team to have this clarity also.

“It helps us again to focus on our core mission, which is to develop, produce a quicker race car and get better and better as a team as well.”

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