With pre-season testing done and dusted, Formula 1 teams have now turned their full focus on preparing for the season’s opening race, the Australian Grand Prix, on March 15.
The race is ready to push through amid concerns about the coronavirus. Ferrari, in particular, have been significantly affected by the outbreak of the virus in Italy, which has already seen the postponement of several Serie A football matches, but they appear set to make the trip Down Under.
Elsewhere, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has spoken out about Mercedes’ engine issues during pre-season testing as he prepares to begin another title defence.
Meanwhile, the speculation continues surrounding the future of Sebastian Vettel at Scuderia, with a couple of drivers being linked as his potential replacement.
Ferrari still set to travel to Australia amid coronavirus fears
It appears Ferrari are all set to compete in the Australian Grand Prix after all. Despite concerns over the coronavirus which has spread in Italy and the possibility of Ferrari pulling out of the race due to a potential travel restriction, the Scuderia have confirmed that they are headed to Australia.
“Contrary to what has been reported, and despite knowing that the situation is constantly evolving, at the moment our departure for Australia and Bahrain is confirmed,” a Ferrari spokesman told Ansa news agency.
Australian Grand Prix CEO Andrew Westacott also confirmed that as of right now, the race will push through as planned.
“It’s all systems go. The most important issue for us is that the only restrictions in place now are from Iran and China. We are in regular contact with the team at F1 and we keep them fully up to date on a daily – sometimes twice daily – basis with the government and medical situation in Australia,” said Westacott.
Aside from Ferrari, fellow Italy-based team AlphaTauri also had concerns about being able to travel to Australia. But former Ferrari boss and current F1 managing director Ross Brawn has made it clear that they can’t have a race if a team is barred from entering a country because it would be “unfair.”
Ferrari’s performance during pre-season testing has been unimpressive, though, and could struggle to compete in Melbourne. SBOTOP tips only have Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel as fourth and fifth favourites to win.
Lewis Hamilton remains confident Mercedes will solve engine problems
At first glance, it seemed as if Mercedes’ pre-season testing in Spain went quite well. Valtteri Bottas got a headstart on making Formula 1 2020 highlights as he posted the fastest lap in the final day of both the first and second weeks of testing.
However, Lewis Hamilton reveals it wasn’t all smooth sailing as he still has concerns about their engine’s reliability. Hamilton was limited to just 14 laps in the second day of Week 2 testing due to an oil pressure anomaly, while Bottas had an electrical issue in Week 1.
But despite these recent hiccups, Hamilton expressed his faith in the team’s ability to sort out all those reliability issues ahead of the season.
“Is it a concern? For sure,” said Hamilton. “Normally in pre-season testing, we’ve got much more confidence in the reliability, so it’s not been perfect for us. We’re on our third engine already, so it’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us.
“But I have every confidence in the Mercedes factory that they’ll analyse and do the best they can over the next two weeks to make sure that we’ll start off, again, on the right foot.”
Mercedes engine boss Andy Cowell already admitted a couple of weeks ago that the team did have some engine problems to deal with, but they still haven’t been completely sorted out.
But considering Mercedes’ strong track record of reliability coupled with their terrific performance on track during the pre-season, it’s not hard to see why the Formula 1 2020 tips still have them placed as firm favourites to defend their title this season, even with some engine issues.
Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz respond to Ferrari rumours
Sebastian Vettel’s stint at Ferrari has been a disappointing one. The four-time world champion has failed to keep pace with Lewis Hamilton over the last five years. Last season was a new low for the German, who finished fifth overall and lost out to young team-mate Charles Leclerc.
Vettel’s poor showing, coupled with his contentious relationship with Leclerc, has fueled speculation that his time with Scuderia could be coming to an end. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz have been two drivers recently linked as potential Vettel replacements.
Ricciardo admits he would be interested if Ferrari came calling but insisted he remains focused on succeeding at Renault.
“I will answer calls for sure, but most importantly I want this to work,” Ricciardo said. “I don’t want it to feel like I’ve just come to Renault and just got away from Red Bull, and then I’m looking for the next best thing. I really want to make this happen and make it work.
Sainz had a similar response when asked about the rumours linking him with the Prancing Horse.
“At the moment I am logically mainly concerned with McLaren,” Sainz said. “Everyone knows that I feel at home here and I am talking to them about 2021.
“Of course, it is nice to hear that people in Italy are talking about a possible move from me to Ferrari, I see that as a compliment.”
Vettel still has a chance to secure his future with Ferrari if he can regain his championship form this season. But if he continues to struggle, the rumours will only linger all year long.
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