Threat of boycott appears to have diminished

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The Formula One paddock was thrown into a state of panic on Friday night after the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) issued a statement claiming that its members would not hesitate to boycott the German Grand Prix if their safety was not guaranteed with the new Pirelli tires.

Following the fiasco that unravelled at the British Grand Prix last weekend, Pirelli acted swiftly to introduce its prototype tire for the race at the Nurburgring, with Paul Hembery explaining in the Friday press conference that over 1000 tires had been produced in just 48 hours. Although this was seeking to remedy the situation, the drivers unsurprisingly had reservations over the new tires, hence why the statement was issued by the GPDA.

Subsequently, the first free practice session began tentatively with all eyes on the Pirelli tires and the entire paddock willing for there not to be any further issues. Thankfully, there were no issues with the tires and all of the teams managed to complete their programmes as per usual.

After FP2, many of the drivers were asked about their thoughts on the new tires, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Pic both feeling reassured over the changes made. Of course, (without wishing to tempt fate) a failure during FP3 or qualifying tomorrow could once again throw the race into doubt, but following a successful day for the teams and Pirelli, we should expect to see a thrilling grand prix on Sunday.

However, one interesting issue to come out of the boycott threat was those who did not conform with the GPDA. Three drivers who are not members of the association – Valtteri Bottas, Adrian Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen – could have ignored the boycott and continued to race regardless of their colleague’s actions.

Speaking to Autosport, Raikkonen said: “I was once involved in 2005 and funnily enough there were some guys that didn’t stop and they drove, so for sure I will race whatever happens this time.”

Raikkonen was referring to the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis where all Michelin-shod cars withdrew after the French tire manufacturer could not ensure that there would not be tire failures. Marc Priestley was a mechanic for McLaren at the time, and he explained on Twitter how he was unsure whether Raikkonen would adhere to the boycott or not:

“When I strapped Kimi into the car that day in Indy, I genuinely had no idea if he’d stop or race, despite firm orders from Ron.”

The Finnish driver went on to lose out to Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ championship, with the race itself seeing just six cars on Bridgestone tires compete and Michael Schumacher lead home a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Tiago Monteiro for Jordan.

The boycott may be looking less and less likely, but the repercussions could be felt for the rest of the season. The lack of unity and prioritizing of self-interest has helped to cause this situation, and a similar attitude from some of the drivers may not be appreciated by their colleagues.

Porsche ready for final LMP1 outing in Bahrain

Photo: Porsche
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At the conclusion of this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain, Porsche’s four-year run in the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship will come to a close. The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids will roll off from first and third after Friday’s qualifying, and will look to add one more win to their final tally.

Despite its short stint, Porsche more than made its mark on the class and the championship, immediately jumping to the fore and challenging young hotshots Toyota, race winners in 2012 and 2013 and LMP1 champions in 2014, and long-time stalwarts Audi, which introduced its first LMP1 entry in 1999 and quickly became the predominant force in the LMP category.

The 2014 season saw Porsche score four poles and a race win before embarking on a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015 to 2017, in which they scored three straight 24 Hours of Le Mans wins and three straight WEC driver and manufacturer championships (they wrapped the 2017 titles at the previous race in Shanghai.

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of the LMP1 effort, detailed that the early days of the program were a little rocky, given the complex hybrid technology they were working with, but that they were able to find their stride relatively quickly.

“Back then (in 2014), we developed from zero a highly complex hybrid racecar on a Formula One level. The early days were extremely demanding, especially as we had to set up the infrastructure, including new buildings, at the same time, plus assembling a team of 260 excellent people. The timing was really tight and the 2014 Le Mans race came way too early for us. But since then, we have managed maximum success. I’m incredibly proud of this team and I hope that we can conclude the era of the Porsche 919 Hybrid with a good race in Bahrain.”

Team principal Andreas Seidl added that having the championships wrapped up will make the final weekend more enjoyable, as they won’t have the pressure of racing with the championships in mind.

“I feel a big relief that the pressure of defending the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championship titles is resolved before our last race. The emotions of the farewell under the stress of the title battle would have been extremely hard for the team,” Seidl revealed.

Further, he added that Toyota’s TS050, which debuted last year, made their task all the more challenging as they worked to developed the Porsche 919 Hybrid –  the same basic car that they launched in 2014.

“In Toyota this year, we are facing a competitor who developed an all-new car for 2016. We, instead, kept developing our existing car. That we still won Le Mans as well as both championship titles is thanks to outstanding driver performances, many detailed improvements and the operational strength of our team,” Seidl asserted. “Now we have to get ourselves together and focus on this last race. We want to leave the stage not only as world champions but also with a performance that is satisfying for all of us. Six hours of reliability and faultless work are big challenges of men and machine. Safety has the highest priority. Only after the checkered flag can we allow our reflective feelings to break through.”

In terms of approaching Porsche’s LMP1 swan song, some drivers are taking different approaches. For example, Nick Tandy, driver of the No.1 entry with Neel Jani and André Lotterer, isn’t putting much thought into the farewell and is focusing entirely on the race.

“I prefer not to think about the farewell yet,” Tandy quipped. “The Bahrain race is very interesting anyway because we are racing from day into night. It is normally very hot for the car, the drivers and especially the tires. It is a challenging race to finish the season at. I haven’t been there since 2015 but I was on the podium back then when I came second in the LMP2 class. So this year’s target is to make it onto the LMP1 podium.”

Conversely, newly crowned champion Brendon Hartley, driver of the No. 2 entry with fellow champions Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, freely expressed his emotions about the end of the Porsche LMP1 program.

“Going to Bahrain will be emotional for all of us. Especially as we arrive as World Champions with less pressure now,” asserted Hartley, who has also endured a busy stretch since the Petit Le Mans on October 7 that has seen him racing every weekend across the WEC, Formula 1, and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “I have so many incredible memories and experiences with the 919 Hybrid, teammates and all the boys and girls from the Porsche LMP Team. We shared something very special together. After developing the Porsche 919 for more than four years, it’s an absolute dream to drive so we will all be enjoying every last lap with this awesome machine. On one side there will be a lot of sadness, but on the other hand we will be giving everything to give this project the ultimate send off it deserves.”

Porsche’s LMP1 effort won races in each of its four seasons, totaling 17 victories between it’s entries.

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