Lotus’ Boullier: We won’t be the only team missing Jerez

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A few days after his team made headlines for announcing its absence from the first Formula One preseason test of 2014, Lotus principal Eric Boullier has told the BBC that his group won’t be the only one missing at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain next month.

“You will see, we will not be the only team not being in Jerez. I know this for a fact already,” he said to the BBC’s chief F1 writer, Andrew Benson.

“We already said a month ago that it is going to be tight. Actually, most of the teams agreed it was going to be tight. Then it was a decision we took.”

On Monday, Lotus technical director Nick Chester said the team wouldn’t take part in the Jerez sessions because it didn’t fit with the “build and development program” on the new E22 chassis.

Today, however, Boullier has admitted that the car simply “will not be ready on time.” But by his estimations, the matter isn’t entirely a problem for Lotus – even though he too has concerns about missing a third of preseason testing.

“We will be ready shortly after [Jerez] – and in some ways, it is not bad because we will have time to watch what the others are doing and nobody will be able to watch what we are doing,” he told the BBC’s Benson.

“Remember, this year it is a big regulation change, so everybody will be watching very carefully what the others have done.”

Still, the Enstone gang would appear to be up against it during the lead-up to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 16. The team, which finished fourth in the constructor’s championship last year, will have just eight days of testing at Bahrain (Feb. 19-22, Feb. 27-March 2) to prepare for the new season.

It’s a time crunch for sure, and we’ll see how Boullier and his squad handles that over the next couple of months.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.