F1 preseason starts with teams targeting Mercedes again

© Getty Images
1 Comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Formula One returns Monday for preseason testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona with teams still trying to catch Mercedes, the sport’s dominant force in the last two seasons.

Mercedes hasn’t been seriously challenged since major rule changes were introduced, leaving drivers struggling to keep pace with defending champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The four days of testing should provide a clue into whether teams have made any gains in their pursuit of Mercedes or if they will be fighting for second again. The second and final test sessions are scheduled for March 1-4, also in Barcelona.

Mercedes was able to get an early feel for its new car during a promotional event a few days ago, and based on Rosberg’s first impressions it’s not good news for the rest of the grid.

“Here we go, what an awesome feeling, first lap with the new Silver Arrow,” Rosberg said in a video released by the team. “Flat-out down the stretch, eighth gear, it feels really quick already.”

The car was unveiled on Sunday on the team’s website.

Here are other things to watch out for in the first preseason test:

VETTEL’S CHALLENGE

Ferrari was the team that got closest to Mercedes last year, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel the only driver to win races in addition to the Mercedes’ duo. Vettel finished third in the standings and Ferrari was second in the constructors’ championship.

“Naturally our goals are growing,” Vettel said. “We all want more and hopefully this car will help us achieve it. Very excited to get on track and see how it feels.”

The German driver said he could feel around the factory that the team is extra motivated to raise the bar and contend for the title.

“Everybody is fired up and we want to win, so the target is clear, the expectation is there,” Vettel said. “We will see how close we are and how much there is to do during the season.”

STEP FORWARD

Williams was third in the constructors’ championship the last two seasons and is working to take a step forward in 2016. It only had four podium finishes last year.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams said the team is expected to be challenging at the front this season.

“There will be a number of strong teams who have us in their sights,” she said. “We started design work on the car earlier than normal and hopefully this extra development time will stand us in good stead.”

BETTER FORTUNES?

McLaren and Red Bull are eager to get on track again after a disappointing season last year. Red Bull couldn’t manage better than a fourth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, while McLaren was second-to-last after switching to Honda engines.

McLaren, which unveiled its new car on Sunday, is expected to show improvement compared to last year, although it’s unlikely to be enough to allow the team to start contending for podiums or victories, which could mean another frustrating season for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and one-time champion Jenson Button.

Red Bull has already warned that the team likely won’t peak until the second half of the season.

“We put in a phenomenal effort through last year,” said Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monoghan. “Many skilled people put in a lot of dedicated hours, and we are judged relative to the front-running car. If that’s us, fantastic, if it’s not, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

NEW FACES

Haas F1 will be making its Formula One debut in Barcelona this week, while Renault returns to the sport after taking over financially strapped Lotus.

Hass, the first American-led team in F1 since 1986, launched its car on Sunday with the goal of “scoring points” and being “respected by fans and other teams.”

“Everything is new for us. It’s not only a new car, but a new team,” said team principal Guenther Steiner. “In our first test of the season and first as a team, you try to make sure everything works as you designed it. You try to learn as much as possible about the car. You get the baseline on the car and you work off that baseline the rest of the year.”

Renault had relinquished team ownership after the 2009 season and had become an engine supplier.

“We know the road map and we have to deliver in the next three or so seasons,” Renault racing director Frederic Vasseur said.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.