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Formula 1: Recapping the past week’s news

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The season-opening Australian Grand Prix for the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship produced somewhat of a surprise in race winner Sebastian Vettel, with he and Scuderia Ferrari taking advantage of a Virtual Safety Car to leapfrog Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton and hold the lead until the race’s finish.

News since then has revolved around the aftermath of the event, and a couple teams in particular found themselves under the microscope somewhat.

Below is a look at news from this past week following the Australian Grand Prix.

Haas Asserts that 2018 Car Is Not a Ferrari Clone

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Haas F1 Team has had an association with Ferrari, in that they use Ferrari power units, since it’s debut season in 2016. And a few circles, particularly McLaren F1’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, believe that relationship has become a little close, with claims that Haas’ VF-18  is a little too similar to last year’s Ferrari SF70H.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner hit out at those critics this week, dismissing such claims in no uncertain terms.

“They see ghosts,” he told BBC Sport. “(They say): ‘The car looks very similar to a Ferrari from last year.’ So should we have copied their car, which is behind us, or should we go with a car that goes pretty quick? Give me an answer to that.”

Steiner added that teams are only being critical of them because of how fast Haas has looked early on, especially in comparison to teams with bigger budgets.

“If you have to justify your incompetence, attack is the best defense,” he asserted. “If somebody has double the amount of money and is behind us, whoever owns the team should be asking, ‘what are we doing here?'”

Haas showed impressive speed in Australia, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running inside the Top 5 five before the team cross-threaded wheels on their pit stops, leaving wheels loose on both cars when they re-entered the track and forcing them to retire.

Sergio Perez Confident That Force India Can Rebound from Tough Opener

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM11 Mercedes on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Sahara Force India, which has been the “best of the rest” and finished fourth in the constructor’s championship in each of the last two seasons, stumbled out of the gates in Australia.

Neither Sergio Perez nor Esteban Ocon qualified inside the Top 10 – they were 13th and 15th respectively – and neither finished inside the points, finishing 11th and 12th after failing to show the speed that has been on display since 2016.

Perez, however, thinks Australia was more of a blip than a forerunner of things to come.

“It was quite an unlucky weekend for us, but there are still positives to take from this race,” Perez said in a piece posted on Crash.com. “We came close to bringing home a point although it was just out of reach.”

Perez added that he had the pace to challenge for a points finish in the closing laps, but with overtaking proving difficult, he couldn’t find a way around Renault Sport F1 Team’s Carlos Sainz Jr. as they battled for tenth, the final points paying position.

“I was pushing throughout the whole race and especially chasing Sainz in the final laps. I got really close to him, but it wasn’t enough. Overtaking in Melbourne is very difficult – you could see the same with Bottas who couldn’t pass me during the first stint,” he explained.

Perez also noted the Virtual Safety Car as a factor in their struggles, highlighting that it worked against their strategy.

“The Virtual Safety Car also didn’t help us at all, but that’s just how things go sometimes,” he revealed. “I am still happy with my performance and the job we did as a team. We will need to move on and keep improving, but I believe we will soon be in a position to battle for points.”

Santino Ferrucci to Continue as Haas Development Driver

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 12: Santino Ferrucci of the USA prepares to drive the Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 12, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

On the American front, Santino Ferrucci, set for a full season in the FIA Formula 2 Championship this year after joining the series midway through the 2017 season, will continue as a development driver with the Haas F1 Team.

“My goal since I began racing is to become a Formula 1 driver, and to be an American who is part of an American team is something I take a tremendous amount of pride in,” Ferrucci said in a piece posted on Crash.com.

The 19-year-old is a former winner in the British Formula 3 Championship and has completed two in-season test sessions for Haas – at Silverstone Circuit in 2016 and at the Hungaroring in 2017.

Ferrucci added, “My time with Haas F1 Team has really prepared me for my first full F2 season with Trident, and between the two teams I feel like I’m in the best position to succeed and, ultimately, get to Formula 1.”

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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).