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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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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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