Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton has empty feeling thinking about F1 without fans

1 Comment

PARIS — Driving around Formula One tracks without fans cheering at Silverstone and Monza would literally feel “very empty” for six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The first 10 races this season have been postponed or canceled amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the iconic Monaco Grand Prix scrapped for the first time in 66 years.

F1 remains hopeful that the season can start in early July with a doubleheader at the Austrian Grand Prix, and that 15-18 of the 22 scheduled races can yet be completed.

But all of them would be held without any fans until it is safe.

“It’s going to be very empty,” Hamilton said Saturday, evoking the subdued atmosphere of preseason testing in Spain.

“For us it’s going to be like a test day, probably even worse than a test day in a sense,” the Mercedes driver said. “On a test day there’s not a huge amount of people in Barcelona, but there are still some.”

However, any racing would provide a welcome boost to people during lockdown.

“I’m getting messages from people around the world who are struggling during this period because they’re not getting to watch sports,” Hamilton said in a video posted online by Mercedes. “It just shows just how significant sport is in people’s lives, it brings us all together and it’s so exciting and captivating. I don’t know how exciting it is going to be for people watching it on TV, but it’s going to be better than nothing.”

Hamilton was praised for publicly questioning whether the season-opening Australian GP should go ahead on March 15. It was eventually canceled, but only two days beforehand and with fans still queuing up.

Hamilton had used the first official news conference with F1 drivers to say he was shocked that organizers planned to proceed with the race, which attracts more than 300,000 people over four days.

McLaren withdrew even before the cancellation after a team member tested positive for the coronavirus. Mercedes wrote to governing body FIA and F1 requesting the cancellation and had started preparations to leave before the decision was announced.

The whole experience in Melbourne was a merry-go-round of uncertainty.

“It really, really was a shock to the system. Obviously on that Thursday, I had commented my opinion of whether or not we should have been there,” Hamilton said. “Then to wake up the next day, honestly, with the excitement that I’m going to be getting inside the car – and then to hear that we’re not going to be going to the track. It was very, very surreal.”

Hamilton made his F1 debut in 2007, winning his first title the following year with McLaren before adding five more with Mercedes. Those years were a whirlwind of international travel with Hamilton winning 84 of the 250 races he has entered.

“This is the first time I can remember that I’ve been in one place for six weeks; it’s very, very unusual considering we’re always on the road,” Hamilton said. “(It) has taken some getting used to.”

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing Hamilton has managed to control is his weight.

Having arrived at preseason testing in February in arguably the best shape of his career, despite being 35 years old, Hamilton has stayed fully fit.

“I think my weight’s probably stayed around the same. Having this time gives you more time to focus on things, on the areas of weakness – tedious things like calf muscles,” Hamilton said. “There are strengths and weaknesses on all of our bodies. When you go to the gym, often you work the big muscles but not necessarily the small ones.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
3 Comments

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.