Formula 1 bosses could not prove Ferrari engine illegal

Formula 1 bosses were not convinced Ferrari’s engine was always legal in 2019 but did not take further action because of the difficulty of proving it.

Governing body the FIA explained its stance in a statement responding to seven teams expressing their “strong objection” to a confidential settlement with Ferrari.

The FIA “decided further action would not necessarily result in a conclusive case”.

This was because of “the complexity of the matter and the impossibility of providing unequivocal evidence of a breach”.

Seven of the 10 teams on Wednesday issued a joint statement saying they would “pursue full and proper disclosure” and “reserve our rights to seek legal redress” over the settlement.

They questioned whether the FIA’s decision met its “responsibility to act with the highest standards of governance, integrity and transparency”.

The only teams not to sign the statement were Ferrari and their engine customers Haas and Alfa Romeo.

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What are the FIA’s justifications for its actions?

The FIA insisted in its response that it had acted within its rules, both in deciding to settle the matter and in keeping the terms of that agreement confidential.

Its statement said: “Extensive and thorough investigations undertaken during the 2019 season raised suspicions that the Scuderia Ferrari power-unit could be considered as not operating within the limits of the FIA regulations at all times.

“The Scuderia Ferrari firmly opposed the suspicions and reiterated that its PU always operated in compliance with the regulations.

“The FIA was not fully satisfied but decided that further action would not necessarily result in a conclusive case due to the complexity of the matter and the material impossibility to provide the unequivocal evidence of a breach.

“To avoid the negative consequences that a long litigation would entail, especially in light of the uncertainty of the outcome of such litigations and in the best interest of the Championship and of its stakeholders, the FIA, in compliance with Article 4 (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules (JDR), decided to enter into an effective and dissuasive settlement agreement with Ferrari to terminate the proceedings.

“This type of agreement is a legal tool recognised as an essential component of any disciplinary system and is used by many public authorities and other sport federations in the handling of disputes.

“The confidentiality of the terms of the settlement agreement is provided for by Article 4 (vi) of the JDR.”

The FIA added that it would “take all necessary action to protect the sport and its role and reputation as regulator of the F1 world championship”.

What led to the investigation?

The FIA’s investigation into the Ferrari engine last year came in the context of suspicions from rivals – particularly Mercedes and Red Bull – about the extent of the Italian team’s advantage on the straights.

The issue came to a head at the US Grand Prix in October when the FIA issued a rules clarification in response to a detailed series of questions from Red Bull.

These centred on whether it was possible to interfere with the mandatory fuel-flow meter in ways that made it bypass the regulation limit of 100kg per hour.

The FIA clarification made it clear that any intervention with the fuel-flow meter that could lead it to exceed the maximum permitted fuel flow would be against the rules.

In F1’s complex turbo-hybrid engines, the fuel-flow limit works to promote efficiency and is effectively a ceiling on the amount of power an engine can produce.

It means teams cannot increase power simply by increasing the rate of fuel flow through the engine, and must do so instead via efficiency savings, in other words increasing the amount of power extracted from the available fuel by advances in the engine/hybrid system.

The FIA clarification was issued on the morning of qualifying in Austin, and later that day a run of six consecutive Ferrari pole positions came to an end. The team did not set a pole position in any of the remaining two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi either.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the two matters were not related, and that apparent differences in the car’s straight-line performance seen by rivals following the ruling were caused by the team changing the way they ran it and adding more downforce and therefore drag.

What will happen now?

Rivals objected to the confidential settlement between the FIA and Ferrari aimed at concluding the matter because they were concerned that it did not make it clear whether Ferrari’s engine was legal at all times last year or not.

As a result, they are unlikely to be mollified by the FIA’s admission that it was unable to allay its own suspicions or their feeling that they were unable to prove them.

Teams are likely to see that as an admission by the FIA that it is not capable of policing its own regulations – a highly unsatisfactory position for a competition that is based on fairness and equality of opportunity.

As such, it is likely that rivals will not accept this latest step from the FIA as a satisfactory conclusion and will seek further explanations.

However, the FIA and Ferrari are likely to point to the regulations that cover confidential settlements such as this.

These state that immunity granted in this way is subject to a number of conditions, including:

  • “Cooperating with the FIA in good faith, meaning telling the whole truth and refraining from destroying, falsifying or concealing useful information or evidence”
  • “Providing the FIA with genuine, total and permanent cooperation throughout the entire investigation”, including “testimony in accordance with any request and in any form required by the FIA” and “remaining at the disposal of the FIA to reply swiftly to any questions it may have”.

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Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc help Lewis Hamilton land stunning Mercedes contract

Lewis Hamilton is apparently close to signing a blockbuster three-year Mercedes contract worth a staggering £180million. The Brit was offered such a lucrative deal after Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc closed the market.

Hamilton admitted last year that is was his dream to one day drive in the famous Ferrari red.

The six-time world champion held initial talks with the Prancing Horse chiefs and was considering leaving Mercedes when his £40m-a-year deal expires at the end of the year.

But the Sun claim Hamilton has decided to stay with the Silver Arrows after a gigantic contract was tabled.

Mercedes, who have dominated F1 for the past six years, have limited options to replace Hamilton.

Max Verstappen, the hottest young driver on the grid, has penned an extension with Red Bull while Charles Leclerc has done likewise with Ferrari.

That is said to have increased the pressure on Mercedes to keep hold of Hamilton beyond this season.

And the £60m-a-year deal was too good to turn down for the 35-year-old, who is hoping to equal Michael Schumacher’s Drivers’ Championship record this campaign.

It also signals Hamilton’s commitment to remain in F1 until 2023 – meaning he could have three chances to surpass Schumacher and make a serious case to go down as the greatest driver of all time.

Breaking down Hamilton’s new deal will see him earn £164,835 every day – that’s £5m a month, £1.1m a week, £6,868 her hour and £114 a minute.

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Until the pen is signed on the dotted line there will still be a chance Hamilton could walk away from talks.

But after speaking in January he was confident his future would lie with Mercedes.

“It is crazy because there is all this talk, but I have a certain approach in that I don’t stress. I trust Toto and we have that trust between us,” Hamilton said.

“We have told each other what our goals are, what our aims are and our commitments, so I don’t ever feel like there is necessarily any rush.

“But then sometimes Toto is like ‘is everything OK?’, so we keep the channel open and I am sure in the near future we will start to sit down.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: “I said maybe we should sit down and have the chat but I think I know so well where he is going to go, and he knows where I am.

“It is about finding a day where we spend a few hours together and that is what we have done in the past.

“We have that respect I know the contribution Lewis brings to the team as a driver and as a brand and you always need to respect that.”

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Ferrari urged to copy F1 rivals Mercedes risk to help Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc

Former F1 driver Christijan Albers believes Ferrari ought to take a leaf out of Mercedes’ book and put their faith in young designers. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were left to wonder what might have been last season after seeing Mercedes streak to a sixth successive title double.

Ferrari’s engines were powerful enough to compete with the W10 cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, but their overall package let them down.

Mercedes were once again in supreme form at pre-season testing in Barcelona last month, while Ferrari’s Vettel and Leclerc struggled to keep up.

Albers, who drove for Minardi, Midland and Spyker in F1, has now offered his verdict on what’s gone wrong for the sport’s most famous team.

And he’s called upon Mattia Binotto and co. to roll the dice in order to give the Prancing Horse a chance of returning to the top of the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.

“Ferrari’s problem is that it still hasn’t found the right people together,” Albers told Dutch outlet Formule 1.

“In addition to a driver’s market you have a designer market. And I think Ferrari is still looking for the best designer with the most experience.

“They should take a risk with that. Bringing in young talents and then building a team to become a world champion, just like Mercedes did.”

Ferrari are confident they have improved some aspects of their car compared to last season, but team principal Binotto admits their engine is not as powerful.

“I think in terms of overall performance on the power and the engine we are not as strong as we were last year,” Binotto said.

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“As I said as well we focused somehow on reliability and somehow compromising eventually the performance.

“But the drag is significantly affecting the speed, but I think when looking for better speed you look both for the driver and power of the engine so we will work on both items in the future, no doubt.

“Drag is the one you may eventually address earlier compared to the power unit – the power unit you need to wait at least for the second unit.”

Ferrari’s form so far this year contrasts to that from 12 months ago, which led them to arrive at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as favourites.

They’ll be eager to turn the tables at next week’s race in Melbourne and copy Mercedes, who saw Bottas and Hamilton secure a one-two in 2019.

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Valtteri Bottas explains why being Lewis Hamilton Mercedes team-mate is ‘pain in the ass’

Valtteri Bottas has opened up on the difficulties of being team-mates with six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton in newly-released footage. The Finn linked up with Mercedes ahead of the 2017 campaign following Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire after securing the World Drivers’ Championship title.

Bottas has managed to get the better of Hamilton on several occasions since then, winning seven Grands Prix in total.

The 28-year-old’s achievements pale in comparison to those of Hamilton, though, with the Brit topping the drivers’ standings in each of their three seasons together.

Speaking on Netflix’s newly-released second series of Drive to Survive, Bottas has opened up on what it’s like to be team-mates with one of F1’s greatest ever drivers.

“To be in the same team with Lewis, to be honest, sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, because he is pretty quick, you know,” Bottas said, while smiling. “He’s tough – tough to beat.”

Bottas and Hamilton will be eager for a repeat of last year’s showing when they kick off the 2020 F1 campaign at next week’s Australian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes duo secured a one-two for the Silver Arrows in Melbourne 12 months ago as they set the ball rolling towards a dominant season.

Bottas has, however, been forced to play second fiddle to Hamilton numerous times over the past few years and he has admitted that’s not something he relishes doing.

“There was many difficult things to accept in terms of in which kind of role I had to be in the team,” Bottas said. “Sometimes in a more like supportive role but it’s difficult.

“The only thing I want to do as a driver is win the race. When Lewis beats me it’s like turning a knife in me. People can think whatever they want to. I’m here to win.”

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Bottas’ quality is not lost on Toto Wolff, though, with the Mercedes team principal describing him as “an extremely talented racing driver” who is “performing on a very high level.”

Mercedes have faced calls to ditch Bottas for the past two winters, with former reserve driver Esteban Ocon tipped to take the seat alongside Hamilton.

But Wolff has hinted the former Williams driver will not be going anywhere, with his role vital to Mercedes hopes going forward.

Wolff said: “It was a very conscious decision to take Valtteri on board.”

Practice ahead of next Sunday’s race at the Albert Park Circuit will start on Friday, with qualifying the following day.

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Supercars, support races likely to be cancelled if F1 GP is called off

Supercars and other support races would be unlikely to take place at Albert Park if government action around the coronavirus outbreak forces the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.

A spokesperson for Supercars said they while they would be ready to race if required, the situation was entirely out of their hands and it would be highly unlikely that they or other categories would race.

The Supercars round would likely be postponed if the Formula One grand Prix is called off due to the coronavirus outbreak.Credit:Getty Images

Grand prix organisers are hanging on a decision to be taken in Canberra on Thursday that will determine the fate of the grand prix this year as the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world, forcing the cancellation or restriction of crowds for major events.

The Supercar races at Albert Park are run for championship points, so if the entire event was axed organisers would need to stage them later in the season.

There is space in the Supercars calendar, but no guarantee that a make-up round would be raced in Victoria.

"If that happens, and we hope it doesn't, we will need to look for another date in the calendar to build on," the spokesperson said.

In Italy, one of the worst hit countries – and the base of Formula One's most famous team, Ferrari – soccer organisers have decreed that Serie A games will be played behind closed doors.

If a travel ban is introduced for Italy and South Korea, as has been speculated, then Ferrari would be unable to compete at Albert Park.

"We are working closely with the GP organisers and talking with them about the situation. At this stage our races are planned to go ahead," a Supercars spokesperson said on Thursday morning.

"As long as the event is running then we will be there to race. I can't speculate as to what they will do, but we are trying to be as flexible as we can and adapt to the circumstances. We will take guidance from the appropriate authorities."

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Sebastian Vettel explains difference between Ferrari and Mercedes ahead of new F1 season

Sebastian Vettel believes Ferrari are less at ease with their car than Mercedes following the pit-lane rivals’ contrasting performances in F1 pre-season testing. Ferrari were off the pace of the reigning champions at the Circuit de Catalunya and there have even been suggestions they could start the campaign chasing not only the Silver Arrows and Red Bull but Racing Point as well.

Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto has admitted the engines at Vettel and Charles Leclerc’s disposal this season will not be as powerful as last year’s.

While it’s possible the Italians could shift their development focus from their 2020 car to next year’s model earlier than originally scheduled.

Vettel has now offered his verdict on where Ferrari stand in comparison to Mercedes, who look to have delivered the goods for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the form of their new W11.

Asked Mercedes’ pre-season form had left him concerned, Vettel said: “It just looks as if Mercedes is more at ease. Not just for the one lap, which is what people look at, but just in general, also the [long] runs.

“I think we also had some runs that were better, some runs that were worse. It’s a bit hard to tell, with the time of day, track conditions, then I don’t know what people are doing in the background.

“Obviously we tested some stuff that was very good, other stuff that wasn’t good, so it also has an impact on lap times.

“Probably if you look right now, Mercedes is at the top. Every time they go out, they are fairly quick with ease, whereas others I think need to stretch a bit more.”

Ferrari’s testing struggles contrast to last year’s fortunes, which saw them go into the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as favourites.

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Vettel insists, though, it’s too early to properly predict how Ferrari and co.’s fortunes will pan out over the upcoming eight months.

“I think we see enough with six days of running – you know roughly where you’re at, but come Australia, things may look different,” Vettel said.

“We’ll really see where we are in the first two races. I think you have a good picture, and then take it from there.

“Right now, maybe we are not at the top of the timesheets every day, so maybe not the favourites, but let’s see where we are in Australia.”

Vettel will go for the fourth Australian Grand Prix win of his career on March 15 having previously come out on top in Melbourne in 2011, 2017 and 2018.

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Max Verstappen’s brutal dig when asked about missing ex-Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo

Max Verstappen appears to believe Daniel Ricciardo became irrelevant when he left Red Bull to join F1 rivals Renault. Ricciardo ended a nine-year association with Red Bull in the winter of 2018 after agreeing to sign for Renault in a shock move.

The switch came after Verstappen had usurped his more experienced team-mate as Red Bull’s No 1 driver and had his long-term future tied up with a big-money contract.

Signing for Renault – who had finished fourth behind Ricciardo’s old team in the constructors’ standings that year – represented one step back to take two steps forward in the long-term for the Australian.

That’s not how Verstappen saw it, though, with newly-released footage from Netflix’s second Drive to Survive series proving his dismissive attitude.

Asked if he’d miss Ricciardo ahead of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, a grinning Verstappen said: “Well you know Daniel’s still in the paddock, he’s still racing in F1, so I won’t necessarily miss him.

“But I’m just looking ahead to the ones we have to beat and those are Ferrari and Mercedes – not Renault. That’s the target.”

Verstappen’s forecast played out over the course of the 2019 season, which the 22-year-old ended third in the drivers’s standings.

Ricciardo was down in ninth, with Renault slipping behind McLaren to finish the campaign fifth in the constructors’ table.

In the same Drive to Survive episode, Verstappen reiterated his determination to challenge higher up than Renault have recently managed, with winners’ trophies in his sights.

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“Well, for me the aim is to become a world champion and, of course, it’s always better sooner than later,” Verstappen said.

“In 10, 15, 20 years’ time, if I would look back and I see third, I’m not really interested. Personally, I’m only there to win.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has previously offered his own take on Ricciardo’s departure, claiming he was “running from a fight [with Verstappen].”

However, Ricciardo refuted that suggestion and pinned the blame on Red Bull’s failure to turn him into a world champion.

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“I can see how people might want to think that or say that and everyone has an opinion and that hasn’t been pulled from nowhere,” Ricciardo said.

“I obviously say no, not true — I love a good fight. It’s more about me than Max and a lot of reasons but one I’ve stated a few times, and I think some people understand it, but I was at Red Bull for five years.

“They had won four titles and I joined straight after that. So in five years from that first year, I was like, ‘I’m going to win a world title, it’s going to happen’. It didn’t. We never really got close. I’m not bitter about it, it’s just the reality.”

Verstappen and Ricciardo might battle it out in Melbourne in a little under two weeks’ time with the 2020 season due to start with the Australian Grand Prix.

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F1 teams ‘shocked’ by Ferrari, FIA engine settlement, want disclosure

Seven F1 teams have released a critical joint statement claiming they “strongly object” to the FIA reaching a private settlement with Ferrari regarding their 2019 engine.

The FIA announced last week that they had made a settlement with the famous Italian team after long-running technical investigations into their power unit, which was the subject of much speculation last season due to Ferrari’s straight-line speed.

Details of the agreement were kept private but the governing FIA said both parties had agreed to “a number of technical commitments”.

The other F1 teams not powered by Ferrari engines – Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Renault, Alpha Tauri, Racing Point and Williams – have now joined forces to say they were “shocked” by that report and want “full and proper disclosure” from the FIA.

“We, the undersigned teams, were surprised and shocked by the FIA’s statement of Friday 28 February regarding the conclusion of its investigation into the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit,” a statement read.

“After months of investigations that were undertaken by the FIA only following queries raised by other teams, we strongly object to the FIA reaching a confidential settlement agreement with Ferrari to conclude this matter.

“Therefore, we hereby state publicly our shared commitment to pursue full and proper disclosure in this matter, to ensure that our sport treats all competitors fairly and equally. We do so on behalf of the fans, the participants and the stakeholders of Formula 1.”

They added that they would seek legal redress before the competent courts.

The 2020 season starts on March 13-15 with the Australian GP, live on Sky Sports F1.

What’s the story with Ferrari’s engine?

Ferrari’s engine was the class of the field in 2019, so much so that they were often gaining half a second over their closest rivals on the straights in qualifying.

Mercedes and Red Bull were particularly irked, and had theories about how they were achieving that advantage – most relating to Ferrari finding away of getting around the fuel-flow sensor – but never made a formal protest.

Ferrari denied anything untoward, and their engine was regularly checked by the FIA. A number of new technical directives were issued last season, tightening fuel-flow rules, but we heard nothing more regarding the Ferrari engine.

Until the final Friday of winter testing.

In a statement released in the evening of that final day, the FIA said that, after thorough analysis into the PU, they had reached a private settlement with Ferrari and that the Scuderia would “assist the FIA in other regulatory duties in Formula 1 and in its research activities on carbon emissions and sustainable fuels.”

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Lewis Hamilton fired warning as Charles Leclerc agrees with Max Verstappen on F1 champion

Charles Leclerc is in agreement with Max Verstappen that Lewis Hamilton can be beaten over the course of the coming F1 season. Leclerc goes into the new campaign off the back of a winter in which Ferrari unofficially made him their No 1 driver by handing him a long-term contract while Sebastian Vettel was made to wait on tying up his future.

Much is expected of the former Sauber ace, with F1 insiders and fans alike expecting him to one day get his hands on the World Drivers’ Championship title.

Leclerc faces stern competition from Mercedes’ reigning champion Hamilton, though, while Red Bull’s Verstappen looks set to be in the title race following a strong showing in pre-season testing.

Verstappen – who also signed a new deal over the winter – recently hailed Hamilton as “very good”, but highlighted his fallibility by saying “he is not God.”

Verstappen’s comments have now been put to Leclerc and the Monegasque has backed up his pit-lane rival’s comments on Hamilton, suggesting he’s ready to take the title fight to the six-time F1 champion.

“Max is right, nobody is invulnerable,” Leclerc told Italian outlet Quotidiano Nazionale. “Not even Lewis, who is obviously a great champion.”

Leclerc is humble enough to admit, however, that there are areas where Hamilton is the superior driver.

Asked if he envies Hamilton, Leclerc said: “He is certainly much more experienced, he has been in Formula One since 2007, I have only been from 2018.

“Hamilton is more complete than I am. For example, I must learn to manage the tires better in the race. Lewis is a phenomenon in this.”

Leclerc and Verstappen will look to compete with Hamilton from the off when the 2020 F1 season gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix in a couple of weeks.

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Verstappen laid out his determination to battle the Brit last month as he admitted his challenge will be impacted by the quality of the car Red Bull are able to provide for him.

“Of course, it is very car-dependent in Formula 1,” Verstappen said. “Lewis is very good. He is definitely one of the best out there. He is not God, maybe God is with him, but he is not God.

“When you can put the pressure on it is a lot harder for the guy in the lead. If he never really has pressure, he can drive at 97 or 98 per cent and then you never make mistakes.

“If we start the season within two tenths [of Mercedes], we can mount the pressure. I am looking forward to when we get that fight and if we are really close I am pretty sure we can do better.”

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Lewis Hamilton labelled a ‘headache’ who makes everyone uncomfortable by Mark Webber

Mark Webber doesn’t know whether anyone will be able to compete with Lewis Hamilton once again this season, warning Valtteri Bottas that the Briton is constantly evolving with the sport. The 2020 F1 season is just weeks away from getting started at the Australian Grand Prix.

Teams got the chance to take to the track with their new cars for the first time last month at pre-season testing in Barcelona.

And Mercedes were once again the stand-out performers, partly due to the innovative steering Dual Axis Steering (DAS) steering system on their W11.

Red Bull are hoping they’re able to be the closest challengers to Mercedes this year while Ferrari aren’t happy with their current performance levels.

Hamilton will once again be the man to beat though with the six-time world champion aiming to draw level with Michael Schumacher’s all-time title record.

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Only former team-mate Nico Rosberg has denied Hamilton a clean sweep of titles during his time at Mercedes in the turbo-hybrid era.

Bottas has since replaced the German as Hamilton’s team-mate but he has been unable to truly challenge the 35-year-old.

Last year looked to be his best chance before Hamilton ran away with the title, but the Finnish racing star has promised an even closer battle in 2020.

Webber though doesn’t think Bottas is capable of dethroning Hamilton at Mercedes.

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“Nothing against Valtteri, but Hamilton is one of the greats of the sport in the last 70 years,” Webber said in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“He is a headache for everyone. I don’t know who would be comfortable sitting beside him.

“He gave Fernando Alonso a bit of a touch up in Lewis’ first season alongside him in F1.

“Lewis is a ginormous, ginormous challenge for anyone.

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“Valtteri is doing what he can, but Hamilton is a big problem for the opposition.

”He’s hungry and he’s still tenacious and he is reinventing himself, and that’s the extraordinary quality he has which is great to watch.”

There are some concerns of reliability at Mercedes over their engine though after seeing Hamilton forced to stop on track due to an oil pressure issue.

Racing Point though have apparently moved up to be in the hunt to break into the top three this year with their RP20 – which shares striking similarities to last year’s championship winning car for Mercedes.

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