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Revealed: How Mercedes' F1 steering wheel works

Revealed: How Mercedes' F1 steering wheel works

Mercedes has revealed the layout and function of the complex steering wheel design it will use in the 2019 Formula 1 season.
Including the usual clutch and gear shift paddles, Mercedes' 2019 steering wheel has 25 buttons, switches and controls.

These are split further between thumb-wheel switches, rotary switches and small aeroplane-grade buttons, which require a strong push to be activated to minimise the risk of one being pushed by mistake.

Three rotary switches adorn the lower part of the wheel, controlling elements like the strat modes that deal with various power settings, various car parameters such as screen brightness and engine settings like those for the MGU-K.

Mercedes AMG F1 W09 steering wheel

Three thumb-wheel switches – two of which are located on the left-hand side of the wheel and one that is on the right – control the corner entry, apex and exit settings for the differential, to tailor torque transfer to each of the rear wheels.

The other two are related to modifying the effect of engine braking (to the left of the centre display) and adjusting the brake balance (to the right of the display).

The brake balance switch works in tandem with two buttons either side of the base of the wheel: the buttons are used for "fine tuning", while the switches alter the baseline map.

Mercedes' remaining buttons control everything from activating DRS, the pitlane speed limiter or the engine's 'maximum power' start mode, to selecting neutral (rather than letting the driver do so via the paddles) or letting the driver use the radio.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will use "three or four" wheels over the year, with each one taking 80 hours to make.

Mercedes' ultra-complex wheel is mostly built at its Brackley factory and is mainly made of carbonfibre, fiberglass, silicon, titanium and copper.

The central display and underlying circuit board are not built by Mercedes as they are common components.

Hamilton and Bottas are "quite heavily involved" in the design process of the steering wheels, which are tailored ergonomically to each driver.

Mercedes says: "Those changes are not just made at the beginning of the season. The steering wheel design is a continuous process.

"During the season, drivers might ask for changes to the grips and the layout of the buttons and switches, based on the individual demands of the driver and the track layout."

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Racing Point expecting upgrades at every race in 2019

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Force India were stuck in a development limbo in the first half of 2018, with cash shortages preventing new parts from being produced and put onto the cars. But with the squad having now morphed into Racing Point after they were bought out by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, the team have announced that they expect to run a full upgrade programme for 2019.

Speaking at the inaugural F1 Season Launch Event in downtown Melbourne, Racing Point Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer revealed that the extra money that’s been injected to the squad for 2019 would help Racing Point fight in what he predicted would be a ‘really tough’ midfield in 2019, and keep the team’s developments coming thick and fast throughout the season.

“[We’ve got] a little bit more money which will help us with the developments this year,” said Szafnauer. “It's going to be really tough in the midfield. It will be a development race. Luckily, we've got the funding behind us to bring upgrades to every race, including [Australia].”

Despite all the changes in the team, one constant is Sergio Perez, who initiated the administration proceedings again Force India last summer, and who will partner Lawrence Stroll’s son Lance at Racing Point for 2019. And ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, the Mexican revealed that the influx of funding into the team that he’s effectively been with since 2014 had given him high hopes for the season ahead.

“Expectations are very high,” said Perez. “We want to start the season on a really good basis, score good points. I think if we're able to score good points on Sunday, it will be a very good start for us.”

Achieving points in Australia might look, on the face of it, tough for Racing Point given they were the ninth quickest team on the timesheet in testing. But Szafnauer explained that the Mercedes-powered RP19 will be getting a big facelift for Melbourne, with many new parts coming.

“Winter testing saw us achieve our main objectives and we took away a lot of positives, but the car you will see in Melbourne is quite different from the car we ran in Barcelona. We took the strategic decision to give ourselves the maximum time to develop the car, to maximise our performance at the first race, and that meant holding back a little during testing.

“It’s not easy introducing new parts late in the day and we know it will be a steep learning curve, but we believe this approach will pay off in the long run.”

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F1 race director Charlie Whiting dies aged 66

F1 race director Charlie Whiting dies aged 66

Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has passed away at the age of 66.
A statement from the FIA confirmed that the Briton died from a pulmonary embolism in Melbourne on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

FIA president Jean Todt said: “It is with immense sadness that I learned of Charlie’s passing.

"Charlie Whiting was a great Race Director, a central and inimitable figure in Formula One who embodied the ethics and spirit of this fantastic sport.

“Formula 1 has lost a faithful friend and a charismatic ambassador in Charlie. All my thoughts, those of the FIA and entire motor sport community go out to his family, friends, and all Formula One lovers.”

Whiting first worked in Formula 1 for Hesketh Racing in 1977, but was best known for working his way through the ranks at Brabham to become its chief mechanic.

He played a key role in helping Nelson Piquet to the world drivers’ championship in 1981 and 1983 and would stay at the team until it was sold by then owner Bernie Ecclestone in 1988.

He moved to a position as FIA technical delegate, with the blessing of Ecclestone, and then became FIA director and safety delegate from 1997.

His role included overseeing track and car safety, technical and procedural matters on grand prix weekends plus starting the race itself.

Whiting was instrumental in pushing for improved safety standards in F1, and was a driving force behind the introduction of the halo at the start of last year – which was credited with saving the life of Charles Leclerc after his crash at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Speaking last year, Whiting said that a number of technical advances had contributed to making F1 so safe and allowing Leclerc to walk away.

“I agree about the introduction of the halo and that played a part, but you must not forget over the years all the far less visible things that have been done to improve safety of the survival cell, side impact structures, frontal impact structures, strengthen the survival cell itself, high cockpit sides, the headrest,” he said.

“All of those things have been done gradually over the years and they also play a part in the outcome.”

Tributes flood in for Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting

Tributes flood in for Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting

Ross Brawn, Managing Director, Motorsports at Formula 1 said: “I have known Charlie for all of my racing life. We worked as mechanics together, became friends and spent so much time together at race tracks across the world. I was filled with immense sadness when I heard the tragic news.

“I’m devastated. It is a great loss not only for me personally but also the entire Formula 1 family, the FIA and motorsport as a whole. All our thoughts go out to his family.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff added: "I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Charlie's passing this morning. He was a pillar of our Formula 1 family – balanced in his approach, subtle in his understanding and always with the interests of Formula 1 as his main focus.

"He was a fantastic ambassador for our sport and a true guardian of its best interests; all of us who were lucky enough to know him will miss his ready smile and gentle humour. On behalf of the entire Mercedes motorsport family, I send our deepest sympathies to his family and friends."

Red Bull's Christian Horner added: “I am deeply saddened to hear the terrible news that Charlie Whiting passed away last night. Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as Race Director for many years.

“He was a man with great integrity who performed a difficult role in a balanced way. At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham. On behalf of everyone at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing we pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

“Charlie was a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”

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Wow - such sad news! RIP.

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THE FINAL FAKE CHARLIE WHITING TWEET

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The final Tweet by Fake Charlie Whiting is a photo of the real deal and the man who ‘played’ his role on Twitter, and a screengrab of a poignant letter by the man who pretended he was Charlie – just for a laugh!

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STEMMING THE DOWNFALL IS WILLIAMS PRIORITY

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Once again destined to be backmarkers, Williams’ greatest goal will be to finish in Melbourne for their pre-season was spoiled, missing the first two days of testing simply because their car was not ready.

While they will make it to Melbourne this weekend, there’s still plenty of work to be done before they’re ready to go racing on Sunday afternoon at Albert Park.

On the other hand, and in their favour, Williams arrive at Albert Park with two drivers motivated to move the team forward. Racing veteran Robert Kubica returns to Formula 1 after eight seasons away from the sport due to a rally injury, partnering British rookie and FIA Formula 2 Champion George Russell.

Paddy Lowe, who messed up last year’s car and was late with this year’s one, has jumped ship or been pushed, but the plank has been walked and he is ‘paddling’ somewhere in a dingy while the team he was supposed to save tries not to sink even further.

Apart from being late, the car was two seconds off the pace and a second slower than their closest rivals. Things got even worse when it was discovered that Paddy and his ‘wise-men’ had not read the rule book and the car sported some pricey bits that have to be lobbed off because they were illegal.

In retrospect, it’s hard to think back on a team member who has inflicted so much damage to a racing organisation in so little time.

Whatever the case we know why Lawrence Stroll moved his money away from the team he backed so handsomely at one point, he simply saw no end to the plight of this once mighty team.

Apart from Williams fans and staff, the big victims of this shambles are their respected drivers. Kubica’s remarkable story is well told while the fact that Russell is in the team on merit has to count for something but with what they had in Barcelona testing at their disposal they are doomed.

Granted two weeks between the final day of testing and the FP1 is a long time in F1 development timelines, so expect a heavily revised FW42 on the grid in Melbourne. The only problem is that their rivals have also not stood still.

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Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal: Formed by Frank Williams in 1977, Frank’s only daughter Claire took over the hands-on duty as deputy team principal in 2013. Claire began her career in the F1 paddock with Williams as a communications officer in 2002 and worked her way up the ladder to where she is now, the defacto team chief in Sir Frank’s absence.

This season for Claire will be about picking up the pieces and try to rebuild the team from stone last to a more respectable place in the pecking order. However, it seems big ask considering the state the team is in now, while too many questions also abound, the big one being: Should Claire step down as deputy team principal of her father’s team?

You can’t fault her passion or commitment to the family business, and of course they will not fire her and shouldn’t because she has the personality and charisma to be part of the team leadership, perhaps on the commercial and/or marketing side of the business while they bring in a technical heavy hitter.

Ouch, they did! On Claire’s watch, the big tech guy she chose was Lowe, of course, no one was to know (maybe only Toto…) that the former Merc man was not up to it. But let’s face it after last year’s FW41 debacle she should have ditched him there and then.

If bringing him on board and handing him shares to the family biz was her call it was a bad one and she should suffer the consequences of what ultimately was a disastrous decision for the team. Allowing things to fester to this point – after all the writing was on the wall a year ago for all to see – is where she failed, she should have seen it coming but didn’t by her own admission did not – inexcusable and a fireable offence if she weren’t familia.

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Robert Kubica: Not much more can be said of Robert’s heroic story, than: show us the money! Has he still got it or is it gone?

It will be fascinating to see how the popular driver fares, but if the team provide him with a lemon he will be incapable of doing anything astounding (as any another driver with a sub-standard car) and will simply be measured up against his rookie teammate which is not why he is coming back to F1 with huge backing from Poland.

Nevertheless, his experience will undoubtedly serve the team well now that they are somewhat headless in the technical department, while his calm and cool demeanour will go a long way to dissipating the tension in the garage that may be caused by underperformance or breakdowns.

One would expect him to be the level head when everyone else is losing theirs. Forza to Robert and may his most excellent journey continue to amaze us.

George Russell: The Formula 2 Champion is on the grid purely on merit. No pay driver with a team which desperately needs all the money they can find shows how much he is respected and appreciated by the team.

By all accounts, he has settled in well and comes with very set ideas on what he needs to go fast, provided his team can supply him with the tools to do so he could be one of the rookies that stands out this year.

Driving for Williams used to be among the biggest of honours, Russell arrives on the scene at the team’s lowest level since Sir Frank formed it in the late seventies. How he handles his rookie season, under trying circumstances, will be a true test of character.

As much as F1 needs a strong Williams team, it is hard to imagine them digging themselves out of the hole they are in any time soon, but hopefully with two level headed drivers and a dollop of good fortune they may stem the freefall because they can’t sink any lower.

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TORO ROSSO PRIMED TO SURPRISE

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Toro Rosso welcome their sister team Red Bull to life with Honda power, the junior team now on their second year with the Japanese auto giant paved the way for the complete merger.

The Red Bull-owned Faenza based outfit worked tirelessly throughout the 2018 season developing the Honda power unit, mainly for Red Bull’s sake.

They now hope to fight more frequently in 2019 without taking so many grid penalties which they were given in favour of evolving their power unit but are likely to remain the test bed for the programme.

Toro Rosso only recorded five points finishes during the last 11 races after grid penalties placed their drivers towards the back of the grids regularly.

They also have two new drivers, with Daniil Kvyat making another return to F1 alongside Red Bull junior driver Alexander Albon. However they appear to have a gem of a race car in the STR14, the striking liveried car impressive during preseason testing last month in Spain.

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Franz Tost, Team Principal: Like Horner at Toro Rosso’s sister team Red Bull Racing, Tost has led Toro Rosso since its debut at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix. Born in Austria, the 63-year-old briefly raced cars as a junior before managing racing teams.

Tost joined F1 in 2000, working with Williams and their BMW engine suppliers at the time.

He has also mentored many Red Bull junior drivers who got their F1 testing break with them, grooming some, such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, to bigger things

This year they welcome back Kvyat who the team knows well, with Thai rookie Alexander Albon in the garage next to him.

One is assuming that the Kvyat that steps into this year’s Toro Rosso is vastly different to the one that that Helmut Marko sent packing a couple of fo years ago for simply not delivering at the highest level despite numerous chances to redeem himself.

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Daniil Kvyat: He was cauterised by Red Bull and found refuge at Maranello sim driving for Ferrari. Last year when Daniel Ricciardo stunned the establishment with his decision to abandon Red Bull and join Renault, the energy drinks organisation had few options. Their young driver programme had run dry and Brendon Hartley was not up to the task of F1.

So Marko and co hit up their prodigal son Kvyat who was only too keen to oblige. Will the leopard change his spots and channel the undeniable raw speed into consistency and canny race craft expected of a driver with 72 Grand Prix starts on his CV. Step up Tost to see what he can do now after failing in his first attempt to tame the wayward Russian driver.

As trivial as it may sound those bigger wings could well be a curse for accident-prone drivers, not all of them are but we know who the main culprits can be. Hopefully, we get a rejuvenated and more mature young man, because he is a welcome addition to the grid and capable of doing the job as his two F1 podiums testify.

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Alex Albon: Much has been written how Red Bull, out of the blue, plucked the 22-year-old from relative oblivion to place him on the F1 grid with Toro Rosso. As explained above circumstances and fate smiled on young the young Thai driver.

While Kvyat was an early choice for a seat with the team, Albon was the last man signed for 2019, So much so that he missed the Abu Dhabi young driver test and only got his first taste of F1 on day one of preseason testing a month ago at Circuit de Catalunya.

The kid survived an embarrassing first lap spin, but credit to him for delivering a solid performance during his next four days in the car. Ticking all the boxes as his team brought him up to speed with the nuances of an F1 car.

Is he ready for Melbourne and the year ahead?

More testing would have served him well as would have a few FP1 sessions along the way. Of the four rookies in the field, for the start of this season, Albon is the least prepared in terms of mileage in the cockpit of an F1 car.

Readiness is also a state-of-mind, more pertinent to him is if he is able to seize the moment and establish himself as a hot prospect worth banking on for the future. For now, it is a gamble.

If the two lads can keep the STR14 on the black stuff, they could be the surprise package of this season.

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HAMILTON: WE HAVE WORK TO DO AND WE WEREN’T TALKING BS

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Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton has dismissed the idea of putting ‘statement wins’ on the board early in the Formula 1 season, while revealing that his Mercedes team has plenty of work to do on its car ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Briton Hamilton, the winner of four of the last five titles, believes the Silver Arrows have a battle on their hands this season against Ferrari, whose car showed impressive pace and reliability during winter testing.

Hamilton’s path to his fifth championship started slowly last year, with his first win not coming until the fourth race in Azerbaijan.

However, he said he was only focused on getting his W10 car across the finish line at Albert Park on Sunday, with the championship unlikely to be decided in the early rounds.

Asked if he felt pressure ahead of his title defence, “It’s a long season, so I don’t particularly feel that. The most important thing, I think, is really about finishing races and analysing and making sure you get as many race points as you can, of course.

“It’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing. Naturally, we won’t fully know until we get out in the car tomorrow and come qualifying you get a better picture. We said that we had work to do, we have work to do and we weren’t talking BS.”

Mercedes are one of only two teams in Formula One this season who have maintained the same driver lineup, with Valtteri Bottas to partner Hamilton for a third successive year.

Where Hamilton’s partnership with retired 2016 champion Nico Rosberg was fraught with tension, the 34-year-old has enjoyed a much smoother ride with Bottas, who has not proved as competitive as his German predecessor.

Hamilton naturally was keen for continuity on the driving front, at least, “We have a great pairing and the contribution from Valtteri and I together works, it’s worked well for years and there’s no reason to change it.”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In terms of the team, we’ve got some incredible people in the team, and the energy is really, really inspiring to see so many people so pumped.”

Leading a jet-setting lifestyle and boasting a number of celebrity friends, Hamilton had a typically busy off-season but found time to do some sky-diving in Qatar on the way to Australia.

He said he had also done a bit of surfing but not had the courage to test Australia’s breaks.

“I wanted to do it here but I couldn’t find a netted area to go. I just can’t go where the sharks are, man. Every Australian I meet, they’re like: Nah, nah, you’ll be alright … If a shark comes up to you, punch it in the face,” he said generating a laugh.

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VETTEL: MATTIA MADE IT VERY CLEAR, WE’RE FREE TO RACE EACH OTHER

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Sebastian Vettel said on Thursday new Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc will be “free to race” from the start of the Formula 1 season and the German rejected suggestions his bid for a fifth world championship title would take precedence.

Ferrari’s new team principal Mattia Binotto said earlier in the year that Vettel, as the team’s “champion”, would be given priority over Leclerc in certain racing situations, though he later clarified the drivers would be “free to fight”.

Vettel, bidding for a third successive win in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, said testily that he expected no special treatment.

“I think it’s very clear, and I think Mattia also made it very clear, we are free to race each other,” he told reporters at Albert Park on Thursday.

“I think Charles will do his best to help himself, to help the team and that’s the same for me, I’ll do the best to help myself and to help the team.

“In the end we are racing for Ferrari and that means we will try to get Ferrari back to where we’ve been trying to get it back to the last couple of years.

“That’s the main priority and the rest, it’s a long, long season and I think it’s a bit pointless at this point to start pointing out certain scenarios.”

Monegasque Leclerc, who drove for Sauber last year, has swapped race seats with Kimi Raikkonen, with the Finnish former champion now at the rebranded Alfa Romeo team.

Leclerc said Binotto had also told him he would be free to race Vettel, albeit with the qualification that the German would be given priority in certain race situations.

The highly rated 21-year-old declined to elaborate as to what situations would apply but was unfazed about the prospect of having to play second fiddle to Vettel.

“I’m still young but I’m pretty sure that you always learn with our sport,” he said in the paddock.

“On the feedback side, there are still a lot of things I can learn from Seb especially because he’s very experienced and very strong in that point. So I’ve got a good example next to me.”

Ferrari, runners-up in the constructors’ championship the last two years, have arrived with plenty of buzz around their SF90 car, which was fast and reliable during winter testing.

Pundits have tipped the Scuderia to give Mercedes, winners of the last five driver’s and constructors’ titles, a genuine challenge in the coming championship.

The Scuderia’s last constructors’ title came in 2008.

Vettel was also bullish about his car’s quality compared to last year’s leadup to Melbourne, where he snatched a lucky win over Lewis Hamilton courtesy of a safety car deployment.

“In this regard, we are more prepared, the car seems to work fine and there are no problems at this stage,” he said. “But having said that, obviously, we can’t do better than last year’s result. So we’ve got a tough week ahead of us.

“Always at the start, you’re a bit nervous, you don’t know exactly where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen.  At this point, I think we are all hunters and all hunted, but hopefully going away from here, I will be in the position of the hunted,” added the Ferrari driver.

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F1 Australian Grand Prix 2019 Drivers Press Conference

 

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MEDIA AND F1 DRIVERS OVATION FOR KUBICA’S “AWESOME” COMEBACK

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Robert Kubica had just tried to make light of his long and mentally taxing time out of Formula 1 in his typically self-effacing way when fellow driver Daniel Ricciardo took up the theme.

“It’s awesome to see him back. It’s a testament to his character,” Ricciardo told a news conference ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. “I won’t ask everyone to applaud …”

The slight pause prompted a round of applause from a room packed with a usually stony-faced cohort.

“It’s just … awesome,” Ricciardo continued, either for emphasis or just for a lack of a better word.

The 34-year-old Kubica is returning to F1 for the first time since 2010, an enforced absence after a serious rallying accident.

The crash, just weeks before the 2011 season, left him needing seven hours of surgery on a partially severed right hand, and months of grueling mental and physical rehabilitation. Williams has modified his car this year to cater for his predominantly left-handed steering.

Before his accident, he’d earned 12 podium finishes in F1 – claiming his first pole position and victory in 2008 for Sauber – and was considered one of the sport’s purest talents. He was a contemporary of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – a pair who have combined for nine world drivers’ titles.

Kubica said he never entirely gave up on the idea of returning to F1, but there were plenty of doubts before he finally got a start with Williams for the 2019 season.

“It’s been a long time away from the sport,” he said. “Emotions – to be honest there’s not really a lot of time to think about them. You are focused on the job, focused on the things to do.

“Try and learn as much as you can about new F1. Things have changed quite a lot since I was racing here last time.”

Kubica was on a panel of drivers at a news conference on the eve of Friday’s practice sessions for the Australian Grand Prix. The other four – Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo and Max Verstappen – had GP wins last season. They were asked what kind of crazy things they’d been up to in the off-season.

“I had a bit longer than the others!” the Polish driver chimed in. “Starting working with the team, knowing you’ll be a race driver makes a big difference to the past seven winters.”

It was soon after that when Ricciardo switched gears from talking about sharks and Crocodile Dundee to address the courageous comeback by the man sitting to his left.

Kubica, for his part, tried to keep things on track as much as possible. He knows getting the drive is just one of the hurdles he’ll encounter this season.

The Williams team, which placed last in the constructors’ championship last year, didn’t get off to a good start in 2019 after the car arrived late for winter testing.

“It’s not like you recover this delay in one week, so there are still things being sorted out,” he said. “It’s a difficult period but we have to make sure we are doing everything we can in the current situation.

“We cannot change it, so … there’s no point in wasting energy or time thinking of a difficult job. We have to make sure we maximize our opportunities from what we have.”

After the physical and emotional pain he’s endured in the eight seasons between his F1 races, it’s highly unlikely Kubica will be wasting any opportunities after the season starts Sunday.

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HORNER: WE HAVE TO KEEP EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC

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Red Bull boss Christian Horner has poured cold water on the prospect of challenging Mercedes and Ferrari early in the Formula One season despite a “positive” start with new engine partner Honda.

Powered by Renault last year, Red Bull finished a distant third behind winners Mercedes and runner-up Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.

But with the Honda-powered RB15 car having a positive winter testing, Red Bull are tipped to improve.

Four days before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Horner said his team still had plenty of ground to make up, however.

“We’ve got an exciting new partnership with Honda starting this weekend so it’s off to a positive start but we have to keep expectations realistic,” he said at the F1 season launch at Melbourne’s Federation Square on Wednesday.

“There’s a big gap to close from Mercedes and Ferrari, but we’re confident that we can do that during the course of the year.”

With Daniel Ricciardo having switched to Renault, Red Bull’s 21-year-old driver Max Verstappen is now the effective team leader on track and is rated a title contender in his fifth season.

“It was very nice to experience the car, with the new partnership with Honda,” Dutchman Verstappen said of pre-season testing. “It’s very exciting times for us.”

Pierre Gasly, who graduated from feeder team Toro Rosso, has replaced Australian Ricciardo.

The Frenchman had two crashes during testing as he got up to speed with the RB15 and said he still had plenty to learn as he embarks on his second season in Formula One.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said at the launch. “It’s probably the best place to be in Red Bull, with (these) guys next to me.”

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BINOTTO: WE DID OUR HOMEWORK DURING THE WINTER

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New Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto is hopeful the team’s 2018 fadeout is beyond them after an off-season spent doing “homework” ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season which gets underway in Melbourne this weekend.

The Maranello-based team made a brilliant start to the 2018 Formula 1 season, with lead driver Sebastian Vettel winning the first two races of the year.

Ferrari won six of a possible 21 Formula 1 events in 2018 but triumphed in just one of the last eight as Lewis Hamilton took the world title and led Mercedes to another constructors’ championship.

Binotto – who replaced Maurizio Arrivabene in the Ferrari top job – is excited for a new year to begin at this weekend’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2019.

“It’s great for us, it’s great to start,” Binotto said at the official Formula 1 Season Launch event in Melbourne on Wednesday. “We did our homework during the winter time – we are all now focused on the entire season.”

“Nice to start here in Australia – I think it’s always nice to start here. But we know it will be a very long and tough season so [we are] just being focused.”

Four-time F1 world champion Vettel cut an extremely relaxed figure at the Season Launch and backed Binotto to help revive Ferrari’s fortunes, “Obviously it’s a big change but Mattia has been with the team longer than I think most of the people that work for Ferrari.”

“I think (he has been at Ferrari for) more than 25 years – so he is not a new face. I think people know him and learn to trust him. For sure, it is a new challenge but I think for the whole team, we try to obviously turn the page.”

“We had our weaknesses last year here and there and we obviously tried to fix those and do much better this year. So far, the spirit is right, the team is on track. I think the car feels good, so let’s see how we start here (in Melbourne).”

Vettel’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, was equally relaxed ahead of his Ferrari debut.

The 19-year-old, who impressed so much for Sauber in 2018, said he was excited for Friday’s qualifying session. “I’m very relaxed, too. Only want to get back on track, finally. It has been quite a long break. I think testing went very well. It looks positive so now I just want to race again. I can’t wait to be at the track on Friday.”

Ferrari have not won a F1 world title since 2008 and have played second fiddle to the dominance for far too long for their liking, in fact, it would be fair to say that the sport could do with Ferrari triumphing this year, but they are going to bring their ‘A-plus-plus’ game to the table.

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Drivers strike differing views on F1's fastest lap rule

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Ahead of the opening race of the 2019 Formula 1 season, the driver's have shared a divided opinion on the reintroduction of a point being handed out for the fastest lap of the race.

On Monday, the FIA was able to push through the re-introduced the rule after a 60-year absence; last seen in 1958, but with a new caveat of having to finish inside the top 10.

Some of the drivers have been able to welcome to the idea of being able to secure an extra 21 points throughout the season, while there have been others who don't agree with the idea.

"It would have been nice to have it last year," said Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas. "I would have got quite a few extra points, I think it would have been enough to finish third in the championship, but once we know the new rule, now everyone can create some differences on the way the race will go.

"If, for example, you have a free pit stop close to the end of the race, you might go for it and try to do a quick lap at the end of the race. But if you’re fighting for the win or the podium, that will take a second role in what you’re focused on. It’s just one more thing to make things more interesting."

Racing Point's Sergio Perez believes there will be little change in how the team's go about their racing. "It’s very tricky," said the Mexican.  "I think the tricky bit comes that someone out of the top ten can take it from you. So that’s a bit harsh I guess it probably gives an advantage to the - I’m talking about last year you know, I hope this year is a bit different.

"But, for example, last year, Red Bull was always far from the top two teams and far from the rest of the grid so they could have gotten the points very often but we’ll see. I think let’s see for the first couple of races how the way it pans out and then we make up our minds."

In his usual nonchalant manner, Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen shared the same sentiment's as Perez. "I’ve not been asked before they made the new rule," added the Finn. "It’s just now part of the rules and I don’t know how it’s going to play out.

"I don’t think it’s going to make any difference, but who knows? Maybe in some special cases, someone might do something different but it’s hard to believe that will happen.

"Everybody has done that over the years, back off for a bit and then push hard for one lap, to have some fun, but now with one point of the table people will do it more regularly. We’ll see how it goes."

The returning Robert Kubica feels it could change the dynamic of the latter stages of a race, potentially allowing to move up several positions if those ahead pit to try and get the point.

"I think unfortunately it doesn’t affect us a lot," said the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner. "At least for now. But yeah, extra point. It can unlock some strange scenarios at the end of the race with some cars pitting and it will open up. We’ll see three, four cars suddenly coming in. It will depend. It will be a kind of domino. But as I said, I was not really interested about it."

There were some drivers who sat on the fence, which included reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

"It’s 21 extra points, said the Brit. "I think it’ll be interesting to see how people try to get those points, so it should be interesting."

"I don’t expect much change," added Sebastian Vettel. "We’ll see after a couple of races if there is actually a change."

Renault's latest recruit Daniel Ricciardo thinks the restriction of making the point only available to the top 10 is a good thing, but is in agreement with Hamilton and Vettel that it may not make much of a difference.

"Yeah. At first, when I just heard, I thought it was the whole… it’s good that they’ve restricted it to the top ten. So you do have something potentially to lose if you go in to pit for a fresh set of tyres to get the fastest lap.

"Yeah, we’ll see. Haven’t really thought that much about it. See how it plays out. I don’t think it will decide a championship – could do, but I don’t think it will."

The drivers do seem to be divided on the idea, but this could change when the championship battle heats up at the front of the field, or even perhaps if the midfield battle becomes incredibly close which it is appears to be.

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Helmet guide: All 20 Formula 1 drivers helmets

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Although car visuals have improved in recent years, with driver numbers and initials displayed on the side of the engine cover, as well as the nose, the easiest way to distinguish between team-mates in near-identical machinery is by their helmet.

We've put together this handy guide so you can see which helmet belongs to which driver, and we think you'll agree, there are some real beauties this season!

Make sure to vote for your favourite at the end of the article!

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

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Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

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Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

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Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

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Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

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Pierre Gasly (Red Bull)

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Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)

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Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

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Carlos Sainz (McLaren)

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Lando Norris (McLaren)

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Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

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Romain Grosjean (Haas)

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Sergio Perez (Racing Point)

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Lance Stroll (Racing Point)

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Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

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Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)

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Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)

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Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso)

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Robert Kubica (Williams)

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George Russell (Williams)

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McLaren in "better starting position" than recent years

McLaren in

McLaren driver Lando Norris says the Woking-based team is in “a better starting position” ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 season compared to the previous few campaigns.
McLaren's results in F1 have been disappointing as of late, but while it didn't score any points in three season-opening Australian Grands Prix with Honda engines between 2015 and 2017, its first race as a Renault customer in Melbourne last year was a different story.

Despite a troubled pre-season, it scored a standout fifth place with Fernando Alonso, which would remain as its season-best finish as the MCL33 quickly faded towards the back of the pack.

McLaren's new MCL34 package has looked much-improved in Barcelona testing this year and rookie Norris, who trialled its predecessor in testing and practice sessions, is convinced the team will be in better shape from the get go.

“I think we're in a better baseline starting position compared to last year, from what the engineers have said as well,” Norris claimed.

“Obviously I didn't drive [the MCL33] at the beginning of last year, but in terms of the starting point of the season, knowing generally what we're like pace-wise and confidence-wise, knowing that we will be making progress with the car.

“I think generally we're in a better starting position than what we have been in the past few years.

Car of Lando Norris, McLaren MCL34

“But there's still a lot of work to be done, in terms of competitiveness with other teams.”

Asked by Motorsport.com what the limitations of the new car were, Norris said: “I'm not going to say what exactly we're struggling with, but there's areas, general confidence in the car, not in all the speed corners – sometimes more the higher, sometimes lower.

“We just don't have the best balance for the whole lap, let's say. We struggled to make an ideal balance, without making compromises, to allow Carlos [Sainz] or myself to be comfortable in every area.

“So we've just got to know what compromises to make, especially coming here where it's very different to Barcelona.

“We might struggle with different things - probably will struggle with different things - but we still have a good direction to go in.

“We know that there's not loads of limitations. There's one or two main things, and if we can improve them, then overall we'll improve the balance of the car.”

Norris believes even minor gains or losses can make a big difference in the close midfield battle that he expects McLaren to be part of.

“Obviously it won't make our lives easy knowing there's a lot of cars [that] we'll be racing,” he said. “I think it will get to the point where a couple of tenths will lose you a fair few positions.

“But at the same time, it does make it exciting and makes you work for those extra few hundredths, or thousandths sometimes, to beat them.

“That's going off what we generally thought how Barcelona went. But some teams are going to prefer Australia, I don't know if we're going to prefer it or not.”

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Grosjean "fine" with Steiner's Netflix slating

Grosjean

Romain Grosjean says he has no qualms about the slating that he got from team boss Gunther Steiner in the Netflix Formula 1 documentary – because he admits himself he was not good enough at the start of last year.
One of the main talking points of the new 'F1: Drive to Survive' series is the way that Haas boss Steiner lets rip at Grosjean on the back of his early 2018 struggles.

As well as swearing at him on the pitwall, Steiner speaks out at a team dinner at the French Grand Prix which Grosjean is not present at.

"Romain is not here," said Steiner. "Maybe he is not here because he doesn't have any points. Or I didn't invite him because he doesn't deserve any food."

Although Grosjean has yet to see the Netflix series in full, he says that Steiner's attitude is nothing that worries him.

"I know Gunther, and he's calling a cat a cat," said the Frenchman. "So that's fine by me. We've had discussions and we've never lied to each other. He always tell the truth and that's something I appreciate.

"Honestly, if you are telling me to judge my first half of the season myself, I wouldn't have been tender myself. So fine by me.

"I think I changed the direction of the boat in the second part, and hopefully he did say some nice things in the second part. I didn't hear, but hopefully. If not, I'll just f****** get him!"

Sainz social boost

McLaren driver Carlos Sainz said he had already noticed an impact from his appearance in the Netflix series, with his social media numbers having jumped dramatically.

"It has had a great response" he said. "Going into the paddock today, a lot of aficionados were cheering, telling me how good the Netflix episode was.

"I've gone up in social media followers 15,000 in the last week, which is much more per day and per week than normally.

"So it shows there's lot of people in the US and globally watching this thing and getting interest in the athletes and the drivers and it's been a great response."

Grosjean echoed Sainz's view that the impact from the Netflix series should be hugely positive for F1.

"What I think of it is not what's very important," he said. "What's important is people from outside of Formula 1 or people who don't follow Formula 1, what they think of the documentary is the most important thing.

"I've met a lot of people at the airport saying it's been great, it's been good, and if it can bring more fans to Formula 1, it's amazing. So, yeah on social media it's been really good response, really good comments."

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Shell contributed 21% to Ferrari's 2018 engine gains

Shell contributed 21% to Ferrari's 2018 engine gains

Ferrari fuel and oil supplier Shell says data has confirmed that its products contributed to 21% of the Maranello team's engine performance gains in 2018.
While it had estimated additions in that region last year when it introduced a new fuel at the Belgium Grand Prix, the team has gone through dyno data from Maranello to find the exact figure.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto praised the efforts that Shell had made during an appearance at the Albert Park circuit on Thursday.

"Obviously 21% is a huge number," said Binotto.

"It is a significant portion of the power unit laptime that we gained in development, and that I think it is simply showing the importance of our partnership, and the importance of Shell for the development of our car and power units.

"The laptime is pure performance, but you need to achieve it through reliability, and when you know you have only got three engines per drivers per season, and you are pushing the limit of the performance of the engine, you need to do that in a reliable way."

Guy Lovett, Shell Motorsport's innovation manager, said: "If we look over the last few seasons with Ferrari, we have been able to sustain a good level of performance contribution to the red cars.

"If we specifically look at the data from 2018 – we have been able to calculate that 21% of Ferrari's power unit lap time gain has come from our racing fuels and oils.

"That is something we are very proud of and something that we continue to strive for this season."

With Shell and Ferrari having worked closer than ever ahead of a season that the team starts as favourite, Binotto said that he was happy with the job done so far – but said there was a lot of work still to do.

"I think that I feel ready, as the entire team is ready," he said. "You know we had eight days of testing in Barcelona, where we tried somehow to understand the limits of the performance of the car and the limits of reliability of the car itself.

"We have been back from Barcelona with a lot of homework, and I think we had very few days to try to address all of them. But I think we did our best and somehow it is a never ending story.

"There is still a lot to be done, still a lot to be developed, still a lot to be addressed, but I think we did a proper job for the start of the season."

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McLaren replaces BAT logos for the Australian GP

McLaren replaces BAT logos for the Australian GP

McLaren has removed the logos of sponsor British American Tobacco for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, after the company decided to not risk falling foul of the country’s tough anti-tobacco advertising legislation.
Earlier this year, McLaren announced a tie-up with BAT
FORMULA 1 / BREAKING NEWS
McLaren signs deal with British American Tobacco
Feb 11, 2019
 that was "focused solely on BAT's potentially reduced risk products and grounded in technology and innovation" rather than having any direct link to cigarette promotion.

The 2019 McLaren car and team wear, including driver overalls, have featured ‘A Better Tomorrow’ branding and logos up until now.

But on the back of an investigation by Australian authorities in to Philip Morris’ ‘Mission Winnow’ title sponsorship of Ferrari – which prompted those logos to be removed from the Italian cars for this weekend – it is understood that BAT voluntarily decided to take its branding off the McLaren too.

As part of BAT’s agreement with the team, it has instead passed on its allocated space on the car and team kit to convenience store 7-Eleven as a one-off for Melbourne.

The ‘A Better Tomorrow’ logos will come back for the next race in Bahrain, when Ferrari will also return to using the Mission Minnow branding.

The activities of Philip Morris and BAT prompted suggestions earlier this year that the companies were using back-door routes to promote cigarettes – but this was something strongly denied by McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

"BAT is an outstanding corporation that has a long history in motorsport," he said at the team launch last month.

"Our partnership's one that is technology based with their newer generation products. We don't have any relationship with the tobacco side of the business.

"Their industry is one that's transforming and is technology-driven. So we think there's areas where we can work with them and help them in their transformation journey around technology.

"They're a great company to be working with. The world evolves and changes daily, probably at a faster pace today than ever. Their company has changed, has moved on and is moving into new areas and they're looking to innovate.

"What took place 10, 15, 20 years ago, the world is a different place and their landscape has changed and Formula 1 is a good platform for them.

"One of the things that McLaren prides itself on in partnerships is working with leading innovative companies, and you can definitely put BAT into that category."

He denied the Mission Winnow/Phillip Morris situation and McLaren's BAT partnership were evidence of a "trend" of tobacco-related companies returning to F1.

"Phillip Morris have been with Ferrari forever and BAT has a great history in racing and they understand the power of it and as they move forward on their new journey they felt that McLaren was a partner that could help," added Brown.

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FIA names Michael Masi F1 race director after Charlie Whiting's death

FIA names Michael Masi F1 race director after Charlie Whitings death

The FIA has identified how it will fill three mandatory senior officiating roles in the Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, following the shock death of Charlie Whiting.
F1's sporting regulations require the FIA to nominate a race director and permanent starter for each grand prix, both of which must be present at the start of the event, and a safety delegate.

With Whiting due to hold all three positions prior to his passing on the eve of the grand prix weekend, the governing body has had to reorganise its set-up.

It has named Michael Masi, one of two deputy race directors, in all three positions.

Masi is a former Supercars official who worked as Whiting's deputy at several grands prix last year.

As well as continuing that arrangement for 2019, alongside fellow deputy Scot Elkins, Masi accepted the role of Formula 2 and Formula 3 race director for this season.

Masi's assumption of the race director duties places him in charge of the officials and the management of the Australian GP.

This includes deciding whether to suspend any of the sessions, controlling the use of the safety car, and referring incidents to the stewards.

As permanent starter, he will be responsible for controlling the lights that signal the start of the grand prix.

His safety delegate duties include having final say on all safety matters, from changing the pitlane speed limit to ensuring car, driver and circuit safety regulations are adhered to.

Whiting would have completed other elements of that role, including extensive pre-weekend circuit checks, before his death.

Shuffling Masi into the main race director role for the weekend means his responsibilities as deputy race director will need to be covered, but this has not been communicated by the FIA.

Those duties include being in charge of race control for the grid, formation lap, start and opening laps – including making calls on red flags and safety cars during this period – while the race director starts the grand prix.

Haas team principal Gunther Steiner urged teams to make sure they help the FIA as much as possible with its interim measures.

He said they needed to "cause as little trouble as possible".

"We are here to make it happen for the people that need to step in, because these are big shoes that need to be filled," said Steiner.

"In the end we'll find a solution, there will be meetings to make sure nothing goes through the cracks.

"What we will be doing is supporting whatever the FIA puts in place for this weekend.

"Whatever solution they come up with we will support it and try to make the best out of it.

"For this weekend our aim is: if they need our help, we're here to help."

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"Winning races, without a sense of entitlement" - Toto Wolff interview & model shop insights

 

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Lewis Hamilton edges Ferrari drivers in opening Australian GP practice session

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Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton opened the 2019 Formula 1 season on top as the leading three teams were covered by less than two-tenths of a second in Australia.

In warm and sunny conditions at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit Hamilton rose to the front of the pack with a best effort of 1:23.599, once the front-runners switched to Soft tyres.

That effort left him just 0.038s clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – chasing a hat-trick of Melbourne wins this weekend – while his team-mate Charles Leclerc was a mere 0.036s further back in third spot.

Max Verstappen classified fourth for Red Bull, 0.193s behind pacesetter Hamilton, as the team’s partnership with Honda got off to an encouraging start.

Valtteri Bottas, who led the way through the early runs, ultimately slipped to fifth, and came close to striking the wall after dipping a wheel onto the entry grass at the penultimate corner.

The expected close nature of the midfield was displayed for the first time as sixth-placed Kimi Raikkonen through Lance Stroll – in 15th – were covered by just half a second, albeit with a mixture of Soft and Medium tyres used for respective fastest times.

Alfa Romeo’s Raikkonen, who was almost a second down on nearest rival Bottas, headed Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, interloper Pierre Gasly (Red Bull), and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Nico Hulkenberg suffered a delayed start to his session while Renault investigated a potential electronics issue but he was able to emerge and put in a lap that secured him a top 10 spot.

Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi was 11th, ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Toro Rosso rookie Alexander Albon.

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso STR14 with a broken nose after spinning

Albon was the quickest of the trio of fully-fledged rookies but caused a brief red flag when he spun and hit the barriers through Turn 2, causing front-end damage to his car; the Toro Rosso driver was nonetheless able to recover his STR14 to the pit lane for the team to begin repairs.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was the quickest McLaren driver in 14th spot, ahead of Racing Point pair Stroll and Sergio Perez, as the team introduced a raft of updates to its RP19.

Daniel Ricciardo had a low-key start to his Renault career as he classified 17th, with McLaren rookie Lando Norris a few tenths further back in 18th spot.

Williams brought up the rear of the pack and was substantially off the pace of its opponents.

Robert Kubica’s best effort was 4.3s slower than Hamilton’s benchmark – and almost two seconds down on nearest rival Norris – while reigning F2 champion George Russell was eight-tenths adrift of his Polish team-mate.

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Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari looks on the Mercedes AMG F1 W10

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso STR14 with a broken front nose after spinning with Daniil Kvyat, Toro Roso STR14 driving by

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG W10, leads Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF90

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL34, leaves the garage

Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso STR14, leads Daniil Kvyat, Toro Roso STR14

MIKA: It's only practice but damn nice to see Kimi and Alfa Romeo so high up. Williams are where I expected them to be.

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Analysis: How Racing Point has upgraded its ‘vanilla’ F1 car

Analysis: How Racing Point has upgraded its âvanillaâ F1 car

Racing Point has made a raft of changes to its RP19 for the first Formula 1 practice session of the season, updating its “vanilla” car for Melbourne from testing specification.
Although outfit formerly known as Force India emerged in testing with a brand new car, technical director Andy Green noted that there would be a number of changes ahead of the first round of the season. The team duly arrived in Australia with multiple new parts as it seeks to make up ground within the midfield battle.

With greater financial backing following Lawrence Stroll’s takeover, Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer has suggested that the team can now afford to bring upgrades to “every race”.

Sergio Perez, Racing Point RP19

Following updates to the bargeboards and sidepod deflectors, the third ‘tooth’ now features a horizontal element to offer more options in conditioning the airflow shed from the front tyre.

This links up between the main bargeboard panel and the re-profiled sidepod-mounted pieces, assisting with sending tidy airflow around the undercut of the sidepods.

Those re-profiled bargeboard elements appear to be more pragmatic in turning air around the side of the car, with its trailing edge appearing sooner downstream to bring the top piece into play.

Racing Point RP19

The mirrors have also been overhauled, featuring a more aggressive twin-mounting compared to that seen in testing. Doubling up as further flow conditioners, these help to enforce a cleaner passage of airflow over the sidepods with greater energy.

The top of the engine cover also features a small winglet behind the T-cam, directing flow downwards and around the shark fin.

With a large top inlet, the shed wake can produce a large mass of turbulence ahead of the rear wing - hence, the winglet diverts it towards the shark fin, where it can be ironed out and boosts the performance of the rear of the car.

The team has also taken advantage of a loophole in the brake duct regulations, bringing the upright surface in towards the wheel rim to add a small slot and turning fin to clean up the airflow shed under rotation.

Sergio Perez, Racing Point RP19

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Seems like Mercedez has the upper hand at least from the practice sessions - (Love this thread BTW) Cannot wait for qualifying tomorrow not to mention the race itself. 

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Hmm, who's sandbagging?  And by how much?

We'll find out when the engine party modes come out in Qualy today.  Don't forget, Red Bull folks saying they will have a legit party mode for Qual for the first time also.

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