Norris confident Mercedes F1 power unit will be “better” for McLaren

Lando Norris believes the Mercedes Formula 1 power unit package will be “much better” for McLaren in 2021 following its move away from Renault.

McLaren announced in September 2019 that it would be switching to Mercedes power units, rekindling their famed partnership that yielded three world titles between 1995 and 2014.

McLaren spent three seasons using Renault power units after ending an acrimonious period with Honda at the end of 2017. The deal with Mercedes will run until at least the 2024 season.

Although McLaren has been forced to give up its two development tokens for the updated MCL35 car in 2021, Norris said he did not think the new power unit would “complicate things” and instead offer a step in performance.

“I think all round, it’s a better package,” Norris told Autosport.

“It’s more power. Touch wood, it’s more reliability. It’s a slightly better-fitting package, so as just a whole, there’s a lot of positives about it.

“I’m not into everything, so I’m sure there are maybe some negatives there, and we have a good relationship with Renault, so things are very smooth now and we know them, and there’s going to be a lot of new things.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some things we have to understand and we’re not going to be quite as natural with with just the mechanics and the engineers and how they understand everything.

“Of course they’ll do a great job in that transition in trying to understand it.

“There’s going to be some things which are a bit trickier, but as a package, it should be much better, and that gives us good confidence it will take us that little bit further towards the top.”

McLaren will become the fourth team on the F1 grid to be powered by Mercedes, joining Aston Martin and Williams as customers alongside the works squad.

The switch comes off the back of McLaren’s strongest season in eight years as it finished third in the constructors’ championship.

The team scored two podiums last year, and its late-season form even prompted world champion Lewis Hamilton to talk up its chances of joining the fight for victories in the future.

Norris previously spoke about the difficulty he had at times in understanding the MCL35 car, the majority of which will be carried over into 2021 as the MCL35M.

He added that the majority chassis carryover would allow McLaren to continue to learn about the car, allowing it to unlock more performance.

“With the tricky car that we had and the struggles and the positives and negatives, there’s still many things we need to work on through [2021],” Norris said.

“I guess the good thing with having bad things with the car or negatives is that you can try and work on them and try and turn them into positives, and it will make the car quicker. That’s a good thing.

“It’s not like we have an amazing car which is slow, and we don’t know how to work on it. I think we know the direction we need to work in. It’s just very difficult to unlock it and find those things.

“That’s probably why you see in the last two or three years, teams have been very similar – I guess apart from Ferrari.

“Although you’re spending however much money, it’s just not easy for engineers to figure out these exact things which can be millimetres of difference with all these different parts.

“We’re working very closely with the factory and the aero department and things like that, and everyone in the factory to continue working hard and developing the car into next year.”

The change that could solve Red Bull's slow start trait in F1

Max Verstappen’s victory in last year’s Formula 1 finale in Abu Dhabi lifted hopes within Red Bull that it finally had a car for a full-on title challenge in 2021.

With F1’s chassis regulations pretty much frozen for this year, and the worst of the RB16’s vices having been ironed out, there was good reason to feel optimistic about what could be possible in the final campaign of the current rules.

But lurking at the back of the team’s mind was the well-known historical trait that has characterised Red Bull’s form over many recent seasons.

For Red Bull regularly finished each season strongly, got bullish after an encouraging winter, but then failed to hit the ground running at the start of the following campaign.

Then it would engage in a brilliant recovery and development drive to close the gap down to the front of the field – and finish the year strongly to begin the cycle again.

PLUS: How Red Bull fell short of challenging for the 2020 title

It is something that Red Bull’s management is well aware of. Last year, boss Christian Horner felt that, with there being so much carry over between the 2020 and 2021 cars, it would help it perhaps change its fortunes this year.

“I certainly hope so, because it’s not a start from scratch again,” he said after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“It’s the first time in F1’s history [that this has happened], and it is why we called the new car, 16B, as opposed to 17, because there’s so much of it that is carry over. Probably about 60% of the car is carryover.”

But while it is true that the stable chassis rules will give Red Bull some confidence about the platform it has for this year, equally there remains a great deal of uncertainty about F1 2021 aerodynamics.

With aero surfaces remaining free for development, plus new headaches caused by a change to floor rules, there still remains scope for some decent performance swings.

PLUS: What the first look at 2021’s F1 aero rules tells us

With aero performance having been a cornerstone of Red Bull’s qualities over the years, that means nothing can be taken for granted about how it will stack up against Mercedes.

And that’s especially true considering it is known that the team likes to be aggressive in the way it pushes for endless improvement – and will bring new components as soon as it possibly can.

It is that latter characteristic that could perhaps offer the best clue as to why Red Bull’s seasons play out the way they do.

For the aggression in pushing hard with development, and gunning for more performance parts as much as possible, may well work in bringing lap time gain, but equally they could bring a downside too.

In constantly trying new parts, it means Red Bull is often chasing a new understanding of the platform it has on a grand prix weekend.

And if the new components don’t deliver straight away on track, then it can leave a headache as to whether there is an inherent problem rather than just a set up adaption needed.

Speaking about whether the perception of Red Bull’s slow starts was a reality, Max Verstappen said at the end of last year: “It definitely looks like that.

“We know that we have to improve a bit in the beginning of the year. But I think yeah, with COVID, and then no track running which we depend on quite a lot, it didn’t help our case.

“We had to rectify a few stuff. And yeah, then with so many races in a row, you lose a lot of points. And then retirements, that doesn’t help.”

That line about Red Bull relying on ‘track running’ is an interesting one, and would go some way to explaining why, as knowledge of the team’s car expands, that its performance does come on.

Pushed a little on what he felt it would take for Red Bull to break its cycle of poor starts, Verstappen responded: “Maybe I think we just depend a bit more on track running.

“So we have to find a way of making sure that what comes out of the windtunnel works straight away on the car, and it’s immediate, and puts us in the right direction. So we’ll work on that.”

The message seems to be quite clear: get the new parts working first time out of the box and Red Bull won’t lose ground against rivals who are better sorted early on.

To make sure that happens will not actually require it doing anything fundamentally different.

It is more about having a belt and braces approach of better methodology, ensure windtunnel and track correlation is spot on, and not trying to run before it can walk in trying to eke out small improvement gains with new parts.

The end result should be that when Verstappen has a new front wing bolted on his car, he knows it works – rather than needs to find out if it does.

In the past, Red Bull has shown itself not to be afraid of changing the way it does things in the quest for results.

A few years ago it deliberately stepped away from an old desire to leave the development window of its new cars open as long as possible – as it felt that it had been held back by everything being so last minute for the first tests.

If Verstappen is right, that the key to it doing better is to ensure that new parts that hit the track work first time, then a similar subtle change of processes could be all it takes to deliver a very different result on the track.

Nissany to run in F1 Bahrain pre-season test for Williams

Roy Nissany will drive for Williams in one of the three 2021 pre-season Formula 1 test days, as part of his continued role as official test driver for the team.

The Israeli, who joined the Grove team last year, is the first support driver to be formally confirmed by the new owners, who took over in September.

Nissany drove in three FP1 sessions in 2020, in Spain, Italy and at the first Bahrain race, and he also completed a full day of running at the post-season Abu Dhabi test.

He has been promised three more Friday outings in 2021, and significantly he will also do one of the three pre-season test days with the new car in Bahrain.

As a result, race drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will only have one full day apiece before the first race.

The team is planning a 100kms filming day, which could give one or both of the race drivers some extra mileage, but it has not been confirmed yet.

Williams says that Nissany will also conduct more extensive simulator running than he did in 2020.

Last year the 26-year-old combined his F1 duties with a Formula 2 campaign driving for Trident Racing.

He scored points only twice, with an eighth place at Spa and 10th in the first Austrian race, and was classified 19th in the championship.

Williams team principal Simon Roberts said: “As a team, we were very happy with the contributions Roy made both through his work on-track and in the simulator at Grove, which all aided the lap time gains we were able to make with the FW43.

“We also enjoyed seeing Roy grow as a driver, and we have no doubt that he will continue to go from strength-to-strength this year.”

“I am truly honoured to continue being part of Williams,” said Nissany.

“Since we started, we have made huge progress across many areas. On top of the great FP1s, we had a lot of productive work behind the scenes.

“While dedicating as much as I can to the team, I enhanced my skills and my capabilities as a driver. I am very keen to continue this form in 2021.”

Mercedes F1 team adds F3 star Vesti to junior programme

The Mercedes Formula 1 team has added Danish youngster Frederik Vesti to its young driver programme.

Vesti finished fourth for Prema in last year’s FIA Formula 3 championship with three wins, and will move to ART for this season.

He is a former Danish karting champion, who won races in Formula Ford and Formula 4, before taking the 2019 Formula Regional Championship F3 title for Prema.

After stepping up to FIA F3 with Prema last year, he won more feature race wins than any other driver.

Speaking about his opportunity, Vesti said: “I’ve dreamed of being a Mercedes junior and worked so hard for it, for so many years and that motivation has lifted me every single day.

“To now be working with Mercedes, the best team in the world, is a massive boost for my career and I am really looking forward to building a powerful relationship in the future.”

Mercedes has followed Vesti’s career for many years and has signed him up ahead of what it hopes it a title-winning F3 campaign in 2021.

Gwen Lagrue, Mercedes’ driver development advisor, said: “Fred’s commitment and dedication is something we love to see and hugely respect. I remember him sending me updates on his debut seasons in single seaters and letting us know details of his progress, which is something we always appreciate.

“His Formula Regional European Championship in 2019 was impressive and in FIA F3 last year, he was very consistent. We are happy to welcome him into the Mercedes family and look forward to seeing him fight for the title this season in FIA F3.”

Mercedes has a host of young drivers on its books, including Williams driver George Russell and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in Formula 1.

In karting it has Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Alex Powell, plus it looks after Eurocup Formula Renault driver Paul Aron.

Smolyar joins Vesti at ART for FIA F3

ART has confirmed that one of Vesti’s F3 teammates will be Russian Aleksandr Smolyar, who had an impressive rookie campaign last year.

He scored a podium finish at Monza and won on the road at Silverstone before a post-race penalty dropped him down the order. He took ten top ten finishes as well as a pole position in Hungary.

Tost: COVID impact “opened the eyes” of teams on F1's unsustainable spending

Scuderia AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost says the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic “opened the eyes” of Formula 1 teams over the unsustainable financial nature of the series.

Following initial plans to introduce a $175 million cost cap for the 2021 season, F1 teams agreed to reduce the figure to $145 million from this year after the pandemic caused last year’s calendar to be heavily altered.

The move came as teams braced for a significant fall in prize money payouts from F1 as a result of the reduced revenue from track hosting fees.

The decision was also taken to postpone the new technical regulations by one year, and carry over the majority of the 2020 cars into 2021.

AlphaTauri team principal Tost explained how a growing realisation from teams over the challenges F1 faced prompted the level of collaboration that allowed the changes to be pushed through.

“Regarding the cost cap, the top teams would not have been so open to reduce the amount of money which they want to spend, to $145 million for the first year, without these COVID-19 problems,” Tost told Autosport.

“Everybody realised how difficult it could become in the future. Formula 1 teams hardly work together, because everyone has their own interest, and unfortunately does not look at the big picture.

“But I believe that this special situation with COVID-19 opened the eyes, that there is simply less money on the table as expected.

“If you have less money, you can only spend the money which you have. Therefore, I think that some of my colleagues changed a little bit their mind.”

F1 planned to return to a more normal schedule in 2021, announcing plans for a 23-race calendar in November that started with the Australian Grand Prix.

But changes have already been forced due to the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions in place, with Australia being postponed and China currently being removed from the calendar.

F1 remains hopeful of completing a 23-race calendar in 2021, with Tost stressing the importance of a return to normality in the near future.

“I really hope that we get back to this normal mode,” Tost said, speaking prior to the changes to the 2021 calendar.

“As you can imagine, FOM hasn’t got the money as we forecasted last year, because if there are no spectators, the organisers don’t pay so much money to FOM, and FOM can’t provide us with the money we have in our business plan.

“Therefore I really hope that we can get everything under control, that spectators can come to the races, that the interest is there for Formula 1, that we have a stronger season in 2021, that the revenues will reach the level which we know it should have, and which we expected for our business plan.”

Autosport Podcast: Was 1991 Senna's greatest F1 title?

The 2021 Formula 1 season will mark the 30th anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s third and final world title triumph, which came in the 1991 championship against stiff opposition from Williams.

Autosport magazine has produced a special issue dedicated to the anniversary of the 1991 season – including explanations of Jaguar’s design revolution in the World Sportscar Championship, the fierce title fight in British Formula 3, and Michael Andretti’s famous CART triumph – also discussing whether the campaign was Senna’s finest in F1.

PLUS: How Senna won his greatest F1 title

The Autosport podcast has also released a dedicated companion episode, where host Alex Kalinauckas speaks to contributors to the magazine about just what made the 1991 season so special.

Also on the podcast are Autosport’s Chief Editor, Kevin Turner, who explains why the magazine has decided to commemorate the 1991 season, and former Autosport Editor in Chief Damien Smith recalls the problems that cost Williams an early F1 title in the decade it would go on to dominate.

Wolff: Russell must iron out mistakes to make F1 progress

Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff says key to George Russell’s progress is not improving his speed but in ironing out mistakes.

Russell is a contender for a 2022 race seat at Mercedes, having boosted his chances of a drive at the team off the back of a strong showing at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix when he stood in for Lewis Hamilton.

But while some believed Russell had done enough to justify a seat with Mercedes immediately, Wolff is more cautious about things and believes another year at Williams will be important for the youngster.

In particular, Wolff thinks it is essential that Russell avoids the kind of error he made at Imola, when he crashed behind the safety car, before he faces the pressure of a front-line cockpit.

Speaking to Autosport about Russell’s progress, Wolff said: “Winning Formula 1 championships is about making the least amount of mistakes. And that only comes with routine and experience.

“Mercedes expects these kind of sustainable performance levels. And that’s why you need to give young drivers time.

“Because as exuberant as they may be perceived after the performance that we’ve seen [at the Sakhir GP] from George, at the same time, young drivers will be criticised, and criticised quickly, when they make mistakes in such a high pressure environment like a top team.

“That’s why making experiences like in Imola, and learning from that, is very important to form a driver that can perform at a sustainable high level.”

While Wolff thinks Russell has room to grow he is clear that he has complete faith in the British driver’s talent, which was confirmed in his race outing for Mercedes.

PLUS: The winless drivers who could be Hamilton’s heirs to the F1 crown

“We believed in George because there’s not many drivers out there that have won junior championships as rookies, especially not in the very competitive GP3 and F2 championships,” said Wolff.

“For us, [using him as replacement for Hamilton] was a possibility to confirm what we were thinking about George. It was unfortunate that this opportunity came with Lewis having been out.

“I would have wished it would have happened in a different way, but it gave us a set of data points to look at. And in a way it affirmed how we judged him.

“It was also an advantage for him and Williams. He was going to go back to his team with a lot of learning, with more understanding. And this is why I think for him personally and for Williams, it was advantageous.”

Monaco GP organisers insist F1 race is going ahead as planned

Monaco Grand Prix organisers insist its Formula 1, Formula E and Historic GP events are all going ahead as planned, despite ongoing concerns over COVID-19 restrictions.

The Automobile Club de Monaco has responded to speculation in some sections of the media that its grand prix, currently scheduled for 23 May, could be cancelled, as was the case last year.

The next two races on the 2021 F1 calendar after Monaco – the Azerbaijan and Canadian GPs – have also been called into question.

Events at street or temporary venues with government backing are widely regarded as being more vulnerable to cancellation or postponement than races at traditional venues, in large part due to the lead time and resources required to ready the circuits.

Like Monaco, Baku is a full street circuit that requires weeks of preparation at considerable expense, and while Montreal is a semi-permanent venue, it does require extra work every year.

All promoters learned a lesson last year after the Australian GP was cancelled at the last minute and fans had to be refunded. This year’s Albert Park race has already been moved from its regular March date to November.

The ACM is planning to run three events on the principality’s streets in 2021, rather than the usual two, having reserved an extra slot for the Historic GP meeting that was cancelled last year.

Track action is due to start on 23 April with practice for the historic event, so the build-up has to commence around two weeks earlier than normal, with late February understood to be the starting point.

Like other countries around the world Monaco is subject to COVID-19 restrictions, with a negative test required for entry, and a 7pm curfew currently in place.

The club noted on Twitter: “Despite the latest rumours circulating on certain websites and social media, the ACM can confirm that the #MonacoGP will take place from 20-23 May 2021.

“The ACM also confirms the Grand Prix Monaco Historique (23-25 April 2021) and the Monaco E Prix (8 May 2021).”

The Formula 1 organisation has also denied that any further changes to the calendar are imminent.

A spokesperson noted: “We have set out the details of the revised 2021 calendar and there are no other changes. The suggestion street races will not take place [is] completely wrong.”

Giovinazzi: Learning from Raikkonen key to my F1 development

Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi is delighted to continue having Kimi Raikkonen as his teammate in 2021, believing the Finn’s vast experience will be key to his own development.

Following mid-season speculation that Alfa Romeo could change one or more of its drivers, the Swiss team confirmed late October that both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi would stay on for the 2021 F1 season.

That means 2021 will be the third consecutive season Giovinazzi and 2007 world champion Raikkonen will form a driver partnership at the Hinwil team.

Giovinazzi and Raikkonen each finished on four points as Alfa Romeo finished a lowly eighth in the 2020 constructors’ championship, with Giovinazzi narrowly outqualifying the Finn by nine to eight.

Giovinazzi, who is preparing for his third full F1 season with Alfa Romeo following a brief 2017 cameo for Sauber, believes Raikkonen’s presence at the team will continue to help him develop as a driver.

“[With] Kimi again beside me next season I think I can still do another step,” Giovinazzi told Autosport.

“It will be really important to watch him because I think, like I’ve said many times, he’s still one of the best on the grid, especially on the race pace and managing the race. I’m happy to continue with him.”

Over the course of the 2020 season 41-year-old Raikkonen officially became the most experienced driver in Formula 1 history with 329 starts.

In his 2019 debut season Giovinazzi would often mimic the experienced Finn’s approach during a grand prix weekend.

During his sophomore campaign however, with a full season of F1 under his belt, the 27-year-old Italian started charting his own course.

“When I came here [in 2019] I tried to focus more on Kimi’s side,” Giovinazzi explained.

“To see what he was doing and why he was doing [it]. And in the end I always followed him I would say.

“But [in 2020] I’d got more experience and I know what they want and what I like more – especially in the different tracks and different conditions.

“Experience makes a lot of difference in every category, maybe more in Formula 1.

“I think I will feel more ready as well next season, after two years, and after a lot more races.

“I just want to feel more comfortable with everything with the car, with the team.

“It was again a good step this season, but I think next year I will feel again a lot more confident.”

Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur told Autosport he was pleased with Giovinazzi’s progress during his second season with the team and hopes the Italian can become more of a team leader in 2021.

Ricciardo's motivating mindset a “forgotten” asset in F1 – Fry

Daniel Ricciardo’s hidden benefit in motivating a Formula 1 team is one of his most striking qualities, says Alpine technical chief Pat Fry.

Having seen close up last season how Ricciardo works with his engineers and crew when out of the car, Fry says that it is the Australian’s attitude to work that really stands out – and is of huge benefit to the team.

“I think Daniel’s outstanding,” explained Fry, Alpine’s chassis technical director. “He’s clearly very quick and very sensible. But I think also, when you actually look at the way he motivates a team and that side of it, which often gets forgotten, he is great.

“Even when you’ve had a session that’s not as good as you would have hoped or whatever, he’s still big enough to see the benefits of what we’ve learned in that and that we will do ‘better tomorrow’ type of thing.

“That is actually a good way of pulling the crew and the team together really. So I think [he’s] pretty outstanding and pretty exceptional really.”

Fry will not get to continue working with Ricciardo this year, with the Australian having elected to switch to McLaren for 2021.

His place at Alpine, formerly Renault, is being taken by Fernando Alonso, who is making a comeback to F1 after two seasons away.

And having embedded himself as much as possible inside Renault last year, Fry says that the double F1 world champion is pretty prepared for what lies ahead.

“He’s been in the simulator, and a lot of these things are about trying to get familiar with some even simple things,” said Fry.

“It sounds simple, but you need to learn how to drive the power unit these days. Even the same power unit, in a different car, it’s completely different in how we set things up.

“So there’s a lot of learning that he needs to get on and do there. He’s certainly been listening in on the debriefs and stuff like that through the various race weekends, so it has all been a case of him getting embedded in the team really.

“When you look to the start of the year, with only three days of testing and then straight off to [the first race]: you’ve got to do everything you can to try and embed the drivers in the team, not just in terms of how to drive the car, but also to understand the people and get used to how we work.”