Pre-Season Testing, Day One: Vettel Quickest For Ferrari

Formula One kicked off 2015 with pre-season testing yesterday, with Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheets for Scuderia Ferrari. Of the seven drivers who completed laps over the space of the day’s running, Vettel’s tally of 60 laps put him fourth overall, but kept him a tenth clear of Marcus Ericsson who took the second fastest time, for Sauber.

“Today was a good start,” reflected Vettel when the day’s action had ended, but kept a grounded attitude and admitted: “I can’t say more than that because this is only the beginning.

“For now lap times aren’t important: I did mine on the medium compound but the comparison has to be made yet again with the Mercedes. They are very quick, let’s just hope they’re not quite as fast as last year…”

While the exact speed of the Mercedes is so far unclear, Nico Rosberg’s incredible count of 157 laps on what is, for some teams, a chance to see how many times the car can break down, was an ominous sign of the Mercedes’ potential strength again this coming season. While half a second slower than Vettel’s quickest lap, Rosberg said the focus of early testing was reliability.

“In the beginning it’s all about reliability and we managed to do a lot of mileage today. The guys in the factories built a complete new car and now we come here and it’s working great, so the team did a fantastic job over the winter.”

On the difference in lap times, Rosberg added: “As a driver, you always want to find out how quick you are compared to the others – but that will have to wait until qualifying in Melbourne.

Marcus Ericsson’s first day of running with his new team also showed positive reliability and he clocked 73 laps overall, tied second with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The Swede, formerly of Caterham, was clearly pleased with his first experience of the Sauber on track, and praised the reliability of the car under various set ups.

“I think we have good reasons to be happy. We were able to complete a lot of laps, and we went through quite a few different small tweaks on the set-up and did all the installations needed. There were no major problems with the car, which was really the main thing. Overall it’s been a good day, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. I hope we can continue like this.”

Bottas also clocked 73 laps over his track time, and like Ericsson, the Finn seemed happy with his first taste of the FW37. Beginning with shorter stints, Williams began to build up to longer runs, and were happy with the car’s reliability, Bottas said. “The day started off a bit slow, but it turned out to be a really good one. After that initial set-back, we didn’t have a single issue with the FW37, which is impressive for the first day with a new car.

“We know we have a lot to learn and improve, but we also know where these gains can come from, and have work to do with the car performance and the power unit. There are a lot of strengths in this car and we’ve made good progress in just one day, so I am very pleased,” the Finn concluded.

Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest overall as he gave the RB11 its inaugural running, albeit with a swirly livery, specifically made for testing. In usual fashion, Ricciardo gave his approval of the unique design: “The livery’s cool. It’s a testing specification for us but I think it looks really good. Maybe I need a matching helmet.”

Ricciardo was similarly happy with the performance of the car, saying: “We got going pretty well this morning and I got a few laps under my belt. So the first impressions are good. We’ll get a few more laps over the next few days, but so far everything seems pretty encouraging.

“We didn’t do a whole lot of laps but definitely more than at this test last year! Obviously we had a couple of issues, but once the car is running it’s all going pretty normally. There are some positive signs there.”

Over at Red Bull’s sister team, Carlos Sainz Jr. took the RB10 for a noble 46 laps around the Circuit de Jerez. Although he had run in a filming day already this year, rookie Sainz felt positive about the Toro Rosso’s first proper shakedown.

“We worked well together as a team,” commented the Spaniard. “I felt good in the car today, I was constantly improving, lap after lap. We did some adjustments and I think we have a good starting baseline”.

Sainz’s country-man, Fernando Alonso, had the least successful day of any of the seven drivers, completing a mere six laps on the first day of his return to McLaren. Although alleging to have purposefully run a series of short stints, with the longest run being three laps, McLaren’s day of testing finished at lunchtime when a technical gremlin took the car out of action for the afternoon.

“Given the complexity of modern Formula 1 machinery, the sorts of issues we encountered today weren’t too surprising,” said Alonso of the technical issues. “They’re just the things you experience on the first day of a Formula 1 test.”

“Obviously, I don’t really have a feeling for the car yet – I only did a handful of laps, and most of those were at slow speed, conducting preliminary checks – so I need a bit more time to be able to speak accurately about it. But everything seems to be responding well, and showing us what we expected.”

While McLaren’s day ended early, neither Lotus nor Force India made it to Jerez in time for the beginning of testing. While Lotus’ trucks crawled into the pit lane in the afternoon, Force India’s were nowhere to be seen as it was confirmed that they would not be attending the test. The team have also moved to rubbish rumours that their car, again piloted by Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, will not make it to the grid for the curtain-opening Melbourne Grand Prix on March 15th.

Pre-season testing continues on Monday with Lewis Hamilton, Daniil Kvyat Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Max Verstappen and Felipe Nasr all piloting their respective cars.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari. 

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Police Recover Twenty Stolen Red Bull Trophies

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Police in Milton Keynes have recovered some of the trophies that were stolen from Red Bull Racing’s factory earlier this month.

On the night of December 5th, as Daniel Ricciardo accepted his trophy for coming third in the World Championship, a group of six men used a 4×4 to smash through the glass front of the Red Bull factory before stealing sixty trophies the team had won over their time in Formula One, which were housed in a glass cabinet in the reception area. Night workers at the factory were not harmed in the raid.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner expressed his shock at the robbery of trophies which he described as having a “low intrinsic value” but being of large sentimental value to the team.

The police had asked people not to buy the stolen trophies if offered them, and to report any information about the men who committed the crime.

Today, they announced that they had recovered roughly twenty of the trophies from a lake in the area, which were likely dumped by the thieves due to the widespread publicity the robbery received. Police said they were unable to give an exact figure on the number of trophies recovered as some had been damaged, and they would need to first consult with the team.

A statement from the Thames Valley Police read:  “Around 20 of the trophies were yesterday recovered from the Horseshoe Lake near Sandhurst, after being spotted by a member of the public. They were found near Sandhurst in Berkshire, some 120kms from the RBR base in Milton Keynes

“Members of the Specialist Search and Rescue Team searched part of the lake yesterday and located a number of trophies. We estimate about twenty trophies have been recovered, but we are liaising with Red Bull to establish the exact number, as some of the trophies are damaged.”

They also asked anyone with information about the robbery to contact them.

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Hamilton Wins BBC Sports Person of the Year

Lewis Hamilton was crowned BBC’s Sports Person of the Year at a ceremony in Glasgow last night.

The Briton, who last month beat team-mate Nico Rosberg and won his second World Championship, received 34% of the public vote which saw him comfortably beat second-placed, but favourite for the title, golfer Rory McIlroy, who raked in 20% of the public vote.

With his dog Roscoe by his side, Hamilton took to the stage after the result was announced to say: “I would have voted for Rory, but if you’re watching, it can be difficult to choose at home, because everyone in their own right has achieved so much.

“I think what makes it more surprising, is watching all those great sportsmen and women on the screen and realising that I might be among some of the greatest sporting heroes of my time.”

Other recipients of the BBC SPOTY award are 1996 World Champion Damon Hill and triple Champion Jackie Stewart. It is Hamilton’s third time being nominated for the award, coming second after his maiden season in F1, 2007, and again in 2008 when he won his first Championship.

Image courtesy of Mercedes F1 Team.

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Coulthard Victorious In Race Of Champions

Former F1 driver David Coulthard was victorious at the Race of Champions last weekend, fending off a final challenge from Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein.

The Scot, who took thirteen Grands Prix victories over his fifteen seasons in Formula One, was racing for Team Scotland alongside Williams reserve driver Susie Wolff. Team Scotland’s bid for glory ended in the final, however, following defeat from Team Nordic drivers Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg.

When it came to the individual event, Coulthard fared better and won the first two rounds of his best-of-three battle with Wehrlein in the final, securing his first win in the Championship, which annually pits drivers against each other, in both team and individual matches. While Team Nordic won this year’s Championship, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher had brought Team Germany to victory each year between 2007 and 2013.

Romain Grosjean won last year’s Champion of Champions trophy, but fared less successfully this year where he raced alongside Esteban Ocon in Team France. Second-placed Wehrlein raced with GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer in the Young Stars team.

Image courtesy of Red Bull/Getty Images.

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Gutierrez Announced As Ferrari Reserve Driver

Esteban Gutierrez was today announced as Ferrari reserve driver.

In contrast to Sebastian Vettel’s much-anticipated arrival at the team, Gutierrez’s appointment was widely unexpected. The Mexican joined Sauber in 2013 and competed with the team for two years, but was dropped by the team after a dismal season which saw Sauber’s first ever season without scoring a point.

“We are pleased to be able to offer this opportunity to Esteban who, although young, has plenty of experience relating to the new generation of Formula 1 cars,” said Ferrari’s Director General and Team Principal, Maurizio Arrivabene. “I am sure that, with his experience, he will make an important contribution to the development work of the team in the simulator.”

In a Ferrari press release, Gutierrez is quoted as saying: “It is for me the beginning of a new path for my future and I’m going to do my utmost to contribute to the achievement of the targets set by the Scuderia. It is an honour to become part of the Scuderia Ferrari family, a Team with such an exceptional history.”

Gutierrez is the first Mexican driver to race for Ferrari since Pedro Rodriguez in 1969. He will join former Sauber driver Pedro de la Rosa, Ferrari driver Marc Gené and GP2 and WEC driver Davide Rigon in the Ferrari reserve team. Meanwhile, Sauber have signed former Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr and Caterham driver Marcus Ericsson as their 2015 line-up, dropping Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari.

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Vettel Confirmed At Ferrari

The worst kept secret in Formula One has been officially confirmed today, with affirmation from Ferrari that four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel will partner Kimi Raikkonen at the team next year.

Vettel rose up through the junior formulae under the guidance of the Red Bull Young Driver programme, but this year announced his departure from Red Bull. And with Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner announcing that Vettel would be a Ferrari driver at the Japanese Grand Prix in October, the resulting drawn-out wait had an inevitable end: official confirmation from Ferrari.

That confirmation came today with the declaration of a three-year contract alongside Kimi Raikkonen, who currently holds a contract until the end of 2016. Reportedly, Red Bull reserve driver and reigning World Endurance Championship Champion , Sebastian Buemi, will also move to Ferrari as a reserve driver, at the request of Vettel.

“The next stage of my Formula 1 career will be spent with Scuderia Ferrari,” Vettel said in a Ferrari statement this morning. “And for me that means the dream of a lifetime has come true.

“When I was a kid, Michael Schumacher in the red car was my greatest idol and now it’s an incredible honour to finally get the chance to drive a Ferrari. I already got a small taste of what the Ferrari spirit means, when I took my first win at Monza in 2008, with an engine from the Prancing Horse built in Maranello,”

Ferrari Team Principal, Mario Mattiaci, added: “In Formula 1 terms, Sebastian Vettel is a unique combination of youthfulness and experience and he brings with him that sense of team spirit which will prove invaluable when, together with Kimi, they tackle the challenges awaiting us, as we aim to be front runners again as soon as possible.

“With Sebastian, we all share a thirst for victory as well as enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and tenacity; key elements for all the Scuderia members to write together a new winning chapter in the history of Ferrari.”

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso remains tight-lipped over his future. McLaren, the team many expect him to return to, this week decided to prolong their driver announcement until after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and subsequent Young Driver Test. If not returning to McLaren, another suggestion which has gathered air is that Alonso could follow in his friend Mark Webber’s path, and leave F1 for the WEC.

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Marussia Cease Trading

Marussia F1 Team has ceased trading from today, ending hopes that the outfit will be on the grid for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the month.

Although having entered into administration in October, it was hoped that the team would find a buyer and return to the grid for the final Grand Prix of this season, and continue racing in 2015.

However, administrators confirmed that Marussia, rumoured to be trading as Manor in 2015, have ceased trading, making all staff redundant and ending the team’s four-year stint in Formula One.

Marussia this year scored their first points in Formula One when Jules Bianchi finished ninth in the Monaco Grand Prix, in May. The team, particularly Bianchi, began to regularly challenge the teams above them in Qualifying, several times making it through to the second Qualifying session. Bianchi was then critically injured in a freak accident at the Japanese Grand Prix last month, leaving him in a critical but stable condition in a Japanese hospital.

Caterham, Marussia’s back-of-the-field rivals, appear to face a similar fate to Marussia after entering into administration in October. Staff are reportedly working without pay in the hopes they can return to the Formula One grid in Abu Dhabi, or 2015.

Image courtesy of Marussia F1 Team.

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