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#1029 2020 Eifel Grand Prix

2021-04-13 01:00

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#2020,

#1029 2020 Eifel Grand Prix

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From the 2022 season of the Formula 1 World Championship, which will see the introduction of the new technical regulations, Honda will not be among the suppliers of hybrid power units. This is the shocking news that shakes the world of Formula 1 on Friday, October 2, 2020. The Japanese manufacturer officially announces that they will leave the circus at the end of the 2021 season. Hence, the farewell of Tokyo’s historic brand, currently supplier of power units of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and the Italian AlphaTauri, is confirmed. A historic engine supplier, Honda, which has linked its name to the Formula 1 World Championship. In the 2020 season, the Japanese manufacturer scored two victories, with Max Verstappen at Silverstone and Pierre Gasly at Monza. The Japanese company explains that the goal is to focus on achieving carbon neutrality, i.e., the production of zero-emission vehicles, by 2050.

 

"Honda must focus its corporate resources on research and development of future powertrain technologies, including fuel cell vehicles and EV battery for electric vehicles. That's why Honda has created a new centre called Innovative Research Excellence, Power Unit & Energy. Honda will focus on the future realization of carbon neutrality. And that's why it has decided to end its involvement in Formula 1. But motorsport is in Honda's DNA, and it will continue to take on challenges with passion and strive to be number one in every race in which it takes part. Honda will work together with Red Bull and Alpha Tauri to continue to compete with the utmost commitment and fight for Formula 1 victories until the end of the 2021 season".

 

Since returning to competition in the hybrid power unit era (in 2015), Honda scored its first success at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, returning to triumph after thirteen years of absence. The same team then scored three more victories and thirteen podiums. A path, that of Honda in Formula 1’s hybrid era, which has been marked in the first seasons by power and reliability problems, which started being solved in particular from 2019: a growth in performance that also led to the historic success of Pierre Gasly in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, in Monza, behind the wheel of the Honda-powered AlphaTauri. This withdrawal, however, seems not to have to mortify Red Bull's aspirations to win the World Championship in 2021, given the commitment guaranteed by the Japanese manufacturer.

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In the week leading up to the Eifel Grand Prix on Monday, October 5, 2020, Turkish authorities announced that the Turkish Grand Prix, which marks its return to Formula 1 nine years after the last Grand Prix in 2011, will be held behind closed doors, as was the case of the Austrian Grand Prix, this season's opening race, and the Italian Grand Prix. Initially, the event was open to the public, and 40,000 coupons were sold for the race.

 

Two days later, on Wednesday, October 7, 2020, Liberty Media and the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro signed an agreement to host the Brazilian Grand Prix with a new track to be built in the west of the former capital city, in the Deodoro district. To announce the achievement of the agreement is Chase Carey, who writes a missive distributed to newspapers all around the world:

 

"I am writing to announce that we have finalized agreements for a race with Rio Motorsports LLC, which will host, organize and promote Formula 1 events in Rio de Janeiro. These agreements are ready for execution and announcement by Formula 1 once all necessary licenses will be issued by the relevant authorities".

 

In addition, on Friday, October 9, 2020, the motorsport world council approves some changes regarding the technical regulations of the following season, in particular banning reverse engineering, or the extensive inspiration to another person's design to make their own single-seater, after what happened this season to Racing Point's RP20 car, accused by Renault of copying the air intakes, both front and rear, from Mercedes' W10 car, used in the 2019 season. The council also establishes new criteria for obtaining the FIA Superlicense; drivers will now be able to accumulate the required forty points over a period of four years and no longer three and in the event of impediments due to force majeure circumstances the International Automobile Federation will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

 

"In the wake of the current global situation, the window in which drivers can obtain Super License points has been extended from three to four years. The highest number of points accumulated from the best three seasons over a four-year period including 2020 will be considered. Drivers who have not obtained the forty points required for the awarding of the Super Licence, due to circumstances beyond their control, or due to reasons of force majeure, will have the opportunity to submit their case to the attention of the FIA, provided they have obtained a minimum of thirty points and have continuously demonstrated exceptional driving skills in single-seaters".

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As known, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the FIA was forced to modify the calendar, cancelling and moving some races. In view of the definitive exclusion for this season, by the organizers, of the traditional German Grand Prix to be held at the Hockenheimring. Jorn Teske, managing director of the Hockenheim circuit, states in this regard:

 

"Due to the current situation, for a potential race in October, we cannot take it for granted that we will be able to allow more than 500 spectators in the circuit. Hence, from an economic point of view, this makes us much less attractive for Formula 1 than other races, where fans will be allowed under certain conditions. So we can confirm that there will not be a Grand Prix at Hockenheim in 2020".

 

At the same time, however, the Federation is introducing a new Grand Prix on German soil on July 24, 2020, to replace races that were previously postponed or cancelled, naming it the Eifel Grand Prix, sponsored by Aramco, a Saudi Arabian national hydrocarbon company. The circuit has hosted, in its various configurations, forty Grand Prix valid as a test of the Formula 1 World Championship, between the 1951 and 2013 editions of the German Grand Prix, and it is the fourth time that a race with a different nomination is hosted on that track; no other track has hosted races with multiple nominations. In fact, the Nürburgring has also hosted two editions of the Luxembourg Grand Prix, in 1997 and 1998, and twelve of the European Grand Prix, between 1984 and 2007, since the race was given its own name. In this edition, the race is dedicated to the Eifel, the plateau, part of the Rhine schist massif, where the track is located. It is the first time that a world event is dedicated to a German region.

 

Also in this race, as in the two previous ones, spectators are allowed to enter the stands. Despite the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers announced the presence of 20,000 spectators for the race. This Grand Prix represents the 323rd race in the world championship for the Finnish driver of Alfa Romeo Racing, Kimi Räikkönen, who thus sets a new record for the number of Grand Prix to which a driver has taken part, overtaking the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello at 322, who held it since the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix.

 

Ferrari equips Sebastian Vettel's car with the third engine of the season; the same choice is made by Mercedes for both its drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, by Red Bull Racing for Alexander Albon and by McLaren for Lando Norris. Speaking of McLaren, on Wednesday, September 7, 2020, the British team announces the hiring of Will Stevens as a test driver. Stevens has already raced in Formula 1 with two different teams that are no longer part of the top category. He made his debut in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with the Anglo-Malaysian Caterham team and raced in the 2015 season with British stable Manor Racing.

 

For the Eifel Grand Prix, it is planned that the two Ferrari Driver Academy drivers, German Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, and the British Callum Ilott, both fighting for the Formula 2 drivers' championship in first and second position in the standings, respectively, will take the place of Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo Racing and Romain Grosjean at Haas, during Friday's first free practice session. For both young drivers, this is their first time participating in a race weekend in the top category.

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For this Grand Prix, Pirelli is supplying the compounds known as C2, C3 and C4. The Italian manufacturer has chosen the three central compounds of the range and, given the absence of Formula 2 and Formula 3 races, a lightly rubberized track is expected for the first time this season. There are two zones indicated by the International Automobile Federation where drivers can use the Drag Reduction System: the first one is located between Bilstein (turn 11) and Veedol (turn 13), with the point for determining the gap between drivers placed before Ravenol (turn 10); the second zone is established on the pit straight, with the detection point set before the Hyundai N (turn 15). The ex-Formula 1 driver Derek Warwick is appointed assistant race commissioner. The Briton has already taken this role in the past, most recently at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

 

The Federation thus confirms the two DRS zones used in the 2013 German Grand Prix, the last time the Nürburgring circuit hosted a Grand Prix valid for the Formula 1 World Championship, with the sole exception of the 63-metre lengthening of the designated DRS zone on the start straight, compared to 2013. In the 2011 German Grand Prix, on the other hand, the year characterised by the introduction of DRS in Formula 1, only the area between Turn 11 and Turn 13 in which to activate the mobile device was established. The FIA indicates the exit of the final lap of the Mercedes-Arena (turn 4) as the area of the track where drivers are required to respect the track limits. If they go beyond the white line they will have their qualifying time cancelled. In the race, after the third infraction, the black and white flag is shown and any further infraction is taken into consideration by the stewards.

 

The Federation makes things clear after what happened to Lewis Hamilton in the previous race in Russia, who had received a ten-second penalty from the stewards for having carried out the starting practice, before the race, in areas not pre-established by the race direction. For this Grand Prix the drivers can carry out the starting practice in two explicitly identified and numbered points, before lining up on the grid; the first point can only be used in free practice and takes up the starting grid pitch, while the second is adjacent to an orange reference on the barriers where the drivers can stop, as confirmed by the race director, Michael Masi:

 

"When it is allowed to exit the pit lane to line up on the grid, the starting practice can take place after the end of the pit wall, in a position adjacent to the orange reference on the right side of the track. Drivers who want to do this procedure must stop on the right and allow the other cars on their left to pass, and they can touch the white line when overtaking. But they must return to the right as soon as they can".

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On the eve of the Eifel Grand Prix, which lives on the expectation of discovering whether Lewis Hamilton will manage to reach Michael Schumacher's record of victories in Germany, the homeland of Mercedes and the German champion, and leaves one apprehensive about the possible absence of Alex Albon, since Red Bull Racing, following the inconclusive results of a swab, contacted Nico Hülkenberg as a possible replacement for the Thai driver, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc talks about the evolution of his relationship with Sebastian Vettel.

 

"I would say that our relationship has always been very good. Maybe in the beginning it was strange because of me: I was intimidated, I had a four-time world champion next to me. I was anxious, on the other hand he was so titled while I hadn't demonstrated anything yet. But there has always been great respect, even in some difficult moments, like Brazil last year or Styria this year. But once off the track we always clarified, moving forward serenely".

 

In 2019 Leclerc preceded Vettel in the drivers' standings, a result obtained thanks to an excellent second half of the season, with two wins (Belgium, Italy) and six poles, including four consecutive between Spa and Sochi. Could this have affected the mood of the German driver?

 

"I don't think my arrival has affected it. On the contrary, I think that Vettel has been pushed even more to show his true value, even if we all already know that he is a great driver. And you will never allow me to give him advice, he has done much more than me in this sport and he deserves respect".

 

And about the upcoming Eifel Grand Prix, the Monegasque admits:

 

"We've had a good analysis of the problems and now we're bringing in new pieces each time to try and fix them, but there's no miracle solution. It will take some time, but they will go in the right direction. Tough conditions to figure out upgrades? Certainly there are opportunities when the weather is like this, but we have always struggled in cold weather and have never raced in such low temperatures. We'll see. It feels like skiing. Getting the tires up to temperature will be difficult. At the beginning of the season I never expected to find myself racing at the Nürburgring. It's a track where I've never driven a Formula 1 car but I'm curious to get out there and see how it will be to drive on those curves with the aerodynamic load we have. One of the elements to take into account will be the weather. I remember from my previous races there that the clouds in the Eifel area are always around. The environmental conditions can change from one moment to the next and the ideal management of the tires will be one of the key factors. We will see what cards we can play".

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is also looking forward to the race weekend at the Nürburgring circuit:

 

"We are looking forward to racing at the Nürburgring. It is an iconic track that plays an important role in the history of Mercedes. This is where the legend of the Silver Arrows was born back in 1934 and we are very proud to have added a few chapters to this rich heritage. The Nürburgring also brings back some personal memories for me: this is where I saw my very first live race and this is where I fell in love with racing. I've also competed in many races here and even attempted the Nordschleife lap record in 2009, but it wasn't my best idea. As for the race weekend, we also know that the weather on the Eifel can be quite challenging at this time of year. Cold, rain and wind are expected and this can make the race very unpredictable. The circuit is a very challenging all-around test, with various types of corners and speeds. With atypical environmental conditions, it will be a fun challenge to best adapt the W11 to the demands of the circuit. It will be an exciting weekend".

 

Also in Germany, after having reiterated this during the Russian Grand Prix, the Austrian manager returns to emphasize that his role within the Mercedes team could change in the future:

 

"My role could change in the future; we don't want to create a bottleneck structure where at some point young people can no longer progress. We are evaluating different positions, including that of team principal. I'm co-owner of the team, so it's never going to happen that I say at some point: it's been great, but I'm leaving. I'm just thinking about how my role might evolve in the future".

 

In the meantime, however, Wolff also shifts the focus to the risk of incurring penalties, especially with regard to Lewis Hamilton who is four points away from a disqualifying race and will have to be very careful if he wants to win his seventh world championship with relative serenity.

 

"We must not leave anything to chance, Verstappen and Red Bull are always lying in wait. In the next races we must not incur penalties".

 

A fear also fuelled by the words of Pierre Gasly, who in the press conference of the Eifel Grand Prix comments on the choice made on October 2, 2020 by Honda regarding the abandonment of the circus from 2022, stating that in the future the Japanese manufacturer could regret this choice:

 

"I have been working with them for a long time, starting in 2017. They are dedicated, passionate, when they have a goal in mind they work hard to achieve it. So this is very sad news. Anyway, I'm sure we can have great results until the end of next year. But if I have to think back to what this relationship has been, I have to say that last year they managed to win some races. Even this year, with both stables, they did well. We had a beautiful potential. I hope they can have a chance to win the title next year before they leave. There are strategic reasons behind this choice, I think they do the right thing for them. Of course, on a personal level, I would have liked to see them still in Formula 1. They had started fighting for wins consistently and podiums. Seeing where they were three years ago and where they are now, it makes me think that in three years they could have really been fighting for the championship".

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Friday 9 October 2020 the first and second free practice sessions are cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. The fog, present on the track, would not allow the medical helicopter, in case of need, to fly up. A pity for everyone, especially for McLaren that, like Ferrari, would have some news to test on the MCL35, as Carlos Sainz Jr. says.

 

"We had to test some updates - on the bottom of the car - to decide which configuration to use in qualifying and in the race, but now it will be more difficult. In any case, today's boredom will increase our enjoyment on Saturday and Sunday because we'll be racing with little information or, in any case, not with the information we hoped to base the race weekend on. There are still seven races to go and Racing Point and Renault are really strong, I'm happy that the team is not excluding me from the development work even if in 2021 I will be a Ferrari driver, we have to give everything to try to get the most out of this 2020".

 

The work is therefore postponed to Saturday: in just sixty minutes of FP3, the teams and drivers must be able to fix the cars in view of qualifying. Nothing too different from the race format planned for the Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Imola, Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November 2020. To play it down, Daniel Ricciardo ironizes precisely on this aspect:

 

"Perhaps the Nurburgring was jealous that Imola would be the first to inaugurate the race format spread over two days. Obviously it is a shame not to have lapped today, but I personally don't feel particularly damaged by this situation. At least for today I stayed dry. I'm sorry for the fans who came to the circuit today, luckily tomorrow's forecast is the least cloudy day of the weekend and I want to repay the spectators by offering a great show on the track. It will be interesting to see how we behave in qualifying with so little time to prepare the car".

 

Lewis Hamilton also showed regret for not being able to test in the morning due to the bad weather:

 

"We couldn't shoot today because it wasn't safe for the helicopter. It's disappointing to miss days like this, although we probably wouldn't have had much to do anyway, because we are limited with the tires and it looks like the weather will remain this way all weekend. I would have liked to have had an installation lap though. We're all in the same boat though. Today I tried to keep busy, I have Roscoe with me, so I was with him and tinkered with some music. This kind of situation, with less practice, definitely makes the weekend a challenge, more challenging and exciting, especially if it stays wet for qualifying and the race. I'm looking forward to it".

 

On the same line of thought was his teammate, Valtteri Bottas:

 

"We just wanted to get around today, but it wasn't meant to be. We've had these kinds of days in the past, so it can happen and you can't change the weather. Hopefully the next few days will be better, because today I saw the fans out there waiting in the cold. Fingers crossed we'll get some action. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we have to be really efficient in FP3 because the plans have completely changed. We need to make the most of it, to get the information we need in both the short and long term. It's going to be a good challenge both as a team and for us as drivers because we have to be really fast and efficient in gathering the details. It will make for a very exciting weekend".

 

But the most disappointed of the day is undoubtedly the young Mick Schumacher, who along with his friend and rival Callum Ilott was supposed to test the Haas during Free Practice:

 

"Obviously it was a real shame not being able to drive. But both Callum Ilott and I knew that the weather forecast was not good. Let's just say that this is not the time of year when we are sure that the Nürburgring is dry. We knew it could be wet and it was. It's a shame, because we had also prepared very well, we had had many meetings. When could we try again? I don't know, we have to wait. Obviously there are many appointments in the calendar, the problem is that they are quite new circuits. And also the official drivers want to run as much as possible on these kind of tracks. But, I repeat, Formula 1 is a dream and so every time I get on it will be an opportunity to show myself".

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Not being able to test on the circuit, we take the opportunity to get some information from drivers and team principals. And it is Mattia Binotto, team principal of Ferrari, who explained that work on the SF-1000 has begun in Maranello, oriented towards 2021, the season in which the team will have to redeem itself:

 

"We have some new features to complete the package, and we will have more in Portimao in two weeks' time. They are all refinements to the current project aimed at finding confirmation on the road to take for 2021. Next year we will have a completely new engine that has been running on the dyno for months, providing good feedback, and then the new aerodynamic regulations will force everyone to practically redo the cars in terms of the rear area. These are all aspects on which we have to work to make up ground next season. It will be practically impossible to close the gap to Mercedes, but the goal is to be much more competitive than we are at the moment".

 

Jos Verstappen, Max's father, is also asking for a better car for his son. But with a different goal: to win the World Championship.

 

"Let's wait patiently and see what happens. Words are of zero use to us, frankly. It's time for Red Bull to put down a car with which you can become world champion. If Max will have a competitive car next year, the house of Milton Keynes will not have to worry about anything. After all, my son's goal is clear: to be a World Champion".

 

On Saturday 10 October 2020 the weather conditions allow FP3 to be held, after the teams were forced to skip FP1 and FP2 on Friday. However, the asphalt temperature is very low, only 8 °C. The fastest time is set by Valtteri Bottas, who also beats the track record that has stood since the 2004 European Grand Prix, held on this track. The Finn marks the time using Soft tires, even if he will then dedicate the session, for most of the time, to the study of Medium tires. The second time is obtained by Lewis Hamilton, with a little more than 0.1 seconds. Behind the Mercedes duo is Charles Leclerc, ahead of Max Verstappen, who initially seems the fastest in the first part of the session, on Medium tires, and Sebastian Vettel. Racing Point driver Lance Stroll does not take part to the session as he is not in perfect physical condition.

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After not taking part to the third free practice session due to health issues, Lance Stroll is forced to skip the rest of the Grand Prix, due to his less than optimal condition. Initially it is thought that the Canadian driver may be positive for Covid-19 but the FIA denies it, although in the morning he did a quick swab test. The team let it be known that the driver was not well and his condition will be evaluated before qualifying (Stroll will test positive for Covid-19 on Monday after the race). The Canadian driver was already feeling unwell in the morning and the team, as a precautionary measure, decided not to take any risks, keeping him at rest. After the third free practice session, the Racing Point staff re-evaluates Stroll's condition and then decides not to let him continue the weekend in Nurburgring. Lance is replaced by Nico Hülkenberg, who had already been called for the British and 70th Anniversary Grands Prix, replacing the other driver of the British team, the Mexican Sergio Pérez, due to his Covid-19 positivity. The German, fortunately, is in Cologne, a short distance from the track, and after having successfully passed the rapid swab he formalizes his presence alongside Sergio Perez.

 

The German is also the first to face the track. Hülkenberg wears a helmet with Renault’s colours, the sponsors of his team. The first reference times were set by the Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton clocking a time of 1'26"620. The time is beaten by Max Verstappen, by about 0.3 seconds. The other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, is second, while Charles Leclerc is 0.5 seconds behind, and Alexander Albon closes at 0.8 seconds. After the first attempts, the two Racing Points are lagging behind, with Sergio Pérez fifteenth at 1.7 seconds from the first time, while Nico Hülkenberg is last, more than 0.4 seconds behind the limit imposed to enter Q2.

 

Fifth and seventh are the two Haas, with Romain Grosjean ahead of Kevin Magnussen: the Frenchman's time is subsequently cancelled for exceeding the track limits, at the exit of turn 4. Nico Hülkenberg also improves, but without obtaining a time good enough to qualify for the second phase, also because, in the final part of Q1, the track seems faster. Daniel Ricciardo recovered fifth, Sebastian Vettel ninth and Esteban Ocon eighth. Romain Grosjean, the two Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, Kimi Räikkönen and Nico Hülkenberg were eliminated.

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In the second phase, in which the type of compound the drivers will have to use at the start of the race is determined, only Mercedes, Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo are the ones who try to qualify with Medium tires. Lewis Hamilton sets the best time, beaten again by Max Verstappen, who with a time of 1'25"720 retouches the track record. Albon gets the third fastest time, ahead of Norris, Ocon and Sainz Jr. Leclerc, Ricciardo and Vettel, who - as said - try the Medium tires, are in trouble, with the ninth, tenth and eleventh times. Bottas, who ruins his first attempt with a mistake, is eighth. The two Mercedes rejoin the track both running with soft tires.

 

The Finn manages to qualify for Q3 initially with the second fastest time, 0.2 seconds behind Verstappen. The one who beats the Red Bull Racing driver's time is Hamilton, who lowers the limit to 1'25"390. Ricciardo also switches to soft tires, which allow him to climb to fourth place. The other Renault, that of Ocon, is sixth, at least until the arrival of Lando Norris, who ousts the Frenchman from his position. Pierre Gasly takes tenth place provisionally, while Carlos Sainz Jr. also improves. Kvyat is placed behind his teammate; Vettel is tenth and is eliminated by Leclerc, who closes, at the last attempt, in fifth place. In addition to the German Ferrari driver, the two AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kevin Magnussen do not reach Q3.

 

In Q3 the first cars to go out on track are the McLarens, before Lewis Hamilton takes the lead, in 1'25"825. His time is beaten by just 0.013 seconds by Bottas. Shortly afterwards the provisional pole position goes to Max Verstappen, who beats the Finnish time by 0.068 seconds. Albon is fourth, at 0.5 seconds, a tenth of a second better than Leclerc. Sergio Pérez makes only one attempt and closes with the sixth time. In the second attempt, Hamilton, in the first sector, does not beat the time of his rivals, who are also able to improve on the first attempt. Hamilton still sets the best time in the second sector, which is however immediately beaten by Bottas. Also in the third sector Hamilton improves, closing in 1'25"525; however, shortly after Bottas stops the time on 1'25"269. Verstappen does not manage to beat the time of the Finn, but closes with almost 0.3 of delay and does not beat Hamilton by only 0.037 seconds. Bottas thus conquers his fourteenth pole position, the twelfth in a row for Mercedes and the eleventh of the season.

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Once qualifying is over, Valtteri Bottas is thrilled with yet another pole position:

 

" It's always nice when you manage to get the perfect lap at the end. In the last attempt of Q3 I got everything right. I did everything I wanted to do. The margin is small but it wasn't easy to get the tires up to temperature and I was able to figure out how to do that today. We talked a lot with the pits about the exit position and it's those details that can make the difference. We had the tires to make the lap at the end and the lap was very tomorrow. Tomorrow's goal is to get a good start to win".

 

While his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, laconically comments:

 

"Do more? Yes, definitely. He did two tenths better. I'll look at the data to see where to improve. The track is historic and it's fantastic. Great to come back here. Most difficult challenge? We will find out tonight. Graining in this cold weather causes the tires to behave differently. We will see if we can make a stop or two. Then there is always the Safety Car and following it with this temperature might not be easy".

 

Max Verstappen, third with his Red Bull, is satisfied with the work done, since the Austrian team was able to bring its performance closer to that of the Mercedes:

 

"It was an interesting qualifying. We missed the whole day yesterday, and today was particularly challenging. Overall in Q3 we had too much understeer and when it's so cold you eat the rubber, because there's so much graning. But I think we are getting closer to Mercedes and that is very positive. I'm disappointed in some ways because I expected more, but that's how it went. All in all, however, I can be happy. Beating the Mercedes? I hope so, tomorrow it will be colder so it will be interesting how the tires behave. We'll see, it's a fun track to drive on and I can't wait for tomorrow".

 

The exploit of Charles Leclerc seems incredible, who with his Ferrari manages to get an unexpected fourth time in qualifying, starting from the dirty side of the track:

 

"I hope that the side from which I will start is not too dirty, because with a good start everything is possible. I'm happy, we didn't expect a result like this. We have brought a novelty that is not so significant, but has given obvious positive feedback and this means that we are on the right track and it is very positive. With small steps we will get back to where we want to be. Obviously not having FP1 and FP2 was an advantage for us and in terms of balance we started off on the right foot. However, we didn't have a full tank of gas; we'll see how the race will go, in the meantime I'm very happy for today's result, with low temperatures we usually struggle, today was not like that".

 

Quite different is the mood of Sebastian Vettel, even excluded from Q3, who however tries to find a positive approach:

 

"Certainly with the car I have I can't do more. We'll start from eleventh position and we'll try to make the most of that position. Maybe it will be an advantage to start with a different compound from Soft. We'll see what we can do tomorrow. The car didn't behave badly here. We have maximum downforce and we know it's a little bit better for us in this set-up specification in terms of downforce. The last time we had this kind of load was in Hungary and we should go a little bit stronger this weekend. It's a shame I couldn't capitalize on it to the fullest".

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Carlos Sainz Jr is a little further back than expected; certainly not ideal for a Grand Prix that promises to be tough, conditioned above all by the weather, as the Spanish driver himself admits:

 

"Today was a very challenging Saturday for us, especially because yesterday we didn't have time to test the new package I have in the car this weekend. FP3 was not enough to fine-tune the set-up and qualifying was a battle. I improved over the course of the session, but never felt like I put the car in the optimal window. The other car seemed to extract a little more performance from the other specs, so the goal is to optimize the new components as soon as possible. The points are made tomorrow and we could have an interesting race thanks to changes in the weather, so we'll keep an eye on the sky".

 

On the other hand, Lando Norris, back in front of his teammate in qualifying, is more satisfied:

 

"I think this was the best we could do today. We weren't fast enough to improve further, so I think we maximized our performance, although eighth place is a bit disappointing. The car was running relatively well and we have a better feeling than in Sochi, which is the main thing. We thought we had something more for qualifying, but that wasn't the case. Overall, it wasn't a bad day, but tomorrow will be difficult because of the weather".

 

After hastily replacing Lance Stroll, Racing Point team principal Otmar Szafnauer explained in the evening what the actual status of the Canadian driver is:

 

"It has been an incredibly busy day. Lance was sick this morning and we decided not to let him race for the rest of the weekend. He's not well, but he's not showing the symptoms that would suggest Covid. It made sense to give him time to return to full health to be ready for the next double in Portugal and Imola, though. Fortunately, Nico was in nearby Cologne and was able to fill in for him. It was the logical choice, as he drove for us at Silverstone; he was facing a titanic feat to get beyond Q1, as his first laps in the car were during qualifying. With Checo, we had a normal session, moving on to Q3, and finished in ninth. All the teams have very little data, so tomorrow we will go a little blind. But I'm confident that we can still get some important points".

 

So far it has been a very hectic race weekend, conditioned by the adverse weather on Friday, which prevented the drivers from testing on the track, and by the unexpected and sudden substitution of Lance Stroll at Racing Point, which forced Nico Hulkenberg to quickly get into the car to take part in the qualifying. Will the race have more twists and turns?

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Sunday 11 October 2020, at the start of the Eifel Grand Prix, only four drivers (Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean and the two AlphaTauri drivers, Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat) opt for medium tires, while the rest of the group mounts soft tires. Lewis Hamilton is unable, at the start, to take the lead from Valtteri Bottas, who defends himself from an overtaking attempt at the first braking. Behind him is Max Verstappen, who precedes Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo, Alexander Albon, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon.

 

Bottas doesn't succeed, in the first laps, to widen the margin on Hamilton, who remains always at about 1.5 seconds behind his teammate. On the seventh lap Albon pits for Medium tires, after having flattened his front tires on the first part of the race. The next lap, after a long chase, Daniel Ricciardo overtakes Leclerc, who was much slower than the Australian. The Monegasque of Ferrari pits on lap 10 to mount Medium tires.

 

In the meantime, a light rain starts to fall on the track, but it doesn't affect the drivers' performance, even if Sebastian Vettel is the author of a small spin, when he tries to overtake Antonio Giovinazzi. At the twelfth lap also Valtteri Bottas is author of an error in braking: this allows Hamilton to get closer and to pass the Finnish driver, to take the first place. On the next lap Bottas makes his pit stop, while there is a collision between Kimi Räikkönen and George Russell, which forces the latter to retire. The race direction penalizes the Alfa Romeo Racing driver and decides for the virtual safety car, in order to recover the British driver's car: Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo take advantage of it for their tire change.

 

The race resumes shortly after, but Valtteri Bottas' car has a power unit problem that forces him to retire. Now, behind Hamilton and Verstappen, there are Lando Norris, Sergio Pérez, Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo. There is also contact between Albon and Daniil Kvyat, which results in a five-second penalty for the Thai. On lap 22, Ocon also abandons the race due to a gearbox and brake problem. One lap later the race ends for Albon as well. Hamilton, meanwhile, widens his margin over Verstappen, bringing it to 3.6 seconds. On lap 28, both Pérez and Sainz Jr. stopped for tire changes. The next lap it's Lando Norris' turn, but he complains about a loss of power from his power unit. Ricciardo finishes third, ahead of Leclerc, who has not yet made his second stop. Then follow Pérez, Norris and Sainz Jr.

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The Mexican driver leaves Leclerc at the last chicane, but the Monegasque, taking advantage of the DRS, overtakes Pérez at the end of the main straight. On the following lap the same maneuver is repeated, but this time the Ferrari driver is unable to regain his position. On lap 36 Leclerc made his second pit stop, to fit Medium tires. Returning to the track tenth, he soon climbs several positions: first he passes Kimi Räikkönen, then he is let go by Vettel, who by now has too worn tires. At lap 42 the German driver stops for the second time and opts for Soft tires.

 

Meanwhile, more and more limited by a power unit issue, Lando Norris retires. In this case the safety car is sent on track to allow the recovery of his McLaren. The lapped drivers are allowed to pass the safety car and rejoin the group with the leading drivers, who complain that, in this way, their tires are too cold, compared to those of the lapped drivers, who were able to make a lap at higher speed, to rejoin the first ones. At the restart Lewis Hamilton easily maintains the lead of the race, ahead of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. At the fiftieth lap Charles Leclerc gives up the seventh position to Pierre Gasly and has to watch out for the arrival of Nico Hülkenberg, who will not be able to overtake him. Ricciardo also manages to defend his third position from Pérez.

 

Lewis Hamilton conquers his 91st victory in the Formula 1 World Championship, the second one on the Nürburgring track, the first one dating back to the 2011 German Grand Prix on board of the McLaren-Mercedes, thus equalling the record number of victories held by Michael Schumacher. At the end of the race Mick Schumacher, Formula 2 driver and son of Michael, handed over a copy of his father's helmet to Hamilton for the occasion.

 

Daniel Ricciardo, third, rediscovered the podium after two years since his victory in the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, bringing a Renault back to the podium for the first time as a manufacturer since the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix: a podium won, at the time, by Nick Heidfeld, when the team raced under the British license. Under the French license, the last podium was ten years ago when Robert Kubica finished in third position in the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix. Sergio Perez follows, with the first Racing Point, Carlos Sainz Jr. with his McLaren, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Nico Hulkenberg, in points with the second Racing Point, Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi, who precedes Sebastian Vettel, eleventh with the second Ferrari.

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Lewis Hamilton is clearly satisfied at the end of the Grand Prix he just won, thanks to which the Briton managed to equal Michael Schumacher's record of victories. Before that, however, the Mercedes driver talked about the fight with his teammate:

 

"Fight with Valtteri? I made a good start, I put him side by side but I had a bit of understeer and I still tried to leave him enough space to avoid an accident. I couldn't see him, he was in my blind side. He did a fantastic job passing on the outside, I don't know how he did it, kudos to him. He hit me. After that I tried to hold on and manage the tires because there was graining and I knew it needed some management laps before I could push again. It was not an easy race, the Red Bulls were very fast. Max went very well. He had a chance in the restart but I was good to create a good gap. But in Red Bull we have a serious rival. I'm over the moon for the victory. Schumacher's record? For me it's a huge honour, I appreciate so much this gesture [Michael Schumacher's helmet, given as a gift by Mick Schumacher]. I don't know what to say. When you grow up watching someone they become idols for the quality of work they do. I remember when I used to play with Michael in video games. I didn't think I could come close or match him. I owe everything to this incredible team. I realized I matched him going back to pit lane. I have so much respect for him".

 

Max Verstappen, who tried in vain to snatch the victory from the British driver, was again second at the finish line:

 

"It was a good race. I tried to follow Lewis once Valtteri was out of the race. We tried to make our race, the pace was good but Lewis was a little bit too fast. I tried to make the fastest lap at the end and we succeeded. It's worth one more point, I'm happy. Safety Car? The track is very cold and the tires get cold in that situation. I didn't understand why the Safety was out so long. The track was clean. I understand that they wanted us all to pile in, but with the tires so cold it's a little bit dangerous. But it wouldn't have changed anything, we stayed second, the place we deserve today, and that's the most important thing".

 

While the Renault team is finally celebrating the third place - and therefore the podium - conquered by Daniel Ricciardo, who can now claim the tattoo to his team principal:

 

"It's been a long time and I feel like it's the first time again. It's been about two and a half years. The emotion is like something totally new. I'm happy for the team, we've been waiting a long time. I think everyone is going to enjoy this moment so much. Cyril and the tattoo? Yes, it's all true and he will do it. We will have to choose, maybe it will have something to do with me and Germany, since we have been on the podium here. Something traditional German".

 

A pact that the prinicipal Renault team is ready to respect:

 

"Yes, we made this pact, it happened after a few beers. I'm a man of my word, though, and I'll do the tattoo. The fact that I can decide the size and where to do it leaves me pretty safe. He can only choose the design".

 

And after yet another shoey from Daniel on the podium, a curious dialogue is staged between the Australian driver and Lewis Hamilton. The Renault driver had complained about the cold and the fact that he would put on two pairs of socks to avoid numbness of the feet.

 

"Today I put on two socks because of the cold".

 

It's Ricciardo's confession, which generates astonishment in Hamilton.

 

"But can it be done? I'm always roasting in the cockpit to the point that I'd like a hole in the nose to get some fresh air on me".

 

What's chilling is Ricciardo's response, shushing the Briton by telling him:

 

"Please, at least today, don't complain".

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An easy victory, then, for Mercedes? Not at all. James Vowles, the Anglo-German team's head of strategy, in the usual debrief video released by the Brackley-based team after the Grand Prix, explained that both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were forced more than once to use DAS, to warm up the tires:

 

"It's fair to say that we used DAS more than ever this weekend; in free practice, in single lap work, in qualifying but also during the race. On Sunday in particular we used it during the formation lap, but also when we were behind the Safety Car, when we had to do a number of laps on increasingly cold tires. I think it's fair to say that the DAS helped make our restart so good and that this weekend was a real success".

 

But more importantly, Vowles also explains what the steering issues, for which Hamilton complained, took place just before the start of the Grand Prix:

 

"He had play inside the steering column and the whole steering system was moving back and forth a little bit; that's a performance factor. In corners you try to feel the limit of the tires, having any movement in the steering column makes you not sure if it's the car moving, the tires moving or something else. However, it was not a safety issue, we never had any concerns about the system. It's something we noticed on Saturday, but the parc fermé rules state that unless the component is broken, you can't replace it. That's why Lewis had to run it and he did a great job considering the amount of difficult conditions we had in that race".

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Nico Hülkenberg, called just before qualifying to replace Lance Stroll at the wheel of the Racing Point, after having replaced Sergio Perez in the double commitment of Silverstone, found himself on track directly in qualifying without having the opportunity to become familiar again with the car and the track. Starting last, he managed to finish in eighth place, helping the British team to overtake McLaren in third place in the Constructors' standings.

 

"This time at the Nürburgring was tougher than Silverstone. Certainly to my advantage was the experience gained in Britain and being in the same team with the same car, but something has changed from a couple of months ago. The different track and entering the fray directly in qualifying was like diving into a frozen lake. It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn't going to get past last place on the grid, anything else would have been a miracle. I was very happy with the lap time and the improvement in the four laps I did. Without a major mistake in the chicane I could have maybe caught up to Kimi. Maybe with five more minutes and a new set of tires we could have fought for Q2. It was a huge challenge, the kind where you jump in without thinking too much and try to act and react directly. Saturday morning I was at home in Cologne with a friend of mine. On Friday I was going with him to ski but at the last minute I decided not to, so I was rested. We were having coffee when the phone rang. I had received a WhatsApp message from Otmar asking me where I was and if I had my helmet with me. The first thing I thought was, what is he writing? But then he called me and asked me to join him at the track as soon as possible. I kept thinking it was a joke before he explained to me that Lance was not well and would not be able to be in the car for qualifying. I should have been at the Nürburgring in the afternoon anyway because I had other appointments there. Of course, I didn't have my helmet with me, but luckily Schübert had it with him on the track. I used the helmet I had in Renault last year, as you could see from the colours. Unfortunately, the pink helmets from Silverstone were parked at my house, I didn't imagine I would have to reuse them so quickly. The suit, however, was in possession of the team as well as the seat. After Great Britain they decided to keep them in their possession for the Grand Prix. It was a bit of a hectic day because of Albon's dubious tampon, but then the emergency sirens went off pretty quickly. About Lance, on the other hand, I really didn't know anything".

 

Yet despite that, Nico is still without a Formula 1 seat for next season:

 

"Unfortunately, things didn't go as well after Silverstone. I still don't have a place for next year, maybe because Formula 1 has enough quality drivers and doesn't need me anymore. In any case, I'm not resigned. I'm still in the game and I want to keep dancing, but this is a process that has been going on for a long time now. There's an oversupply in the rider market, there are a lot of teams that still need to settle down, and then there are also those riders that are economically attractive to some teams. Continuing as a replacement in 2021 is not out of the question considering the current emergency situation, but it's not what I want. The Coronavirus has changed the world, even Formula 1, and some teams have equipped themselves in a definitive way. Nevertheless, there are no certainties: sometimes they follow their line, some not. In general, a permanent position obviously has priority for me".

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It is yet another day in the dark for Ferrari, who also at the Nurburgring had to cope with the well-known problems of the SF1000. Nevertheless, Charles Leclerc managed to achieve a good seventh place:

 

"We have seen many times since the beginning of the year that with little fuel in qualifying on a dry lap we can extract the maximum from the car, but every time we put in a lot of fuel we struggle more. This is what happened today. With the Medium tires we had a positive pace, but with the Soft tires we had graining right away. On this side it was a bit of a disaster. But the second part of the race was quite positive. At the Safety Car I didn't want to take the risk of putting on the Softs because of the effort I made at the beginning of the race. Were we deluded yesterday? I think so, I was expecting a bit more. Once again, however, the problem was the first stint, then the others went better".

 

Sebastian Vettel did not shine, crossing the finish line eleventh, after starting from the same position:

 

"The start was not bad, even in the first lap, when I had the medium tires and a compound disadvantage compared to the others. We lost another position with the Alfa Romeo and we got stuck, it was very difficult for us. We took a lot of risks, maybe too many. After that it was difficult to come back. With the Safety Car there was a chance to get back in the points but I didn't make it. The mistake behind Giovinazzi? As I said, we were only gaining in the last part of the straight. When I was getting closer I lost the car and I didn't really understand how. I probably took too much risk at that moment. The updates? Hard to say if they helped. I don't think it was as much as we expected and we didn't see much on the track. We lost positions in the race and we didn't have the pace we wanted".

 

But Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto thinks differently:

 

"As for Sebastian, the spin in the early stages compromised his race and then there was little he could do, not even in the final, once the Soft tires were fitted. It's clear that we can't be satisfied with this result but we continue to work to try to improve the overall performance. In qualifying we saw some progress but what is important is that the updates we are introducing seem to be going in the right direction, especially in view of 2021. In this sense, we should have more news in the next race in Portimao".

 

Charles Leclerc, who started fourth and finished seventh, is a different matter, after having tried in every way to prevent his rivals from overtaking:

 

"A difficult race, mainly conditioned by the operating temperature of the tires. This was especially evident with Charles who, after a good start, began to have granining on the Softs from the very first laps. This prevented him from pushing as he would have liked. So we had to anticipate his pit-stop, immediately focusing on an alternative strategy. When in the final there was the possibility to make another stop under Safety Car, we have chosen with him to stay out with the medium because of what we had seen in the first part".

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After two thirds of the season dominated, Mercedes can begin to evaluate where it will be able to celebrate its seventh constructors' title. The season shortened to seventeen races, with so many unusual tracks included in the calendar, has changed what in recent years have been the traditional places of celebration for the Anglo-German team. Of the six titles won, two were celebrated in Russia and the same number in Japan, while in 2017 and 2018, the Brackley team arithmetically closed the contention in Brazil and the United States. The same goes for Lewis Hamilton, who despite enjoying an almost unbridgeable lead, believes that the World Championship is still open:

 

"Of course we still have many races to go. I think that Red Bull and Renault have really improved and we have to keep working with our heads down. I certainly didn't think that after the Eifel Grand Prix I would have this big advantage. Be careful though, because a lot of strange things can happen in this pandemic, so I have to focus on staying healthy and driving like I did on the Nürburgring weekend".

 

What will happen in Portugal? Will Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas be able to close the constructors' championship in their favour as early as Portimao? On an arithmetical level, winning the title for Mercedes will not be easy. The German team boasts a 180-point margin over Red Bull. After the Portuguese race there will still be 220 available. Hamilton and Bottas should therefore have forty more points than the Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon.

 

Anthony Quartey

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