What we learned after Mercedes error gifts Ferrari’s Vettel Australia Grand Prix win

Sebastian Vettel capitalized on a Mercedes mistake to clinch victory in the Australian Grand Prix. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2018
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What we learned after Mercedes error gifts Ferrari’s Vettel Australia Grand Prix win

After Sebastian Vettel stole victory at the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Arab News takes a look at five things we learned from the race.

MERCEDES ARE FALLIBLE AFTER ALL
Mercedes said after Sunday’s opener that a software glitch could be to blame for costing world champion Lewis Hamilton victory after Vettel’s Ferrari took the podium top spot.
Hamilton was in control of Sunday’s race until Romain Grosjean’s Haas stopped on track and officials imposed a Virtual Safety Car. This caused the field to slow while Vettel, who was leading courtesy of Hamilton’s earlier stop, was able to dive into the pits for fresh tires and lose less time than under normal race conditions.
It meant Vettel emerged from the pits marginally in front of a startled Hamilton and held on to his advantage to the chequered flag for his third Australian victory.
“What just happened, guys?” Hamilton asked his Mercedes team over radio during the race. “Why didn’t you tell me Vettel was in the pits?
“We thought we were safe, but there’s obviously something wrong,” the team replied.
“Did I do anything wrong? Should I have gone faster?” Hamilton pressed further.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said an investigation would be needed to find out what happened. For a team that produce winning performances with metronome-like consistency, it was quite amusing for fans to see them off-beat for once.

FERRARI COULD BE THE REAL DEAL
Although it might have taken a collapse from Haas and a software failure on the pit-wall to give them the win, Ferrari showed that they will definitely have the necessary pace this year. Hamilton stayed with Vettel’s car after the safety car restart, but he could not get the extra speed to get around the German. And the Mercedes driver is expecting more of the same in the next Grand Prix. The next race is in the desert of Bahrain, where Ferrari are traditionally quick.
“They are always good on hot circuits — even though it is a night race it is tough on the tires,” Hamilton said, adding that Ferrari’s performance was “better than it looked.”
The world champion added: “There will be ups and downs. Ferrari are really quick on the straight. They will be rapid in the next race. I can tell you it is going to be close.”
Rather ominously, Vettel believes there is still more to come from the car. “Obviously we were a little bit lucky today, but we take it. We are not there yet where we want to be (in terms of qualifying pace),” he said.

OVERTAKING AT A PREMIUM…AGAIN
Wolff said the lack of overtaking opportunities on the Albert Park street circuit was a contributory factor in the galling defeat.
“Lewis was attacking flat-out but you can see the overtaking is pretty bad here,” he said.
“Even the mega overtakers couldn’t make a pass. Lewis had to give up because the tires wouldn’t have made it to the end.”
That does not encourage Formula One fans for the season ahead. Much is done before every season to ensure that there will be a “new era” of stunning overtaking. This race will dampen any such hopes. Hamilton tried desperately to cut the deficit, and to his credit he managed to get within a second of his championship rival for several laps. But Albert Park, notoriously one of the most difficult on the circuit to overtake, did not give any hope of a dramatic last-gasp overtake. Fans were left to watch Hamilton pull back in an effort to preserve tires as Vettel sped away to claim victory.

ALONSO HAS STILL GOT IT
The two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was full of praise for his McLaren team after he and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished among the points after switching to Renault engines during the off-season. And while the team were cautiously optimistic of improvement, for Alonso to get a mediocre car up into fifth position is testament to the will and determination of the man.
The McLaren engineers have had little time to react to having to redesign some of the parts at the rear end, so two cars in the top 10 is a fantastic result not only for Alonso but the whole McLaren garage.
“The last couple of years have been difficult, and I think the winter has been difficult as well,” the Spaniard said. “We should be proud of that, but I think there’s a lot more to come from McLaren.”
Of course, one race does not make an entire season, but Alonso said there was growing optimism inside the British team, and there are signs of improvement.
“With some updates to come in the next few races, we can start to look ahead a little bit and Red Bull will be the next target,” he added.

TECHNOLOGY NO MATCH FOR SIROTKIN’S SANDWICH SAGA
The highly controversial “Halo” system introduced this season has divided fans, drivers and experts alike. Designed to sit above the cockpit and protect a driver from flying debris on the track, it has been criticized as much for its lack of aesthetic quality as its practical effectiveness. One hopes we never have to see it tested in race conditions, but the debate about driver safety will rage on regardless.
So, it was both unfortunate but hilarious to see debutant driver Sergey Sirotkin’s race end after just five laps because of a sandwich bag being sucked into the brake duct, which caused the Russian to exit the track as his brakes overheated. Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe stopped short of confirming a bag was the primary reason, but admitted it was a distinct likelihood.
“It’s a theory at the moment. It’s not fully proven, we need to do some forensics on that. But we have residue of what looks like a melted plastic bag,” he added. You could not make it up.


Felipe Massa ready for Formula E challenge around the streets of Riyadh

Updated 25 September 2018
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Felipe Massa ready for Formula E challenge around the streets of Riyadh

  • Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut
  • Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation”

Noor Nugali Riyadh: Felipe Massa cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a Formula E car and jumpstart his new career when the spectacle of speed storms into Riyadh for the season opener on Dec. 15.
The Saudi Arabia capital was named as the newest stopping point for the sport in May, with it being the first race of a 13-race season, which sees the electric-powered cars tackle street circuits across the globe.
Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut, having left the Formula One paddock for the growing sport. And the 37-year-old told Arab News he is excited about the prospect of tackling the streets of Ad Diriyah, the oldest part of the capital, in one of the electrically powered speed machines.
“I am ready for the race. It’s a fantastic feeling driving around the city, the town, it’s historical. It will be a big event,” Massa said at press conference to announce Saudi Arabian Airlines’ new long-term partnership as official airline partner of the all-electric series.
“I’m really happy to be a part of this new challenge for my career. In a new place and country, it’s motivating.”
Having won 11 Grands Prix during an illustrious career in F1, during which time he raced for Ferrari, some might think Massa would not be daunted by the move to Formula E. The Brazilian, however, is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a big challenge for me to change categories, to Formula E,” he said, having got a chance to put some early practice in as he took a Gen2 car around the streets of the capital.
“Learning everything is a challenge. It’s different cars, different tracks and a different way of driving. I need to learn and grow to understand but I like new challenges.”
Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation” and it is hoped that the Ad Diriyah race helps the changing face of Saudi Arabia by inspiring more women to get behind the wheel in the Kingdom — something not lost on Massa.
“I heard that women are driving (in Saudi Arabia) now and that’s fantastic — hopefully in the future there will female racers,” he said.
“We are racing in a country (whose main export is oil), and we are racing with electric cars. I think it shows that this country wants to change its mentality and its thinking of the future. It’s really positive and I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
Thanks to the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the Middle East has long been associated with motorsport, and it is well known that the region is awash with petrolheads. The Riyadh Formula E race, however, will be international motorsport’s first move into Saudi Arabia.
But rather than look to bring F1 to the country his Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice-chair of the General Sports Authority, revealed that Formula E was the only format they wanted to see in the capital.
“This is a truly game-changing moment for Saudi Arabia and one that we can share with the world,” he said. “It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country.
“Saudi Arabia is home to literally millions of passionate young fans of motorsport, many of whom simply cannot believe that Felipe Massa took the Gen2 car around the streets of the capital today and that they now have a ‘home race’ on the Formula E calendar. So already the excitement is building, especially since we’re adding live music concerts to the weekend line-up.”
The track Massa and Co. will be tackling this December was revealed at the press conference. At 1.76 miles long, the first road circuit in the Middle East features 21 corners, a number of which are long flowing ones taken at high speed. It is hoped that the race will get both Saudi Arabia’s entry to the sport and the season itself off to a spectacular start, and in doing so inspire a new generation of speed demons.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said: “Something we haven’t announced yet, is that there will be a support race for Formula E.
“It’s the Jaguar I-Pace trophy, it will race around the world with the Formula E circuit.
“Saudi Arabia will participate in that championship as a national team with two Saudi Arabian drivers and we will announce the names soon.”