It’s been a big week for Australian Formula 1 fans.
Only a few days ago the Australian Grand Prix was extended for a mammoth 10 more years. Now Alpine is reportedly set to give Aussie young gun Oscar Piastri the nod for his first F1 outing.
His first free practice session at the team’s home French Grand Prix is reportedly on the cards, cementing his next crucial step towards getting on the grid full-time in 2023.
Though it would seemingly bring to naught the speculation that he might be in line for a full-time drive as early as the British Grand Prix, it’s nonetheless an exciting development towards Australia getting its next generation a spot on the grid.
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But the old generation is still relevant too. With ground effect back causing trouble in Formula 1 this year, Damon Hill has reinvoked the problems experienced by drivers the last time this aerodynamic philosophy was dominant in the sport — and the trials and tribulations of 1980 world champion Alan Jones as his Williams team searched for novel ways to find performance reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton’s modern day problems.
PIASTRI SET FOR FIRST PRACTICE OUTING
Australia could have two F1 drivers on track at once at next month’s French Grand Prix when Oscar Piastri gets his first competitive outing with Alpine.
According to Autosport, Piastri will take the wheel of the A522 during first practice at the marque’s home race at Circuit Paul Ricard. His drive will presumably come at the expense of Fernando Alonso, ensuring Frenchman Esteban Ocon maximum seat time for his native event.
Teams are required by the regulations to devote two practice sessions per year to blooding rookie drivers.
There have been suggestions in recent weeks that Piastri was being prepared to make his practice debut at the next round in Silverstone, spurred on in part by an Instagram story posted by the 21-year-old earlier this month, but Alpine has since flagged that it intends to bring some major updates to its car that weekend, which would rule out a rookie outing on practicality grounds.
The following race in Austria is also off the cards given the Red Bull Racing will host the second sprint round of the year, effectively limiting meaningful free practice time to just one hour for the full-time drivers.
That leaves France and Hungary, and given the wide-open expanses of the Paul Ricard circuit, it presents as an ideal venue for a driver to get their first taste of the current cars with minimum risk.
Confirmation of Piastri’s first practice outing will do little to quell speculation about his 2023 contract. The Australian seems increasingly likely to replace the Nicholas Latifi at Williams next year, though his preparation for a practice outing in France would seemingly put paid to the rumour that he could replace the underperforming Canadian in a full-time role as soon at the British Grand Prix.
“Oscar’s a bright young talent coming through, as we all know,” Alpine principal Otmar Szafnauer said. “He‘s doing very well.
“We‘re contracted with Oscar and we have some options on him. There’s no real need to hurry that, so we’ll take our time and at the right moment within the silly season — we’ll have a look around and make those types of decisions.”
HILL WEIGHS INTO BOUNCING DEBATE, RECALLS FORMER STRUGGLES
Former world champion Damon Hill says Formula 1 should put the health of its drivers at the top of its list of concerns as the sport continues to grapple with its ongoing bouncing problems.
The debate around whether the FIA can or should intervene had its first major flashpoint at last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, where some last-minute technical directives raised the ire of several team bosses and precipitated a Toto Wolff blow-up in a team principals meeting.
Christian Horner subsequently suggested to the UK Telegraph that Mercedes was receiving favourable treatment from the regulator because it was the worst affected by the bouncing.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Hill said that sport should focus on that the drivers are saying rather than the arguments of the team bosses when it comes to matters of safety.
“There was a little bit of suggestion that maybe Mercedes were complaining because they were suffering more than anybody,” he said. “But it does seem that there’s more noises coming from the drivers and other teams.
“Also the FIA have been monitoring the vertical acceleration that these guys are subjected to … because the cars are now whacking the ground — so these poor drivers.
“I don’t suppose there is much sympathy for racing drivers — they get paid well for what they do and they’re enjoying it — but the problem is: could this have a long-term effect?
“Similarly, in rugby and other sports we’ve looked at how the driver or the athlete can have effects later in life. We don’t want to injure the drivers, so the FIA is taking this very seriously and then they will instigate further motions later.
“The fact of the matter is we don’t know what the maybe long-term effects to whether someone’s spine get injured or their neck gets injured or their brain, even.”
Opponents to possible changes argue that drivers ought to either put up with the pain or the teams need to slow their cars to reduce the bouncing, and Hill thinks the push back against this attitude represents a significant change from the way F1 used to go about these arguments.
“Certainly when I was racing nobody cared. It wasn’t really on the agenda,” he said before invoking the infamous 1980 Williams test of a suspension-less car in what’s turned out to be a surprisingly prescient forecast for modern-day F1.
“When we first brought in ground effect cars the team managers used to tell the drivers to sit on their wallets and that might make it a little bit more comfortable. So that was the that was the attitude back then.”
RED BULL JUNIOR SUSPENDED FOR RACIAL SLUR
Long-time Red Bull Junior Team driver Juri Vips has been suspended from duties after using a racial slur while streaming on Twitch.
Vips, who was entered in first practice at the Spanish Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing, will face an internal investigation for the use of racist language before the team decides whether to reinstate him in the program.
“As an organisation we condemn abuse of any kind and have a zero-tolerance policy to racist language or behaviour within our organisation,” the team said in a statement.
Vips apologised via an Instagram post made after the announcement.
“I wish to unreservedly apologise for the offensive language used during a live gaming stream,” he said. “The language is entirely unacceptable and does not portray the values and principles that I hold.
“I deeply regret my actions and this is not the example I wish to set.
“I will cooperate with the investigation fully.”
The 21-year-odl Estonian is competing in his second full-time Formula 2 season with Hitech this year and is currently seventh in the standings with three podium finishes after crashing out of the lead of the feature race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
He’s one of four Red Bull junior drivers in the series but no longer a frontrunner for a possible F1 promotion, having won only nine races across his Formula 3 and Formula 2 campaigns since 2018.
Norwegian Dennis Hauger, 2019 Italian Formula 4 champion and the reigning Formula 3 champion, is currently the leading Red Bull young gun, with two wins on the board already in his maiden F2 campaign to put himself fifth in the standings.
Though Indian racer Jehan Daruvala is ahead of Hauger in the standings in his third F2 campaign, his test with McLaren this week suggests the Red Bull program isn’t considering him a viable prospect for progression
Yuki Tsunoda is out of contract this year at AlphaTauri as the only potential opening at the end of the year, though the Japanese driver is expected to be retained. Pierre Gasly is the next Red Bull-backed seat up for renewal, with his deal ending after next season.
BROWN EXPLAINS PUBLIC RICCIARDO COMMENTS, APOLOGISES FOR CAR
McLaren CEO Zak Brown says he was just giving “an honest answer” when he publicly admitted Daniel Ricciardo’s tenure with the team wasn’t meeting expectations and canvassed potential contract break clauses.
Brown made his comments between the Miami and Monaco grands prix last month, with Ricciardo suffering a form slump in Barcelona and Monte Carlo that called into question his suitability for the team.
Ricciardo bounced back with a points finish in Azerbaijan ahead of teammate Lando Norris and qualified in the top 10 again in Canada, though the car wasn’t quick enough to score points.
Speaking in Montreal, Brown said he was just being honest in his commentary last month and emphasised that he and the team are still on good terms with the Australian.
“They asked the question and I just gave an honest answer,” Brown said. “I think Daniel has said the same thing. We’re here to try and get towards the front.”
“We’ve got a great relationship, and I just gave an honest answer to a question of how things are going, and things could be going better.
“Daniel has shown, like he did in Monza last year, when we give him a car that suits his driving style and has pace that he’s going to go out and lead laps and win a race.
“I think we need to have a car that’s a little bit more performant and user friendly, and he’ll get the job done.”
Brown also admitted that McLaren had underdelivered this season. The team has a precarious hold on fourth in the constructors standings after its third blank score in Canada and is a long way off the pace of the leading two teams and Mercedes as well.
“We’ve had some awesome weekends like Monza [in 2021], and then some disappointing weekends, and coming back to our car, I don’t think we’re giving our drivers a car that’s capable of being at the front on a regular basis.
“We’re going to work hard and make sure that they do in the future.”
PEREZ URGES RED BULL NOT TO FORGET UNRELIABILITY STREAK
Sergio Perez has urged his Red Bull Racing team not to forget about his car’s still chronic unreliability despite Max Verstappen running away with the championship lead.
Perez retired after just seven laps of the Canadian Grand Prix with a gearbox problem. The team wasn’t able to confirm the cause of the failure immediately after the race, though Helmut Marko said he suspected Perez’s crash during qualifying may have contributed to the issue.
The lead-up to the Montreal race was dominated by Ferrari’s spate of terminal engine problems after Charles Leclerc retired from the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
But on the unenviable table tallying technical failures this season, Red Bull Racing leads Ferrari 4-3 after two retirements in Bahrain, another in Australia and Perez’s DNF in Canada. Ferrari’s three comprise Leclerc’s Spain failure and its double DNF in Baku.
Speaking after a disheartening weekend in Canada, Perez said his team needed to redouble its efforts on improving reliability lest it affect the title fight.
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“It’s been a weekend to forget,” he said. “We think it was a gearbox issue and I got stuck in gear unfortunately. Things were looking good, I had a good start, I was on the hard tyre and making progress.
“We need to keep on top of the reliability because a zero when you are fighting for the championship is very painful and costly.
“It should have been a race where I could have worked my way through the field, so it’s a big shame. I felt I had plenty of potential in my race to make up a lot of places and recover good points.
“You go into new regulations and there is always going to be new problems to face. Today hurts a lot, it has been a weekend to forget for me, so I want to forget about today and move on to Silverstone.”
Perez still holds second in the drivers championship behind Verstappen but is now 46 points off the lead.
FIA IS TOO EASILY INFLUENCED, SAYS MAGNUSSEN
Kevin Magnussen has slammed the FIA for forcing him into an early pit stop to repair front wing damage, accusing the governing body of being too easily influenced by driver complaints.
Magnussen broke his right-hand front wing endplate tangling with Lewis Hamilton on the first lap but was able to hold position at the head of the midfield for the opening five laps despite the damage and loss of downforce.
But the pursuing Esteban Ocon saw the endplate wobbling around precariously and radioed his team that it looked at risk of falling off and was therefore a potential danger.
Race control responded by waving the black and orange flag, requiring the Dane to pit for repairs at the end of lap 6, dropping him to last and condemning him to finish out of the points.
Speaking after finishing 17th, the Dane accused the FIA of folding too quickly to Ocon and Alpine’s complaints over team radio, protesting that the wing was safe enough to race.
“I just had a bit of contact, nothing serious,” he said. “Scratched my front wing a little bit and then was told to pit.
“I was just talking to Ocon now and he was just joking how he told the FIA that it was really bad.
“If you know you can influence the FIA like that, you’re going to do it, aren’t you? Which is what he did. Fair play. But you’ve got to let us drive with that shit, it’s nothing.
“I was keeping up, the car was fine. The front wing was safe, it was not broken off.”
Magnussen recalled last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, when Lewis Hamilton was allowed to continue racing after damaging his front wing rear-ending Verstappen — albeit the damaged parts remained fully attached — as the latest example of inconsistency in stewarding and race control that several drivers have spoken out about this season.
“Think back to Jeddah last year. Lewis Hamilton won the race with half a front wing — which I think is correct,” he said. “It feels like suddenly it’s very different. Monaco they don’t start us because it starts drizzling. Here I’m called in because I have a scratch on my front wing.”