McLaren makes big upgrade call; Monaco faces new threat: F1 Pit Talk

Michael Lamonato from Fox Sports

After a pointless race in Montreal, the last things McLaren fans will have wanted to hear is that the team isn’t planning any major updates for the last 13 rounds of the season.

McLaren’s season has been a roller-coaster, starting with high preseason expectations, a crushing low in the first race of the season, improved form in Australia and Imola and then middling performances since. A couple of big scores are keeping it afloat in fourth, but momentum isn’t with Woking.

Now Andreas Seidl says the team will focus on unlocking pace from its current car rather than ply it with any major upgrades in what could be a hint that the team is keeping an eye on possible big gains for 2023.

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Meanwhile, talk in the paddock has turned to the 2023 calendar, which is reportedly doing the rounds in draft form. Already known is that the Australian Grand Prix won’t be the first round, but with at least two but as many as four races not on this year’s schedule looking to book one of the maximum 25 weekends available, someone is destined to miss out, and Monaco, France and Belgium are all at risk.

MCLAREN HAS NO MORE MAJOR UPGRADES PLANNED THIS YEAR

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl says that the MCL36 won’t be receiving any more major updates this season in the battle to retain fourth in the constructors standings.

McLaren currently leads Alpine by eight points and Alfa Romeo by 14 in the fight at the head of the midfield but has been losing momentum in the last two months.

While Alpine in particular has been regularly bringing new parts to the car, McLaren spent the first part of the year focused on rectifying brake cooling issues only discovered on the eve of the first race, which were finally permanently fixed late last month in Spain with a major revision.

But Seidl says fans shouldn’t expect another major update that might bring the team closer into line with its preseason expectations to leave the midfield scrap, with only minor tweaks in the pipeline.

“The main thing at the moment is still to try to unlock more performance from the package that we have,” he said, according to The Race. “And then we need to see which further small little changes to the car will come throughout the course of the season.

“We had the difficult start for the wrong reasons and had really strong weekends in Melbourne and Imola, then more challenging weekends again and a strong Monaco weekend in terms of performance. That’s the area we have to improve, to just be more consistent.”

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The decision to focus on generating a deeper understanding of the current car hints at the team choosing to prepare for next season, with Seidl adding that “you really need to be very careful with how you use your wind tunnel time”.

McLaren has also been open about its struggles to keep within the cost cap thanks to rising inflation, which would also squeeze the development pipeline. It’s joined with some other teams for the spending limit to be raised.

Alpine is intending to bring its sixth upgrade package to the car at the next race in Silverstone. Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that it will be focused on the floor to boost downforce in line with the car’s already prodigious straight-line speed.

Alfa Romeo is still in the process of extracting pace from an upgrade package brough to Azerbaijan, but it scored points with both cars for the second time this season last race.

F1 CALENDAR CRUNCH AS NEW CITIES LODGE INTEREST

The historic Monaco Grand Prix is under increasing pressure to hold its spot on the Formula 1 calendar thanks to growing interest in Nice and around the world for a coveted slot in the schedule.

Interest in F1 has never been higher, which is ratcheting up the price to host a race as well as empowering the sport to demand better service from existing circuits hoping to renew terms.

The Monaco Grand Prix, reliably one of the lowest fee paying events on the calendar and whose tight confines making the modern logistics of Formula 1 extremely difficult, is in the firing line.

The nearby French Grand Prix, plagued infrastructure problems and run around an uninspiring circuit, is also at risk, leading to speculation the sport might alternate between them every other year.

But now the nearby city of Nice — around 160 kilometres from Le Castellet and only 20 kilometres from Monte Carlo — is petitioning to split the difference with a new street circuit, theoretically combining the charm of a European street race of Monaco but on a layout that might better promote overtaking.

Behind the bid is Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, who was also involved in reviving the French Grand Prix in 2018 after a decade off the calendar, and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has already told French newspaper L’Equipe that the sport is exploring it as an option.

The calendar is already at 22 races. F1 has signalled 24 is its limit, but 25 is permissible under its commercial deal with the teams.

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The new Las Vegas race plus the return of Qatar and China would hit the 25-race ceiling next season before the possibility of the revived South African Grand Prix is even considered, meaning one to two grands prix will need to make way completely or alternate with an existing round at a minimum.

Condensing Monaco and France into one race in Nice would solve that problem. Domenicali has said a decision will be made by the end of July.

But Nice isn’t the only European destination hoping to break onto the F1 calendar, with Madrid also pitching for a street race.

Enrique López, Madrid’s minister for justice, interior and victims, has written to Domenicali signalling that his region is willing to “sign the appropriate agreements to promote the race and offer a great sporting and entertainment spectacle”.

“I believe that holding in Madrid a motor racing event, which is one of the most exciting sporting phenomena of our time, would be a success for all of the professionals, institutions and companies involved in the development of Formula 1,” he wrote, according to Spain’s El Confidencial.

The Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona is contracted until 2026, so the addition of Madrid would need another race to alternate with fold completely.

The Belgian Grand Prix is out of contract this year and is considered at risk. The Netherlands is up for renewal next year, while Azerbaijan, Italy in Monza, the UK and Japan have deals running until 2024.

BOTTAS OPENS UP ON MOMENT HE ALMOST QUIT F1

Valtteri Bottas says he was committed to quitting Formula 1 at the end of 2018 as he struggled to accept being comprehensively beaten by teammate Lewis Hamilton.

The 2018 season was Bottas’s second at Mercedes and a major step backwards from the previous year. In 2017 he won his three races and collected 13 podiums in 20 races to finish third in the championship; he completed 2018 without a win, with just eight podiums and relegated to supporting Hamilton defeat Sebastian Vettel in the championship.

He finished a despondent fifth and 161 points off the title lead.

Speaking to the My Big Break podcast, Bottas said the pummelling by Hamilton and the relegation to second driver — or, in Toto Wolff’s words, “sensational wingman” — had him fall out of love with the sport so dramatically that he spent the off-season determined to quit the sport.

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“At the end of 2018 I almost stopped — it was so close — just because of the fact I couldn’t understand and take in the fact that I couldn’t beat Lewis in those two years,” he said.

“I put so much pressure on myself. Towards the end of 18, especially when I started to have the support role in the team, I really couldn’t take it. I really struggled. It was not fun.

“The human mind is strange in a way. Sometimes you go into dark places and you lose the joy of things. I just completely lost the joy of F1 and racing in F1.

“I was almost angry at F1. It’s weird.”

It took until well into January, less than two months before pre-season testing started, for Bottas to rediscover the spark.

“I decided to go on a break in South America somewhere and just tried not to think about F1 at all and try to find the will and the joy for the sport and the motivation,” he said. “I found it — it was like a click at one point.

“I decided, ‘Okay, let’s do this. I can still do it’.

“So I managed to get myself together and then I found the joy of the driving again.”

Bottas re-emerged re-energised — the so-called ‘Bottas 2.0’ — and won two of the first four races to lead the championship early. It was arguably his best season, delivering him second in the championship and his biggest points haul.

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It was also the season of his memorably team radio quip after winning the first race in Australia: “To whom it may concern, f*** you”.

“It was basically for people who were starting to push me down. I started to use that as motivation for that race.

“I just want to tell people to always look at the big picture in life. If you feel a bit anxious about things, take a step back. There’s always so much more to get if you don’t give up.”

NORRIS ‘CONFLICTED’ OVER CALLS BOUNCING RULES

McLaren’s Lando Norris says he’s conflicted over the push from some element in the sport to change the rules to reduce the violence of the cars bouncing, which some fear will cause drivers long-term injury.

Most drivers united after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where most cars experienced a high severity of bouncing owing to the bumpy surface and low ride heights down the long front straight.

Most teams, however, are pushing back against potential regulation changes, with Christian Horner leading the charge for those least affected by the bouncing by claiming other teams are just bitter for having got the rules changes wrong.

Writing in his regular UK Telegraph column, Norris said he could see both sides of the argument.

“I must admit to being a bit conflicted on it,” he wrote. “The truth is we are not massively affected by porpoising, so we were not pushing for change. But safety has to come first.

“If there is a real danger that drivers could have long-term health consequences from the bouncing or that they could lose focus and crash, then something has to be done. I can see both sides.

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“If I had a problem in a year or two which I felt was endangering my health, I know I would want my fellow drivers to have my back.

“My main concern is that it is fair for everyone — ideally you would implement any changes post-season — but inevitably it is going to affect some more than others.

“Obviously, we have designed our car one way, with a certain philosophy in mind, and it could move things more in our direction or away from it. We shall see. There are people far brainier than me tasked with working it out!”

PEREZ SAYS CANADA CRASH TRIGGERED NECK INJURY

Sergio Perez will have to compromise his training regimen ahead of the British Grand Prix after picking up a neck injury in his crash at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Perez lost control of his car and speared front-first into the barriers at turn 4, causing a red flag partway through Q2 and leaving him 13th on the grid.

But the news got worse for Perez, who told Fox Sports Mexico that his neck muscles had suffered in the crash, and the injury will require specific rehabilitation to tackle Silverstone’s high lateral loads.

“The start of the week is always hard after such a bad day, but I‘m … recovering from my neck because I have a strong contracture after the crash, which I didn’t feel [at the time],” he said.

“It hurt a lot, but in general everything was fine.

“Right now I am preparing for the strong contracture I had in my neck.

“I’m not exercising; I am in pure neck therapy to be at Silverstone at 100 per cent.”

Perez forced to retire in Canada | 00:48

Perez’s race ended after only seven laps due to a gearbox failure, which the team says was down to the part being near the end of its duty cycle, though the Saturday crash may have contributed to the problem.

It was Red Bull Racing’s fourth technical retirement of the season, the equal worst reliability record on the grid with Alfa Romeo. Perez hoped the team would focus on improving reliability before it cost the team in the championship fight.

“It is important to solve these issues that are always different for us,” he said. “Each reliability issue has been different during the year, so we have to continue working.

“It is a point that will decide the championship — without a doubt these zeros are very expensive at this point of the championship.”