Mercedes kept everyone guessing yesterday whether Lewis Hamilton will have an engine upgrade for the French Grand Prix but the Formula One world champion said he was not sweating either way.
The Briton and team mate Valtteri Bottas are due to have fresh engines for Sunday’s eighth round of the championship, with the rules limiting drivers to three power units for the 21-race season. The upgrade was supposed to have been introduced in Canada two weekends ago but was postponed late in the day due to a ‘quality issue’.
A Mercedes spokesman said the plan was to have it at Le Castellet but final confirmation would not come until Friday practice. “The championship is all about tiny margins,” Hamilton told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t know what the team have planned for me. The fresher engine this weekend will be great as it will have more power than the one I used at the last race. I trust the team, and if we have to use the older-specification engine, I am not worried.”
The older-specification engine would still be a fresh one but its use would preclude the introduction of an upgrade for another seven races, unless a penalty was taken. Hamilton is a point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, both of them four-time world champions, ahead of Sunday’s race which is the first French Grand Prix in a decade and first at Le Castellet since 1990.
The track shares some characteristics with Barcelona, where Mercedes were dominant earlier in the year, but practice will be more important than usual given the lack of past data.
Vettel said he did not think the engine upgrade, if it happened, would necessarily make a big difference to the outcome. “I believe they’re very strong no matter what...some races suit you a bit better for some reasons and others don’t,” he told reporters.
“Even if they stay with that engine, with that advantage they’ve had in that race (Barcelona) we can all put a lot of horsepower and a lot of downforce and our car still would lack pace compared to them.
“Is it all in the car? All in the engine? I don’t think so,” added the German, the only driver to have won three races this year.
“They had obviously a great weekend (in Barcelona) and everybody else was a little bit behind. Other weekends it’s been the other way around, so we’ll see how it’ll be this week and then the weeks after.”
Ricciardo expects Red Bull to ramp up contract talks
Daniel Ricciardo expects Red Bull to ramp up discussions about a new contract now that they have sorted their engine supplier, amid talk of interest in the Australian from Formula One rivals McLaren and others. The 28-year-old Ricciardo, winner of two of the last seven races including the showcase Monaco Grand Prix, is a free agent at the end of 2018 and mulling his options. Red Bull, who have 20-year-old Dutch driver Max Verstappen on a long-term deal, this week announced they were switching from Renault to Honda from 2019 and are now turning their attentions to completing the driver line-up. “I haven’t been pushed yet but I would say there will be a bit of movement probably in the next week,” Ricciardo told reporters at the French Grand Prix. “Ideally for them, they’d want something sooner rather than later. Probably in the next two weeks would be ideal for them,” he added. “For me personally, I think it would be nice to go on the summer (August) break knowing what I’m doing, so then I can actually enjoy (it).
“If I’m on the phone for two weeks of the August break, trying to still figure out my future, it probably won’t be that good.”
Asked about German media reports, quoting Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, that Renault-powered McLaren had made a $20 million approach, Ricciardo joked it was not enough.
He did not rule anything out, however.
“Everyone’s talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go but I’m aware there’s obviously going to be interest from other teams and I guess McLaren is probably one of them,” he added. “It probably depends as well on what Fernando (Alonso) does, if he stays or if he goes. If he does go, then I guess they will probably want a more experienced driver to come in. I guess we’ll see.”
Asked whether he was talking with Ferrari and champions Mercedes, Ricciardo said he was not personally but acknowledged his management might be. “I don’t know. People talk, people have coffees and stuff. And Red Bulls,” he said.
The Australian said his priority remained to be in a car with championship potential, and he would not make a change just for the sake of it, but recognised there was an attraction in joining a team on the rise. “Obviously McLaren and Renault aren’t there today but maybe they will be there in a year or three years’ time. You never really know,” he said.
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