Ferrari have admitted it is now not clear whether they or improving Red Bull are Mercedes’ closest challengers, heading into this week’s German Grand Prix.
Ferrari started the season appearing to be the team most likely to take the fight to all-conquering Mercedes, but while their campaign has yet to truly ignite, Red Bull have been making steady improvements and impressed in Austria, which they won, and Silverstone last time out.
“They have certainly improved in the last two races,” said Mattia Binotto, Ferrari’s team principal.
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“They won in Austria and they have been very competitive [at Silverstone] in the race. I think our packages are very close and the last two races have shown it.
“Are they the second? Are we the second? We are very close.
“This is giving us even more of a boost because we need to further improve and be capable of fighting for the first position every single race [no matter] where is the circuit.”
Second-placed Ferrari head to Hockenheim holding what stands as a comfortable 52-point advantage over Red Bull in the Constructors’ standings, but their rivals have outscored them in four of the last six events.
Red Bull took particular heart from their performance at the British GP, where they qualified within 0.3s of pole for the first time this season and then showed competitive race pace.
Max Verstappen would have finished on the podium had Sebastian Vettel not crashed into the back of him.
Vettel rear-ends Verstappen
“Really encouraging,” said Red Bull chief Christian Horner of their Silverstone form.
“To be this close to Mercedes around this type of track, which we know is power-sensitive, and to be able to follow the Ferraris closely through Maggots and Becketts.
“Max was able to take some serious momentum behind the Ferraris there and that’s usually the sign of a pretty decent car.”
Horner added: “The last few races we’ve started to get some performance on the car and it’s been working well. We have got confidence going to Hockenheim.”
The father of Valentino Rossi has defended his son as the Yamaha veteran toils through a dismal 2019 campaign.
Rossi, who turned 40 in February, has managed two podiums so far this season, but his 2019 charge was brought to a screaming halt following consecutive accidents at Mugello, Barcelona and Assen.
While just five points behind factory teammate Maverick Vinales in the standings, Rossi’s dreams of a tenth world title have already been quashed as Marc Marquez sprints towards a sixth premier class crown.
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“He’s in great physical shape… maybe you’re worried, yes, because there’s certainly been problems in recent times.
“But he’s not unmotivated. He never is. Usually when he’s a little depressed for some reason he’s not slow, but exactly the opposite.”
Yamaha team boss Lin Jarvis admitted the popular Italian is “no longer the future” for the team.
However, Jarvis didn’t rule out Rossi extending his current contract, which runs through to the end of 2020.
“Up until 2010, Valentino had brought us four titles – ‘04, ‘05, ‘08 and ‘09 – so when he left us [to move to Ducati], it had a big impact. It would be like Marquez leaving Honda right now,” Jarvis told Motorsport.com.
“Now he is at a different stage of his life, a different stage of his career, and with all due respect he is no longer the future of our participation in MotoGP.
“He could still be here for another year, two years or three years – we will have to see how long he stays competitive. But it is a different relationship now, a different sort of dependence on him.
“That’s not to say he is not important – he is important. His role and function will be different but I hope he stays as a brand ambassador and partner as he gets older.”
Rossi finished 2018 in third, yet did so without winning a race. His last win came in the Dutch TT in June 2017, some 36 races ago. He has copped worse, suffering through a 44-race winless streak between 2010 and 2013. However, being outperformed by two youngsters will make today’s struggles hurt more.
Not only has Rossi been shadowed by Vinales, but also by satellite Petronas Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo.
After finishing the last-start German Grand Prix in eighth from 11th on the grid, Rossi refused to take his age into account when quizzed on his slump.
In a bid to maintain parity between the Mustang, Holden ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima, Supercars moved to lower centre of gravity in the cars by moving around ballast, which is used to reach the car’s required 1395kg minimum weight.
This was initially achieved following a study carried out in April after the Mustang had romped to six wins at Adelaide and Albert Park to open the season.
Supercars chose to move 6.8kg of the Commodore’s ballast to the roof of the car, while 28kg was moved on the Mustang.
Ahead of this weekend’s action in Ipswich, the 6.8kg in the Commodore has been moved to the floor, while ballast on the Altima’s engine has been moved to the sump.
Meanwhile, nine of the 28kg of lead ballast in the Mustang has been moved to the car floor, while composite header rails at the front and rear screens will be replaced by heavier steel components.
Edwards believes the changes are a major positive and a “better solution” for teams.
Mostert coy on contract
“There has been a lot of controversy this year, but in actual fact were are quite happy with the changes made,” Edwards said in a team video.
“What we’re doing is we’re actually changing some of the lead that’s in the roll cage at the top, and the header rails at the front and rear of the screens, they’re actually composite at the moment, and we’re changing them back to the steel OE panels.
“It’s a much better solution that having lead wrapped around the roll cage.
“It’s actually a really good thing for the sport. Instead of having 20 cars on the grid with ballast in the roof, we’ll only have the six Mustangs with ballast in the roof.
“That’s a positive for the sport and as a team we’re quite happy about the change.”
The team has been the benchmark with reigning champion McLaughlin and teammate Fabian Coulthard having won 15 of the season’s 18 races between them.
The Queensland-based squad is also 877 points ahead of arch rivals the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, which boasts Holden’s only two wins this year through Shane van Gisbergen.
The Holden outfit – buoyed by the brand’s new factory deal – also tested in Ipswich, a day which seven-time champion Jamie Whincup described as “vital” as he tries to cut his whopping 640-point deficit to McLaughlin.
“There’s a few things, four or five things have really confused us over the last four or five months,” Whincup said.
“We didn’t have as much clarity as we would have liked, but we got a lot more clarity with a few things today.
“With the limited test days the category has got, every one is vital.
“We’ve been hanging for this day for a long time to really validate some things we’ve been trying at race meetings and have a lot better understanding for a lot of set-up things in the car.”