WEEKLY FORMULA 1 NEWS (11 FEBRUARY 2020)

Our latest Formula 1 2020 news updates as part of our rolling coverage.

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LECLERC POUNDS JEREZ

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was in Spain last weekend, testing Pirelli’s 2021 18-inch tyres on Saturday at Jerez, completing 130 laps using a modified 2019 SF90 mule car for representative data.

Pirelli’s test was the first of 10 it’s scheduled for 2020, extending through to mid-October - and held across a range of venues - including Fiorano, Bahrain, Barcelona, Paul Ricard and even Suzuka.

CHINESE GP CONCERNS

All eyes remain on China, with the Asian superpower working to contain an outbreak of coronavirus - that has claimed more than 1000 lives since late December 2019, forcing the World Health Organisation to declare it a global health emergency.

Sports authorities in China have also acted quickly with those in Shanghai recommending all events be suspended until further notice - casting doubt on this year’s Chinese Grand Prix.

But, F1 is yet to take action on it - instead waiting to hear from the event’s promoter on the viability of the April 19 calendar slot.

Should it not go ahead, the sport will try to reschedule the race - with F1’s managing director of motorsports Ross Brawn stating it will attempt to find another free weekend, rather than swap with an existing event.

"We will leave open the opportunity to see if the race can run later in the year,” he said. “China is an enthusiastic, growing market. So we'd like to have a race in China."

HAAS UNVEILS 2020 LIVERY

American squad Haas got the jump on its rivals late last week, revealing its new livery online, even ahead of Mercedes - the scheme marking a return to its 2018 look.

Haas, which will officially launch its new challenger in the Barcelona pit-lane on February 19, heads into the new F1 season needing to cast the shackles off from a dire 2019 campaign, its results compromised by a car that suffered an aero stalling issue around its rear lower flanks, forcing the rear tyres to slide and overheat.

And Haas team principal Guenther Steiner is confident 2020 can mark a return to form for the minnow squad.

GUENTHER STEINER, TEAM PRINCIPAL, HAAS:

Early today we launched the VF-20 livery. We are back to the old days, which are not this old. We are back to the light grey, and we cannot wait to be out testing in Barcelona in a few days. And we hope the back change of colour takes us back to the results of that colour. And really look forward to seeing what the car can do in Barcelona. And then what we can do in Australia. And hopefully we score a lot of points.

RED BULL EYING FAST START

Red Bull Racing has again sought to be in the best shape come Australia, with the energy drinks brand launching its new challenger, the RB16, on February 12 - a week before testing, to iron-out initial issues.

Red Bull is hell-bent on a title chase this year, the brand ready to unleash its top gun Max Verstappen - and expects immediate competitiveness on the back of stable regulations, and its ongoing Honda partnership.

With the squad’s early launch another factor that it hopes will help it to further lift performance and take on the might of Mercedes.

“We built momentum in the second half of last year,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “And I think we are in a very good place to really take the fight to them this season.”

Verstappen, who has since re-signed with Red Bull until the end of 2023, also underlined the importance of blasting out of the box.

MAX VERSTAPPEN, RED BULL RACING:

We know that we have to be competitive from the start, to be able to fight for the world title. So we are of course putting all of our efforts into that. It is not going to be easy… but we are going to go for it and we are going to try everything we can.

RACING POINT WANTS BEST OF REST

Racing Point believes it can usurp former champion rivals McLaren and Renault to secure fourth in the constructors’ standings this year, using its newly restored budget to again punch above its weight.

The Silverstone squad has been quietly rebuilding following an extended period of financial instability - one that led to administration in the second half of 2018, and the formation of Racing Point.

Now under the ownership of the Lawrence Stroll consortium, the team is again focused on leading F1’s midfield.

“That's what we've got to aim to do,” said Racing Point’s team boss Otmar Szafnauer. “It isn't going to be easy, because everybody wants to be ‘best of the rest’.”

The minnow squad has a bright future, with Racing Point to be rebranded as Aston Martin from 2021, following a $240 million US dollar investment from Stroll’s consortium in the British supercar manufacturer.

WILLIAMS PROMOTING YOUTH

Williams has high hopes of making progress this season, but it will do so with one of its youngest-ever driver line-ups - in promising British talent George Russell and rookie Nicholas Latifi.

The pair is supported by its newly announced reserve driver, Anglo-Korean Jack Aitken - previously with Renault.

Aitken joined the sport via the InterSteps championship in 2012, finishing third - before moving to Formula Renault 2.0, where he won the Alps and Eurocup titles in 2015. He progressed to GP3 then Formula 2, winning three races in 2019 - Baku, Silverstone and Monza.

The team’s promising roster has also been bolstered by another Brit - in development driver Dan Ticktum, who will be working the simulator while dovetailing an F2 campaign with DAMS.

And Ticktum knows 2020 will be a crucial campaign for him.

DAN TICKTUM, DEVELOPMENT DRIVER, WILLIAMS:

Honoured, privileged - all the words that everyone will always give you. But it’s a real chance for me. I’ve had a pretty up and down career as a lot of people will know. So, to be given another F1 team opportunity - I’m just looking forward to grabbing it with all the hands I’ve got to be honest.

The squad’s other development driver is Jamie Chadwick, who’ll also be defending her crown in W Series - the all-female racing category that will be on the bill at two Grands Prix in 2020, the USA and Mexico.

F1 EYING UP 2021 LOOPHOLES

F1 is seeking to protect its brave new world post-2021 - with an updated governance structure to be able to close up technical regulation loopholes in-season at short notice.

Currently all 10 teams must agree unanimously for a change to be made, meaning technical advantages are difficult to dial out. But, from 2021, F1 will seek to quickly stamp out innovations that destroy the whole principle of the regulations in fostering close racing.

“If you exploit a loophole in the future, you can be shut down at the next race, which you could never do now,” said Ross Brawn, F1’s managing director of motorsports.

Brawn also has his eyes on the team’s gigantic European motorhomes, suggesting a switch to more modest facilities to reduce the sport’s carbon footprint. F1 currently uses a fleet of 315 trucks to move the sport around Europe, with 60 more used for support series F2 and F3.

RIO PUSHING FOR BRAZIL CONTRACT

Rio de Janeiro’s push to steal the Brazilian Grand Prix from current host São Paulo continues to gain momentum, with geological tests set to be shortly completed at the Deodoro site.

São Paulo’s contract to host the Brazilian event ends this year with 2020’s edition expected to be the last at classic track Interlagos on account of its inability to compete financially and lack of wider appeal, with Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro backing the switch in mid-2019.

JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT, BRAZIL:

We will not lose Formula 1. The contract with São Paulo is due next year and they decided to return Formula 1 to Rio de Janeiro. Obviously, it would be this or leaving Brazil. So, in a common agreement with local authorities, and with Mr Carey, there's a 99 per cent chance, or more, of having Formula 1, from 2021, in Rio de Janeiro.

Tilke Engineers and Architects released a Rio Motorpark track animation last year, with the circuit’s construction set to cost $175 million US dollars in virgin-forest once owned by the army, according to Rio Motorsports CEO JR Pereira, who spoke exclusively to The Inside Line.

R PEREIRA, CEO, RIO MOTORSPORTS:

There’s a lot of, let’s say, vegetation in the area. We have to follow very strict rules in order to maintain and keep the environment safe in the area. So it will be very beautiful. So I think it will be a mix with Spa, and something like that.

SAUDI MAKING PROGESS

F1 is moving forward with plans to race in the Saudi Arabian desert city of Qiddiya as early as 2023 with last month’s event launch drawing praise from the attending F1 delegation… including Haas’ Romain Grosjean who described the project as “huge and super beautiful”.

Qiddiya, located 45 kilometres from Saudi capital Riyadh, is set to become the nation’s entertainment, sports and arts epicentre with the 334 square kilometre five-zone giga-project costing $8 billion US dollars.

An F1 race is part of Qiddiya’s ambitious plan to attract 17 million visitors annually, despite the average summer daytime temperature skyrocketing to 45 degrees Celsius.

Saudi’s circuit has been designed by ex-Grand prix racer Alexander Wurz, who has consulted current drivers for opinions.

“The track Alex has designed is great. He knows what we like, and what we don’t like,” said Grosjean.