MELBOURNE, Australia (Parlay Game) – The sudden death of race director Charlie Whiting has left a dark tone for the first weekend of the Formula One season, with attention being focused on the usual rivalries such as Lewis Hamilton against Sebastian Vettel. tributes to come for the respected veteran of F1.
One day before the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix, drivers, officials and F1 fans were shocked to learn that a man described as a "faithful friend and charismatic ambassador" of the sport had died pulmonary embolism. Melbourne at the age of 66.
World champion Lewis Hamilton, five-time world champion, said the Whiting, always a diplomat, was an icon of the sport. Quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel said the Englishman was the perfect intermediary between F1 drivers and regulators.
Daniel Ricciardo said the pilots sometimes put Whiting's patience to the test, "but you always had the impression that he was on our side."
"He did a lot for the sport," Ricciardo said. "I'm sure we will all be running with a lot of passion this weekend. This is a reminder, we are all very lucky to be in this position. "
The drivers spoke at a press conference that was to officially mark the start of the first weekend of the F1 season, but began by officially recognizing the influence of Whiting, born in England, about the sport he joined in 1977 as a mechanic. rows.
Finally, the attention returned to the race.
MAJOR QUESTIONS FOR THE SEASON
Sebastian Vettel, who finished second in the drivers' championship in the last two years, and his new Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc, will they face Hamilton in his Mercedes?
How competitive is Ricciardo since the move to Renault after five seasons at Red Bull, where Max Verstappen is now associated with Pierre Gasly?
Vettel won the GP races of Australia and Bahrain at the opening of 2018 and finished with five wins in a season that ended with a complete Hamilton dominance with seven wins in the Last 10 races to finish the year with 11 wins out of 21 starts. It was his fourth title in five years on Mercedes and his fifth overall.
His team-mate Valtteri Bottas won second overall with seven wins in second place last year, but Hamilton said his team would not play the favorite game in Melbourne or elsewhere.
"We have a good match. It has worked well for years, so no reason to change it, "he said. "We are free to run like every year – this has been said from the beginning … that's how I like it."
The Mercedes team is aiming to tie the Ferrari record (1999-2004) with a sixth consecutive constructor title, and to mark the step by step by producing a sixth consecutive champion of the drivers.
Ferrari has pioneered the past two seasons, with Vettel winning in Australia in 2017 and 2018.
He thinks the car is even better prepared this time around.
"Yeah, frankly, because the winter tests last year did not go well for us," he said. "We had some problems with the car to repair. We had a bit of luck with the race last year … and we won. "
NEW FOR OLD REPLACEMENT
Vettel has a new teammate this year after the transfer of the 2007 world champion to Alfa Romeo Racing, the new name of the Sauber team for which he made his Formula debut in 2001.
Raikkonen was third in the drivers' championship last year with 12 podiums for Ferrari, including the win in the United States – his first win in five years. The 39-year-old Finn did not totally rule out another podium.
"There is always some uncertainty as you head into the first race of the season, and you can even talk about mystery," he said. "Everything is possible, the team has undergone massive development and I am confident that we can get off to a good start in Melbourne."
Williams hopes that an inspired return from Robert Kubica will reverse the situation after failing on the podium in 2018 and finishing last in the constructors' championship.
Kubica, 34, has not raced in F1 since 2010 after a crash that almost cut his right arm. Williams modified his car to take over his mostly left-handed management.
Regulatory changes for 2019 will result in wider front and rear fenders in aerodynamic assemblies designed to allow cars to track and overtake earlier.
Ross Brawn, general manager of F1 for Motorsport, said the changes should allow drivers to get closer, which should improve the quality of the race.
The drivers have three practice sessions to get acquainted with their cars before qualifying for Saturday's Sunday race.