JAMIE Whincup has declared his bid to win a record-extending eighth Supercar’s championship is alive with the V8 immortal claiming he can still chase down DJR Team Penske man-of-the-moment Scott McLaughlin.
As he prepares to strap down for his 450th championship race — the milestone to be racked up at the Darwin Triple Crown this weekend — Whincup warned his rivals against writing him off in a defiant response to a recent run of V8 outs.
The Red Bull Holden Racing star slumped to his second worst race finish of the year last round in Winton and is sitting 5th on the championship ladder, 364 points behind leader McLaughlin.
“I don’t think you should write me off,’’ Whincup said.
“It’s a third of the way through the year. There is still a lot of water to run under the bridge. “We have led the championship this year. We are a fair way behind right now, because of a great run from car No.17 (McLaughlin) but if anyone can get on a good run and score some points (it is us).
“There is a long way to go and we will put our head down and do the best that we can.’’
Whincup, 35, is adamant he is no fading force — and few will argue after the Holden hero stormed his way home last year to steal the championship from McLaughlin in a last ditch grab at the season ending Newcastle 500.
“Thirty five and over the hill?’’ Whincup said. “No. I have still got plenty left in me, in life and in general. I am certainly enjoying it as much as I ever have and I am as competitive as I have ever been.’’
But Whincup did suggest the finish line was in sight with the 110 times race winner claiming he was not planning on racing beyond 40.
“When it comes to motorsport I certainly don’t want to go past my used by date,’’ Whincup said.
“My days are numbered but I still feel like I am at my peak. I want to make sure I go out at my peak also. I will keep my head down. I am not sure how many years I have got left but I will not be a Craig Lowndes and go until I am 40. I will keep my head down but as I said I will not go past my used-by date.’’
Whincup will rack up another milestone this weekend when he grids up for his 450th race start. “I am sure all those number will mean something to me but right now it is just a number and I am trying to add to those stats,’’ Whincup said.
“I am still in the heat of the battle.’’
Whincup will be out to strike back after he finished 17th and eighth in Winton to fall further behind Ford flyer McLaughlin.
“Everyone involved in Darwin does a fantastic job,’’ Whincup said.
“The facility is picture perfect and it is one of the enjoyable events that we do on the calendar.
Trying to keep the tyres alive in the heat will be a challenge but it is certainly enjoyable.’’
The Darwin Triple Crown begins with practice on Friday.
For the third consecutive day, we’ve seen a surprise at the top of the time sheets as Daniil Kvyat flew to the top in his Toro Rosso with only the second sub-1 min 18 lap of the week so far – the first was also done today by Kimi Raikkonen. Day one saw Carlos Sainz’s McLaren in second, while day two had his teammate Lando Norris in that position.
However, all three of these surprisingly rapid laps have all come late in the day, with the theory being that they are looking so much faster because they are carrying less fuel than the other cars who have been out on longer runs.
While that has been the case for most of the week, with Kvyat and Raikkonen it is also because they are the first two drivers to use the softest C5 tyres available, thus managing the quickest two laps of the week. Similarly, with Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault in third, with the Aussie on the C4 tyres along with Nico Hulkenberg and Haas’ test driver Pietro Fittipaldi. McLaren’s two flying laps earlier in the week were also on the C4s.
All the other drivers have been mainly on the C3 tyres, although both Renaults and Mercedes cars ran the harder C2 compound on day one.
Miles over matter for Merc
As mentioned above, Mercedes are not here to test their one-lap speed just yet, opting to go on the slower, harder tyres and churn through more kilometres than their rivals as they get to grips with the W10.
However, while they have been second, second and first for the number of laps done on each of the three days, Ferrari were the only team to complete more over the first two and yet still managed to post the quickest laps.
While there will be no concern in the Mercedes garage over any car other than what is happening with their own, Lewis Hamilton did allow that Ferrari’s speed mean that he would be looking at one of his “most challenging years”.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve had six years with the team, it’s exciting, but this is going to be the most challenging year of our partnership,” he said. “Every year Ferrari always look strong, particularly the last few years they have looked very strong right at the beginning, so it’s to be expected.”
‘Embarrassed’ Williams put delay dramas behind them
Finally, finally, we have seen all 10 cars on track, although we are still waiting to see 20th driver after only George Russell managed to get in the seat on say three. He only managed 23 laps in total and was eight seconds off Kvyat’s quickest time.
The slow start to testing times is understandable but what Williams have not revealed is the reason why they are so late to arrive with their car in Barcelona and the future of technical officer Paddy Lowe, who could be ushered out of the team over the debacle.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said: “It’s not a situation that we anticipated, or that we ever wanted to find ourselves in. We’re not just disappointed. It’s embarrassing not bringing a race car to a circuit when everyone else has managed to do that, particularly a team like ours that has managed to bring a race car to testing for the past 40-odd years.
“I’ve read a lot of speculation about his (Lowe’s) position. Right now all I am focused on – and the team should be focused on – is making sure the car is in the right place.”
Lowe’s media briefing was cancelled and rearranged to next week when the car would have undergone more sufficient testing.
Red Bull flying under the radar
Red Bull gives you wings and so far during testing those wings are flying the team under the radar as they get to grips with their Honda engine for the first time. Max Verstappen completed more than 100 laps on day three and clocked the fifth-fastest time.
He lost time in the morning due to “small things” but overall is very happy with the way the team is working and has promised there is still more to come once they can run the Honda at a higher power mode.
“I’m just very happy with the way we’re working together,” said Verstappen. “It’s all very focused, and calm. Everybody knows their job. So that’s good.
“Talking about laptimes is always difficult. For us what is important is to try to do a lot of laps and to do different setups on the car, to see which direction we have to go.
“What is most important is everything is reliable and the car is working well. We didn’t have a lot of issues and if you do more than 100 laps on a day it’s always positive.”
Time to fear the Ferrari
Despite not topping the times for the third consecutive day, Ferrari continued to impress with their pace and reliability after Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were the quickest over the first two days.
Hamilton has already conceded they will be a “big challenge” for Mercedes this year and after Vettel put the best time not on the softest C4 or C5 tyres it appears the changes made during the off-season are starting to take effect.
They finished their programme for the day with more than half an hour remaining, showing they were happy with what they saw from the German for the day, while Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost has already suggested that Ferrari could be as much as half a second clear of everyone else right now.
Traditionally, Ferrari start the season very well – last year Vettel won first two races – so while there is cause for caution, they will be especially pleased with their reliability so far during these tests.
Daniel Ricciardo appears to have taken a veiled swipe at former teammate Max Verstappen after praising the advantages of having an older teammate who is of “less risk of losing their mind”.
The Aussie left Red Bull at the end of last season in a shock move to Renault and revealed he made the decision because of how the aftermath of his Azerbaijan clash with Verstappen was handled by the team.
He also memorably called Verstappen’s driving “amateur” after he bumped him off the track on the first lap of the Hungarian GP.
The two drivers got on well away from the track but clashed a few times off time during their final year together, notably when Ricciardo pipped the Dutchman to pole position in Mexico only for Verstappen’s father to reveal his 21-year-old son’s fury at his teammate over the way he celebrated the achievement.
However, for the first time since joining Red Bull to race alongside Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo will again have a teammate who is his senior, with 31-year-old Nico Hulkenberg now alongside the 29-year-old in the Renault garage.
And Ricciardo praised the influence of the German, and how having someone with more experience in the paddock means they are less likely to get hot-headed in hostile situations.
“I’m honestly just happy to be the younger driver in the team again,” Ricciardo said. “I think (Hulkenberg) having done this so many years, I think that helps. There’s less risk of someone losing their mind.”
Lewis Hamilton is expecting Mercedes’ “most challenging year” as they bid to retain their Formula 1 supremacy in 2019.
Rivals Ferrari have grabbed the early headlines at winter testing at Barcelona, topping the timesheets on the opening two days, while Mercedes have focused on heavy-fuel long runs as they continue to understand their new W10.
Hamilton, speaking in his first press conference of the new season, predicted he and Mercedes were likely to face greater competition than ever.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve had six years with the team, it’s exciting, but this is going to be the most challenging year of our partnership,” said Hamilton, winner of four of the last five world titles.
“So it’s super exciting. I still love racing so nothing really changes there.”
While headline lap times at pre-season testing can often be wholly misleading, particularly in the first week, Ferrari have impressed early on with their new car’s pace and reliability.
Asked what he made of rival Sebastian Vettel’s comments that it was his best start to pre-season, Hamilton replied: “That’s good for him, they’ve been looking great. We’re just digging deep and trying to understand the car, pretty much the same as every year.
“Every year Ferrari always look strong, particularly the last few years they have looked very strong right at the beginning, so it’s to be expected.”
Despite Mercedes’ five consecutive championship doubles in the current engine era, Ferrari have topped almost twice as many winter timesheets (19 to 10) since the start of 2014.
Hamilton said his early experiences of Mercedes’ new car were positive but there were lots of areas to still assess.
“The car felt similar to last year in a sense it wasn’t a massive difference,” he added. “We do have a little bit less downforce than last year, which is to be expected, but there are some new characteristics on the car which over time we’ll find out if it’s better or not. Currently I don’t know.”