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.”
“This victory gives us, I think, a lot of energy for the future,” Dovizioso said.
“To win is always important but to win like this — we struggled a lot during some races, and to win like this, when we didn’t have a better speed [than Marquez] but we worked well for the race, and we took the victory in this way, I think it’s very positive for the me and for Ducati.
“It will give us energy for the continuation of the season and for development. Energy makes a lot of difference and the more energy there is, the better.
“[The title race] is open because it’s open, and there’s a lot of races … [Marc] was so competitive, more than last year. So I expect him strong in every track, so I think it’s very difficult.”
The title is all but out of reach for Yamaha, but their decent pace at the Red Bull Ring — a power-hungry layout that should have been their Achilles heel — revealed to Rossi that “something moved” within the team over the summer break.
Vinales broke through for a surprise victory at Assen, but results have otherwise been hard to come by for Yamaha. Both riders tested the 2020-spec bike at Brno, and while Rossi felt little change to the bike’s power output, the Italian veteran is confident the team can maximise potential in their bid to close the gap to Honda and Ducati.
“We are quite happy especially because it looks like the second half of the season start in a better way because the first one we had [was] very negative,” Rossi said after the promising Austria result.
“Looks like something moved in Yamaha, and Yamaha started to work harder and better to improve the bike.
“When we arrive here, Friday we understand that we make a step with electronic and acceleration and we can be more competitive because we always suffer in this track.
“This is the most important thing. For sure we have a lot of work to do because especially Dovizioso and Marquez are faster than us, but it’s a good way to start.”
Tailem Bend remains a relative unknown for the Supercars paddock despite the championship hosting its maiden event at the new South Australian circuit 12 months ago.
The stakes are high heading to next week’s OTR SuperSprint, with Scott McLaughlin looking to consolidate his 433-point championship lead ahead of a trip to New Zealand before the three critical Pirtek Enduro Cup events.
The Ford Mustang has been the pace setter for McLaughlin and Shell V-Power Racing all season, with the reigning champion claiming 14 race wins in 2019. However, the Ford teams struggled at The Bend last year.
While the Mustang is expected to carry on its merry way next week, the scars remain open from last year at The Bend as the Falcons went nowhere and left without silverware.
Tickford Racing driver Chaz Mostert was one to be caught out by the new track, registering finishes of ninth and 12th.
Speaking to foxsports.com.au, Mostert suggested teams can try too hard trying to chase pace at younger circuits versus the established destinations on the calendar.
“We always find in our category that a lot of the tracks are at a similar date in bitumen,” Mostert said.
“But when you go to new places like Tailem, or even Newcastle, which are brand new tracks, they can upset your direction and your path with your set-up.
“We were really weak at Tailem last year, and if we’re weak there this year, there’s obviously some characteristic that we’re not covering well.
“You hope you can go to places like Bathurst where you can pick your performance back up.”
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team dominated at the track last year, with Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup splitting the wins, while the likes of Penrite Racing — thanks to a well-engineered David Reynolds podium — and the Kelly Racing Nissans also demonstrated solid pace.
Meanwhile, the Blue Ovals went missing, and even the high-flying Shell V-Power Racing outfit struggled — McLaughlin lost his championship lead thanks to sixth and 10th placings, while Fabian Coulthard finished 14th each day.
“The team itself is confident they’ve found some things, but whether that translates into car speed at all tracks, that’s another matter,” Red Bull Holden co-driver Craig Lowndes told foxsports.com.au.
“Every track’s different, and Tailem Bend will be a good challenge, they were strong there last year but the cars have evolved.
“Hopefully the co-driving session will be dry so I can give them some input and direction on where they need to be.
“It’s only going to be a matter of time if the consistency and speed is going to keep coming.”
The Holden squad has form at Mount Panorama, with Pye and co-driver Warren Luff finishing second in 2017 and 2018.
However, with good results few and far between in 2019, Pye continues to reach out to his video production company One Nine Media to keep his mind fresh away from the track.
Established in 2017, One Nine Media’s work includes digital productions for WAU and Erebus Motorsport, and Pye has two full-timers and a number of contractors on his books.
Enjoying the “separation of racing full-time and going back to work like everyone else does between Monday and Friday”, the 29-year-old has the release needed to return to race events feeling sharp.
“Creating content, for me, is really enjoyable, working with a number of clients, either associated with race teams or race teams themselves,” he said.
“That’s the important thing with doing business, the industry is so competitive now, you need to be passionate about it and be willing to work hard at it to make it work.
“I’m enjoying it as much as my racing now, it’s a nice way to switch off from being a race car driver as well, but also helps to rock up to a race weekend feeling fresh and ready to go having not thought about driving cars.”
Pye’s maiden Supercars victory came at Albert Park last March. After finally breaking through in his sixth full-time season, Pye dedicated the win to his late father Robert, who passed away in 2009 following a battle with lung cancer.
Having a business away from the track has Pye set up for a working future post-racing, a future in which his father motivated him to pursue.
“My parents were hard workers. My dad, before he passed away, was a truck driver for a lot of his life,” he said.
“As athletes, we’re very privileged to have the time between events where we can work on something else.
“Racing cars full-time was always a dream of mine, but I know that my dad would have wanted me to be working between events as well.
“I’m not going to sit back and just race cars because I’m making a living from it. I want to work hard and have something established, so when I do finish racing, whenever that is, I can then have a business that I can step into.
“It has increased my work ethic as well. It’s making me get up early in and the morning, do my training, get into the office and work hard, and then go into a race weekend and enjoy being a race car driver.”
Motivated as ever to do the same for WAU, Pye was relaxed about the rumours, but acknowledged his team’s performance is just as critical as they look to close out 2019 with some pleasing results.
“There’s been this assumption that I would be the one to go, and James would be the one to stay. I’m not sure where all of these stories come from,” Pye said.
“I’m not someone that goes out and publicly talks about my personal life. I like to just go about my business and try and get it down without a story getting written about it every single day.
“But the silly season is good for the sport. It’s a point of difference that the fans love to get involved in and comment on.
“From my perspective, it’s not my first time coming up to contract renewal. But we’re all under performance review, no matter what. You’ve got to get the most out of the car and everything else takes care of itself.
“One of the real attractions of joining the team was having a teammate that’s well established in the championship with James and going up against him. I feel in the last couple of years, I’ve improved as a driver and it’s put me in a good position.”