Lewis Hamilton has warned rivals that he plans to be better than ever as he chases a record-equalling seventh Formula One championship this season.
The 35-year-old Mercedes driver posted a picture on Instagram of himself at home, hugging a wooden pillar and smiling.
“I am at peace when I’m here, can focus and build my mind and body so that I can come back year on year. I’m going to be a machine this year, on another level than ever before,” he declared on Thursday.
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Red Bull have also signed a deal with Max Verstappen until the end of 2023. With stable rules and similar tyres to last year, hopes are high of an epic battle between Hamilton at the peak of his powers and the young guns vying to topple him.
“We’ve got continuity across all aspects of next year with drivers, with regulations, with engine supply, engine regulation,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told motorsport.com.
“So unless somebody pulls a rabbit out of a hat, then I think we’re set for a really exciting year next year between, Mercedes, Ferrari, ourselves. It could be a real classic season.”
In December, Holden confirmed it would retire the iconic Commodore nameplate, which Fox Sports expert commentator Skaife – a five-time series champion and six-time Bathurst 1000 winner – took to 80 race wins.
One of the brand’s most loyal servants and most recognisable ambassadors, Skaife reminisced on Holden’s special place in Australian history.
“When I think of Holden, I have fond memories, so it was a very, very sad day,” Skaife told foxsports.com.au.
“The major thing which comes to mind immediately is how ingrained Holden has been in the Australian psyche.
“It’s been a big part of our DNA, it’s a heartland brand. It’s a brand I never envisaged not being around.
“Through the course of history, it’s symbolised and embodied so many of the things we love not only about the car industry, but the way Australians go about building, designing, proving through car racing, whatever it might be, what has evolved into a tremendous association with Holden and the way Australians have loved their cars.
“Think about the Commodore. For 15 years, it was the number one nameplate in Australia, sold almost 100,000 cars a year.”
“To me, this is an example of a brand which has immersed itself in this country,” he continued.
“Whether you’re a city person or a country person, wealthy or not, whatever it looks like for you, Holden have been part of your journey somewhere.
“Your grandfather built one, or your dad had one, or your mum had one, or your sister had one as her first car. There’s a Holden story in nearly every family across this nation.
“When you think about what Holden meant to us, not just through its power but through how many people were employed, the hundreds of thousands of people who have been part of the Holden story … think about all the young tradespeople and apprentices who have applied their trade through Holden.
For Skaife, though, Holden’s legacy was amplified by its rivalry with Ford, which overflowed from the racetrack to the showroom.
Holden’s 559 race victories in Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars history are a standout record, with Skaife contributing with 80 of his own.
Skaife’s final races were in Commodores – full-time aboard a Holden Racing Team VE at Oran Park in 2008, and a Triple Eight (TeamVodafone) VE at Bathurst – and few had more pulling power for the brand’s representation in the Australian motor racing.
It was indeed Skaife would helped return Holden to the very top in the sport once he claimed the 1994 ATCC crown, which was Holden’s first in 14 years following Peter Brock’s 1980 triumph in a VB Commodore.
Commodores won six of the next eight drivers’ titles, of which Skaife won three, while Holden enjoyed a seven-year stranglehold over Mount Panorama from 1999 to 2005 – Skaife winning three times, in 2001, 2002 and 2005.
“Through the course of history, the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ regimen worked. We raced those cars and had great success,” he said.
“What it meant to race fans is another story completely. Holden, through Peter Brock and Toranas and Commodores, it’s been a very powerful story.
“Brock won the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1980, and Holden didn’t win another championship until I was lucky enough to in 1994.
“I remember the reaction, 14 years on from 1980, there was this incredible interest and loyalty from Holden racing fans who hadn’t been winning for so long.
“The Holden Racing Team at its best was a dominant force, and for me, that will be one of the great memories regarding Holden’s motorsport participation in this country.”
At the official pre-season test on Tuesday, Triple Eight boss Roland Dane admitted he was “surprised” about the timing of the announcement, but admitted fans may be gravitating away from pure brand support.
Regardless, Holden’s rivalry with Ford brought out the best in the Blue Oval as it was one of many to pay tribute to a fallen monolith – and Skaife, who kept Ford at bay for so many years in his HRT heyday, acknowledged the importance of the rivalry for Supercars fans and Aussie sport fans in general.
“It’s like if you’re an AFL team, it’s no use kicking the ball to yourself,” Skaife said.
“You’ve got to have competition. You’ve got to have rivalry. When it comes to Australia cultural enthusiasts in this country, nothing gets better than Ford versus Holden.
“Ford versus Holden, Labor versus Liberal, Collingwood versus Carlton, NSW versus Queensland. That’s what our ethos has been.
“It’s a true tribute from people from Ford to be reminiscing and be saddened by today’s news because it means a lot to a lot of people, and the rivalry has been the benchmark in motorsport in this part of the world.”
Denny Hamlin won his second straight Daytona 500 and third overall, beating Ryan Blaney in an overtime photo finish marred by a terrifying crash that sent Ryan Newman to hospital.
Newman had surged into the lead on the final lap when Blaney’s bumper caught the back of his Ford and sent Newman hard right into the wall.
His car flipped, rolled, was hit on the driver’s side by another car, and finally skidded across the finish line engulfed in flames.
It took several minutes for his car to be rolled back onto its wheels. He was placed in a waiting ambulance and taken directly to a hospital. Drivers were stricken with concern, including a rattled Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman’s car as it was flipping.
Here is the final lap of the Daytona 500 in which Ryan Newman’s car was flipped at the line.
The new deal was only signed midway through last year, but December’s announcement to retire the Commodore nameplate was just an early sign the wheels were in motion at GM.
Asked at the BP Ultimate SuperTest at The Bend Motorsport Park on Tuesday whether the Commodore could continue in Supercars after Holden’s retirement, Dane replied: “Conceivably, because the homologation as it were from Supercars will be valid for several more years.
“If you remember with the Falcon, even when they stopped the production of the car [in 2016] and its availability to the public, it carried on racing for several years.
“The ongoing situation at the moment, I’m meeting with GM this week and we’ll discuss what happens. Until then, there’s nothing more to be said, really.”
Dane’s team has run under the ‘Holden Racing Team’ banner since 2017 and is Holden’s homologation outfit in Supercars, having played a recent role in assisting with an aerodynamic rethink of the 2020 ZB Commodore versus the Ford Mustang, which was introduced in Supercars last season.
“The timing of this was definitely a surprise,” he said.
“Obviously, as someone who’s very aware of the motoring industry on a larger platform on a world basis, the lack of right-hand drives [in Australia] going ahead was a concern. Some new models were in the pipeline, which gave us reassurance.
“It is what it is. We’re a very small market in Australia, competing for attention against much bigger markets. The decisions that affect the car industry on a wider basis are not made in Australia, they’re made in Japan or Detroit or Germany.”
Having competed in Supercars since 2002 when he took over Briggs Motor Sport, Dane – who has overseen eight drivers’ titles, nine teams’ titles and seven Bathurst 1000 wins – understood the primary product in Supercars remains the quality of competition, even if brand support has waned in recent years.
Dane said his drivers, former series champions Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen, are “aware” of the situation and remained confident his race team – like the rivals up and down pit lane – will “do our work properly” ahead of the new season.
Regardless, Dane – who will meet with GM this week – suggested that the sport and its fans must adapt, much like the car industry has and continues to.
“If we, collectively as a category, do our homework properly, we can still provide the excitement and the show that people have come to expect over many years,” he said.
“Unfortunately, one of the issues is that an awful lot of people who have been barracking for the Holden brand over the last ten years or so haven’t actually been buying the product for whatever reason.
“It’s a fact of life that a lot of people have been turning up to watch the races and not the brand. It’s something we’re very aware of.
“Times change, and we’ve got to change with them.”