The new 2020 Mercedes F1 car being taken for its shakedown test. Picture: SUPPLIED
The new 2020 Mercedes F1 car being taken for its shakedown test. Picture: SUPPLIED

Lewis Hamilton did his first laps last Friday in the Mercedes that could take him to a record-equalling seventh Formula One title this season, but team bosses warned of a tough battle right from the start.

The Briton and Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas put in the first laps in a 100km private filming day at Silverstone circuit before official testing starts in Spain next week.

Technical director James Allison said the team had been bold in boosting aerodynamic performance in several key areas and improved the cooling package that caused problems in hot temperatures last season.

Allison warned, however, that they had to hit the ground running.

"We had a very golden start to last year where we managed to secure a lead in the championship that made it difficult for our opposition to make any inroads in the second half of the year," said Allison.

"But in that second half, both Ferrari and Red Bull certainly closed us down in terms of competitiveness.

"We're expecting 2020 to pick up right where 2019 left off with a three-way fight from the outset. There will be no room for making mistakes."

Mercedes won the first eight races last year, a devastating blow for Ferrari who had looked the faster team in testing with better straight line speed.

The regulations are largely unchanged, with a huge shake-up planned for 2021, which has given others hope of ending Mercedes' run of six successive drivers' and constructors' titles.

Team boss Toto Wolff said the demands of preparing for next year while developing the 2020 car would be particularly challenging.

"There will be teams that will put a lot of focus on 2020 and there will be teams that will start to shift their resources into 2021. Getting that balance right will be very important, but that's not an easy thing to do," he said.

There is also less pre-season testing, with only six days of track time before the March 15 opener in Australia, putting a premium on getting the fundamentals right.

"If we do a good job with our designs and if we've done a good job in our bench testing and preparation of the car, then we should be able to get through our programmes in those six days in an organised fashion," said Allison.

"But if we find ourselves battling an unexpected reliability issue then it will very quickly hollow out our programme and leave us quite short of experience by the time we get to Melbourne.

"This has given us increased impetus to ensure that we've had a good off season in the factory so that when we hit the track everything works, leaving us to focus on making it fast."

Allison said upgrades for Melbourne would come at the second test in Barcelona but there would be no significant aerodynamic changes, unlike 2019.

Toyota wins Rally Sweden

Elfyn Evans and co-driver Martin Scott of Britain celebrate winning last weekend’s Swedish Rally. Picture: REUTERS
Elfyn Evans and co-driver Martin Scott of Britain celebrate winning last weekend’s Swedish Rally. Picture: REUTERS

Elfyn Evans opened his account with Toyota by taking a dominant win in Rally Sweden on Sunday to lead the world championship for the first time.

The Welshman, who led from the opening stage of a winter event shortened due to a lack of snow and unusually mild conditions, beat reigning world champion Ott Tanak in a Hyundai by 12.7 seconds.

The victory was the second of Evans's WRC career, and made him the first Briton to triumph in the Swedish round of the championship.

Second place provided a first podium for 2019 winner Tanak since the Estonian, who had a big crash in the Monte Carlo opener last month, switched from Toyota to Hyundai at the end of last year.

Young Finn Kalle Rovanpera took third place for Toyota, ahead of six-times world champion teammate Sebastien Ogier, after winning the final power stage to collect five bonus points.

After two races of the 13-round championship, Evans and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville are tied on 42 points with Evans leading on a countback. Ogier has 37.

Toyota lead the manufacturers' standings with 73 points to Hyundai's 63.

Mexico is the next round of the world championship, on gravel roads around the central city of Leon on March 12-15.

Toro Rosso renames AAlphaTauri

Goodbye Toro Rosso, welcome AlphaTauri. Picture: REUTERS
Goodbye Toro Rosso, welcome AlphaTauri. Picture: REUTERS

Red Bull presented AlphaTauri as their rebranded Toro Rosso Formula One team on Friday, with a new look but a familiar target for the season ahead.

"We must be within the first five in the constructors' championship," declared team boss Franz Tost at the launch of the white and blue AT01 car at Red Bull's Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg.

Honda-powered Toro Rosso finished sixth overall last year, equalling their best ever performance, and have an unchanged line-up of Russian Daniil Kvyat and Frenchman Pierre Gasly.

Both drivers finished on the podium in 2019.

AlphaTauri is a Red Bull-owned fashion brand established in 2016. The team have raced as Toro Rosso since 2006 when Red Bull took over struggling Minardi.

They have brought through a succession of hungry young talents, including Germany's four times world champion Sebastian Vettel, Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Dutch youngster Max Verstappen.

"I think Scuderia AlphaTauri is a fantastic project, a new adventure," said Gasly.

"There's the end of the story of Toro Rosso for sure, which is quite emotional for me because they gave me my first opportunity in Formula One. But there's a new chapter coming with Scuderia AlphaTauri."

Kvyat added: "It’s a big thing going on here tonight. New name for the team, new livery. Of course, technically, the team is going to continue the evolution from last year."

The name may give some commentators a headache, however, with Alfa Romeo, previously known as Sauber, giving their new car its track debut in Italy on Friday.

The potential for Alpha/Alfa confusion brings back memories of 2011 when there were two teams known as Lotus on the starting grid, each powered by Renault engines.

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