Mattia Binotto backed Sebastian Vettel to respond next week at the Red Bull Ring after a dismal display in a testing weekend for Ferrari at Formula One’s season opener in Austria.

In the first of two consecutive events in Spielberg as the 2020 campaign belatedly gets underway amid the coronavirus pandemic, Vettel – who will leave the Scuderia at the end of the year – finished 10th.

The German attempted to dive down the inside of Carlos Sainz, his Ferrari replacement, and was left in a spin, with only debutant Nicholas Latifi trailing him across the line.

Team-mate Charles Leclerc came second, profiting from Lewis Hamilton's five-second penalty, but team principal Binotto was still not happy with the overall performance after they qualified in seventh and 11th on Saturday.

"We weren't expecting [Leclerc's podium] at all," Binotto told Sky Sports. "Certainly, we can be happy with the podium but still it's very disappointing for our performance."

Leclerc said his team had been "perfect" on Sunday, but Binotto acknowledged Vettel's issues.

He explained: "It has not been his greatest race today. I think he was uncomfortable with the car, the balance of the car. He sensed that the car was not as driveable as it was on Friday.

"When the driver is in such a condition, he cannot deliver his best. The spin and the contact was certainly not a great action from his side. I think he was cautious a bit.

"It's a shame because today could have been important to score points, especially when maybe our direct competitors are not scoring many points.

"It's really a shame, but now we need to understand why the car was not behaving. We hope that next week he can show how good he is."

Vettel told Ferrari over the team radio his car was "undriveable", meaning he was ultimately just relieved to come through the race relatively unscathed.

"To be honest, I'm happy that I span only once," said Vettel. "It was very difficult.

"It got very tight and Carlos turned in and I was just on the edge because I wanted to be as close as possible and lost the rear. But to be honest, I lost the rear a couple of times today, so I'm happy that it only happened once.

"We don't know [what was wrong] – we need to have a good look – but, for sure, the car was very difficult today.

"I tried my best, and obviously the safety car helped us. It was quite entertaining in the end but obviously not the result I want."

Valtteri Bottas won the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday but Lewis Hamilton missed out on a podium due to a five-second time penalty following contact with Alex Albon.

Bottas led from start to finish for his eighth Formula One victory as the campaign got under way behind closed doors four months later than initially planned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a dramatic finish Hamilton, who started fifth after a receiving a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow during yellow flags in qualifying, crossed the line second but was denied a place in the top three after he sent Albon spinning at turn four with 11 laps remaining.

That came after the safety car was deployed for the third time and Charles Leclerc consequently moved up to second, while Lando Norris set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to snatch third from Hamilton and earn his first F1 podium.

Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix from fifth after being hit with a three-place grid penalty. 

The reigning Formula One world champion has been sanctioned for failing to slow for yellow flags during qualifying. 

On Saturday stewards opted against punishing the Briton but decided to act following an appeal from Red Bull ahead of the race. 

Hamilton had qualified in second place to secure a Mercedes front-row lockout with Valtteri Bottas in the season-opener following a lengthy coronavirus-enforced delay. 

However, Bottas will now be joined at the head of the field by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, whose team-mate Alexander Albon climbs to fourth, one spot behind McLaren's Lando Norris. 

Over seven months since the last race, Formula One finally returns with the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday. 

Lewis Hamilton begins the defence of his drivers' championship from second place on the grid after Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas pipped him to pole position. 

Max Verstappen is third and will lead the charge for Red Bull, with a strategy ace up his sleeve as he goes searching for a third consecutive win at the circuit in Spielberg. 

With only eight races confirmed for the 2020 season at this stage, drivers know every outing counts and the pressure is on in a shortened campaign.


WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING

Bottas held on to take pole by just 0.012 seconds, despite finding the gravel on his second flying lap. Hamilton was investigated by stewards for allegedly not slowing down under yellow flags caused by his team-mate's incident, but no further action was taken. 

The gap to Mercedes' rivals was huge, with Verstappen 0.538s back in third, as Lando Norris claimed a superb fourth for McLaren. 

It was a session to forget for Ferrari, though, with Charles Leclerc almost one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel down in 11th after missing out on Q3 entirely. 


THE STARTING GRID 

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 4. Lando Norris (McLaren) 
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull) 6. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 8. Carlos Sainz (McLaren) 
9. Lance Stroll (Racing Point) 10. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) 
11. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 12. Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri)
13. Daniil Kvyat (Alpha Tauri) 14. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
15. Romain Grosjean (Haas) 16. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
17. George Russell (Williams) 18. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
19. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) 20. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
 

AUSTRIAN GRAND PRIX TALKING POINTS 

Hamilton outlined Verstappen as the main 2020 threat to Mercedes at his pre-race news conference. 

While Mercedes' advantage over the rest looks ominous, Verstappen - who won from third on the grid in 2019 - is the only man in the top 10 who will start the race on medium tyres. 

That is a strategy he hopes can at least disrupt the top two and stop them battling solely between themselves. Warmer temperatures may also be a factor, although Hamilton said he was optimistic the cooling issues that hurt Mercedes here last year have been resolved.  

The reigning world champion has not won at this circuit since 2016 and, after his reprieve from the stewards, will need to pass Bottas to end that poor streak, while for Ferrari it looks like a day of damage limitation is in store with much-needed upgrades to their car not coming until Hungary. 

WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID

Valtteri Bottas (pole): "Obviously it was super close with Lewis - I'm just surprised with the gap to the other teams. For sure, race and long runs, it's always a different story and we've seen many times that Red Bull have had a good race car and the race depends on so many different things. We don't have the mentality that it's going to be easy for us."

Lewis Hamilton (2nd): "The car was great. I just didn't manage to put the greatest laps together, so work for myself to do. I'll just go back to the drawing board and work harder. We definitely didn't expect to have that gap [over the rest]. It's just a true showing of the great work everyone back at the factory continues to do. Valtteri did a fantastic job."

Max Verstappen (3rd): "I'm the only one on a different tyre in the top 10 so I'm looking forward to it and we have nothing to lose. It's going to be exciting. I'll try to make it as difficult as possible for Mercedes. They were on a different level [in qualifying], but last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we are a bit better in the race." 

Lando Norris (4th): "In Q1, Mercedes were obviously out in front but from P3 to 11, it was split by just two tenths, it’s cool to see that. It's our best possible start to the weekend but the race is another story. The Racing Points have clearly been extremely quick - we never thought we'd be in a chance of beating them. Ferrari's race pace is also very strong."

Charles Leclerc (7th): "It's not an easy qualifying for us. Unfortunately, that's where we are at the moment. We need to stay positive in these moments that are very hard to find any positives. We need to work as a team and hopefully be as strong as possible [on Sunday] to try and cheer everyone up, but we are not expecting miracles."

Sebastian Vettel (11th): "Of course it's a surprise, we thought we had a little bit more in hand. I wasn't so happy with the car, more oversteer in entry than I would like. I think [Sunday] is a different picture. It's a long race, in race trim we are always better and we will try to make some good ground and score some good points."

Sebastian Vettel expressed his surprise after failing to reach the third qualifying session for the Austrian Grand Prix, meaning he will start back in 11th place. 

Valtteri Bottas edged out Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamiton for pole position for the first race of the Formula One season at the Red Bull Ring. 

Ferrari's hopes of making a promising start to the season look slim, however, as Vettel was unable to make the top 10 and Charles Leclerc had to settle for seventh place. 

The Scuderia will not unleash their upgraded cars until the third round in Hungary and it seems that cannot come soon enough for Vettel, who will be moving on at the end of the season. 

Asked about his Q2 exit on Saturday, the four-time F1 world champion said: "Surprised. 

"I thought that we had a little bit more in hand, but it looks like the others were probably running a little bit more fuel or more conservative in practice."

However, Vettel is hopeful the Italian team will be more competitive during Sunday's race.

The German added: "I wasn't quite happy with the car… more oversteer on entry than I would like, but we'll see.

"I think tomorrow is a different picture. Maybe with the track getting a bit hotter it was a bit more costly for us today."

Valtteri Bottas feels like Mercedes are in a league of their own after he combined with Lewis Hamilton to lock out the front row ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix. 

A thrilling battle between the two Mercedes drivers, who are seeking a seventh straight constructors' championship for the team in 2020, saw Bottas emerge 0.012 seconds in front of the six-time world champion. 

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was the closest to them in Q3, finishing 0.538s off the pace, while Charles Leclerc was almost one second adrift in seventh spot for Ferrari. 

"It feels really good - I've missed these feelings, these shakes, after qualifying," said Bottas. "It is something special when you push the car to the limit.  

"I've obviously been preparing for this for a long time and it feels so good. I can’t say more than that. Our team have done an amazing job, we seem to be in our own league." 

Asked about the big gap to Mercedes' rivals, Bottas added: "It is very impressive to see.  

"I know it is only the first qualifying of the season but I'm so impressed - so thanks to everyone in the team and the factory. It's truly an amazing car to drive. Good result, but [Sunday] is what matters." 

Hamilton also paid tribute to the Mercedes outfit after Saturday's impressive showing. 

The Briton was trailing Bottas after the first runs in Q3 and went on to improve his time, only to fall agonisingly short of the mark set by his team-mate, who spun into the gravel during his second flying lap. 

"Great job by Valtteri," said Hamilton. "This is a great start to the season and we are happy to be here. 

"We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. I think that is because we are open-minded and we are current with the times. 

"The guys that I work with are never too stubborn to admit we might be wrong at some stages, we are constantly always learning from each other, constantly pushing the boundaries. 

"There's not really any politics within the team. It's a united team, we push together and that's why every year we come back. It's not necessarily always the same like that in teams." 

On the Bottas incident, Hamilton said: "I came round turn four and there was a big puff of dust, but I managed to see that Valtteri was just about to come back on the track.  

"Fortunately, it didn't really affect the lap - he kept his position and so did I." 

Verstappen acknowledged the big gap to Mercedes but hopes his Red Bull will fare better on Sunday, while he will start on medium tyres in an alternate strategy to Bottas and Hamilton. 

"I'm happy to be P3," said the Dutchman, who has won the last two races in Austria. 

"We have different starting tyres so it's going to be interesting, it is going to be quite a bit warmer [on Sunday] so I hope that is going to play into our advantage.  

"But clearly [in qualifying] Mercedes were on a different level unfortunately. Let's see how we can do - last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying, so I expect we are a bit better in the race." 

Valtteri Bottas edged out Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.012 seconds to dramatically claim pole position at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

The Finn led Hamilton after the first runs of Q3, but Bottas spun into the gravel during his second attempt, handing the six-time world champion an opportunity.

Hamilton was able to improve his time, but fell agonisingly short.

It was a qualifying session to forget for Ferrari, as Charles Leclerc had to settle for seventh place while Sebastian Vettel failed to reach Q3 and will start 11th.

Max Verstappen took third for Red Bull, with McLaren's Lando Norris impressing to ensure he will start in fourth spot on Sunday.

Fifth-placed Alex Albon will be joined by the top Racing Point, Sergio Perez, on row three, after the two drivers registered the same time.

Leclerc – who was almost a second off the pace – finished narrowly ahead of Carlos Sainz in eighth.

Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10 after Vettel missed out on the shootout as he begins his last season with Ferrari.

Hamilton had topped all three practice sessions, but it was Verstappen who topped the timesheets in Q1 on Saturday.

Bottas ended up first in Q2, with Verstappen the only man to make it through on medium tyres in an interesting strategy move Red Bull will hope moves them closer to Mercedes in the race.

There was tension at the end of the second session, as Vettel failed to improve on his time and sat back in 10th as other drivers crossed the line, with Albon the man to knock him out in the final seconds.

Leclerc only just made it through and was unable to make much of an impact in Q3, with Mercedes' advantage over the rest of the pack made clear by the 0.538s gap to Verstappen in third.

Sunday's race will be the first of two consecutive events at the Red Bull Ring to kick off a 2020 season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION   

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:02.939
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.012s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull +0.538s
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.687s 
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull) +0.929s
6. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) +0.929s
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.984s
8. Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +1.032s 
9. Lance Stroll (Racing Point) +1.090s
10. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +1.300s

Ferrari intended to keep Sebastian Vettel next season until the coronavirus pandemic intervened, Mattia Binotto has revealed.

With the start of the 2020 Formula One season delayed due to COVID-19, the Scuderia announced they would be looking for a new team-mate for Charles Leclerc for next year.

The news came as a shock to Vettel, who had appeared set to stay on and rival the Monegasque star.

Team principal Binotto confirmed on Friday this was set to be the case, but a variety of changes to the sport amid the pandemic meant Ferrari decided to go in a different direction.

"Certainly we have always said during the winter time, privately and publicly, that he would have been our first choice, which I confirm," Binotto told reporters.

"It's normal that, during winter time, many drivers have asked us if there were any opportunities to drive for Ferrari, so we have certainly been contacted.

"That didn't change our position, so Seb was our first choice.

"What happened since then? I think the virus and pandemic situation, which changed the entire world, not only our motorsport, our F1. Let's say that the entire situation has changed.

"And on top of that, the season has not started, so there have been no opportunities even for Seb to be back on track to prove how much he was really motivated to drive for Ferrari, which has been unfortunate for him.

"Even today, he is not fully happy with it, which is again something which is normal and obvious."

Binotto expanded further on the factors involved in the call in an interview with Sky Sports.

He explained: "[There is] a more strict budget cap, regulations which have been postponed - which, for us, were important - until 2022, and cars which at the moment are almost frozen and as well for next year."

Lewis Hamilton made a strong start to the 2020 Formula One season by topping the timesheets as both free practice sessions finished with a Mercedes one-two.

In an all-black car and wearing a helmet adorned with the words "Still we rise" and "Black Lives Matter" as he and Mercedes made strong anti-racism statements ahead of the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, Hamilton had an impressive day on track at the Red Bull Ring on Friday.

The six-time world champion was 0.356 seconds quicker than team-mate Valtteri Bottas in FP1, while the Finn reduced the gap to 0.197s in the second session.

Hamilton clocked a time of one minute, 4.304s in FP2 which proved to be the fastest lap of the day, with the dual axis steering (DAS) system Mercedes debuted in pre-season testing returning and helping them shave valuable milliseconds off their times.

However, Bottas was forced into the pits late on due to an issue with changing gears.

Max Verstappen won last year's Austrian Grand Prix and was third-quickest in FP1 despite spinning at turn one following some light rainfall early in the session.

Alex Albon lost control at the same place in FP2 and was 13th in the standings in the second session, five places behind Verstappen – who went off-track at turn six – at Red Bull's home circuit.

Racing Point's controversial RP20 again drew attention due to its similarity to Mercedes' 2019 title-winning car, which they have admitted to attempting to replicate in their design.

Sergio Perez impressed in what has been dubbed the 'Pink Mercedes', going fifth-fastest in FP1 and improving to third in the second session, when he was 0.641s slower than Hamilton.

Charles Leclerc outpaced outgoing Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the morning but was over three tenths of a second slower than the four-time champion in FP2.

Sebastian Vettel expects his on-track battles with Charles Leclerc to continue in the 2020 season even though he is leaving Ferrari.

Formula One returns with the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend and the performance of Vettel will be in the spotlight.

The four-time world champion is leaving the Scuderia at the end of the campaign, with Leclerc – who was handed a long-term contract – to be joined by McLaren's Carlos Sainz from 2021.

Leclerc and Vettel often clashed during a frantic 2019 campaign for Ferrari, as the Monegasque star impressed with seven pole positions, ultimately finishing ahead of his more experienced team-mate in the drivers' championship.

And Vettel, who said the team had never offered him a new contract, insists his status in the team will not change his competitiveness.

"Surely should the situation arise and make sense I think you expect both drivers to help each other out," said Vettel, who is yet to decide on his future in the sport.

"I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that my contract expires and I'm going to be leaving the team.

"But at the same time you are racing for yourself – you know, not trying to make Charles' life easier on track in terms of waving him by. 

"We have been fighting each other in the past and we will continue to do so."

Leclerc, meanwhile, reiterated his respect for Vettel, and insisted there would be times when working as a team was right and others when fighting for position would be more appropriate.

"Obviously I've learned a massive amount with Seb as a team-mate and I will continue to at the end of the season," Leclerc said.

"We had our on track battles and sometimes it didn't end the way we wanted but with respect off track, which was good to see.

"I don't think that [not having favours from Vettel] will change compared to the other season. 

"Last year we were fighting each other and of course sometimes we need to also play as a team, or drive as a team and work as a team, which is always very important.

"It's also beneficial for us to in some ways to work as a team. Again there will be situations where it's good that we have to work as a team."

Sebastian Vettel has spoken of his surprise that he was deemed surplus to requirements by Ferrari and revealed there were no discussions over a new deal.

The Scuderia announced in May that four-time Formula One world champion Vettel would move on at the end of this season, which starts in Austria this week following a long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was reported that the two parties could not agree terms, but Vettel says Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto made it clear this was his final year with the Italian team.

"There was no sticking point," Vettel said.

"It was obviously a surprise to me when I got the call from Mattia, when he told me that there was no further intention from the team to continue.

"We never got into any discussions, there was never an offer on the table and therefore, there was no sticking point."

Vettel, who will be replaced by Carlos Sainz, vowed to only remain in F1 if the right opportunity arises.

"At the moment I'm not really having any [talks about his next move]," the German said.

"Looking forward obviously I want to make sure I make the right decision for myself and my future.

"I think I have a very competitive nature. I've achieved a lot in the sport and I'm motivated and willing to achieve more.

"To do so, I think, I need the right package, and the right people around me. So that's what I'm looking out for at the moment. If the right opportunity should arise, then I think it is quite clear. If that's not the case, then I probably have to look out for something else."

Lewis Hamilton will begin the defence of his Formula One drivers' title four months later than initially planned as the 2020 campaign belatedly gets under way with the Austrian Grand Prix.

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne was cancelled in March while teams were at the circuit during raceweek just as the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown measures started to take effect around the world.

A full season schedule is yet to be confirmed, but eight races in Europe are due to take place, with the first two due to be held in consecutive weekends at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.

The first of those events in Austria begins at 15:10 local time (14:10 BST) on Sunday, with Mercedes driver Hamilton now a six-time world champion and within one crown of tying Michael Schumacher for the all-time record of seven.

 

LAST TIME OUT

If the last race seems like it was so long ago, it is because it was. This is the first race for more than seven months, with the last event of the 2019 season having been the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.

That grand prix was one of the least exciting of the campaign and saw Hamilton crown his title success with a dominant race victory, winning from pole position with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc making up the remaining podium places.

Valtteri Bottas charged through from the back of the grid to finish fourth, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Alex Albon.

 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN AUSTRIA

While pre-season testing provides a guide, no one truly knows where each team stands with their cars until we have seen them in full competitive action.

That is true for any season, but the delayed start to the 2020 campaign - and the chance of drivers being a little rusty - will have fans hoping the early races are more unpredictable than ever.

Vettel has a point to prove in what will be his last season with Ferrari, though he may have a tough task after the team revealed they have had to make a major redesign to their car since testing, with those upgrades not available until Hungary.

His replacement Carlos Sainz and McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo will also be in the spotlight after their 2021 moves were announced during lockdown, while Lando Norris revealed drivers have discussed taking a knee to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Three in a row for Max? - After finishing first in both 2018 and 2019, Red Bull's Verstappen is looking to become the first driver to win three Austrian Grands Prix in a row. He would also equal the overall record for Austria victories, held by Alain Prost (a winner in 1983, 1985 and 1986).

Lewis looks to improve - Hamilton only has one win in Austria, which came in the 2016 season. Only in Australia (last win in 2015) has the British driver endured a longer winless run than in Austria of races that were in the 2019 schedule.

Vettel nears landmark – The German needs a podium finish to reach 3,000 points in F1, a milestone only achieved by Hamilton (3,431).

Good omen for Ferrari - The first grand prix of the previous two decades were both won by Ferrari in 2000 (Schumacher) and in 2010 (Fernando Alonso).

History to be made - This will be the first F1 season to start with a race in Europe since the 1966 championship began in Monaco, while the Red Bull Ring will become the first-ever circuit to host back-to-back grands prix.

At long last, the 2020 Formula One season will finally begin this week.

The action will begin with the Austrian Grand Prix behind closed doors at the Red Bull Ring, with the Steiermark Grand Prix being held at the same track the following weekend.

Silverstone will also stage two races this year, with Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Italy the only other confirmed events as things stand.

The season had been due to get underway with the Australian Grand Prix in March, but it was cancelled after a member of the McLaren garage tested positive for COVID-19.

A lot of things have changed since then, so we have recapped the biggest stories during the four-month coronavirus hiatus.

 

Vettel decision sparks driver changes

Ferrari announced that four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel would not remain with the team beyond the end of this season.

The German has yet to find another seat in F1, with Carlos Sainz to replace him at Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo leaving Renault for McLaren.

Toto Wolff confirmed Mercedes are monitoring Vettel's situation, though Valtteri Bottas claims he was told by the Silver Arrows there is nothing to the story.

Renault are yet to disclose who will take Ricciardo's place in 2021, with a shock return for two-time champion Fernando Alonso mooted.

Regulation changes pushed back to 2022

The pandemic forced a number of teams to furlough staff or reduce the size of their workforce, while F1 brought its mandatory mid-season shutdown period forward and extended it.

Together with the reduction in income from the lack of racing, sweeping changes to the technical regulations that were expected to challenge Mercedes' dominance of the series have been pushed back.

Teams will now contest the 2021 season in the same cars as this year, with the new rules instead coming into effect from 2022.

Budget cap implemented and reduced

In a bid to level the playing field in F1, for the first time a cost cap will come into effect from the 2021 season. This will limit the amount teams can spend on their cars to $145million.

The cap had initially been set at $175m but was lowered to avoid the possibility of some constructors spending up to that limit while others found themselves incapable of doing so due to the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis.

In 2022 the cap will be reduced to $140m, before dropping to $135m the following year and remaining there. This was done to make it easier for the bigger teams to adjust the size and scale of their operations.

Mercedes manoeuvring

A key member of Mercedes' six-year domination of F1 has left the team.

Managing director Andy Cowell, who had direct responsibility for the F1 power unit, helped establish Mercedes at the pinnacle of the sport in his 16 years with the team, but Hywel Thomas took over from him on July 1.

Mercedes team principal Wolff bought a stake in Aston Martin, which is controlled by Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.

Wolff insisted a personal investment "has nothing to do with Formula One", despite the fact Racing Point will be rebranded as Aston Martin on the 2021 grid.

A push for diversity

Six-time champion Lewis Hamilton criticised the Formula One community for its silence in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May, which sparked anti-racism protests around the globe.

The 35-year-old Briton subsequently partnered with the Royal Academy of Engineering to create The Hamilton Commission, looking at how more young people from black backgrounds can be brought into motorsport or be employed elsewhere in the field of engineering. F1 has also set up a new task force to increase diversity and inclusion in the sport.

Mercedes signalled their commitment to fighting racism and discrimination by unveiling an all-black livery in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, switching from their traditional Silver Arrows design.

Hamilton and Bottas will race in black overalls, while 'End Racism' will feature on the halo of both cars and the F1 initiative #WeRaceAsOne will appear on the mirrors.

Toto Wolff said Mercedes "owe it" to Sebastian Vettel to consider the four-time Formula One world champion if they have a seat to fill next season.

Vettel will leave Ferrari at the end of this season and his future is up in the air.

Silver Arrows duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are only contracted until December, although talks with the defending champion are expected to be held once the season starts and the Finn is also tipped to stay on.

Mercedes boss Wolff said it would be remiss of the constructors champions to dismiss the prospect of signing Vettel, however, citing Nico Rosberg's sudden retirement in 2016 as proof that anything can happen.

He said: "It's not lip service, but we owe it to a four-time champion not to come out and say straight away, 'No'. You need to think about it.

"On the other side, we have a fantastic line-up and I've very happy with both our pilots and George [Russell], but you never know. One of them may decide he doesn't want to go racing anymore and suddenly you have a vacant spot.

"This is why I don't want to come out in June and say, 'No chance, Sebastian is not racing for us'.

"I wouldn't do it to him as a driver, to be that blunt, and on the otherwise side, I've seen black swans appearing when nobody suspected - remember Nico Rosberg.

"In that respect, we're just keeping our options open but of course concentrating our discussions with our current drivers."

Carlos Sainz was confirmed as Vettel's replacement and it was announced last month that Daniel Ricciardo will take the Spaniard's seat at McLaren.

Wolff did not expect deals to be confirmed before the first race of the campaign, which is due to start in Austria on July 5, and says Mercedes are keeping their options open.

"We were quite surprised with the early movements because you need to start the season with a driver that you know you're going to lose," the German added.

"It's very tricky to develop a car without having that driver be part of it, and every single driver needs to be a team player as well, and that becomes second priority in my opinion for the relevant guy. For us, we want to take our time.

"Our priority lies on the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri and Lewis, and then obviously George and the Williams situation we're looking at with interest. Beyond that, you do not discount any driver.

"This is why I said I don't want to discount Sebastian as a four-time world champion, because who knows what happens in the next months?

"If I had told you in January that we would not have any racing in the first half of the year, nobody would have believed it. So, in that respect, we are just keeping our options open at this stage."

Carlos Sainz said he is not joining Ferrari as the second driver and will give everything to succeed at the iconic Formula One team.

Sainz will drive for Ferrari from the 2021 F1 season after swapping McLaren to replace four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel next year.

The 25-year-old Sainz, who will team up with Charles Leclerc, made his F1 debut in 2015 and finished an impressive sixth in the drivers' standings for a resurgent McLaren last year.

Leclerc – contracted until 2024 – impressed in his first season with Ferrari last year, the Monegasque driver finishing fourth in the drivers' championship.

There has been suggestions Leclerc will become Ferrari's number one ahead of Sainz but the Spaniard insisted he will not arrive as the second driver.

"I have not signed anything that says second pilot," Sainz told COPE and Radio Marca. "In my contract it says, as in all those I have signed, that the team is above the pilot, but does not put anything second or support from anyone.

"What I know is that I will give everything for Ferrari and I will give everything they need, above all, to try to win. I do not care about the colour of the car.

"I treat all drivers equally, we are all rivals and we must go for all. If there is a complicated situation, I would make the right decision, don't worry."

Sainz added: "I know that at Ferrari the pressure is higher. With thick skin you have to beat the Formula One teams. Ferrari is a step with more pressure, but I think I am prepared to do it."

On Leclerc, Sainz said: "We had a good relationship. He welcomed me and wanted to see us compete on the track.

"Charles is sensible and I think we are going to get along well. We will have to see it and it can be achieved."

In the meantime, Sainz has unfinished business at McLaren as the F1 season finally prepares to get underway following the coronavirus pandemic.

The opening eight races of the 2020 F1 season have been confirmed, with Spielberg and Silverstone hosting two each.

The campaign – provisionally slated to be held behind closed doors – will begin with the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5, with the teams remaining at the site for another event the following weekend.

"There is only one month left," Sainz said. "I have a desire ... I even want to get on the simulator, which I do not like. Imagine the desire I have ... I want to go to Austria, prepare now, feel those nerves and that pressure that when you have all your life doing it you get used to it and when it goes you miss it."

"I think they [McLaren] are going to tell me everything because I can still help them a lot in the remainder of the year and for next year," he continued.

"I have asked them, please, to keep me informed because I am the first to want to see McLaren on the podium as soon as possible, and I think I can honestly be of help to you just as I have been of help in the past year."

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