Lando Norris excited to swap simulator for the real thing at Australian GP this weekend

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British rookie Lando Norris completed more than 600 laps of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on a simulator and is feeling “excited” ahead of his Formula One debut.

The 19-year-old, from Bristol, is one of three drivers who will line up for their first race in Australia, along with fellow Brit George Russell for Williams and London-born Alexander Albon for Toro Rosso.

The McLaren driver, team-mate of Carlos Sainz, revealed he had been working on the simulator in preparation.

Norris said: “You can only get to a certain point when you feel confident with the simulator and it always changes when you get to the track and you actually drive it for real for the first time.”

When asked if he won when he raced at home, Norris paused for a couple of seconds before admitting: “No.

George Russell beat Norris to the Formula 2 title last season.

George Russell beat Norris to the Formula 2 title last season.

“I was driving on F1 2018 and was just doing time trials against the other guys…I think I’ll stick to actual driving,” he said.

“I can’t drive as myself yet, maybe I’ll drive as someone else (on F1 2019) and see if I can beat myself.

“It is a cool thing, growing up and seeing all the big names and choosing Lewis (Hamilton) or Jenson (Button) and finally seeing your own name on it, it’s just a cool thing to think about and to see.”

Norris finished second behind Russell in last season’s Formula 2 Championship and said it was easier not being the centre of attention as the only newbie.

He said: “It’s going to be fun to hopefully race them but it does make it a bit easier overall, a bit less pressure in terms of being a rookie but not a lot.

“There’s still a lot of pressure whatever the circumstances when you race with McLaren and you’re in your first race weekend.”

Speaking about the upcoming Grand Prix, he said: “I can still win a race if our aim is to finish in the points or beat the other teams apart from the top three, things like that.

“We can still win in terms of achieving our goal of the weekend or the race. It’s more about goal setting and achieving those rather than the outright win.”

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Lewis Hamilton on Mercedes partnership with Valtteri Bottas: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

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Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton said he shares a “great pairing” with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old launches the latest defence of his title on the streets of Albert Park in Melbourne and is paired up with the Finn for the third-straight season in 2019.

Bottas had a torrid 2018 campaign, failing to win a race and finishing fifth in the standings, but Mercedes opted to stick with the 29-year-old.

Speaking ahead of the weekend, Hamilton said: “On the driving front, continuity is what works.

“We have a great pairing and the contribution Valtteri and I put together works, it’s worked well for years and there’s no reason to change it.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The former Sports Personality of the Year added: “In terms of the team, we’ve got so many incredible people within the team and the energy is really…it’s inspiring to see so many people so pumped, pulling together.

“Just after the test, I went back and Toto (Wolff, team principal) rallied the troops and we all sat together and it was really impressive to see so many people so passionate about their jobs and so passionate about racing.

“They’re the soldiers, they’re the real true fighters for the team and they’re giving absolutely everything to make sure we progress.”

Sebastian Vettel kept Ferrari on top on the final day of 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona, and Hamilton said the results from Spain were clear.

“I don’t think it’s difficult to read it, it was quite clear,” Hamilton said. “However it’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing.

“Naturally we won’t fully know until we get out in the car tomorrow. Come qualifying you get a better picture.

“Usually over the first few races is where you really start to get an idea of where everyone stands. We said that we have work to do. We weren’t talking BS, we have work to do.”

Hamilton and Vettel will resume their rivalry, with the German looking for a third-straight victory Down Under on Sunday.

He admitted luck with the safety cars helped in 2018, saying: “We can’t do better than last year’s result, so it’s a tough weekend ahead of us.

Home favourite: Daniel Ricciardo.

Home favourite: Daniel Ricciardo.

“Always at the start you’re a bit nervous, you don’t exactly know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen but the spirit is good, the atmosphere is good, we’re happy to be here and start racing.”

The majority of the crowd will be backing Daniel Ricciardo in his new Renault over the weekend as he looks to end a 39-year drought since an Australian won a race on home turf.

He said: “I might need some help from some others this early in the season. They’re already kind of crazy, Australians, but if we could pull that off then lock your doors.”

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Tributes paid to "irreplaceable" FIA Formula One race director Charlie Whiting

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Christian Horner and Toto Wolff have both paid tribute to Whiting.

The death of “irreplaceable” Charlie Whiting has cast a shadow over the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Whiting, who carried out a wide range of duties as the FIA Formula One race director, died on Thursday from a pulmonary embolism in the southern Australian city where he was due to work this weekend.

News of the Briton’s death filtered through the paddock at Albert Park on the eve of Friday’s first practice session, with seminal figures from motorsport among those paying tribute.

Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull Racing, said Whiting was a man with “great integrity” and “performed a difficult role in a balanced way”.

He added: “Charlie has played a key role in this sport and has been the referee and voice of reason as race director for many years.

“At heart, he was a racer with his origins stretching back to his time at Hesketh and the early days of Brabham.

“Charlie was a great man who will be sadly missed by the entire Formula 1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.”

Former world champion Mario Andretti said Whiting was “very possibly irreplaceable”.

He tweeted: “Totally shocking news of Charlie Whiting’s passing. Charlie was a true Giant in our sport and very possibly irreplaceable. Sincere condolences to his family and everyone who appreciated this man. RIPmyfriend.”

Several Formula One teams also paid tribute to Whiting after news of his death broke. Renault described him as “one of the pillars and leaders of the sport”.

“His drive to ensure exciting, safe and fair racing was unparalleled and his passion will be sorely missed,” Renault added.

McLaren driver Carlos Sainz added: “I always enjoyed a racing discussion with one of the most outstanding professionals in our sport. He will be very missed.”

Valtteri Bottas, teammate of Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, tweeted: “Very sad and surreal news ahead the Australian GP. Can’t believe it.. My thoughts are with the family and friends. He’s done so much for the sport we love. Rest in peace Charlie.”

British racing driver George Russell, who competes for Williams, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.

He tweeted: “Such a huge figure in the world of motorsport. All of my thoughts are with his family and his many friends right now. We’ll all miss him very much.”

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc said: “Horrible news from Melbourne. All my thoughts goes to Charlie’s family. The motorsport world will miss you. R.I.P.”

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