While Formula 1 has burst back into action with 3 tests taking place across Feburary the front running teams have dispelled the disarray of last year and are moving forward. Honda’s arrival stuttered as expected but the last two days of the Jerez test saw Jenson and Fernando put some decent mileage on the McLaren-Honda. Merecedes pumelled the lap charts including setting a F1 record for single day mileage on the first day, quite the opening salvo. Ferrari look to have caught up some ground and the Williams looks as fast as ever. The other bizarre thing is leading into the season is the front running teams aren’t arguing over too much – there was a breif scuffle over the engine freezing but its been sorted out quite sensibly.
The road map for the future looks set including a move to higher horsepower engines and wider tires for 2017 and keeping things stable for this year and next. The nose rules appear to have had the desired effect and still have produced visibly different designs and interpretations of the rules. But its less rosy when we start looking further down the field.
The collapse of Caterham now seems confirmed as the final auction of equipment goes ahead in mid Feburary which will properly close down the team. Haas F1 have taken the oppurtunity to snap up lots of F1 standard gear at cut prices as Gene continues to show he’s the first team owner in a long time with their head located in the correct place. Marussia (Now using their original name of Manor) however have created a rescue package of finance headed by Justin King, the former Sainsbury’s CEO who has been touted as a sucessor to Bernie. However the car is unlikely to be ready and the team are negioating running the 2014 car for the first few races. But they have until Bahrain to show up but theres been a lot of rumbling from the other teams.
Force India look in big trouble they launched with a huge event in Mexico (most teams now opt for online launches or just from the factory) where they showed the new livery and anounced they were skipping the first test as the car wasn’t ready. No alarm bells went off, its been one of the shortest winters ever and Red Bull showed that skipping the first test for more development time can be beneficial. However the subsequent announcements that the car wouldn’t be ready forst the second test and they are hopeful for it being ready for the final test. According to some friends who work in F1, the car is still not built and they owe large amounts to suppliers. Force India have addressed this saying that since the collapse of Marussia and Caterham suppliers are wanting money up front rather than working on a credit account. Their owners continued fiscal problems only compounding their poor credit rating in the eyes of other companies.
Sauber ran well in the first test with their new striking livery provided by Banco de Braslia (also irconically the swedish national colours making everyone happy). Their pay driving pairing highlights the money problems at the back of the field with both drivers reported to be bringing 16 million Euros for the privelage to race this season. Its a duo light on experence with only Marcus Ericcson having a shortened season at Caterham under his belt but like Williams in years gone by this will be a building couple of seasons for Sauber.
Lotus remain an engima with the new Mercedes engine strapped in they should at least propel themselves up the pecking order despite the desertion of many sponsors after the torrid time they had last year.
However with 3 these teams all looking on shakey financial ground the F1 grid would be wise to wheeler dealer Manor back onto the grid in case of another drop out during the season. While F1 teams do come and go the grid size has always been around the 20 mark, not since 2005 when BAR were thrown out has an entry list been so short on competitors. Furthermore with more and more countries providing races, teams and drivers its a sad state to have possibly only 18 cars lining up for Austrialia. Furthermore the prospect of another team failing during the season could reduce the grid size too far and force action from the FIA / FOM to boost the number of competitors.