Italian Power wakes up the racing

Its been a while since we’ve had a weekend like this, a long long time…. there was a win for Ferrari, a pole and double podium for Ducati and no Spaniards on the steps of any Grand Prix bike race for the first time in nearly a decade.

First lets start with 4-wheels where Sebastian Vettel took in the end a comfortable victory in Malaysia over Lewis Hamilton to claim his 40th Grand Prix win and his first for Ferrari. The 4 times World Champion is looking to be back on form after a humbling 2014 and qualified second in a rain affected Q3 on Saturday (I know rain in Malaysia – shocker). However come the sunshine of the Sunday race slot (now moved to a more appropriate local time after the problems in Suzuka last year) no-one expected the Ferrari’s to be doing more than battling for the final podium spot.

There was an early safety car caused by Marcus Ericcson’s exuberance and both Merc’s pitted while Vettel stayed out and would continue to pull away from the Silver Arrows and maintain the gap. The big difference was the tyre’s and it could well be that Mercedes Achilles heel of the past has reared its head again. Sebastian managed to two stop the race and ran two of his three stints on medium tyres while Lewis could only three stop and had to use the hard tyres for the majority of his stints. The extreme natural conditions of Malaysia put a great strain on the tyres and despite a modern smooth surface at Sepang (although it is now getting on a little bit) many teams struggled to make Pirelli’s hardest (EG Most durable) tyres last to complete a two stop race.

Despite this tyre advantage Ferrari’s pace is genuine the Mercs struggled to close the gap at all to the prancing horse furthermore down the straights the power plant designed in Maranello looks to be outpacing the one from Brixworth. This gives Ferrari only downforce to chase and also points to further strengths with their package if they are treating the tyres better with a lack of downforce to the front-runners.

Moving onto two wheels and it was Italians in red who were also stealing the spotlight in Qatar as Andrea Dovisioso used the soft tyre to park his brand new GP15 on the first spot on the grid. However unlike last year where the bike could run fast for a lap before eating tyres and tiring out the riders both GP15 bikes made it stick all the way to the end. It was only the race craft of Valentino Rossi, the 7 time Premier Class World Champion that would take the victory away from Dovi but it would lead to an all Italian podium and we definitely have a race on this year. The Honda’s both struggled with Marquez getting punted out wide at the first corner and dropping to last place and Pedrosa suffering from arm pump (So bad has it been that he may now retire). However once Marquez cleared the traffic the smiling assassin couldn’t close up to the front 4 despite them going wheel to wheel in ever corner. The conclusion from all of this looks like we could well have 3 factories all competiting for the championship this year as the bikes seem evenly matched.

Also returning were Suzuki who are back with a full factory 2 bike effort and in the hands of Aleix Espagaro managed to battle to 11th behind the 6 “old factories” (we’ll call them that for now) and their Satellite bikes of Crutchlow, Smith, P. Espagaro and Hernandez. This is on a power limited circuit and the team know they are down on power so it was morale boost for the team to find themselves on the back of the Satellite pack and look as though they will be racing with some recent names this year.

Aprilla on the other hand are still a bit of a mystery after qualifying round the back of the field but after Marquez punted Alavro Bautista out of the race using Marco Melandri as a barometer is pointless with the Italian cutting a dejected figure throughout the winter. The bike this year looks to be around the pace of the Forward Yamaha’s and Open Honda’s which is as much can be expected with the bike being a ART from last year with as many purchased upgrades as possible bolted on. 2016 should see them slide up the field but it could be a long year for Aprilla and Gresini if they can’t catch up to the points soon.

F1 is alive in 2015 but its still in Intensive Care

So the first race of the 2015 World Championship is done and dusted with Lewis Hamilton showing he is one of the best drivers ever and deserved 2x World Champion with a pole and a comfortable victory. The margin of superiroity was clear for all to see and as predicted from winter testing the Merecedes works team are streets ahead, even more so than they were last year.

Hamilton was on pole by 0.6s to his team-mate and by a whopping 1.4s to the nearest rival team, Williams (Felipe Massa) in a dry uninterrupted qualifying underlining the huge superiority the Brackley based team have going into 2015. He also had an answer to his team-mate all day Sunday keeping him out of DRS range and still having better fuel usage than the German. Fans will be hoping that Nico can raise his game for the upcoming races because while Mercedes dominated last year it was great contest between that kept bums on seats right to finale in Abu Dhabi.

Ferrari also had reasons to be cheerful with their cars qualifying 4th and 5th while a rather miffed but rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen lamented a mistake that he says cost him 3rd place. In the race their progress, especially with the power unit was underlined with new boy Vettel claiming a maiden Scuderia podium (Raikkonen got tangled in the first corner and continuted until a series of rear wheel problems lead to his retirement) and lone customer team Sauber recording a much needed 5th place with debutant Felipe Nasr after a pointless season last time around.

However thats where the good news stories ended apart from Force India recording a double points finish after their troubled winter, with events conspiring to have only 15 cars start the race and only 11 finish!

McLaren Honda’s troubles continue and the decision not to have a second team on board for the years seems less and less wise as weeks rolls by. After running no more than 12 laps in sucession all winter and their star driver injured after a testing accident the beleaguered Woking squad arrived in Australia with low expectations and they were duly met. The cars qualified last of those running and replacement driver K-Mag blew up on the way to the grid and failed to take the start. Things were a bit better for Jenson Button who managed to complete the race but the former World Champion was 2 laps down and in last. However McLarens insistence that the potential is there has started to gain some momentum after Jenson managed to keep Force India’s Sergio Perez at bay for a number of laps despite being way down through the speed trap. Also towards the end he obviously turned the wick up and put in his fastest two laps at the end of the race that would place the car somewhere in the mid-field if it could consistently run at that pace.

The Red Bull Renault teams haven’t had that much of a better time of it than Honda with the 2015 unit being slower than last years and with horrible driveabiltiy (IE the power delivery isn’t smooth). So bad is the issue that when home favourite Dan Ricciardo was asked on the radio how the tyres were he could only report on the fronts with the power delivery being so inconsistent to the rear wheels that the Aussie couldn’t get a read on the rubber. Things were even worse for his new Russian Team mate who like Magnussen managed to blow up en route to the start of the race. Max Verstappen would also fall foul of the misbehaving power plant and after a spirited drive had to retire just outside the pit entrance. Typically the Red Bull head honchos were in a fighting mood and were quick to point the finger at both an uncooperative Renault and the FIA before finally issuing a threat to exit the sport.

Lotus meanwhile showed promise with the new Mercedes engine powering both cars in Q3 but both cars would retire on the opening lap after getting stuck in the first corner melee with Pastor Maldonado ending up in the wall, but for once there was very little crash prone driver could do about it after getting his tyre struck from behind. However while there was no points for the Enstone team heads are a being held quite a bit higher on the promise of their quali speed.

Williams had a mixed weekend with Felipe Massa qualifying 3rd but only managing to finish 4th after a clever pit strategy for Ferrari put them ahead. They are still the fastest car that isn’t a Mercedes AMG (they do have the same engines however) but Ferrari have closed right in on them and it will be a vicious fight to the end of the season between these two as they must pile on the points early as Red Bull and possibly Lotus & McLaren could end up in this battle in the second half of the season. Valteri Bottas however had a tough opening weekend after hurting his back during qualifying on Saturday the Finn failed an extraction test (a FIA medical test to asses whether you can get out of the car in an emergency properly) and was declared unfit to race. The team expect him to be back for Malaysia and there will be more motivation for the Finn to make it back in cockpit promptly, however bizarrely the team alluded to the fact that Suzie Wolff is only their “test” driver so they wouldn’t necessarily race her. I’ve often stated my dislike for Suzie Wolff due to her lack of results in other series and her constant statement that her gender is holding her back (which from the evidence I would think that the opposite is true), she is still a safe pair of hands and also has had a days testing in the 2015 car.

Finally spare a thought for Manor who managed to defy the odds and make it to Melbourne only to have issues loading the software into their ECU’s and fail to make it onto track at all over the course of the weekend.

Lots to work on before Malyasia!

Teams on their Garde for the First Race

So it’s here, the 2015 Motorsport season kicks off proper this weekend with the traditional opening race in Albert Park, Melbourne (Now if we could just restore either Japan or Brazil to the finale that’d be great Bernie). The race has a history of upsets, the simple flowing track is a little tricky to overtake on but the walls are close, the cars are new and the circuit is a temporary track where the grip can change dramatically from session to session.

However while usually most eyes look towards the front of the grid at the beginning of the season to see who will be in the title mix, the spotlight this year however is on the back of the grid. Manor Marussia (I’m still not 100% sure what the official title of their chassis is) will complete their return to the sport after entering administration before the US Grand Prix in 2014. It will boost the grid to 10 teams and they will field Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi for the “opening rounds”. Mehri has a contract to race a second season in FR 3.5 which starts in April and is he is expected to still take that up after an impressive rookie season left him 3rd in the standings. The team will use a modified 2014 car that complies with the regulations until their 2015 challenger is ready sometime around Bahrain / Spain.

While Manor have pulled off a Lazarus act, Sauber have got themselves into a right mess. The team had a contract with Giedo van der Garde to race this year and people have suggested this would have been alongside Jules Bianchi who would come with cut price Ferrari engines. Van der Garde does have decent sponsorship behind him but after Sauber failed to score a point last year and the accident involving Bianchi has left him in hospital the team had to look elsewhere for drivers and more importantly, funds. The team snapped up former Caterham pilot Marcus Ericcson alongside Brazilian GP2 ace Felipe Nasr (who finished 3rd in the standings showing constant improvement over his 3 seasons), both of whom bring huge sponsorships to the table rumoured to be around 16 -18 million euros EACH! However the team apparently hasn’t been able to tie up the loose ends with Giedo who has taken them to court but unlike Adrian Sutil who will seek damages, Van der Garde has demanded a race seat for the year.

Surprisingly the courts in both Switzerland (where the team is based) and Australia (where the first race is) have agreed with the Dutchman who apparently should be racing this weekend. However it is thought there has been no seat fitting done as Giedo wasn’t in their plans for this year and now it has emerged that van der Garde hasn’t filled out the proper paperwork and doesn’t have a super license. This throws up yet more issues to a strange episode for the struggling Swiss outfit, who are the 4th longest-serving team after Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

The team desperately need their current two drivers to race due to the sponsorship they bring but one would assume that Guido is also a pay drive so will be required to bring funds, a super license and a court injunction to race. Furthermore if Guido does race the spurned driver and their sponsors are not going to be too happy!