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!
After the heroics last year at Hinwill where drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez claimed multiple podiums between them, it was back to reality this year for Sauber. Sergio Perez was snapped up by McLaren (before being dumped after a single season) the team moved to secure the services of Nico Hulkenberg who has been the midfield star over the past few seasons. Kamui Kobayashi couldn’t be retained despite being a fan favourite as the teams independent status means they have to look for sponsors and pay drivers. The Telmex sponsorship is a little of both, with Carlos Slim happy to part with cash for any driver as long as they are mexican thus Esteban Gutierrez was promoted from GP2 to partner the hulk for 2013.
Unlike 2012 the car was no match for the Pirelli’s and in the first part of the season it chewed its way through rear tyres like a Mercedes, however after the tyre change and a clever upgrade in Hungary the season turned around but the team couldn’t catch their rivals and well back to 7th place. Nico Hulkenberg scored the lions share of points as Gutierrez looked like a fish lacking copious amounts of water, the Mexican would turn things around somewhat in the latter part of the year claiming a single 7th place to put some points on the board. At this time however his team mate was scoring faster than anyone in the midfield recording a 4th, 5th and two 6th places in the final half of the year.
However despite this up turn in form, it was looking like the bank balance was heading the other way. It was revealed that Hulkenberg had not been paid at all during the season and the team were in serious trouble at one point with winding up orders asked for from various suppliers. The team have taken on some wealthy Russian backers but it may lead them to having to place Sergy Sirotkin in the car next season, which could be a disaster as he has little pedigree in even the traditional feeder series for the top flight. However this hasn’t discouraged Adrian Sutil from signing up in a straight swap for Nico Hulkenberg and will lead the team next year. His team mate is still a mystery and could depend on which set of foreign investors have the deeper pockets.
Well then kids what an exciting weekend of motorsport! Alonso’s win for Ferrari is a god send for the Scuderia (in fact I think second would still of been sweet relief) who have been under a lot of pressue after showing up in Australia and being over a second off the pace in qualifying. Although the fact that Sergio Perez announced himself with an even more shocking second place should tell you everything that the rain in Malaysia really shook up the form book. The real key was the tires this weekend and getting them to work in the rain, it would appear that McLaren struggle in very cold and damp conditions to turn the tire on along with Red Bull whereas Ferrari and Sauber have less on an issue.
Bruno Senna also had a great race after the break with a drive through the field in the wet befitting of his surname. He drove from last on the grid at the restart (after 7 laps the race was stopped due to the extreme amount of rain that fell) and cut through the field to finish in 6th place and collect a hatful of points for Williams. Paul Di Resta also used his wise head on young shoulders to pick up a 7th place in the chaos which will be relieft indeed as the Force India is currently lacking a little bit of pace. Elsewhere it was a good race for HRT who qualified on merit, quite comfortably in the case of Pedro De La Rosa and this was after Mark Webber went out for a second run (in fact Pedro De La Rosa was within 107% of the pole time) and in the race Karthikeyan was running 8th at one point before getting tangled with Button and Vettel (neither of them his fault in my opinion).
It wasn’t a great weekend for Mercedes who managed to get a car starting 3rd on the grid and then only brought a solitary point, which at the very least gets them off the mark. There was more heartbreak for Pastor Maldonado as a last lap engine failure robbed him of points.
But the big news was how close the teams are, Nico Rosberg had a scrappy lap and was 4 tenths off pole. Last year that would of most certainly of meant that he would of been 2nd or 3rd. However he qualified 8th (started 7th after Kimi’s penalty) and there was one second between 1st and 12th in Q2.
Not content with the crazy weekends race Williams dropped a bombshell yesterday announcing that heir apparent to the team, Adam Parr has resigned and will leave the team this Friday. Parr has been controversial and was known to have a rocky relationship with Patrick Head, but was the man being lined up to take over from Frank Williams who is in his 70s. He definatly leaves the team in good shape with strong finances and a car this year capable of scoring some decent points all year long.
It is usual at this time of year that teams start posturing about how good their car will be next year in the hope of attracting some funding (and geuine excitement), but one team haven’t just been blowing hot air.
Peter Sauber is looking forward to next year despite being in a titanic battle with Torro Rosso, but one interesting point is that the team hasn’t run a blown diffuser this year. With that being banned from next year we expect the teams to lose serious amounts of rear downforce. However the Sauber car will be at least that fast next year with their performance being purely aerodynamic rather than any exhaust gasses tricks. Furthermore they are the team with the best tyre wear on the whole grid and have managed to use different strategys all year to gain points.
The team had a bit of a mid-season slump and are now in a titantic battle with Torro Rosso for 7th place in the constructors.
With continuity of drivers and the rules that they have used this year it is already looking like Sauber sit in a strong position for next year.
Casey Stoner wrapped up the 2011 Moto GP championship at his home Grand Prix in Australia after Jorge Lornezo crashed in warm up and ruled himself out of the race and next week as well. There was further misery for Yamaha as Ben Spies couldn’t recover from his knock on the head and decided to sit the race out on saftey grounds after not being able to put together a lap on Sunday morning. His title means Casey was the first and last man to win a world title in the 880cc era and secures Honda a world championship in the formula, as next year we move to 1000cc bikes.
In other news Aoyama (former 250cc world champion) has confirmed hes moving to World Superbikes in a rather surprise move away from the Gresini Honda team, who while providing a factory spec bike to Simoncelli (who finished 2nd) couldn’t provide Aoyama with anything similar and he is currently in 10th place in the championship with a best finish of 4th. It leaves another spot open next year in a well respected team in a season where there will be a lot of new faces with the CRT bikes entering. Unfortunatly there is still no word on whether Suzuki are commited next year to running a bike, for the sake of top flight motorcycle racing I hope we do have 4 full manufactures next year and they all field quite a few bikes. It leaves 10 seats unaccounted for (plus whatever Suzuki run if anything) next year so we expect to see quite a bit of movement between Moto 2, Superbikes and Moto GP.
In F1 the Korean race provided a entertaining race that was won again by Sebastian Vettel despite McLarens pace all weekend, but there was positives for the Woking team with a pole position and Lewis Hamilton having a calm weekend to second place. There was some great battles down the field with a seasons best showing from Toro Rosso with a 7th and 9th position. In terms of the constructors it looks as though the battle for 6th place will be intense now as Toro Rosso have pulled themselves up to within 12 points of Force India and Sauber while Renault are probably too far ahead despite not scoring.