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!

Mercedes sort of Punished

The FIA took Mercedes up on their offer and have excluded them from this years young drivers test along with a reprimand (Pirelli also received a reprimand) after they undertook a 3 day tyre test using the 2013 car and current race drivers.

However the tribunal noted that they had been given indication that the test would be legal and acted in “good faith”. So the three day test will replace their young drivers test allocation..with accusation that Ferrari tested in 2012 and 2013 with an almost current car. However this was a car that was 2 years old which while maybe not being the legal definition it had been a gentleman’s agreement that a 2 season old car was not classed as current.

Williams Sign Mercedes as 2014 Takes Shape

The Williams F1 team have announced that they will be using Mercedes engines from 2014 replacing their current supplier Renault:

“Under the terms of the agreement, Williams will be supplied with a Mercedes-Benz Power Unit (Internal Combustion Engine plus Energy Recovery System) by Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) based in Brixworth, UK. Williams will continue to manufacture its own transmission,”

This comes on the back of Toro Rosso switching to the new Renault power plant in 2014 amid concerns from many of the teams that engines and specifically the Renault are very expensive. The deal represents a low risk for the team as Mercedes will be looking for a good customer team to replace McLaren who will be moving to Honda power in 2015.

New Engine Lineup

Team – 2014 Engine – 2015 Enigne

  1. Red Bull – Renault (confirmed – Engine development partner – de-facto works team)
  2. Ferrari – Ferrari (Works team)
  3. McLaren – Mercedes (Customer) – Honda (Works)
  4. Lotus – Unknown, currently Renault but no deal has been signed and Renault already stated they have enough teams
  5. Mercedes – Mercedes (Works Team)
  6. Sauber – Ferrari – Team have publicly stated that they wish to continue with Ferrari but no deal is signed
  7. Force India – Mercedes (Customer) – 2014 onwards
  8. Williams – Mercedes (Customer)
  9. Toro Rosso – Renault (Customer)
  10. Caterham – Renault (Customer/Works) Team confirmed 2014 Renault supply and the two car companies have an alliance leading to possible cheap supply and/or partial works support
  11. Marussia – Unknown however Pat Symmonds suggested that they are chasing a Ferrari deal

Renault have publicly stated their desire to only supply 3 teams and with the 2 Red Bull teams leading the French manufactures attack along with Caterham and the global alliance they have in the road car department means they look to have their books full. Lotus appear to be the biggest losers so far as they appear to be left without a supplier currently (although all 3 current manufactures have committed to supplying the grid so they will get some sort of deal). Ferrari also appear to have a lack of Customers with only Sauber looking likely to continue to buy engines from Maranello. Marussia look likely to take one of those deals as Cosworth are not making a new V6 engine, furthermore Ferrari will need to sign a few long term deals to offset the cost of the new engine formula. Sauber are also rumoured to be close to signing a Honda power plant deal in 2015 that would significantly reduce their costs as Honda will need to look for a good Customer to continue on track development of the engine.

Martin Whitmarsh spoke of the “surprisingly open” regulations for the engines and with the lack of testing a good customer is now going to be increasingly important. Certain teams like Toro Rosso and Caterham will run the entire drive train from the works entry (Red Bull) while others such as Williams will make their own gearboxes and possibly energy recovery systems. I would expect to hear Lotus and Marussia announcing their deals within the coming weeks.