Drafting the Circuits
Formula 1 Report
By Steve Aibel
It’s exciting to cover Formula 1 when the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, is dominating the American racing scene. As the 43 stock cars line up to start the premier racing series in the United States, across the pond, the Formula 1 series is building steam toward the opening Australian Grand Prix on March 15th.
The past 4 days were spent at the second pre season test in Barcelona, Spain. It is said that if you have pace in Barcelona, you will be fast anywhere. As expected, the Mercedes F1 W06 hybrid classed the field, showing their true pace just enough to have everyone questioning exactly what Mercedes truly has in 2015.
Mercedes continued to check their marks, executing aero and suspension work, pit stop practice, and setup evaluation across 444 laps. Both Hamilton and Rosberg have run many long, medium tired, reliability runs, which should make them comfortable when they unleash their beastly pace during the final test next week in Barcelona. Both drivers have remarked that they have not really dialed in the car yet. When they do the bar will be set for the year.
On the opposite side of the field is McLaren. They are still struggling with reliability and engine performance. Eric Boullier, McLaren Racing Director, says they are about 50% behind and this was before the accident with Fernando Alonso. This week a small seal in the MGU-K, which is designed to recover energy from the rear axle, set McLaren back not once, but twice.
Finally, Fernando Alonso was involved in a strange crash between turn 3 and 4 which led to a concussion and an overnight stay in the hospital. Boullier, called this a racing accident, but Sebastian Vettel, who was following Alonso at the time of the crash, found it strange. “Vettel remarked, “the speed was slow. Then he turned right into the wall.” Odd that a high speed, sweeping right-hander has a slow speed crash on the inside barrier. Fortunately Alonso is still in the hospital and his status for the next test has not been determined.
McLaren are still climbing the mountain and these many reliability issues have hindered them in finding out the true performance of the Mp4-30.
Williams, in there usual style, have gone under the radar, as they tend to do during Friday practices on race weekends. Both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been complementary of the FW37 calling it an upgrade in every way from the 2014 car.
Red Bull also upgraded this week as the Renault engine rolled along consistently logging race sims, positive lap counts and even topped the time charts on Friday. This reliability will allow Red Bull to work on pace and speed during the final Barcalona test.
Lotus was the surprise this week, topping the time charts 3 of the 4 days. Wow, what an improvement from 2014. The new E23, powered by the consistent Mercedes engine, has allowed both Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado to see massive improvement in both reliability and performance. Expect a lot more of Lotus this year.
Ferrari took a more workman like approach this week focusing on longer runs, set up and reliability. They are also already looking forward, taking aero measurements to help plan future development in the wind tunnel. Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen like the SF15-T but the big question will be pace.
Will the Ferrari be able to keep up with the Mercedes powered behemoths. We may not know until the first few races. Consider this test, the calm before the storm for the resurgent Scuderia. Next week will be about speed and performance.
There are a few more interesting stories to follow. The first is Manor racing (Marussia) coming out of administration. This is good news as Manor have entered into an agreement with Ferrari to supply engines and are looking to develop (quickly) a car that will fit 2015 specs.
The youngsters of Toro Rosso and Sauber are also making their impact. Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso has not put a wheel off line and Felipe Nasr has shown speed in the colorful Sauber. Add Carlos Sainz Jr. to the mix and we have an interesting look at the potential future of Formula 1.
Finally, we must watch Force India. They have yet to reveal their 2015 car. It is expected to debut at the next test starting Thursday in Barcelona. Force India did test a 2014 car over the last 4 days, but the delay in getting the new challenger to track will inevitably put them far behind the proverbial 8-ball.
21 days until Australia!