Drafting the Circuits
Formula 1 Report
Summer Break August 10
By Steve Aibel
Just 2 weeks until Formula 1 returns at Spa in Belgium from their summer break. With 9 races remaining it is worthwhile to sift through the field and see who has delivered and who has not during the 2015 campaign.
Mercedes continues to dominate the landscape with the Constructors Championship virtually locked up. Mercedes has accumulated 383 points while Ferrari, in second position, has only 236. This enormous lead demonstrates the superiority of the F1 W06 Hybrid.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have 8 victories in 10 total races. Hamilton leads the Driver’s Championship by 21 points by virtue of 5 victories compared to 3 for Rosberg. The pair has won every pole position! It is here that Lewis Hamilton has truly flexed his muscle. Of 10 pole positions for Mercedes, Hamilton has 9. It is this dominance that Rosberg will need to conquer if he is to mount a serious challenge to another Hamilton championship bid. Considering the run Hamilton had last year, winning 6 of the final 7 races, Hamilton is easily the favorite to retain the F1 Drivers Championship. But it is certainly not a given as Rosberg deserves serious credit for working his way into the battle for the crown.
Ferrari is easily the surprise of the 2015 season. Sebastian Vettel has 2 race wins, the first in Malaysia and the second in Hungary. Vettel has certainly reclaimed top form. He is sitting in 3rd position, just 42 points behind Lewis Hamilton and 21 behind Nico Rosberg. Vettel has done enough to pop up in the rear view mirror of the Mercedes drivers and with any luck could become a factor in how the championship develops.
Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, has disappointed in the second Ferrari. Raikkonen has had three retirements and a best finish of 2nd place in Bahrain. Fortunately, he is only 1 point behind Valtteri Bottas in the Williams. With only 1 podium, and his Ferrari career up for grabs, Raikkonen needs to improve quickly to salvage the season and his race seat. This is easily the most desirable race seat in 2016.
At the end of 2014, Williams were arguably the second strongest car on the grid. They were expected to improve on that performance in 2015. With only 151 points on the tally sheet, less than half of Mercedes, Williams has underperformed in the first half the of the campaign. With only 1 podium for Felipe Massa and 1 for Valtteri Bottas, Williams have not been able to keep pace with the improved Ferrari squad. In the European section of the season, Monaco and Hungary excluded, Williams have improved their form and should be a larger factor through the rest of the season.
On a positive note, Williams have been consistently scoring points and have not had any retirements. This consistent approach bodes well for the squad and there are certainly tracks coming up that should fit the characteristics of the Williams chassis. Power tracks such as Spa and Monza should get the Williams team off to a strong start during the second half of the season. Expect to see Williams in the heart of the battle!
Renault! The Red Bull season has been deeply affected by the underpowered Renault power unit. Red Bull, a team used to fighting for race wins and podiums, is mired deep in the field and often are only securing single digit points. Shockingly, Red Bull has only scored 2 podium positions this year, both in the last race at Hungary.
Most of the news concerning Red Bull racing has circled around off track drama that has concerned the future status of the Renault/Red Bull engine partnership. Renault are contracted to supply engines through the 2016 season, which does not bode well for the Christian Horner led team. It is a strange season when discussing the performance of Red Bull Racing is an afterthought. Lets hope for improvement in the second half of the season! It’s always more fun with Red Bull at the party!
Force India is another team that has underperformed this season. With the powerful Mercedes power unit and two strong drivers in Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, 39 points are not enough to show the upward trajectory expected of Force India. With only 9 points scoring outings, and a best finish of 6th for Nico Hulkenberg, Force India has lacked the expected speed to be a podium factor. Hulkenberg has secured 24 of the 39 Force India points, which shows his ability to squeeze juice from a challenging fruit.
The slow start could be attributed to the supplier issues that caused Force India to be late in finalizing the VJM08 and making it track ready. The upgraded B Spec chassis was introduced favorably at Silverstone, so development is still happening for the team. Force India is a team that could be a surprise in the second half of the season. Key to this will be Sergio Perez delivering consistent results and points each week.
Overall, a bit of a disappointment for Force India!
Lotus is another team that could have a pleasantly surprising second half of the season. The driving situation is set for 2016 with both drivers already contracted. Romain Grosjean has had a reasonable season with 5 point scoring outings, but Pastor Maldonado has not seen the reliability or consistency needed to match his teammate. Maldonado has had 6 retirements and has only scored points twice.
That’s not enough!
In order for Lotus to take advantage of their Mercedes power unit, the drivers need to finish the races. Lotus, with Mercedes power, has a fast car and drivers who have pace…especially Grosjean! This may be a case of learning to “go slow to go fast.”
It has been speculated that Lotus could be taken over by Renault if the engine manufacturer decides to up the ante and change it’s role in Formula 1. Lotus has an agreement to run the dominant Mercedes power unit through the end of the current power unit generation. Given that Renault is contracted to supply Red Bull with power units through 2016, it is unlikely that Renault and Lotus will make a change that affects 2016.
Toro Rosso has had a strange season so far. The car is fast and often looks quicker than the sister car at Red Bull Racing. The young, rookie drivers have both performed very well, but from a points finishing position, Toro Rosso has not delivered.
Reliability has been the prime culprit as Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz have only finished 11 times out of 20 opportunities. Long run pace and race management have also been inconsistent which is disappointing given the single lap pace that has often been exhibited from the STR10.
All of this using a weak Renault engine!
Overall, Toro Rosso have shown promise and this has been a good season for the junior Red Bull entry. With any luck, the Toro Rosso squad should see a strong second half campaign and easily double the points scored.
Sauber have slipped after a strong initial showing in the early races with the newly adorned C34. With double points finishes in 2 of the first 3 races (Australia and China), Sauber looked fully capable of taking advantage of the large-scale gains from the new Ferrari power plant. But frankly speaking, the speed has gone out of the Sauber entries. Since China, the team has only scored points twice in the slower tracks of Monaco and Hungary.
After a miserable 2014 campaign where the team failed to score a point for the first time in their history, the Swiss team has certainly improved. They have planned upgrades to the car for Belgium and Singapore and both drivers are currently contracted to return in 2016. Sauber have also picked up veteran Mark Smith as Technical Director. Smith will not have a major impact on the 2016 entry but should provide experience on the technical side for future growth.
McLaren have been fascinating to watch this season.
Like a baby learning to walk, the partnership between McLaren and Honda is lurching forward before our eyes. Like a snowball, it appears that the Honda powerplant is gaining momentum and growing stronger. Both drivers scored points in the final race before the season break in Hungary. Reliability has been the Achilles heel for McLaren big time. With a size zero chassis that seems to emphasize drivability, the Woking bunch have struggled getting the Honda power unit to the checkers. When it does finish, it is obviously down on horsepower and overall pace.
Honda seems to have tackled their reliability issues and is getting closer to running the unit at full power. Engine development tokens are expected to be used in Belgium and Italy. They are slated to improve the efficiency of engine combustion and friction in the gear train system.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button both remain positive on the potential of the McLaren/Honda entry. It would be of no surprise the see McLaren continue to improve and surpass many of the mid-pack teams by years end. To see McLaren 5th or 6th at years end would be a tremendous accomplishment considering the depth of their despair at the initial phase of the campaign.
Fernando Alonso remains contracted to McLaren for two additional years although Jenson Button is rumored to be leaving at years end (possibly for Williams). With Stoffel Vandoorne, the GP2 series leader, rumored as a possible replacement for Button, and Kevin Magnussen still a McLaren reserve driver, it will be interesting to see who races with Alonso in 2016.
Although some might disagree, just getting to the track this season is a major accomplishment for Manor Racing. The team utilized year old engines and equipment and it appears that Manor are more focused on 2016 than the current season. The Manor entry has made no noise and has not been close to any points this year. With a best finishing position of 12th at Silverstone, Manor will need to show a commitment to F1 if they are to compete in years to come in the sport.
Both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi have shown reasonably well considering the disadvantage of running a much slower car. Manor will be one to watch in 2016. If they are unable to compete for points in the mid-pack, we could see Manor dissolve or absorb into another team.
- Lewis Hamilton 202
- Nico Rosberg 181
- Sebastian Vettel 160
- Valtteri Bottas 77
- Kimi Raikkonen 76
- Felipe Massa 74
- Daniel Ricciardo 51
- Daniil Kvyat 45
- Nico Hulkenberg 24
- Romain Grosjean 23
- Max Verstappen 22
- Felipe Nasr 16
- Sergio Perez 15
- Pastor Maldonado 12
- Fernando Alonso 11
- Carlos Sainz Jr. 9
- Jenson Button 6
- Marcus Ericsson 6
- Mercedes 383
- Ferrari 236
- Williams 151
- Red Bull 96
- Force India 39
- Lotus 35
- Toro Rosso 31
- Sauber 22
- McLaren 17
- Manor/Marussia 0