Drafting the Circuits
Formula 1 Report
By Steve Aibel
The Formula 1 paddock is set to pick up again this week in Barcelona, Spain. Most of the teams will be bringing upgrades intended to improve either reliability, pace or both. Before we jump into the second segment of the yearlong battle for the championship, let’s review what we have seen so far.
Mercedes Grade A
With four races complete, Mercedes has absolutely set themselves up as the dominant team in the garage. With three of four races won by Lewis Hamilton, the Silver Arrows have accomplished their primary objective, which was to maintain their blistering speed and increase reliability.
Lewis Hamilton seems to have settled into the role of two-time champion. What we are seeing is a confident expert who is unlocking all of his true potential. Nico Rosberg, on the other hand, must show that he can compete with Hamilton when the British driver is at the top of his game. If Rosberg does not establish himself quickly, Hamilton will rapidly run away with his third Drivers Championship.
Ferrari Grade A
Ferrari has been the surprise of the 2015 season and a pleasant one at that. The team has responded to the massive changes of 2014 with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel and team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene. The air is fresh in Maranello and the team has responded.
Plain and simple!
The Sf-15T is fast and appears to be a reliable, integrated package that was built to suit the driving style of Kimi Raikkonen. With a late design alteration that shifted weight to the front of the car, both Raikkonen and Vettel have the best chance of challenging the dominant Mercedes. With key upgrades expected in the next round of the championship in Spain, we will get a good look at whether Ferrari will be able to maintain their position relative to Mercedes and ahead of Williams. It will be tough to catch Mercedes, but if anyone does, it will be Ferrari!
Williams Grade B-
Williams were expected to be challenging Mercedes this year but through the flyaway portion of the championship they have not delivered all of their potential. With Valtteri Bottas missing the opener in Australia due to a back injury, Williams are struggling to catch even second place Ferrari. With the Mercedes engine package, this is a surprise and was not expected from the Grove squad.
Williams will need to rapidly develop the existing car, which has been heavy on the rear tires. “We need to develop the whole package faster and at a higher rate if we are going to catch the people in front,” said (Head of Vehicle Performance Rob) Smedley. That is our aim.”
Red Bull Grade D
This is tough, as I happen to be a huge supporter of Red Bull Racing. But call a spade a spade. Red Bull has struggled in 2015 with the reliability of the Renault engine package. All teams have four engines, which are slated to last through the entire campaign. Daniel Ricciardo will enter the Spanish Grand Prix using his 4th engine which puts grid penalties right around the corner should Renault continue to experience reliability problem.
Daniel Ricciardo has gathered 19 of the 23 Red Bull points. With Daniil Kvyat only securing 4 points, he will need to show much better if he is to continue with Red Bull racing. Overall, the jury is out on the RB-11 chassis, as the issues with the Renault power unit have not allowed the full potential of the entry to be seen.
Lotus Grade C-
Lotus is still coming to grips with their 2015 car and the Mercedes engine that replaces the Renault unit used in 2014. Frankly, more was expected of Lotus. A slow start seems to have been replaced by some momentum for, at least, Romain Grosjean. Grosjean has tallied all of the 12 points for Lotus while Pastor Maldonado has yet to achieve a top ten finish and points.
With Grosjean securing two 7th place finishes in the last two rounds, the Lotus E-23 has shown it has the potential to run in the top ten. For Lotus to show it’s full potential, Pastor Maldonado needs to finish in the points. The team certainly has the potential to run with Red Bull and it should be able to challenge Williams.
Sauber Grade B
Sauber has been a very pleasant surprise this season. With the strong Ferrari engine and two rookie drivers, Sauber has gotten about as much as it could ask for so far. Felipe Nasr had a great opening round in Australia where he finished 5th holding off a charging Daniel Ricciardo with a brilliant drive. Marcus Ericsson also scored points in the opening round. Both drivers also achieved a double point tally in China! This is important considering last years entry did not score any points during the entire 2014 campaign.
Sauber’s main challenge will be budgetary as developing the car throughout the year will require financial improvement and stability. Sauber have a nice package, a strong engine, and some young hungry drivers. But there are some dark clouds surrounding the team such as the Giedo van der Garde fiasco and the cloudy circumstance of 2014 driver Adrian Sutil. The team will need to finish well and avoid this type of off track controversy to attract the sponsorship that will allow for long-term competitiveness and growth.
Toro Rosso Grade C+
Toro Rosso has two rookie drivers and a Renault engine that is weak at best. Still, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen have 6 points each and are bringing excitement to the track each week.
The little sister of Red Bull Racing is playing the Little Engine That Could role, overachieving and drawing headlines for tremendous effort. Toro Rosso will be one of the few teams that will not bring large upgrades to the Barcelona race. Instead, they brought their primary weapons to test three before the season began. Other than some small aero upgrades, Toro Rosso has already spread its hand upon the table. Their growth will come from Renault improving the powerplant. With a reliable engine package and a little more power, Toro Rosso could reliably fight for points positions each and every race.
Force India Grade D
Force India has been one of the bigger surprises this season. With the Mercedes engine, the expectations for Force India were always to be competing for points. With only 11 points scored so far, Force India are well below where they ended last season.
Force India are still reeling from not being at the early test in Jerez and not unveiling their 2015 car until the final test. With the Mercedes engine package, one expected Force India to quickly be a mid pack team, competing for 5th or 6th place in the Constructors Championship. Instead, they have the fewest points of any team other than McLaren and Manor. Still, Force India have shown signs of improvement and with two strong drivers in Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, they could easily surge during the middle sector of the season. This is a team to watch. If they do well, it means they have ample funding and are committed to the long run. If they do poorly, this could be a team that becomes a backmarker.
McLaren Grade D
The McLaren story this year is one of taking a step back to move forward in the long haul. I am not sure that McLaren expected their step back to be so far. With Fernando Alonso missing a race due to his crash in Barcelona and Jenson Button barely able to run in Bahrain, McLaren are still working on integrating the Honda engine package with the new size zero chassis.
Although the Woking bunch are still playing catch up to the field, the tone in the garage is certainly not one of despair. Instead, we keep hearing that the true potential of the McLaren/Honda pairing will come fast and furious by mid season. Although a podium finish might be a stretch, expect to see Button and Alonso pressing the mid pack for points sooner rather than later.
Manor Grade C
Manor made the earth move in getting back onto the Formula 1 grid. The task of getting back was monumental and they should be applauded for gathering together the resources to mount this comeback. But it has been difficult for them and the jury is still out on whether they will have a place on the grid long term.
With not setting a time in Australia and only fielding one car in Malaysia, Manor is still suffering the affects of coming out of the administration process. The team has progressed each round of the championship from not fielding a car in Australia to having both cars running at the tail end of the field in China and Bahrain. Manor will benefit from the new Ferrari engine when they bring their 2015 chassis to the track. This should instantly make them more competitive within the field.
- Lewis Hamilton 93
- Nico Rosberg 66
- Sebastian Vettel 65
- Kimi Raikkonen 42
- Felipe Massa 31
- Valtteri Bottas 30
- Daniel Ricciardo 19
- Felipe Nasr 14
- Romain Grosjean 12
- Nico Hulkenberg 6
- Max Verstappen 6
- Carlos Sainz Jr. 6
- Sergio Perez 5
- Marcus Ericsson 5
- Daniil Kvyat 4
- Mercedes 159
- Ferrari 107
- Williams 61
- Red Bull 23
- Sauber 19
- Lotus 12
- Toro Rosso 12
- Force India 11
- McLaren 0
- Manor/Marussia 0