Drafting the Circuits
Formula 1 Report
Australian Grand Prix Preview
By Steve Aibel
Rolex Australian Grand Prix
Albert Park, Melbourne
OZ…go to Oz! Find the Emerald City and all your dreams will come true.
Every Formula 1 team launches their season in Australia on Sunday, March 15. The hopes of a championship ride along on the open wheel fire-breathing dragons that characterize Formula 1. By this time next week, we will have our first race winner and the 2015 Formula 1 championship will be off and running. The street circuit in Albert Park, Australia will be the first stop in a long journey that will crown an F1 champion.
With a new season comes new regulations and a season long race to master them. Last year, the dominant Mercedes AMG Petronas engine package allowed the Brackley team to dominate the drivers and constructors championships. Both Renault and Ferrari spent a great deal of time improving their power units in preparation for 2015. Melbourne will show us how far they have come as well as measure newcomer Honda.
Engine development is governed by a token system that allows the teams to change out a certain percentage of the engine each year. Each engine component is awarded a token value from 1-3. Teams can change out 32 tokens this year which equates to a change of 48.5 % of the power unit.
More importantly, instead of homologating the engine prior to the season, the teams will be permitted to make engine improvements throughout the season limited by the 32 token maximum. Ferrari lobbied hard for this when it was found that the F1 Sporting Regulations did not state a specific date for homologation. The new Honda power unit will certainly benefit from this change as they have struggled mightily with system integration issues during February testing. Allowing in season development will certainly help them get up to speed quickly.
The power unit comprises six separate elements: the engine (ICE), the motor generator unit-kinetic (MGU-K), the motor generator unit-heat (MGU-H), the energy store (ES), turbocharger (TC) and control electronics (CE). The teams will be limited to 4 power units during the entire campaign, a reduction from 5 allowed last season.
4 units for a full season!
Once a fifth element is utilized a grid penalty will be assessed. Expect this to play a role sooner than we think this season, especially for McLaren/Honda.
Safety governed some additional changes for 2015. New nose designs are subjected to a more stringent crash test. The new nose will also improve the look of the F1 front end, which was criticized last year for simply being “ugly.” Cockpit safety has also been addressed as the survival cells now have higher anti-intrusion panels aimed at protecting the driver’s head.
A Virtual Safety Car procedure (VSC) has also been introduced in response to the tragic accident of Jules Bianchi of Marussia at the Japanese Grand Prix. The VSC is to “be used when double waved yellow flags are needed on any section of track and competitors or officials may be in danger, but the circumstances are not such as to warrant the use of the safety car itself”.
So where does this leave us as we land in Oz?
Mercedes walk into Australia with a mean swagger after one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history. They are the jungle cats with a stranglehold on the forest and seem to be stronger after February testing. Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg seem confident that the Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid has improved on the championship-winning car from 2014.
Until a real threat arises from the paddock, the biggest battle Mercedes will face will be between teammates. This year, Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe can anticipate a second bout between Hamilton and Rosberg that should bring both highs and lows.
Hamilton is looking to become the greatest British driver in Formula 1 history. At 30 years of age, he has 2 championships titles and 33 race wins. He is just a stones throw away from mimicking Jackie Stewart’s 3 titles. Since Stewart reached his third title with fewer race starts, Hamilton will need at least three and probably four titles to land the title of top British GOAT!
Rosberg, on the other hand, is still searching for his first title and until then, will live in the shadow of his father Keke. Rosberg was a factor during the entire 2014 campaign, but realistically, it was mechanical failures on Hamilton’s car that kept his championship titles alive until the season finale. For Rosberg, this is a critical year and if he wants to be the number 1 option for a Formula 1 team, he will have to level the playing field with Hamilton.
So F1 is back and I could not be more excited. Who will step up to challenge Mercedes? On Sunday we will have answers and many, many, more questions.
I’m ready! It is time! Let’s return to the land of Oz.
F1 is back!