March 17, 2015

Horse 1859 - F1: The Silver Streak Continues (Round 1)

- This was as close as anyone got to the Silver Arrows.

The beginning of any new season is a bit like the first day back at school. No-one is settled in and there are always those who are disruptive. Yes, there had been pre-season testing, in which Mercedes seemed to float around in an endless blur of speed, in which McLaren's new recruit Fernando Alonso had become mysteriously injured and refused to release any details, in which Red Bull could never get their Renault engines to run reliably and where McLaren could barely get their Honda engines to run at all, and where Ferrari's Raikkonen and Vettel appeared to promise so much. All would be found out on opening day.

Before a wheel had even turned in proper anger, Catherham had fallen over and gone into receivership, Marussia had left Manor F1 holding the bag but with no money in it and Force India and Sauber were experiencing their own money troubles.
F1 supremo Bernie in his perpetual and chronic lack of care for anything or anyone unless he's able to extract a considerable amount of cash out of them (in the 1980s he didn't even save Brabham after previously being a Team Principal of that team), is perfectly content to watch the smaller teams die, even if that means fewer cars on the grid. The current funding setup rewards teams like Mercedes and Ferrari when clearly, they are not struggling.

Sauber in particular, had spent the beginning of race week in court after Guido Van De Garde took them to the Victorian Supreme Court, arguing that because he was a contacted driver, that he should be given a drive. Sauber had unilaterally decided that they needed some drivers who had the ability to bring funding to the team and so they effectively started the year with four drivers but only two cars. Van De Garde won his appeal in court but was still not allowed to race because his Formula One Super Licence had not been renewed.

On track, Marussia who were now called Manor F1, never put a car on track for the weekend. Bottas' Williams didn't take part in the race because he was injured. Magnussen's McLaren had technical issues with it's engine and stopped on the warmup lap; as did Kyvat's Red Bull which stopped due to software glitches. From a possible 20 cars, only 15 started the race.

The first corner of any Grand Prix season is often difficult and most of the cars got through relatively unscathed except for Pastor Maldonado who found himself the victim in a tiff between the two Ferraris, Sainz's Red Bull and Nasr's Sauber and was tagged by Kimi Raikkonen, punting him into the wall. His Lotus teammate Grosjean would also suffer some sort of engine glitch and his race was canned at the end of the first lap; thus ended a disastrous weekend for Lotus.

From here the race fell into a general sort of rythym with the two Mercedes streaking off into the distance and and everyone trailing further and further behind. Really apart from 17 year old Max Verstappen whose Toro Rosso expired underneath him and Raikkonen who was ordered to stop for fear of a rear left tyre which might not have been affixed properly, the race kind of meandered along until the chequered flag dropped.
Hamilton surged to a position roughly 20 seconds ahead of Rosberg and was never passed on track; the only times that a Mercedes didn't lead a lap was the period when Hamilton and Rosberg had pitted, which let them out of step for a while. Once Vettel and Massa had pitted for new tyres, they duly slotted in behind the two Mercedes.
Mercedes scored a relatively easy 1-2 and were never headed. The question before the Grand Prix was always going to be which Mercedes would win, rather than anyone else.

Really what we've learned from the first race of the year is that the Mercedes is still the class act of the field; that Ferrari have made some progress but not enough to trouble the silver arrows up front; that Renault really need to work harder on their powerplant and that Honda's new engines are at the moment, complete and utter rubbish.

Honda have always had the problem in F1 that they want to do as much as they possibly can, to push their engineering department. When they took over BAR in the mid 00s, BAR went from a team of also fans to tailenders. I don't know if McLaren's troubles are related to Honda's perpetual tinkering but I do know that Jensen Button was asked to turn down the dials on the engine. Apart from a feeble attempt to hold up Sergio Perez in the Force India, the only reason that Button made up any places was either off the start line or because other cars had expired. He was circulating as much as 6 seconds a lap behind the Mercedes and so you get the impression that McLaren would want to be out of Melbourne as quickly as possible.

I find it really strange that although this is the second year of these regulations with the hybrid V6 powerplant, unreliability has gone up rather than down. The exception was McLaren whose Honda was new but t seems that in the race to chase down the Mercedes, the other teams are trying to turn the wick up even harder. Williams who also run a Mercedes engine and therefore don't need to engage in the face for more power, probably would have picked up two points paying positions and so apart from them, only Ferrari looks to have a hope at challenging the silver juggernaut.
Team Principal of Red Bull, Christian Horner, has voiced the opinion that the rules need to be re-jigged so that the field has a chance but this is in stark contrast to his own advice to the other teams when Red Bull was beating all and sundry, when he said that the other teams need to work harder.

In 2015 which is the first year since 1984 that all races will not be shown live on free-to-air television, I've decided that the races which are only shown on pay TV do not exist as far as I'm concerned. In the spirit of 1984, I'm going to keep score based on the ten races that we do get and using 1984's points system of 9-6-4-3-2-1.
"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 1 looks like this:

9 Hamilton
6 Rosberg
4 Vettel
3 Massa
2 Nasr
1 Riccardo

The Constructor's Championship is thus:

15 Mercedes
4 Ferrari
3 Williams
2 Sauber
1 Red Bull

For those of us in 'forget about the plebs free-to-air TV land', the next race in Bahrain is almost a month away. Channel 10 which used to pitch itself as 'the home of motorsport' has had rank pulled on it by Fox Sports. Perhaps we the plebs should be grateful for what little scraps we get; in 2016, we might get none.

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