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Rosberg still needs to beat Hamilton in 2015

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg took a big step forward in his 2015 championship campaign by winning the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday. But there’s still an important step Rosberg needs to take if he is to challenge for the championship this season – he needs to beat Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for victory. That didn’t happen in Spain.

Let’s take nothing away from Rosberg’s Spanish Grand Prix performance. He did everything right. His race was faultless. He took pole, led from the start and didn’t put a wheel wrong all afternoon – all of which resulted in a commanding victory.

The trouble was Hamilton was never really in the fight for victory. Having qualified second, Hamilton started from the dirty side of the track (the part of the track not on the racing line). He made a less than perfect start and was passed by Sebastian Vettel into the first corner. From then until the second round of pitstops, Hamilton was stuck behind Vettel, unable to get close enough to pass despite having a much faster car.

Rosberg took full advantage of the situation and pulled away, creating a gap that Hamilton could not hope to close once he eventually passed Vettel using pit strategy. Full marks to Rosberg for controlling the race. But he will be aware that he did not actually out-drive Hamilton. At no point in the race did Rosberg have to pass Hamilton, or defend against him.

Had Hamilton made it into the first corner second, instead of third as was the case, then the race would have been entirely different. Rosberg would have had to fight Hamilton for victory from lights to flag. As it happened, the two Mercedes drivers were not really in the same race, although they ended up finishing first and second in the Grand Prix.

So Rosberg won fair and square. But at no point in the race was he actually racing Hamilton. In the entire weekend, Rosberg only really did two things better than Hamilton – he took pole, which is to Rosberg’s credit as that was a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers; and he made a better start, which is at least partly the result of starting on the “clean” side of the track.

So Rosberg’s satisfaction at winning the race, while significant, will be tempered by the knowledge that he still needs to assume some form of psychological ascendancy if he is to mount a serious title challenge. Admittedly, that wasn’t possible as the race played out on Sunday. Perhaps it will still happen.

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Rosberg already out of 2015 Championship

Nico Rosberg is no match for Lewis Hamilton in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

Nico Rosberg is no match for Lewis Hamilton in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

The 2015 Formula 1 World Championship is only 3 races old, and yet Nico Rosberg is already a non-contender. Yes, he has the fastest car, and yes, he’s a quality driver, but that’s not enough for him to compete with Lewis Hamilton for title glory.

Why is Rosberg out of the running? Because he’s already psyched himself out of it. After just three races, during which he has never looked like beating Hamilton, Rosberg is already complaining publicly that Hamilton is playing dirty. After today’s Chinese Grand Prix, Rosberg stated in the post-race interviews that Hamilton had deliberately driven slowly in order to back Rosberg up into the clutches of third-placed Sebastian Vettel.

Even if that’s true, it’s an extraordinary statement for Rosberg to make. It’s an admission that he is powerless to compete against Hamilton. He’s made it clear that Hamilton can, at will, dictate to him (Rosberg) on the track. Let’s be clear – if Hamilton were to drive slowly with Rosberg close behind, that would be Rosberg’s cue to pass him or make a change to his pit strategy that would give him a clear track and allow him to make full use of the pace of his car.

The only logical explanation for Rosberg’s post-race outburst is this: He knows he just isn’t quick enough to beat Hamilton, and so he’s resorting to badly-conceived attempts to draw Hamilton into a war of words that might distract him from his driving. Hamilton is a double World Champion, and has plenty of experience dealing with pressure at the front. Rosberg’s tactic is therefore extremely unlikely to work.

Hamilton should take confidence from Rosberg’s behaviour. Rosberg has acknowledged Hamilton’s status as number one at Mercedes. Now Hamilton only really has to worry about Sebastian Vettel, currently sitting second in the championship and no stranger to the pressures of a title fight. And Vettel’s Ferrari, while very quick, is no real match for Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Rosberg has effectively handed Hamilton the 2015 World Championship.

Alonso’s unfortunate career moves

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.

Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.

For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.

Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.

Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.

From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.

And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.

Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.

Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.

In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.

But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.

The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.

And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.

Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.

Raikkonen fastest, Hamilton crashes on day 1 of Jerez test

Kimi Raikkonen set the pace for Ferrari on day 1 in Jerez (Image: Ferrari)

Kimi Raikkonen set the pace for Ferrari on day 1 in Jerez (Image: Ferrari)

The first day of pre-season testing for 2014 Formula One cars has come and gone. It included a few red flags, a crash (for Lewis Hamilton) and a some modest mileage for a few of the teams.

What day 1 of testing in Jerez did not include was a Marussia F1 car. The following statement appeared on the team’s Facebook page early in the day, explaining the delay:

“After encountering a small but frustrating technical glitch with the MR03 during its sign-off, we are very pleased to inform you that the car is now well on its way from our Technical Centre in Banbury, bound for Jerez. The garage here is ready and waiting and we look forward to seeing the car arrive tomorrow. Thanks for all your support!”

Also absent from the test was the Lotus E22. Lotus decided some time ago to skip the first test, which means that the first running of their new car will take place in Bahrain on 19 February.

It was expected that the first day of testing would be relatively quiet. With all-new power units in the cars, the complexity involved in this year’s testing is significantly greater than was the case last year. And teething problems are inevitable. There were plenty of those.

McLaren did not run their new car, the MP4-29, at all, after electrical problems hampered their efforts throughout the day. Caterham managed only one lap with their new driver, Marcus Ericsson. Sebastian Vettel covered just three laps in the Red Bull RB10 and did not set a lap time.

It was only a matter of time before someone crashed in testing, and the first man to damage his car on track was Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes W05. To be fair to Hamilton, it really was not his fault at all. The front wing of his Mercedes failed at high speed on the main straight, which effectively prevented him from slowing down enough to take the first corner. Hamilton went off into the tyre barrier at the end of the straight in an accident very similar to that of Fernando Alonso in Malaysia last year.

Fortunately, Hamilton was unhurt and the damage to the car did not appear to be too extensive. Mercedes nonetheless decided not to run again for the rest of the day in order to investigate the cause of the front wing failure.

Until his accident, Hamilton was comfortably the quickest driver of the day and looked set to cover more mileage than anyone else. As it turned out, Kimi Raikkonen went on to set the standard for the day in both respects. He covered 31 laps in the Ferrari F14 T and set the fastest time of the day, seven tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton’s best effort.

Lap times in testing seldom mean much, as it’s difficult to know exactly what the teams are testing at any given point. With brand new cars that are as different to their predecessors as this year’s F1 cars, lap times on day 1 of testing mean nothing at all, so there is very little point in analysing them.

What is perhaps telling at this point is the amount of mileage the teams were able to cover. Ferrari did more than twice as many laps as any other team aside from Mercedes. That is the result of a measure of reliability, which will please the team greatly. It remains to be seen whether or not the F14 T will continue to run without problems in testing. The car did stop on track on its very first installation lap in the morning, but Ferrari reported that the stoppage was “precautionary.”

Here are the lap times and lap count for each team from day 1 in Jerez:

1. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 27.104s, 31 laps
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes , 1m 27.820s, 18 laps
3. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1m 30.082s, 7 laps
4. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m 33.161s, 11 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1m 36.530s, 15 laps
6. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m 42.257s, 7 laps
7. Sebastian Vettel , Red Bull, No time, 3 laps
8. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, No time, 1 lap

Mercedes proves 2014 F1 cars don’t have to be ugly

The new Mercedes W05 (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

The new Mercedes W05 (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

The much awaited Mercedes W05 was unveiled in Jerez, Spain this morning before testing for the 2014 season began. The car did not disappoint – visually, at least.

Most of the cars unveiled thus far (the only one we haven’t seen at all is the Marussia, which should arrive in Jerez tomorrow) have unsightly phallic protrusions at the end of their noses. According to the experts, that arrangement is aerodynamically optimal. If the experts are right, then Mercedes and Ferrari have got it wrong, because they are the two teams who have designed cars with more conventional nose-ends.

Mercedes has long been known for producing attractive racing cars, and the W05 is certainly that. The nose looks good, which cannot be said for the rest of the field. The livery on the W05 features more black than in previous seasons, but still retains enough of its signature silver to be obviously a Silver Arrow.

What is unknown about the car is its speed and reliability. For the first half of today’s first day of testing, it looked like Lewis Hamilton would easily top the times and cover the most mileage for the day. But then the wheels came off, so to speak. Hamilton’s front wing failed under braking for turn one and he crashed, not too heavily, into the tyre barrier at the end of the main straight.

It will be some comfort to Mercedes that the failure was not related to the engine, or “power unit” as it is now known. But they will still be anxious to sort out the issue that allowed the front wing to fail at high speed.

Click here to see the Mercedes W05 launch gallery.

Mercedes: F1 Success Story of 2013

Launch photo of the Mercedes W04 in February 2013 (Mercedes)

Launch photo of the Mercedes W04 in February 2013 (Mercedes)

They may not have won either title, but Mercedes have nonetheless progressed perhaps more than any other team on the grid from 2012 to 2013. There are still two races remaining in the 2013 season, but with 17 races done this year it’s a good time to assess just how well the team from Brackley has done.

In 2012, Mercedes finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 142 points. The team recorded one victory (Rosberg won in China), one pole position (again, Rosberg in China. It’s worth remembering that Schumacher qualified fastest in Monaco but had a grid penalty from the previous race) and three podium finishes. Although 2012 saw the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to the grid in 2010, it was their least successful season in terms of the Constructors’ Championship in the same period.

At the end of 2012, Mercedes were considered to be about 1.5 seconds off the pace. That’s a long, long way. It seemed impossible that Mercedes could make up that deficit in just one off-season. But that’s precisely what they did.

Mercedes came out fighting in 2013, immediately challenging strongly in qualifying and delivering the sort of race pace that had been unimaginable in 2012. They struggled a bit with tyre management, which had been a problem for the team ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. But those issues were generally manageable and were eventually sorted out.

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have dominated the last seven races. But before that, the season was quite open, and Mercedes were strong challengers. In the first 11 races of the season, a Mercedes driver qualified on pole position 8 times – 5 for Hamilton, including 4 in a row, and 3 in succession for Rosberg – and the Silver Arrows recorded three wins – 2 for Rosberg and 1 for Hamilton.

Between them, Hamilton and Rosberg have stood on the podium 9 times so far in 2013 – 5 times for Hamilton and 4 for Rosberg. They’ve each scored more points than the team as a whole managed in 2012 and both are in the top six in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton has a chance (albeit a small one) of finishing second in the championship. It’s more likely that he will overhaul Kimi Raikkonen for third place, as the Finn is just 8 points ahead of Hamilton with two races to go.

The Mercedes team of 2013 has stood out as the most improved outfit on the grid. This season the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships proved out of reach, but not by nearly as much as before. The amount of performance gained in the last off-season bodes well for next year, when massive regulation changes make pre-season development perhaps more crucial than ever.

Where Mercedes have perhaps fallen behind this year has been their in-season development. Winning championships is not just about producing a competitive car. The car must continually be improved and updated throughout the season or the competitive edge will be lost to other teams who are able to develop faster. This year it’s been Red Bull who have impressed most in their ability to improve their car through the season, and they have been rewarded with both championships for the fourth year in succession.

It could turn out that Mercedes are more capable of in-season development than they revealed this season. Next year’s major regulation changes – new power units and various aerodynamic changes – have meant that all teams have had to allocate some resources to next year’s car quite early in the season or perhaps even before this year started. Next year there will not be such a need to split resources early on, and as a result the true development potential of the Mercedes team should be seen in on-track performance in 2014.

Based on their massive progress from 2012 to 2013, Mercedes can be counted on to produce a competitive car for 2014. It will almost certainly be a race-winning car and, if they continue to improve as they’ve done over the last year or so, there’s a chance it could be a championship-winning car.

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