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Mercs are so dominant they can screw up

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Mercedes have the fastest car in Formula 1 at present. That’s no secret. But just how fast is their car? It’s so fast that both drivers can go off during what should be their fastest laps in qualifying… and they still lock out the front row. That’s exactly what happened yesterday in Austria.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were fastest and second fastest in the final part of qualifying, when they started their final flying laps, each attempting to go quicker. Rosberg was ahead on the track and on a quick lap.

Hamilton put a wheel on the grass under braking for the first corner and spun, ending his chances of improving his lap time. Rosberg was up ahead, unaware that Hamilton had spun and pushing hard to try to take pole position. Going into the last sector of the lap, it looked like Rosberg might have just done enough to beat Hamilton to the top spot. But then Rosberg also went off, running wide on the exit of turn 8 before losing the back end of his Mercedes into turn 9.

Although Rosberg managed to catch his car in time to prevent a spin, he ran out of space and went off into the gravel on the outside of the corner, which put an end to his session.

In motor racing, the track typically (not always but usually) gets faster the longer a session goes on. That’s because the cars lay rubber down on the track on every lap they do. More rubber on the track means more grip, which means quicker lap times. That’s why the fastest lap in a qualifying session is almost always done right at the end, and the teams and drivers time their final lap to start at the last possible second to take advantage of the track being at its quickest.

Yesterday in Austria, Mercedes didn’t need their final laps. That’s how quick those cars are. Even without setting a lap time when the track was in optimal condition, they were still faster than everyone else. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was over a third of a second off Hamilton’s pace in third place, with no answer to the speed of the mighty Mercedes.

Can anyone beat the Mercedes drivers in the race? We’ll find out this afternoon, but I’ll be surprised if that’s the case.

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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.

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 W05 to show support for Schumi

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

The Mercedes AMG F1 team has revealed that its 2014 car, the W05, will display a message of support for Michael Schumacher during the first pre-season test that begins tomorrow in Jerez, Spain.

Schumacher was injured in a skiing accident on 29 December. The retired seven-time World Champion remains in an artificial coma after undergoing surgery in the hours and days following his accident. It is not yet known to what extent Schumacher might recover or when such a recovery can be expected to take place.

Following his total domination of Formula One with Ferrari, Schumacher retired in 2006 before making a comeback with Mercedes in 2010. Although the comeback did not yield the results that were targeted, Schumacher became very much a part of the team and was held in high esteem and affection by his fellow team members. The message shown on the W05 during the coming test is an indication that they, like the rest of the racing community, are anxious for positive news from Schumacher’s doctors.

Mercedes are not the only team to be showing support for Schumacher. Messages of support have been sent by all of the teams to the family, and Ferrari have rallied behind Schumacher’s family, showing their support with personal communication and public shows of solidarity.

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