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.
Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
It’s unusual for racing cars to have gender. If pushed, a driver might describe his car as female. Sebastian Vettel would certainly have done that in previous seasons – he named one of his cars Kinky Kylie – but this year’s F1 cars look… let’s say… male. Caterham’s CT05 embodies this “maleness” to a greater degree than most.
The rules governing the height of the nose for this year’s cars have resulted in some unusual-looking solutions being produced by the various teams. The front of Ferrari’s F14 T, for example, looks like a vacuum cleaner. Mercedes have produced the most “normal” looking F1 car, while Red Bull have produced a car that looks quite good until the small bulge at the end of the nose is noticed.
McLaren, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Williams and Force India have all come out with cars that have some variation on a thin extension of the nose that looks remarkably phallic. Some of them have attempted to hide the fact that their nose looks a bit strange by employing creative paint-jobs. Others have tried to minimise the size of the protrusion and, at least in the case of Williams, succeeded to an extent.
But Caterham have made no attempt either to limit the size of their “ant-eater” nose, as it is diplomatically known, or to disguise it with clever paint-work. Instead, they’ve let it all hang out. It’s so striking a feature that there has been almost no comment on the rest of the car thus far. The nose is the only talking point.
On first viewing, it appears that the rest of the car looks much as expected. The rear-exiting exhaust, larger side-pods, and missing rear beam wing are all visible from a fairly cursory glance at the car. Caterham have included what became known as a “monkey seat” last season in the rear-wing centre upright. This is a small wing just above the exhaust of this year’s car. It is permitted by the regulations, but it remains to be seen to what extent it will be used by the teams this season.
The other noticeable change is in the livery. Last year, the rear of the engine cover was yellow, while the rest of the car was its now typical green. But for this season it seems the yellow is gone. The car is all green, at least at this stage of the season. Perhaps the livery will be developed at a later stage.