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.
Kimi Raikkonen’s first day back in the cockpit of a Ferrari ended as well as he could have hoped – the Finn set the pace on the first day of winter testing and completed more laps than any other driver.
Although the day ended well for Raikkonen, his first experience of the Ferrari F14 T came to a premature halt after just a few corners, when he stopped the car on track on his very first installation lap for precautionary reasons. Exactly what the problem was, Ferrari is not telling, but it didn’t prevent further running so it couldn’t have been too serious.
Raikkonen told http://www.ferrari.com after the day’s testing: “The biggest challenge now is to ensure everything works. The new cars are much more complicated than the previous ones and there are a thousand details that can slow down the work. This morning, we’d have liked to do a few more laps but in the afternoon I think we did a good job. From a driving point of view, I didn’t feel any amazing difference, although it’s much too early to give an opinion on this.”
“Overall, we can say it was a good start. We have a solid base from which to work over the coming days. The times from this test mean nothing and we will only begin to understand something only in Bahrain. The cars are much slower? It’s pointless making comparisons with the past because everything is completely different.”
Raikkonen will drive the F14 T again on day 2 of the Jerez test, before handing the car over to Fernando Alonso on Thursday and Friday of this week.
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