Nico Rosberg has joined the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship fight with a superb victory at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Rosberg beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for the win, with Felipe Massa finishing third for Williams.
This is not Rosberg’s first win of the 2015 season – in fact it’s his third – but it’s a very significant victory. Why? Because it’s the first time in 2015 that Rosberg has beaten Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight. It’s a psychological victory more than a points victory and it signals the start of what could be an epic battle for the Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton is the reigning world champion. He’s had the lion’s share of pole positions – 7 out of 8 races this season, with the other one going to Rosberg in Spain – and has been the man to beat in all of the races so far, winning 4 out of 8 in quite dominant fashion. And until today, it looked like Rosberg might not have an answer for Hamilton’s form.
It’s true that Rosberg had already won two races this season, but neither would have been as satisfying as today’s win. In the Spanish Grand Prix, Rosberg drove flawlessly to win from pole position, but was never in a straight fight with his team-mate, who had a poor start and was stuck behind Sebastian Vettel for much of the race.
In Monaco, Hamilton had the race firmly under control when his team called him into the pits at the wrong time in response to the safety car being deployed late in the race. Rosberg inherited the win, but it had clearly been Hamilton’s day.
While a win counts for 25 points no matter how it is earned, Rosberg will have been aware that he had yet to beat Hamilton in a straight for victory this season. But that’s all changed now. In Austria, Rosberg made a stunning start to beat Hamilton (who was on pole) into the first corner. He then fended off a determined attack from Hamilton into turn 2 and again into turn 3 on the opening lap.
Rosberg controlled the rest of the race to take a much-needed victory and close the gap to championship leader Hamilton to just 10 points. But perhaps more importantly for Rosberg, he had a wheel-to-wheel battle with Hamilton and won. In Austria, Rosberg was the better driver.
Until today, it was hard to imagine Rosberg beating Hamilton to the title. But now it’s a possibility. Hamilton and Rosberg could be locked in a battle for the title reminiscent of Senna and Prost in the 1980s. Formula 1 just got exciting again.
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
Images of the 2014 Williams F1 car, the FW36, have been released by the team ahead of the car’s track debut next week. The images are computer generated, rather than being photographs, but they show the distinctive features of the car quite well.
The most striking feature is the lower, narrower nose required by the new technical regulations. It’s expected that most of the teams will have similar nose solutions, which is not likely to be met with much enthusiasm by F1 fans. By comparison, the 2012 stepped noses looked sleek and subtle.
Among the other noticeable changes are the longer sidepods, which have been required for safety reasons, the narrower front and rear wings and the exhaust, which now exits at the back of the car rather than on the sides as seen in the last few seasons.
The images have been presented in the team’s blue testing livery. Their race livery will appear on the car at a later stage.
Felipe Massa will race for Williams in 2014, the team announced today. Massa will partner Valtteri Bottas, who has raced for the team from the start of 2013.
There are three important pieces of information in the announcement. Firstly, Felipe Massa will remain on the grid past the end of this season. Massa’s future was in doubt after it was announced some months ago that he would leave Ferrari at the end of this season. There were rumours linking him to Lotus, Sauber and, more recently, Williams. The Williams rumours have proven factual, as confirmed today.
Secondly, Pastor Maldonado will be leaving Williams. It’s been no secret that Maldonado has been unhappy with the lack of performance of the Williams cars during the time he has been with the team. Maldonado made his F1 debut with Williams in 2011, alongside the most experienced man in F1 history, Rubens Barrichello. In three seasons, Maldonado has one pole position, one podium and one victory, all of which came at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. That one win accounts for more than half the points the Venezuelan has scored in his time in Formula One.
Maldonado brings a significant amount of sponsorship with him from Venezuelan oil and natural gas giant PDVSA. Williams have been the beneficiaries of that sponsorship for three years, but with Maldonado departing, it seems certain that Williams will have to look elsewhere for that part of their budget. It’s not clear how soon PDVSA signage will disappear from the Williams cars, as the deal between PDVSA and Williams was rumoured to run well past the end of this season. If PDVSA have managed to negotiate their way out of their contract with Williams, it will doubtless have come at a significant financial cost, which will bolster the Williams team’s finances in the short-term. In the long-term, however, Williams will have to find further funding.
There has not yet been any confirmation of Maldonado’s plans for 2014. It’s been rumoured that he’s in contention for Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Lotus. Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari to replace Massa from 2014, and seems set to be replaced at Lotus by either Maldonado or Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg.
The third important piece of information in today’s announcement concerns Valtteri Bottas. The 24-year old Finn is still in his debut season in F1 and has yet to score a point. Although he was expected to have a fair chance of remaining with Williams in 2014, it was by no means certain that he would stay on the grid. This announcement confirms that Bottas has done enough to satisfy his bosses at Williams that he is worthy of another season in Formula One.
For 2014, the technical regulations of Formula One are changing drastically. There will be new hybrid V6 turbocharged engines in the cars, which will look quite different as a result of a few aerodynamic changes. Williams will be looking to tackle the new regulations competitively in order to return to the front of the grid, where they spent so much time in the 1980s and 1990s. The mix of youth (Bottas) and experience (Massa) in their driver line-up puts them in a strong position to develop into the new technical era in Formula One.
This is what the team members had to say regarding next year’s driver line-up:
Sir Frank Williams, Founder and Team Principal: “We are delighted to be able to confirm our 2014 driver line-up and welcome Felipe into the Williams family. He is an exceptional talent and a real fighter on the race track; he also brings a wealth of experience as we begin a new chapter in our story. Valtteri is a valued member of the team and I’m pleased he was able to demonstrate his talent in tricky conditions in Montréal. There is much more to come from him.”
Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal: “It is very exciting for us to be able to confirm our 2014 driver line-up as part of a number of announcements we will be making over the coming weeks. Felipe has demonstrated his talent and speed over the years, as well as his ability to help motivate and drive a team to championship success, and we are extremely pleased that he will be joining us as we embark on our 2014 campaign. Valtteri is an exciting, young talent who has done a solid job for us in his rookie season and we are looking forward to giving him the equipment he deserves to show just how good he is.
“This announcement is a key step towards our goal of returning Williams to the front of the grid, and part of our on-going plans to ensure we are stronger in 2014 and beyond. The stability of having both our drivers on multi-year contracts, Mercedes-Benz as our engine partner and a strong commercial base all contribute to the future success of the Williams F1 Team.”
Felipe Massa: “Williams is one of the most successful and important teams of all time in Formula One. When I was a kid, I always dreamed about racing for Williams, Ferrari or McLaren and I’m glad to be signing with another icon of the sport following my time at Ferrari. It is also nice to remember that some of the best Brazilian drivers raced for Williams and cemented a strong national link with the team. With such a major change of regulations in 2014, I hope my experience will be useful in helping the team in its effort to move on from a difficult period. Since my early days in motor racing, I don’t remember seeing so many new rules in a single season and I’m fully prepared to work with everyone at Grove to make sure we find the right direction. I’m highly motivated to start working hard from the very beginning in what is an exciting new challenge in my career.”
Valtteri Bottas: “I’m very happy to be staying with the team as I embark on my second season in Formula One. I have known everyone here for many years, firstly as a test driver and now as a race driver, so it feels like home. I have faith in Williams and I know we can do so much better in the future than our current performance shows. I am looking forward to having Felipe as my teammate. He is a quick and experienced driver and together we will be pushing to the maximum to improve the car and get as many points as we can next season. We will be working throughout the winter to ensure we are ready for the challenge of 2014. I would also like to thank everyone at Williams, especially Frank, Claire and the senior management for their on-going trust in me.”