After diverting my attention to the sports car variety of prototype for a week, F1 was back on my mind as the sport returned to the European grind with a trip to the hills of Austria. Mercedes were striving for a year of pole positions, having slipped up in Spielberg this time last season. Oddly on their way to completing the year of Saturday dominance, not only did Lewis Hamilton spin (again) but Nico Rosberg had an off himself at the final corner on both of their final runs but this time neither Ferrari nor Williams were anywhere near close enough in terms of raw pace to take advantage.
It may not have been the best race of the season so far but with Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel chasing through the field after mechanical gremlins on Saturday and others out of position compared to their race pace, there was still plenty of action and incident. Montreal proved why it is a favourite on the F1 calendar with good overtaking and close racing. And with a mixed up grid, it gave a few of the drivers who haven’t had the best of starts to 2015 a chance to shine.
As Mercedes defended phantom moves at the front to their detriment, the Brackley-squad were left upstaged by young stars in the midfield. Qualifying was always going to be key in Monaco but down the field, some bold strategy moves and ballsy overtaking moves saw some of the stars of the future climb up through the field having started out of position.
The start of the European season is always hyped as the start of the development race where we find out the true pecking order for the F1 season as teams bring new parts galore and race around the optimum testing track, highlighting the best chassis of the season. And unfortunately, Ferrari’s title credentials took a critical blow, as they watched the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg drive off into the distance.
The Bahrain GP delivered once again as Mercedes couldn't quite shake the Ferrari fight. Nico Rosberg had to pass a Ferrari five times and still finished behind Kimi Räikkönenafter the Finn chased him through the final stint before Rosberg's brakes faltered at "the worst possible time" with two laps left.
While strategy was the source of intrigue in Malaysia as spectators were left wondering if Sebastian Vettel could outpace the Mercedes in a straight fight, it was the source of frustration for many in China, not least Nico Rosberg. With a risk of burning out tyres and allowing Ferrari into the picture, Mercedes went very conservative and secured a one-two with an incredibly measured strategy, though Lewis Hamilton’s pace appeared more conspiracy than controlled in the eyes of some.
It took twenty one races for Mercedes air of invincibility to be evaporated. For the first time, Mercedes were beaten in a straight fight on pace, with strategy a factor but by no means the sole reason they were beaten. Take nothing away from Daniel Ricciardo but his three wins in 2014 did owe a lot to Mercedes unreliability and unrest as well as weather. This wasn't lucky, this was the perfect blend of skill and hard work from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.
F1 returned in farcical circumstances in Australia. Heading into the season opener we didn’t know how many cars would be on the grid, which drivers would be there or how many races will be on the calendar (and we still don’t). Even once we got to Melbourne, one team was in court being sued by one of its three drivers and another found that their car wasn't able to run at all. In the end, just 15 cars, 75% of the entry list, started the race and we were reduced to 13 runners after just one lap.
Okay, so we didn’t get a title decider for the ages. It wasn’t 2008, or 2012 but it was still a fascinating weekend and a great battle between the two worthy contenders from Mercedes, right up until the moment that Nico Rosberg suffered an ERS failure. But the championship already appeared within reach for Lewis Hamilton after a lightning fast getaway that launched him into first and control of the race.
The Brazilian GP threw up another thriller as delicate, volatile tyres left teams on the edge with strategy. Blisters were evident after just a couple of laps into a stint and the man caught out the most was the favourite for the championship, Lewis Hamilton. The alternative strategies led to a fascinating race but in the end, the biggest factor in the result was a Mercedes power unit.
The US GP helped to lift the gloom off of one of the darkest months in F1 history. But there were still reminders of the struggles the sport is going through. While Jules Bianchi’s injury is by far the worst of the struggles F1 has had, the starkest image was just seeing 17 cars on a threadbare grid. But even with just 18 cars in the race, there was still some entertainment on Sunday evening, with some cars appearing to use demolition derby techniques in their finely tuned F1 cars with varying degrees of success.
It was a strange weekend in Russia with all the excitement of a new facility and the start of the championship run in, and yet no one wanted to know, focused on answers after Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash in Japan. But Russia offered everyone the opportunity to move on and get their thoughts somewhat, if not fully, back on racing. But there was definitely something missing, not least the 22nd car on the grid of Jules Bianchi. Perhaps an indication of drivers’ thoughts being on Jules Bianchi, no-one really had the perfect weekend. But regardless, there were still some good performances to write home about.
It was a bizarre weekend in the land of the Rising Sun - not that you could see the Sun on Sunday - with shock driver moves as Sebastian Vettel fled to Ferrari, triggering Daniil Kvyat's early promotion to the Red Bull senior team, and warnings of extreme weather affecting the race as Typhoon Phanphone hit the coast of Japan. And mixed in was the inevitable politics of F1 as arguments raged over why the race was not brought forward to avoid the worst of the storm.
The Singapore GP may have started out as a moonlit cruise but the fireworks came out in the second half of the race as Adrian Sutil caused a safety car that completely changed the complexion of the race. Though the early part of the race had been fairly processional (12 to 21st all remained in the same order until lap 8), it was packed with drama as the one retirement was a critical one. A wiring loom failure created pre-race anxiety for Nico Rosberg which was justified as the German failed to pull away for the formation lap. And while Rosberg did manage to get away from the pitlane, he never really got going, even the Caterham and Marussias easily pulled away from his mis-shifting Mercedes.
Well, that livened this season up. While the Italian Grand Prix can occasionally be a bit of a damp squib, this year it proved to be one of the most dramatic races of the year with battles all the way down the field and great drives from a few men who needed to step up and prove their mettle once again to the F1 paddock.
While the traditional war between England and Germany (well, a lone German) was reignited, there was actually some sense provided on the track by others. I'll get to the impending doom at Mercedes but let's first credit the Scandinavians and the faultless Daniel Ricciardo (who won with extreme maturity) for their spectacular drives to pick up big results as the big names faltered and tripped over one another.
Well, what a fantastic race! Wet to dry, faster cars coming through the field, a mix of strategies, tight battles throughout, and no idea who would win the race until a couple of laps to go! And while experience is often key in bizarre races like this one, it was young Daniel Ricciardo who came through to win the second race victory of his career.
Another race, another Mercedes win. But that doesn't begin to tell the story. While Rosberg was dominant, the star performances came further down the field. Lewis Hamilton recovered well from 20th on the grid, having suffered a brake failure in qualifying, leaving him rooted in 16th before an inevitable gearbox change put him even further behind. His fight back was impressive, though it was made easier by his Mercedes car's dominance.
An action-packed race that will live long in the memory. From Lewis Hamilton seeing the red mist and hunting down his Mercedes’ teammate like a finely tuned predator to Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso fighting their way through the field to Jenson Button’s great defensive drive, this race had everything and I’m sure the fans won’t have minded waiting an extra hour after Kimi Raikkonen’s huge accident for the real fireworks to begin.
Well that wasn’t what was expected but it was certainly what the doctor ordered. Mercedes finally have someone to play with at the front in the form of Williams. Now maybe the track favoured Williams with 90 degree corners not as challenging on their tyres as the long sweeping corners of circuits like Circuit de Catalunya or Shanghai, and the short track reducing the advantage of pure speed. In qualifying they may have got lucky with Lewis Hamilton’s spin ruining both Mercedes’ final Q3 run, but many were left stunned when their advantage warming up tyres in qualifying didn’t hurt their tyre wear in the race.
365 F1 stories
Ralf Schumacher was born on this day in 1975, but when, where and with whom did he make his Formula One debut?
F1 test schedule
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||1 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||2 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||3 Feb|
|Circuito de Jerez||Spain||4 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||19 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||20 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||21 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||22 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||26 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||27 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||28 Feb|
|Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya||Spain||1 Mar|