UPDATED 14:20 A Daily Round up of Formula One news, inside whispers, opinion and comment. Today,
OTD Lite 2004 – Ron under pressure again
With the recent testing shambles collectively known as Mclaren-Honda – and an inappropriate attempt to take back his Formula One team last season – Ron Dennis is once again having to endure increasing pressure on his position within the Woking camp.
Having usurped Martin Whitmarsh from his post over the winter of 2013 – many believed that the glory days would soon return to the organisation with Ron back at the helm. But this would be supposing that there had never been similar situations in the past. Yet back in 2004, with the launch of the ambitious MP4-19 proving an abject failure, the boss was coming under attack from within.
“There are a lot of disillusioned people in the camp, people who have stood by Ron Dennis for many years. Ron has got a real problem on his hands. They could see what was coming – they knew the car wasn’t good enough. They feel Ron has taken his eye off the ball, that he’s too concerned about style and image. He seems to have forgotten the fundamentals and lost sight of the fact that McLaren is supposed to be, first and foremost, a racing team.”
It is, of course, fundamental to any telling of the Mclaren legend to believe that theirs has been a record of glory during the Ron years. But having lost Honda power in 1993 and the genius of Ayrton Senna the following year, the only title glory Mclaren has tasted over the last 24 years is three driver titles for Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton respectively and one constructor crown. An achievement that is dwarfed by Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams.
Sweet lord, even the Briatore-run Enstone concern has won more driver and constructor crowns in the same period..
Hamilton unconcerned by the season opener
It seems remarkable that a year has passed since the dawning of the new era in F1 history opened its account at the Melbourne track. Lewis Hamilton had qualified his Mercedes on pole position but had retired within two laps. Subsequently the public spoke of him being on the back foot after just one race and how this most public of drivers would crumble under the pressure.
Of course over a 19 race campaign, the ebb and flow of the season will highlight different factors within the ‘knowledgeable’ media and yet Hamilton finished his season with eleven victories and his second title.
Approaching the new title race Hamilton appears to be at ease with the world and despite ongoing contractual negotiations has no particular concerns of the first race.
“It’s the same, I don’t see a particular exaggerated importance than any other time. Of course you come here wanting to start on the right foot, as I didn’t do last year. But there’s a long, long way to go so it’s not the most important thing at the start of the year.”
Massa – Williams ready to challenge for race wins
Williams had endured several miserable seasons – over the last decade – when it entered the 2014 season with little aspirations beyond scoring points.
After a slow start with the new regulations, Williams finished the season as the second best car on the grid with the mighty Mercedes engine powering Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas to several podium finishes.
Many observers felt that Williams had failed to capitalise on the opportunites to claim their first win since the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix but Massa believes that it was Williams being conservative as it consolidated its points tally but the team is better prepared for the coming year.
When asked how much better prepared the Grove team is this year, Massa claimed that the team is “100%, even 120%, better. The team is a different team compared to one year ago, but even compared to how they finished 2013. I really hope this team can fight and we can give everything in the best way every race and every moment. I’m working for that and I’m hoping we can show that.”
“I think the team is still growing, we’re still working to improve and not to make some mistakes which we made during the 2014 season. We’re working to get the best out of the strategy, the best out of the mechanics, the pit stops, the drivers, the car, the evolution, development … I think the team is much more prepared. We’re still not as big as some other teams like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull but I think we’re in a position to fight.”
As to the basic quality of the FW37: “I think everything we feel in the car is what we expected. Everything we saw from the numbers, from the car, from the wind tunnel, we saw it on the track. I think this is very important, but we also saw a big difference with Mercedes which is not a surprise looking at what they did last year.”
“So this is another big fight which we’re going to have all season, but we’re ready to fight. Forgetting Mercedes – because we don’t know if they’re really far away like we saw in testing or not – so I think we are ready to fight with the others as well. I hope we can take the best out of the car every moment we’re on the track.”
Jenson Button happy with new Mclaren
In a recent TJ13 podcast – when the particiapnts were asked how would Jenson Button fare against Fernando Alonso – only two took what could be the bravest/ stupidest decision by supporting the Frome Flyer over the Spanish Samurai.
Craig showed his undying support for Jenson whereas the Grumpy Jackal believed that if the car was a fundamentally balanced design then Jenson could spring a surprise. After all, over three seasons he was in competion with Hamilton just as Hamilton shared the spoils with Alonso during 2007.
It appears after initial testing that Button may well have the car that his ability desires. It is his belief that the MP4/30 is the best overall car he has driven since he joined the team in 2010.
It is well known that the Anglo/Japanese team have struggled over winter testing with limited mileage and there is little faith that the car will still be circulating when the chequered flag is waved on Sunday afternoon. Yet JB is of the opinion that the car has the basic design of a race winner; just lacking the necessary downforce.
“I feel that this is a good start but we don’t have enough downforce to fight with Mercedes or even a couple of the other teams, the basic philosophy and idea of the aerodynamics and how it works is definitely right. I haven’t driven a McLaren like this before, not in the way that it works.”
“I’m not saying it’s the quickest McLaren I have ever driven, because it’s not, but in the way that it works the basic car is very good and it means we can build on it. The airflow will be very clean, so basically we can just add downforce. As I said, it still needs a lot of work to be competitive.”
“Last year you had a lot of downforce when you turned in and hit the brakes but you lost all downforce at the apex. This car is very different, it does what you hope it will do, which is very important for myself and also for Fernando as far as I can see. Looking at the data, Fernando and I like very similar cars and it does the right thing, it’s just whether we have enough downforce.”
“I have no aim in terms of position, but I believe we can finish the race. You are going to have doubts and it would be stupid not to have doubts when you look at winter testing because we haven’t completed a simulated race distance yet. It would be incorrect for me to sit here and say we are going to finish, but who knows?”
Kimi says wait until round 3 for pecking order
In years past, the dominant teams left Melbourne with confidence that their design would carry throughout the season. For the chasing pack – damage limitation or prevention of dashing their hopes against the rocks was fundamental and hence the real ‘pecking order’ would be established after the oddities of Melbourne and Malaysia had been completed.
Considering his infamous lack of empathy with the girls and boys of the written word Kimi Raikkonen does not think the true pecking order of 2015 will be clear until the third race of the year in China next month.
Ferrari landed in Australia with a fresh direction and renewed hope that the chassis and engine have improved over the teams predecessor.
“There’s no point to guess anything and we will see in three days exactly where we are here,” Raikkonen said. “I think we need two more races when we go into different conditions, different circuits, to see where everyone is. We should get a pretty OK result in Australia but where it’s going to be is hard to say, so I don’t know. I’m not interested to guess where we’re going to be and what’s going to happen. We will see in a few days and just try to do our maximum without mistakes.”
“Obviously winter testing was OK so we feel better overall as a team with how everything has run. I’m sure we are much more ready for this year. Are we going to always get what we want? Time will tell, probably it’s not always going to be as nice as you wish but that’s pretty normal. I think we’re in a much stronger position but we still have a lot of work to do to be where we want to be. That’s part of the game and I think we have to be happy where we are, at least in testing, compared to where we finished last year. We’ve done a good job but we’ll have to wait and see if it’s good enough or how far we are improved.”
In season engine development
Honda have 9 engine development tokens to use during 2015. The 2014 engine manufacturers have declared to the FIA how many changes they have made to their engines.
The tokens remaining for each of the 2014 engine manufacturers is
- Mercedes 7
- Ferrari 10
- Renault 12
This means Honda have between a quarter and a third of the 2015 engine tokens available for them to develop their engine. Though at present, all their energy will be focused on getting the current layout to to function properly and be capable of finishing a Grand prix.
Meanwhile the long and protracted divorce between Red Bull and Renault grinds towards its inevitable conclusion. Daniel Ricciardo failed to run at all in Friday afternoon’s session, inciting twitter quips suggesting the Australian has inherited Vettel’s car.
Whether Ricciardo’s engine is ‘out for the count’ or not is unclear at present. Were this to be the case, it will be a very long season for Red Bull’s lead driver with just three power units for 20 races.
Daniel Ricciardo suggested after the session ended that the engine is ‘fixable’ but only because they didn’t “push it” in FP2.
The irrepressible Dr. Marko was not backward in coming forward he reveals at short notice a big pow wow has been organised for after the weekend.
“We have a meeting on Wednesday in England. Those in charge of Renault are not yet here, they’re coming tonight, but it cannot be like this.
“We are promised again and again ‘Next time it will be better, the test results are encouraging’.
“But if you have an engine failure after 50 kilometres, that is incomprehensible.
“We wanted an improvement and we have taken a step back. The gap to the top now is frightening.”
Sebastian Vettel may be smiling to himself having made the move to Ferrari, who look to have made a large step forward whilst his old team are on the slide. Vettel was third quickest in FP2 followed closely by Kimi Raikkonen.
The question must be – is this Friday Ferrari? or are Williams going to have a tough time in qualifying tomorrow?
McLaren Honda stare into the abyss
The turmoil of the reunion between McLaren and Honda continued in Melbourne during the free practice sessions. The team were three seconds off the pace and once again a lack of running frustrated the engineers.
“I have no goals in terms of [qualifying] position”, remarked Jenson Button following the close of business on track . “The important thing is to make sure we maximise everything we have and then look at timesheets in qualifying and the race, see how we fared, and how much work we have to do.”
Kevin Magnussen who is deputising this weekend for didn’t help matters when he put his car into the wall after just four laps in the afternoon session. The damage was extensive and he didn’t run again.
With Manor F1 unlikely to run their cars this weekend, Jenson who has won in Australia three times, manned up and stared into the abyss.
“I am hoping it won’t be the last row of the grid. Hopefully 20 cars will run. It won’t be easy and we all know it. We are working as one and we are not pointing any fingers. We are just solving the problems as we go. Hopefully we will be competitive sooner rather than later”.
Signs of desperation from Button, who seriously believes unless Manor take to the circuit, he and team mate Magnussen to be at the back of the grid.
This is now becoming a disaster for the most historic British F1 racing marque. Red Bull’s woes at the start of the 2014 season pale into comparison when compared to the desperate situation McLaren find themselves now in.
Finishing the race on Sunday with even just one car, is probably now as good as it will get for the Woking outfit.
Rosberg ahead of Hamilton
Clearly this is the case when you look at the headline times. Yes it was just by a tenth, but in the race for pole position even less of an advantage is all it takes.
Both drivers complained about the setup of their cars in post session interviews, though Lewis looked less happy than his German rival.
On the race simulations where Hamilton often had the edge in 2014, Rosberg today had the better runs. In FP2 Rosberg’s simulation saw him break the 1:31 barrier, whilst Hamilton failed to achieve this. The German was also regularly under 1:32:2 something Hamilton struggled to match.
With some 1000km less in testing, has nico got the edge in understanding what the W06 can deliver? Or will Hamilton repeat his performances of 2014 which saw him step it up by the end of FP3?
Lauda heavily critical of Kaltenborn
Never one to duck an opportunity to comment, Niki Lauda has heavily criticised Monisha Kaltenborn. When asked his opinion of the latest legal judgement, Lauda quipped, “Its not the first time the lady doctor has lost a case against Van der Garde. That says it all.”
The former F1 world champion described Kaltenborn’s choice of action as ‘strange’ adding, “agreements must be complied with”
Lauda suggested it was a case of ‘negligence’ on Kaltenborn’s part, concluding, “the misconduct of a team must not show the rest of Formula 1 in a bad light. I was hoping that the season would begin without trouble. Well I was wrong”
Meanwhile Nico Hulkenberg said he was “not very surprised” by Kaltenborn’s behaviour. He explained why, “Because I was part of the team and I know what goes on there.”
Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and other drivers have all given their support to the action Giedo van der Garde has taken.