F1‘s new star is here!

Charles Leclerc, the 21-year old Monegasque who moved this season from Sauber to Ferrari, is no doubt the new star of F1. Having secured pole position in yesterday’s qualifying, the second youngest driver ever to do so (Seb Vettel being the youngest), he missed the start but only needed a few laps to overtake Vettel and actually making him look quite old. He then drove a perfect race until ten laps from the end when a partial engine breakdown made him lose speed and ending third, much thanks to the safety car in the last two laps. It really doesn’t matter though – Leclerc’s first win will come sooner rather than later.

Elsewhere we’re starting to see first signs of what could be an interesting season. Red Bull (Verstappen finishing 4th today and out of the podium for the first time in seven races) is the only team posing a challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari. Sauber successor Alfa Romeo Racing has good speed with Kimi Räikkönen finishing in the points this time as well. On the other hand Racing Point, ex-Force India, seem to have major issues, as does Renault, continuing the trend of engine failures from last year, this time hitting both cars in the same lap! it’s not fully clear what was behind Ricciardo’s move to Renault, but it doesn’t look like a very lucky one, at least not yet.

Marcus Ericsson and Sauber score again!

Marcus Bahrain

Today’s GP in Bahrain was entertaining, as is almost always the case Bahrain, but especially so for Swiss and Swedish F1 fans, as Marcus Ericsson finished 9th, scoring two points for his Swiss Sauber team. Even better, he did not do so because of a mass crash, but rather as the Sauber car with its new partner Ferrari (in Alfa Romeo disguise) is actually becoming increasingly competitive, and at least on this circuit managed to keep the pace of the middle field of teams. This bodes well for the future. Before today, Marcus had a stint of 49 races without scoring a point (since Monza in 2015), hopefully it won’t take another 49 for him to score again!

The race was won by Vettel (but the way his 49th win by a funny coincidence) ahead of Bottas (who would probably have won had the race lasted another couple of laps) and Lewis Hamilton, who had started 9th due to a replaced gearbox.

Racing back on the menu in the Bahrain GP!

Fears that the excitement in F1 was gone forever after the sleeper we witnessed in Malaysia a week ago were firmly put aside in today’s race in Bahrain, with a wide margin the most exciting one so far this season! The excitement didn’t come from other teams having gotten closer to breaking Mercedes’ dominance – actually the contrary. But the various teams seem to have realized that there was a clear risk of the interest in the sport dying off if something wasn’t done, something that led to a healthy absence of team orders. Racing was on the menu, whether it was between Hamilton and Rosberg (Mercedes), Ricciardo and Vettel (Red Bull) or Massa and Bottas (Williams). And boy, did they take it seriously!

images                                                                 So far this season, this is a sight the other teams have had to get used to…

If you missed the race, make sure you watch it afterwards, you won’t regret it. Rather than a summary, below just a few points to summarize some of the key takeaways.

  • The Mercedes team’s dominance this season is breathtaking. In the first 40 laps of the race, both Mercedes cars took a 40-second lead over the rest of the pack. Even more impressive, with ten laps remaining after the safety car phase, in 3 laps, they went into a 10-second lead. It seems doubtful whether any team will be able to challenge Mercedes this season, but obviously there is still a long way to go.
  • The safety car phase between lap 42 and 47, caused by Pastor Maldonado (yes, him again) driving straight into the side of Esteban Gutierrez who did a vertical 360 degrees spin in the air, thankfully without getting hurt, led to none of the teams having to think about fuel consumption. All teams therefore went to full power in the last ten laps, something that on one hand reconfirmed Mercedes dominance, on the other however showed Red Bull far closer to the top than they had been so far in the race. Red Bull’s main issue therefore seems to be one of power and fuel mix, something they should be able to get to grips with during the season, one may assume.  As for Pastor Maldonado, he gained a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, a 5-position grid penalty in the upcoming race in China and a 3 championship point penalty. A suspension for the rest of the season would be better, and safer, for all!
  • Force India and Williams reconfirmed their position as the principal challengers outside of the top teams for the season, led by Sergio Perez finishing third and thereby securing the second podium for Force India.
  • After his podium position in the first race of the season in Australia from which he was later disqualified, Daniel Ricciardo again showed that at least in his eyes, Sebastian Vettel is by no means the number one driver in the Red Bull team, pushing him very close to the limit in some great takeover scenes after the safety car phase. Ricciardo finished fourth, Vettel sixth, and it does seem that slowly but surely, Red Bull are getting there.
  • Last but not least, after some hairy scenes between Hamilton and Rosberg (Mercedes)  earlier in the race that didn’t lead to a single word from the team over the radio, Mercedes couldn’t help themselves making it clear to both drivers during the safety car phase that the first priority was to get both cars across the finish line. Rosberg said ok, Hamilton didn’t comment, and the moment Bernd Mayländer parked the SLS AMG safety car in the garage, the both caught sudden amnesia and showed us some of the best racing scenes in quite some time!

If Bahrain is a sign of things to come, in spite of Mercedes dominance, we are in for an exciting season!

Final testing session in Bahrain brings more of the same

The third and final F1 testing session in Bahrain over the weekend looked much like the previous two, with the Mercedes star shining relatively brightly upfront, Ferrari’s Cavallino Rampante finding at least three of its shoes, and Renault continuing to hit more troubles at the same speed as old ones are solved. Given the free training for the season’s first F1 race in Australia starts in ten days, there is no doubt lights will be on late over the coming weeks, both in the Renault and Red Bull factories.


Little did they know at the end of last season, all the challenges they would face in 2014!

Lewis Hamilton led the time sheets after the last day of training in Bahrain and over the 12 official training days that have now taken place, the MB powered teams have accumulated a total of almost 18000 kms. In spite of this, not even MB and especially the Mercedes AMG Petronas team have managed to solve all issues, but they are clearly in what looks like pole position before the season start. Interesting to see is also that Mercedes-powered Williams has done very well in pre-season training and could emerge as something of a dark horse, especially with the very experienced Felipe Massa as one of the two drivers (the other one being Valtteri Bottas). Mercedes-powered Force India has also done very well both in Jerez and Bahrain.

For Ferrari it has been a mixed bag but ever so slowly, it looks like the team is getting there. Both Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso have struggled with reliability issues in all training sessions, but talk quite confidently about the potential still to be unlocked from the F14T. Whether that happens in time for Australia or later in the season remains to be seen.

Finally (an order that also corresponds to all the training sessions) all Renault-powered teams and especially Red Bull continue to struggle big time. RB managed a decent 77 laps  on the final day in Bahrain but overall in the pre-season training sessions they only leave Marussia and Lotus behind them in terms of number of laps completed (and Lotus didn’t even participate in Jerez). The discussion is now on who is most to blame, Red Bull or Renault, but given that all Renault-powered teams have similar issues, clearly a lot of the blame is found with the French manufacturer. Red Bull say they have identified the issues and hope to have fixes in place for Australia, and other drivers speak respectfully about the “potential” of the RB10 (probably mostly to take the pressure off themselves…). Unlocking that potential in ten days time would seem completely unrealistic for any other team than the 4-time world champions, and must be doubted even for them. What seems certain is that it will be an exciting season start down under in the middle of March!