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!

Chaos as the F1 season kicks off in Melbourne

It was not as much the driving as what happened around it that led to a chaotic start of the F1 season in Melbourne yesterday. As the pre-season results had led us to believe reliability was indeed the major issue, with especially the Renault teams far from ready from a technical standpoint. For the first time ever in F1, several drivers including Swedish Marcus Ericsson had to retire before anything broke but to save their engines… As for the engine sound in 2014, we’ll be diplomatic and let everyone form their own opinion…

When the chequered flag dropped Nico Rosberg on Mercedes had won the race, in the season where his car carries the same number (6) as his father Keke had when he became world champion 32 years ago, in 1982. At this point, it also seemed that Red Bull had saved the day with Daniel Ricciardo finishing second, the first podium for an Australian ever in Melbourne. A short while later however, Red Bull and Ricciardo were disqualified because of too high fuel pressure in the engine, and Kevin Magnussen on McLaren who finished third was all of a sudden second and the most successful rookie since Jacques Villeneuve in 1996. Jenson Button on McLaren was the new third, and both McLaren’s and Mercedes day was hence close to perfect, as Valtteri Bottas on Mercedes was fifth after Fernando Alonso on Ferrari, the only car with a non-Mercedes engine in the top 5.

Mercedes is hence off to a good season start, and Red Bull to an awful one as Sebastian Vettel had been forced to park his car on the seventh lap. As mentioned previously on this blog, it’s quite possible that after a dreadful 2013, Williams emerges as the surprise of the season 2014. For Ferrari, finishing fourth and seventh, it was not too bad, but Alonso still made the comment that the car was only ready to about 60%. If he is right, there’s hopefully a lot of race excitement as opposed to technical and regulatory mishaps to look forward to as the teams move on to Malaysia in two weeks!

 

Jerez 2014 – French frustration, German satisfaction

The 2014 F1 season’s first testing week in Jerez had been much anticipated given the number of changes to the cars and the power units for the new season. And in terms of action, it certainly didn’t disappoint. The potential reliability issues we brought up when describing the rule changes for the new season (see here) hit especially the Renault power units with a vengeance, and none more than Red Bull. Engine cooling was the big issue, and RBR’s new car RB10 therefore spent most time off the track whilst rivals were collecting both laps and experience. At the end of the week, the three Renault teams had managed 151 laps, however of these RBR only managed 21. In contrast, the four Mercedes teams completed 875 laps and the three Ferrari teams 444.

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You can leave the cover on, boys...

Too much should not be read in to the season’s first testing week, especially not to lap times, but it is fair to say that RBR has a lot of work to do before, and a lot to prove during the next testing week in Bahrain on February 19-22.

Judging by the drivers’ comments there was a lot of satisfaction with the new cars. The torque provided by the new engines make them feel very powerful and the new 8-speed gearbox along with thew new breaking system also contribute to making the experience different. Finally the number of buttons on the new steering wheel will take some getting used to, and the wheel was by many likened more to a smart phone.

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Right, let’s see, was it the red one or, eerrr, the green, or…

Jerez was Swedish F1 rookie Marcus Ericsson’s first showing for Caterham, and at least Caterham was the Renault-powered team that managed most laps. It was however another Scandinavian who stole the attention; Mc Laren’s Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen clocked the fastest lap of the week!

Ferrari quickest on first day of F1 testing in Jerez

Räikkönen in the Ferrari F14-T was quickest on the first day of pre-season testing on tuesday.

Ferrari F14-T

Only eight cars set times in a session where some teams didn’t run at all and other teams had serious reliability problems. Lewis Hamilton crashed due to a front wing failure.

Unofficial Tuesday test times from 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

F1 in 2014 – overview of all the changes for the new season

Had someone claimed 10 years ago that in 2014, F1 cars would be powered by 1.6 l engines delivering over 600 bhp, he would most certainly have been laughed at. And yet that is precisely what has happened, one one hand testifying to the extraordinary technical progress F1 has gone through in the last decade, on the other to how difficult it is to predict the future. However it is not only the engines that will change in 2014. In fact the coming season will see the most fundamental changes to the sport since it all started, and for that reason we felt it could be useful to give you an overview of the most important areas affected, along with some thoughts on how that could influence the outcome of the 2014 championships – knowing, as mentioned, that predicting the future is difficult indeed…

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They may have been less safe, but no doubt F1 cars looked better 10 years ago, in 2004…

Engine: all cars will be powered by a 1.6 litre, turbo-charged V6 engine, supported by an ERS system which replaces last year’s KERS and gives about twice the power of the latter. Max rev’s are limited to 15.000 rpm. The ERS system is highly complex and consists of two motors/generators, one linked to the engine, the other to the turbo. Not only will the power be higher, it will also be available for longer (in numbers 120 Kw during 33 seconds as opposed to the 60 Kw during 6.6 seconds given by KERS last year). The minimum weight of the whole unit is set at 145 kg. Max fuel for a race is set at 100 kg, a reduction of 40 kg versus last year.

Gearbox: made out of carbon, the ratios of the 8-speed gearbox may only be changed once during the season.

Chassis: no one has missed the more or less catastrophic look of the noses on the new cars. The reason for this design nightmare is new regulation, aimed at preventing cars from lifting off when hitting another car from behind. This is however only one of a number of chassis and body changes for 2014, mostly aimed at reducing traction and hereby lowering the cars’ cornering speed. The front wing may thus not be larger than 165 cm (-15 cm vs last year) and the whole lower part of the rear wing has been removed. The exhaust must now be mounted centrally in the back, the sideways mounted exhausts that helped aerodynamics are no longer allowed. The opening of the rear wing has been somewhat increased, helping the DRS effect. Finally the side boxes will look a bit different as the cooling system has increased in size, driven by the larger cooling need of the highly complex engine.

Weight: minimum weight has been increased by 49 kg to 691 kg, still however posing a big challenge to the teams as it only partly compensates for the increased weight of all the new components described above.

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Fitting the engine with all its components into the new cars – not an easy task!

It is fair to say that the engineers have thus had a number of nuts to solve in order to fit everything into the new cars and try to meet (and optimize the outcome of) the new regulation. How well they succeed remains to be confirmed as the new season starts. Development costs money so it is probably fair to say that as always, the bigger teams, and especially the factory teams, have an advantage on paper. It is however easy to imagine that with all the complexity added, reliability will again be on the agenda, possibly along with fuel consumption. Clearly the new engines consume less, but we could well have more “excitement” towards the end of races when some drivers start to run out of fuel.

On a technical level, it seems therefore that the F1 circus will prove the Amis wrong: there is indeed a substitute for cubic inches. One question will however remain unanswered until March 16, when the season kicks off in Melbourne, and that is what 20 cars powered by 1.6 l turbo engines sound like, and whether acoustically you will still recognize this as F1 or rather think you are watching the Renault Clio cup. Let’s cross fingers and hope for the best…

Sauber C33 Ferrari – best-looking 2014 car so far!

Swiss Formula 1 team Sauber yesterday presented their 2014 car C33, if you ask me by quite some margin the best looking car of the models we have seen so far and with a remarkably ordinary nose! In spite of severe financial worries last year, Sauber has apparently managed to finance the new season mostly through its driver line-up where both the test drivers Sergei Sirotkin (RUS) and Giedo van der Garde (NL) as well as the regular driver Esteban Gutierrez (MX) have brought sponsor money. The only driver who hasn’t bought his way in, to put is somewhat harshly, is the second ordinary driver Adrian Sutil (GER).

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Marcus Ericsson first Swede in F1 in 23 years!

Not since Stefan “Lill-Lövis” Johansson left the F1 circus in 1991 has there been a Swede that has made it beyond the test driver status in F1 (that was by the way Björn Wirdheim who test drove for Jaguar a few years ago). That will change in 2014 when Swedish 23-year old Marcus Ericsson will take one seat in the Caterham team, the other one going to Kamui Kobayashi, ex-Sauber. Ericsson finished sixth last year in the GP2 series, but apparently still managed to show he has talent. Given Caterham finished last in the team ranking last year it will definitely not be an easy ride, not even within the team as Kobayashi obviously has much more experience, but at least he gets a chance and it bodes well for both the interest and coverage of F1 in Sweden!

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Big financial problems at Swiss Formula 1 team Sauber

The Swiss-based Formula 1-team Sauber is, like most non-factory teams, in quite acute financial trouble. This summer Sauber announced it had secured financing through a Russian investor as part of a deal to hire the Russian driver Sergei Sirotkin for the 2014 season. A few months on Sauber is still waiting for the money, and the number of unpaid bills keep increasing. The company currently has 57 creditors that have started legal enforcement procedures for a total amount of around 500.000 CHF, including the Zurich electricity power company, that Sauber ows around 50.000 CHF. It could therefore be that the lights literally go out soon at Sauber’s HQ in Hinwil outside of Zurich, and one can’t help wondering how a F1 team can possibly survive another season if it can’t pay its running costs? If the Russian money does not come soon, the odds are that there will be at least one team less in the 2014 F1 line-up!

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Sauber F1 team – soon without engine and wheels?

 

F1: Hamilton till Mercedes och Perez till McLaren!

F1-cirkusen när den är som bäst: Lewis Hamilton ersätter Michael Schumacher i Mercedes-teamet. Sergio Perez tar i sin tur över Hamiltons plats hos McLaren. Det ser ut som att Schumacher drar sig tillbaka.

Nu när Sergio Perez, som är medlem i Ferrari Driver Academy och därmed tippad att ersätta Massa hos Ferrari,  hamnar hos McLaren så verkar det än mer sannolikt att Vettel ersätter Massa hos Ferrari. Hoppas jag har rätt…

F1: Ferrari och Alonso vann i Valencia – före Räikkönen och Schumacher!

Det var ett mycket händelserikt lopp i Valencia. Trots att banan är (ö)känd för att vara svår att köra om på blev det mängder med omkörningar.

Alonso i Ferrari vann trots att han startade på 11(!) plats. För Schumacher var det första pallplatsen sedan han gjorde comeback i F1.

Hamilton och Maldonado krockade på näst sista varvet sedan de två hetlevrade förarna förivrat sig när de slogs om tredje platsen.

Nu leder Alonso förar-VM och är den ende föraren som vunnit två lopp i år. Vi har sju olika segrare i de åtta första loppen; det är en historiskt spännande säsong!

Mark Webber vann i Monaco! Rosberg tvåa och Alonso trea

I ett race som var spännande, trots få omkörningar, lyckades Webber och Red Bull ta hem segern före Rosberg i Mercedes och Alonso i Ferrari. Anmärkningsvärt är att, efter 78 körda varv, kom de sex första bilarna  i mål inom loppet av sex sekunder, och de fyra första bilarna inom loppet av 1,3 sekunder, vilket är rekord!

Ferrari tog stora steg framåt, inte minst tack vare en sjätteplats för Massa, och nu leder Alonso förar-VM!