Sunday, 22 May 2016

Hamilton and Rosberg's Nightmare in Barcelona - Who Was To Blame?

As the dust settles from the scintillating Spanish Grand Prix the internet is alight with praise for Max Verstappen's brilliant win at only 18 years old. Yet one can't but notice the massive stir over the most contentious issue in a long time. Who was at fault - Lewis or Nico?

Carnage at Turn 4 for the Mercedes duo

Unless you've had your head buried under the sand you will be aware that both championship contenders didn't even negotiate a full lap before making contact with each other and plunging into the gravel trap. An attempted overtake from Lewis Hamilton on Nico Rosberg heading into the braking zone of Turn 4 ended in disaster for Mercedes.

What Happened? 

Nico's red rain light signifies he is harvesting mode
From lights out the two silver cars immediately locked horns. Lewis' big move off line to defend ultimately allowed Nico to have better momentum into Turn 1 and take the lead. As both began to exit long sweeping right hander of Turn 3 Nico's rear rain light began to flash - his car had entered harvesting mode. With the recent ban on radio instructions from the pit wall its now up to the driver to make sure the car is configured in the correct settings off the grid. Nico didn't do this, his power unit hadn't harvested enough energy on the way to the grid meaning at some point on the first lap he would get a drop in performance. This energy is worth around 160-180hp, equivalent to a swift family saloon or sporty hatchback. This happened through Turn 3 which gave Lewis a 17kph (11 mph) advantage. Nico's reaction was to make a adjustment on the steering wheel to select the correct engine mode and hit the overtake button for maximum power available.

Lewis smelt blood and decisively went for the gap on the inside of the circuit. As Nico began to close the door Lewis' front wing was alongside. However, Nico continued to close the door forcing Lewis onto the grass leading him to lose control and make race-ending contact for the both of them as he rejoined the circuit.

Lewis squeezed onto the grass

Who Was At Fault?

Team boss Toto Wolff stated the blame was equal and immediate driver/team meetings took place after the incident. It was clear from the post-race interviews of Lewis and Nico that their hand's were tied around their back - the official line was to accept the stewards decision of a "racing incident". However social media was ablaze with debate, often negated by whether you were team Lewis or Nico previously. Through this emotional storm you need to navigate your way to a logical answer. This all depends on your 'racing philosophy' of course...

Mercedes bigwig Niki Lauda was first to throw his hat into the ring, labelling Lewis' actions as "Stupid".

“It’s very simple for me. It was a miscalculation in Lewis’s head. I blame him more than Nico. For the team and for Mercedes it is unacceptable. Lewis was too aggressive to pass him and why should Nico give him room? He was in the lead. It is completely unnecessary and for me the disaster is that all Mercedes are out after two corners.” - Niki Lauda

Its obvious that Niki wouldn't be happy with the result, but after inviting Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche to the race only to witness the ultimate sin being committed this would be doubly sour. He clearly thinks Lewis' aggressive move put to much unwanted risk at the table and cost the team a potential 1-2 result. Triple World Champion Jackie Stewart was equally unimpressed by Lewis' decisive overtake attempt.

Scotsman Jackie Stewart was critical of Lewis
"You didn't see Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark do that.One of the major assets for all the great drivers is their mind management.I learned to remove emotion from my whole body to head and that's why I always won my races in the first five laps.It was a spontaneous movement by Lewis that if he were to think back on it, he wouldn't have tried it again.He needs to think about what happened in Spain, he has to consider the ramifications to his employers.The damage that it caused to Mercedes is the combined total of those drivers, as they would have been first and second.He has to rethink his complete attitude towards what he is responsible for and that applies to every top-line driver."- Jackie Stewart

These are quite hard words from Jackie, a man who has cut his teeth in the corporate world and understands the value of team work and the ultimate result for Mercedes. His quoted great drivers of Fangio, Moss and Clark certainly are legends of the sport. More recent names amongst such greats would certainly include the late Ayrton Senna, a hero of Lewis Hamilton. Back in 1992 Jackie Stewart was also very critical of Ayrton's driving, famously putting it to the Brazilian that he is often involved in on track incidents more so than any other World Champion. His response is now etched in history and to some ring true now -"if you no longer go for a gap you are no longer a racing driver".

The outspoken son of F1 ace Giles Villeneuve and World Champion in his own right, Jaques Villeneuve sat on the opposite side of the argument. Labelling Nico's defence as "killer" the Canadian felt "..he moved when Lewis had already made his move. You don’t do that, it’s why there is a rule in place. It’s the most dangerous thing you can do in racing - and the unfairest."

Interestingly Jacques also pointed out that  "you never saw it in the ‘80s because they’d kill each other". In this age he feels that drivers don't seem to respecting dangerous moves with much improved safety levels giving a false sense of security.

'97 Champ Jacques Villeneuve weighed into the argument
No one can deny Nico left absolutely no room for Lewis with an aggressive closing of the door. We have seen plenty of close racing from these rivals from the past which has continually strained the relationship. But they always seem to jossle with respect and understanding. Who can forget the nail biting battle between them at Bahrain in 2014, jousting and swapping positions continually, yet leaving just enough space for on another? As bitter as the pairing appears its important to remember both drivers were karting team mates in their teens. The future stars not only raced together, they shared rooms together. As fiery as the relationship becomes this can never be forgotten. Unfortunately now it seems this relationship is now worse that ever. Even with their hand's tied behind their back by the corporate world of modern F1 the body language is clear.

My Verdict

Perhaps you are in the mind frame that a potential 1-2 result should have made Lewis more conservative in his approach, or that his move was too risky on his team mate and race leader? You might have made your own mind up nor care for mine, but my verdict ultimately lays blame at Nico's door. His mistake gave Lewis the opportunity that he was entitled to take. Whether it be calculated or a knee jerk rection, Rosberg closed the door aggressively and late. I don't feel Lewis should be conservative and hold off from making such a decisive move. He is fighting for a chance in the championship. We know to well the performance of both drivers is close and track position is vitally important especially around Catalunya. As Senna said "if you no longer go for a gap...".

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

"If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It" - Australian Grand Prix Report

After some disappointing races at the end of last year and the long break of winter it was up for Formula 1 to deliver. And thankfully we were in for a classic start to 2016...

New Qualifying Format Flops

Qualifying certainly didn't deliver
As expected the rushed new knockout qualifying format flopped miserably. At first things looked promising. Rosberg made a mistake on his opening lap on cold tyres while Lewis lost track position to Grosjean's Haas while adjusting his seat belts. As the time ticked away teams rushed to get into Q2 and there was an air of excitement and good track action. However major flaws started to show in the next two sessions. The ever ticking clock was not allowing drivers in the pit lane enough time to set another lap. To add insult to injury there was no final shootout after Ferrari opted not to run at the end of Q3. It was judged too much of a sacrifice to compete with the Mercedes for track position than use up another set of tyres. A number of other drivers also followed suit and soon enough a big hole emerged in the logic of this last minute hash-up of the rule book. Thankfully for once there was universal agreement in the paddock - Christian Horner admitting that F1 "didn’t put a great show” and Totto Wolf declaring the new format "pretty rubbish". Talks were carried out on Sunday evening with old qualifying likely to prevail ready for Bahrain in two weeks.

Hamilton Bogged Down As Ferrari Fly

Last summer the FIA rightly decided to increase the skill required at the start of the race. If you've driven a manual car or motorbike you will be familiar with with the point in which you start to pull forward from a stop once throttle is fed and you 'release' the clutch. This 'biting point' as its known can be a bit more challenging to find in an F1 car. Their carbon clutches are strong but sensitive to heat meaning this point is changing all the time. Previously a team would 'learn' the perfect setting with  ''bite point finder' software off the grid and information from practise starts. Feedback  could then be relayed to the driver to preset the biting point for the start of the race. From the Belgium Grand Prix onwards drivers would now have to set the biting point themselves with no feedback and no use of bite point finder sofware on race day. Fluffing your start is now more likely with greater chance of spinning wheels or slipping the clutch. To further spice up the action in 2016 drivers must now also pull away with a single clutch paddle on the steering wheel rather than two. Two paddles allowed drivers to release one to begin the process and release the second once the car gained good traction allowing a smooth get away. Now with one paddle getting good traction off the grid is more of a challenge. Lewis Hamilton came a cropper off the grid as both Ferraris and Nico Rosberg sailed past with ease. Reflecting on this poor getaway Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted the more difficult start procedure "certainly plays a role". He went on to explain that "in the past if you would have a bad start off the line for the formation lap you could see how much the slip was. And if you can't adjust it makes a difference. Yesterday our practice starts weren't very good, and we weren't sure if this would cause a problem in the race. Lewis was a couple of metres worse up to 100m than Nico, but I'm not sure if it was a hardware problem or a software problem, a vibration or a slow reaction. We have to look into it."

Rosberg left little room for his team mate squeezing him wide into the first corner. Now Hamilton was on the back foot losing position to both the Williams of Fellipe Massa and the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen. Thankfully he kept his fighting spirit and managed to overtake Massa by Lap 3. The Brazilian was caught out by the out of kilter Renault of Kevin Magnussen that had suffered a puncture on the opening lap. Hamilton found a way around the outside and moved back up to fifth. He would have to contend with the Ferrari engined Toro Rosso of Max Vestappen next. Although not as fast around a lap as the Mercedes the significant power of the Ferrari would make overtaking very difficult. In his own words he became "stuck behind this guy" and needed to look at a change of strategy as winning looked more and more unlikely.

Sebastian Vettel had completely aced the new starting procedure with himself and team mate Kimi Raikonnen out in front. However the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg was keeping within a second of the the pair. Rosberg pitted onto the soft tyre on lap 12 and Vettel quickly followed suit, not wanting to lose track position.

Alonso Walks Away From Horror Crash

Fernando Alonso had an extremely lucky escape on the run into Turn 3. Caught out by the closing speed of his McLaren on the Haas of Esteban Guiterrez under braking, the Spaniard clipped his right front wheel at around 190mph. This sent him slamming into the wall and sliding toward the gravel trap. As the car bounced with energy it dug into the gravel trap sideways and flipped. Now reminiscent of Martin Brundle's 1996 accident the car rolled twice in mid air until finally impacting the barrier. In a surreal moment a winded Alonso pulled himself immediately out of the mangled McLaren. "When I stopped, I saw a little space to get out of the car and I went out quickly just to make sure that my mum, who was watching on television at home, could see that I was okay".

Alonso clambers out
The twisted remains were a testament to the safety of a modern F1 car, absorbing maximum energy and protecting the driver. Alonso was clearly affected by the incident, later stating he was "lucky to be here and thankful to be here. I am aware that today I spent some of the luck remaining in life. I want to thank McLaren and the FIA for the safety of this car. I am alive thanks to the job of the last 10-15 years in Formula One."

Unfortunately 15 years ago track marshall Graham Beveridge was not so lucky when Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher were involved in a near identical incident at the same corner. A rogue wheel fatally wounded Beveridge when it flew through a gap in the catchment fence. A spectator was also injured.

Red Flag Shakes Up Strategy

Pace on the ultra-softs wasn't enough
The resulting red flag had teams having to re asses their strategy with teams allowed to change their tyres before the race restarted. Rosberg could fit the medium tyre which would complete his mandatory tyre usage and get him to the end of the race. Ferrari made a howler of a call which ultimately cost them victory, choosing not to fulfill their mandatory usage and fit the ultra soft. This would mean they would definently have to stop again and lose track position. The superior pace of the ultra soft they banked on didn't last, and as Vettel got further into his stint his lap times were marginally faster than Rosberg on the medium tyre. This wasn't going allow the lead Ferrari to keep out in front after his pit stop and the race win was doomed. To add insult to injury team mate Kimi Raikkonen had worse luck retiring to the pits on lap 22. Flames poured out of the Ferrari air box when it came to a stop as Raikkonen calmly got out. There was an air of frustration and dejection however as he walked to the back of the garage. The excitement of the opening laps had now fizzled out for the Maranello outfit.

Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo had made up positions on both Ferraris, with Hamilton also managing an overtake and moving up to second on lap 42. Vettel attempted to catch on fresher tyres but ran wide chasing Hamilton 2 laps from the end. The race order would remain with home favourite Ricciardo finising a respectable 4th. A blocked brake duct sent temperatures through the roof on Rosberg's Mercedes towards the end of the race, but he was able to nurse his car home to victory.

Further down Romain Grosjean put in a stellar performance to give the new Haas team a sensational 6th place on its debut. After all the teething troubles in testing this handful of points felt as sweet as victory. There was no love loss between the Toro Rosso team mates with Max Verstappen making contact with Carlos Sainz Jnr a few laps towards the end and spinning. The Dutch teenager had been infuriated with his team's strategy which saw Sainz pit first. Expecting his team mate to move over there was signs of teenage angst when he declared the situation on team radio a "f****** joke'. The pair finished 9th and 10th respectively. Just behind the Brit Jolyon Palmer took a solid 11th place on his debut in the Renault.

Final Result

Pos # Driver
1 6 Nico Rosberg    Mercedes                        
2 44 Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes                 
3 5 Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari                
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-TAG Heuer
5 19 Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes
6 8 Romain Grosjean   Haas-Ferrari
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes
8 77 Valtteri Bottas    Williams-Mercedes
9 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr    Toro Rosso-Ferrari
10 33 Max Verstappen    Toro Rosso-Ferrari
11 30 Jolyon Palmer    Renault                
12 20 Kevin Magnussen  Renault         
13 11 Sergio Perez         Force India-Mercedes
14 22 Jenson Button    McLaren-Honda
15 12 Felipe Nasr    Sauber-Ferrari 56
16 94 Pascal Wehrlein    Manor-Mercedes

Not classified
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari
7 Kimi Raikkonen         Ferrari
88 Rio Haryanto         Manor-Mercedes
21 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda
26 Daniil Kvyat         Red Bull-TAG Heuer

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Australian Grand Prix Guide

For UK fans like me it’s time to set your alarm clocks for the Australian Grand Prix. The mix of excitement, tension and sleep depravation finally reaches climax as the lights go out for the new 2016 season!

Carnage in 2002

The Albert Park circuit in Melbourne has hosted the race since 1996, using public roads around a lake in what is essentially a street circuit. Teams enjoy a chilled Australian atmosphere, often hanging out behind the motor homes on deck chairs. As per the nature of a street circuit your car set up and balance is forever changing as the weekend progresses. Dirt, oil and diesel slowly clears as the track ‘’rubbers in’ and the grip level increases. The mix of slow and medium corners interlinked by two straights requires good engine performance. Braking and traction is also of importance. Following the back straight is the high speed challenge of turns 11 and 12, a fast chicane that catches anyone out off line. If you’ve done a few laps here on a computer game you’ve probably enjoyed its flowing nature.  I became very familiar with the layout – mainly because I don’t really progress past the first race on season mode!

Brundle goes flying in 1996
The track is not without its incidents, especially with a tight and challenging run to the first corner. On the first lap of the first race back in 1996 David Coulthard thought he had killed Martin Brundle. Both DC and Johnny Herbert left little room for Brundle’s yellow Jordan on the run to Turn 3. The car made contact and was catapulted into the air. Landing upside down on the tarmac, the car then skidded into the barrier and rolled on impact. Fortunately for Brundle the roll over hoop did its job and he miraculously appeared unscathed. On a more solemn note track marshal Graham Beveridge was not as lucky in 2001 when he was struck by a wheel and killed. An incident between Ralf Schumacher and Jaques Villenueve sent the offending object through a gap in the fence, also injuring a spectator. 

Daniel Ricciardo will be looking for a great result this weekend even if the odds are stacked against him. Although finishing on the podium in 2014 he was disqualified due to fuel irregularities which means no Australian has ever officially finished on the podium at his home race. That said Mark Webber's 5th place in a Minardi back in 2002 surely felt like a win!

Good times for Webber and Minardi in 2002

Monday, 7 March 2016

Observations And Predictions After Barcelona Testing

As pre-season testing came to its conclusion fans and media were debating the future direction of the sport. An unpopular quick fire qualifying format has been knocked up for the new season with little consultation. Cue an online backlash from fans. The old adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' springs to mind, especially after the sport missed an ample opportunity to increase overtaking with the 2017 rule changes. The new 'Halo' safety device bought about further debate, its striking shape and form debuting on the Ferrari this week. After a near unanimous agreement for further head protection in the sport after the tragic deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, the very different look of the cars in the flesh stirred emotions. Drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton were outspoken, with the current World Champion going even further to express his dismay with the new device. "This is the worst looking mod in Formula 1 history. I appreciate the quest for safety but this is Formula 1, and the way it is now is perfectly fine."
Normal Service Resumed

After clocking up significant trouble-free mileage in week one Mercedes continued their impressive form. The team has completed 3743 miles over the two weeks - enough mileage to drive from the Spanish circuit to Moscow! Lewis Hamilton's testing came to an end on Friday morning with transmission failure, the first chink in the W07's perfect reliability. Hamilton remained positive - "I'm kind of glad I broke the car at the end of my final run today because it's better to have found something now than [at the first race of the season] in Melbourne!"
More intricate turning vanes on the W07

The team's ability to prove reliability from the start allowed experimental parts to be bolted on from day two, with the visually striking 'shark nose' and serrated barge boards. Further revisions featured in the final days including new intricate turning vanes, a serrated edge rear wing and 'monkey seat'. As tech reporter @ScarbsF1 points out it seems all these complex arrangements will mean more downforce but also more drag. This is unlike the Ferrari for example which features long, smooth bodywork. The Mercedes W07's intricacies hint at the team sacrificing qualifying and straight line performance for more cornering speed. Red Bull took their car in a similar direction during their dominant days, and with last years Merc being so dominant in qualifying and straight line performance this is a wise decision.

How Close Are Ferrari?

Ferrari tested the new 'Halo' device
With Ferrari sitting at the top of the time sheets over the two weeks their is much hype around this year's 'SF-16H', seemingly named after a jet fighter. The car features some big revisions with to its power unit layout in a quest to beat those dominant silver cars. But with Mercedes yet to truly show its hand its difficult to say how much of the gap has been closed.

The closest indicator we got was Rosberg's Monday lap of 1.23.0 equalled by Kimi Raikonnen on Wednesday - both on soft tyres. With the track ''rubbered' in for the latter, it looks like a few tenths advantage for the Mercedes. But we haven't accounted for exact fuel loads or engine modes making this a very rough and inaccurate comparison. The Ferrari looks quick but is this enough to be competitive?

Best Of The Rest

Williams are eager to make up ground after their unconvincing third place last year, considering their excellent 2014 campaign. Struggling with low speed corners chief technical officer Pat Symonds declared the team made "subsequently making changes, which we hope will improve the situation."

According to Karun Chandhok's track side observations the FW38 has looked squirmish and unruly on long runs, only setting decent times on the soft tyres. On the contrary the Red Bull looks planted and controlled. Perhaps its engine's outright power is the hindering factor.

The gap underneath the tightly packed Toro Rosso Gearbox
Toro Rosso bought their 'B-Spec' car to the second week of testing. The new design features some very aggressive tight packaging, demonstrated by the void between the gearbox and the floor! With Ferrari power this year the team is in the running for some good results.

Force India grabbed the headlines on the third day with a decent 1.23.110 on the soft tyre. The teams fortunes have improved ever since the B Spec debuted in the second half of 2015 and will have 3rd place firmly in their sights.

McLaren Improve - But Is It Enough?

After an encouraging first few days of testing a hydraulic leak followed by a water leak hampered running at the end of week one. Thankfully for Honda their new engine has demonstrated it can actually deploy harvested energy down the length of a long straight. This wasn't the case last year, losing a whopping 150hp while the opposition sailed by with ease.

The MP4-31 adorned Rasta colours
The second week started with more frustration when Fernando Alonso's telemetry systems stopped working just before lunch. Once repaired the car completed 93 laps. Things began to run smoothly, bar a suspension issue on the Tuesday that was quickly repaired. Adorned with colourful high-vis paint the team could focus on important aerodynamic work. McLaren will use this data to bring out a revised aero package for the season opener at Australia. With 2,053 miles completed throughout the entire test, this is world's away from last years dismal 1088 (which featured 4 more days).

Admittedly still down on power the McLaren was found at the bottom of the speed trap times. Furthermore the engine looks like its lacks the driveability of its rivals - the car sometimes snapping and squirming when throttle was applied in medium speed corners. Hopefully all this can be ironed out in time for the season opener in Melbourne and the Woking squad sees its torrid luck change.

'Haas' Some Problems

Haas was bought back to earth in Week 2
Terrible headline pun aside, with its partnership with Ferrari and Dallara there are big hopes for the new American team Haas F1. With experience in running in the NASCAR Sprint Cup across the pond Gene Haas has purchased the old Marussia base in Banbury, Oxford. Their partnership with Ferrari has stirred controversy - with the Italian marque previously exploiting a loophole to use Haas' wind tunnel data. It can only be a good thing for the new team to have some access to the wealth of aerodynamic knowledge at Ferrari.

The new V-F16 had a near perfect debut week for a new team. Apart from a front wing failure on the first day the team had 281 laps of near trouble free running, setting respectable times in the process.

Unfortunately reality was about to bite hard in the second week. A fuel system issue stopped Esteban Gutierrez after only 23 laps of running on the opening day. After the turbocharger was replaced overnight the car was thought to be ready for the Wednesday morning. With just the installation lap complete the turbo was spinning too fast and the car immediately called back into the garage. Even with some technical assistance from Ferrari the car couldn't be fixed in time for more running.

Thursday would prove the most testing when Romain Grosjean bought out three course flags  with brake-by-wire issues. The resulting imbalance sent him to the gravel trap twice. To top it off the car hit a high kerb at the end of the day and shut itself down on track.  Gene Haas admitting he was "a little bit overwhelmed" with the complexity of F1 was perhaps and admission he should have kept to himself.

Looking at the positives the team can enjoy resources and support an outfit like Manor could only dream of. If these reliability woes can be tackled the new car could be a good base for the team to build on.

Gene Haas will be hoping for less trials in 2016

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Barcelona Testing - Day 3 and 4

After the excitement of the opening two days, Wednesday and Thursday would see teams gain valuable insights into their new machinery. Although too early to gauge the pecking order some important indicators came to light. Here are a few observations from Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari.

'Shark Nose' Merc Clocks Mammoth Mileage

That nose
The final days saw Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg split the day's running between morning and afternoon sessions. Normal service was resumed with the car racking up huge mileage. By the end of Thursday's running the new W07 had completed an epic 675 laps and 1952 miles of the Circuit de Catalunya. That's enough on-road distance to travel to the Mercedes headquarters in Brackley and back again. A welcomed buffer that allowed Mercedes to continue experiment with interesting parts. After debuting their slotted barge boards earlier in the week, Thursday morning saw the car sporting an interesting new nose. An inlet on the underside resembled a shark's mouth and revealed an s-duct design. Air is channelled from this inlet through an 'S' shaped duct within the nose to exit on top of the car. This cleans up airflow as it transitions from the nose to the chassis, with the Mercedes design allowing a longer duct than rival designs to improve its performance. It is important to note that although nose design has a big visual affect on a car its actual performance benefits are relatively low.

What looks likely is that Mercedes will take some serious beating. Although not topping time sheets at present there hasn't been any quick runs on 'ultra soft' tyres.

McLaren Reliability Woes

A promising first two days saw stars Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso achieving a decent 203 laps between them -worlds away from last years dismal first test. "The best chassis [balance] is reachable, something very possible, maybe by the European races" spoke Alonso.

This new found confidence would take a dive as the week developed. Wednesday's running was curtailed when Button's car caught fire with a Hydraulic leak after 51 laps. After three installation laps the next day Alonso's running would also be cut short, this time with a water leak. Although a relatively minor issue Engineering Director Matt Morris explained the leak was " in a tricky position, which meant it took longer than usual to locate and fix"

Although early days there are still question marks hanging over the power of the Honda engine. So far the speed traps have shown the car to still have a low top speed. Can this be ramped up in time for Melbourne? Thankfully the team enjoyed a 'filming day' with the Haas team on Saturday, allowing further laps to help iron out reliability woes.

Ferrari Continue To Demonstrate Their Speed

After Vettel topped times for the first two days Raikkonen was stuck in the garage for Wednesday morning with 'fuel system checks'. Although the team claimed these were only precautionary measures its difficult to see any justification for track time to be eaten up. Thankfully the car got to run in the afternoon and registered 73 laps. Thursday would see the Finn top the times with a 1.23.477 - just under seven tenths shy of Vettel's 1.22.810 and the fastest lap of the week. Both these times were achieved on the 'ultra soft' tyre compound on fast runs. Rivals Mercedes set its fastest times further down the order on the mediums.

The Ferrari is certainly demonstrating good speed but until Mercedes shows its hand we won't know really how good this is.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Barcelona Testing Roundup - Day 1 and 2

Who will come out on top?

A wintry Monday morning welcomed the start of preseason testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. Not regarded as an exciting race venue the track is more synonymous for being an ideal  'test' circuit, thanks to its high speed flowing nature. Long corners allow engineers to see how their aerodynamics are performing, with cars often sprouting strange metal frames and 'blisters' for accurate measurements. Countless hours over the winter of computer simulations and wind tunnel work don't always translate to the real world. There are other fundamentals such as mechanical grip, engine performance, car set up and tyre performance. Its not a task that a lot of drivers relish, especially when they get lumped with a myriad of mundane tasks, like testing radios or a 100+lap run. The importance of getting a measure of your car, ironing out potential problems and putting in a good amount of laps is paramount. Here is a brief look at each team's progress over the first two days.


Too good to beat?

After another dominant display in 2016 Mercedes had solid ground on which to build their new challenger, the W07. ''#WeAreW07' was the mantra on twitter as the covers came off on Monday morning. Pictures released the day before showed a visually striking new airbox, perhaps the team enjoying the freedom to experiment in light of their advantage.

Mercedes barge boards
Hamilton achieved a mammoth 156 laps on day one, considerably more than next best Ricciardo's 87. Attaining high mileage straight out the blocks proved reliability and allow the team to begin experimenting with parts. As Rosberg emerged from the pits on Tuesday morning his car sported some interesting sculpted barge boards. Directing air towards the rear of the car as a conventional barge board does, the serrated edges allow portions of air to bleed through to reduce drag. A striking design very similar to boards tested by Lotus in 2013.

Hamilton was able to post a respectable 1.25.409 on day one and end second fastest. Rosberg ended the following day 2 seconds adrift of Vettel in 4th, but importantly achieved on medium tyres compared to the ultra soft compound of his compatriot's Ferrari. Mercedes is clearly not demonstrating its true pace at present but its certainly looking ideal so far for the Brackley outfit.


The new McLaren MP4-31 is hoping to avoid the disaster last year
The big question mark hung over McLaren and specifically Honda. Would the engine be more powerful and above all reliable? Last year's opening day of testing saw Fernando Alonso complete just 6 laps which set a precedent for their disastrous season. After the debacle its become quite clear that Fernando Alonso will not stomach a similar year. Tuesday came the announcement that Honda boss Yasuhisa Arai would be forced into retirement. The strange timing opened up speculation that this year's engine could be another dud. Arai however was quick to explain that it is Honda's policy to automatically retire employees at 60 and he would aid a transitional period for new boss Yusuke Hasegawa.

Thankfully Jenson Button put in a solid 84 lap stint on day one which was more than achieved in the whole 5 days last year. Last season's achilles heal seemed to be the engine's deployment of harvested energy, robbing the car of around 150hp at the end of the straights. However Jenson seemed confident this has been ironed out. "The deployment is so much better. I don't know if it is the same as the other guys have but it feels like it is. That is a big step for us. It is much better, very easy to understand the deployment and to play with it and it listens to change which is good. It is good to see all the hard work over the winter has paid off."

Another trouble free run for the team today ended with Alonso racking up 119 laps. Although over 3 seconds adrift of Vettel's fastest time its clear the team are focusing on achieving much needed reliability.

Vettel topped the time sheets but will it be enough?

The Marenello squad were as secretive as ever, with team branded boards concealing their garage entrance.Vettel ended both days on top of the time sheets, opting to run in the car consecutively before teammate Raikonnen takes the helm on tomorrow. Monday saw him 0.470 seconds clear of Hamilton on medium tyres. His 69 laps were however completely dwarfed by the Mercedes driver's 156. It is common knowledge that Vettel is obsessed with fastest laps so we can't look into this pace too much at present. However with much hype over this year's car Ferrari fans will be hoping this pace is genuine and upheld when Mercedes start to show their hand.

 "The car is a step forward, it was the first proper day and it was good to get some laps and a first feel for the car. The first impression was very positive. It's better to be first in one month's time. It's better than being last but it's not really important." - Vettel

Tuesday saw the team swapping from mediums, super-softs and then ultra-softs to then post the fastest time 1.22.810. A longer run in the afternoon saw Vettel chalking up 126 laps before before pulling off track 5 minutes before the end of the session and bringing out the red flag.


A few niggles kept the new FW38 in the garage for a period of time before it was able to complete a run of 80 laps and set the 4th fastest time. Valtteri Bottas wanted to make it clear that the team was "not focusing on performance yet" as it wanted to tick the boxes of reliability and understand the car's aerodynamics. The team is hoping to claw back ground lost to Ferrari this year and the signals coming from the red garage suggest this could be difficult.

Bottas was back in the seat on Tuesday with a solid run of 134 laps. He will pass the baton to Felipe Massa for tomorrow's running.

Red Bull

With their striking matt coloured paint scheme, Red Bull were hoping their 2016 challenger was going to go as well as it looked. With the engine contract not signed until the eleventh hour completion of the RB12 was delayed. It will be of some consolation that Daniel Riccardo finished both days in the top three with relatively trouble free running.

After a steady 85 laps on Monday, Riccardo described his Renault engine (re badged as sponsor 'Tag') as "the same as last year" and apparently  that "isn't a bad thing, I think on day one it's a lot better platform to work from than what we had this time last year.
Red Bull floor detail
            There wasn't any whiplash or anything like this... but I'm a bit happier and it's a good start, it's probably all we can ask for, for now."

One can only think as 'whiplash' a term to describe the once poor drive ability of the Renault engine. While the car might not be suitable for fraudulent insurance claims it certainly has some interesting aerodynamic details. A front splitter sprouted out above the front of the floor caught the eye of ScarbsF1.

Force India

The Silverstone based team launched their VJM09 on Monday just half an hour before testing began. Technical Director Andrew Green was quick to point out the fact that "with the regulations likely to change for 2017, it didn’t really seem like an efficient use of our resources to start from scratch on a project that would have such a limited lifetime.”

Though the VJM08 B spec car of last year may have had reasonable pace, this statement does seem like a potential cop out, suggesting a stepping stone to their 2017 effort. This could be risky with rivals Toro Rosso getting their hands on Ferrari power this year. Development driver Alfonso Celis debuted the car on Monday and clocked and lap time of 1.26.298 on the soft compound, just 1.359 shy of Vettel's fastest lap. Perez further cut the gap down to the Ferrari to 0.840 seconds and notched 101 laps.


Sauber were not able to prepare their new car in time for Barcelona testing, so ran their 2015 C34. Although data will still be gained this is a wasted opportunity to get some much needed track time. Swede Ericsson ended his days 8th and 5th in the time sheets. We look forward to seeing the new car on track next week.


Jolyon Palmer's Renault debut got off to a shaky start on Monday with the new RS16 suffering from software problems. The day ended with 37 laps on the board and languishing at the bottom of the time sheets.  With the car not able to get more laps under its belt Palmer described the whole experience was as 'painful'. Tuesday wouldn't get much better with the car retiring after 42 laps, the least of all the runners with turbo issues. Lets hope the Enstone team have better luck tomorrow.

Newman Haas

Front wing failure bought the day to an end
A solid, impressive debut for the American team running Ferrari parts. After only 34 laps on day one Romain Grosjean's front wing detached from the car and bought the day to an early end. Newman Haas bought his refreshing American motorsport openness to the issue with this insight:

"On the track, with the downforce and the vibrations, that bond [between materials} was not proper, it separated, and the aluminium just pulled out from the nose, which then let the wing go underneath the car, it ran over it and broke into many little pieces. So they took the two little down struts where the aluminium is, they put some straps around them, and then placed two screws perpendicular to the axis. Instead of having screws that are being pulled straight down, they are now perpendicular. That's the fix right now for that. Eventually we'll have to come up with some other way of bonding the aluminium to the carbon fibre."

Undeterred but this Mexican Esteban Gutierrez would complete 79 trouble free laps and end the day an impressive 6th on the time sheets.

Toro Rosso

Those sidepods!
A switch from Renault to Ferrari power this year meant some late changes to design for the STR11, which debuted for the first time on Monday. In its solid dark blue paints scheme before its official launch next Monday the car was described by Sainz as suffering from 'many compromises'. Despite this the car featured an extremely skinny sidepod profile, possibly from enjoying the more longitudinal layout of the Ferrari power plant.. It is now understood that the team will run a 'B Spec' model after the official launch with considerable aerodynamic changes. One can view this week as a shakedown and attempt to integrate their power unit. A gearbox problem bought day one to a premature end after some steady pace. Vestappen stopped on track on day two, but was able to go on to complete a decent 121 laps.


The new MRT05 broke cover on Monday morning with young Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein ending the day 9th fastest . With a Mercedes power unit and Williams developed rear end the F1 minnows have big hopes for 2016. Wehrlein had to return to the pits after just 8 laps due to a late delivery of parts, but was back out to complete 54 laps. Day two ended with a respectable time of 1.25.925, just over 3 seconds off Vettel's best.

The MRT05 on track

Session Times


1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 66 laps 1m 24.939s
2. Lewis Hamilton Britain Mercedes-Mercedes 137 laps 1m 25.409s
3. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Red Bull-TAG-Heuer 65 laps1m 26.044s
4. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Mercedes 52 laps 1m 26.091s
5. Carlos Sainz Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 55 laps 1m 27.180s
7. Marcus Ericsson Sweden Sauber-Ferrari 71 laps 1m 27.555s
6. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Honda 63 laps 1m 27.691s
8. Romain Grosjean France Haas-Ferrari 18 laps 1m 28.399s
9. Alfonso Celis Mexico Force India-Mercedes 38 laps 1m 29.406s
10. Pascal Wehrlein Germany Manor-Mercedes 30 laps 1m 29.591s
11. Jolyon Palmer Britain Renault-Renault 21 laps 1m 31.351s


1. Sebastian Vettel Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 126 laps 1m 22.810s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Red Bull-TAG-Heuer 112 laps 1m 23.525s
3. Sergio Perez Mexico Force India-Mercedes 101 laps 1m 23.650s
4. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 172 laps 1m 24.867s
5. Marcus Ericsson Sweden Sauber-Ferrari 108 laps 1m 25.237*
6. Esteban Gutierrez Mexico Haas-Ferrari 79 laps 1m 25.524s
7. Valtteri Bottas Finland Williams-Mercedes 134 laps 1m 25.648s
8. Pascal Wehrlein Germany MRT-Mercedes 71 laps 1m 25.925s
9. Fernando Alonso Spain McLaren-Honda 119 laps 1m 26.082s
10. Jolyon Palmer Britain Renault-Renault 42 laps 1m 26.189s
11. Max Verstappen Netherlands Toro Rosso-Ferrari 121 laps 1m 26.539s 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Mercedes W07 Unveiled

Although a few sneaky peaks were revealed from a 2 lap Silverstone test conducted on Friday, the first rendered images of the new car were published online yesterday. This morning the world press got to have a look themselves as the wraps came off the car in the Barcelona pit lane. Day 1 of testing lies ahead...

Wanting to evolve last year's highly successful W06 there are a few obvious visual changes. The most striking is the large airbox above the car. The central inlet will be feeding the engine's turbo compressor for combustion, but its the side inlets which are of interest. Mercedes has experimented with two separate inlets in previous years in a bid to provide extra cooling. It is likely that at least one of these provides additional cold air to the radiators and the ERS cooler, allowing the W07 to enjoy smaller sidepod openings than last year. Its also could be cooling the gearbox oil radiator. All the additional plumbing required for this big airbox means the engine cover is bit more bulbous.

That airbox!

A clear vanity panel sits in between the front axle behind the nose suggesting either easy access for mechanics or an 'S duct' system. The first shots of the car testing this morning don't seem to show and S duct outlet but the car likely has the facility for one - they tested this system at the end of last year.
This could be enjoying a renaissance among teams in 2016, speeding up air flow and increasing aerodynamic performance.

As stated previous the large airbox allows the sidepod openings to be smaller and feature a deep undercut to improve air flow to the important rear diffuser. There are a few notable details and 'slots'  cut into rear floor to direct air away from the turbulent rear wheels. As with every car revealed so far there are a pair of additional waste gate outlets either side of the main exhaust, this time located tightly together. This may help keep the turbulent gases from interfering with the rear wing.

As the car hits the track this morning we will keep you posted..

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Brief Analysis - 2016 Car Launches So Far

The season is fast approaching and sedate online car launches are hitting the headlines. Gone have the days of spice girls and crowds at swanky venues, today's F1 climate seems to only pay for computer enhanced backdrops and awkward pauses.

Ferrari SF-16H

Maurizio Arrivabene presented the 'SF-16H' in what looked like a dreary cold corner of a Maranello warehouse. A few fans with dodgy haircuts put questions to senior team members and drivers, at one point James Allison looking genuinely amused.

Someone should have turned the heating on
The car wore a quite revolutionary red and white livery, similar to that of their 1993 car. The feedback from fans online seemed positive but I think it looks a little too busy with amount of sponsor decals. It's V6 engine has half the cylinders of the 1993 challenger but considerably more power. As engines are the dominant factor in modern F1 Ferrari are keen to claw back the gap to the Mercedes teams. With 3 wins Ferrari were the only other team to win a race, and although confidently beating top rival Merc customer team Williams, they couldn't hold a torch up to Mercedes.

Fans with dodgy haircuts amused James Allison and Maurizio Arrivabene 

In an effort to increase power this years engine features two intercoolers placed in the path of cool air in the left sidepod and above the fuel tank, replacing just one in the tight confines between the banks of the engine. This not only allows better cooling of intake air and increased performance, but the freeing up of space allows the engine to feature variable inlet trumpets. This system also run by Mercedes offers more precise control of that cooler compressed air to mix with fuel and therefore increased efficiency. The MGU-K motor is now conventionally relocated to the left side of the engine instead of behind, allowing a thinner rear end and tight coke bottle shape. All this is quite a departure from the 2015 layout and the most revolutionary part of the new car.

Relocation of components thanks to Giorgio Piola

Another significant step is the reversion back to the conventional push-rod suspension set up at the front of the car. Ferrari have pioneered their 'pull-rod' system for the last four years which can potentially offer better aerodynamic performance at the cost of suspension quality. But abandoning this and making the front end more positive and drivable will favour both Vettel and Raikonnen especially. Both drivers enjoy planting the nose into a corner and rotating the rear around with the throttle.

What looks like a vanity panel sitting on top of the nose and in line with the front axle looks like it may be hiding an 'S Duct' system. Pioneered by Ferrari in 2008 this allows air from under the nose to be channelled to the top of the car, speeding airflow up in the process and increasing downforce. Mercedes tested their car with this concept at the end of 2015 and what looks like an outlet on the nose was taped over at their 'TV demonstation' this week at Silverstone.

All of this seems an ambitious effort to produce something revolutionary and take the fight to Mercedes. As testing starts tomorrow we may begin to get some indications if these key features are reliably working in unison together to produce a stellar package.

McLaren MP4-31

2015 was a hugely disappointing year for the Woking squad and their new Honda partnership. Specifying a challenging 'size zero' engine layout Honda failed to meet it with a competitive or reliable engine. Not even able to deploy enough harvested energy down a long straight the car was at a significant disadvantage. And that was while it was running.

Rumours in the Spanish press suggest that the Honda is significantly more powerful but lacking in reliability. Whether these are reliable in themselves time will tell. There is no bones about this being a hugely important season, with very vocal critic and star driver Fernando Alonso likely to jump ship if things continue down the same path.

Looking at the rear of the car the McLaren continues with its 'size zero' philosophy for its Honda power unit. While the Japanese are known for not turning back, a bigger turbine for this year's power unit should help solve turbo performance issues. The rest of the car is visually very similar to last year with conventional push rod suspension. The rear mounting points of the top wishbones have been moved lower and steering arm repositioned. This suggests a quest for further aero gains. The car retains an S Duct nose and a blown front axle as shared with the Ferrari. At the rear with its new for 2016 'waste gate exhausts' to improve sound, the central exhaust is intersected by the rear wing mount. This acts to stabilise the wake of hot exhaust gases exiting the engine.

All this tinkering will be in vain unless that power unit has turned a significant corner.

Renault RS16

The striking livery of the RS16

Is this the year were team Enstone escape the shadow of financial woes and lack of development under the new guise of Renault? With an all new driver line up and renewed relationship with French manufacturer its could be time to turn over a new leaf.

A striking black and yellow livery adorned the RS16. However technical director Nick Chester and managing director Cybil Abiteboul were quick to point out that this was simply a livery car and therefore not a representation reality. Therefore we will have to wait until testing to take notice of any potential innovations.

Red Bull Livery Launch

The matt red of the paint scheme will certainly offset Ricciardo's huge white teeth.

Red Bull went through the trouble of actually having an event in London, however it also wasn't really a car launch. Last years chassis was rolled out to display a new striking livery for next year. The strong matt colours have won me over but it won't make the car faster unfortunately. In limbo with an engine contract team principle Chistian Horner has already played down the teams chances this season, expecting a 'less competitive' first half. Using Renault engines re badged under their sponsor's name as 'Tag' the team has yet to confirm what engine will be in the back in 2017. After being hugely critical of Renault last year they may want to still coax this relationship back into fruition. But will Renault want their flag flied by this customer team or the works team?

The highly rated Ilmor engineering will be assisting Red Bull with engine development. However the statement from Christian Horner seems to indicate this development will be initially slow compared to Renault's own project.

Williams FW38

The Grove outfit unveiled its 2016 challenger on Friday through its social media channels. The car again looked similar to last year but with a few clear visual features. The sidepods and engine cover are reshaped suggesting new packaging demands for their Mercedes power plant.

Last year saw the team slip from second to third in the championship. Chief Technical Officer and Williams legend Pat Symonds was quick to explain this year's aim. "It is no secret that the low speed performance of the FW37 didn’t match its high speed performance so a lot of time was spent looking into why this was and subsequently making changes, which we hope will improve the situation."

As well as poor slow speed performance, last years car struggled in the rain. A revised front suspension set up suggests the team trying to combat this. Some details to the floor of the car, with some details around the leading edge and flicks around the rear wheels should help maximise air flow performance.

We look forward to the first test this week at Barcelona. Stay tuned!