Monday, March 30, 2015

Vettel and Ferrari Outsmarts Mercedes for Malaysian Grand Prix Victory

Photo Credit: Ferrari

The domination of the Mercedes AMG team during the 2014 Formula 1 season derailed the momentum of two established names in the sport. After four-consecutive years of championship success with Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel's string of luck was trimmed. While his 2014 Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo found victory lane three times, Vettel's best effort was a second in Singapore. In another 2014 Formula 1 paddock, Scuderia Ferrari went winless through the entire 19-race schedule (the first time since 1993 that happened to the Italian team. Joining forces for the 2015 season, expectations were high as many observers believed the Ferrari/Vettel pairing could become a new Formula 1 dynasty. In only the second race of the season, the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix, this partnership obtained its first major objective.

After Saturday's qualifying in deteriorating conditions, Lewis Hamilton maintained a long-standing stranglehold of the pole position for Mercedes-Benz dating back to the Australia Grand Prix in 2014. However, the feat was also spoiled by an emerging threat to Mercedes AMG. Ferrari and the SF15-T race car appears to be to most viable challenger the Silver Arrows in the early part of the 2015. Barely missing the pole, Sebastian Vettel would also be beaten on the standing start by Hamilton's Mercedes-AMG car. Just as Lewis Hamilton was preparing to orchestrate another potentially masterful victory with a superior race machine, the Malaysian Grand Prix was completely reshaped. In lap 4, safety car period was called when Marcus Ericsson spun-out in turn one and buried the rear wheels of his Sauber-Ferrari in a safety trap. Bringing the field together, a crucial strategy decided the outcome of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

As the safety car lapped the Sepang International Circuit, a majority of Formula 1 teams chose to pit including the race leader Lewis Hamilton, his teammate Nico Rosberg as well as the Red Bull Racing and Williams Martini Racing cars. While most of the front-running cars pitted, one contender remained on-track. Scuderia Ferrari kept their #5 car driven by Sebastian Vettel out on the race track. Joined by a handful of other drivers such as Lotus' Romain Grosjean and the pair of Force India vehicles, Vettel inherited the top spot in the race when the safety car pulled off the track on lap 7.

Compared to the Australian Grand Prix, the non-finisher list was considerably smaller. Among the most notable retirees were the McLaren Honda race cars. In their second showing with the all-new Honda powerplant, the McLaren machines struggled for speed through the entire Malaysia Formula 1 race weekend. Making a momentous return to competition, Fernando Alonso's first outing with McLaren Honda was cut short after 21 laps. 20 laps later, Jenson Button was forced to park his car in the team's garage. The retirement of Alonso's car was associated with a ERS cooling issue while Button's problem was associated with a turbocharger. The 2015 season may be a long period of work for the McLaren Honda organization.

Photo Credit: ©FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO/ Pirelli

While only five cars failed to cross the start/finish line at the Sepang International Circuit, there were several close calls that risked expanding the retirement list. One incident involved an on-track battle between the Red Bull Racing drivers of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat as well as a Force India-Mercedes piloted by Nico Hulkenberg. On lap 26, the dicing among the trio resulted in Kvyat spinning when he and Hulkenberg made contact in turn 2. Hulkenberg was assessed a 10-second penalty for the incident. Shortly after the Red Bull-Renault's spin involving a Force India, Hulkenberg's teammate Sergio Perez made contact with the Lotus-Mercedes of Romain Grosjean. Like Kvyat, Grosjean spun out but dramatically recollected his race car and continued racing. By lap 36, both Force India cars were given 10-second penalties. From the Force India team's official Twitter account, they remarked to the ruling with the following tweet: 

After the 56-lap distance of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel became the 38th different driver to win a Formula 1 race driving for Scuderia Ferrari. The win was the first grand prix victory for the team his the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013 and Vettel's first since the Brazilian Grand Prix of that same year. His first win with Scuderia Ferrari, this victory was Sebastian Vettel's second coming from Ferrari power. Vettel debut win at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix came behind the wheel of a Toro Rosso powered by a Ferrari engine.

Adopting a two-stop strategy, the key to victory for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari was the ability to carefully manage their Pirelli slick tires. Mercedes AMG team cars, leaving the Sepang International Circuit with their eight-race winning streak broken, operated on a three-stop plan finished second and third. Finishing 8.569 seconds behind Vettel, Lewis Hamilton finished more than 3.7 seconds ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Despite a cut tire early in the grand prix, Kimi Raikkonen persevered to finish strong in the second Ferrari. Using some short-pitting, Raikkonen maintained a steady advantage to hold on to fourth place. The effort ties the Finnish driver's best result since returning to the Ferrari team in 2014.

In fifth and sixth place, the Williams Martini Racing team had an admirable day. Kept out of the car due to back problems in Australia, Valtteri Bottas' first grand prix of the year was a fifth place result ahead of the second Williams-Mercedes of Felipe Massa. Similar to the Williams team, Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing had both team cars finish in order. Formula 1 rookie drivers Max Verstappen as well as Carlos Sainz Jr took the checkered flag in seventh and eighth. The mother team to Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing was led by Daniil Kvyat who recovered for a ninth place result. Daniel Ricciardo's race was disrupted early with a rear braking issue but still finished in the 10th place spot capturing the final point-paying position in Malaysia.

The last car to finish the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix was the Manor Marussia F1 Team's entry driven by Roberto Merhi. Following the embarrassment the organization brought to themselves in Australia, a 15th place finish for the Ferrari-powered race car was a noble effort.

Next race for the 2015 Formula 1 schedule is set for April 12th at the Shanghai International Circuit hosting the Chinese Grand Prix.

2015 Formula 1

Malaysian Grand Prix

Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
5 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
7 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
8 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
9 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
10 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
11 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
12 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
13 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
14 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
16 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
17 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
18 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
19 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
20 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hamilton Endures Soaking to Claim Pole in Malaysia

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

The opening race for the 2015 Formula 1 series two weeks ago saw the Mercedes AMG team continuing on the path of domination they established in 2014. The 2015 Australian Grand Prix featured the Mercedes AMG's W06 Hybrid race cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg handily fended off 2015 challengers. However, their near-flawless performance in qualifying and on race day in the Albert Park track may have been magnified by miscellaneous incidents that resulted in an 18-car starting field deteriorating to 11 finishers. Arriving for the second race in Malaysia at the Sepang International Circuit, every Formula 1 team will be critically tested against their efforts in Australia.

While practices on Friday and Saturday for the Malaysian Grand Prix continued to present the familiar sight of Mercedes AMG cars at the front, their presence at the top of the time charts was a runaway. Following-up on impressive race pace in Australia, the Ferrari squad were consistently within a second of the top Mercedes AMG driver's top practice session time. In the first practice, Nico Rosberg was hounded by Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in their second and third-fastest Ferraris. For qualifying, the Silver Arrows faced its first real pressing opposition on-track arriving from the Prancing Horse brand.

Starting in dry conditions, qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix was affected by a fast-moving storm. While Q1 allowed teams to run on slick Pirelli tires, heavy rain flooded the 5.543-kilometer track in the early part of Q2. Resulting in just a few minutes for drivers to post a quick time to advance in the top-10 for the final qualifying session, the dry track was crowded for Q2 resulting in Q1's fastest driver Lewis Hamilton only able to muster an eighth-place time. While Hamilton was still able to gain entry into Q3, the same was not the case for Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen who missed making the final session with an 11th fastest time.

After a brief delay, the Q3 qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton recovered to take the pole for Sunday's race. On wet weather tires, Hamilton's Mercedes AMG posted a 1-minute, 49.834-second lap time to stand at the top of the charts. Stretching the streak of Mercedes-Benz engine poles in Formula 1 to 21 grand prix events, this occasion at the Sepang International Circuit almost saw a new powerplant leading the field to Sunday's race start. Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari was only 0.074 seconds off the time of the lead Mercedes AMG car. One of Vettel's better qualifying efforts since his last championship-winning season in 2013, the Ferrari SF-15 T race car is showing potential during this initial point of the season of legitimately contending against current Mercedes-Benz guard of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg qualified third for the Malaysian Grand Prix and will start alongside the Red Bull-Renault of Daniel Ricciardo. A little over half a second off Ricciardo's time, Russian teammate Daniil Kvyat is starting beside Max Verstappen driving for Toro Rosso (Kvyat's race team in 2014). A little off from their performance in Australia, the Williams-Mercedes cars were still successful in making the top-10. Felipe Massa will start seventh on Sunday while Valterri Bottas is starting eighth. Originally qualifying in eighth place, Romain Grosjean was required to start in tenth place due to a post-qualifying procedural penalty for the way he entered pit lane.

Triumphantly returning to Formula 1 competition after a crash in pre-season testing, Fernando Alonso officially starts his first race back with the McLaren team. While Alonso's presence was welcomed, the performance from the McLaren-Honda race car is far from celebrated in qualifying. Both eliminated in Q1, the machines of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were more than 2.3 seconds slower than the top time in the first session. Only the Manor Marussia F1 Team entrants were slower than the McLaren Honda team.

After creating controversy in Australia for not even registering a qualifying lap, Manor Marussia F1 Team was ordered to pay their travel expenses for the first race as it appeared the team had no intentions to compete. The organization returned to the paddock in Malaysia expected to prove they were serious about making a best effort in racing. Though the Manor Marussia-Ferraris were at the bottom of the time sheets on all three practice sessions as well as qualifying, Formula 1 stewards have allowed drivers Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens to run in Sunday's race.

With a 20-car field, the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix is set for 3 pm local time or 3 am eastern daylight time.

2015 Formula 1

Malaysian Grand Prix

Starting Grid

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
3 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
5 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
6 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
7 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
9 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
10 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
11 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
14 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
16 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
17 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
18 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
19 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari
20 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Recovered Fernando Alonso Rejoins McLaren Team for Malaysia

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Good news has come for the McLaren Honda team and major motor racing fans in time for the second race of the 2015 Formula 1 tour. Having missed the first race of the season, Spain's Fernando Alonso has been given a clean bill of health for the trip to the Sepang International Circuit for March 29th's Malaysian Grand Prix. Alonso will belt himself into the #14 Honda-powered McLaren MP4-30 race car amid several early season concerns.

At the end of the 2014 Formula 1 season, it was fair to say that the McLaren team was looking forward to what 2015 will bring thanks to two major components. Power their 2015 effort would result from a partnership with a resurrected Honda presence in the grand prix tour. Taking an additional year to iron-out their new gasoline/hybrid racing powertrain, Honda was placing complete attention on the single team for new year rebranded as McLaren Honda. The second element was a driver line-up for which 2009 Drivers' champion Jenson Button would be joined by two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso. A Ferrari driver from 2010 to 2014, Spain's Alonso has been actively hunting for a third championship title and the move to McLaren Honda was seen as a bridge to that goal.

In open testing prior to the beginning of the new Formula 1 season, the latter ingredient to McLaren Honda's idyllic 2015 was placed in jeopardy. During the second day of testing in Barcelona on February 22nd, Fernando Alonso's McLaren collided hard with the wall in turn 3. An area where vehicle speeds were estimated at around 150 miles per hour, the driver suffered a serious concussion and resulted in the loss of consciousness. It was also confirmed that Alonso suffered temporary retrograde amnesia when the Spaniard regained consciousness leaving him unable to recall events past 1995. This 20-year memory gap appears to have been quickly recollected. Alonso has since remembered a testing crash leading to him being sidelined remembering sensing "heavy" steering before the hit.

While the biggest concern regarding the crash was Alonso's health, the McLaren Honda team also appeared to have had their pre-season preparations thrown off kilter. Judging solely from the first race of the 2015 season, the year spent preparing the Honda powerplant for competition may not have amounted to the advantage McLaren was planning to obtain. For the opening race in Australia, test driver Kevin Magnussen returned to competition as a replacement to Alonso but was unable to start the event when smoke erupted from his MP4-30 vehicle. The remaining vehicle driven by Jenson Button was better than Magnussen's but still came up short. Though Button's car finished the race (two laps down to the winning Mercedes AMG of Lewis Hamilton), its 11th place finish made it the only car to complete the Australian Grand Prix without scoring championship points.

McLaren is clearly anticipating the arrival of Fernando Alonso will represent a second chance to start the 2015 Formula 1 in their intended form.

German Grand Prix Removed from 2015 Formula 1 Schedule

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone Photographer via Pirelli

The opening race of the 2015 Formula 1 season consisted of a scene where a sizable number of drivers and team didn't even make the official start. A potential 20-car field at the beginning of the Australian Grand Prix race weekend shrank to 15 competitors even before the lights lit on the starting grid. On Friday of last week, the depleting starting field in the opening event may have proven symbolic for what else the 66th Formula 1 season had in store.

One of the most historically significant stops on the Formula 1 tour, the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring is a race with history dating back to 1927. Since 2008, the Nurburgring complex had been sharing the annual Formula 1 event with the Hockenheimring with alternating hosting duties. With this year being the Nurburgring's year for holding the German Grand Prix, Formula 1 announced the race will not happen. While the news has caused a massive disruption to the 2015 season, the announcement was not a complete surprise.

On Formula 1's official website, the announcement for the cancellation of the German Grand Prix was brief consisting of only three sentences and a revised 18-race schedule for 2015. Among the short description, there was no reason given for dropping the Formula 1 in Germany. Lacking this concrete information, it is still easy to arise to the reason why the race was dropped from the 2015 Formula 1 schedule. Simply put, it's about money.

All Formula 1 races are expected to pay a licensing fee for holding a grand prix. A fee that differs depending on the location and race, the cost for the German Grand Prix has been considerable. The expense of the grand prix and dropping event attendance has financially challenged the organizers of both the Nurburgring and Hockenhiemring. With the Nurburgring new ownership, the current Formula 1 agreement for hosting the German Grand Prix was deemed not financially viable for the track. Operators of the Nurburgring attempted to renegotiate the agreement to no avail. Following the cancellation of the grand prix in Germany, Formula 1's leader Bernie Ecclestone has been blasted for putting his greed in front of the sport.

During the weekend, reports emerged that Mercedes-Benz offered to save the German Grand Prix. Obviously wanting their Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team to be the source of national pride once again in 2015, the German automaker offered to cover half the race's losses and provide added marketing to an event held at the Hockenhiemring. Despite the best efforts by Mercedes-Benz, the alternative plan for the German Grand Prix did not materialize.

There have been only four times since the inception of Formula 1 in 1950 that a German Grand Prix was not held. Two of those occasions, 1950 and 1960, the grand prix was not part of the Formula 1 schedule. In 1955, the race in Germany was cancelled in reaction to the tragic Le Mans crash that resulted the deaths of 83 spectators and driver Pierre Levegh. In 2007, the more recent absence of the German Grand Prix prior to this year, the Formula 1 series ran at the Nurburgring under the European Grand Prix banner.

With the July 17th to 19th race weekend now deleted from the 2015 schedule, there will be a three-week gap between the British Grand Prix and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Commanding 2015 Formula 1 Debut Win for Hamilton and Mercedes in Australia

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

It has come to the time of the year where the competitors of the world's premier open wheel racing tour have begun lining up for the five red lights on race track starting grids. In a globe-trotting series involving visits to many exciting locales, the 20-race 2015 Formula 1 calendar opens in Australia on the Albert Park. A race track known with a reputation for punishing race cars, the brand-new machines of 2015 are subjected to a baptism by fire. Historically, cars and teams that have survived the opening Australian Grand Prix best would move on to enjoy a solid season.

The returning constructors' champion for 2014 that totaled to win 16 of 19 grand prix events, the early speed of Mercedes AMG was a scary sight for other teams who had been working to close in on the juggernaut of last season. Pole qualifying only added to the worries of everyone intent to catch Mercedes AMG's latest W06 Hybrid race car as defending World Drivers' Champion Lewis Hamilton convincingly took the Australian Grand Prix top spot. Beside Hamilton, Nico Rosberg insured the first race would have a full Mercedes AMG front row. 

A series of bizarre occurrences led to a multitude of withdrawals before the 58-lap race even started. The first incident involved the Manor Marussia team on Saturday. Neither one of the team cars driven by Roberto Merhi or Will Stevens completed a single lap in qualifying leading to the exclusion of the Manor Marussia organization. Further actions against the team from the Formula 1 sanctioning body is possible.

Facing a 18-car field within hours of the Australian Grand Prix start, Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas was forced to withdraw from the race. Bottas suffered back pain that required medical attention following Saturday's qualifying. On Sunday, Bottas was ruled unfit to drive by the Formula 1 medical team. Respecting the decision, the sole Williams-Mercedes starting the season opener was the #19 car of Felipe Massa.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

The Formula 1 field dropped to 16 starters when vehicles assembled on the grid Albert Park. Kevin Magnussen driving a McLaren-Honda race car in substitute for the injured Fernando Alonso suffered a terminal failure minutes before the formation lap as smoke bellowed from his vehicle. With the 2015 season marking the latest return for Honda to Formula 1, Magnussen's early retirement was not the sight the Japanese auto company was hoping to see in the opening race. The combined incidents of participants dropping out of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix resulted in one of the smallest Formula 1 starting grids since the 2005 United States Grand Prix when all but six cars drove the garage following the race's formation lap. Another mechanical problem cost Daniil Kyvat his first race start with Red Bull Racing when a gearbox problem caused him to lose power.

With only 15 cars set on the grid, the first start of the 2015 Formula 1 season would farther thin-out the vehicle count. While the Mercedes AMG cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg launched away from the field immediately as the first turn approached, action behind them resulted in the early retirement of the Lotus-Mercedes cars. Suffering a depletion of power on the formation lap, Romain Grosjean's Lotus E23 Hybrid abruptly fall down the running order. Grosjean retired after completing just one lap. The second Lotus F1 Team car of Pastor Maldonado had an even shorter Australian Grand Prix. In a chain reaction incident starting with the two Ferraris touching either other on the hustle into turn one on the first lap, the end result was Maldonado being tagged by one of the Saubers and colliding with a wall. Despite promise both Lotus-Mercedes cars ended the first race of the season at the back. Maldonado's crashed car and the debris related to the accident led to a safety car period.

At the end of lap three, the safety car returned to the paddock allowing the Mercedes AMG cars to resume their flight away from the rest of the Formula 1 field. Among the Silver Arrows, it was Hamilton that immediately pulled away from his teammate Rosberg. As the Mercedes AMG team were in a league of their own, the remaining competitors fought for the point-paying 3rd to 10th place positions. Due to only 13 cars left running after the safety car, the chances of scoring championship points was in their favour.

As the race transpired through 58 laps, most teams elected for a one pit stop strategy occurring between lap 21 and lap 27. Maybe the result of early season jitters, there were a few mistakes made in belting on new Pirelli tires. The Ferrari team struggled to attach a new left-rear wheel to the car of Kimi Raikkonen costing the Finnish driver several seconds on the track. On lap 40, the problem appeared to have been repeated and ultimately ended with Raikkonen retiring his Ferrari race car in turn five for the following lap.

Photo Credit: Ferrari S.p.A.

A similar problem also occurred with the Toro Rosso car driven by Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz rejoined the race in 12th place after entering the pits in the top-10. Several laps after the pit road problems for one car, the other Toro Rosso stopped on track just ahead of the pit entrance. Max Verstappen retired from the race when smoke began to appear from the Toro Rosso-Renault.

Through the late stage of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, the Mercedes AMG race cars were more than 30 seconds ahead of the third place runner. Crossing the finish line 1.3 seconds ahead of Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton started his world drivers' title defense by winning the debut race of the season. "It’s quite unbelievable, really, what this team has done. It’s a great feeling to start off the season the way we finished the last and the car is just incredible, so thank you to the team." Hamilton also praised his teammate for applying a hard charge throughout the 58-lap grand prix. Last year, the Mercedes AMG team finished 1-2 on 11 occasions.

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

With several new drivers with new teams, the Australian Grand Prix consisted of several new relationships finding early success. Driving his first race for the Ferrari team, Sebastian Vettel finished on the podium after passing the Williams-Mercedes of Felipe Massa after mid-race pit stops. Despite Raikkonen's retirement, the new Ferrari SF15-T race car has determined much more performance for 2015 after a lot of struggles last season. The result was Ferrari's first podium since the late-July 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Perhaps the best underdog story of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix was the Sauber F1 Team. Prior to the 2015 season opening race, Sauber was caught up in a legal dispute from 2014 Dutch test driver Giedo van der Garde. The driver filed legal action against the team when he was promised a spot in the 2015 driver line-up. Already committed to Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, Sauber could have had their plans thrown for a loop as a judge found in favour of van der Garde. However, just in time for the Australian Grand Prix, the Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal challenge allowing the intended driver line-up to remain. After going all of 2014 without scoring any championship points, Sauber placed two drivers in the top-10 for the first race of the 2015 season. Felipe Nasr performed an outstanding Formula 1 driving debut to finish fifth while Ericsson brought his Sauber-Ferrari across the line eighth. The last time two Sauber cars finished in the points was at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Photo Credit: Sauber Motorsport AG

With the first race of the 2015 Formula 1 season in the books, it's evident many of the challengers to Mercedes AMG have upped their games. However, it's also apparent that the Silver Arrows have potentially realized a new level of mastery in grand prix competition.

Next race for the 2015 Formula 1 tour is the March 29th Grand Prix of Malaysia.

2015 Formula 1

Australian Grand Prix

Race Results

Position # Car # Driver Team Engine
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
4 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
5 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
8 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
9 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
10 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
12 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
13 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
14 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
15 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
17 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Honda
18 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hamilton and Mercedes AMG at Top of Grid for Australian GP Opener

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

The start of the 66th Formula 1 season has arrived. With many changes occurring to the Formula 1 series in preparations for the 2015 Australian Grand Prix opener, some had easier decisions to make than others. The McLaren-Honda partnership is now officially underway, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is now a Ferrari driver and the Marussia team rose from the grave after being buried late last season under the name Manor Marussia. It was the teams that finished best in 2014 that made the fewest changes. At the top of the list, 2014 Formula 1 Constructors' Champion Mercedes AMG returned with Nico Rosberg and defending drivers' title holder Lewis Hamilton wheeling their 2015 W06 Hybrid race car. While teams other than Mercedes AMG were hoping that a new year could bring a stop the German team's championship dominating performance, qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday has shown Mercedes AMG and Lewis Hamilton could still be in 2014 form.

Mercedes AMG race cars topped the qualifying boards at the end of all sessions of qualifying on the 5.903-kilometer, 11-turn Albert Park circuit. Through a commanding performance, a lap time of 1-minute, 26.327 seconds in the final Q3 session delivered from Lewis Hamilton secured the Brit on the pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. Almost 6/10th of a second faster than his teammate Nico Rosberg in the timed session, Hamilton credits his Mercedes-AMG team for continuing to put good cars under him.

While Red Bull Racing claimed second in the constructors' points after last season, the Martini Williams Racing organization posted one of the more impressive efforts showing incredible improvement after a near fruitless 2013 season. The customer Mercedes-Benz engines as well as a team consisting of the formidable duel of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas performed mostly consistently in 2014 but fall short of victory. In Albert Park for the opening race of 2015, Williams' most-veteran driver Felipe Massa posted the third fastest time in Q3 (just under 8-10ths of a second slower than factory Mercedes-Benz race cars). Bottas starts was sixth fastest after qualifying but reported pain to his back following the session. It may be unlikely he'll race the Australian Grand Prix.

Felipe Massa's former team, Scuderia Ferrari grabbed fourth and fifth place starting spots for Sunday. Newcomer to the team Sebastian Vettel narrowly best his teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the advantage. Behind Valtteri Bottas' Williams-Mercedes, Red Bull Racing new veteran driver Daniel Ricciardo grabbed seventh. With a one-season of Formula 1 experience at Red Bull Racing's sister team Toro Rosso for 2014, Daniil Kyvat promotion to the top team has resulted in a lackluster qualifying effort. The Russian placed his Red Bull-Renault in the 13th place on the gird ahead of two struggling Force India team cars.

McLaren and Lotus teams both have new engines for the 2015 season. Honda's return to Formula 1 in partnership with the McLaren team did not show considerable speed in Australia. In fact both McLaren Honda cars failed to break through the early Q1 group of qualifying. Jenson Button nudged-out his teammate of the Australian Grand Prix race weekend Kevin Magnussen for the 17th place spot. Magnussen, claiming the 18th position in qualifying, was demoted to the McLaren Honda team's test driver position for 2015 but was reactivated for competition after Fernando Alonso was injured in a serious crash in pre-season testing. Alonso could return to the McLaren race car in time for the next race in Malaysia. As McLaren dropped the Mercedes-Benz power units after 2014, Lotus F1 Team signed on to take engines from the Germany company. After the first full Formula 1 time trial session was completed, Lotus' decision for the 2015 has appeared to be paying off with both Lotus-Mercedes race cars braking into the top-10 in qualifying.

2015 Formula 1

Australia Grand Prix

Qualifying Results

Position # Car # Driver Team Engine
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes-Benz
4 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
5 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
6 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams F1 Renault
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault
8 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
9 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Mercedes-Benz
10 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Mercedes-Benz
11 12 Felipe Nasr Sauber Ferrari
12 33 Max Verstappen Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
13 26 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Renault
14 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes-Benz
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
16 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
17 22 Jenson Button McLaren Honda
18 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Honda
19 28 Will Stevens Manor Marussia Ferrari
20 98 Roberto Merhi Manor Marussia Ferrari

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When Formula 1 Constructor Champions Melt Down One Year After Glory

Last season's near-domination by the Mercedes AMG organization on the Formula 1 racing tour would be a circumstance everyone related to the team would wish could never end. Unfortunately for them, the green flag in Australia will mark a point where 2014 is forever cemented in history. 2015 will be a new beginning for which Mercedes AMG is going to build on another foundation. The question we will all ask is whether a mighty structure will again represent the Formula 1 team's 2015 season.

An impressive overall performance involving victories in 16 of the 19 races on the 2014 tour en route to a constructors‘ title for Mercedes AMG and team driver Lewis Hamilton capturing the drivers‘ championship, the specific Formula 1 run was individually memorable. However, domination by a single team in a single season is not a new thing in the open-wheel world championship racing series. From 2010 until the start of last season, Red Bull Racing shaped a dynasty through several successful seasons of Formula 1 competition. As evident last season, the Red Bull Racing’s dominant reign ended when the green flag fell at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Sometimes it comes as a situation of more modest success such as the case with Red Bull Racing (although four-time champion Sebastian Vettel went winless). Other times, a championship season for driver and constructor results in some radically ill-equipped title defences the following season.

When brilliance one season turns into a plummeting fall from grace the next, reigning champions often simply blow it in regards to creating a competitive package. In the decades of Formula 1 competition, some championships fall a little bit harder than others do. The following examples illustrate the risk teams in the position of Mercedes AMG face after a very fruitful year emerging in an all-new season:

Cooper Car Company 1960 and 1961


Team Points: 48

Driver Points
Jack Brabham: 43
Bruce McLaren: 34


Team Points: 14

Driver Points
Jack Brabham: 4
Bruce McLaren: 11

While the Auto Union race cars of the 1930s demonstrated how effective mounting an engine behind the driver is to on-track performance, it took an innovative group of Brits named Charles Cooper and his son John Cooper to make the vehicle layout a lasting fixture in Formula 1. Able to out-drive more powerful front-engined roadsters, the Cooper T43 Formula 1 car powered by a Climax engine debuted in 1957 and immediately scored a sixth place finish. A feat accomplished by Australian Jack Brabham in Monaco, it would be a short two years later when the effort resulted in a drivers’ championship for Brabham and a constructors’ title for Cooper. As the rest of Formula 1 was forced to adjust to the mid-engined Cooper, the pairing repeated their feat in 1960. In the 1960 season, Brabham’s championship run was marked by five consecutive Formula 1 grand prix victories. A young driver named Bruce McLaren also won the Argentine Grand Prix.

For 1961, Formula 1 changed the engine regulations resulting in smaller powerplant displacement size of 1.5 liters. Cooper’s effectiveness on the track was erased by both their unsuccessful adjustment to the new rules and the adaptation of mid-engined layouts by other teams including Ferrari. A third place scored by Bruce McLaren at the Italian Grand Prix was the high point of the season where the Cooper-Climax lost its advantage. In the final 1961 champion standings, McLaren outscored his teammate Jack Brahbam.

Brabham left the Cooper Car Company team after the 1961 season and immediately founded his own race team. Brabham’s engineering expertise that was valued by Cooper went into his team’s success. Bruce McLaren stayed at Cooper for several season and won on the 1962 Monaco Grand Prix. Eventually, McLaren followed Brabham and created his own successful Formula 1 team. Cooper never regained the success of they achieved when the pioneered the mid-engined Formula 1 revolution and ran their final race in 1969.

A disclaimer relating to the points, only the best six races in the nine races on the 1960 Formula 1 calendar counted while only the five top finishes counted in 1961.


Brabham (Motor Racing Development Limited) 1967 and 1968


Team Points: 63

Driver Points
Denny Hulme: 51
Jack Brabham: 46


Team Points: 10

Driver Points
Jochen Rindt: 8
Jack Brabham: 2

The late Jack Brabham was perhaps the best driver/owner to ever compete in Formula 1. A three-time world driving champion in 1959, 1960 and 1966, Brahbam also had front-running success with his team called Motor Racing Development Limited (frequently referred to simply as Brabham). Beyond his own success that included winning in his own chassis in 1966, Jack Brabham’s team involved other racing greats competing for and sometimes beside the boss. In 1967, Brabham finished behind his teammate and driver Denny Hulme. After taking the 1967 world drivers’ championship from his boss, the New Zealand driver Hulme went to McLaren. Alongside Jack Brabham, future Formula 1 champion Jochen Rindt drove the second team car through the 1968 season.

Though Brabham won their second constructors’ title, the late stages of the 1967 season saw Team Lotus and their new Ford Cosworth DFV engine gaining on the Repco-powered Brabhams. In an attempt to stay ahead of the eight-cylinder Ford powerplant, Repco was encouraged to create an improved version of their V-8 engine. The major year-to-year difference between the Repco engines was the incorporation of a double overhead cam valvetrain design. The engine delivered improved horsepower but was unreliable.

Jochen Rindt left the Brabham team to drive with Team Lotus for the 1969 season. As for driver and team owner Jack Brabham, he persevered for two more seasons behind the wheel before settling into team ownership and managing other ventures.


Ferrari 1979 and 1980



Team Points: 113

Driver Points
Jody Scheckter: 51
Gilles Villeneuve: 47


Team Points: 8

Driver Points
Jody Scheckter:2
Gilles Villeneuve: 6

Among Formula 1 championship teams, the Ferrari team perhaps suffered the biggest year-to-year collapse. The 1979 season was a fairy tale for the entire Italian Formula 1 organization. Leaving the Walter Wolf Racing team after the 1978 season, South African driver Jody Scheckter entered his eighth Formula 1 season (sixth full-time) still searching for a World Championship. Scheckter had come close in previous seasons with a runner-up finish in the standings after 1977 and pair of 3rd place results driving for Tyrrell. At the end of the 1979 Formula 1 championship, Jody Scheckter prevailed resisting a strong challenge from Ferrari teammate Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve. Villeneuve, who entered Formula 1 with a reputation for being aggressive and hard on race cars, left 1979 proving he can tame himself for a season-long championship run. Scheckter and Villeneuve run a variation of a Ferrari 312T chassis first used in 1975. A 1979 Constructors’ title for Ferrari was the fourth with that particular chassis.

For 1980, the driver line-up remained intact driving an updated 312T5 race car powered by a 12-cylinder engine. Despite improvements, the new Ferrari race car was poorly matched against other teams. Not only was Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve unable to win a race in 1980 for Ferrari, neither driver could finish higher than fifth place in a grand prix event. Lacking race pace and a ten total retirements between the two drivers resulted in a 10th place finish in the constructors’ championship for 1980 with just eight points.

Following the disastrous 1980 season, Jody Scheckter retired from Formula 1 while Gilles Villeneuve remained with Ferrari driving a completely new, more competitive 126CK race car powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder engine.


Williams 1997 and 1998


Team Points: 123

Driver Points
Jacques Villeneuve: 81
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: 42


Team Points: 38

Drivers’ Points
Jacques Villeneuve: 21
Heinz-Harald Frentzen: 17

During the mid-1990s, the Williams Formula 1 team was regarded as the hot spot for drivers wanting to be in championship form. Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost won championship with the organization in 1992 and 1994 respectively. In 1996, Damon Hill became the world champion beating teammate and Formula 1 newcomer Jacques Villeneuve for the title. As Hill left Williams for Arrows, German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen joined Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve battled tensely with Michael Schumacher to win the 1997 World Drivers’ Championship in Formula 1. The combined team effort aided by seven wins from Villeneuve and Frentzen’s victory at the San Marino Grand Prix gave Williams its fifth constructors’ title in six years.

The driver line-up for Williams remained unchanged for 1998 as Jacques Villeneuve wore the #1 on a new look race car. The Rothman cigarette brand’s familiar blue and white livery was replaced by Winfield’s red and white. While the different look was a major adjustment to fans, the team’s biggest learning curve was all-new Formula 1 rules. Narrower side dimensions and grooved race tires replacing slicks were mandated for all teams but Williams was forced to give up much of their constructor championship-winning notepad referring to the 1997 car. Williams also lost ace Formula 1 car designer Adrian Newey to McLaren in 1998.

Perhaps the biggest year-to-year change was the discontinuation of factory support from Renault. Williams was provided with engine power from Mecachrome, the company that for years built Renault’s Formula 1 power units. The Mecachrome engine was almost the same Renault V-10 engine Williams ran in 1997 while Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari reengineered their powerplants for 1998, the Williams race cars would ultimately be seen as less potent. This showed in qualifying as the Williams-Mecachrome failed to score a pole in 1998 after 11 in 1997.

For the entire 1998 season, Williams struggled simply to climb on a podium in races where either Jacques Villeneuve or Heinz-Harald Frentzen won. Frentzen grabbed a third place in the Australian Grand Prix while Villeneuve was third at both the German and Hungarian Grand Prix. After the lacklustre season, both drivers parted with the Williams team. Heinz-Harald Frentzen joined with the Benson and Hedges Jordan team while Jacques Villeneuve joined the newly formed British-American Racing team for 1999. Since his world championship, Jacques Villeneuve’s racing career has never come close to equalling the same success.