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The Mercedes Formula: What has powered the Silver Arrows’ success in 2014?

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“The King is dead. Long live the King.” Sebastian Vettel’s reign at the top of the Formula 1 world has come to an end in 2014, and we’re not even halfway through the season.

Instead, Mercedes is the new king pin, having won all but one of the races so far. So just why has the German marque surged ahead and left the rest of the field trailing in its wake?

One of the biggest advantages to the Mercedes team was the seismic change in the technical regulations that took place for this season. Essentially, each time there is a big change such as this, the reset button is pressed. The team that found the perfect formula for the last set of regs – in this case, Red Bull – may not get it right with the new set.

In fact, Red Bull was, in a way, the Mercedes of the post-2009 regulation change. In the final two years under the previous regulations, the sport was dominated by Ferrari and McLaren. For 2009, a number of changes were made, and both teams fell down the pecking order, winning just three races between them in 2009. The dominant team that year was Brawn GP – previously Honda, then to become Mercedes – with Jenson Button winning his solitary world title. However, Red Bull ran the team close, and has remained top dog ever since. In a way, the changes made in 2009 set the tone for the next four years of racing.

So will the same be true of this new era? Will Mercedes dominate F1 for the foreseeable future? Of course, things do change. When the German marque took over Brawn, it did not dominate as the phoenix of Honda had in 2009. Instead, it battled for podium finishes at best, with wins coming in 2012 and 2013. All the while, Red Bull was still the team to beat simply because it got everything so right with the regulations.

And that is why Mercedes is dominating F1 as it currently is. 2014 wasn’t a hastily planned season; it has been years in the making. The new regulations have been exposed perfectly by the engineers at Brackley, making the W05 Hybrid car – for want of a better word – beastly. Lewis Hamilton led McLaren’s charge during 2007 and 2008 with arguably the quickest car on the grid, yet he still says that his 2014 challenger is the best car he has ever driven. That is quite the compliment from one of the sport’s finest talents.

Lewis is not only in the form of his life, but he is also in a good place mentally. Speaking to the media in Austria, he said: “I’m great, excited. Couldn’t be in a better place really.” He is clearly reveling in the prospect of a second world title.

The big advantage that Mercedes has over the other teams in F1 lies with its engine (or, to be more precise, the ‘power unit’). Only two teams on the grid make both their own car and their own engine: Mercedes and Ferrari. Given that 2014 was meant to be the year where this was the key battleground, many expected the two works teams to be forging ahead. Mercedes has done exactly that, but Ferrari is still struggling to find its feet in 2014.

The cohesion between Mercedes’ team base in Brackley and its power plant in Brixworth is stunning. The power unit has been put together in an inventive way, designed to reduce turbo lag, and has been simply devastating this year. That doesn’t just go for the Mercedes works team: Williams and Force India are also customers, and have both flourished.

McLaren, on the other hand, is having a tougher time of it despite using the Mercedes power unit. Before the German marque had a works team, McLaren was its primary focus for development. The engines were designed to work with the British team’s fuel supplier, Mobil 1. Now though, they work best with Petronas fuel – Mercedes’ title sponsor. Force India and Williams also use Petronas, and are therefore at an advantage. The British team will obviously be ensuring that Honda’s engines in 2015 are made with Mobil 1 in mind.

2014 is the year where fuel and engines are the two main battlegrounds, unlike the focus on aerodynamics that we have seen in recent years. For this reason, Mercedes is ruling the roost.

Just as Mercedes has got the best engine, its advantage has been increased because Red Bull has the worst: Renault. The French marque admitted that it had problems during the off-season, and its power units have been lagging behind the rest of the field ever since. Regular promises to bring the engines back to up to speed have been made, but as of yet there is a definite pace disadvantage. If you were to run equal cars in a straight line, one with a Mercedes engine, one with a Ferrari, one with a Renault, it would most probably end in that order.

The move away from aerodynamic battle has harmed Red Bull. Technical guru Adrian Newey masterminded the team’s domination of the sport, but no matter how good the car is in terms of setup, without the right engine, it will always lag behind. Many in the paddock believe that the RB10 car is better than Mercedes’ W05 aerodynamically, but simply cannot compete with a dud engine.

We must not take anything away from the Mercedes drivers, though. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are among the top four or five drivers on the grid, and both have proven themselves to be championship contenders. As we have seen in the past, having the best car on the grid does not guarantee you a shot at the title: you have to deliver. Both drivers have done that in abundance so far this year.

It can be said with some certainty that Mercedes will win the constructors’ championship, and you can be sure that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg will win the biggest prize in motorsport: the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

However, the same cannot be said of 2015, or 2016, and so on. Once Renault is back up to speed and has resolved its issues, Red Bull will unquestionably be able to fight back. The team has not forgotten how to win, even with some 48 grands prix and four world championships under its belt in just eight seasons.

Unlike Vettel’s dominance in 2011 and 2013, though, we have two drivers who are capable winning the championship in the quickest car. Be it Lewis or Nico, the world champion will most probably be crowned at the final race of the year – double points and all.

Ricciardo: In-cockpit visibility ‘pretty good’ with aeroscreen

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer fitted with the aeroscreen on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo has given a thumbs-up to the Red Bull-designed ‘aeroscreen’ cockpit protection device after giving it its first public trial in Russia on Friday.

Cockpit safety has been high on the FIA’s agenda following the deaths of Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing.

There are two leading solutions to improving cockpit safety: the ‘Halo’, which made its public debut in F1 pre-season testing, and the ‘aeroscreen’ that broke cover on Friday.

Ricciardo completed an installation run with the aeroscreen attached to his car, leading to a mixed response from the paddock, but the Australian reported that visibility was still good in the cockpit.

“I think in terms of visibility it was pretty good,” Ricciardo said.

“The peripheral vision was fine. The structure is by the mirrors, so you’re not really hindered.

“It’s just a bit weird having a structure there. I had a Ferrari driving in front of me and the points on track seemed pretty much unaltered. For sure, it’s different, but the crux of it was pretty good.”

Ricciardo does not think that the height of the aeroscreen would change a driver’s view of the starting lights from the front row of the grid.

“I tried to have a look around and see. It seemed pretty high up,” Ricciardo said.

“If I was to stop on starting grid, I don’t think it would hinder vision.”

The aeroscreen and the Halo are both under consideration for possible implementation in 2017, with a decision set to be made in the near future regarding next season’s technical regulations.

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On rules, regs and female race drivers

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battles for position with Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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With the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy now off until the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend May 12-14 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s a break for Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.

Not so, a break for Stefan Johansson, the F1 veteran-turned their driver manager and also the sporting director for Scuderia Corsa.

The Los Angeles-based sports car team heads up the California coast to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race in Monterey, where once again the team’s Ferrari 488 GTE and GT3 variants will compete in separate GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class races.

Johansson has checked in with Jan Tegler for a catch-up following F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and the last two IndyCar races of the year in Long Beach and Barber.

While the racing is part of Johansson’s latest blog entry, the majority centers on rules, regulations and recent comments from F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone about whether female drivers could make it in F1.

Although the first round of 2017 regulations have been confirmed with today’s earlier news that new engine regulations have been signed off on for a four-year period from 2017 to 2020, Johansson is skeptical that as long as the teams are involved, there won’t be a consensus when it comes to the new technical regulations.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance,” Johansson writes. “I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

“If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing.”

Johansson added that rules stability is needed more than a shakeup; inevitably the more rules change, the more costs increase to keep pace with the changes.

Officiating was in the crosshairs at Long Beach, when an official warning was assessed to Simon Pagenaud rather than any sort of official penalty – drive-through or otherwise – for when Pagenaud violated the Lane Usage rule in INDYCAR’s rulebook.

While Johansson disagreed with what Pagenaud was assessed, he also said INDYCAR Race Control was almost put into an untenable position anyway because of the way the rulebook – and INDYCAR’s new-for-2016 Penalty Guidelines sheet – is written.

“Long Beach was interesting and confusing,” Johansson admits. “I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision.

“As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce.”

Like others within the INDYCAR paddock, Johansson argues a clearer, more black-and-white form of rules will be a better way towards officiating in the future.

“I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand,” he writes.

He did give credit to Race Control for staying out of the way at Barber, as Pagenaud and Graham Rahal enjoyed a spirited battle for the win in the final 10 laps.

“The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes,” he writes.

When it comes to female drivers in racing, Johansson says it isn’t gender that’s holding them back: it’s pure numerology.

“I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it,” he notes.

Johansson writes that he thinks a woman driver could make it to F1 based on physical ability – he says the cars aren’t nearly as hard to drive as they used to be. But whether any female driver makes it, or similarly any males with similar record, comes down to results.

“I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it,” he says.

“My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.”

Those thoughts, as well as Johansson’s take on the Chinese Grand Prix, the crazy first lap there, Dixon’s own tough luck at both Long Beach and Barber, an update on how Rosenqvist did in his first U.S. road racing weekend (as opposed to ovals and street courses) and thoughts on the FIA WEC opener from Silverstone are also included in Johansson’s blog.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Sirotkin enjoys strong first Renault F1 practice outing

Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS16 Test Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 29th April 2016. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.
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Sergey Sirotkin’s first Formula 1 practice run-out for Renault on Friday in Sochi proved to be a successful one as he finished eight-tenths of a second quicker than full-time driver Jolyon Palmer.

It was announced earlier this week that GP2 race winner Sirotkin had joined Renault in the role of test driver for the 2016 season, and would take part in FP1 for his home race in Russia in place of Kevin Magnussen.

Sirotkin posted a quickest lap time of 1:40.898 around the Sochi Autodrom in his first run in the Renault R.S.16 car to finish the session 13th overall, eight-tenths clear of Palmer.

The Russian’s time was made all the more impressive by the fact he had a problem with his seat position in the car throughout the session.

“My target for today was to give the team exactly what they wanted from the session,” Sirotkin said.

“I tried to remain very calm even though it is, of course, very exciting to get to drive a Formula 1 car. Obviously, it’s always beneficial when your lap time looks good but I felt comfortable delivering at today’s level even if it wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been with my seat.

“I am happy that I have started this long programme with Renault Sport Formula One Team in a positive manner.”

Renault trackside operations manager Alan Permane was happy with Sirotkin’s efforts, and felt that the team had made a fair start to the race weekend in Sochi.

“A productive first day for us. It was Sergey’s first time in the car and he did a very positive job for us,” Permane said.

“We weren’t able to get the seating position perfect for him yet despite this he delivered good pace and feedback.

“Jolyon had a straight-forward couple of sessions concentrating on aero development in the first session and a further front wing back-to-back comparison as well as tyre work in the afternoon.

“Kevin didn’t suffer from missing FP1 and was able to deliver everything required from FP2. We’ve still got some work to do, in particular with an oversteer balance.

“There are improvements possible, but it’s a reasonable start to the weekend.”

Luckless Bottas confident form will improve soon

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Valtteri Bottas is confident that he will bounce back from a luckless start to the 2016 Formula 1 season sooner rather than later.

Bottas entered 2016 hopeful of continuing Williams’ impressive recent form that saw the team finish third in the constructors’ championship for the past two years.

However, while teammate Felipe Massa has managed to battle up the order to sit sixth in the drivers’ championship with 22 points after three races, Bottas has finished no higher than eighth, picking up just seven points in the same period.

Bottas is confident that his luck will turn soon though, and believes that he is still driving well despite his disappointing start to the year.

“The first two races were really unlucky,” Bottas told the official F1 website. “I drove well but fortune wasn’t on my side. It is never a good feeling when you drive well but don’t get the results, but at least you know you’ve given your best.

“In Melbourne, I had the penalty for the gearbox and that ruined my race a bit. In Bahrain I had a collision with Lewis Hamilton and had damage on the car which affected the whole race. And in China again damage on the car before my last stint and cost me three tenths of a second per lap.

“So here we are! But believe me, luck will turn. I know myself: I am driving well, I know what I am capable of, so I will stay consistent and wait for my opportunity.”

Bottas was linked with a move to Ferrari for much of 2015, but talk of a move away from Williams has cooled in light of Max Verstappen’s impressive rookie season and Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas for 2016.

The Finn is not bothered about driver market speculation though, saying that it is normal for people in F1 to doubt ability in a tough patch of form.

“One day you’re hot, next day you’re not,” Bottas said.

“People do have very short memories here in terms of what happens, but I think there are also people who really do understand F1, who can look behind the scenes and understand why a driver hasn’t had the results they should.

“For me, yes it’s not been the best start to the season, but I know there will be enough chances to shine. I’m ready for that.”