The new season is upon us; we’ve had two races – neither of them great, but equally so neither of them devoid of interest – and a flurry of press outrage about the quiet nature of the engines. What nonsense; F1 is about racing, not noise. Then there’s the complaints about fuel flow limits (not withstanding Red Bull’s exceptionally arrogant behaviour in Australia); drivers, ‘they’ say, are being forced to perform economy runs. If so, it’s not the first time; memories are short in this game.
The technical regulations this season represent perhaps the most comprehensive changes I have witnessed in 40 years of following this sport; this isn’t a case of switching from a V10 to V8, it’s an entirely new ball game. And Renault, it seems, has dropped that ball. There’s no doubt they are getting back up to speed, but I wasn’t the only one to suggest that Mercedes would hit the ground running. Red Bull – so used to dominating the sport over the past few years – has thrown its toys out of the pram, with lead driver Sebastian Vettel declaring the new engines sound ‘shit’; what does it matter to him what they sound like? He’s a racing driver, not an audio technician. Furthermore, one doubts he would be saying such had the Red Bull not been such a fragile proposition in these early races.
So, one each to Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, and a 1-2 for the Silver Arrows in Malaysia. Rosberg’s inability to stay with Lewis at Sepang was a mystery, and Hamilton delighted in informing everyone that he ‘blew him away’. He did – no doubt about it – but it’s a dangerous move to write off Nico. Mercedes needs to keep on top of things as we can be certain Red Bull will bounce back; the car has undoubted speed and, once its teething troubles are sorted, it will challenge for wins.
On the plus side, Nico Hulkenberg must be counting his blessings that Lotus decided not to take him; the German is, in my eyes, a contender for best driver in the field right now – he’s consistent, fast and very, very tidy, and would be up front in a top car. The Force India looks like a pretty handy machine, given the resources at hand, and he’s finished top five in both races so far. Lotus, on the other hand, has gone from front runner status at the end of last year to looking completely lost at the moment.
The new boys: Daniel Ricciardo – no rookie, of course – has settled in well at Red Bull and looks fast and composed. He is perhaps handling the difficult circumstances better that Vettel right now, as he’s under less pressure than the World Champion. Kevin Magnussen is, as McLaren were keen to tell us last year, clearly a star in the making; Australia was an astounding performance, Malaysia marred by his clash with Raikkonen (although a decent recovery ensued); I expect him to be a fixture on the scene for a long time. Perhaps the biggest surprise – to me at least – has been the performance of Daniil Kvyat. The young – very young – Russian was something of a surprise choice at STR and, I believed, a commercial one rather than a racing one. I’ve been proved wrong: he’s performed admirably so far, and simply got on with the job. I see another star in the making. I’ll reserve judgement on the clearly talented Marcus Ericcson given the machinery at his disposal.
So, what does the future hold? Plenty, I believe; these V6 turbo engines are jewels, superbly engineered delights that reflect what is relevant to motor manufacturers today. With one possible exception – when did you last see a 1.6litre Ferrari? The word is that the Prancing Horse is unhappy with the state of play, and a surprise press release claim that 83% of fans are ‘unhappy’ with the new generation of F1. I know a lot of fans, and I have yet to find one that actually participated in Ferrari’s ‘survey’. I would also suggest that two races into an entirely new era is a little early to be making such claims. Nevertheless, Maranello is flexing its muscles, and wants ‘quick changes’ to the regulations. Such as shorter races. That would really please the fans, I’m sure. Luca di Montezemelo may do well to keep quiet, and see that his team makes its protest on track.
We have a long way to go with these new regulations; let’s give them a chance to find their feet. I’m willing to wager that, by the middle of the season, these cars will be matching the lap times set by their predecessors.