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F1 TESTING AT BARCELONA

 

Has Williams made a major step forward?There will be no mistaking a Force India this yearRenault could be confused for a McLaren-except it will be ahead Lovely looking car-lets hope Sauber find some speedTESTING TIMES FOR SOME

 

  Well the second week of testing at Catalunya seemed to confirm the opinions of most as to where the teams ranked in preparation for this years championship opener in Melbourne. I say seemed as no-one really knows if some teams, say Mercedes and Red Bull, were showing their full potential except some of those within the teams concerned. But us mere mortals on the outside can only go with what is put in front of us and it appears that the Ferrari is as quick as it is ugly and will be battling the Mercedes on a regular basis this season.

 

  This might just give us one last hurrah from Kimi as the Ferrari appears to supply him with everything he delights in, plenty of front end grip on corner entry and buckets of traction on the way out. He was clearly revelling in this while on his way to the best testing time of the winter with a 1’18.634, the only guy to break the 79 second barrier. This fares rather nicely with his own existing lap record (for this configuration) of 1’21.670 set in 2008 and Hamilton’s pole time of 1’22.000 from last year. Not quite the five seconds the powers that be were after but we are not at qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix yet and there will be many more developments to come, even from the front runners. And Vettel wasn’t toooo far behind. So the Ferrari, which is about as easy on the eye as a steroidal warthog with boils looks to be the biz. What of the others.

 

  Mercedes would appear to not yet have unleashed its full potential. Lewis claims not to have found the sweet spot so far and was shaded by new-comer Bottas, but just four one-hundredths covered the pair who lurked around three tenths off Vettel’s pace. A little more worryingly for the Silver Slings, they don’t seem to have the pace on race tyres that some of their rivals have displayed. But who knows just what games they may be playing, I guess we might find out in Melbourne next week. Similar thoughts may be offered about the Red Rags who will probably show better in Melbourne than in this latest outing. Some irritating Renault “ishoos” blighted their second week and they were again fractionally back on the Mercs but just what a certain Mr Newey has in tucked away at the back of his very big brain, only he knows.

 

  Making a nice jump forward seems to have been the Williams. The un-retiring Felipe was fastest on day one, second on day two just a tenth off Bottas and Stroll didn’t go hurling it at the trees this time so this time they managed to get through their programme without too many glitches, showing some good pace and reliability. Hopefully they can keep up with the top teams development through the year and don’t slide slowly backwards as has been the record of recent seasons. The arrival of Paddy Lowe, who arrives from Mercedes as chief technical officer and starts later this week should help in that regard.

 

  Renault also appear to have made gains through the mid-field and are well in the mix with the likes of Force India (who have a pretty new pink livery – no mistaking them for a McLaren now) and Toro Rosso who both showed marked improvement from the first test last week. Both the Renault and the Toro Rosso boys shared the engine gremlins of Red Bull over the last few days but Sainz and Hulkenberg ended an encouraging seventh and eighth respectively with the Force Indias of Perez and Ocon just a couple of tenths behind. Propping up the mid-field at this juncture are the Haas lads who are STILL struggling with braking problems and a change away from the Brembo gear may not be too far away.

 

  Sadly again well off the pace were the McLarens, whose Honda engines had neither power or reliability. Not a single race distance simulation done in either test and already they have eaten what would be one cars entire season allocation of engines. Combined they completed less laps than eleven other individual drivers. And they were slow laps. King Fernando’s best was close to three whole seconds back from Raikkonen. There is a whole lot of work to do back at the Honda factory and it will not be great to see such talent as Alonso and Vandoorne squabbling away at the back of the field. With the Saubers. Beautiful looking car. Lovely paint scheme. No pace. Decent reliability. It may well be that the Saubers start at the very back but there is a very real probability that they will finish ahead of the McLarens in Melbourne. Just because they finish. Lets hope they can also find some performance bits to take them back into the mid-field where we all know they should at least be…..

 

  For full testing results go to; http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2017-formula-1

 

Sam Snape

 

14-3-2017

 

  As a post-script there is a whisper that McLaren have had a chat to Mercedes about a supply of the engines that were due to go to Manor. Mercedes would not agree to a deal while McLaren have an existing engine contract (much as they wouldn’t with Red Bull a couple of years ago) but if the Honda situation doesn’t improve……….never say never. Could there be a McLaren-Mercedes before season’s end?

 

F1 - FERRARI ON TOP AFTER 1ST BARCELONA TEST

 

Ferrari SF70H - quick, but about as pretty as a warthog with acneToro Rosso STR12 - pretty but slowMcLaren MCL32 - love the orangeMercedes W08 - pretty AND quick  Despite all the technical changes that occurred over the winter, at first glance it doesn’t appear that there has been any great change in the balance of power in F1 so far. A little disappointing but not really surprising. After the first four days of testing at Catalunya the same old big three were at the top of the time sheets. Only it was Ferrari that actually looked to have the upper hand. Not with the outright fastest time but that their fastest times were set on theoretically slower tyres that those used by Mercedes.

 

   The best times set by both Raikkonen and Vettel were on the Soft compound tyres while those set by Bottas and Hamilton were on the Ultra-soft. And reports are that the Mercedes did not look as composed as the Ferraris on the harder rubber. So maybe it won’t be another Silver-wash in 2017 after all. And after a disjointed start, again due to “issues” with their Renault engines, Red Bull steadily improved to lock out the next two places on the time sheets with Ricciardo just a couple of tenths off Hamilton’s best effort. But that’s what Red Bull usually do when they have a good year. Start quietly and build up speed without being noticed until all of a sudden…..

 

  The big improver from last year was the factory Renault squad that ended with 7th and 8th places just two hundredths behind Verstappen. It may well be that Hulkenberg’s move from Force India was a very good one after all. The Sauber was nervous through the quick stuff but Ericsson’s best time was still just another tenth back from the Renaults while Antonio Giovinazzi didn’t disgrace himself on his real F1 debut in the second Sauber with the 14th best time, just half a second shy of Ericsson. Giovinazzi has done some laps in a 2015 Ferrari earlier this year but his outing here, replacing Pascal Wehrlein who injured his neck in a Race of Champions roll, was his first outing in an official test. It’s a little hard to say just where Williams are after a drama filled test. Massa’s best time came on the slowest (first) day when he was only three tenths shy of the best time of the day but he ended tenth thanks to rookie Lance Stroll throwing the FW40 at the scenery just once too often ending Williams test a day early with damage they couldn’t fix at the circuit.

 

  The Williams sandwiched the Haas boys who were within a tenth of each other and just a tenth behind Massa. However both Haas drivers were hampered by braking inconsistency, a problem that seems to have carried over from last year and one that will not amuse Romain Grosjean. Force India seem to have taken a step backwards but again, like Red Bull they are rarely quick in their first tests. More problematic is that they didn’t cover too many miles during the four days – 278 laps as compared to Mercedes 558 – a fraction under half the distance. Similarly afflicted was the New Orange McLaren who could rightly consider the first two days as a complete right-off. An oil tank problem curtailed day one while their Honda engine went POP on day two. I can’t imagine King Fernando was too impressed. On another note with McLaren, now that Ron has been shown the door, it has finally done away with the MP4 moniker. What always bemused me about that was that MP4 stood for Ron’s old Formula Two team name – Marlboro Project Four. It always struck me as odd that even after Marlboro was no longer their sponsor, especially when it was replaced with a rival tobacco brand (West) that the MP4 tag stayed. And welcome back to the McLaren Orange which has not been seen in a Grand Prix since the small patches that remained on the Yardley M23 in 1974.

 

  Finally, really struggling for both pace and reliability were the Toro Rossos, which only completed 183 laps and were a worrying half a second off the McLaren pace and a whacking 3.2 seconds off Bottas’ best time. That’s in the Manor league of last year. Report card says “Could do better”. Sort of like mine used to…..

 

For full test results go to  http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2017-formula-1

 

Sam Snape

 

3-3-2017

 

THOMAS RANDLE - ON THE WAY UP FROM DOWN UNDER

 

Thomas Randle - British F3 winnerThomas Randle - 2017 Toyota Racing Series Champion  Could those of us on the bottom side of the planet be producing another world class driver without noticing it? We are very good at that. Not many noticed the rise of Danny Ric until he was in Formula One, indeed the ABC continued to comment on his “debut” season while he was winning with Red Bull in 2014. Even though that was his fourth season as a Grand Prix driver. How many out there noticed Mark Webber until he hurled it into the trees at Le Mans? And then promptly forgot about him until that unlikely fifth on debut at Albert Park in the Minardi? How many of us in Oz have heard of Ken Kavanagh, Tony Gaze or Paul Hawkins who all made it to GP racing in the 50’s and 60’s or are aware that the likes of Vern Schuppan, Tim Schenken, Dave Walker and Larry Perkins were all Grand Prix drivers in the 70’s?

 

  Probably not many is the unfortunate answer. Very few except the hard core fans even knew that Alan Jones had won a Grand Prix before he swept the board with Williams in 79-80. Unlike some countries, take the Netherlands for example, where most of the population knew who Max Verstappen was when he was no more than a promising Formula 3 driver, Australians seem to ignore their up and coming racing drivers until they are winning at the very top of the sport. Usually they fail to get there, not through lack of talent, but lack of interest and only become known when they slip quietly back home to race V8s. Very sad.

 

  Now we have another one who is having a good crack at making it on the world stage. Thomas Randle is showing the sort of early promise that might, just might, take him all the way if he gets the right breaks. The 2014 Australian Formula Ford Champion and runner-up in the 2015 Formula 4 championship ventured to Europe last year to try to live the dream. In his debut in the highly competitive British Formula 3 championship he was on the podium seven times, took pole once and scored wins at Rockingham, and more impressively, Spa Francorchamps and ended a very creditable fourth in the championship. At years end he made a couple of appearances in the Formula V8 3.5 series, a similar class to GP2 and the one that Ricciardo used to make his final jump into F1.

 

  Already this year he has emerged victorious in the New Zealand Toyota Racing Series. This again probably doesn’t mean much to many Australians but to most of the emerging talent around the world, this series is VERY important. There were drivers from twelve different nations contesting the series including Pedro Piquet, Richard Verschoor, Jehan Daruvala, Enaam Ahmed, Ferdinand Habsburg and Brendon Leitch. All of these were junior category winners in Europe in 2016 so for Randle to win the title is no mean feat. He seems to also have a fairly pragmatic head on his young shoulders. The goss is that he is looking at heading to sports cars with an LMP3 programme in the European Le Mans series as a cheaper way of enhancing his reputation than spending what he doesn’t have on a GP3 or European Formula 3 drive which now require many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

  Lets hope that he gets a bit of home support and makes it all the way. It would be sad again to have a talent that just doesn’t quite get there through lack of support. Think of those that could have been racing in Formula One in just the last decade or so. Will Power, Will Davison, Ryan Briscoe and James Courtney all tested for Grand Prix teams and all had the talent to compete at that level. But for………..

 

Sam Snape

 

28-2-2017

 

MERCEDES CHOSES BOTTAS

 

AND THE CARDS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

 

  The final long standing non secret was confirmed this morning with the announcements by Sauber, Mercedes and Williams of their driver line-ups for 2017. Pascal Wehrlein was first confirmed as replacing Felipe Nasr at Sauber, followed quickly by the not so shocking news that Valtteri Bottas was moving from Williams to Mercedes and then that, as no-one didn’t suspect, Felipe Massa was not retiring after all and would be staying on at Williams alongside the rookie Lance Stroll. So that, it seems, is that for 2017 driver line-ups. Except that it may be that Manor has received a last second purchase offer which if it is accepted by Friday will save the team and there will still be two seats up for grabs. Maybe…

 

  These announcements are good news for the three drivers concerned but perhaps not so for Felipe Nasr who has had some pretty impressive moments over the last two seasons at Sauber. But unless he can get one of the possible Manor drives he will be out on his ear come Melbourne in March. His debut drive to fifth at Albert Park in 2015 was sublime and in the first half of that year he was well on top of his team-mate Marcus Ericsson in both points and qualifying. Since then however, his dominance has declined. In the end Ericsson started ahead on the grid by a margin of 21-19 although Nasr still won the points battle 29-9. In an ideal world Nasr would deserve his seat in 2017 but in the harsh reality, where in the lower echelon teams money counts for as much as talent, if you cannot utterly destroy your team-mate and he brings in more of that filthy lucre, I still think that term sounds like the name of an Italian team manager… you’re going to lose out. And when Felipe’s Brazilian banking backers pulled the plug, his chances went down the gurgler.

 

  For Wehrlein it is a step up to a potentially more competitive car, especially if Manor don’t survive, and the chance to impress more off the track than on. No-one doubts his speed, his points scoring drive in Austria and the fact that he dragged the Manor into the second qualifying session way more than it deserved are testament to that. He does though, have a reputation for being a touch difficult. Having to be told, in no uncertain terms, to switch off his engine SIX times in Austin after beaching the Manor in the kitty litter shows a certain lack of maturity. If not a little stupidity. There are reports that while in the Mercedes DTM squad he managed to alienate every other driver and many of the other team staff through his self centred attitude. It was more this than any performance issue that saw, not just Mercedes decide not to promote him to replace Rosberg, but Force India to chose his Manor team-mate Esteban Ocon over him for 2017. Hopefully as his youth fades into the distance so will this immaturity and he can grow into the sort of top line driver that Mercedes will not overlook for their F1 squad, because he is quick enough to be very good indeed.

 

  Valtteri Bottas now has a chance to really show just how good he is. All reports from those that have worked with him say that he is without question, champion material. Beating Hamilton in the same car, even if that doesn’t bring a title, will prove them correct. And I really hope he can prove it. From the outside though it is tough to judge. Is generally being on top of an aging Felipe Massa really proof positive that he is the real deal? Would he have had the same level of performance advantage over one of the other upper midfield drivers such as Perez or Hulkenberg. How would he have performed against an Alonso, Ricciardo, Verstappen or Sainz? Maybe the drivers flattered the Williams and Massa was driving at the level he was back in 08 when he so nearly won the title and Bottas is better than that. But equally, the Williams may have been a better car than it’s drivers showed. Hard to tell. I guess by the time we get to November we will have our answer, and I hope that Valtteri is as good as his supporters claim. It will not only be good for Valtteri, but for us, the fans as well.

 

  As for Felipe, well he never wanted to retire anyway. He just wasn’t going to get re-hired at Williams and had no better prospects in F1 so was going to go race elsewhere. Now both Williams, and their sponsors Martini need him back. Williams because they need an experienced driver to help Stroll learn the ropes and maintain consistency of feedback with all the regulation changes. Martini need him because as an alcohol company they do not want two very young drivers as the faces of their brand. Stroll is too young to drink in many countries so that would not be a good look. So as Martini need Felipe, so do Williams as they need to keep the Martini cash flowing. It’s not just with the bottom dwellers that money talks. And if Felipe is driving as well as ever, why would you not keep him?

 

  Lets hope that Manor do get saved from liquidation, they all have a stella season and we get some great racing along the way.

 

  Sam Snape

 

  17-01 2017

 

NICO ROSBERG ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

 

After one last leap, Rosberg calls time on his career  Just moments prior to accepting his trophy for becoming the 2016 World Formula One drivers Champion Nico Rosberg announced that, having achieved his life long dream, he no longer had the necessary emotional reserves to continue in Formula One and strive for another title. Put simply, the last few seasons battling with Lewis Hamilton had drained him. He was tired and, like Jenson Button, after 25 years of chasing his dream he needed a break from the permanent travel and stress that goes with being a Grand Prix driver these days. You could plainly see after the race in Abu Dhabi just how much pressure he had been under and what a relief it was to have triumphed. His description of the race, “it was horrible”, was probably a very telling comment in hindsight.

  As was his reply to a pit lane commentator who asked him if he would use the number 1 on his car next year. “We will see.” I have a sneaking suspicion that he already knew that he did not want to go through this again next year but wanted to let his team know before he made his decision public. To the very end his commitment to his team over all else is what made him so admired within the Mercedes squad. Some could suggest that Lewis should learn from his example. I hope that the decision was not made in haste and that in six months or a years time he will be wanting to return. It is wise to know when you can no longer give as much as you have done previously. If Rosberg had continued with this mindset he would have done neither himself nor his team justice. So Nico leaves us at the peak of his powers with his reputation as one of the best drivers of his day intact.

   As a result of course, that horrid ripping noise you hear is the sound of Grand Prix drivers and their managers all over the world trying to figure out if they can tear up their existing contracts and fill the vacant Mercedes drive. Mobile phone companies are making record profits as Toto Wolff’s phone reaches melting point. Toto himself joked (almost) that the only two drivers who had not contacted him were Kvyat and Raikkonen, and that was only because they didn’t have his number. So who is likely? Well Pascal Wehrlein as a Mercedes Junior driver is the most obvious candidate.

   You can almost imagine his emotions over the last month or so. Beginning with bewilderment and dejection at being overlooked by Force India in favour of his team-mate, Esteban Ocon, despite his outstanding performances at Manor this year. His options for next year were looking just a bit bleak with just the possibility of going to Sauber or staying at Manor the only ones left on the table. Another year at Manor was the likely outcome but that would leave him where? About where he is now with not many vacancies up the food chain except at a couple of the very top seats which he would be unlikely to get as they all have their own in house junior talent to draw from. And now the excitement of the very possible prospect of jumping into the departing World Champions seat and battling for race wins. If he gets it he will need to grab the opportunity by the throat to retain the seat beyond 2017. If he gets slaughtered by Hamilton he will not get a second chance as many of the top drivers contracts expire at the end of next year opening up some intriguing possibilities.

   Some could be very exciting and possibly work out well. Some could be exciting, but as toxic as the Prost/Senna partnership (for want of a better word). Ricciardo and Hamilton could work. Daniel is as non-political as they come but is blindingly fast. Without having to pull any back-room stunts his speed, dedication and personality would surely draw many of the team to his side and he would be a major threat to Hamilton’s hopes of future championships. I’m not quite so sure about the other two top line drivers working out though. Alonso/Hamilton 1 was about as harmonious as Prost/Senna and although Alonso has mellowed a touch since then it could be very interesting. The Mercedes management had a hard time sorting out the tiff’s between Hamilton and Rosberg but a determined Alonso could take things to an entirely new level. I don’t think Vettel would be much easier. Two more self-centered, self believing, determined individuals than Hamilton and Vettel you are unlikely to meet. Both have been seen to openly ignore team orders in the past if it was in their own interests, even at the detriment of the teams. Not sure Toto and Niki would like that much, but it could be bloody entertaining for the rest of us.

 Sam Snape

 5-12 2016