The dust has settled on a somewhat pedestrian start to the 2015 FIA F1 World Championship, and while many are predicting another year of Mercedes dominance, evo thinks this slow start will lead to a frantic pace for the rest of the year as the teams find their form.
Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg
The reigning world champion looked imperious in Melbourne. From the very first practise session to the chequered flag dropping, Lewis Hamilton was at his best. The British driver claimed pole position with a time nearly six-tenths quicker than his teammate and when the lights went out Hamilton quickly took control of the race, managing Nico Rosberg throughout.
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But Rosberg is a canny driver and knows that Hamilton thrives on success but can quickly fling his toys across the garage if everything isn’t going his way. What Hamilton has in raw pace, Rosberg has in mental strength. The two-times World Champion will have left Australia full of confidence but he’ll also know that his teammate won’t need a second invitation to attack if he drops his guard.
Max Verstappen: Too much too young?
At 17 years old Max Verstappen’s entry into F1 brought with it the question of the FIA’s Superlicence rules and if rookie drivers should be allowed to go straight into the pinnacle of motor sport.
In Melbourne Verstappen proved his quick pace in pre-season testing was no fluke and his call up to the Toro Rosso team was merited on talent alone. He qualified just outside the top ten in 12th place, ahead of Red Bull debutant Daniil Kvyat and both Force Indias. In the race he was comfortably holding his own inside the top ten and his DNF was down to a mechanical failure after this first pit stop rather than anything the young Dane did.
Following Verstappen’s F1 appointment the FIA hastily brought in a minimum age limit for F1 drivers (18 years old) and now insist on at least two years of racing in a junior formulae before making the step up to Bernie’s circus. 2015 is Verstappen’s second year of professional racing…
Basing a decision on one race is dangerous, but in Albert Park Max Verstappen proved that raw talent will always be a match for experience.
As returns go, Honda’s arrival back in the F1 paddock resembled an aging footballer coming out of retirement, rather than one of the most experienced and successful F1 engine suppliers of all time returning to the sport it once dominated.
McLaren-Honda’s woes are down to the complex powertrain Honda has developed over the last 12 months and with limited out of season testing the team’s performance, or lack there of, is very much on show for all to see.
A poor pre-season meant the team arrived in Australia with little or no meaningful test mileage and, of course, without their lead driver in Fernando Alonso. In a bid to save the engine Honda turned the power down resulting in Jenson Button making a quip about hoping not to qualify on the back row of the grid. He managed 17th, just ahead of his teammate Kevin Magnussen and the two Manors, which failed to take part in qualifying…
Button finished 11th, one lap down, and Magnussen failed to complete the formation lap. Honda has a lot of work to do then, such as finding the 200bhp that some claim the engine lacks over its rivals. If McLaren Honda is to start delivering the performance fans and rivals expect it’s going to be a long season for the reformed super team.
Is Vettel just what Ferrari needed?
Can one driver change a team’s fortunes that much? As nice a story as it sounds, Vettel and Ferrari’s Australian GP performance can be put down to a number of factors, not all of them related to the four-times world champion’s arrival in Maranello.
Clearly the 2015 Ferrari is quick, as Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen showed with their fourth and fifth in qualifying. But with only one Williams to beat (Valtteri Bottas wasn’t allowed to start after he damaged his back in qualifying) and the Red Bull hindered by its Renault engine’s lack of horsepower, the Ferrari didn’t really have anyone to show its true pace against.
Both driver’s were over a second slower in qualifying than both Mercedes’ drivers. Ferrari has clearly turned a corner, but with its direct rivals still struggling for early season pace the team still has a long way to go before challenging for victories.
Williams for the win?
The fairy tail story of 2014 looks set to continue for 2015 with Williams showing no signs of giving up its elevated position in the paddock hierarchy.
The customer Mercedes engine doesn’t appear to have lost any power over the winter and Felipe Massa’s third in qualifying and Bottas’ sixth showed the team hasn’t taken its foot of the gas for 2015.
But this year Williams will have a fight on its hands if Ferrari can maintain its new found pace, and Red Bull won’t be struggling to pass the Saubers all season long. Can Williams win again? If the two Mercedes take each other out then they are in as strong a position as their rivals to take the chequered flag one again.