This weekend was a quiet weekend for the F1 landscape. Possibly, the eye before the storm even? The season has gotten off to a rousing start with Ferrari finally challenging Mercedes on merit, and even with the current predicament of Red Bull, and their spotty chassis, there is optimism there as well with their B Spec awaiting for the wings to be mounted, shall we say?
Rousing? Hell, more like a flurry of optimism. Sure, not all of this is particularly optimistic in the real world, but F1 is most certainly not the real work. The paddock is a secretive, hushed environment, and one which for the past three years, has been one raging negative gust of wind to the next. So yes, the start of 2017 has been welcome change to some fans whom had been becoming disillusioned. Lack of on-track overtaking notwithstanding, things are looking very very well indeed.
Australia made us realise there was a fight to be had thanks to Vettel, China gave us a mercurial Hamilton responding resoundingly, Bahrain gave us the beginning is a truly titanic 1-2 battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, and lastly, Russia has reminded us that both of these teams have two drivers, not just one.
Yeah, and that’s just the short story of a very long, twisting path worthy of its own hot lap. Nevertheless, let’s move on and do a little preview of the coming week as the Spanish GP looms at Circuit de Catalunya, where the teams have accrued more kilometres than any other venue on the planet. Catalunya is also known to not be particularly accommodating to overtaking, so a lot could be riding on how teams dive into their weekend programs from the get go of FP1 and culminate it into nailing the Qualifying sessions to perfection. So let’s see where we stand.
McLaren & Sauber:
McLaren will just hope to start both cars this weekend after continuing power unit problems continue to plague Honda and McLaren’s very season. There isn’t any real news to report here that hasn’t already been discussed by every pundit in the business. It is certainly a bit depressing to see such an old and proud team just struggle to make the grid. One has to wonder when Alonso will just simply walk out on the year.
As for Sauber, whom are ironically contracted to start using Honda engines next year, it seems their opportunities to score points has passed now that we enter the European part of the schedule. It was always going to be an uphill battle with the year old Ferrari power unit in the back, but not capitalising during any of the flyaway races will probably render their points haul as fruitless for the rest of the year, barring any chaotic races and weather.
So for now, we shall assume McLaren and Sauber are also-fans in an otherwise crowded midfield.
Midfield Slugfest: (Force India, Haas, Toro Rosso, & Williams)
The midfield battle, while currently taking place on average, around 2 seconds off the leaders pace, has really shaped into a gladiator battle to come out on top and is turning into an intriguing story for the entirety of the season. Force India has been punching above its true pace the past few races with Perez proving to be as resourceful as ever. Even more exciting has been the emergence of Ocon coming into his own. Him scoring points too has really allowed Force India to dig into the points haul that Williams should rightfully be taking on pure pace. Speaking of Williams, one has to start to wonder when Stroll will become of any use other than in their checkbooks. Massa is still a steady hand, but by himself, Williams will struggle in the battle for 4th in the constructors.
Torro Rosso have slightly underperformed this year but have been in the thick of the midfield the entire time. Nothing standout to really report on, however, Sainz does continue to impress. Haas’ struggles may continue as they have confirmed they will revert back to Brembo brakes for the Spanish GP, and their lead man Grosjean is likely to flat spot a few tires throughout the weekend now. Magnussen has shown some pace this year thus far so there is still hope is a points haul of some sorts for Haas.
Lastly, it seems Renault may finally be turning the corner. Hulkenburg is proving to be worthy of the #1 slot at a factory team with some of the impressive hot laps he has put in over the year. He’s making Palmer look like an amateur virtually every weekend. However, while the qualifying pace has been there for the Hulk in the midfield squabble, Renault seems to have an issue with their race pace, particularly in their inability to make their tires last as long as their competition. It’ll be interesting to see what updates they bring this weekend to combat that.
They’re out to pasture having lonely races when everything goes according to plan. A ‘B spec’ is supposedly on the offers this weekend, but one has to wonder just how much time that can make up on track when mostly every team will bring some sort of upgrade to the table. One area of concern, outside of Renault’s power unit, is rather they can keep their brakes cool enough to complete a race. Ricciardo has had a spotty start of the year, so let’s see if he can rebound at the race that got away from him from strategy last year. Verstappen? Don’t expect any race winning heroics given the true pace of the Red Bull currently, but he has remained racey and managed to keep some pressure on the underperforming Raikonnen so far this year.
Top Honours (Ferrari & Mercedes) :
Catalunya has always been known as the perfect benchmark to know how a car stands in relative true performance of its peers. That being said, we may finally find out a definitive answer to whom has the quickest true to pace package this weekend. There is no doubt that Ferrari has the tire performance battle won currently, but to be fair the rest of the car performance, compared to Mercedes has been a toss up.
The driver situation is a little precarious as well. It’s very much cut and dry with Ferrari, as Vettel is a true No. 1 driver while Raikkonen is reduced to a shell of his former self. He did show some signs of life in Russia however, so there may yet still be hope of him turning his season around and snagging a win or two in the the twilight of his F1 career. However, it is extremely likely he will become a rear gunner and on-track buffer for Vettel as this year’s championship takes shape. Meanwhile, things in the Mercedes garage are taking an interesting turn of events. Could Bottas actually be a possible threat and match for Hamilton, or is he just going to be a hit and miss like Rosberg? For now, I’ll decided to bet on the latter, and that’s not a bad thing as Bottas is still a top of the line driver. It’s got to be an almost insurmountable task to go toe-to-toe with an all-time talent such as Hamilton and it is commendable in the effort Bottas has put in to turn his season around after looking like an after thought the first few races, but I would still put my money on Hamilton being the top of the Mercedes heap going forward. Let’s see how this weekend plays out and if Hamilton comes to Spain to play.
So this preview was a bit more lengthy than I initially meant it to be. Going forward, I hope to start doing many articles on F1, and various other motorsports. So I hope to shorten these articles into nice quick-reads, but this was meant to be a catch-up on the start of the season anyway. Be sure to check back here this weekend for a Qualifying and Race Wrap-up!