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Instead of giving you a race review which goes over exactly what most of you have already seen I’m going to get straight to the nitty gritty, aka what I am liking and what I am not liking for the top five teams.

Patronas Mercedes AMG- Lewis Hamilton 1st, Nico Rosberg 2nd

I am not a particular fan of a runaway championship. I have posted many times that the best racing is close racing, each and every race, despite that fact that this cannot always happen. 2010 and 2012 were highlight years for me (even though I was crushed Fernando Alonso did not take the titles) due to the fact that the championship went down to the final races in both years. As far as the race this past Sundayis concerned, it wasn’t too exciting to watch Hamilton race so far out in front. There was no struggle, no challenge, and no climax. I’m sure Lewis loved it and the Mercedes pit wall for that matter but for me, not that great.

That being said I love the fact that Mercedes is cleaning everyone’s clock, especially Red Bull, and this has not been limited to on-the-track battles. It has been reported that attorneys for Mercedes were lobbying the FIA to give Red Bull a three-race ban for their fuel flow meter violation back in the season opener, in addition to negating Daniel Ricciardo’s win. Ow!

Formula 1 is a chess match. That is to say F1 is war and what goes on behind closed doors and between teams and team principals must be similar. Right about now the generals in Brackley and Stuttgart must be very happy that the enemy is on the run. No one likes to lose, especially when you have been winning for so long, but thanks to Hamilton and Mercedes that is exactly what Red Bull has to contend with, losing. The last four races are nothing short of a smack down.

Hamilton’s driving is superb and although I think he will have more competition as the other cars improve and his teammate learns some new tricks, the smart money that was previously on Vettel in last few years is now on Hamilton. It’s early yet; we have all seen how a driver can suddenly lose his way with set-up, some bad luck, the competition gaining momentum, or a myriad of other just as important issues so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. However, as of right now unless Nico Rosberg can find another step, the Briton who threw caution to the wind and left the only (super successful) F1 team he has ever known to drive the silver arrow is on track to win his second championship. Lewis must be saying, if not out loud just yet, “How do you like me now?”

Scuderia Ferrari – Fernando Alonso 3rd, Kimi Raikkonen 8th

It was Marco Mattiacci’s first race as the fabled constructor’s team principal. I don’t have much of an opinion in regards to the appointment of the businessman that has sold a whole bunch of road cars in Asia and North America except to say if he can bring a new perspective to the team, create a new avenue for the desire to make a fast race car and start winning races on a regular basis, great. If not, then fire him. My patience has worn thin these last five years; I am over sentiment and nostalgia. The only thing I really care about now is results. Period.

Results are exactly what he got from Fernando Alonso on Sunday. In what is probably a combination of updates and a favorable track type but mostly a driver that is at the top of his game, Ferrari grabbed their first podium of the year and the first podium in nine races. Sunday’s drive by Alonso was by far and away the best of the day and yet again confirms for me and many others why he is the most complete driver currently on the grid. If there was ever any question as to why Alonso’s retainer is almost 30 million dollars a year to drive the scarlet cars in honor of Il Commendatore, look no further than this race to understand why. But first look at Alonso’s world champion teammate Kimi Raikkonen to see what the F14T’s true pace is in hands that are less capable.

There is no chance that either Ferrari or Alonso can win the championship this year, that is the reality of the matter. But there are plenty of other opportunities to fight for throughout the season and in these Ferrari and Alonso, and for that matter Raikkonen, can be different kinds of champions, the kind that don’t give up.

Infinity Red Bull Racing- Daniel Ricciardo 4th, Sebastian Vettel 5th

This has to be the highlight of the race on so many levels. If you’re a Red Bull fan, then you can finally feel at ease as far as reliability is concerned. No engine issues or as they are called now, the PU’s, no overheating, no KERS problems, and no mistakes in the pit, it was a well-run race and almost yielded a podium for Daniel Ricciardo. This means the team can now focus on the development of the RB10 and try to close the gap, although at this point with the W05 commonly 30 to 50 seconds in front of everybody, that is probably not going to happen this year.

If you are not a fan of the team that goes by the name of the over caffeinated elixir because you are tired of all the winning, all the records, and way too many fingers filling up the monitor after each and every race, well then China, the fourth race in row where a Red Bull has not been on the top step and its star driver has been completely outshined by his younger teammate, was a fine result.

Surely Daniel Ricciardo could not have imagined he would be out-qualifying and out-racing his more accomplished teammate. Yet that is exactly the position he finds himself in. I am not sure if it will last, Sebastian Vettel is not a champion for nothing and I am sure Adrian Newey is doing all he can to correct the rear end of the car that is causing Vettel quite a bit problems. I personally would like to see Ricciardo out-perform Vettel throughout the season. Make Vettel sweat, see how he copes, the mark of a true champion is not so much what you do while you’re on top, but rather what you do while you’re at the bottom.

And how could I not mention the radio transmission from Vettel to his engineer after he was asked to move over for a much faster Ricciardo? “Tough luck.” Oh, that was just brilliant if you ask me. It was not quite as good as crashing your teammate out and then showing the world the cuckoo sign a few years back or last year’s barely safe pass on an unsuspecting Mark Weber who turned his revs down in the Multi-21 drama that played out just two races into that season, but it was good nonetheless. And in classic Red Bull spin fashion both Christian Horner and Vettel tried to explain it away as a mis-communication about strategy. Do they think we’re stupid? Do they think we didn’t hear the transmission?

There is no real need to hash it out. It is really quite simple; Vettel is selfish as all the top drivers are more or less and at times do not want to give in, no real harm in that. Personally I think it was great Vettel did not acquiesce. These are racecar drives not obedient dogs to mind their masters, despite what Ferrari would have you believe.

If anyone knows me or my writing at all then you also know I am not a Vettel fan, and I don’t think he is as good as his four titles suggest. I have written many articles and posts critical of Vettel and Red Bull and have tried unsuccessfully to give some perspective to the incredible arc of Vettel’s career. Yes, I am one of those that feel it is (or was) the car. Call me out on it, fine. But where he deserves it I have also praised the German for his driving, for his accomplishments and for the fact that he will not be controlled by Christian Horner, Adrian Newey or for that matter Dr. Marko Helmut.

I’m going to give him props again for his comments after the race on Sunday. Vettel was very forthcoming in analyzing his performance compared to his teammate, made no excuses for his lack of performance and all but said, Ricciardo is just doing a better job, plain and simple. I like that Vettel didn’t have some kind of flimflam reasoning as to why he is not driving at Ricciardo’s level. It is in line with his personality. I respect immensely the sport figures, politicians, and entertainers that speak the truth as they see it. It is refreshing and it breathes life into commentary that can otherwise be boring and uninteresting. This driver pairing is by far and away the most interesting of this season and will more than likely provide many talking points for anyone that has even the slightest interest in this great sport.

Sahara Force India – Nico Hulkenberg 6th, Sergio Perez 9th

Something commonly happens each season in regards to the mid-fielders. One or two teams seem to have made a genuine step up the grid, closer to the top teams, but by the fourth or fifth race, that advantage begins to slip away. Force India has escaped this cliche so far. Not counting the vastly improved (Alonso) Ferrari, Force India is right where they have been performance-wise since the start of the year. And this is an indication to me that one, their car is quite fast and two, what updates they have brought to bear are moving the car in the right direction.

Nico Hulkenberg, the most underrated driver on the grid as David Hobbs of NBC Sports Network likes to remind us every chance he gets, yet again drove a trouble free race to bring his car home sixth and is still ahead on points vs. Sebastian Vettel although I don’t expect that to last past the next race. Still, it is consistent and error-free driving that catches the attention of the top teams and right now all Hulkenberg needs to do is keep driving the car in this fashion to get opportunity to come knocking.

If Hulkenberg is the consistent one at Force India then Sergio Perez is not. But a drive from sixteenth to ninth while finishing in front of Magnussen who replaced him at McLaren and a making a pass on his former teammate Jenson Button who was retained by McLaren must make the Force India driver feel rather nice to be in his new team.

I think Ferrari will inevitably pass Force India in the constructor standings. If Raikkonen gets his act together it will be in the next race, if not then it might be the following race or the race after that. Either way I am not sure Force India can compete all year long with Ferrari. That being said, they don’t have to make it any easier for the guys in red and on occasion will be the car that takes away a podium or two.

Martini Williams Racing – Valtteri Bottas 7th , Felipe Massa 15th

What the hell went down in the pre-race meeting over at Williams? Both drivers were way too aggressive on the start. I appreciate Felipe Massa taking a page from Alonso on the starts in that for the second race in a row he made a brilliant getaway when the lights went out, but after watching the start several times and from different cameras it was clear that Massa drove into Alonso, as irony would have it. Both cars came away with no damage but there really is no reason to start this way; all it does is ruin the race for the cars involved.

And if Alonso was lucky then Nico Rosberg was more so. Valtteri Bottas so egregiously cut off Rosberg and clipped his left front wheel that I was shocked it was still there after the turn. I was slightly surprised not much was made of either incident after the race. I suppose if no damage has occurred then no reason to dwell on it. Fair enough.

I predicted that Bottas would get the measure of his teammate, what I did not predict is the role the team would play in that prediction. I don’t think there is anything more painful than to watch a driver’s race fall apart in the pits. Massa was on track for a top ten finish, possibly as high as seventh or eighth in front of Raikkonen but that all went away with a mistaken tire and a wheel nut that was uncooperative. He put a brave face on it and did not make the mistake of berating the team.

Williams have yet to really put together an error free race weekend while simultaneously getting the best performance from their package. Red Bull is now reliable and a best of the rest car, Ferrari in the hands of Alonso is starting to sort out some of their issues and Force India is a consistent performer. Williams needs to catch up. However, I am still rooting for the team from Grove to have a comeback year and will keep hoping for that podium or the odd one-off win.

Conclusion

And there you have it, a not so conventional review/wrap-up or whatever you would like to call it. The first leg of the season is in the books, and to no one’s surprise the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg are running away with it. What is a surprise you might ask? That reliability is not quite the issue it was made out to be, that the F1 brain trust got the noise factor wrong, really wrong, that a four time world champ is on the ropes, that a company man of twenty plus years was let go.

I could go on but let’s save some pot stirring for Spain. The teams will have been rested, well sort of rested if only for a few days because the development race will be in full swing. Mercedes and Red Bull will both show up in Barcelona with a hundred different front wing configurations, each of the other teams will have new floors and side-pod details, better engine mapping software and re-configured brake-by-wire settings, and F1 being F1, I am sure there will some new drama to talk about. Man I love this sport. I know you do too.

  • Rapierman

    So, these questions formed in my head:

    1. Is Vettel on the downswing of his career?

    2. Will he end up leaving Red Bull at the end of this year?

    3. Will Raikkonen leave Ferrari on his own or will he be forced out?

    More questions as I come up with them?

    • First of all Vettel has not got the top car no more, 2nd where the hell will he go, I only see a space at Ferrari that may suit him, Kimi already said he’s leaving end of year, so if Vettel does decide to go it may be straight to the red corner, can’t see him leaving tough. f1worldtour.com

    • Damn, you stole my question and placed it as your third. I’d say Vettel is having a blip of a season. He won’t get back to consecutive championships, but he will either have his team produce a good car again, or go to a Ferrari team on an increase in competitiveness.

  • Echoing many of my sentiments, except a driver/team destroying the field is fascinating to me. Helpful hint: start checking lap time variation, stint lengths, and now fuel usage (as blah as the new graphic is), comparing the leader both to his teammate and to competitors if you’re not already doing so. It starts giving a sense of where the car or driver is superior to its/his competitors, if there’s performance in reserve, and so on. Can make continued dominance more involving.

    Your comments on FI development, contrasted w/ Mclaren:

    Surprising that FI brought a side pod update to China; it must have been in the pipeline, and there’s no point waiting for the Euro season if it was ready, but Force India (and Williams) having such a critical “big” aero component ready and Mclaren not was curious. If I recall correctly, all the customer Merc teams received the revised PU’s w/ log exhaust manifolds at the same time, so each had an opportunity to develop more-wasted bodywork. FI producing the pier that quickly is a great sign.

    Mclaren had little new the car for Shanghai; one assumes it’s waiting for Spain, but if a part is ready, one tests it ASAP for correlation and related further developments; no one masks performance in-season. Is this FI/Williams pushing their development curves or Mclaren falling behind? And, can FI keep developing through the year? I don’t like Mallya, but really love the driver lineup.

    Will Vettel bounce back? I think so; as you/I/many surmise, he tends to be an incredible reactionary driver who wants stability mid-corner/exit, which these cars have lost contrasted to ’13. To me he’s like Alonso in the Renault days, sharp turn in regardless if front grip, and sort the rear out, but unlike Alonso, he needs the rear there for him. Real anticipatory drivers a la Ham/Schumacher vary their corner approach more, induce the behavior rather than react. I think Vettel will get there, but Ricciardo’s showing surprising completeness.

    It’ll be great when a racer-pundit like Coulthard/Brundle finally gets to drive these cars and gives us a comparison; unfortunately, that’ll likely be a few years yet.

  • UAN

    RE the Massa/ALO incident, I’d disagree, especially watching the overhead shot. Essentially Massa was along side Alonso, both parallel with each other and then ALO moved right into MAS. I don’t think ALO saw him (or expected another car to be there), but that doesn’t mean he didn’t cause the contact. Spatial Awareness, or lack thereof, as so many love to say about our good friend Pastor down in grid a bit. To be fair, it’s not easy to see a lot looking out of helmet, buried deep in the cockpit of an F1 car.

    Even Brundle of Sky came around to it being ALO moving to the right, not MAS being too aggressive. Also, Alonso may have got the accolades at Ferrari, but Massa made his own blistering starts at the Scuderia. Just that he’d race himself down the grid afterwards.

    RE Bottas/Rosberg. Initially I thought it was a racing incident – after the coming together of Massa and Alonso, MAS fell back, then Rosberg had to respond to that, which changed his line and caught Bottas out a bit.

    But watching the replays, Bottas just misjudged the space between the two cars. This idea that Bottas is getting the better of Massa, I don’t think so. Of the younger drivers making a step up, I think RIC is really the only one I’d look at who seems to be of a different calibre. BOT looks to be pretty sloppy wheel to wheel, and lacks track awareness (see his blocking penalty during Qualy in Malaysia, apparently it was fairly egregious). And unlike VET, who takes responsibility for his struggles, BOT is pretty adamant, ala his former teammate Pastor, that it’s never him.

    I’m a bit disappointed in Williams as a team, operationally. You’d think with their pedigree, they’d be doing things better. LOVE their livery though.

    HAM is definitely getting the better of ROS at the moment. Good on him. I wonder though, if MERC continues on form for the season, and HAM wins the WDC if folks will place him with BUT and VET as needing a superior car to win the championship? Considering he’s only won in a dominant or co-equal best car and has never done better than 4th otherwise (throwing away to sure 4th places in stupid accidents in 2010 kept him from winning the WDC, not having a slow car).

    But my feeling is, if he wins the WDC, that he will be hailed as the greatest ever. For the record I place VET/ALO/HAM as the top 3 of this generation.

    With the VET/RIC comparison – I think it’s too early to say, but definitely one of the more intriguing storylines of the season. The one comparison not being made, but does make you wonder, is RIC/WEB.

    I think in this story, RIC is being hugely underrated – with folks making it about “you see, VET, is only good with a superior car,” which implies that RIC isn’t all that. Whatever folks want to say about Helmut Marko, he knows racing, and he knows talented drivers. For RIC to make it through the ranks of the RB young driver program to the senior team, when other drivers fell by the wayside, probably makes him potential championship material. Look at Kyvat as another RB young driver seriously impressing this season. Put RIC in the MERC with HAM and perhaps he’d be giving HAM a run for his money. The other thing that helps RIC, is that he’s been part of the Red Bull family for a long time, so even though he’s with a new team, it’s not a huge cultural shift in how the team operates – he’s already one of them. Not like HAM switching to a whole team last year.

    Re VET, and I’ve written this elsewhere, I’m surprised how quickly people write him off, or that a serious look at his career would suggest it’s all about the car, and not the driver. Before the blown floors and diffusers and off throttle this and that, from the junior categories on up, he’s been seriously fast, and not just because of the car.

    And let’s not forget, he still has that elusive podium, this year, that RIC is still trying to get.

    Re HAM, I’d be curious if the 9 straight wins record that VET ended the year with last year will fall? 3 down, 6 more to go, 7 to break it.

    • JackFlash(Aust)

      Actually, RIC finished a 2014 race podium first, didn’t he. He was standing on step 2nd in race 1. The removal from his WDC scoring by FIA after the fact is not his fault. Seb has managed a podium step 3rd. The battle is really on between these two at RBR.