We are 2 races in to the season already, the long cold endless days of no motorsport seem far away (basically because there was plenty of motorsport on in January) so now I can look back at the opening two weekends of action and share my thoughts on what we have seen so far in 10 personal, 3AM thoughts…
1) Testing was fairly accurate.
It is a tradition all through February and early March to say “it is only testing” and speculate who is genuine and who has gone for a Jordan/Prost running the car with no weight. This wasn’t the case this time, Ferrari’s pace to keep Mercedes on its toes looks correct, Mercedes still quick whilst Red Bull are 3rd fastest. Midfield is close and will vary track to track. The interesting part for me is the development race as Ferrari might be quick now, but will they slump like last year after almost winning the first race. Was that because of a lack of talent in the aero department or did the team put everything in to the 2017 car once they knew 16 was a Mercedes walkover? Time will tell.
2) Fears about McLaren sort of as bad as we feared?
The only real exception to my first point is McLaren. They were not as bad as testing feared, in that they were but they were still bad by McLaren standards. It is like thinking you have broken your arm and hand but x-rays show you have only badly bruised your arm and hand but broke 4 fingers. The injury isn’t as bad but still hurts and has put a delay on any proper air guitar solos for a while.
Alonso gave it his all and is keen to point that out as he needs to keep his name in the ring with so many big seats free in 18. However, an engine that is down on power, thirsty and seems to have the issues of running out of hybrid energy like it did in 2015, this is not what was suppose to be the case in year-3 of the project.
Personally, I feel most for Vandoorne. A rookie year can shape your future and people’s perceptions of you going forward. The fact that we know Stoffel is a genuine talent but cannot put that to use, as he has not had a technical drama free weekend yet, is just as frustrating as watching Alonso put his all in for a 12th place. The start of Stoffles career looks to be what Alonso has had since leaving McLaren end of 2007. Wrong place, wrong time. Honda must bring something to the table and soon. But given what we have seen so far, it does not fill me with hope. Meanwhile in IndyCar a Honda engine that was useless the year before is now transformed it seems so maybe Alonso should take hope form that or try a race or two there? (update note, this was written before Wednesdays amazing Indy 500 news, funny old world, isn’t it?)
3)The new graphics are… gone?
So, one TV treat in qualifying and practice for Australia was the new little boxes below a drivers name, these boxes were to show a driver pace every 200 meters or so in the traditional green, purple sectors. At first I felt it would ruin the qualifying as you would clearly know who was quickest way before the line. This didn’t seem to be the case however and with a close fight up front it was interesting seeing who was quickest in each small part of the track and was enjoyable. It would be good to see how it works in China. Well it would have been nice but they had gone? Will they reappear this weekend? Who knows but be a shame if they didn’t.
4)The fans will never be happy.
It is one of those wonderful things in a Twitter world that reactions are instant and what could be just a passing comment can be blown in to a huge issue. There is no better case of this than watching the comments after 1-race—doom for the series and the regulations don’t work. Maybe they are right, but I will wait and see. Melbourne was not an overtaking fest and never really has been. It’s an incident race, has race rusty drivers that can make a mistake or two (even run out of fuel even though you have been demanded to pit isn’t that right Mr J A?) The track has provided more accidents that spring to mind, Alonso last year, Brundle in 96, the pile up at the start of 2002 and the terrible accident which cost a Marshalls life in 2001 with Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve.
But can you name a race that featured pass after pass? If it has had passing it’s because a driver is out of place on the grid and coming through. When the calibre of the drivers on the grid is so high that also becomes less likely to have incidents. Maybe that’s a call for the return of the drivers like Ide, Diniz, Maldonado etc. but that’s for another time.
The Chinese grand prix also didn’t have lots of passes. But it had some good racing and the passes that were made were key and enjoyable. And this became a mega race in some people’s eyes. Not every race needs 100 passes to be great. Australia was good as it showed a new winner and was an interesting from an overall perspective and China was a good race with some passing. Not every race will be epic, not every race will be Bahrain 2014 or Canada 2011. I firmly believe that sometimes you do have to have dull races as they make the special ones stand out more. It’s about not having knee-jerk reactions and finding something to enjoy each time, yes there will be some that are just dull (Barcelona 99 is still for me one of the dullest ever) but it would be nice if people could be more measured.
5) Sauber thoughts…
I was relieved to see Sauber looked somewhere in the ball park not taking over from Manor solidly at the back. How they will go on further in to the season especially with a 2016 engine isn’t filling me full of hope. I did love how after the driver contract issues a couple of years ago and their main argument was it wouldn’t be safe put a driver in to the car so late, well, they did exactly that with Giovinazzi on the Saturday of Melbourne and you couldn’t help but smile at how funny little things can happen in F1.
Giovinazzi showed well in Melbourne but had a bit of a nightmare in China after 2 accidents coming out of the same corner but its hard to really be tough on him. The limited running time he had in the car no Friday, the build up at both weekends and changeable conditions in the race didn’t help him have a 2nd race to remember.
It seems that Wehrlein will be back for Bahrain and hopefully Gio will get another go in the future as there is talent and he needs to get the time. Wehrlein and the issues he had are interesting. As a kid and hearing the tales of Mansell racing battered, covered in fuel or broken bones is stuff of legend. No one was getting his drive. We don’t know the full story but it does feel odd for a driver to give a seat up like that. If he comes back this weekend and does well we will all quickly forget this and move on but for me I am expecting big things from Pascal. After the hype when he joined last year I don’t feel he has been up there in the same way and its interesting how Mercedes and Force India went for Ocon who had only done half a season at that time. Tough 2nd season seems to be exactly what he is up against.
6) Dare we dream of a Vettel vs Hamilton title battle.
It is 1-1 between the multiple world champions. But for an unlucky safety car it could be 2-0, ifs and buts don’t win titles though. We do know however after 2 races that Ferrari can challenge Mercedes for now. Hamilton had to dig deep in qualifying and there is a genuine feeling that Ferrari can challenge in qualifying, something that has not been the case. The race has come down to strategy calls so far and a badly timed safety car (depending which side you are on) but will we get a wheel to wheel battle with the two? People are saying the regs wont allow the cars to pass but if Lewis or Seb pull a move out like we saw in china with Riccardo then we are going to love it. Whatever the case there is probably more optimism for this season now than any time in the hybrid era.
7) One stop or 2 stop.
After what feels like a lifetime of tyres that need to be looked after like a 5-year-old who has had to much sugar, it is nice that drivers can push the cars but not spend the next 15 laps keeping the tyres alive after one lock up due to thermal degradation. The thought of 1-stop races do not appeal all the time but then if it makes the drivers realise they have to pass on track that’s all the better for us. After all Max Verstappen has proved you can overtake so why not the rest?
8) I’m not missing Bernie.
I’m not. Sure, we are in a honeymoon period with F1’s new owners but whilst it will take time and years in some cases with existing contracts, there is now a feeling of hope. This is wonderful compared to what has been the case of last few years where tracks we love are off the calendar and the teams constantly being played against each other. Mr E did build the sport up and did some amazing things, He exploited the power of television and put F1 right in the mainstream but then in his final years to get every penny/dollar/euro he dismantled that model hiding F1 away on pay TV and failing completely to embrace the internet and how people watch sport now. Maybe in a couple of years’ time we will look back at this moment and weep because its hasn’t changed or is worse. But right now let’s enjoy it!
9) Palmer needs pace.
The first 2 races for the other Brit on the grid have not gone well, in fact they have been pretty painful. The crash in fp3 at round 1 followed by the harsh words about his rebuilt car after the team had to work hard get it on track were not good on any level. Finishing behind your team mate in the next race Is not the end of the world, it happens. Someone has to finish behind. But when you take in to account his team mate had two time penalties and still finished ahead then you must go in to the next round needing a strong race.
10) Williams are in there, are they?
I don’t know how this season will pan out for them. After the first race I was happy as Massa got solid points and looked best of the rest. By China, he was nowhere. That’s a big pace swap. After a tough opener for Lance Stroll, he looked better in Shanghai qualifying 10th. That was good but sadly going out on lap 1 in what was one of those first lap tangles. The car looks like it is where it should be going by testing pace but putting the weekend together has been more of an issue and in a tight mid-field the team can’t afford to be losing points early in the season. But at least they aren’t McLaren…
11) I have already found the thing that will annoy me in 2017 coverage.
There’s the classic TV direction that makes me shout at the TV screen when watching motorsport. I don’t care to watch this week’s celebrity of moment looking at the tv screen from the pits as we want to see the action but instead we see them looking at themselves so no one is seeing anything. I also don’t care what celebs think when we are on the grid walk, I do not find the answer to anything they are asked, “this is my first time at a race wow its amazing I’m here with *insert team here* and its great” helpful interesting or any point useful. There is now a new annoyance however. Its something that will only last this year but is already annoying. Can all media stop calling Nico Rosberg “defending champion” he is not a defending champion. He is the 2016 F1 world champion yes. Defending? No. To defend you need to be in a car, A F1 car to be exact of 2017 regulations in the FIA Formula 1 word championship. Being a team ambassador or sending the odd tweet from the garage is not defending your title. So please all TV people, I ask you, just make that one little amendment, would you?