Sport: Formula 1 – Team Orders, Judgement Calls And An Eye To 2014
Since our last report, Formula 1 has been way down under, far out east and back in the tumultuous middle east. You could say the same about some drivers’ fortunes!
McLaren in particular are struggling to reach the heights of 2012, and cannot compete at the front. The new car has been so poor, they actually considered reverting to last season’s model. However, they have persisted, with Jenson Button doing a majestic job keeping the car in the top 10 and scoring points. Sergio Perez hasn’t been doing so well, struggling for pace and competing with the lower teams. Evidence from Bahrain shows he may have turned a corner, but he still has a lot to learn if he wants to stay with a top team, or more importantly, to convince a top team to stick with him.
We’ve seen impressive performances from Mercedes. Hamilton has managed a top 5 finish in every race so far, which is unprecedented for a driver in a new team. The Mercedes has been very fast in qualifying, securing pole via Rosberg in Bahrain, but has struggled for consistent race pace on longer stints. While Rosberg has largely gone backwards during races, most recently falling from 1st to 9th in Bahrain, Hamilton is showing some real power, improving from 9th to 5th in the same race. So mixed fortunes for Mercedes so far, but a competitive start nonetheless.
The Red Bull of Vettel has been dominant, controversially passing Webber to take the win in Malaysia, ignoring team orders to the contrary; missing out on a podium in China by 2 tenths of a second, and winning the Bahrain GP with 20 seconds to spare. The issue of team orders is a thorny one, but thankfully, most teams have relaxed the orders since this incident, and have allowed their drivers to race. When the past few titles came down to the final races with a handful of points separating the top drivers, you can’t blame the drivers for wanting to secure every possible point. And I’m sure the paying spectators want to see what they’ve paid to see: a race.
Kimi Raikonnen won the opening race in Melbourne, has finished on the podium in two of the other three races, and lies second in the Driver’s championship, proving Lotus still have the consistency and race-winning ability they developed last season. What’s also worrying for the other teams is that after a poor result in Melbourne, it hasn’t taken Red Bull longer to catch up with the other teams than it did in 2012. Vettel won his second race this season, but had to wait 4 races last year before they were up to speed. So, it might be looking ominous; Red Bull with 2 wins from 4 races. Lotus are looking quite competitive now also, Grosjean making up 9 places to snatch a 3rd place podium finish in Bahrain, at the expense of Scotland’s Paul Di Resta in the Force India, who drove an excellent race, and is still fighting for his first ever F1 podium finish.
The Ferraris have shown excellent race pace, and are consistently finishing well. Massa has turned over a new leaf and is showing some speed again, while Alonso secured a win in China. However, they’re not without their faults. A poor judgement call by the team cost Alonso the race in Malaysia, forced to retire as he started his second lap after breaking his front wing. Massa has also suffered, most recently in Bahrain, with two tyre blow-outs, and at the same race, Alonso’s DRS wing failed, knocking him out of the running. If not for these problems, Ferrari would be in a much better position than they are now, and could have been leading the championship. This should be very disappointing for them, as this has been their most promising start to a season after a number of years playing catch up.
So, if Ferrari don’t get their act together in time for the Barcelona GP, we could be looking at a 2 horse race for the championship between Red Bull and Lotus. But there’s opportunity for Ferrari, Mercedes, and even Force India to push on over the next three races in Barcelona, Monaco and Montreal, and establish themselves also as genuine title challengers. With big changes coming to the sport in 2014, it’s understandable that teams may have one eye on next season and be investing less this season; this might explain McLaren’s lack of competitiveness, but the onus is on all teams to keep bringing the goods to the table, and team orders aside, race right to the end.
Willy Kerr is a Formula 1 fanatic who is seasoned in the arts of opining and being generally very sound.
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- Sebastian Vettel