Now that we have a break before the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix on April 20, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s been happening in F1 in 2014 since the first race of the season.
There are a few themes emerging, and I think the most important are:
- Mercedes dominance
- Winners and losers
So what’s really happening? Well, it’s clear from their performance in all three races, but particularly in Bahrain, that Mercedes are absolutely dominant because of their power unit, and the way it integrates with their car. Want evidence? How about pulling out a 26 second lead from the third place car in less than 10 laps from a late race restart?
Mercedes aren’t just winning races, they are also winning friends, by letting team mates race wheel to wheel lights to flag they are respecting the essence of Formula 1, rather than trying to play safe and play the percentages.
If only everyone could be so sporting. Which brings to the second theme – winners and losers. The halo effect of the strong Mercedes power unit is trickling down to their power unit customers Force India, Williams and McLaren, who are all showing stronger form than last year. Force India were the strongest this past weekend, with a third place finish for Perez, but expect Mclaren and Williams to overtake with a stronger development and upgrade cycle.
What’s striking is the way the cars came home in Bahrain, generally two by two, team by team – showing how much the car dictates results. Not many people were able to buck this trend, but Ricciardo beat Vettel in quali and in the race, despite a grid penalty sending him back behind Vettel for the start.
Considering that they were the people who called for the new engine regulations in the first place, Renault still haven’t got to grips with the new rules, either on power or on reliability. When and if they do, it’s clear that the Red Bull chassis is a good one. But until they start winning – Red Bull are agitating for changes to the technical regulations.
Which brings us to politics, and Ferrari, who, with Bernie and Red Bull, have been shouting loudest in protest at the new regulations, saying it is spoiling the show and isn’t real F1. Rubbish. They wouldn’t be so unhappy if they were winning. Ferrari automatically get more money just for turning up than the other teams, they design their own car and their own engine, and just like Mercedes should have been uniquely well placed to integrate car and engine into an unbeatable package.
They failed, pure and simple. And now that they’re not winning, they want everything to change. Yet they have only themselves to blame. At least Red Bull can blame Renault. The losers are being exploited by Bernie, who for reasons of his own seems to want to talk down the F1 product at the moment.
However all those talking down the new regulations had to deal with the inconvenient truth that the 2014 Bahrain race was one of THE vintage races in F1 history.
For us fans, we can just sit back and enjoy the ride, and watch the humiliating sight of a once great team being beaten by competitors with a fraction of the budget.