Clip The Apex
How we all feeling folks? F1 is off to China! After the doom and despondency following Australia, Malaysia seems to have picked everybody right up. Who could have possibly predicted that a win for Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari would have been so welcomed? But China is a track which will probably better suit the Mercedes and if the technicians back in Brackley do a half decent job on the strategy it's still hard to see past a Merc 1-2. The big question is car 44 or 6.
The Ferrari's will be best of the rest and will certainly push the Mercs hard. Raikkonen's drive back to fourth in Malaysia was a bit overlooked but seems to indicate that he has found some speed and joy in F1. Although his mono-syllabic answers in the mix area after qualifying were pure Kimi.
Williams are not where they are supposed to be, keeping other cars off the tails of the Mercedes. They are the class of the customer Mercedes customer cars but I have a feeling the Lotus boys might knock them off that perch before the end of the season.
Next up will be a battle between Toro Rosso and Sauber. Another "Really?" moment for F1. Sauber looked to be all over the place in 2014, for 2015 they have sorted things out and look to have a couple of half decent drivers (assuming they keep it on the track for the whole race). Chasing the Saubers down with be Chilli Sainz and the new Wunderkind for Red Bull, Max Verstappen. Personally, I've been astonished at the maturity of his driving and how he conducts himself with the media let's hope he keeps it up as he looks every inch an F1 driver despite his lack of years and Carlos certainly hasn't been embarrassed by the whipper snapper, taking points in both of the opening races.
On to the next battle: Force India versus Red Bull. The powers that be at Red Bull really should shut up moaning about the engine, given what their sister team is achieving with the same motor, and look at sorting the car. The Honey Badger mugged a few people in Malaysia and still look quite racy, even if the car isn't up to much. Danni Kyvat has been strangely anonymous (I should point out that I have only seen highlights of the last two races). Force India are still struggling to get their new car up to speed but I suspect will pick up a few points in China. If Checo and Nico manage a whole race without running in to someone else or picking up time penalties they may start to trouble the top 10 on a regular basis
Finally, the battle at the back: Mclaren versus Manor Marussia. Oh dear. Neither car has a sponsor of note. Both have engines designed for last year. Both have an Anglo-Spanish driving partnership. The difference, for me at least is that Manor should be congratulated for even managing to build a car on their meager resources whilst McLaren (and Honda) should hang their heads in shame for providing two World Champions with one of the worst cars in McLaren's history. This machine makes the McLaren Peugeot look like a race winner.
A final statistic for all you stat addicts. Hamilton has won here 3 times, Ferrari 4 times. Can Lewis Match Ferrari's win count or will the red menace steam ahead of the lad from Stevenage?
A Vettel victory came as a complete surprise after the complete Mercedes dominance of Melbourne. Quite a bit of action through the field too, but how did you rate it?
I'm between a 7 and an 8. It's a great result for the prospects of the season but in the top 3 it was all about strategy and tyre degradation rather than elbows out battles. We had some nice battles in the midfield, but at the same time some amateurish mistakes. I'm leaning towards 7, which is possibly a bit harsh but I'm going to rate it as a good race rather than a great race.
So as we move into the European season for motorsport one of the first series to kick off is Formula 3 European Championship. It open with a round at Silverstone in 2 weeks time with another 10 rounds following after that mostly following the DTM series about. The series is in its 4th year in its current format after being reborn and spearheaded by ex Formula 1 driver Gerhard Berger. It is fastly becoming the first step for F1 hopefuls to blood themselves and as we saw last year with Max Verstappen some drivers can jump straight from this into the big leagues. There are 3 races over a weekend and as its a spec series its usually close wheel to wheel stuff. European viewers can watch nearly all the races live with it being shown on Motors TV (free to view!) in the UK and on NTV throughout the rest of Europe. 35 drivers of 18 nationalities will compete making it a true international series.
The series is one that is mostly dominated by rookies which means the form book is not exactly reliable but we can take a good guess at who might be at the front. The top returning driver in 2015 is Antonio Giovinazzi who finished 6th in his first season last year taking two race wins. He was always on the pace last year so you would expect to see him at the front again. Another returning winner is Swede Felix Rosenquivst who has been an F3 driver for quite some time now and I'm unsure if he'll figure or not. The person I would consider the favourite has to be Canadian Ferrari Academy driver Lance Stroll driving for the Prema Powerteam. I watched Stroll in the New Zeland based TRS series in January which is used by a lot of these drivers to warm up for the coming season and he was quick, consistent and mature(for a 17 year old!) - which is probably why he won the title. His team mate Brandon Maisano was also in the TRS and looked as quick as Stroll but didn't quite get the results. I have to mention little George Russell as one of the favourites too. After watching him win the BRDC F4 last year and jump into a Eurocup race and win it as a guest driver I'm quite a fan of his skill. McLaren share my view as he won their Young achievers award last year. Someone I've not heard of as a motoring racing driver before is Charles Leclerc. I know the name because it was the name of one of Napoleon's best generals but I don't think they are related. Anyway Leclerc has been topping the times in testing so he has to be amongst the favourites.
With Mercedes looking imposingly dominant once again this year, it might appear that there is little chance for any of the other teams to score a pole position or take the top step of the podium. Last season Williams were able to give Mercedes a run for their money a couple times, particularly at Austria where Felipe Massa took the only non-Mercedes pole of the season, but it was a Red Bull in the hands of Daniel Ricciardo that took the wins where Mercedes failed - for one reason or another.
Whilst Ricciardo and Massa were able to elbow their way in on the success, defending 4 time champion Sebastian Vettel struggled all year as he was trounced by his less illustrious team mate. However, this season it would seem that he has found his mojo again at the wheel of one of the Ferraris with the Italian outfit looking to have made strides with their engine (the Saubers looked racy too) as well as with other areas of development over the winter. This looks to have left them as best of the rest at the moment - I know it's only been one race - and Vettel will no doubt try to emulate his former team mates trick of picking up the pieces when the opportunity presents itself. Having scored a podium on his debut for the scarlet red outfit, Seb and Ferrari both have their sights set on closing that 30 second gap to the Mercs in front.
Whilst it was no doubt a relief to not see The Finger for over a year since the 2013 Brazilian GP, I feel it is only a matter of time before (a) neither Mercedes finishes due to clashing or reliability or (b) Ferrari close the gap enough to compete. Whilst the first option is a more likely scenario for the next couple of months, I think Ferrari should have more room to develop their car compared to the Mercedes and will be genuine contenders for race wins after the midway point in the season. I'm going to go for a hectic qualifying at Monaco where Vettel will pip Rosberg to pole. But what do you think? Will we see The Finger this year? If so, where and will it be a pole position or a race win? And leave your explanation below if you can be bothered
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