What can we learn from the fly-aways?


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It is 4 races in, and we now have a 3 week break to take stock of the F1 season thus far. The obvious question everyone will be asking is: what can we learn from the four races so far?

Well, the first and most obvious lesson is that Mercedes are significantly clear of everybody else. Their winner has been between 23 and 25 seconds clear of the fastest non-Mercedes¹ at every race so far, underlining their superiority; they have managed that specific gap. The advantage in fuel and tyre wear in China for Hamilton must worry the other teams as well.

Looking at the qualifying sessions, too, it seems that Red Bull is not only the best challenger in the wet, but Ricciardo's performance in Bahrain suggests they're not a busted flush in the dry either. They are clearly very close to Mercedes in the wet. So I think Red Bull have the most need to be hopeful, even if they haven't always picked up the points.

As for the rest, it is important to question how much the order has been shaken up by repeated wet qualifying. Rosberg took 40 laps to come through the field in China, the others clearly did not have that differential. In Bahrain, Force India and Williams, the beta and gamma of the Mercedes runners, came to the fore. It seems the order from last year at the top² is somewhat maintained in the wet qualifying events - Ferrari in particular had a poor Bahrain while being able to maintain position from the boost of wet qualifying in the other three.

There are shades of 2009, in particular, for Williams. They've looked far more impressive than their results suggest. In Australia, Bottas looked to have the pace but planted the wall and still finished 5th, while Massa was the unfortunate victim of Kobayashi's brake failure. Even in Bahrain, it was they who suffered most from the Safety Car moving from podium contenders to 7th and 8th. The pit error on Massa in China is emblematic of a team that needs to get some points on the board before more well-resourced teams catch-up.

As for most disappointed, that's hotly contested. McLaren will be amongst Marussia and Caterham soon if they continue to regress at the current rate. A brilliant double-podium at Albert Park has not been backed up at all, and they were absolutely awful in Shanghai, after a double DNF in Bahrain. Also disappointed will be non-point scorers Sauber. They have fallen behind Lotus, judging by Grosjean's qualifying and Maldonado's race in Shanghai, and are not only slow but unreliable too, with only 3 finishes to yet. All of them outside the points.

In the European season, we can expect some dry qualifying, and that will give a clearer picture of where they all are. But we can also expect the big dogs to make their progress and get back to where they feel they belong in dry qualifying as well. I think the story is of an opportunity for Force India and Williams wasted because of Saturday's downpours.

¹RIC in Australia
If you exclude Lotus on the grounds they're broke
Excellent analysis teabagyokel.

I agree that Sauber must be one of the most disappointed teams, but let's not forget that at least one of their dnf's was due to *cough* outside influences.

Also, I agree that Williams have not fully capitalised on their potential, but there are nevertheless some positive signs. They have a basically quick car, especially in the dry. Another top-ten finish for Bottas, even after his first corner contact with Rosberg, and promising pace from Massa, together with their improved wet pace, must surely signal some even better results to come if they can just iron out driver and pit lane errors.

The team that baffles me most is Mclaren. With a seemingly well-sorted chassis and a Mercedes engine, they appear to be going backwards as the season progresses. Will either Mclaren get out of Q3 in Barcelona?
Leaving aside the obvious (Mercedes), Red Bull have moved forwards every race and I don't think Ferrari are as far back as they were either. Neither have the engine to compete for titles this year so it is Hamilton vs Rosberg with Lewis having the upper hand at the moment. Nico needs to find something and although I wouldn't bet on it, it is possible because he's such a clever driver and willing to learn.

McLaren though?!? How can they have gone from second best to sixth or seventh without anyone delivering any major updates? There is something fundamentally wrong at Woking and it has not been solved by Ron Dennis taking over. I don't even think you can blame Sam Michael too much although the correlation between his presence and teams failing to deliver cannot be a coincidence.

I've long suspected that McLaren's issues are in their simulator because every part they bring they bring seems to take them backwards. There is nothing in recent history that tells me that they can re-catch and pass Red Bull and Ferrari, so the best they can hope for is beating Force India and Williams. Big deal given how badly skewed the revenue distribution is now.

Hats off to Force India and everyone there. They have over achieved by any measure and Hulkenberg has impressed as much as Raikkonen has disappointed at Ferrari. Perez has done well in races but keeps letting himself down on Saturdays.

The big surprise for me has been Ricciardo having the better of Vettel, especially in races. I did not expect that! It could be very awkward for all concerned if that continues.

Maybe we all need to reevaluate JEV because Danny is further ahead of Seb than he was JEV! But then again, maybe it's too late for JEV because Kyatt is beating him now... Does that mean Kyatt is better than both the current Red Bull drivers?

Fascinating stuff!
Given the huge performance advantage of the Mercs, I suspect that the bottom feeders will soon stop developing his years car and start to concentrate on next year's. They have to be mindful of at least one new team coming online then and it would be embarrassing in the extreme to lose to a brand-new team.

Unless the Renault engine shows a quantum improvement, I don't see the Bulls being able to make inroads into to Mercs advantage. You can only do so much with a chassis to overcome a seemingly rather large power shortage. Thanks to the FIA, the disparity among the engines is due to be enshrined for the rest of the season.

Williams, my favorite team, has looked vastly better than last year. I hope that improvement begins to show in race results.

For me, the big question is: How long before Ron Dennis fires himself? A truly dire condition for such a storied team.

I find myself hoping for a large number of wet races. I fear that that is the only way other teams will get a shot at the Mercs, and thereby keep this from being one of the most boring seasons in memory.
The Mercedes advantage is similar to Brawn in '09 (the first half of the season) ... but there is no silver bullet (no pun intended) for the other teams to reclaim this ground (double diffuser). Mercedes are able to manage the race from the front, using significantly less fuel than their competition and still win by... on average... half a second a lap ...

Perhaps the best chance is for RBR and Ferrari to close the gap enough to force Mercedes to run their power units at closer to maximum and see what happens ...

As much as I don't like one sided title fights ... it is (a) good to see a different team reached the front and (b) good to see Lewis and Nico finally having the chances to create a legacy of their own ...
Your analysis failed to mention Max Chilton sits proudly above Bianchi, Kobi, Ericson and Maldonado in the championship and, that by virture of the fact that the reliability is back for all teams and Caterham and Marussia are less likely to pick up places, probably got Marussia that 10th spot all on his own. All hail the Chiltonater!

Also ypu haven't mention that Adrian Sutil has managed to destroy any reputation he had completely and that the biggest team mate battle of the year from the official 'best pairing on the grid' has been majorly one sided as Kimi has failed to turn up to the races.

Other than that spot on!
Good stuff TBY! Mercedes seems to have really delivered the goods for 2014.

If Ricciardo continues to outpace Vettel in qualifying and the race, then we'll be looking at 2010-13 in an entirely different spectrum. There should be some battles to come there.

Red Bull will be much closer on the circuits ahead. Who knows where McLaren will be?

Maldonado is a complete disaster. He has been an embarrassment for years, but now it's reached a comical point. Lotus / Renault deserve all the misery they've received for bringing in this guy's pay packet.

And we've also learned that a Championship battle between teammates isn't enough to keep some from being bored beyond reason.
The worrying thing for every team is the fact that Mercedes have only really in my opinion stretched the legs of the car during the last 10 laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and then they still demolished the rest of the field by over 20 secs. So if Red Bull and Ferrari (just Alonso ) who i would expect to be the best of the rest, really have there work cut out if they are to bridge a very big gap to the Mercs.
As regards to it being boring having 1 team dominate, i would say that it is the fault of the other teams not to have done a good enough job with the new regulations.

This is no co-incidence!
I think you're right in that Hamilton could have really stretched it out in China if he needed to. Mercedes were/are in a position to run their cars as hard as the situation calls for. I have no doubt we'll see them going hammer and tongs again shortly. Rosberg needs to stop this momentum shift.
Last season, we had nine competitive teams and two uncompetitive ones.

This season, we have one competitive team and ten uncompetitive ones. So appearances of Caterham and Marussia having caught up are probably illusory. The others have moved back to meet them.
The second half of last season was completely uncompetitive. Seb won 9 straight when everyone had totally shifted towards 2014. And based on recent evidence it is clear that RBR was ahead by leaps and bounds since late 2009.

I would think that even though one team is dominating, it's nice to see a change in who that team is. Not to mention that the Mercedes boys have already battled twice as hard and cleaner than the RBR duo ever managed. And the prospect of future battles is very much on the table.
I think someone else mentioned that it's a bit 2009 but without the opportunity for the other teams to catch up due to the engine freeze. I sincerely hope there are some battles at the front but the way the last two races have gone the only thing stopping Hamilton from winning most of the rest of the races of this season mechanical problems.

I suppose all drivers must want a car that is totally dominant but it doesn't make things very exciting for the fans. Contrary to popular belief i thought most of the races at the end of last season were dull as the winner was too obvious. Battles down the field are all well and good but some variety in race winners would be more interesting. I get the feeling we can now put Rosberg into the Patrese/Barrichello/Webber category as he simply isn't as fast a driver as Lewis.

The only bright thing from the early races is Ricciardo. His pace both in qualie and in the race has been superb and it's very interesting to see Vettel being put under some pressure, not something he has experienced much of in his F1 career.

One final comment from me, the other Mercedes powered teams should hang their heads in shame. Williams are coming back but look nowhere near as fast as they were in pre-season testing. Force India are doing okay so maybe I do them a disservice as, given their resources, they are making the best of their power plant but McLaren, just oh dear. Australia suggested they might have made a decent car but it goes to show the result flattered to deceive. No sponsors, adequate drivers and a another crap car. Ron needs to do something special but he hasn't got a Barnard/Murray/Newey to fall back on.
Maldonado is a complete disaster. He has been an embarrassment for years, but now it's reached a comical point. Lotus / Renault deserve all the misery they've received for bringing in this guy's pay packet.

I agree with the first part, but my view is that if Maldonado was not there, neither would Grosjean or anyone else still employed at Enstone. The way I see it is simple - the team would not exist without the money Maldonado brought so having him in the car is the lesser of two evils.
As for not finding a battle between team mates interesting. I do. Bahrain was exciting. China however was awful because there was no fight between team mates and no fight in the middle of the pack either. Far worse than anything the end of last season produced.

Its also dissapointing that one team is so dominant that one of there drivers can have a complete stinker of a weekend (lets face it Rosberg did) and still come second.

I await to see if the others catch up. In all seriousness I have a feeling Red Bull are going to get closer and closer and come back after the summer break on form with a run of success that takes Vettel close to Hamilton for the title but with Lewis ultimately coming out on top.

Rosberg I'm afraid is about to get that same sinking feeling the likes of Webber, Barrichello, Coulthard and Patrese have had before him. Best car and everything perfect only to find your team mate is just better than you are.
To be honest, Red Bull were much closer to Brawn in 2009 than any team is to Mercedes this year. Add to the mix that they have stability, and a good budget, I cannot hep but think this year is all over bar the shouting, and hats off to Mercedes for that, hardly their fault that no one else has turned up at the sharp end.

Reminds me more of 1998, and the dominant pace of the McLarens, although the reliability and driving seems to be better this season.

My takeaway is that I cannot see any single team bringing sufficient pace to the table to be able to close the gap, let alone overhaul, as a result, there will be a lot of shifting focus mid season, I believe including Mercedes.

I also think that the competitiveness will depend on how much of the engine advantage can be addressed by Ferrari and Renault.
There are times when I actually wonder if the "customer" Merc teams are getting the same spec engine as the "home" team. Its hard to beieve there could be THAT much disparity in the chassis. The real upside is that Ron can't wear his usual smirk.

Given that tthe engines are all-new for this year, I think the FIA freeze is a predictable folly. A freeze in subsequent years would be more understandable.
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