The 2014 Formula 1 season is now two races old, and we are beginning to get a taste of which teams have performance and which still have some work to do.
Nico Rosberg remains the points leader heading into Bahrain, while Ferrari and Red Bull still have a lot of catching up to do to match Mercedes. Meanwhile, RBR driver Daniel Ricciardo just needs a bit of luck.
Rosberg retains top spot in title race:
Nico Rosberg remains at the top of the World Championship table after securing second place in Malaysia, helped by Lewis Hamilton’s non-score in the opening race.
The key to his race was getting past Sebastian Vettel at the start, and thereafter he paced himself to the flag, knowing that Hamilton was out of reach.
“First of all the start, I had a really good start, so I was happy about that because it’s not so easy this year,” he said. “The rear tires are harder and we have more torque so it’s very difficult to get it right – but it felt great and got away well and then Sebastian, I thought he was going to put me right into the wall, but he stopped just before – so thank you for that!
“My heartbeat skipped a beat a little bit but I kept right on it, it was OK anyway, it wasn’t that bad. Then I had a bit of a moment in Turn Three, a bit of a tail, tank-slapper and that allowed them all to get another run on me, but it all worked out. And then I was just trying to chase Lewis but he was a bit too quick today. It was a bit difficult out there because the track was really poor, it seemed, sliding so much, and just struggling with the rear tires especially. That made it a bit difficult out there.”
Rosberg said he’s not getting excited about his title prospects: “I’m not thinking about that at the moment, I’m really just taking it race by race, just enjoying the moment, making the most of it, keeping on it, keeping to push. The best example is now Red Bull.
“The last day of testing was four weeks ago or something or three weeks ago and they were absolutely nowhere and now he (Vettel) was right in the back of me, pushing me. OK, I had some pace in hand so I could beat him in the end clearly but still, the way they’ve ramped up their pace, very impressive, so we need to keep on it to keep our advantage.”
Ricciardo shows his class despite bad luck
Daniel Ricciardo’s season with Red Bull could hardly have got off to a more unfortunate start, with his exclusion from the Australian GP followed by the pit drama in Malaysia – which has in turn triggered a 10-place penalty that will ruin his Bahrain weekend.
Nevertheless, the Aussie has done an awesome job in the cockpit and convinced any skeptics that Red Bull has chosen a worthy replacement for Mark Webber.
“I definitely feel disappointed,” he said of his curtailed race. “It was looking like we could have a solid points finish, and the race was going pretty well. The start was really good and I made up a couple of positions. I was starting to mix it up at the front, which was nice, it’s fun being up there and fighting for the top few spots. But then at the last pit stop we had an issue, and we had a puncture, a front wing failure. A few other things went on, and then the stop and go. So it went pretty quickly for us from looking good to looking pretty bad in a short matter of time.”
In typical style he’s seeing the positives: “Deep down I’m really disappointed, but at the same time there’s a little bit in me which is happy, because I in the first two races I’ve come out how I’ve wanted to. Obviously I still want to improve, but we started off on the right foot. So for that I’m pleased, and I know a little bit of luck will turn around soon, and I’ll get my revenge and get some points.”
In Malaysia he showed that he wasn’t afraid to mix it with the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, which bodes well for the future.
“A lot of people probably don’t expect it because I’m always the happy guy and smiling, they think I’m too nice for that, but I’m here to race and I love racing up the front. It’s been a privilege but a lot of fun for the last couple of rounds to do it. It’s a bit addicting, I want more, so you’ll see me up there plenty of times this year.”
Ferrari can close the gap, says Domenicali
Stefano Domenicali remains optimistic that Ferrari can still close the gap to Mercedes, given that everyone has a lot of scope to improve this year.
In Malaysia, Fernando Alonso eventually finished some 34.9s down on winner Lewis Hamilton, although he was at least able to hang onto the Red Bulls in the early part of the race. The gap in Australia was 35.2s, although it would have been greater without the safety car.
“I don’t think the gap with Red Bull was so big to be honest,” he said. “Today we were suffering from the fact that with these hard tires with this heat it was really about traction, the fact that they didn’t fit the cars as we wanted. I think that with Mercedes there’s still a big gap, with Red Bull, with the others, I’m not so sure.
“We’re more or less close to that field, but we aim to be on top. I think that, for sure, what we are seeing is not something easy to solve, but what I’ve asked to my engineers is to make sure that they know what they have to do and make sure they put in place plans to close the gap which so far is there, because it’s really clear.”
Domenicali was reluctant to suggest where the weakness in the package is.
“It’s difficult to say when we speak about [the] power unit. It could be the power delivery, because it’s part mechanical, part electric – for sure that’s an important part. But also on the car side I want to make sure that the aerodynamic guys push the car to be more efficient, to be better.
“For sure we need to improve a lot the areas of power delivery, traction, efficiency of the car, setup wise, balance wise, so we need to improve at all levels. With these new regulations the gaps will be shortened very quickly.”
Renault can still find performance, says Horner
Christian Horner says Red Bull has exceeded expectations in the first two races given the problems experienced in testing. Horner says that the gap to Mercedes largely reflects a disparity in straight-line performance, but remains confident that the French-based team can make progress.
“It’s a big gap, they’ve obviously got plenty up their sleeve at the moment, and I think we’ve done incredibly well to get as close to them as we did this weekend. Their advantage is clear, it’s in a straight line, and we’re working hard with the guys from Viry.
“Considering where we’re at with the engine to be doing what we’re doing is beyond expectation. Renault know there’s a lot more to come once they sort out drivability issues and so on. Hopefully our curve in terms of catching up on straight-line speed, whilst it’s steep, we should hopefully be able to make steps.”
Horner said Renault can move forward despite the homologation of the mechanical elements of the engine, as there is still a lot to come from software.
“Yes, I think they can, because a lot of their issues are software related. Hopefully the steps can be made, and we can close that gap down. But it’s not just Renault, you saw Alonso today against Hulkenberg – Alonso on a new set of tires, DRS fully open, couldn’t pass Hulkenberg on a scrubbed set of tires. It’s not just Renault. Mercedes, hats off to them, have done a very good job over the winter with this new engine, with this new technology. We’ve got to work very hard to catch them.
“It’s a matter of getting all three elements working in harmony, there’s obviously the combustion engine, the turbo, and the energy recovery system, which affects your braking as much as it does your acceleration and power delivery.”
As for the next race he said: “I don’t think we’re going to have a solution overnight. It doesn’t tend to rain in Bahrain much either. We’re going to obviously try to make as much progress as we can in the week. The dynos are busy running in Paris. And hopefully we nudge a bit closer to them again if it all possible next weekend.”