This Sunday, March 15th, the 2015 Formula 1 season will growl into life at Melbourne, Australia.
The smart money will be on the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resuming where they left off and battling for supremacy at Albert Park. Rivals may have hoped to claw back some of the gap to the lead duo but the signs over the winter are that Mercedes have finally added reliability to the outright speed from last season.
Ferrari have certainly closed the gap, but mostly to Williams. The most interesting part of this season could well be the fight between Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull. The Mercedes engine still gives Williams a power advantage. Ferrari have reduced the gap, while Red Bull remain the aerodynamically superior team. It adds up to strengths in different areas and hopefully a great battle. No doubt Red Bull will have a lot to say about the gap to Mercedes.
Once again though it is not lap times that have dominated the news.
Sauber may have impressed in the early tests as themselves and Ferrari claimed fastest times, but behind the scenes there are hostilities. Both 2014 drivers, Adrian Sutil and Giedo van der Garde lost their drives for 2015. Last season was dire for Sauber. They finished behind Marussia and failed to score a single point. 2015 contracts that they had issued early in 2014 suddenly weren’t going to count for anything as Sauber were struggling to make ends meet. Enter Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
It may seem brutal for contracts to be dismissed in such manner but when the alternative is to go out of business then it is easy to see how Sauber arrived at such a decision. Easier to terminate two drivers contracts than put 300 people out of a job. Only Van der Garde didn’t see it that way. He took Sauber to court and a Swiss arbitration court ruled that Sauber must not “take any action the effect of which would be to deprive Mr Van der Garde of his entitlement to participate in the 2015 Formula One Season as one of Sauber’s two nominated race drivers”
Catch 22 then for Sauber. One might think that van der Garde might be better served looking for a drive at Manor Motorsport. Certainly if he does succeed in upholding the ruling against Sauber, and it closes them down, he’ll find that any other route back to Formula 1 would most likely close instantaneously.
One of the most heartening stories over the last few weeks was the resurrection of Marussia/Manor. Having missed the last three races of last season, Manor will be on the grid in Australia after being saved by founder of Ovo energy company Stephen Fitzpatrick. He has been aided by Justin King, former CEO of Sainsbury.
Manor will compete in the early part of the season with what is effectively a ’14 car, modified to meet the ’15 changes to regulations. A ’15 car is planned to be launched later in the season. Given that the early car will be racing with a ’14 Ferrari powertrain and has done no testing whatsoever it would seem that Manor’s biggest challenge would be to qualify within 107% of Mercedes. Well, that and getting the official F1 pages to refer to them as Manor. At the time of writing this only British driver Will Stevens had been announced to race for the team.
There is no escaping what has been, and still is, the main story of this pre-season- Fernando Alonso’s accident.
For those unsure as to the use of irony you’ll see it when McLaren line up in Australia. Having agonisingly drawn out the driver selection process, and broken Kevin Magnussen’s heart in the process, McLaren will now start the 2015 season with the same pairing that competed in 2014.
This is McLaren’s statement on Alonso’s situation from 3rd March:
“Having performed an exhaustive series of tests and scans – some of them as recently as yesterday evening – McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso’s doctors have informed him that they find him asymptomatic of any medical issue; that they see no evidence whatsoever of any injury; and that they therefore describe him as entirely healthy from neurological and cardiac perspectives alike.
However, Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 22nd, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in his sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome, as is normal medical procedure when treating athletes after concussions. In order to limit those environmental risk factors, specifically, his doctors have advised that he should not compete in the imminent Australian Grand Prix meeting, which will take place on March 13th, 14th and 15th.”
Translation: Alonso seems okay now, but he did have concussion and the doctors don’t want to risk exposing him to Second Impact Syndrome.
When it comes to concussion injuries, it’s great to see that this stance has been taken. It may have been made easier by McLaren Honda’s poor testing form, meaning any potential risk would ultimately be for little reward. It is something that should also be taken on-board in sports like Rugby and Soccer, where too often a player that has clearly suffered concussion is brought back onto the pitch.
That said, McLaren have been on something of a radio silence following the Alonso accident. This could be an occasion where playing the game to the media would have served them better. Calling a press conference, taking questions and straight batting some of the speculation would have put things to bed very quickly. Instead McLaren left a lot of questions unanswered in their statement.
In this era of On-Demand News and Media this predictably resulted in a frenzy of speculation over the accident. What had caused a driver of Alonso’s calibre to have an accident that Sebastian Vettel said “looked strange”? Martin Brundle asked “Why did he have the crash, did he already have a problem?”
Two main areas of speculation arose:
Did Alonso suffer an electric shock?
Was Alonso being unconscious the cause or the effect of the accident?
Alex Wurz (Chairman of the Grand Prix Driver’s Association) issued the following points in a letter to drivers on the matter:
The impact forces were in the lower double digit g numbers. Exact details of the g-forces and the time over which such g-forces accrued on the car, the driver and more important on his head have not been disclosed (yet).
Fact gathering – CAR:
The ear accelerometers and the cars data recording should give (once again) an important insight into the accident. Currently it is understood that all the safety precautions of the car worked as intended by the rules. So all the rumours of electric shock, etc are false.
Fact gathering – DRIVER:
However, to understand the accident, the causes and the consequences to the driver’s safety, we need to wait for the medical reports to understand the full picture. But we will give Fernando, his family and the doctors their space they require. I am not in a position to tell you anything about Fernando’s medical situation.
Sources in German media have listed GPS measured g-forces as follows:
1st Impact – Car 31g. Head 16g.
2nd Impact – Car 18g. Head 8g.
The first impact being enough to render Alonso unconscious.
Certainly there seemed to be little driver input from that point onwards in the accident.
German media also states that the ERS lights were at green (Safe status) when the marshalls arrived, indicating that the electrical system was working within safe parameters. Marshalls were able to work on extracting Alonso immediately.
The one question then that remains unanswered is “What caused the crash?”
McLaren have stated that a gust of wind caused it. Unfortunately the only person that might be able to give a definitive answer is Alonso. Given that rumours have ranged that he went from thinking he was driving for Ferrari to being back in karts in the mid 90s, he may never remember what happened prior to the accident.
What Alonso needs now is time and space to get himself right for his return. He is at least back to communicating on social media and thankfully, seems to be good humoured about it
Head injuries are something Formula 1 fans will be all too aware of lately. With that in mind I’d just like to finish up by saying our thoughts are still with Michael Schumacher and Jules Bianchi. #KeepFightingMichael #ForzaJules
Until next time,