2015 F1 Review- Adapt Or Die – Hall On F1

There have been flashes of colour throughout this season. Sebastian Vettel revitalised the scarlet (Marlboro) Ferraris and turned them into Mercedes’ closest challenger in the process. A pole in Singapore along with 3 race wins (Singapore, Malaysia & Hungary) was more than even Arrivabene could have hoped for at the start of the season. It took some impressive late season form from Rosberg to stop his fellow German from spoiling the Mercedes 1-2 party. This was the season where Ferrari at least occasionally kept Mercedes honest.

 

In the background the feeling that Ferrari had Mercedes worried with the latter seeking clarification on rules regarding cooperation on Wind Tunnel and CFD work. No names were mentioned in the protest, but given the arrival of HAAS, and their Ferrari power units (Technical Partnership), the clarification could hardly be aimed at anyone else. For those who want to see a genuine challenge to Mercedes it at least highlights the work being put in to find any advantage in closing the gap to the Silver Arrows.

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Max Verstappen announced his arrival in spectacular form this season. Easily the most entertaining of the 2015 crop. Breath-taking in his pass on Filipe Nasr around the outside of Blanchimont in Spa. Harshly penalised for running too wide in his aggressive move on Button in Abu Dhabi. Fond of the outside of the Senna Esses in Brazil. Over and out when he perhaps got overly excited in Monaco vs Romain Grosjean. 4 Points away from a one race ban seems rough on the kid who for many made it worth tuning in on a Sunday.

Tyre pressures aside, Mercedes have been imperious this season. As the astronomical cost of hybrid power plants became painfully obvious, while Renault and Honda battled it out to see who could pick up the most power unit penalties, ideas were put forward for 1) Equalisation 2) Cost reduction. Toto was none too impressed, as you’d expect from the team that sat at the top of both driver and constructor tables with their customer teams finishing 3rd and 5th.

“We hear the aggravation in GT racing and it does my head in hearing ideas.

“It’s like we are completely stuck, eyes closed, on what happens in other series and the problems around that, that somebody just pulls a rabbit out of his pocket and says, ‘why don’t we do that?’

“But I’m not surprised to hear – let’s call it ‘interesting’ – new concepts, from around the corner. That happens regularly.”

“I think there are some legitimate causes, the price is a legitimate question,”

“Is the price good, low enough for the small teams? And that question can be raised.”

“Is the engine and its concept right for Formula 1? That can be discussed.”

“But it seems to me that we are going in cycles, that at certain stages we want to be road relevant and the pinnacle of technology, want to attract constructors…”

“But once you have the constructors on board like we have now, four constructors, all sharing the same opinion, then you believe, ‘oh, actually we don’t want constructors in the sport, we would rather have it like GP2”

It’s easy to see why Mercedes are unwavering when it comes to retaining the current Power Unit regulations. We witnessed the re-emergence of Ferrari this season, but it was at the cost of Red Bull and not Mercedes. If anything the Brackley team was more dominant this season than last. They equalled both the Pole and Win rates of last season with 18 pole positions and 16 wins, but they had more front row lock outs (15 vs 12) and more 1-2 finishes. (12 vs 11) The status quo suits Mercedes very much right now.

Even when it looked like tyre pressures might tilt the balance of power post Monza it turned out that Ferrari and Vettel’s pole and victory was more an anomaly than anything else. Mercedes ensured it was the only circuit where the car operated outside the performance window of the Pirellis. The balance of power had shifted, but it was between Mercedes drivers.

We were served up a thriller in Austin when Hamilton wrapped up the title. Rosberg took every pole after the Singapore blip, but up until Austin Hamilton was at least still taking the race wins. The biggest question for Mercedes is did Hamilton switch off after wrapping off the title or did the changes to the car made to suit the new Pirelli parameters hand his teammate the advantage? Was the P1 the only thing that crashed after Austin? We won’t know until they blow off the cobwebs in 2016.  Personally I hope Rosberg has found an edge. If it was the pressure coming off him that made the difference then carrying his form into 2016 at least would give us a genuine battle between the two. For the record I don’t think Mercedes blocked any chance for the two drivers to race on separate strategies in Abu Dhabi. If Hamilton was going to make a call to run a one stop then he needed to run longer into the race on his first set rather than making the call as he took the lead of the race. As much as I want to see alternative strategies employed between the two drivers it will take the constant threat of Ferrari to force them to do so.

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If 2015 was the Mercedes at the peak of their powers it was the continuation of the staggering decline of McLaren.

It very quickly became apparent that this was a season or two too early for Honda to enter Formula 1. In the very first piece I wrote I mentioned that the smaller teams at the very least kept the manufacturers off the back of the grid. In 2015 McLaren Honda leapt onto it in a haze of grid penalties and inadequate ERS. Their turbo was too small and they ran out of hybrid energy before the end of anything that resembled a straight line or long curve. If Fernando Alonso was the Samurai at Ferrari, at McLaren he contemplated falling on his sword. From shouts of “GP2 engine” in Japan to Sunbathing in Brazil. By the time the Spaniard arrived in Abu Dhabi he just wanted to park it up.

Both Alonso and Ron Dennis admitted to having discussed many things prior to Abu Dhabi. A sabbatical for the Spaniard being one of them. We heard a lot of Ronspeak this season.
From his comments on Lewis:
“If he was at McLaren he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is because he wouldn’t be allowed to … he’s shaking off some chains he didn’t want to have”

On sponsorship:
“There are other challenges which is as you start to wrestle with competitiveness, inevitably people start to use thatTweet to optimise their commercial relationship with the team. And I’m very robust on rate card. You don’t need to be an Einstein to know that the environment for F1 and for sport overall is challenging, I don’t think you’ve seen a new sponsor at Ferrari for two years for example.”
Criticising the driver that’s won back to back titles seems like an odd tactic to adapt when you have your own problems to attend to. Robust defence of the “Rate Card” or not the fact is that McLaren haven’t had a title sponsor since Vodafone left them in 2013. They lost BOSS to Mercedes last season and are losing Tag Heuer and Johnnie Walker to Red Bull and Force India respectively. Lack of performance is costing McLaren as much as a lack of adaptability seems to be costing them. Williams have shown how to cut your cloth to suit or, to put in another way, Adapt or Die. McLaren need to follow that example and if Ron Dennis can’t deliver in that respect then he needs to let talented people like Eric Boullier get on with the task of rebuilding this once great team. The highlight of McLaren’s season? ( #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe aside) the stunning MP4-X Concept.

Even then they’ve been beaten to it by Red Bull.

There has been a lot of talk regarding changes lately, and it frustrating to watch as a fan. The can kicked down the road as vested interests fight their own corner, all the while ignoring the bigger picture. Formula One as a series has long invested in a divide and conquer tactic when it comes to the teams. While the likes of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes do well out the deals in place we’ve seen Force India, Sauber, Manor and Lotus struggle this season. Sauber shoe horning drivers into place on the basis of finances rather than talent was the talking point of the season early on. So too has been the complaint from both Sauber and Force India to the European Union, protesting Formula 1’s rule-making and revenue sharing as unlawful, unfair and harmful.

Lotus though have had the spotlight focused on them as their season staggered to a close. Waiting on a deal to re-emerge as the Renault Factory team they were left in limbo as Renault and Bernie/CVC agreed a deal. A soul destroying end of the season saw them locked out of hospitality units and eating in the Formula 1 canteen at one point. Bernie allegedly making payments to get them across the line. Presumably on the back of a deal being completed with CVC, Renault has announced they will commit beyond the current Concorde Agreement and into the 2024 season, the return of Renault as a manufacturer not only save Lotus and the great team and Enstone but also injects some much needed colour into the sport. They may have a long road ahead to challenge Ferrari and Mercedes but its great news.

Renault

Renault2
Pictures via @camdebastiani

Renault were said to be faced with two options. To come back 100% or to leave.
Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn “After a detailed study, I have decided that Renault will be in Formula One, starting 2016,” he explained. “The final details supplied by F1’s main stakeholders gave us the confidence to accept this new challenge.”

Further changes have come in the form of Power Units. Tokens, that wonderful idea where you bring in the most technically advanced system the sport has ever seen and then try to freeze development of it, have been amended again. At this point I’d rather everyone just admitted that tokens were a terrible idea and let the teams develop within a set technical structure for the next 5 years. History shows us that eventually everyone balances out through diminishing returns.

Not to be. Instead Token allocation will be 32 for 2016, 25 for 2017, 20 for 2018 and 15 for 2019.
New Power Unit manufacturers will be allocated 15 tokens in their first year and 32 in their second.
Mario Kart lovers. Your tokens remain for the foreseeable future.

Power Unit Homologation has also been updated:

“Power Units homologated in previous seasons may now be re-homologated. Previously no manufacturer could supply more than one specification of PU. The World Motor Sport Council was also advised that the FIA had agreed for Ferrari to supply a fourth customer team with a 2015 specification Power Unit in 2016.”

Roughly translated as Ferrari will be able to supply Toro Rosso with a year old engine.
Pirelli want in on all this change too. Two dry compounds for the weekend wasn’t enough apparently so now the teams will get three compounds at each race:

“In consultation with the FIA, Pirelli will decide in advance which three compounds can be used at each race, and communicate this information to the teams.

“The total number of sets that can be used during practice, qualifying and racing remains the same as it is currently: 13.

“Pirelli will nominate two mandatory race sets for each car. Furthermore, one set of the softer compound will have to be kept for use in Q3 only.

“The two mandatory sets chosen by Pirelli can be of two different compounds, from the three that have been nominated for the race weekend. These sets will obviously be identical for each team.

“The remaining 10 sets can be chosen by each team, from the three compounds nominated for the race weekend.

“The teams will make their choices within a deadline set by Pirelli. They will communicate their choices to the FIA, which will in turn tell Pirelli how many tyres to produce. The choices for each car will remain secret until 2 weeks before the race. If a team does not meet the deadline, the choice will be made by the FIA.

“Once the choices for each car have been made, the FIA will continue to assign the tyres randomly via a barcode, as is the case currently.

“The choices made by each team can vary for each of its cars: soeach driver within a team can have a different allocation.

“The tyres will be distinguished by different coloured markings on the sidewalls, as is currently the case.

“Teams will still have to give back tyres according to a certain schedule, but they can decide which tyres to give back at the following times:

“One set after the first 40 minutes of FP1

“One set at the end of FP1

“Two sets at the end of FP2

“Two sets at the end of FP3

“The two mandatory sets nominated by Pirelli cannot be given back during practice and must be available for use in the race. At least one of these two sets must be used during the race – but the teams can decide which one.

“The top 10 at the end of qualifying will still have to give back the set of the softer compound nominated for Q3, and start the race on the tyres with which they set their fastest time in Q2 (the same rule as is the case currently). All other drivers will be able to use the set that is saved for Q3 during the race.”

Did you get all that. No? Me neither.
There is more change coming too. 2017 to be exact.
Wider, louder, more aggressive cars. Faster lap times.

Proposed by Red Bull and approved after revisions made by the Technical Regulations Working Group. What are we getting?

Wider front wing. 1850mm (200mm wider)
Rear wing that is 950mm wide and 800mm high.
Diffusers more in line with 2010 regulations allowing more performance from the floor.
Wider tyres. 300mm at the front, as opposed to 245mm. 400mm at the rear, as opposed to 325mm.
Changes to the exhaust system to make the cars louder.

Lots of change. Louder, faster cars.
It’s what we called for, right?

Actually, not quite.  In the very first article I wrote I called for change, but it wasn’t more tokens or more tyres. As for the regulations changes, increased dependency on aero won’t improve the show, which is what Formula 1 desperately needs. Wider tyres? Absolutely. Make them even bigger than the teams are proposing and make it more about mechanical grip. There is one thing missing in all of these changes though. The biggest change that Formula 1 needed, and still does, was for it to look after the teams in it. It was for Formula 1 to think about something other than short term financial gains when making the decisions it does. Germany will return to the calendar for the 2016 season but both Silverstone and Circuit of Americas have been highlighted for late payments for hosting this season’s races.

We may very well lose BBC F1 next season as the broadcaster tightens its belt. Not only are the smaller teams at risk of being priced out of the sport it would appear that slowly some of the hard-core fans are being priced out of it too. Can’t afford a SKY F1 subscription? Well they’re shutting it down over the winter for the first time since its inception. Why is that? Maybe it’s because slowly, one by one, we are switching off from the sport we once loved.

The Lauda v Hunt battles.
The Senna v Prost battles.
Schumacher v All-comers.
All those great sporting moments.
They’re all in the past, and while Formula One is busy making itself an ever exclusive club there are other sports out there that are eager to welcome new fans into the fold. This isn’t football. I compared how vastly different they are in how finances are distributed to competing teams in both sports, and there is a big difference. However there is another difference. When it comes to Football, and for example The Champions League, it is the only show in town. All football follows the same format and The Champions League is the pinnacle of that format. Formula 1 isn’t the only show in town when it comes to Motorsport. More and more fans are migrating to other formats. It’s cheaper and a phenomenal experience to go to Le Mans. Fancy a festival experience with engines as the soundtrack? This is the one for you. It’s more entertaining to go to Moto GP and certainly Moto GP has never been as popular, why wouldn’t you want to see the epic Rossi/Marquez/Lorenzo show? It’s still man and machine and on the right day the customer teams can still take the battle to the manufacturers. Even if you don’t want to attend a race it’s free to watch Endurance racing or Formula E. Hell you don’t even have to get out of bed. You can stream Le Mans, Nurburgring 24hr and Formula E on your phone no matter where you are or what you’re doing when the racing takes place, and while you pay for the Moto GP content it is a world ahead of what Formula 1 offers.

There is real change underway in Motorsport, and Formula 1 is so busy fighting in dark corners that it’s missing the legions of people moving elsewhere to be entertained.

Adapt or Die.

 

Until the next time,

David Hall.

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