What have we learnt from the first four races of the season?
Mercedes and Ferrari are in a different league to the rest of the field. It was staggering to see that in Russia alone, the difference between Hamilton in fourth and Ricciardo in fifth was over a second in each of the three qualifying sessions. We know that The Tag Heuer branded Renault has some deficiencies to both the Mercedes and Ferrari power units, but we wouldn’t have been expecting to see a second gap between the top two teams and their third placed competitors. It’s going to have to be a wet or mixed up race with several safety cars if we are going to see anything other than a silver or red car taking the chequered flag.
Even without the win at the weekend, it is fair to say that Bottas has found his feet pretty quickly at Mercedes. He’s out qualified Lewis in half of the races so far and has just as many wins as him. To say that it’s an even head to head is to mis-read the statistics on purpose. No-one is going to be arguing that Bottas is as good as Hamilton already, but the Finn has certainly rattled his cage with some confident driving.
Either Lewis underestimated his new team mate or he underestimated the challenge which would be coming from the Ferrari’s, but he has changed his happy tune in the last few weeks. Initially, when Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix, Lewis seemed pleased that he was going to be having a challenge from somewhere. Now he knows that he might well be fighting off the pressure from Vettel, Bottas and maybe even Raikkonen.
At the other end of the spectrum is the other World Champion attempting to even get to the start line. Alonso is not being subtle with his interactions in the media and pointing out that he has driven the best lap of his life just to get into Q2 is merely highlighting the fact that he wants a good car. Either from Honda or from another team.
When Alonso moved to McLaren, he knew they would not be competitive right away and accepted this with his reportedly £25.5 million a year pay cheque. Two years further down the road and the power unit actually looks worse. If the figures reported are correct, then Alonso has earnt £46,500 per race lap he has completed this year. Even that is not enough compensation for ruining three years of a world-class career.
It’s been really positive that the sole focus of the race weekend has not be the tyre degradation and how Pirrelli’s are performing. The new spec look to have matched the requirements the teams have laid out. They do degrade and there is a difference between the performance of the compounds, but they don’t seem to suddenly fall of the cliff and become useless.
On the useless note, the announcement that Honda are to power Sauber was interesting. One of two things have gone on here. Either Honda have decided that they can’t get faster or more competitive and therefore will just slow down the rest of the competition. OR Sauber have money issues and Honda have offered them a lot of money to become the second factory team. A long-term deal would really suit the Swiss team and could be the security they need. The extra data and running times should help out Honda and then the McLaren team might have a decent engine.