Alex Yoong

My soap box about motorsport mostly and other bits and pieces

With no break after the Chinese Grand Prix, the teams will have gone straight to Bahrain for this weekends next leg of the 2015 F1 championship. These back-to-back races may tax the race teams, but they will prefer it because it then allows the them to have a three-week break before the next race in Barcelona.

This break will be well received, especially by the teams needing to regroup after a frenetic first few races. Namely those powered by Renault or Honda.

Bahrain is usually a tough race due to the heat, which is somewhat relieved these days as we now have the race in cooler conditions at night.

It’s another typical modern F1 track in the styles of Sepang and Shanghai. Where it differs slightly is while it may not be as fun for the drivers to drive as the previous two races, it’s a lot more fun to race on. There are three massive straights separated by two slow bits, which allows for slip streaming and close racing without getting too affected by dirty air.

This should help the teams that may not produce quite enough downforce but have low drag or big horsepower. A word of caution though, because any gains found will be quite relative and in all honesty I don’t expect the top three teams to change by much. Perhaps Williams should be a little closer to Ferrari in race pace, but with Mercedes having better top speed at the last race, I don’t expect either team to be closer to the front.

The mid field should see some shake up though. It’s a lot closer there and any tiny advantage found will mean positions and possibly points. I think RedBull and Torro Rosso may struggle more, which will allow teams like Lotus, Sauber and Force India a chance of scoring more points. As for Mclaren Honda, well, lets just say, it won’t be an easy race for them this weekend.

Pirelli will bring the same tyres as the last race in China, the Medium and Soft. With temperatures a bit warmer than Shanghai but not as bad as Malaysia, we should see degradation being somewhat between the two. I think two to three stops will be the norm this weekend. The aggressive strategy will be three due to the short pitlane (therefore shorter stops) but two might be preferred, as the top teams don’t want to get caught in slower traffic when they stop an extra time.

At the front, everyone is waiting to see if Rosberg can put a halt to the Hamilton steamroller. While they are not separated by too many points (yet), the German has been far from the Englishman in terms of performance. He really will need to dig deep, especially after his rant about Hamilton’s race strategy at the last race will not have won him any fans.

As a neutral, I hope he can make a race of it, but somehow I think Hamilton has a bit more left in his pocket and will be tough to beat.

 

After the heat of Malaysia, everyone expected normal services to resume in the cooler and more usual temperatures in China. Mercedes duly obliged as they wrapped up a one two finish with Lewis Hamilton winning ahead of Nico Rosberg.

Mercedes brought a completely new front and rear wing to Shanghai in their bid to keep development apace with their rivals – especially after losing to Ferrari in Malaysia. So let’s see what this did for them by comparing it with a car that has the same power unit in it – namely Williams Martini Racing.

All tracks are split up into three sectors and by looking at each sector in detail; you can piece together a car’s strengths and weaknesses. For example in Malaysia and Shanghai, they both have a second sector with fast sweeping corners. So you can surmise that a car that is fast through this sector, has good grip and therefor capable of creating good down force from it’s chassis.

Both tracks also have a third sector with two long straights, so you can conclude that any car that is fast here, has good straight line speed and therefor a good power unit and/or low drag.

In qualifying for Malaysia, Mercedes were kings in sector 2 as they were half a second per lap quicker than most of their rivals here, including Williams. This suggested that they had the best down force/chassis combination through this sector.

In sector 3 Williams posted almost the same time as Mercedes, which suggested that they were quicker in a straight line. This was also bourn out by the speed trap, which showed Williams comfortably quickest (they were also quickest in Australia) and 8 Km/h faster than Mercedes.

In China, we saw something a little different. In the faster corners (sector 2) Mercedes still were still half a second per lap quicker than Williams, however, on the longer straights (sector 3) was a different story with the Silver Arrows comfortably half a second per lap quicker through there. The speed trap at the end of the back straight confirms this, with the Mercedes duo quickest. Here is the thing though, they were not quicker by a bit, but in Williams’s case, by 3 km/h, which is a whopping 11km/h swing over their rivals.

Let’s not forget that this is against rivals with the same power unit in the back of their cars, so it must be drag and not horsepower. It suggests that the new wings (especially the rear wing) brought by Mercedes work very well. It also suggests that because the speed gain is at the end of the straight, that the gain is coming mainly from when the DRS is open. This also makes sense when you think how much quicker both Mercs were in Qualifying (when the DRS is used all the time) compared to the race (when it’s only used during overtaking).

It’s an impressive gain from the World Champions and the chasing pack will have to out develop them if they want to catch up. While it’s hard for me to see Williams, who is a customer team to close that gap anytime soon, Ferrari is a different case.

The rumours are that Ferrari’s upgrades for Barcelona are impressive, especially on the power unit side. So while the next race in Bahrain will be similar to China, I can’t wait to see what happens once we get back to Europe.

 

 

I was fortunate that both my parents were racecar drivers, so it was relatively easy for me to get into the sport. I can remember my earliest memory was being at a race track when I was about three years old. The excitement I felt when I saw the cars line up to start the race will always stay with me. Right then was when I knew that this was what I wanted – the rush, the excitement, the competition.

I said “relatively easy” earlier, because motor racing is not an easy sport to get into due to the prohibitive costs involved. Again I was fortunate here, because my Father managed the Shah Alam circuit back then and with his knowledge we were slowly able to go race for the first time in 1992, get results and find sponsorship, which then allowed us to race some more

From success in the region where I won the Malaysian Formula Asia Championship that included a win in the first international single seater race in Zhuhai, China, I was then able to make my way to Europe. That’s when my education really began as the cut and thrust nature of racing with the best youngsters in the world, helped shape me as a driver.

That time was tough, especially as the financial crisis in Asia in the late nineties stalled my career. From there I moved to Japan to race, which was also an incredibly important step in my education. More importantly, it kept me racing in a time when sponsorship from Malaysia was an impossible dream.

My big break came half way into 2001 with a test with the Minardi F1 team at Mugello, Italy. I managed to impress and was offered a chance to drive for the team at the end of the year. I would do the last three races with a young Fernando Alonso as my teammate. That first race in Monza, Italy was very emotional and I distinctly remember the experience of pulling onto the grid to start that race as the first Malaysian in Formula one.

I managed one more year with the Minardi team in 2002 – where I had a best finish of 7th in Australia – before my F1 career was over. My results were simply not quite good enough to merit a longer shot in the category and while there are some regrets over choices made, I never regret the experience of what happened. The experiences there – good and bad – shaped me not just as a driver but also as an adult and I cannot stress enough how valuable they were.

A few tough years in the wilderness followed where I raced in America in Champ Cars to Australia in V8 Supercars. A1GP then happened and I was fortunate enough to be involved in the setting up and running of A1 Team Malaysia. In the three years that A1GP ran from 2006 to 2008, I was able to win four races and finish on the podium numerous times.

In those years I also did the 24 hours of Lemans twice where I won rookie of the year in the first year and finished 5th in the second. In 2006 I was awarded the Bruce Mclaren trophy from the British Racing Drivers Club for the best commonwealth driver of the year.

I did my first race for Audi in 2010, where we won the Zhuhai Intercontinental cup in an Audi R8 LMS.

2011 saw me do no racing but I did return to waterskiing (which I had done as a teenager) for the South East Asian games. I would go on to win a gold and two silvers and it was a very gratifying experience, as the results were not really expected.

2012 was when the Audi R8 LMS Cup was born and it’s really been a pleasure to race for Audi in that championship. The cars are so bullet proof and the organization spotless. I finished third in the first year despite missing two races. In 2013 I then finished as runner up despite a couple indecent crashes on my own. I was able to reward Audi for their faith by then winning the championship in 2014 with five wins.

It’s been a great ride and this year has started well. I’ve won the first race of the Audi R8 LMS Cup and now we go to Nurburgring to compete in the 24 hours in May. It’s an all-Asian line up and I can’t wait to compete there this year as it is considered the toughest race in the world.

Heya, It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but i have still been writing for a few publications and websites, mostly on F1 related stuff. However I think it’s time i restart using the this platform – either that or give up the site. So let’s start with the Malaysian GP review, which was printed in the Sun relatively recently.

Vettel Magic

Since Formula One converted to the new V6 Turbo power units Mercedes has dominated the sport – until now that is. On Sunday at the Malaysian GP, we saw Ferrari end a 35 race losing streak as Sebastian Vettel beat the Silver Arrows for the first time on pure pace.

It was a result I didn’t expect going into the weekend, such was the Mercedes dominance at the first race in Australia. Even on the Friday, when Ferrari posted strong lap times on heavy fuel, there was a feeling that they just were running lighter than the Mercedes duo.

There were a few key moments that made this victory possible though.

Heat

By the time the race started, the track temperatures had reached 62 degrees Celsius. This was hotter than on Friday, where we had seen such strong pace from the Prancing Horse and that Mercedes were struggling with the medium tyre. So when you extrapolate for the heat, it was reasonable to assume that these hotter conditions would help the Ferraris more.

Good first corner

While Vettel did not have a great start from the dirty side of the grid, he did manage to get braking for the first corner absolutely perfect. Even though he was on the outside of Rosberg on the run up to turn one, he was able to out brake and somehow not go wide. This allowed him to pinch Rosberg on the apex and then be on the inside for the left-handed turn two. If he had run wide, Vettel would have been on the dirty outside and he would have struggled to stay in the top three let alone take second. That would have made his race a lot harder.

Safety Car

There is some debate right now whether Mercedes could have won even if there had been no safety car. Personally, I think Vettel could have still won this race without it, but its safe to say, he would not have won it so easily. So let’s say it helped him because it allowed him to pull out a big gap on both Mercedes cars after the re start as they were hampered trying to clear the train of cars behind Hulkenberg.

Pace on the medium tyre

The laps after the safety car and before Vettel’s first pit stop was the key part of the race for me. The safety car went in and the racing restarted on lap seven and he pitted for his first stop on lap 17. So his sequence of laps was as follows: 46.0, 46.2, 46.3, 46.2, 45.4, 46.2, 46.6, 46.6, 46.7, and 46.9, before finally pitting. This was very tight, clean driving and I’d say he would have had a bit in hand too because he could not afford to kill his tyres too early as he was attempting to make a two stop strategy work – which was one less than the Mercedes duo.

Hamilton now had to push to catch up and once he cleared Hulkenberg on lap nine, that was what he set out to do. However despite having seven laps fresher tyres, his best lap was a 46.1 on lap 14 and when Vettel did finally stop, he had not made any significant progress into the 10 second gap between the two drivers.

I knew from this point on that Vettel had the pace to win the race. Not only was he quick on the medium tyre, he could make it last twenty laps, which he did in this second stint on them. Both Hamilton and Rosberg could not make the medium tyre work for so long and were committed to running the hards.

It was a race won on merit as Mercedes boss, Toto wolff, would later admit. It’s been a great result for Formula One in general, and the question now is whether Ferrari can continue to do this all year. I feel It will be difficult for them to replicate this sort of form in the more typical temperature races, but if Ferrari can develop at a faster rate than Mercedes, perhaps, just maybe, they may become genuine championship contenders.

I look over the entire grid and analyse the performances of the drivers. Neither of the leading Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are on first spot.

The Mercs have done phenomenally well and Hamilton is a massive 60 points ahead of third-placed Ricciardo.

It must be remembered, though, that both drivers have the best racing package on the grid and the slow starts endured by many as they adapted to the new V6 era has allowed them to race ahead.

Therefore, it is important to be objective when analyzing the 22 drivers that have thrilled us with their driving performances over the course of the season.

Ahead of the return of Formula One with Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, the best driver of the season is:

1. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

It was hard to choose between Nico Rosberg and Riccardo. Especially as Rosberg has been so consistent this year – he hasn’t qualified outside the top four and has finished inside the top two for every race except for the British and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

But I had to give the top driver spot so far to Ricciardo because of the inferiority of his machinery, and his consistent ability to always seem to drag the Renault-powered Red Bull to heights it shouldn’t have been able to. His wins in Canada and Hungary were so skillfully done that it belayed his tender years.

Also, to out-qualify Sebastian Vettel, the best qualifier of the past few season (he leads 7–4) is amazing. A the start of the season, I would never have thought Ricciardo could have outshone the reigning four-time world champion so comprehensively.

2. Nico Rosberg ( Mercedes)

It’s been impressive to watch just how Rosberg has raised his game so much this year. He has always been quick but now you can add steel and better consistency to his driving that shows me that he has the tools to win this world championship.

His drive to second in Canada despite ERS and rear brake problems was a highlight. He seems unflappable and if he can keep this form up, he will be the slight favourite for the title.

3. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)

Alonso never gives up. He is always pushing from the first lap on Friday to the last lap on Sunday. His F14 T is just not on the pace but Fernando somehow is always able to maximise a result – his two podiums at China and Hungary being the perfect examples.

His average qualifying position is 7.1 but his average race finishing position is 4.9, which puts him fourth in the championship battle. To put his performances in perspective, you just need to see how poor his team-mate, former world Champion Kimi Raikkonen (10.4 for qualifying and 10.2 for race) has fared.

Alonso is also the only driver to have scored points in every race this year.

4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams)

We saw enough from Bottas’s rookie season that we knew he would be good. I have been pleasantly surprised how well he has come on. Since his small brush with the wall in Australia, Bottas has just been getting more and more confident, which has shown in better controlled pace.

His two podiums at Britain and Germany have seen justice well served after his promising results earlier in the year were ruined by tyre wear or strategy issues within the team.

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

I know I’m going to get a lot of stick for putting Hamilton so far down. He has had some outstanding performances. He has won five times this year and his wins in Malaysia, Bahrain and Britain were especially outstanding. But we have also seen an unprecedented amount of mistakes by him too.

He made mistakes in qualifying in Canada, Britain and Austria which probably cost him pole. For me, Hamilton is second only to Vettel when it comes to qualifying and to see that many mistakes from him is unusual. I think he has heaped a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself with some ill-timed comments to the press, which have not helped.

Hamilton is currently still second in the championship, only 11 points behind his team-mate. Hopefully, the break will have done him some good and he will come back relaxed. If he does, I’m sure the qualifying performances will be back to his usual high standard and if that happens, Rosberg better watch out.

6. Nico Hulkenburg (Force India)

The Hulk has been his usual impressive self and has scored points in every race except the last one in Hungary. While Force India is in better shape than last year, thanks to their Mercedes engines, Hulkenburg is seventh in the title race mostly due to his ability to extract the most of his machinery on a consistent basis.

7. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

Who would have thought the reigning World Champion would be so far down.

He simply has not adjusted to the new regulations as well as some of the other drivers. There have been a couple of bright spots, though, such as third place finishes in Malaysia and Canada.

But his usually solid qualifying form has deserted him this year which has surprised everyone. He also could have won in Hungary but a spin at the last corner ruined that particular race for him.

Let us not forget, though, that he is a four time world champion. This may be his most trying year since he joined Formula One but only a fool would bet against him turning his form around.

8. Danii Kvyat (Toro Rosso)

I’m sure I’ll also get some stick for having Kvyat so high up but he has been a bit of a revelation this year. The rookie has finished in the points four times this year and it would have been more if the Torro Rosso had not got such poor reliability.

His qualifying has also been very impressive, almost as good as Jean-Eric Vergne, his solid team-mate, who is having a good year as well. Kvyat’s highlight of the season was when he qualified seventh in Austria.

While he may sit 15th in the championship, I rate him this highly because it will have been so easy to mess up more in what is his first year in F1. Don’t forget that the Torro Rosso hardly ran in pre-season testing due to power unit gremlins so when Kvyat qualified eighth and finished ninth at the opening race, it made me sit up and take notice.

More importantly, he did not plateau has and continued to improve as the year went on.

9. Felipe Massa (Williams)

Massa has actually shown some of his old form back and it’s been so nice to see him get some resules. Williams have definitely rejuvenated him and his lap to secure pole position in Austria was an excellent one.

While Massa started the year evenly-matched with teammate Bottas, he has lost his way a bit over the last couple of races and will need to be a bit more focused to halt that trend.

10. Jenson Button (McLaren)

The Mclaren car has been a handful for both drivers this year. Consistency has been hard to find as well as pace. Button has been unspectacularly solid but he still seems to struggle more than expected when the car drifts a little outside of its neutral zone.

He currently sits eighth in the championship but I don’t actually think that matters too much. He needs to achieve a spectacular result or two to secure his seat for next year and I think he knows that. He has tried some risky tyre strategies in wet/dry conditions to try and pull a result off, as he did in Hungary, but it has not quite worked out.

11. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren)

The Dane started so well with an excellent second-placed finish in Australia but then the usual plateau that seems to affect most rookies in F1 seemed to set in. There have been some signs that he is turning that around over the last four races so if he can continue that trend, his rookie year may actually go from satisfactory to good.

12. Sergio Perez (Force India)

Sergio has been out qualified by his teammate quite significantly this year. But his race pace has more often than not been a match or quicker than Hulkenburg. He had a well-taken podium in Bahrain and he almost raced superbly to another third in Canada before crashing with Massa on the last lap.

If his qualifying performances had been better, he would be several postitions further up this list.

13. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso)

Vergne has actually had a very strong driving year and doesn’t really deserve to be this far back. He has actually qualified in the top 10 seven times this year, a great result when you think about how poor the Renault in the back of the Torro Rosso is.

He has been dogged by poor reliability in the Torro Rosso which has resulted in five non-finishes. The other reason he isn’t further up is because of inconsistency in his race pace.

14. Jules Bianchi (Marussia)

Bianchi has had an excellent season; he has consistently out qualified his team-mate and both Caterhams. Also, his drive to Marrusia’s first ever points in Monaco was one of the drives of the year.

An exciting talent, I hope we will see him in a quicker car next year.

15. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)

Its been hard to rate Grosjean’s driving, simply because the Lotus have been so bad this year. He is another driver to not have finished five races and when he is running, the car does not look good to drive at all.

The reason I have him above Ferrari’s Raikkonen is because he has been significantly better than his teammate and also due to that excellent fifth place in qualifying for the Spanish GP.

16. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

Raikkonen just has not shown the form that he had in the Lotus over the last two years. He has been blown away by Alonso and sits 12th in the championship.

As an ex-world champion, he needs to, and should, do better.

17. Adrian Sutil (Sauber)

Its been a bit tough for Sutil as the his heavy frame combined with an overweight chassis means he is giving lap time away for free.

Esteban Gutierrez has been doing well lately and, unfortunately for Sutil, I feel he will struggle to get much from the remainder of the season. He must be praying that the updates Sauber have promised work well for him.

18. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham)

Again it’s a bit hard to gauge how well the popular Japanese has gone this year. He has out qualified team-mate Marcus Ericsson nine out of eleven times, so from that point of view his form this year has been good. But the Caterham has been the worst car on the grid this year and we just don’t know quite how much that has contributed to Kobayashi’s performances.

From his consistent performances in the past and the fact that we know he was good with both Toyota and Sauber before, I can’t quite put him in the bottom places.

19. Max Chilton (Marussia)

The young Englishman has out-qualified Bianchi three times this year, which is not great, but let’s not forget how strong his team-mate has been this year. Also, Max has an incredible run of just a single non-finish throughout his F1 career.

20. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber)

Gutierrez, at times, has been very average but he has out-qualified his heavier teammate Sutil 6–4. He was also in a position to score the team’s only points in Monaco before he put the car in the barrier.

He has the chance to change things around this year but must seize any more chances that come his way.

21. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus)

The Venezuelan has always been an inconsistent driver – from the highs of winning in Barcelona in 2012, he has made some pretty bad mistakes this year such as flipping Gutierrez in Bahrain this year. He has also been out-qualified by his team-mate in every race this year bar one.

His Lotus is not helping him either but Maldonado is not inexperienced anymore and I expect more from him.

22. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham)

I know it’s Ericsson’s first year and that he is effectively inside the slowest car on the grid. Also, I’m aware that it’s not really fair to look too much at the fact that he has been out-qualified in almost every race this year.

I still have him here at the bottom of the list because of the large gaps between him and the next driver. His laptimes have been too far from his team-mate most of the time in both qualifying and races. We know he has got talent from what he achieved in the junior racing categories and it is not easy at Caterham right now but there is still time to turn it round and I hope he does something for his sake.

 

 

The biggest discussion subject of the first two races of the season was not so much the racing, but the sound of the cars as they thundered around the race track. Mainly that there was not quite enough “thunder” compared to previous years. But before I wade into the “are the cars loud enough?” debate, lets talk about the technical changes for this year that contributed to the reduced decibels of a Formula 1 race.

In a bid to make Formula 1 more “greener” (although how green a sport can ever be when it travels around the world in great big jumbo’s remains to be seen) and therefore more applicable to car manufacturers around the world meant that the whole power train was completely changed for 2014. We must also bear in mind that the three engine manufacturers in F1, might have not stayed in the sport without these changes. Renault would definitely not be here.

Before this year, F1 cars had been using the high revving V10 internal combustion engine. Plenty loud enough, plenty fast enough but there were some drawbacks. They have been around a long time (with an actual freeze of engine development since 2007) and the technology of these engines was getting a bit long in the tooth, not to mention its petrol guzzling capabilities. F1 is firstly – in my opinion – about technical innovation and it was decided that it was time for a revamp. To introduce a whole new set of technical regulations that was cutting edge and more efficient (green).

Enter this year’s 1.6 litre, V6 turbocharged engine, with an energy recovery system (ERS) that is twice the power of the KERS system that used to be in F1 last year. I think it’s quite a sexy unit; I love cutting edge technology such as this. It’s also immensely complicated to get on top of, as the engine manufacturers will attest to.

One of the hardest things the teams have been facing is to understand how to get all the systems of the new power unit to work together. Firstly there is the new turbo – we haven’t seen a turbo-powered car since the late eighties – to get on top of. Then there is the ERS, which has never been done before. Think of it as a hybrid system on steroids. It actually recovers power through two power units that then either stores it into a battery or sends it straight back into the drive train for extra power. Following me still?

So one of these motor generator units is called the MGU–K, which harvests the kinetic energy lost under braking. It recovers this power through the rear axle of the car. The second motor generator unit is called the MGU–H, which harvests heat energy from the exhaust gases. Now both units can either store the energy recovered (or harvested if you like) in the energy store (battery), or transfer it back to the drive train for more power. The MGU – H can also be used to spin up the turbine in the turbo to decrease turbo lag.

I hope you can see how much more sophisticated the power unit is for this year. And we haven’t even touched on the control systems that control all these things to try and produce the right amount of power at the right, and more efficient, time. Lets leave that for another article with a smarter writer that understands it better.

Suffice to say, the smaller engine for this year will produce less power, although the turbo will help quite a bit – about 650hp without the ERS. But once the ERS is used, then the overall power will jump up to just under 800hp, which is pretty similar to last year’s power. But get this. It does it with five times more torque and 30%-40% less fuel. That’s pretty darn impressive to me.

Okay so now let’s turn our attentions back to the sound debate that has been raging around in the news. For me, beauty is all about excellence, and in motor racing’s case, that’s about speed and lap time. And you get speed and lap time through technical excellence/innovation. That’s how it’s always been in Formula 1 and I hope that is how it will always be.

What we have now is a Turbo that exhaust gasses have to travel through which restricts the sound of the car. But more importantly those gasses spin a turbine, which gives the car back more power and torque. So when I think of it that way, and I think about last years cars, I now think, “gee, that’s a huge waste of energy”.

And I have to say I kinda like the new sounding engines. You can make out the distinct differences between the engines and I personally think the quality and variety of the sounds is fantastic.

This years F1 car may make less sound, it may have lost a unique selling point, but it is technology at its very best. And for me there is no sweeter sound than that.

Kimi Raikkonen

Image : the Ferrari growling, whistling and whirling into the distance Through turns 1,2 and 3 in Bahrain pre season testing.

Mercedes show class in a complete performance at Sepang with a one-two finish for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

I actually enjoyed the race on Sunday. It wasn’t a classic but nonetheless it was enjoyable to see how the race panned out and to see the different strengths and weaknesses of each of the teams.

Mercedes AMG Petronas achieved here in Malaysia what they threatened to do at the season-opener by dominating the circuit with a fabulous one-two – Hamilton won ahead of team-mate Rosberg and it was no less than they deserved.

As one of the only two true manufacturing teams – Ferrari being the other one – where they build the engines as well as the chassis, they were expected to be ahead in integrating the power unit and chassis.

But then, I don’t think anyone expected to see them this far ahead, though.

They have hit the ground running from the first day of pre-season testing and have not only been quick but quite reliable as well, the only hiccup being Hamilton’s retirement in Australia which is understandable as no team has been entirely trouble-free in the new Formula One era.

Even the tyre management issues that Mercedes seemed to have on Friday was not a problem in the race on Sunday. It’s a good indication for them that they were able to address those issues swiftly whereas last year, it seemed to be a bugbear for them.

Having said that, I’m not too sure how much the drivers had to push in the race. They seemed to be driving within themselves, such was their pace advantage. For instance, Hamilton’s fastest lap was a whole second quicker than the next team.

Moving on to Red Bull, one positive for them was the fact that their car seems to be able to match Mercedes for overall downforce. They were just as fast in the middle sector, which is all about high-speed cornering, and you only go quickly there if you have plenty of down force. So at circuits like the fast-flowing one in Barcelona, I think they will be right there.

It was the first and third sector with their long straights where Renault-powered Red Bull were losing four-tenths of a second (each) to the Mercedes. This seems to indicate that while Renault were making inroads into the early advantage that Mercedes enjoyed, they are still quite a way off.

At the end of the first split speed trap, Vettel was consistently 10-13kph slower than the Mercedes duo.

I didn’t consider the official speed trap because that’s in the DRS zone and when it’s activated, the two teams actually show similar speeds. I believe that the Red Bull cars just take longer to get there and therefore bleed time.

Ferrari won’t be too pleased at being below Mercedes in the pecking order. They are clearly not quite as quick as Merc power in a straight line and I do not believe they are as bad as the Renault-powered teams. But they do not seem to have a quick car and losing half a second to Mercedes in the middle sector tells me that they will be beginning to have concerns about whether they can bring enough aero updates to close the gap.

My star of the show – other than race-winner Hamilton – was definitely Nico Hulkenburg. Force India do not seem to have anywhere near the sort of downforce of the top three teams (his fastest middle sector is actually 1.5 seconds slower than Hamilton’s) and so he should not have been fighting Alonso for fourth place nor finishing just 20 seconds off the podium.

He really is maximizing everything that is available to him.

Feel the force, indeed.

 

Heya guys, I’ve started doing video blogs now to supplement the coverage we do on Fox Sports. So please check it out. You can go to may Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Yoong-F1/321970735905 or www.racematelive.com for even more detail on the inner workings on Formula 1.

Here is another pre season review. Jeez, enough already.

Anyway its on Race Mate Live, check it out. Or don’t.

http://www.racematelive.com/alex_yoong_review

Pre-season testing took on more significance this year, than any other year. With the biggest technical changes ever to be seen in Formula One, it was crucial for teams to be out on track testing their new machinery before the start of the season in Melbourne, Australia. With only 12 days of testing available, the pressure was on and it wasn’t really surprising to see some teams and engine manufacturers slip up.

There were 4 days of testing in Jerez, before the circus moved to Bahrain for the remaining 8 days, split into two rounds of 4 days each. I was in Bahrain for the first 4 days and got insights into the new machinery.

Every year we see some changes to the regulations but this year they have been quite extensive. We have brand new 1.6 litre, V6 turbo charged engines replacing the 2.4 litre V8’s from last year. Also, the Energy Recovery System (ERS) has twice the power of the KERS from last year. Hence, with the ERS playing a far bigger role in overall horsepower from the power train as a whole, getting it right would be very important. Efficiency would also be key this year with only 100kg of fuel available to each car to make it through the race. Bahrain was perfect for pre-season testing, it being one of the hardest tracks on the calendar for fuel consumption and it was inevitable that teams and drivers had to drive conservatively on the race simulation runs to make the required distance. Most drivers I spoke to liked this technical challenge and it will be fun to see who can make the most of the subtleties of the new format.

Aerodynamics for the last twenty years has been the over-riding factor in making a quick Formula One car, especially since 2007 when engine development was frozen in a bid to save costs. With the new power trains, an engine development war is about to break out again thereby putting the microscope on the manufacturers to get it right.

Out of the three engine manufacturers, Mercedes has been a class above the rest. They covered the most distance and all 4 teams running their engines looked quick. Williams and Mercedes-AMG Petronas looked the quickest on low fuel and also very handy in the race simulations. They should be right up there at the sharp end come Melbourne. Force India showed a good turn of speed too, but they looked to be about a three quarters of a second off the pace at the end. While Mclaren started the pre season tests strongly, by the end of the test, they seemed to be struggling a bit. By my estimations, they are looking to find about a second in pure pace over one lap. That’s presuming everyone was running fairly similar fuel loads during the low fuel runs.

Ferrari had a reasonable test as far as mileage was concerned but it seemed that they were also a wee bit off the pace, with some insiders estimating they being  up to a second off the times set by the Williams and Mercedes. Personally, I’m not quite sure where they are. There is a buzz in the paddock that there may be a bit more to come from them.

The other Ferrari runners struggled a bit with Sauber not quite on top of their brake by wire system. As for Marussia, they had pretty bad reliability issues and did not do anywhere enough running to feel confident going to Melbourne. However when they did run, the car didn’t look too bad and I think they have made steps forward pace wise to get closer to the midfield. However, there will be big question mark on whether they could finish the first few races due to the lack of testing mileage.

The big surprise of the Pre Season was of course Renault. They had cooling issues and to get their ERS to work reliably. Red Bull suffered the worse as their tight packaging meant they suffered from over heating more than other Renault runners. Their car looks quick but I’m not sure Renault can give them the performance they need to challenge at the front. And it may be this way for the first 4 fly away races.

Of the Renault runners, Caterham managed the most laps and I think they will feel quite confident they will be able to get to the chequered flag in Melbourne. And with all the teams having reliability issues of some sort, a finish may even net points.

Toro Rosso, had a miserable start to the pre season test but had a pretty good last two days. Not really sure where they will end up but they seem to have a handle on the Renault systems a bit better than their big sister, Red-Bull Racing.

And I think the wooden spoon for the pre season has to go to Lotus. They missed the Jerez test and it cost them dear. Even when they were in Bahrain, they still clocked the lowest mileage of any team. Making it to the chequered flag would be an amazing result for them in Melbourne.