All the cards have been played and the royal flush we all expected was revealed as Mercedes claims the front row for the Australian Grand Prix to kick off the 2015 Formula 1 season.
Lewis Hamilton was in champion form claiming pole position with a blistering 1:26.327 followed by teammate Nico Rosberg who was nearly .600 slower than the 2014 champion. The Mercedes cars were comprehensively dominant, as they were last year, and it seems they’ve not merely maintained their performance gap from 2014 but possibly pushed it even further ahead of its rivals. We’ll see if we get the same narrative marginalizing Sebastian Vettel’s four titles in a clearly better car in regards to Mercedes.
While Hamilton claimed pole, most knew this was a forgone conclusion so it rendered the achievement neutral and in the penumbra of the other big storylines which starts with Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
The team’s two new rookies represented themselves very well with Max Verstappen in 12th but Sainz took the Renault=powered team to Q3 qualifying in 8th place. An amazing feat by anyone’s measure in a car that was only narrowly beat by the big team of Red Bull in the hands of local favorite Daniel Ricciardo.
Red Bull’s Adrian Newey lamented the Renault lack of shove in the back of the Red Bull’s but the Toro Rosso seemed to do well with the engine power and in a car that isn’t technically a full Newey design. Perhaps red Bull is trying more complex engine assimilation and integration with their chassis that isn’t quite working the way they would like?
The interesting news from the paddock is that Renault have retained 12 token in which to develop their engines throughout the season or even at the end of the season while Ferrari still ahs 10 token and Mercedes—perhaps a sign of their opening race dominance—only have seven tokens left but that may be seven more than they need to win the title this year.
Even though the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was 1.391s off the Hamilton pace—which is a country mile in F1—the takeaway is that Ferrari have made a big jump with their engine as well as the first complete James Allison designed chassis. Coming off their worst season in decades in 2014, the Italian team has made significant gains and now looks set to take the fight to Williams for second in the championship—a far cry from their dismal performance last year.
Williams was reliant on Felipe Massa who placed his new car on the second row in 3rd just ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari. Massa’s teammate had a big moment ont eh final turn losing valuable time and it is becoming a recurring theme for Valtteri Bottas with over driving his car. Both Williams cars looked like a real handful from on-board video.
The Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado looked rejuvenated from their desperate performance last year and while they slotted in at 9th and 10th with Grosjean leading his teammate, they have a long way to go to reach the target they set for 2015 which is Williams.
Manor GP did not run in qualifying and even so, they nearly beat the two McLarens who placed dead last on the grid nearly six seconds off Hamilton’s pole lap time. The team took a drubbing on social media and the NBC broadcast as offering a shameful performance and while I am a Ferrari fan, I find myself defending the folks from Woking as I believe any new innovation from Honda and McLaren is going to take time to mature.
Mercedes didn’t come on song as soon as Paddy Lowe joined the team, it was the impetus set by Ross Brawn when Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were slogging it out mid-field with many wondering if Mercedes would endure such mediocrity while spending so much. It takes time to gel and while the criticism is that Honda had a year to get it right, they didn’t have a year of racing like the other teams.
McLaren will sort it out but it may not be this year. It could be 2016 or even 2017. A 5-year plan for returning to the top is not unrealistic in F1. I think we need to reserve the harsh criticism and give McLaren some room to breathe with their new design and partnership with Honda.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m26.327s –
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m26.921s 0.594s
3 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m27.718s 1.391s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m27.757s 1.430s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m27.790s 1.463s
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m28.087s 1.760s
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m28.329s 2.002s
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso/Renault 1m28.510s 2.183s
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus/Mercedes 1m28.560s 2.233s
10 Pastor Maldonado Lotus/Mercedes 1m29.480s 3.153s
11 Felipe Nasr Sauber/Ferrari 1m28.800s –
12 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso/Renault 1m28.868s –
13 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull/Renault 1m29.070s –
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m29.208s –
15 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m29.209s –
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m31.376s –
17 Jenson Button McLaren/Honda 1m31.422s –
18 Kevin Magnussen McLaren/Honda 1m32.037s –