It’s here. It is upon us. The long and arduous winter where the long dark nights are filled with designers final touches, wind-tunnels maxing out into overdrive and drivers preparing and training in exotic climes are finally at an end. The 2015 season is almost here.
The speculation over teams (re)joining the grid, financial security and chassis ability will all be resolved, or at least become somewhat clearer on Sunday evening. The yardstick will have been well and truly thrown and the gauntlet set down by some to actively aim at beating over the course of the long season, which finalises in November.
The renewed McLaren Honda partnership has had a slow and solemn berth over the three winter test sessions in the south of Spain. There a several issues, more relating to the electrics and overall packaging of the power unit within the MP4-30. The chassis itself is aerodynamically sound, the drivers have expressed confidence in the cars ability to steer and corner, always a major plus. Australia will be the first time the McLaren will be run in anger, and don’t expect that to be until the Qualifying session on Saturday. The weather is good and the circuit has always been favourable to the Woking squad. The street-like track allows for cars with excellent traction and high-speed cornering ability to excel.
We should expect to see a slow start for the McLaren Honda. The team will be keen to try and get as many installation laps in as possible, in order to ascertain whether particular parts of the chassis and the power unit are working together. We may even see a lack of running toward the end of the first free practice session on Friday, to make sure that the Honda power unit is not compromised and therefore requiring a change in between sessions, something which will have a negligible effect on the teams programme.
The weather is expected to remain sunny and warm for the entire weekend, so we can rule out a classic Jenson Button style inter-changeable conditions victory here. The overall aim for the squad is to run the weekend as reliably as possible, and score as many points in a race which normally has a high attrition rate. The Albert Park race should not be too large a problem for Alonso not to be a part of, although his presence will be missed, especially with new recruit Andrea Stella waiting for his prompt arrival in Sepang
The word McLaren Honda will want to hear after this weekend: ‘Dark-horse’.
McLaren may be forced to revert back to last years car in the wake of their poor performance at Albert Park last weekend. However, they will only look towards a ‘B-Spec’ chassis if they cannot make inroads on their MP4-28’s lack of pace in Malaysia.
The main bone of contention derives from the change in front suspension towards a pull rod front suspension. Such a layout was used by Ferrari last season and attributed to their poor form for the beginning segment of the year. Such a set-up allows for a lower suspension unit at the front of the car which subsequently lowers the centre of gravity, however, it has to be set up correctly with the rest of the car. Areas such as the ride height, rear anti-roll bar and even front and rear wing angles all have significant impacts on the car handling. As Ferrari discovered last season, a pull rod front suspension has it’s benefits, but also has a very narrow window for performance.
McLaren engineers and drivers have not had enough running time or experience with the new car to begin to understand what the consequences are to the changes that they make, be it rear ride height, rear camber, front camber, toe or roll bars. The scope for potential can be there though, if they get it right.
Albert Park was not the idea circuit for McLaren to gain an understanding or experience with the street circuit track being particularly bumpy. Jenson Button explained they are hoping for inroads at a smoother Sepang circuit, “Hopefully in Malaysia it’s a smoother circuit, hopefully we will get rid of those issues and we can find a bit more performance,” he said.
Sergio Perez agreed, hoping that they could produce something a little better next weekend, “I’m now part of the best team in Formula 1 so I’m certain they’ll improve it fast. Going back to this afternoon’s race, I don’t think the Albert Park circuit suited our car very well – it accentuated its problems in fact – so I’m hoping we’ll be able to put up a better showing in Sepang next weekend.”
Team bosses and engineers all held a lengthy debrief on Sunday and Monday to discuss future development routes. They will have an engineering meeting back in Woking after the Malaysian Grand Prix next Monday to see whether they had made successful inroads to continue development on the current car or whether to revert back to a push rod suspension they found so productive last year.
If they do decide to change to a B-Spec chassis, expect it to be before the European season begins. McLaren will not be content with languishing down the points order, and with one less race this season compared to last, every Grand Prix and every result now matters.
Sebastian Vettel took Pole Position at a rain affected qualifying. Mark Webber qualified second, 4 tenths down on his team mate. Lewis Hamilton was third, Massa out qualified team mate Fernando Alonso in 4th and 5th respectively. Early pacesetter Nico Rosberg could only manage 6th whilst the Lotus pair were 7th and 8th with Kimi leading Romain. Paul di Resta ended up 9th ahead of fellow Brit Jenson Button who could only manage 10th in the Mclaren.
The Sunday morning session began with more wet conditions. All drivers used the intermediates until Sergio Perez, Bottas and Jean Eric Vegne unsuccessfully attempted to end the session on the super soft tyre.