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’.
Jenson Button finished McLaren’s testing schedule at Jerez on Wednesday. The world champion managed a total of 35 laps and a lap time of 1m27.660 before an issue set in. A fuel required changing so late in the afternoon that there was not enough time to complete the repair and exit the pits, so the team completed the test early.
There have been promising signs of improvement from the MP4-30. In the afternoon, the team even decided to focus on aerodynamic development. Meanwhile Alonso left the south of Spain to go for some winter mountain training, in order to extend his fitness.
The next test gets under way in Barcelona on the 19th of February.
Here’s a video of Jenson Button cruising down the start/finish straight on Day 2 of the Jerez test:
Jenson Button had his first run out in the McLaren Honda at Jerez today. The MP4-30 only managed a total of six laps, due to some ancillary issues and rain late in the day halting progress. The Briton completed six laps in the car, with an unrepresentative time of 1m54.655.
Fernando Alonso will take control of the car for tomorrows running, the third day of the four day test.
McLaren released images of the 2015 Formula One car, the first year of a new partnership with the Honda engine company. The photos of the new car show a similar colour scheme to ones previously used by the Woking squad, something the team says “firmly contextualises McLaren’s brand in the 21st century.”
McLaren say the MP4-30 chassis is a thoroughly refined evolution of last year’s McLaren, it is the only chassis on the grid to be fitted with Honda’s RA615H Hybrid power unit. Honda have developed a 145kg 1.6 litre V6 power unit for the forthcoming season. The rumours are that the Japanese engine manufacturer have done supremely well in being able to produce sufficient power and efficiency as well as managing to package the power unit into the tighter McLaren chassis, which has been produced by Chief Engineer Peter Prodromou, hired from Red Bull in September 2014, Matt Morris the Director of Engineering and the Technical Director Tim Goss.
Jenson Button said: “The off-season has really brought about a sense of renewal coming into 2015 – continuing my relationship with McLaren, getting married, and now embarking on such an exciting chapter: McLaren’s new partnership with Honda. I’ve trained hard over the winter, and I’m absolutely itching to get going in the new McLarenHonda MP4-30. “It’s been interesting to spend time in the factory during the past few weeks: you can really sense a feeling of reignited optimism and positivity around the building. I’ve never seen such motivation amongst the guys – we’re all massively keen to get going in Jerez and to work hard on developing our new car. But we’re under no illusion that it will be easy – there’s a huge challenge ahead of us to try to pull back the gap to our rivals, but we’re certainly up for it. We ended last season with great momentum and clear progress, and I’m determined to carry that forward into 2015. “I’m also looking forward to working with my new team-mate, Fernando [Alonso], and I’m confident that our joint experience on track will pay dividends in our development race to get our team back to the front of the grid. I’m hugely motivated to make more history in this new McLaren-Honda era.”
Fernando Alonso said: “Although the winter period is a time for rest and relaxation from racing, my motivation could not be stronger for the new season. I’ve done a lot of training during the winter break, to reach my peak physical fitness, and I’ve been working hard in preparation for this new era of McLaren-Honda. I’ve never felt better, or more ready for a new season. “Of course, we’re prepared for a steep learning curve, but it’s clear to see that inside McLaren-Honda there’s total commitment, and a real change in feeling, as we start this new partnership. We’re all focused on the challenge ahead, and I feel extremely honoured to be part of a relationship that has shared so much history together. My aim is to help write a new chapter in the history of McLaren-Honda. We understand the effort and teamwork required to take McLaren-Honda back to where it should be, at the front of the grid, and all our energy as a team is focused on that goal. “Our first target will be to learn the maximum from the car at the pre-season tests, understand the package, and extract as much performance as possible. That won’t be easy or trouble-free, but we’re ready for that. Why? Because our key focus will be on development. Historically, McLaren has already been characterised by its ability to bring updates to the car quickly, and develop a strong package. It’s going to be a real privilege to be the first person to drive the new McLaren-Honda MP4-30 at Jerez, and I can’t wait to begin what I’m certain will be a very exciting new chapter in my career. I’m as motivated now as I was when I was given my first opportunity at the wheel of an F1 car. “Last but not least, I’m excited to be sitting alongside Jenson [Button], a great team-mate and a very experienced competitor. Together we’ll push the team forward, to learn, to progress, and eventually to achieve the best possible results together. We are ready for the new era.”
Yasuhisa Arai, the Senior Managing Officer of Honda R&D said: “Today is obviously a very exciting day for me and for Honda. It’s not every day that you’re involved in a launch of a new Formula 1 car and a start-up of a new partnership. “As you can see with the new MP4-30, we’ve dedicated ourselves as one team with McLaren to creating a new car that compromises on nothing – either power or aerodynamics. “Yet, in the midst of the excitement, both myself and our engineers are 100 per cent focused in both Sakura and Milton Keynes to prepare for Jerez and beyond. We’re confident that the technology is there, and I’m looking forward to see how it will perform. “We’re about to commence a long season, with numerous challenges, but Honda is determined to face them head-on. After all, we’re here to drive Formula 1’s technology forward and give our fans a thrilling ride.”
The much-anticipated McLaren-Honda MP4-30 is rumoured to be the colour black when it is launched on Thursday. It is not yet known whether it will be painted black or in it’s manufactured carbon-fibre look. This could just be a launch-spec colour scheme and may well change in the weeks leading up to the first race at Melbourne in March.
Meanwhile, photos of drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button appeared on Twitter in their race overalls for a campaign for Mobil1. The overalls were predominantly white and were missing the logos for both Hugo Boss, who left for Mercedes at the end of 2014 and Santander. It was presumed that the Spanish bank would upgrade their support for the Woking team in 2015 with the arrival of double World Champion Fernando Alonso. There is still plenty of days and weeks for the McLaren team to find some sponsors to support the #NewEra with Honda
It was Lewis Hamilton who finished the day on top. His time of 1m34.263 was the fastest time of the test so far and was 0.7 seconds quicker than yesterdays pacesetter Magnussen and Jenson Button today. Whilst both the times set by McLaren were completed on the supersoft Pirelli tyre, Hamilton’s time today was done on the soft tyre. This would normally mean there is another few tenths still to come from just the tyre alone. The time will please Mercedes and worry their rivals somewhat. The W05 has looked imperious out on the circuit, out of all the cars it looks best suited to the track and creates little oversteer in comparison to its rivals. The day was not without fault however, the Mercedes team did come across a variety of issues throughout the day and decided to bring it to an early end in the afternoon. They managed 67 laps for the day.
Jenson Button finished up in second place in the McLaren MP4-29. The British driver had a slow start to the day but after the lunchtime period, the team focused on running what appeared to be a race simulation. By the end of the day, Button completed the most laps of anyone with 103 and didn’t suffer any mechanical issues in the desert heat. Button’s race simulation was interrupted by a red flag in the afternoon. However, the Woking team will most likely be looking towards completing another race run reliably for tomorrow with Jenson in the car. It was also announced in the afternoon that Jenson had also got engaged to long term girlfriend Jessica Michibata on February 14th.
Next up in third place was the Williams of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian took over from team mate Bottas in the afternoon. The Finn did not complete a lap time in the morning session, but did do 55 laps as he focused on pit stop practices for the Williams team. Massa managed to do a time of 1m37.066 in 60 laps after lunchtime and ran without fault. The biggest strength for Williams at the moment appears to be a very stable and reliable car. The car does look quick and with the help of the Mercedes power unit they are able to run around and complete laps without failure. Bottas completed the most laps at yesterdays test and today the two combined lap counts of the drivers would amount to 115, still the most out of the field. The FW36 looks a strong and reliable competitor.
Esteban Gutierrez completed 96 laps in the Sauber to finish the day in fourth place with a time of 1m37.180, almost three seconds down on Hamilton’s fastest. The Sauber ran without fault all day and the Mexican was able to complete a useful amount of laps and the most for a Ferrari-powered car. After struggling yesterday with electrical problems and on the first day with braking issues, it would appear Sauber are slowly getting to grips with the new car. Sutil takes over tomorrow, where the team will hope to run another reliable day.
Sergio Perez had a fairly uneventful day in the Force India, the driver did not go for the headline grabbing time that his team mate managed for the first two days of the test. The Mexican finished just a couple of tenths behind the Sauber of Gutierrez and completed 57 laps. He stays in the car for tomorrows test.
Kimi Raikkonen finished the day in sixth place having completed just 44 laps. It was not plain sailing for the Finn, his day was hampered by several telemetry issues in the F14T and he had to spend most of the day in the paddock, walking around in his jeans. Raikkonen is back in the car again tomorrow and the Ferrari team will be hoping for a much better run to understand the car and engine better in preparation for next weeks test.
Daniil Kvyat will be happy to finally get some productive running in the Toro Rosso. The Russian didn’t get many laps in the car in Jerez or on day 1 of the Bahrain test due to reliability problems. He managed 57 laps for the day as he gets to grips with the new machinery for 2014. He will be hoping for better reliability next week at the test. The running today would have been useful to the team however, as like most other Renault-powered outfits, they were forced to run with a significantly lower power map throughout the day.
Pastor Maldonado took over from Grosjean in the Lotus for the third day of the test. Unfortunately the teams wish to do more consistent laps with better reliability did not come to fruition. The car suffered various issues throughout the day, mainly stemming from the electrics and the telemetry sensors on the car. The E22 did manage to complete 26 laps and Maldonado’s quickest time of 1m39.642 put him in 8th and was at least quicker than the Red Bull on the same engine.
Daniel Ricciardo managed 28 laps in the Red Bull, who are still not able to get under the one minute 40 mark, the Australian set a time of 1m40.781. The team wrapped up their day early in the afternoon after they came across a mechanical issue they had not encountered before at set-up change around lunchtime. The team called an early end to their day, in order to get better running for the last day of this weeks test tomorrow. The Renault has been rumoured to be operating with a significant horsepower shortage, estimated to be between 100-150bhp down on the Ferrari’s and the Mercedes’. This is so the cars are able to actually get around the circuit for mileage. The main concern will be how long it will take Renault to ‘up-the-ante’ so their outfits can run competitively.
Max Chilton’s day was over in the first hour after he stopped out on track with an engine problem. The British driver had completed just four laps to finish bottom of the standings. The team needed to take the rear of the car off and decided that there would be no more running for the day. It will come as a blow, as the team desperately need to complete more competitive mileage, especially given that the Caterham’s are circulating the track more often, seemingly without the typical Renault problems. The Caterham pace has also not been too bad. Kobayashi finished high up in the times yesterday and team mate Ericsson took over today and finished the day in tenth, but with a creditable amount of laps, the Swede racked up a massive 98 laps. Ericsson has now completed enough laps to gain his FIA Superlicense.
Tomorrow is the last of the test for the week.