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
2013 was woeful for Lewis Hamilton. The 28-year-old only had five podium appearances during 2013, a feat matched by the beleaguered 2009 season in the McLaren MP4-24. In fact it was the first time in his career that he failed to score more than one victory in a season (he managed two in ’09). Here, we aim to establish issues the world champion suffered with over the course of the 2013 F1 season.
In January Hamilton arrived at his new base in Brackley. It is a new and wholly different environment to the one he had long become accustomed to at Woking. A factory less eminent to that of McLaren’s metallic, clean mega structure set upon a pristine, gleaming lake. New surroundings, faces and names to memorise. The only man Lewis truly knew was his team mate Nico Rosberg. Throughout their youth the two traveled and raced against each other in several junior series’. They grew up with each other. Hamilton now lives just a stones-throw away from the German after he bought an apartment last year in Monaco.
Its not just communicating with new faces, its adapting to a completely different F1 car. No one car is the same. Lewis would have had to get used to all the different buttons on the steering wheels, the different maps the car runs, the different terminology and codes that team engineers use.
Mercedes used a ‘FRIC’ (Front and Rear Interconnection) suspension this year, a system which helps stabalise the cars pitch under braking and roll through corners. By the time the F1 circus headed to Europe, it was the much talked about must-have device. And whilst this helped Lewis gain lap time over his rivals, it wasn’t long before Mercedes’ rivals caught up and other problems developed.
In June, Lewis conceded that he was struggling with the brakes, in comparison to Rosberg. At McLaren, Lewis had always used Carbone Industrie. A brake material he could always rely on to give him the power to stop as late as possible in the braking zones. Late-braking was Lewis’ forte. It had a different feel to the Brembo brakes he now uses on his Mercedes car. The Brembo is more adept to braking and turning at the same time, its a driving brake.
Back in Montreal, Hamilton told the press that he wants to evolve for the long term rather than look for the short term solution: “I can change them if I want or I can just get used to them, and I prefer to grab a hold of it, get used to them and do a good job.”
He had tried going back to the factory over the summer to alter his driving style, by braking in a different manner and allowing the car to slide into a corner and progressing on the throttle: “I’ve been working in the simulator, using different techniques. There are a lot you can use: for example, lift and coast in a race situation, so instead of braking at 100m, you lift at 120m and brake at 80m; or later downshifts.”
The Brembo’s are not Lewis’ friend and it shows on track. So often this season, Lewis has been unable to attack into a braking zone, or more worryingly, he has been unable to defend himself from an overtake. He has looked far out of his comfort zone. On more than one occasion this year the Brit has been overtaken around the outside, something he had proudly boasted about never happening to him. Braking has been the biggest thorn in Lewis’ side all year long. It is yet to be seen whether Mercedes will cave into placing his much favoured Carbone Industrie brakes on his 2014 machinery.
Tyres were the biggest talking point for the first part of the season. Many teams and drivers couldn’t make them work .Mercedes problem was the tyre not lasting long enough to do a sensible stint in the race. It was not uncommon to see a silver Mercedes on Pole for Sundays race.
The chassis was very good at generating tyre temperature straight out of the pits, so the tyres always had good heat for the first qualifying runs. However, it was tyre degradation and heat management that was the issue. There were more than a few times when we heard the team over the radio telling drivers to preserve rear wear rates or that the rears were heating up too much. Lewis’ problem was actually trying to generate temperature from the brakes, which almost ‘osmosises’ through the rims and into tyre itself. During qualifying Hamilton could take half a lap to generate enough tyre temperature to have confidence in the car, by then he would have already lost a significant amount of time.
Then there was the British Grand Prix. A race which Hamilton was leading comfortably until the tyre cried no more and exploded. The fault was with the kevlar belt in the rim. Hamilton wasn’t the only one to suffer that race.
Towards the second half of 2013, Pirelli brought along last years compounds for the remaining races. The Mercedes cars did not suffer with massive degradation anymore, but they did not have the raw pace of the Red Bull, which was allowed to scamper away into the distance. Fortunately Pirelli look like they will be bringing a stronger, slightly more durable compound for the 2014 season, which means cars with higher downforce will be rewarded as drivers should be able to push to the absolute maximum.
Hamilton is a lot ‘stockier’ today to that of the young boy who walked into the sport back in 2007. Back then he weighed a slight 66kgs. He is clearly more muscular in the upper body and arms, and whilst this may look athletic, it comes at a massive cost. Additional weight is a Formula One designers nightmare. An extra 5kg generally will cost around two tenths of a second per lap, a huge amount in Formula One terms. Lewis now weighs 71kgs, thats 5kg more than he did seven years ago. But it is a far cry off the 58kg that four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel weighs.
Lewis’ love life never seems to be out of the tabloids. It’s no secret it has affected him in the past, his emotionless celebration of Pole Position in Korea 2011 was due to his split with pop singer Nicole Scherzinger. Since then the relationship had been on and off. Lewis is an emotional driver, we hear it over the radio at races. He just needs to focus and channel his energy onto the race track.
He has allowed personal issues to affect his racing before when he decided he no longer wanted his dad as a manager. Since then he has long craved for the family feel in his garage. Last year at McLaren he admitted that he was envious of Jenson Button’s entourage of family, friends and management. He may well require that to help him feel more relieved at the back of the silver garage.
Lewis attended a lot less sponsorship and partner events during 2013. This year was the first year where Lewis felt that the shackles were released. He was no longer required to be demure. Mercedes had no intention of holding him back or slowing him down. Less frequent sponsorship events were a driving factor in his transfer to the Silver Arrows. He had long become bored of having so many days of the year dedicated to sponsor events at McLaren.
Lewis will try and develop his driving style for next year, all the drivers will, the new engines will require it. He will have time to compare the data for braking styles between him and Rosberg over the course of 2013. He will have to go away and get leaner if he is to fight at the front. He will hope that this year is just a blip, after all he could have had a nightmare year similar to that of former team mate Jenson Button.