HAVING spent the season so far in the East, the welcome return of Formula One to Europe begins this coming weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya. Yet unlike the last visit the drivers made to the track in the midst of winter sunshine, this time it will be a very much more competitive occasion.
Coming off the back of a three-week break, there will be little rest-bite for the teams after Sunday, as the race calendar shifts from the rugged Catalan landscape to the glamour and spectacle of the Monaco Grand Prix. Resident Goatsport F1 contributor Louise Smillie reflects on the season so far…
THE Formula 1 season has started with all the usual suspects dominating the front of the grid, and it promises to be a very close battle for the Driver’s Championship as the season progresses. As we have seen so far, almost anything can happen.
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel is back this season more confident (some may say ruthless) than ever after being crowned a three time world champion in Brazil last year. Yet perhaps he seems too confident? The Malaysian GP saw Vettel ignoring team orders by battling team mate Mark Webber for first place. As exciting as it was to watch, I am sure he has not done himself any favours by letting his team down and creating another enemy on the race track. Is this a sign of things to come?
His main rival from last season Fernando Alonso is back in the familiar surroundings of his Ferrari and would appear to be as strong and competitive as ever despite a rocky start: seeing him retiring in the Malaysian GP with the loss of a front wing. However, not even failing to finish a race so early on in the race calendar could knock his confidence as he came back fighting in China and secured a first place finish.
As for Mercedes, the team is off to a good start and it would seem that Lewis Hamilton has so far proved to be an asset as the team looks to be coming on leaps and bounds since his arrival. The dynamic in the team is apparently very different to that of Red Bull, as when team orders were given to Nico Rosberg to hold position behind Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia they were obeyed.
Meanwhile the Bahrain GP was a fantastic race for Paul Di Resta. The Sahara Force India driver managed to lead the race before narrowly missing out on what would have been the first podium finish of his career showing he is good enough to be up there competing with the best after a disappointing start to the season which saw both Di Resta and team-mate Adrian Sutil retired in the Malaysian GP.
The Bahrain GP was also beneficial for Romain Grosjean in his Lotus who really showed what a skilled driver he has become. The Frenchman looked unstoppable as he snatched third place from Di Resta in the final part of the race after a truly outstanding performance. As for fellow Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, a first place finish in the first race of the season in Melbourne hinted he could also be a regular contender at the top of the grid this season. It is shaping up to be a good year for Lotus.
On the other hand, a team that doesn’t seem to have their usual pace so far is McLaren. I am sure we would all like to know what has happened there. Although Sergio Perez looked promising last year he seems to have stopped fighting, unless you count battling with his own team mate Jenson Button in Bahrain.
On the track it is not just the drivers that pose a threat to teams and each other, it is now the new Pirelli tyres. This year’s tyre choice really tests the driver’s skill in preserving them, making it impossible to push from beginning to end. Now it is vital for the team to have the correct strategy in place to get the most out of the tyres.
Team orders have already been as controversial as ever with Sebastian Vettel ignoring his team and Nico Rosberg doing exactly as he was told. Team orders have always been a source of upset within even the greatest teams (look at Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa/Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna). Having these orders so early on in a season was always going to ruffle a few feathers so it will be interesting to see if it was worth it.
Overall it is shaping up to be an exciting year for Formula 1 with so much that can happen between now and the final race. The race taking place this weekend in Spain will surely be an eventful one if the previous races are anything to go by.