Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Rosberg Completes Perfect Week

7 days don't come much better than Nico Rosberg's. Get married, watch home country win the World Cup, sign a new multi-year contract with Mercedes, and then win your home Grand Prix in a German car. The F1 fans and a certain Brit would suggest that the race wasn't quite perfect, given the lack of competition opposed to Rosberg's victory, and such was his margin throughout the 90 minute race that he was barely televised at all. Another "gift" as Hamilton put it after another technical failure left him with serious ground to make up, both in Germany and the overall championship fight.

The victory was assured as soon as Hamilton crashed on Saturday, but Rosberg will not complain if they all come like that.



A failure on one of the Mercedes cars once again robbed us of a thrilling battle for the lead, and it has been several races since we last saw Rosberg and Hamilton head to head for various reasons. Unlike the British Grand Prix though, we were at least treated to the spectacle of a brilliant Hamilton recovery drive through the field. It was a troubled drive after losing half of his front wing, but there were 2 bigger turning points in his race for me. Firstly was the safety car, or a lack of it, following Sutil's final corner spin. It seemed like a very strange call not to scramble it when we have seen safety car periods of multiple laps because there are a few bits of bodywork around the circuit, let alone an entire car. What was more worrying perhaps was that the marshals who eventually recovered it came from the opposite side of the racing line rather than from the pit entry. There have been cases of marshals on the circuit safeguarded by double yellow flags only, but this was a little too close for comfort. It is kind of understandable that Hamilton might look to politics with his thinly veiled answer of "I think you know why" when asked about it, but not a claim full of truth.

Sutil's spin triggered an earlier stop for Hamilton, potentially ruining his chances of a 2nd place finish.

The second decisive moment came in the opening stages of the race, when the leaders had made their first pitstops and Hamilton suddenly found himself amongst the leaders. On older tyres, the others around were much faster at that stage of the race. It prompted a radio call from his engineer to stay calm, race his own race and that they were still expecting to come home second. It meant that as soon as Bottas closed to his gearbox, Hamilton let him through without delay and carried on at his slower pace. Although they can't have predicted the damage to the front wing and the extra stop required as a result, I would have expected Hamilton to put up more of a fight in order to open up a wider target window later in the race. Even being able to keep him behind for an extra lap would have probably given him a second extra over Bottas at the end of the race. It seems to me that Mercedes were a little too naive about their pace and strategy, given that things don't always follow the exact plan in Formula 1.

Bottas was able to fend off Hamilton for his second consecutive 2nd place finish.

Further down the order, we saw a raft of updates at McLaren that seemed to put them on a closer pace to the Red Bull's. Magnussen qualified a fantastic 4th, and it was unfortunate for both himself and Massa that we did not see how he would have fared in a clean fight with the Williams drivers. Button struggled relative to his team mate, qualifying down in 11th and unable to keep his tyres from overheating in the incredible Saturday heat. Ferrari likewise struggled with tyres, though Kimi Raikkonen did not seem comfortable all weekend once again. Red Bull brought some upgrades to Germany as well, including some engine performance that "underwhelmed" according to the downbeat Vettel.

Raikkonen blamed damage for a poor race, but he never seemed to have the pace before the incident.

The Lotus team had looked to be making a return to form lately after some decent qualifying results, but there was a noticeable step back in Britain followed by a slump to the back of the field in Germany. The loss of FRIC suspension appears to have affected Lotus more than the others, having invested a lot of development time into it along with the now forgotten DRD (Drag Reducing Device) which they ran a lot during free practice but only raced once. Pastor Maldonado will continue with the team in 2015, securing much needed financial investment that will be useful in trying to return the team to the top. It will be the performance of Romain Grosjean that is relied upon to deliver that pace however, and I just hope that the team can either keep him on board, or at least someone of equal driver ability. It is a real shame to see Romain Grosjean struggling and dejected as he is, given that in 2013 he improved greatly and scored 6 podium finishes. The elusive debut win seemed to be within sight for the Frenchman, but instead he has just 8 points to show from the first half of the 2014 season.

The Lotus' looked a lot more settled in the cooler race temperatures, but are still battling reliability as much as they are searching for race pace.

Finally at the foot of the grid are Marussia and Caterham, and running true to the same form shown for the first half of the 2014 season. Jules Bianchi was mightily impressive again, nearly 8 tenths clear of Kobayashi and qualifying ahead of Pastor Maldonado's Lotus. He is putting the team ever closer to reaching Q2 on pure pace in dry conditions and once again staking his claim to teams above him. Following Caterham's buyout at Silverstone, there was a large reshuffle going on back at their factory that potentially affected operations in Germany. The team have offloaded GP2 driver Alexander Rossi from their development program and there were talks of Red Bull placing Carlos Sainz Jnr in the Caterham team from the German Grand Prix onwards.The rumour has been denied by all involved (which is normally a sign that talks were at least held) and would have seen a part of Caterham's gearbox fees waived in exchange for Sainz Jnr's F1 development. No rumours have leaked though about who would have made way for the Spaniard, with Kobayashi delivering the best performances and Ericsson delivering the most financial investment.

Marussia will be wary of the Caterham threat following the takeover of the team.

The Hungarian Grand Prix follows immediately this weekend, music to Lewis Hamilton's ears given his circuit history and his desire for an instant retaliation to Rosberg's home win. He has always gone well at the circuit, winning in cars that haven't been competitive the rest of the year. He took his only win of 2013 there last year, whilst Rosberg struggled and eventually retired 6 laps from the end with engine failure. I have my hopes pinned on a straight duel between the drivers without reliability stepping in and ruining what should be a fascinating Grand Prix.