The opening 4 flyaway rounds of 2014 are in the books and the tally is 3-1 in favor of Lewis. In reality, it should be 4-0, but Lewis was plagued by mechanical gremlins from the outset of the opening race and has suffered the only Mercedes retirement of the year to date. Nico turned in a valiant effort under the lights at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain and has done a nice job of riding shotgun, but Lewis has otherworldly speed that only a handful of peddlers have ever possessed.
For the sake of keeping the championship interesting, I’m scoring it like a soccer match. It’s simply a two car race with teammates free to fight it out, reminiscent of the 1988 campaign. That season the mighty McLaren team won 15/16 rounds and Ayrton won the battle with Prost 8-7. Can Mercedes top that and win every round? Can Nico continue his run of 100% reliability and pounce when Hamilton hits trouble? This is the hand we’ve been dealt in the new “easy on the ears” 1.6 litre V-6 turbo era.
It sounds a bit premature, but for the rest of the pitlane, this weekends Spanish GP marks the final chance to see if they have a sniff at a race win this season. Each team has now had a few weeks to hunker down at their headquarters and address whatever issues hampered them in the opening rounds. Major upgrades will be unveiled, and there will be 11 nervous team managers watching the timing monitors come Friday morning. Bottom line, if you are still over one second behind after this weekend, it’s time to start holding 2015 meetings.
The racing may not be vintage at the moment, but F1 is always full of drama and intrigue. If I possessed a super all access Bernie hard card deluxe pass, here is how I would play the weekend:
Thursday afternoon I would love to see both Vettel and Ricciardo arrive at the Red Bull garage. Would Vettel be all smiles as he arrived? Or conversely, would the team be all smiles for Seb now that he is the clear cut #2 driver? Okay that may be a tad over the top, but it’s been shocking to see Vettel outperformed in 3 of the 4 races by a relative newcomer. We know that Vettel is not fond of losing, so has the psychological warfare between teammates begun?
On Friday morning, I would have to be a fly on the wall in the Renault engine transporter as the telemetry starts streaming in after the cars take to the circuit. The troops in Viry-Châtillon have no doubt been working furiously to close the gap to Mercedes, and the long .651 mile front straight at the Circuit de Catalunya will be the ultimate test. If they can reduce the absurd 22kph differential that they had in China down to something in single digits, Ricciardo, yes Ricciardo, may just be able to exploit the Newey aero tricks and take the fight to the Mercs.
After FP1, I would hit the Ferrari garage to gauge Kimi’s level of interest. Alonso has buried the Finn, who can’t seem to adapt his driving style to the car, and I’m wondering if Kimi already has that far away look in his eyes? Kimi may be the only man on the planet capable of being bored with being a Ferrari F1 driver, and with his championship aspirations already totally shot, he could be dreaming of Nascar, WRC, dirt bikes, or debauchery.
For lunch, I’m thinking I’ll stay at Ferrari for pasta to observe how new team boss Marco Mattiacci is settling in at the helm of the most pressure cooker seat in motor racing.
For FP2, I’m hitting the circuit on foot to see what makes Russian teenage sensation Daniil Kvyat so special. Kevin Magnussen may have grabbed all the headlines after his amazing performance in Australia, but it’s been Kvyat who I would consider the rookie of the year. I got to witness Daniil in Austin last year under braking at the end of the long back straight and he was not very precise, but he was clearly exploring the limits. With everybody starting out in the same boat this season due to the major rule changes, Kvyat is not as disadvantaged as rookies in the past and is doing great things in the Toro Rosso. In fact, 3 top 10’s in 4 races and one trip to Q3 is pretty mega for a teen out of GP3! Red Bull clearly have found another gem and when you play the totally unfounded, unscientific driver comparison game, Kvyat is faring about the same alongside JEV as Ricciardo did last year, and Ricciardo is clearly better than Vettel. Therefore, is Kvyat also better than Vettel? Love it. Let the debating begin.
To close out my day I would stop into the Mercedes debrief to get a sense if they are even pushing and what type of downforce they are running compared to the others.
My Friday night is reserved for an open air three hour dinner with prime views of the evening strollers.
On Saturday, I’m all about Alonso buzzardry. This race really should be called The Alonso GP of Spain. I’m standing in the middle of the sea of Asturia flags and Ferrari red for qualifying, downing a few cans of San Miguel and screaming like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert every time our hero passes by. Fernando has been complaining about low speed grip all season and with Barcelona having mainly middle and high speed corners, Alonso may be able to keep the silver cars in sight. Ole ole ole ole…. Alonso Alonso!
After qualifying, I’m sitting in on the Mercedes strategy session to see how they plan on conquering on Sunday. It would be fascinating to see how each side of the garage arrives at their tire strategy and then pitches it to the top brass. What if they want to stop on the same lap? Does the car in front get to make the 1st call? What is plan B? What if they are on different strategies and the car behind is clearly quicker? Do they move over for one another and let it play out? Nice problems to have!
Saturday night I’m seeking out DJ Jaime Alguersuari and partying like a Spaniard into the wee hours.
Sunday, after hanging out in the Kobayashi area at Caterham all morning downing coffee and staring at my idol, I’m heading out to the best seat in the turn 1 grandstand and watching it all unfold. Hopefully, we have a Mercedes duel and a reinvigorated chase pack fighting for 3rd.
Now about getting this hard card!