Formula 1's Latest Rumours and Talk: Mercedes Upgrades, Pirelli, McLaren, More
Mercedes will take a relaxed approach to their power unit development programme despite the looming spectre of an increasingly competitive Ferrari team.
Though it's unlikely the Scuderia will be able to match Mercedes at every circuit, Kimi Raikkonen came close to snatching victory from Lewis Hamilton at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, this didn't spark panic in Brackley, and Mercedes will not be rushing to spend their development tokens just yet.
Ferrari plan to spend some of theirs in time for the Canadian Grand Prix in early June. Their assault on Mercedes will be two-pronged thanks to the improvement in Raikkonen's form, but it could so easily have been different.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has revealed that, until he intervened, the Scuderia were on track to build another car the Finn would probably have felt uncomfortable driving.
Elsewhere, McLaren are hoping to challenge closer to the front in Monaco; Pirelli has revealed the tyre compounds for the next four races and all the drivers will receive a fifth penalty-free power unit for 2015.
Read on for a full roundup of the top stories from the last few days.
Mercedes Will Not Rush Through Power Unit Improvements
The threat posed by a reinvigorated Ferrari will not tempt Mercedes to deviate from their planned power unit upgrade programme—but they will have substantial updates to the W06 chassis at the next race in Spain.
Ferrari's impressive winter development saw their engine's performance deficit to the benchmark Mercedes unit significantly decrease. While it isn't equal on pure horsepower, technical analysis on F1 journalist James Allen's website suggests there is now "little to choose" between the two power units over a race distance.
But Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda says his team will stick to their original plans on how to spend the seven development tokens they have left. According to Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Jonathan Noble of Autosport), when asked if his team would have an upgraded engine soon, Lauda said:
No, this has only been the fourth race.
What may appear as a disadvantage now will become an opportunity when it really counts, in the second half of the season. The right thing to do is to not change work programmes on a whim. In any case, we'll have big changes to the car at Barcelona.
Events at the Bahrain Grand Prix appeared to show Mercedes still have a tangible advantage in the engine stakes, even in race trim. The relative ease with which Nico Rosberg swept past Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen contrasts sharply with the difficulties experienced by Vettel when he attempted to pass Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes-powered Williams.
Raikkonen also appeared stuck behind Rosberg in the closing stages until the German suffered a brake failure.
But the overall pace difference between the Mercedes and Ferrari was very small, and it could be set to shrink further.
Sky Sports reports Ferrari, who have 10 tokens remaining, will bring a big power unit upgrade to the Canadian Grand Prix in June. The site states the team expect gains of between 20 and 30 horsepower.
That may not be enough to bridge the qualifying gap, but—if Mercedes don't make improvements at the same time—the races could be a different story.
Maurizio Arrivabene Inspired Kimi Raikkonen-Friendly Ferrari
Maurizio Arrivabene has revealed Ferrari were on track to produce another car Kimi Raikkonen would have hated—until he intervened.
After the Finn came within a whisker of winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Ferrari team principal was quoted by Laurence Edmondson on ESPN.co.uk saying:
I remember it was the 10th or 12th of December and I was asking [chief designer] Simone Resta, and Rory [Byrne, Ferrari consultant], we were watching a picture of the car and I said what can you do to transfer the weight of the car a bit more in front?
Because I said Kimi likes to feel the car in this way and Sebastian [Vettel] is more or less the same.
They said we need six months. I said what can you do in three? They said we have to work day and night. I said OK, I'll work together with you guys, come on.
Arrivabene arrived at Ferrari in November 2014 and immediately set about making changes to the team's structure, removing staff he felt were not making the grade. Head of engineering Pat Fry, chief designer Nicholas Tombazis and strategy chief Neil Martin were among those to depart, according to Motorsport magazine's Mark Hughes.
These changes and the greater powers given to technical director James Allison have undoubtedly contributed to the team's success, but it's slightly perplexing for Arrivabene to announce he played such a pivotal role in the SF15-T being to the liking of both drivers.
He entered F1 via his work for tobacco giant Philip Morris (owner of Marlboro)—his past is in marketing and promotion, not engineering. Yet it fell to him to spot a problem and push through such a significant change to the car's design?
Fair play if he did, but it's surprising the hundreds of highly intelligent and experienced staff at Maranello didn't beat him to it.
Fifth Power Unit Addition Agreed by All Teams
Each driver is set to be allowed a fifth power unit for 2015 after unanimous agreement was reached between all the key players.
Speaking after seeing Daniel Ricciardo's third engine of the year expire just metres from the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Christian Horner told press (h/t Sky Sports' William Esler), "We unanimously agreed on it [the fifth engine] in Malaysia. That was all the teams, including Bernie Ecclestone, so it only has to formally go through the strategy group and permission to be signed, and that can be done by fax vote."
The biggest beneficiaries should be the manufacturers that have had the worst reliability to date—Renault, suppliers to Red Bull and Toro Rosso, and McLaren partner Honda—but later in the year even the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari could also escape penalties.
The cost of adding a single power unit per driver is not astronomical—research and development is by far the biggest contributing factor to the high current cost of engine contracts.
Physically making an extra engine isn't overly expensive, so going from four units to five isn't going to force anyone out of business.
The teams have a very good reason to want to avoid penalties, because they are so severe they can all but wipe out a whole race weekend for a driver.
According to the official F1 website, under the current regulations, each driver has four complete power units to last him the entire 19-race season. Each is split into the six components—internal combustion engine (ICE), control electronics, kinetic energy-recovery system (MGU-K), heat energy-recovery system (MGU-H), energy store (battery) and turbocharger.
Using a fifth (or sixth, or seventh, etc.) of any of these components earns the driver a grid penalty. The first component in each set (a "set" being the whole power unit) comes with a 10-place penalty; the remaining five in that set each come with a five-second penalty.
The penalties stack—changing two components at the same race equals two grid penalties added together, changing three equals three penalties, and so on.
If the full grid penalty cannot be taken (for example, a driver who qualifies 10th can only drop 10 places), the remaining places are converted into an in-race penalty. These range from a five-second time penalty (for one to five places of leftover grid positions) all the way up to a 10-second stop-go penalty (for 20 or more places).
The full 2015 Sporting Regulations can be accessed via the FIA website.
Pirelli Reveals Tyre Compound Choices for the Next 4 Races
Pirelli have announced the tyre compounds for the next four grands prix will be the same as they were last season.
In a press release, the tyre supplier made a point of indicating this was an aggressive decision, stating, "The nominations are the same as 2014, but with the cars going faster this year, there is more energy going through the tyres."
The medium and hard compounds will be used at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, a venue famed for being tough on the tyres. Last year's race saw two stops for most of the field, but a split between two or three may occur in 2015.
Monaco will see the 2015 debut of the supersoft; it will be paired with the soft for the lowest-energy and slowest race of the season. Safety car timings often play a greater strategic role than wear—in normal circumstances, one-stop races should be achievable for all the cars.
For the Canadian Grand Prix, like Monaco held on a semi-permanent circuit, supersoft and soft will again be used. Last year saw two-stop strategies heavily favoured, but one was possible—2015 is likely to be a universally two-stop race.
The final race of the quartet, Austria, will also see the supersoft and soft combination used. The corner-lite Red Bull Ring returned to the calendar last season and only a few back-markers deviated from the preferred two-stop strategy.
McLaren Duo Looking Forward to Monaco Grand Prix
McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are looking forward to taking the MP4-30 out around the streets of Monaco in late May.
The Honda-powered car has struggled thus far in 2015, lacking the necessary power and reliability to compete. Improvements have been steadily trickling through, but Alonso was still almost two minutes behind winner Lewis Hamilton at the end of the last race in Bahrain.
But the car itself looks very good, and both drivers are optimistic about the Monaco Grand Prix, the slowest and least power-reliant race of the year. Speaking to F1 journalist Adam Cooper after the Bahrain race, Button said:
I think already in Barcelona you will see a good step. But we've got a lot happening before Monaco with the car, so hopefully there will be a good step, not just with the power, but also with the aerodynamic grip. I've got a good feeling about it.
There are a few areas where the car needs to be stronger right now for Monaco, if we’re going to go there tomorrow, but it will be an interesting place to drive this car, definitely. It’s such a tricky circuit to find the limit, and if you have a car that you are confident in, it makes a massive difference.
Alonso added, "Lower power effect circuits will help us at the moment. So Monaco is the first circuit that we may enjoy a little bit better result. We’ll see. I think we need to think race-by-race, and Barcelona at the moment is the first step."
The three-week break between Bahrain and Spain should help McLaren more than any other team, as they have the most work to do and enough resources to plough a lot of time and effort in.
But the road back to the front of the grid will be a long one. If McLaren are destined to race near the front in 2015, it's unlikely to happen before the summer break.