2015: Monaco Grand Prix Preview

The Monaco Grand Prix is a race like no other on the Formula One calendar. Unforgiving Armco barriers line the street circuit and it also features a tunnel, which brings with it is own unique challenges. The race is known for its glitz and glamour, including the huge yachts docked in the harbour overlooking the track. It is an event which requires not only high downforce and good mechanical grip, but intense concentration from drivers – moreso than usual. “The best thing about coming to Monaco is that it’s a circuit where the driver has more influence on events,” Daniel Ricciardo has said ahead of the weekend. With the lowest average speed of the year – 98mph – Monaco is less about outright performance, meaning those not always finishing in the top ten could take the opportunity to score points. It is also very difficult – but definitely not impossible – to overtake on the streets of Monte Carlo.

Circuit: Circuit de Monaco
Number of Laps: 78
Circuit Length: 3.337km
Number of Corners: 19
Lap Record: 1:14.439 Michael Schumacher 2004
Previous Monaco winners still on the grid: 6
Most Successful Team: McLaren (15 wins)
DRS Zones: 1
Pirelli Tyres: Soft and Supersoft

Nico Rosberg has taken pole position and the race win on Formula One’s last two visits to Monaco. Last year his pole was tinged with controversy as he ran wide at Mirabeau, resulting in yellow flags which compromised team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s running. Hamilton said Rosberg did it deliberately, and inter-team relations continued to crumble after that. Rosberg held off Hamilton in the race to win with Daniel Ricciardo picking up third for Red Bull. It is once again Mercedes going into the race dominating proceedings. Rosberg took his first win of the year in Spain, giving him the psychological edge going into what is his ‘home’ race. His strong results in the past will also help him as he looks to cut the gap further to Hamilton.

Hamilton, on the other hand, enters the weekend off the back of securing a new three year deal with the team. With contract negotiations finally completed he will be able to give his full attention to the job in hand. Their main rivals Ferrari are a team who have performed well at the circuit in the past – second just to McLaren in terms of victories there – however, the Scuderia’s last win at Monte Carlo was back in 2001 when Michael Schumacher crossed the line first.

Elsewhere it will be a bittersweet race for Manor. The team picked up their first – and so far only – points in Formula One when Jules Bianchi took ninth place in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. It has been a difficult 12 months for the team since then with Bianchi’s horrific accident in Japan and the team entering administration within just a couple of months of each other. The team made a valiant effort to make the Australian Grand Prix, and are still racing their ‘B’ spec car, and will no doubt be thinking of their team mate over the course of the upcoming weekend.

The Circuit de Monaco is made up of a number of iconic corners such as La Rascasse, the Swimming Pool, Mirabeau, Sainte Devote, and Tabac, amongst others. Its winners list features a number of iconic drivers including Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Gilles Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen to name a few. As the saying goes, “to finish first, first you must finish”, a phrase which takes on more meaning at a place like Monaco. In last year’s race there were eight retirements and if a car stops on track there will undoubtedly be a safety car. Just who will come out on top? Action commences tomorrow with Thursday practice.

2015: Spanish Grand Prix Preview

Following a three week break the Formula One action returns this weekend. The Spanish Grand Prix will kick off the European season (with a brief visit to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix) with teams set to introduce rafts of upgrades as they return closer to home.

Mercedes have so far demonstrated that they are still the team to beat although they have Ferrari snapping at their heels. Sebastian Vettel won in Malaysia and was on the podium in Australia and China while Kimi Raikkonen led the Ferrari charge in Bahrain, finishing second. It was a nervy race for Mercedes as both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg limped across the line with brake issues.

Spanish GP Stats

Circuit: Circuit de Catalunya
Number of Laps: 66
Circuit Length: 4.655km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:21.670 Kimi Raikkonen (2008)
Previous Spain winners still on the grid: 7
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (12 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Hard

There are seven former Spanish Grand Prix race winners still on the grid and these are Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Pastor Maldonado and most recently Lewis Hamilton. Raikkonen came close to a win last time out but ran out of laps while Vettel has picked up one victory so far this season. McLaren team-mates Alonso and Button are unlikely to repeat previous Spanish victories however the team will be hopeful they can achieve their first points of the season. Button had a weekend to forget in Bahrain, with technical issues compromising his weekend on Friday and Saturday. His weekend was compounded as he failed to make the grid for the start of the race. Alonso made it into Q2 for the first time this season and was just four seconds off McLaren’s first points of the season. Maldonado has endured a difficult start to his 2015 campaign but Lotus have overall improved since last year and team-mate Romain Grosjean has picked up points. Williams appear to have slipped behind Ferrari in the battle behind Mercedes but Rob Smedley revealed earlier this year that he believed Massa is driving at the best form of his career.

Teams tested at the Circuit de Catalunya during pre-season testing and the race will provide all teams the first opportunity for major upgrades. Due to its regular location as a testing circuit, teams and drivers are very familiar with it. It is a circuit where overtaking is very difficult so qualifying will be more important than it is at some other circuits. It is a mixture of fast, medium and low speed corners with a long pit straight. As well as technical upgrades McLaren will debut their new livery with the chrome being ditched for a “dynamic, predatory, graphite-grey” colour.

There are three Spanish drivers on the grid this year – Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Roberto Merhi. Sainz has performed well so far in his rookie year and is best placed of the three Spaniards to score some points.

2015: Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

In the first back-to-back races of the year, the Formula One circus has moved on to Bahrain after the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend.

Following Ferrari’s time at the top of the podium in Malaysia it was business as usual for Mercedes in China as they recorded a 1-2 finish. There were post-race rumblings of another falling out between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the latter accused the race winner of holding up his progress by driving too slowly. Both made their feelings perfectly clear in post race interviews and things are set to heat up again in Bahrain, where Hamilton won last year. It was yet another Mercedes 1-2 with Force India’s Sergio Perez finishing 20 seconds behind them on the podium.

Whilst Mercedes once again dominated proceedings in China – both on and off the track – Ferrari were the team closest to them, finishing third and fourth. They were followed by the two Williams, Romain Grosjean scoring his and Lotus’ first points of the year, Felipe Nasr, Daniel Ricciardo and Marcus Ericsson. At the back of the field there were reasons to celebrate for both Manor and McLaren as both teams got two drivers to the finish. Jenson Button was handed a five second post-race penalty following a collision with Pastor Maldonado, meaning McLaren were classified 12th and 14th. Manor were classified 15th and 16th of 17th classified finishers, although Max Verstappen pulled off four laps before the end of the race.

Bahrain Stats

Circuit: Bahrain International Circuit
Number of Laps: 57
Circuit Length: 5.412km
Number of Corners: 15
Lap Record: 1:31.447 Pedro de la Rosa (2005)
Previous Bahrain winners still on the grid: 5
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (4 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Soft

Bahrain has been on the Formula One calendar since 2004. It has been held on ten occasions having been cancelled in 2011 due to political unrest. It hasn’t always been in the current format either. In 2010 the race flirted with a longer endurance circuit but it reverted to the Grand Prix circuit for 2012 onwards. The Bahrain Grand Prix became a twilight race in 2014 – starting in daylight and ending in darkness.

Due to the differences in conditions teams and drivers have a lot to take into consideration when setting up the cars. There will be a discrepancy between temperatures during the ‘day’ and ‘night’ parts of the race, resulting in changes in balance and grip levels. It is also a track which gives brakes a good workout as there are a number of slow-speed corners at the end of straights. Qualifying has proven to be of particular importance in Bahrain in the past with the race having never been won from further back than fourth on the grid. Ferrari challenged Mercedes in China during qualifying but ultimately the Silver Arrows came out on top. Rosberg narrowly missed out on pole position, taking the fight to his team-mate.

It is a race where Kimi Raikkonen has performed well in the past but never won. Most recently he finished on the podium for Lotus in 2012 and 2013. He is yet to get a podium in 2015 but has finished in fourth. He has encountered problems, including a loose wheel which forced him to retire from the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel has been demonstrating what the Ferrari is capable – being the only driver to so far beat a Mercedes this year – so Raikkonen could be one to watch out for this weekend. For Grosjean – who has also finished on the Bahrain podium – it will be an opportunity to maintain the momentum from last weekend when he got his first points of the season. McLaren will be hoping to build on the progress they made by getting both cars to the finish and they are set to turn their engines up a bit more for this weekend ahead of further updates in Spain. Red Bull and Toro Rosso both had engine problems in China while Maldonado retired following rear brake failure and an accident with Button who collided with the Lotus driver.

2015: Chinese Grand Prix Preview

Following Mercedes’ routine 1-2 in Australia, the tables turned in Malaysia when Sebastian Vettel made the most of a different strategy to take a convincing victory. The Ferrari driver finished eight seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton with Vettel favouring a two stop strategy over Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s three.

Now all eyes turn to China to see if Ferrari’s win means there is a genuine threat to Mercedes’ domination or if circumstances on the day helped the Scuderia on their way to victory. While Vettel was winning, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen recovered from qualifying 11th to finish in fourth place. The rest of the top ten read like Noah’s Ark, with the two Williams drivers finishing next to each other ahead of two Toro Rossos and two Red Bulls. At the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari’s sparring partner of days gone past McLaren suffered a double DNF although Ron Dennis revealed last week that both engines would be used again in China. McLaren were buoyed during the race, however, to be fighting with other cars in the midfield. Roberto Merhi got the Manor car to the end of its first race but was the sole representative following a fuel pump problem on team-mate Will Stevens’ car.  Following the much depleted grid in Australia, Malaysia was a much better showing with 19 out of 20 cars making the start of the race – 15 of them made it to the chequered flag.

Circuit: Shanghai International Circuit
Number of Laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.451km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:32.239 Michael Schumacher (2004)
Previous China winners still on the grid: 6
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (4 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Soft

From the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Formula One moves on to the cooler climes of Shanghai. The Chinese Grand Prix has been on the F1 calendar since 2004 and provides teams the challenge of setting their cars up for long straights punctuated by a mixture of slow, medium and high speed corners. The track can also be particularly tough on the tyres and Pirelli have brought the soft and medium compound this weekend. In its 11 year history the race has been won by eight different drivers with just Hamilton and Fernando Alonso winning it more than once. Last year saw Hamilton lead from lights to flag, finishing ahead of his team-mate and Alonso in the Ferrari. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest we could see Mercedes return to their winning ways this weekend but Ferrari have certainly put a cat amongst the pigeons by winning last time out. The championship is finely poised after two races – Hamilton leads by just three points from Vettel – but can Ferrari prevent another Silver Arrows 1-2 on Sunday?

2015: Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Following the Australian Grand Prix, where Mercedes picked up where they left off, Formula One has travelled to Malaysia for Round two of the 2015 World Championship. Lewis Hamilton won the first race which was overshadowed by some strange circumstances which saw just 15 cars start.

Manor made it to Australia but never made it out onto the track. As the team battled with software issues, drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi were forced to watch from the sidelines. The team believe they are ready for the upcoming weekend having returned to base in the UK between races to “regroup technically”. Manor’s absence brought the grid down to 18 cars and became further depleted when Valtteri Bottas pulled out on Sunday morning due to a back problem. McLaren’s testing woes were compounded when Kevin Magnussen’s engine – which had been turned down along with Jenson Button to try and ensure reliability – let go on his way to the grid. Daniil Kvyat also failed to make it to the grid following his own problems.

It was a perfect weekend for 2014 champion Hamilton who qualified on pole position and then went on to win the race by a second over his team-mate. He also set the fastest lap of the race. Mercedes’ dominance over the rest of the field was devastating, as Sebastian Vettel trailed home over 30s down on Rosberg. It was a positive start to the four time champion’s Ferrari career as he finished on the podium. He finished ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa, impressive rookie Felipe Nasr, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Marcus Ericsson, Carlos Sainz, and Sergio Perez. Button managed to get the second McLaren home but he finished 11th and two laps down.

Circuit: Sepang International Circuit
Number of Laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.543km
Number of Corners: 15
Lap Record: 1:34.223 Juan Pablo Montoya 2004
Previous Malaysia winners still on the grid: 5
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (6 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Hard and Medium

The Malaysian Grand Prix always comes with its own unique challenges as the heat and humidity can affect the drivers and cars. It is a track characterised by long straights and high speed corners and overtaking is certainly a possibility. It has the second longest run to the first corner on the current calendar. Safety cars are a rare occurrence at Sepang, being deployed more often for the weather than anything else due to the large run off areas. Fernando Alonso will return to the cockpit in Malaysia, subject to passing final FIA medical tests on Thursday. He sat out the Australian Grand Prix after suffering a concussion during winter testing.

2015: Australian Grand Prix Preview

The 2014/2015 winter season has flown in and the countdown is on to the first race of the season. Albert Park will once again play host to the opening round of the Formula One World Championship and once again the season has already started with its fair share of drama.

The good news is that there will be 20 drivers on the grid following the saving of Manor. The bad news is that we are still not 100% sure who will be driving all 20 of those cars. One change that has already taken place is Kevin Magnussen in for Fernando Alonso following the Spaniard’s crash at the first test in Barcelona. On doctors advice, due to the concussion he sustained, Alonso will sit out the Australian Grand Prix but is working to be back on the grid in Malaysia. It was a welcome reprieve for Magnussen who had faced a season on the sidelines as the team’s test and reserve driver. It is in no way ideal conditions for his return to the grid but he will no doubt be making the most of his surprise weekend in the car.

Elsewhere Sauber are in court with former test driver Giedo van der Garde. His testing contract included a clause which meant he would race for the team this season. When times got tough financially, Sauber instead chose to go down a different route and signed Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. The Crown Court in Victoria ruled that van der Garde should race this weekend while Sauber argued this would be dangerous. The appeal is set to be heard tomorrow and Sauber will find out who will be driving their car at the weekend.

Much is also being said about Max Verstappen, set to become the youngest ever F1 rookie at just 17 years of age. Some think he is too young but he has performed well in testing so far. He will make his debut alongside Carlos Sainz Jr, Roberto Merhi, Nasr and Will Stevens who is not technically a rookie but has raced just once in F1 before.

Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel, Daniil Kvyat, and Ericsson (perhaps) will make their debuts with their new teams. Vettel will be hoping to return to winning ways following an uncharacteristic 2014 while Kvyat will hope to emulate new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo’s step up to the senior Red Bull team when he won three races and fought the Mercedes duo for the title.

Circuit: Albert Park
Number of Laps: 58
Circuit Length: 5.303km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:24.125 Michael Schumacher (2004)
Previous Australian GP winners still on the grid: 7
Most Successful Team: McLaren (12 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Soft

The Australian Grand Prix normally throws up a number of surprises and has been won by four different constructors in the past five years. Last year the race was won by Nico Rosberg while team-mate Lewis Hamilton suffered an engine failure. Ricciardo finished second but was later disqualified promoting Magnussen to second and Jenson Button to third.

Albert Park is a street circuit which provides it’s own challenges for teams and drivers with low grip and a low average speed. Chances of a safety car are high – there has been at least one at six of the last seven races. The Australian Grand Prix is generally one of high attrition as teams run their cars to full race specification for the first time and reliability is tested.  Once again Mercedes look like the team to beat but quite what order the chasing pack will be in remains to be seen. Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, and Vettel will feature in the first drivers’ press conference of the year due to take place tomorrow.

2014: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview – the final showdown

After 19 races it has come down to Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg for the 2014 Formula One World Championship. Mercedes have been a dominant force all year winning all but three races and wrapping up the constructors championship in Russia. Hamilton has a 17 point lead but with double points in play, it’s not over yet. While Hamilton has won ten races in 2o14 to Rosberg’s five, Rosberg has been the superior of the two in qualifying.

This will be the sixth holding of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, having made its debut in 2009. It has been won three times by Sebastian Vettel, once by Hamilton and once by Kimi Raikkonen. The grid will be slightly bigger than it was last time out in Brazil with Caterham returning to the grid following a successful crowd-funding initiative. Marussia had hoped to be joining them but will miss the race. Kamui Kobayashi will be driving for Caterham but his team-mate is currently unknown, with reports it could be Roberto Mehri or Max Chilton. Andre Lotterer, who made a one race appearance for Caterham at the Belgium Grand Prix, reportedly turned down the opportunity to race at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Abu Dhabi GP Stats

Circuit: Yas Marina Circuit
Number of Laps: 55
Circuit Length: 5.554km
Number of Corners: 21
Lap Record: 1:40.279 Sebastian Vettel 2009
Previous Abu Dhabi winners still on the grid: 3
Most Successful Team: Red Bull (3 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Soft and Supersoft

The race in Abu Dhabi is unique as it is the only race to run from day to night. It also features a mix 0f fast corners and long straights, with a twisty technical section. It can be a hard circuit to overtake at, as Fernando Alonso discovered in 2010 when he failed to pass Vitaly Petrov and lost out on the championship to Vettel who won the race. The race has only been won from pole position once, however, with three being won from second and once from fourth. Raikkonen won the race from fourth in 2012 at the end of his return season with Lotus.

For some drivers, the race will be significant for more than just being the last race of the season. For Vettel it will be the last race with Red Bull – the team with whom he won his four world championships. It is almost certain that Alonso will make way for Vettel at Ferrari although this has not been confirmed yet. Alonso is in turn expected to be announced as a McLaren driver for 2015, but the team revealed yesterday that there would be no announcement before the first of December. As a consequence of this, this could be Button’s final race in Formula One, with seats at other teams being filled up. Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil both do not have a seat for next year while Jean-Eric Vergne is still waiting to hear whether or not he will be retained by Toro Rosso next year. Sergio Perez is also expected to be confirmed as a Force India driver for a second year in due course.

Hamilton is going for his second world championship while Rosberg is hoping to secure his first. If Rosberg wins the race then he needs Hamilton to finish no higher than third. If Rosberg finishes second then Hamilton must finish fifth to win the title. If Rosberg finishes anywhere outside the top six then the title belongs to Hamilton.