Tag Archives: Mercedes

Testing times for McLaren as F1 teams pack their cars for season opener

Only two men in history have ever clinched a third successive Formula One World Championship before attempting to defend it. The last time Michael Schumacher went about the feat with Ferrari, it didn’t go much better than his disastrous three-year comeback with Mercedes. One win – against only his team-mate and the back-of-the-grid Jordans and Minardis, in the bizarre 2005 United States Grand Prix – was all he managed. It was a year in which the prancing horse failed to grapple with a rule demanding drivers make a set of tyres last the entire race distance.

For his fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel – now a triple World Champion at just 25 – managing the latest spec Pirelli tyres will once again provide the biggest challenge of the season ahead. And after it was deemed last year’s rubber was ‘too good’, the drivers can expect more rapidly degrading tyres in 2013 – the kind of which Pirelli promised and delivered when they became the sole tyre supplier two years ago.

Good news, then, for McLaren, who arguably possess the driver line-up best able at preserving tyres, which others might rip to shreds within a matter of laps. Joining the silky-smooth 2009 World Champion Jenson Button at the team’s Woking HQ is Sergio Perez. The 23 year-old Mexican impressed in his two-year stint at Sauber – particularly at Monza last year, when he made his first set of tyres last until lap 30, thus enabling him to climb from 13th on the grid to second on the podium.

Unfortunately for the team in search of its first Constructors’ Championship in 15 years, the general consensus is that the Woking-based team will not be the pace setters at the opening race in Melbourne. Beginning the season off the pace has not been an uncommon theme for McLaren in recent years, but their ability to develop a sluggish car is well documented. With the most experienced driver on the grid in Button, it would take a brave man to bet against McLaren turning their seemingly poor testing form around.

One man who won’t be hoping for an upturn in McLaren’s pace is Lewis Hamilton. After six seasons and 21 wins, the Stevenage-born 2008 World Champion has moved onto pastures new with Mercedes. On the final weekend of the testing in Barcelona, Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg lit up the time sheets with blistering pace. Hamilton, though, has been keen to play down expectations all winter, saying: “we will definitely be able to win a race at some point.” You’d hope so. With only one win since the championship-winning Brawn team was bought out by the German manufacturer three years ago, anything less than two wins in 2013 will be a massive disappointment for the Silver Arrows.

Joining Hamilton, Button and Force India’s Paul di Resta in Formula One this year is Marussia’s Max Chilton, making it four British drivers on the grid for the first time since the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix. The 21 year-old from Reigate won races in GP2 last year and had a successful outing during practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But with four other rookies out to impress – in what is a relatively inexperienced field, with no drivers who competed in the 20th century remaining – Chilton will have to work hard to keep his seat into a second season.

In the midfield, preseason testing form suggests it will be as tight as ever. Like Mercedes, Lotus and Williams will be hoping to build on their solitary wins of 2012. But reliability issues and a general lack of mileage, respectively, make it hard to gauge how regularly they will be challenging the front runners.

As far as the championship is concerned, a repeat battle between Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is looking likely.

The Spaniard drove magnificently last season, dragging a car into championship contention that frankly had no place to be fighting the might of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. There is no doubt that start-line accidents in Belgium and Japan – for which he shared no blame – denied him the World Championship.

But rather than hope for better luck, a vastly improved car from the one designed at Maranello this time last year will be a more reliable way of ensuring the 2005/06 World Champion secures a third world title. Alonso sounds happy so far, declaring the F138 “200 times better” than the F2012 chassis. Let’s hope he’s right. For without a giant leap forward in car design, the prancing horse will remain inferior to the charging Red Bull. Even in Alonso’s hands.

Schumacher wraps up 7th title in the Ardennes – Spa, 2004

Without a doubt the best race I’ve been to was the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix.

Two years earlier, the former F1 driver Tomas Enge checked into out B&B in Monmouthshire with some of his Czech mates, when he came over to see the Wales Rally GB. I dug out a tape of his crash in the Prost F1 car at Suzuka 2001 and showed it to him, which was met with a wry grin. My Dad and I mentioned that we wanted to go to Spa one year and he happily gave us his number and told us to give him a ring when we were there.

With no race in 2003, we made the trip a year later and Tomas – racing in F3000 – turned up at midday on the Saturday with a couple of paddock passes. He gave us a tour of his garage in the old Spa pit lane and at one point my Dad walked up a metal staircase only to find himself standing on the podium, to cheers of the crowd in the grandstand opposite! Standing on the pit wall as the F1 cars came screaming past down towards Eau Rouge in qualifying, kicking up huge amounts of spray, was breathtaking.

The race itself was a thriller. It was the 14th of the year and Michael Schumacher had failed to win only one of the previous 13.

Kimi Raikkonen took a storming win from 10th on the grid in the Mclaren, making a race-winning pass on Michael into Eau Rouge.

There was overtaking galore, three safety cars, loads of crashes and just about every car in Michelin tyres got a puncture.

Schumacher claimed his 7th title but on the day he was beaten fair and square by a brilliant Kimi – and boy did he look miserable; you could tell he hated losing.

At the end of 2006 – when he announced his retirement – I thought I’d always be able to say: “I was there when Schuey won his last title.”

When the German made is comeback in 2010, I wondered whether that would always be the case. But with Lewis Hamilton having now replaced him at Mercedes, it looks as though he has, finally, called it a day having failed to discover his Ferrari form.

What an honour it was, though, to have witnessed Michael Schumacher break his own record and become the first man to attain seven world titles.

But with Sebastian Vettel having now racked up three in a row, Schumacher’s fellow countryman has every chance to go one better.