convincingly, and are back to the #2 spot. And for that alone, you couldn’t really ask for much more, especially this quickly.
Remember two years ago when people were begging for Sebastian to lose, and now he’s the beacon of hope against Mercedes? It’s amazing how quickly things can change in F1.
Williams – 7/10
I was excited to see if Williams could kick on from the second half of 2014, where they were clearly a match for Red Bull, and with a much increased budget for finishing 3rd in the Championship. They’ve not really been a thing so far this season, but I don’t think that’s entirely their fault.
The good news is, they’re way faster than Red Bull now. The bad news is, the goalposts have moved and Mercedes and Ferrari have blown them out of the water, the gap to 2nd now looking much greater than before. Kimi Raikkonen beat the pair of them, despite suffering a puncture that demoted him to the back post-safety car, as Williams still can’t run 2-stoppers when the options presents itself.
This is what happens when you’re stuck being a third wheel as a privateer team in F1, where the Factory teams almost always do the major damage at the top. Having Bottas miss a race through back injury was unfortunate too. In the grand scheme of things, maintaining 3rd is far from terrible, but for Williams, I think the goal now, is to consolidate for next year. If they stay reliable, there’s no doubt they’ll take some hefty points down the road.
Red Bull – 3/10
Oh dear. And I called this too. Although to be fair, I don’t think anyone truly expected Red Bull to look this mediocre in the early going. And the craziest part is, no-one seems to know who’s at fault down in Milton Keynes. Red Bull blame Renault, their engine suppliers, and vice versa, the latter, even calling Adrian Newey a “liar”.
It’s all a bit of a mess for Red Bull at the moment. Renault claimed to have made progress, but have seemingly been blown out of the water by Ferrari’s 2015 power unit, Christian Horner claiming they’re down 100 horsepower on their rivals, and not even Newey’s final aero package for Red Bull can save them from being demoted for battling for the minor points. And for a team with as massive a budget as Red Bull, that’s outrageously bad. Alarm bells are surely ringing in camp, and something’s gotta give.
When Daniel Ricciardo, the People’s Champion of 2014, is getting smacked around by the sister team and the rookies, YOU GOT A PROBLEM.
Toro Rosso – 8/10
Before the season started, Franz Tost claimed that they had a shot at 5th in the Championship. I’ll be honest, I didn’t believe him. To my surprise, it looks like Toro Rosso have a genuinely tight little package at the moment. Both of their rookie drivers, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz have been great in their first two races, Verstappen the highest finisher in Malaysia on Renault power, both Toro Rosso’s beating the factory team, Sainz starting from 15th on a 2-stopper. You couldn’t ask for any more from their drivers, and the car’s looked very solid from the get go.
I know Toro Rosso is the team you probably care about the least, due to its nature as the “B-Team” for Red Bull, but when they’re out performing the factory team, you gotta sit up and take notice. I’d have rated them a 9/10 if it wasn’t for the pit error in Australia and Verstappen’s engine failure.
Force India – 4/10
This season could be an enormous open goal for Force India, given Red Bull and McLaren’s issues, considering this a team that’s been aiming for the Top 5 for going on 3 years now. They’ve been playing catch-up from testing, and announced today there’s already going to be a B-Spec version of their 2015 car, now delayed until the Austrian GP at best in June.
The double points finish in Australia saved them from an even lower score, Nico Hulkenberg achieving the absolute maximum in Oz with a 7th placed finish, and it doesn’t help that his team mate, Sergio Perez, has been arguably the worst driver in the field, causing contact with Button in Australia, and taking 42 laps to pass the far slower McLaren, and getting a 10-second time penalty in Malaysia for bumping Romain Grosjean off the road in Malaysia.
Force India have to do better, otherwise their entire F1 existence could be at stake, this is a team that can ill-afford to start moving backwards now after their best ever season in 2014, and by far, its strongest driver line-up. Hulkenberg can only bail you out so much.
Lotus – 6/10
Just me who was expecting a bit more improvement in Lotus after the switch to Mercedes power? Looks like losing James Allison to Ferrari has hurt this team more than I anticipated. They had a technical problem in Australia, causing a Grosjean DNF, and Pastor was taken out on Turn 1, and then Pastor again got screwed by a puncture on Lap 1 in Malaysia, losing out to Bottas wheel-to-wheel. Grosjean took one for team again as Perez hit him for a spin.
To a degree, I think the jury is still out on Lotus, and I do think they’ll score more points as the season goes on, but I’m kinda disappointed they haven’t made more progress, especially given its a power unit sport at the moment. Speaking of which…
Sauber – 6/10
Will the real Sauber, please stand up? Sauber were the big winners of the Australian “war of attrition” with Felipe Nasr stunning the field with a Top 5 finish, Marcus Ericcson alongside scoring his first F1 points, the first for a Swedish driver in donkey’s years. Sauber were 3rd in the Championship early on and everyone was praising Ferrari’s power units for making Sauber look like BMW had joined them again… Then Malaysia happened.
Marcus Ericcson remembered he was Marcus Ericcson and beached it in the gravel at Turn 1, while Felipe Nasr’s race was compromised due to hitting Kimi Raikkonen’s rear tyre on the opening lap, and then not really featuring otherwise as he limped to 12th.
As a result, I’m still not absolutely sure where Sauber fit into the grand scheme of things, but Australia will certainly give the team some hope that they can steal some hefty points if the right circumstances arrive. And that in itself is a huge improvement on last year. Even more so when you consider the battle in the courts they had to go through.
McLaren-Honda – 4/10
I have to be honest here, I wasn’t sure at first how to rate McLaren-Honda’s early effort. And it’s hard to put it into true context as, like I said, it’s a power unit sport at the moment, and Honda re starting from scratch and playing catch-up, hence the early struggles. And as a negative consequence of leaving Mercedes power and getting back into bed with Honda, you gotta take the early pain that comes with that.
Fernando Alonso summed it up best – “To beat Mercedes, we have to do something different”, and it makes perfect sense. McLaren were never going to beat the Factory team in its previous state, on the same power unit. On an average day last year, they were fighting for minor points. And Honda will give them the potential to challenge… it just boils down to a matter of “when” the investment pays off.
Jenson Button was the last of the 11 finishers in Australia, 2 laps off the top. The cars seemed to be much faster in Malaysia, challenging the Force India’s, but the power units couldn’t survive the heat of the full race. But you can already see signs of promise from within the Woking camp, so for that, I’ll give them a pass on the rating.
I think McLaren-Honda will get there. Ron Dennis is no fool, he knew what he was getting into here. What I’m curious about, is seeing where the ceiling is once Honda crank it up to 100%.
Manor Marussia – We’re just happy to be here/10
If McLaren were hard to rate, Manor are near impossible. Again, context is important here, and Manor were seemingly dead and buried at Christmas. But they managed to build a 2015 legal car in 3 months and get it running by Malaysia. Even if they used Australia as a marketing tool, because we all know they had zero chance of running there. Grr.
But here’s the problem – When does the feel good nature of their comeback fade, and the hard reality sets in, when you realize, Manor look even worse than last year. Roberto Merhi was the only Manor car running in Malaysia, and despite finishing, they were three laps down on the winning Vettel. With Caterham gone, it only further highlights just how far behind they are, and the size of the mountain they have to climb.
They’ve done an incredible job to even have a car here, and that should be applauded given their circumstances, but there’s a difference between a backmarker team like Minardi, and Manor, who are so far off from where they need to be, it makes me question if they’re even going to be able to survive long term, because every other midfield team is going to spend and develop too. I hope they can prove me wrong. But, y’know, yay Manor. We all love an underdog story. Except me.