Mystic Sim: Still Dozy After All These Years

Posted: March 13, 2015 in Formula 1
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Things we could be discussing: Manor Marussia miraculously making it through the winter; Max Verstappen becoming F1’s first and, under next year’s licence rules at least, only 17 year old driver; Nico vs Lewis – This Time It’s Exactly As Personal As Last Time; Vettel and Ferrari seeking success together having both separately misplaced it.

Things we’re discussing instead: Sauber employing 3 men to drive 2 cars.

What the sport needs to learn from this is that if a team cannot make it through a winter without signing a driver whose sponsors will pay up front, all the while hoping that the driver they already signed to drive the same car either won’t mind or else somehow won’t notice, there’s a need to consider whether the existing costs of competing are sustainable. Much of Sauber’s conduct this week has been unfortunate, some of it disreputable, but much like the Lotus development driver we discussed last week, at the heart of it is a desperate grab for survival cash.

We’ll find out how the whole sorry business ends in due course, but first, crystal ball time. We’ve tried the broad, wide-ranging preview piece. We’ve tried 5 themes to watch. We’ve tried having an enthusiast lose a prediction contest against his own mother despite a) 25 years of avid fandom and b) his mother not really understanding what any of the questions meant. How next to thoroughly louse up an F1 season preview?

The answer, it turned out, was to write half the piece – some 1300 words – before unwittingly deleting them all via a keyboard shortcut I didn’t know existed, which is the kind of thing that can lead to someone snapping. Lacking the time, energy or strength to start from scratch leaves us with this, a cut-down version of the original plan: pick this year’s top 10 in the world championship, explain why and then, in a piece of immediate and immaculate back-tracking, highlight why I’m probably wrong.

10: Fernando Alonso

Relentlessly quick, combative, the ultimate competitor. New McLaren Honda doesn’t yet appear ready, so no real penalty for missing Australia after very, very curious testing accident and subsequent lay-off. Chassis appears strong and Alonso will outpace Button once everything inside the engine works at the same time, but that might not be until we’re well into the meat of the European season. Forget all of this if the engine remains incapable of more than 8 laps at a time past the summer break, or if the chassis only seems good because the Honda is detuned in ways that would suit an Austin Maestro.

9: Nico Hulkenberg

A superstar who’d prove it to the watching world more readily if only someone would give him the right tool. New Force India isn’t it – late, undeveloped, underfunded – but ran as many laps in 2 days of testing as McLaren did in 12. Reliability already there, pace will come from Monaco updates onwards, The Hulk wont miss an opportunity to score. Main risks to this prediction are that the post-Monaco step might not come and that the team might not survive the year.

8: Daniil Kvyat

Quick, intelligent, committed. Kvyat will go far but his promotion to Red Bull is, by the team’s own admission, a year too soon. Kvyat will impress this season but his performances will contain too many troughs to progress further up the standings, though the contrasting peaks will be high indeed. Won’t be any lower than this, could conceivably be higher if he’s more ready than we think.

7: Felipe Massa

Supremely likeable man whose move to Williams seemed to liberate him. Freed from the shadow of ex-teammate Alonso, Massa rediscovered old form but brought with him recent inconsistency, along with his unshakeable gift for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany…). New Williams is firmly in the best-of-the-rest fight and podiums are likely, but surely not often enough to rank higher. Surely. Surely?

6: Sebastian Vettel

Man with a point to prove. Winning for Ferrari will dispel notions that 4 world titles were down to Adrian Newey’s cars and not Vettel’s driving. Winning for anyone at all might leas folk to forget about a 2014 spent in the shadow of Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull. New Ferrari appears a big step from last year’s maligned F14 T but new teammate Raikkonen has looked quicker in pre-season. Then again, Vettel has never had a problem waiting until the prizes are being given out before showing his hand…

5: Kimi Raikkonen

Unintelligibuhl’s finest has a car he can feel the limits of again. Notoriously sensitive to front-end behaviour and steering feel, the Iceman’s 2014 car gave him none of what he needed. Ferrari SF15T is already a marked improvement, designed with Kimi’s needs in mind. Has experience of Ferrari’s internal politics, continuity within the team and no reason to fear Vettel given his own natural speed. May, however, have extended periods of relative anonymity if faced with setup or tyres he dislikes.

4: Daniel Ricciardo

When reviewing the Kvyat entry above, bear in mind that a year ago nobody thought Danny Ric was a Vettel-beating regular race winner. Red Bull appear to be in amongst the Williams/Ferrari fight but keep their powder dry during pre-season where possible – the car will be thereabouts and the driver has only Hamilton for company at the top of the wheel-to-wheel combat tree. Probably can’t go higher without a Mercedes engine, can only go lower if Ferrari has a clear performance advantage.

3: Valtteri Bottas

The Real Deal. BO77AS teams speed with metronomic consistency, has a Merc engine behind him and sits in a sensible evolution of Williams design philosophy. Can’t win the title this year because he isn’t a Mercedes works driver, could undoubtedly do so in a car that allowed it. Wins are a realistic target but may need to come early – predicted P3 in championship might be unsustainable if Ferrari/Red Bull outspend and outdo Williams in the development war, though they didn’t in 2014…

2: Nico Rosberg

New Mercedes W06 has greater margin over rest of field than dominant W05 last year. Expect a Mercedes 1-2 in the final rankings. Nico is the second fastest of these drivers, hence this placing. Outqualified Hamilton last season but no match in races, losing 6 of last 7 and being outpaced by Lewis in the 7th. Requires Lewis to have a mental lapse to go higher but would need to go to extraordinary lengths to finish lower.

1: Lewis Hamilton

World’s fastest driver + world’s fastest car = world champion. The speed has always been there but last year came the patience and intelligence to use it wisely too. Recent changes in personal life could destabilise a driver of unusual emotional sensitivity, though car advantage is such that finishing below 2nd would involve a special effort. There for the taking as long as Hamilton doesn’t make too much of a hash of things.

Remember, though, that my track record in these matters is quite terrifically bad. We’ll check back in through the season to see how well (or otherwise) this is going…

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