F1 2014 is shaping up very nicely
“In Bahrain, it seemed as if drivers from every team were dicing with one another”
The double world champion writes exclusively for F1 Racing
Not every grand prix can be a thriller. The racing in China was not as exciting as it had been in 2012 and 2013, but Bahrain was one of the best grands prix I’ve watched in the past 20 years. It seemed as if drivers from every team were dicing with one other: Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Force India, Williams... another demonstration of how the new rules produce more exciting grands prix. To see Sergio Pérez on the podium was a pleasure. I’ve known him since he was in karts in Mexico. He has a tremendous talent and that performance was one of his best. Beating Nico Hülkenberg – who I believe is one of the most underestimated drivers in F1 – in the same car was a great achievement. Sergio really showed his potential and it was an exciting, open race between the two Force India team-mates.
The dynamic at Ferrari is different at the moment; sometimes Kimi Räikkönen is very close to Fernando Alonso, sometimes he is a little way off. To my mind Fernando is among the most complete drivers out there. He can get the maximum out of the car under any circumstances. He’ll be there at the end of the race, even if it means carrying the car on his back. And he knows how the team works. Kimi, having been away from them for several seasons, needs some time to adapt – and I’m sure he will, no doubt about it. The talent is still there.
There has also been a big change in team management at Ferrari, with Marco Mattiacci arriving at short notice to replace Stefano Domenicali. When you’re outside a team looking in, it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in a situation like this. It’s like commenting on somebody’s marriage – you can give an opinion but you don’t know what’s happening inside the house!
I have great respect for Stefano, and although I haven’t spoken with him since he left, I wish him all the best. I also know Marco very well. He’s a great guy and a very successful businessman, with a great track record at Ferrari North America. Why do this now? Only Luca Di Montezemolo can answer that. But when a team needs results, or a public explanation, or some positive PR, sometimes you have to provoke a reaction within the team. This has sent a clear message, from the very top, that changes have to be made. McLaren are also not quite where they need to be after a positive start to the season. And once again, without access to inside information it’s hard to say whether they have lost performance or just been overtaken in the development race. But they have the resources, the experience and the people to return to the front. As I write, we’re coming to the end of the threeweek gap between the Chinese and Spanish Grands Prix, and they will have been busy ltering all the data to see where they’ve been losing out, and what they need to do to recover.
Of course, all their rivals will have been trying to do the same thing, and it was interesting to see that Red Bull’s Adrian Newey stayed away from the Chinese GP so he would have more time to drive development back at the factory. The RB10 has a lot of downforce – you can see it in the corners and under braking – but it lacks speed on the straight. So there’s a compromise there that is perhaps not the best. Still, it seems Renault are nding the technical solutions to the system-integration problems that held them back at the start of the year. When you have a team-mate who’s giving you a hard time, it’s a real incentive to raise your own driving to a higher level. Daniel Ricciardo has been doing a fantastic job of challenging Sebastian Vettel and really making him work hard. It must be difcult after four consecutive title wins to face this kind of pressure, but Sebastian is mentally strong and he will cope. And this competition will drive the team forward as well.
At Mercedes, there is a fascinating contrast between the two drivers. Nico Rosberg is cool and technical, while Lewis Hamilton is a very emotional driver. Yet it was Nico who made the mistakes under pressure during qualifying in China. Lewis has a vision that he can be world champion again and this has given him great strength and motivation. You see him giving 110 per cent every time.
That’s because Lewis knows you don’t always get all the right circumstances to win the title – having the best car and a great team running it – and when you do, it’s up to you to perform. Nico knows this too. That’s why they’ll ght over every inch, every hundredth of a second over the races to come, and it’s looking like Mercedes are going to let them do it. That’s very good for the fans and for the sport.
“To see Sergio Pérez on the podium in China was a great pleasure”