F1 2015 Pre-Season News Roundup

The second day of The Lowdown’s week-long preview of the 2015 Formula One World Championship continues with some of the recent big news that has occurred. While we’ll be covering the big driver and team moves heading into 2015 in tomorrow’s post, there was plenty more happening in the off-season. Chief among those stories are the on-again, off-again entry of Marussia in the 2015 championship and the fallout from Fernando Alonso’s accident at the Barcelona test.

Let’s kick off our look at the biggest news stories of the off-season with a look at the Manor saga. (King Games, please don’t sue.)

f1-2015-preview-manor-marussia-logoAt the end of the 2014 season, Caterham and Marussia missed the third-last and second-last races. In the final race, Caterham crowdfunded their way to the grid while Marussia missed it. The way Bernie put it, it sounded like Caterham was good to go for 2015 while Marussia wouldn’t be getting its 2014 prize money or 2015 entry. Things were looking so bad for Marussia that they’ve even sold their Banbury factory to Haas F1 for their 2016 entry.

However, in the last few weeks, Marussia has been making in-roads towards entering the 2015 World Championship. After a plan to run their 2014 car was brought forward before Force India used its spot on the F1 Strategy Group to block that from happening.

f1-2015-preview-manor-marussia-lowdon-fitzpatrickIn the last couple of weeks, fortune has favoured Marussia. Last week, Manor unveiled its new name (Manor Marussia) and its new backer, OVO energy boss, Stephen Fitzpatrick, and announced that the team will be running a modified version of 2014’s MR03 that complies with the 2015 rules to start the season before a proper 2015 challenger is introduced later in the season. This car will be using the final 2014 spec Ferrari power unit with the 2015 power unit being introduced in the 2015 car.

Manor also seems to indicate that they have enough money to run this season. They’re claiming to have a budget of £60 to £62 million with £30 coming from Fitzpatrick. Considering that they should be getting $60 million (roughly £42 million) in prize money from last season as well as sponsorship from drivers, it’s not unrealistic for Manor to be able to complete this season.

In the last seven or so days, we’ve heard about the 2014 B-spec car passing its crash test and Manor shipping the cars and parts to Australia for the Grand Prix. It looks like it’s all systems go for the 2015 season. We’ll have a more detailed look at Manor’s chances as part of the 2015 Drivers and Teams preview.

With all the concerns over the size of the grid heading into the 2015 season, it looks as though we’ll have as full a complement as possible with 20 cars. It’s entirely possible that if everyone lasts the season, we’ll have 24 cars next year with Haas and Forza Rossa joining the grid in 2016. Small miracles, I suppose.

On the final day of the first Barcelona test, Fernando Alonso hit the wall on the inside of the exit of Turn 3. He was in hospital for three days following the crash and now it turns out that Alonso won’t be ready to race in Melbourne this weekend.

f1-2015-preview-alonso-crashLast week, McLaren announced that Alonso wouldn’t be making his season debut in Australia as a result of the concussion suffered in the crash. Alonso’s doctors are concerned about the possible damage that could be caused by a second impact this close to the first. Alonso and doctors are targeting the Malaysian Grand Prix for his first race of the season.

Interestingly, while McLaren says that Alonso’s doctors say that there is no permanent damage as a result of the crash and concussion, it was reported last week that Alonso suffered temporary retrograde amnesia as a result of the crash. Reportedly, upon waking up in hospital, Alonso had forgotten the last 20 years of his life and thought he was still a young karting driver who dreamed of making F1.

While it’s slightly frightening that we don’t know what happened to the car or Alonso so that teams can try to keep something like this from happening again, what’s more frightening is that McLaren seems reluctant to tell anyone what actually happened. Their information releases have been seemingly intentionally obscure so that we may never know what actually happened when they could quite easily tell us and put the rumours of illness and electric shock to rest.

I can appreciate that Alonso deserves his privacy when it comes to his health. In this instance, his actual health can impact 19 other drivers around him. I’ve never heard of Second Impact Syndrome when it comes to concussions and the North American sports cycle revolves around the concussion-heavy NFL. The whole saga has played out quite oddly and you can’t help but feel that there’s something being withheld that will make us reevaluate how we think about this whole incident.

And on that note, a report from Germany’s Sport Blid suggests that a number of teams are threatening to boycott the Australian Grand Prix on safety grounds because the FIA, Honda and McLaren have not released any clear information about Alonso’s crash.

As I mentioned in my recap of the first test, the immediate story was that an electric shock from the ERS device knocked Alonso out which led to his crash and subsequent hospitalization. McLaren’s story during the aftermath was that it was a gust of wing that caused the crash.

One unnamed team boss told Sport Blid, “If a plane crashes and there is even the slightest risk that it happened because of a system fault, other planes of that type are not left in the air… If any of my drivers had an incident, I would invite all the other teams to study the data – just so we can be sure. Honda must provide answers to the FIA.”

While I can appreciate that everyone is very protective of all the data that they have, the safety of the drivers trumps the competitive advantage of keeping data secret. In this case, McLaren has to come clean so we can find out what actually happened to Alonso.

While Lotus is retaining its two race drivers for 2015, they have added a new development driver in the form of Carmen Jorda.

f1-2015-preview-carmen-jorda-lotusThe appointment of the 26-year-old Spaniard is controversial. Jorda’s 2012 GP3 teammate Rob Cregan tweeted “Carmen Jorda couldn’t develop a roll of film, let alone a hybrid F1 car.” Twice GP3 race winner Richie Stanaway simply tweeted “LOL.” And 2012 GP3 champion Mitch Evans helpfully informed Lotus that “it’s not April 1st yet.”

It’s believed that Jorda’s appointment as a development driver is solely a marketing and PR move. Unlike Susie Wolff who has proven herself fairly competent in testing and practice and the likes of Simona de Silvestro and Katherine Legge who earned the respect of fellow drivers and experts in IndyCar/Champ Car, Jorda hasn’t proven herself in the lower series. Clearly, she hasn’t earned the respect of her peers either.

For her part, Jorda says that people who are criticizing her are jealous. When you look at the numbers, her race results in junior formulae are so bad that she might as well have not run at all. Her results show she hasn’t scored a point nor finished higher than 13th in three years in GP3. Her highest championship finish was in the second grade Cope F306 of Spanish Formula Three where she finished 4th in that grade in 2007 with progressively worse results in the subsequent two seasons.

I’m all for women in motorsports but the ones who have shown some ability still need to have sponsorship to get to the next level. Look at Simona de Silvestro who needed sponsorship to get a sniff from a better team than HVM and was dropped by Sauber when the money ran dry. Instead, we have women getting ahead on their looks which makes the advancement of women in motorsport look like a farce.

The most interesting and prominent example is probably Danica Patrick. Patrick was a mid-pack driver who no one heard of. Then a photo shoot in FHM’s April 2003 issue brought her to the national spotlight including a feature interview on Speed Channel. Her profile was helped by appearances in the 2005 and 2006 SI Swimsuit Issues which led her to becoming IndyCar’s most marketable driver and having a very well-sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride. Would she have gotten this on her driving merit? Possibly but it’s not a certainty. Unfortunately, she seems to have inadvertently set the standard for how women are getting ahead in motorsport nowadays.

f1-2014-australia-startThe first race of the 2015 Formula One World Championship is coming up this Sunday from the street circuit at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia. The public roads in the suburbs of Melbourne have given us some exciting action and memorable moments to start Formula One seasons past. One would hope that more excitement will follow us in Melbourne this season.

Quite obviously, the two favourites have to be the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The two Williams are probably next in line to capitalize should both Hamilton and Rosberg run into trouble. It’s not unprecedented. After all, Daniel Ricciardo won three races last season when the Mercedes ran into problems. I don’t rate Ricciardo’s chances well but maybe we’ll see his former teammate Sebastian Vettel come from nowhere as a darkhorse.


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