Formula One 2015 Testing Starts With Surprises
Winter is very short in the F1 world, the last race was in November and now, about 90 days after, the teams are already at their first pre-season test session for the 2015 season. The test at Jerez is a chance for teams to start the shake down process of their new cars, to test new theories, and in the case of McLaren, to run their Honda engined car for the first time.
Pre-season testing is also sort of a mental line in the sand. With testing so limited in season in F1, the three pre-season test sessions before the first race weekend are the best times to get the show on the road. Miss any of this, and you likely will have a poorer season. Last year, we saw that the failures of the Renault engines meant that Red Bull racing go absolutely no real testing before the final sessions, and that translated to a less than stellar start of the year. While it is hard to imagine them winning the championship over the insanely dominant Mercedes team, it is still quite possible that they could have made more of a race out of it.
So when F1 gets to the first test, it’s time to check out who has what, and what sort of knife they are bringing to the gun fight. This year it’s also time to see that F1 has an insanely big problem on it’s hands.
It’s unsurprising to find that neither Caterham or Manor (nee Marussia) are here. They both stumbled at the end of last season, and both have some sort of dispensation to run their 2014 cars if they can make it to the start of the season. Neither has seemingly come up with a suitor willing to pay the bills, so it’s likely neither of them will make it to the starting line. At best, potentially Caterham could stumble into the paddock in Australia without any testing, but even that is seeming more and more far fetched.
The real issue this time out is Force India. The team’s 2015 car is nowhere near ready, and rumors are swirling that a lack of cash means that suppliers aren’t getting paid, which in turn means that components are not being delivered. It’s not hard to imagine, considering that one of the team owners is in jail. Subrata Roy is the owner of Sahara, who own a big chunk of the team along with Vijay Mallya. Rumors in various press suggest that they are out of cash and unable to pay suppliers, which in turn has all but stopped progress on their 2015 car. The team has admitted they are unlikely to have the new car before the third test, although they may run the 2014 car in the second test. That is a wait and see sort of situation.
So where does that leave Formula One for 2015? There are 11 teams to start with, 2 are very likely not to make it, and Force India seems to be teetering on the edge right now. So the grid size for this year will be either 16 or 18 cars, depending on Force India. Considering that in 2012 ago there were 24 cars on the grid, the decrease is noticeable. Haas Formula One team is scheduled to start racing in 2016, but unless there are significant changes in the financial status of the teams, it’s likely that they will end up as a replacement for a lost team, rather than an “in addition”. With a long lead time to get into the sport, it’s also unlikely that F1 will be able to do much to reverse this trend any time soon. Short grids are a real indication that the costs are not in line with the rewards. Even as F1 management rake in big profits each year, the product it suffering.
Only time will tell. I wish Force India luck on this one, they have been a good team and relatively competitive at least in the mid field. It would be sad for F1 to start 2015 so far behind where it was in 2014. The silence from F1 and the FIA on all of this is deafening.
Update 2015-02-04: It was announced this morning that Manor F1 (Marussia) was coming out of administration on the 19th of February, and would be looking to get permission to run their 2014 car to start the 2015 season. Apparently much of the deal is a result of their being able to get the 30 million pounds prize money from 2014, which goes a long way to paying their debts off. However, the team at this point has no drivers, no staff, no engine deal… it’s still going to be quite the struggle for them to even make it to the starting line.