The on track action may have been relatively light on Sunday, but there was plenty going on both in the pit lane and behind the scenes to make the Brazilian Grand Prix interesting, for both all the right and wrong reasons.
Renault’s new power unit made its debut with a whimper. Red Bull can surely be forgiven for looking forward to Brazil much more than the previous two races, but alas, by the end of qualifying on Saturday the omens for 2016 look no better than when the teams touched down in Sao Paulo earlier in the week. Running the much talked about new Renault power unit in the car of Daniel Ricciardo, the number 3 Red Bull finished qualifying a tenth down on Kvyat, who was running the standard, old spec Renault engine. The subsequent 10 place grid penalty relegated Ricciardo to the back of grid where he found himself lining up just one place ahead of Alonso. Oh how the mighty fall….
In all fairness to Red Bull, once again their car has proved aerodynamically sound and up there with the best of them for the most part of 2015, which again highlights the lack of power and straight line speed coming from the Renault engine. As they showed in Monaco, Hungary, Singapore and Austin (in the rain) the Milton Keynes outfit can certainly put together a competitive car but the quest for Renault to put together a competitive engine still remains. With Red Bull seemingly performing one of the sharpest U turns in F1 history and remaining with Renault (abliet possibly unbranded) engines for at least 2016 the pressure to improve the flagging power unit over the winter will be intense, especially with Ferrari and Mercedes lurking in the shadows to provide their hottest talent since Vettel (Verstappen) with a race winning package.
Are Pastor and Palmer really the two drivers needed to spearhead the return of Renault’s full works squad? I think we all know the answer to this. Whilst Palmer is undoubtedly a talented driver, judging from Pastor Maldonado’s performances this season, the 2014 GP2 Champion could well find himself Renault’s No1 come the the European leg of the 2016 season. The board at Renault must be cursing themselves for letting Frenchman Grosjean leave Lotus for Haas and leaving Maldonado to lead the squad’s return to F1 in 2016. Another scrappy weekend in Brazil where he was comprehensively out paced by Grosjean leaves Maldonado 22 points behind his teammate in identical machinery. His clash at turn one with Ericsson summed up everything wrong with poor old Pastor’s F1 career and although quick on his day, his has showed speed and consistency far too rarely in his career to successfully carry Renault back into F1. We’ve often wondered on occasion if Maldonado would still be in F1 at all if it wasn’t for the millions that his sponsorship deal with PDVSA brings first Williams, and then Lotus.
Palmer’s FP1 outings can do nothing but help his cause before his race debut in Melbourne next spring and as Verstappen and Sainz have shown this year, a rookie can certainly make their mark both in their team and the paddock, however we’re sure Renault will be hoping for slightly higher than midfield running when they return. No doubt given time, Palmer will prove himself at Renault and eventually become the No1 driver at the French outfit.
Kimi is the perfect foil for Sebastian Vettel. After being significantly outscored by Alonso last season, Raikkonen has again found himself a definite second fiddle to Vettel throughout 2015. Many in the paddock expected an upturn in form after Ferrari perhaps surprisingly announced Raikkonen’s continued stay at Maranello in 2016 but it’s fair to say there has been minimal improvement in the Iceman’s form. The receiver on some occasions this season of some incredibly bad luck, Brazil was the perfect opportunity for Kimi to bounce back and out-race his teammate. Starting alongside Vettel on the grid, Raikkonen ended up finishing over 30 seconds adrift of the German although he did endure an incident free race for the first time since Japan. The sight of Kimi moving over to let Vettel through halfway through the race epitomized the status quo at Ferrari, and one which looks set to continue into next season.
The point surely needs to be raised, that Ferrari may be sacrificing their chances to take on Mercedes in the manufactures standings at the expense of keeping Raikkonen as Vettel’s No2, even if they do have a car capable of challenging the Silver Arrows next year.
Winter can’t come soon enough for McLaren Honda. The sight of Alonso and Button running onto the podium on Saturday was one of the funnier moments of the weekend, and it’s a blessing for everyone involved in Woking and Japan that their two former Champions can see the lighter side of McLaren’s plight. Fallen giants can surely be one of the only words to describe McLaren in 2015, and as the failure on Saturday for Alonso showed, they have a long way to come over the winter break. Although in relative terms McLaren may have improved since pre season testing many months ago, the pace of development in F1 has left them still fighting for scraps at the back of the grid. The fact alone that their main rivals this season have been Sauber, who barely have had the budget to develop their car all season long should be motivation enough for all those involved to make some serious inroads in the off season, other their prized asset Alonso may just begin to regret his return from Maranello.