The first serious skirmishes of the 2015 F1 season kicked off last week. Deep in contract negotiations with World Champion Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff opened 2015 with some early mind games.
Reading between the lines
Despite his relative lack of F1 management experience, the Mercedes boss indulged in some Ron Dennis-esque mind games. Publicly stating that Alonso and Bottas are his “plan B” should Hamilton not stick with Mercedes, was primarily a negotiation tactic. The subtext for Lewis was obvious: you are not irreplaceable so keep your demands realistic.
Beyond that however it served to unsettled some rivals as well. For Alonso the comments were effectively a question: have you made the right choice? McLaren’s preparations for 2015 are already complex enough without the added issue of their star signing scrutinising his new contract “just in case”.
Though the constructors standings do not reflect it, Williams were Mercedes’ closest challengers in 2014. Bristling with confidence and running a future World Champion in Bottas, it is no longer a pipe dream to consider them title contenders. Cue Toto and a shot across the bows.
Giving Bottas a semi-realistic glimpse of life at Mercedes creates a very significant and pressing distraction that was not on his mind in 2014. Williams were swift to riposte by making positive noises about their development plans and their competitiveness in the current cycle. Against Mercedes it was a fairly weak reply but the best they could do.
Bring your cheque books
Ferrari have been pouring over the rule book and found themselves (and Renault) a nice loophole to aid their pursuit of Mercedes. Teams were under the impression the power unit changes permitted in 2015 needed to be homologated before the start of the season. Ferrari have pointed out that the FIA failed to set a specific end date for that process thus effectively allowing in-season power unit development.
Ferrari and Renault now have more time to develop and hone changes to their hybrid units. Mercedes of course will enjoy the same benefit but it is certainly good news for their challengers. Aside from the inevitability of escalating costs on engines that are already hideously expensive (take note Gene Haas), it could be a hammer-blow for Honda. The Japanese giant will now have to homologate their engine for the start of the season, as the existing suppliers had to in 2014.
At a time when the Volkswagen Audi Group are rumoured to be evaluating an F1 entry, it seems likely that Honda will be given some sort of dispensation. After all, Honda may be the most recent manufacturer to enter Formula 1 but they are also the most recent to have left.