If we cut away what has become the compulsory pre-season optimism surrounding every F1 team (bar the sad shambles at Williams), we’re left with the usual dilemma of having nothing substantial to bet your house on.
But just for the sake of it, if we take the quality of social media output over the past few weeks, then Mercedes holds a decent lead, at least until the first car rolls out of the pit lane on Friday morning.
For that, Mercedes must thank James Allison. His official title may be Technical Director but the subsidiary role of Talking Head has provided such a fund of information for the layman that it’s easy to see how he could motivate the vast workforce with such genuine enthusiasm for the job in hand.
The first of two videos is an eight-minute chat – and that’s the best word because this is not a stilted lecture from notes or an autocue – about how an F1 car comes together from design and manufacture, through the build and on to initial fire-up and preparation for the first test. While we’ve been spending the winter months idly ruminating and speculating, it becomes clear that 1000 people and more in Brackley and Brixworth have been full on, discussing tens of thousands of parts in exhaustive detail.
And that’s just the start. The process is an on-going plan of attack, as we have seen with Mercedes introducing an upgrade halfway through the recent test. The development was so substantial that one or two observers, understandably clinging to the hope for change in the running order, jumped to the conclusion that reigning champions were in trouble.
The next week will begin to tell if that is actually the case but the heavy aero revisions were a long time in planning and not done overnight on the back of a napkin in a panic response to Ferrari being faster during the opening phase at Barcelona.
The fact that there will be a programme of changes was reiterated this week by a second video showing Allison and Toto Wolff addressing the workforce on the eve of departure for Australia. Wolff said of the coming season: “It’s not about who comes out of the blocks the quickest. This year will be about who is the fittest; the ones that adapt the best to these new tyres and new regulations.”
That’s probably an accurate assessment of what’s to come as the 21-race season gets going through Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan before grabbing a quick breath prior to Spain and the European sector. A widespread hope is that Ferrari don’t drop the ball in the middle of all this.
In our social media warm-up analysis, the Prancing Horse has come out of the starting stalls at an impressive rate compared to previous years. That hasn’t been difficult given Ferrari’s habit of sulking in the dressing room, refusing to speak to anyone and then getting punchy when an unsympathetic media jumps on every fumble and failure.
The signs were good as soon as the Italians recently took on board a multilingual former McLaren communications officer with a fine reputation for getting the job done – and starting it with a smile; a concept not seen in Maranello since, ironically, McLaren allowed Kimi Räikkönen to win Ferrari’s last championship in 2007.
As the off-season of idle speculation thankfully comes to an end, here’s one last thought that occurred while appreciating Allison’s added value for Mercedes.
You will recall that, as a former Ferrari employee, there was a disagreement with the late Sergio Marchionne over the chairman’s insensitive handling of a family tragedy that befell James. During those three years at Maranello, Allison will have worked with and appreciated the talent of engine wizard Mattia Binotto, now the team principal.
Had Allison remained, they would have made a formable combination. The Englishman would not only have provided vital technical support for Binotto as he takes on a time-consuming political role, but he could also have provided an articulate explanation of how the red cars are running rings around the silver ones.
Well, you can but hope… Meanwhile, let serious and proper battle commence.