There have been no shortage of talking points after the first three rounds of the new 2014 F1 season.
After the thrills and spills of Bahrain, GiveMeSport contributor Ben Issatt was able to catch up with Sky F1's David "Crofty" Croft to discuss the big stories so far and his thoughts on the new era.
A fascinating first three races to the season, how would you sum up the ‘new’ F1 so far?
DC: Getting better with every race. And looking more and more like Mercedes have a very strong all round package this season, which could take some beating.
The new rules have brought a new pecking order, who have been the biggest surprises for you so far?
DC: Hmmm, surprises. I suppose that Red Bull should be in the surprises column, only because they’re not leading the championships, but I half expected given the resources and technical ability they possess, that they would be a whole lot stronger on the track come Australia than they were in testing.
I do wonder though, exactly how close to Mercedes they really are, look at what happened in the closing stages in Bahrain, following the safety car. Look at the gap that the two Mercedes drivers pulled out over the rest and look at how quickly they did it. That is not a gap that anybody is going to overhaul in a hurry.
I was really pleased that both McLaren and Force India managed podiums in the first three races, particularly Force India who keep achieving really respectable results from a much smaller budget than those they race against.
You could say that Mercedes themselves are the biggest surprise, but I saw this coming and to be fair to Lewis Hamilton I rather get the feeling he did too when he made up his mind to sign for them.
On the contrary who has the biggest disappointment for you so far?
DC: First up Ferrari, who have invested heavily in driving talent but don’t seem to have given either Fernando or Kimi a car they can compete with to win races.
Given the fact that the teams had two tests in Bahrain, to see them run so far off the pace and beaten into 9th and 10th, was a massive disappointment and one they quickly need to recover from. But if it’s down to the Power Unit, just as the Renault teams are seemingly hampered on that score, it’s difficult to know where they can go for improvements.
I’d also say that Williams are yet to convert their pre-season hopes into a really strong race and should really have registered a podium or two by now. Yes, things are much better than 12 months ago, but for a multitude of reasons they’re yet to have the strong race we thought their car was capable of
One of the stories has been Sebastian Vettel being matched if not bettered Daniel Ricciardo so far at Red Bull, are you surprised?
DC: No, I hate to sound like I could see it coming, but not for one minute did I think that Daniel was a bad choice for Red Bull.
Here’s a guy that has won titles on his way up and has shown that he has raw pace and the potential to mix it at the sharp end of the grid. Plus, it was always going to be easier for a man who drove in a Toro Rosso last season to adjust to the loss of downforce in 2014, than a man who enjoyed the luxury of driving the car with the best downforce.
I think Seb v Daniel is going to be one of the best scraps of the season.
Ricciardo may win back his second from Australia next Monday, do you see much hope for his appeal? (This was asked before Tuesday's verdict)
DC: Red Bull obviously felt that they were well within their rights to do what they did in Australia, but at the end of the day there comes a time when you have to accept the decision of the governing body whether you agree or not.
A few weeks ago we saw a footballer sent off, wrongly by a referee who should have sent his team-mate off instead (Mistaken identity in the Chelsea v Arsenal match). Did that player stand his ground and carry on regardless? No, he eventually walked off the pitch knowing that it should have been someone else.
In the Red Bull situation that’s what should have happened and the discussions should have carried on after the race.
It’s not that I don’t have any sympathy for Red Bull and I’m sure they didn’t take maters into their own hands lightly. But the FIA administer the regulations and who’s to say that the Red Bull data was 100% accurate at the time?
So as much as I’d like to see Daniel with a podium to his name, it can’t be a good thing for the sport for Red Bull to win that appeal. Although I’m sure the team will go with an exceptional case, otherwise they wouldn’t have appealed in the first place.
Well out in front is Mercedes, is there a risk prolonged Red Bull-style dominance from them in your opinion?
DC: There is for this season, but the beauty of 2014 is that even if it’s one team that are way out in front, in this case Mercedes, both of their drivers will be allowed to fight for the race wins and for the title. As I write team orders don’t exist at Mercedes which is exactly how it should be.
If Mercedes do maintain their current advantage, could that start to hurt F1 akin to Red Bull in the last few years?
DC: If the races are anywhere near as exciting as Bahrain was, I’m not sure one team’s domination will hurt F1.
Obviously we want to see the wins shared out a little more but the hope is that in the future the Power Unit advantage Mercedes are enjoying, reduces down. Until then with positions changing lap by lap by lap, even for the lead, I’m quite happy to commentate on the new style of F1.
Behind Mercedes the field is very close, are you surprised by that given the rule changes?
DC: Well it’s been close behind the run away leaders for a while so I suppose not. But surprised or not, I’m glad that it is because the closer the field are to each other the better the racing and I could watch races like Bahrain again and again thank you very much.
Your thoughts on Ferrari’s struggles and what it may mean for their ‘super-team’ going forward?
DC: Well their lack of competitiveness is hardly going to serve as a motivation to either driver or to those working behind the scenes.
For Enzo Ferrari it used to be always about the engine, he would have hated the fact that their engine isn’t the best. So they need to work out why their Power Unit isn’t on a par with the Mercedes unit and find a way to solve the problem.
It’s not the work of an instant and whilst they’re struggling I just wonder what it’s doing for Fernando [Alonso]’s relationship with the team which is due to run to the end of 2016, but you could understand if he wanted out earlier.
Plenty of important people discussing changes to the rules already, what does F1 really need now in your view?
DC: Stability. The changes are what F1 needed to become more in line with the way that road car technology is progressing, and in terms of the loss of downforce, to keep the lap times down to a level that doesn’t exceed the safety limits of the tracks.
When Mercedes say that without the change to V6 Power Units they may have had to pull out of the sport that is a message that underlines the need for change. Renault too wanted the change, without it, how do those companies justify what they spend on F1 and without them, just who would have made the engines for future seasons?
So accept that change was needed, what we have isn’t necessarily perfect, but what we need now is time for the new regulations to bed in and when we’ve had at least half a season, then sit down and assess, with an open mind, exactly what we like and don’t like and what might need tweaking.
Until then, let’s just see what the next few races will serve up.
What affect does the thriller in Bahrain have on those who are calling for changes?
DC: Hopefully it’ll help them not to form such knee jerk reactions. But I’d imagine that there were more to the protestations than meets the eye. Bahrain was, as a sporting spectacle, the most perfect piece of timing imaginable.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the season looking ahead?
DC: For what we are about to receive, I hope at the end of it we’re all truly thankful! And that at the end we look back on 2014 as a season that gave us more plusses than minuses and plenty to enjoy from what is still a brilliant sport whether you like the new sound or not.
Thanks to David Croft for taking the time to answer some questions.
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