The 2014 Grand Prix season was a very good one for Mercedes. It won the drivers championship and the constructors championship. No one else came close. The 2015 season is right around the corner and Mercedes has unveiled the new car it will use in defense of its title – the F1 W06 Hybrid Silver Arrow.
When you're standing where Mercedes is (i.e. at the pinnacle of the racing world) your first job is seemingly simple: Don't fall off the mountaintop. A race team must maintain a sweet spot, neither being too complacent, nor being too radical in their next engineering steps. Mercedes shows no signs of doing either of those.
"It would be so dangerous to rest on our laurels after 2014 – but none of us have any sense that things will be easier now," explains Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport. "On the contrary, our motivation is as high as ever ... We are fully aware that success is not only hard won but can also be short-lived without the right approach."
Mercedes says that the new W06 delivers mechanical, structural, aerodynamic and weight saving developments over its predecessor, the F1 W05 Hybrid.
Details, of course, are scant.
Many of the specs seem very run of the mill for an F1 car. There's carbon fiber everywhere; the body, the chassis, the suspension bits, even the steering wheel is made from the stuff. There are few hard specifications given on critical weights and measures, just benign stuff like overall length and the all up weight is given as "702 kg" which is what every team says, since that's the minimum weight allowed.
Similarly, there is no mention of wheel base, fore/aft weight distribution or anything that would give competitors clues from an engineering perspective.
Visually, the most noticeable differences in this year's Mercedes are a redesigned nose (mandated by a rule change) and detail changes to the rear wing.
"The core concept is to keep the nose as short as possible, with the mainplane of the wing as far forward of it as possible," says Executive Director (Technical), Paddy Lowe. "This has produced a ‘clinging on by your fingernails’ kind of appearance where the wing attaches to the pillars, which is a big challenge to deliver structurally. Front wing stiffness tests today really do push the limits of engineering – particularly when coupled with the requirements of the front impact test."
Out the back Lowe notes that the rear wing "will move to a central, single pylon configuration for structural and aerodynamic reasons." Tantalizingly he did not elaborate on why there was a need to make these upgrades, but it seems likely that the move is tied to changes in the rear suspension geometry.
And the other contenders? One thing is for sure, none of the Silver Arrow's competitors are just giving up and going home.
The Lotus team, after a disastrous 2014 has dropped Renault as its engine partner to become a Mercedes customer team. Lotus has nowhere to go but up, and, by its statements made so far, show no signs of equivocating.
Also in the "we can do better than this" mode is Swiss team Sauber. Its whole approach has been very logical, methodical and none too radical.
Toro Rosso, the junior Red Bull squad, seems upbeat and ebullient as ever. Boasting of the youngest driver lineup on the grid, it seems to be consistently landing in the top half of the time sheets.
And Toro Rosso's big brother Red Bull? So far, the only notable thing from the once dominant Adrian Newey penned cars is that they are running full dazzle camouflage, like a WW I battleship. Not being distracted by that, it is worth noting that Red Bull is being very quiet, business like and methodical.
The biggest wildcard in the game this year is the highly anticipated return of Honda. The once dominant pairing of the Japanese engine manufacturer with McLaren, aided by the staggering abilities of driver Fernando Alonso means that at the very least. the team is not to be discounted.
Last year saw Williams Grand Prix Engineering resurgent, and this season it seems to have made a steady push forward on all facets of the car, the new FW37. Frank Williams' team is second only to Ferrari in terms of championships, and they are continuing on in the same manner. No big rolls of the dice, just keep building.
And Ferrari? Its new car – the SF15-T – has been unveiled and its new driver Sebastian Vettel has clocked the fastest time during pre-season testing, more than 8/10th of a second faster than anyone else.