From the Newsroom

Sky Sports Formula 1 commentator and lifelong Hammer David Croft looks forward to the new season
It was nearly half past two on Saturday afternoon in Barcelona and from the flurry of texts from some of my Eagles supporting mates currently arriving on my phone, it’s quite clear that Palace have scored. 

In the pre-season testing Paddock I, sadly, haven’t got a chance to look at the replays. No Sky Sports showing here, but judging by some of the comments, I really don’t want to see Aaron Cresswell’s miscued clearance in a hurry anyway.

Instead there’s work to be done and with a bit of luck, my team might just allow me to return those texts with interest in the second half. For whilst I’d love to be at Upton Park this afternoon the Formula 1 new season is less than a fortnight away and there’s plenty to learn for teams and journalists alike.

I am though reminded of a moment at this very track back in 2008 when, after the Spanish Grand Prix when I was interviewing Takuma Sato, who had just finished what turned out to be his, and the Super Aguri team’s, last race. I was halfway through a question about his future when I glanced at the TV in the corner of the motorhome and saw that Carlos Tevez had just put The Hammers a goal up at Old Trafford. Suffice to say that my celebratory reaction on learning the news necessitated a complete re-recording of the interview.  My subsequent cries of “Tevez! 1-0! Get in there you little beauty!” apparently had no place in F1 interviewing technique. 

So who has got the ‘little beauty’ when it comes to F1 cars this year then? In short, Mercedes, champions last year and from what we’ve seen over the testing period, in no mood to relinquish their crown. 

Testing lap times can be notoriously hard to decipher, a bit like pre-season form when it comes to football, but it’s clear that they have a pace advantage the chasing pack can only dream of. When Nico Rosberg set the fastest time of the two Barcelona tests everybody stood up and took notice. Mercedes had fitted the faster, soft tyres, and suddenly showed what the others had feared, that the advantage from the end of 2014 was still very much in evidence.

However, don’t get lulled into thinking that the F1 Championship is done and dusted and that we’re not in for a terrific season ahead. Like playing two up front, I’m never a fan of the lone striker, and we have two Mercedes drivers both more than capable of their ultimate goal, becoming champion. Lewis Hamilton will be pushed hard by his team mate.

Rosberg, having pondered throughout the winter over where he lost the title in 2014, will surely return with renewed vigour. However, Hamilton will be full of confidence that he can become only the ninth driver in F1 history to successfully defend his crown. Lewis drove superbly last season. Nico rose to the challenge and from my perspective I see it being a really close fight between the two between now and the end of November.
I see it being a really close fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg between now and the end of November
If Mercedes slip up, Ferrari, much improved over the winter and seemingly with a much stronger engine from their power problems in 2014, seem to have closed the gap to Red Bull, who are still not entirely satisfied that they have the full horsepower from their Renault engine they really want, and Williams who have quietly have gone about their business with an optimistic tone. These three teams, evenly matched it seems, will be waiting to pounce if Mercedes slip up, but as to who will take full advantage, well that could differ from track to track.

Meanwhile, my optimistic tone has taken a nose dive as Palace go two and then three goals up. The text messages continue and I fear I might have to turn my phone off to protect my sanity.

So I pop down to Toro Rosso, who are full of praise for their new driver line up, one of which, Max Verstappen, only celebrated his 17th birthday last September. It’s clear watching him out on the track, though, that his talent is more than ready enough for promotion to the big league. Without putting too much pressure on him, he’s going to impress this season.

At Force India, a winter of delays has quickly been forgotten as they finally get some mileage in on the 2015 car. The team are expecting a slow burn this year, banking on a stronger finish to the season. Which means Lotus, this year running the Mercedes engine, could be in line to nick a few points in the opening races from the likes of Force India and a more reliable but still not quite pacy enough Sauber. 

And if being 3-0 down at home to Crystal Palace is painful, spare a thought for McLaren. Back with Honda as an engine supplier, reviving memories of their successful association in the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, but this time around suffering more teething problems than a family of new born triplets, with just as many sleepless nights.

A Formula 1 engine is a complicated beast and this Honda unit is in no mood for taming just yet. On Friday here in Barcelona they clocked up 100 laps of the track, their best day of the winter by far. But the problems returned and Saturday and Sunday saw the car confined to the garage for long periods once more. Like Enner Valencia’s late goal, those 100 laps just a mere consolation, leaving their team boss Eric Boullier to suggest that it would be when the team return to Spain in May before they could even hope to be competitive.

A fifth of the season will have been completed by then. With a bit of luck the team that was once called Marussia will be back on the track, having overcome seemingly impossible odds to pluck their proverbial Phoenix out of the ashes and carry on racing. 

Meanwhile, my team might just have overturned their own version of the form book and beaten Chelsea and Arsenal. You can but hope, whether you’re a football fan or a Formula 1 team. 

Fortune may always be hiding for some, but there’s always hope and until the lights go out to start the first race in Melbourne that’s what everyone up and down the pit lane has in common.