Formula One’s first 2014 pre-season revealed a lot about what can we expect from the world’s fastest sport this year; already the pecking order seems to have been shaken up and while World Champions Red Bull floundered, their arch-rivals made hay while the sun shone. Not literally speaking – much of the week was rather off-key by Spanish standards at the circuit Jerez de la Frontera.
Where better to start than the reigning World Champions and the team that provided the most headlines for the fewest number of laps? Conspicuous by their difficulties, Red Bull never really got off the mark in Jerez. Unveiled on Tuesday morning in the pitlane the RB10 seemed, on the face of it, another svelte Adrian Newey interpretation of the 2014 regulations. Like Newey’s recent offerings, the new car features a tightly-packaged rear end to maximise airflow, but this very desire to push the rules to their maximum caused serious heating issues that became apparent over the course of the next four days. Sebastian Vettel’s day one running was limited to a handful of laps at the death thanks to an ‘overnight problem’ that was later linked to the ERS and turbo systems. It was a theme that was a constant, also providing a smokey end to the German’s Wednesday when a minor fire on the RB10 caused a slight degree of panic in the Red Bull garage. When Daniel Ricciardo got out on track things didn’t improve and the young Aussie was forced to abandon his new mount a mere two corners into his first lap for the team on Thursday morning. He managed a couple of laps in the afternoon but a paltry three was the final total, a score not exactly improved upon on the final day when further turbo and cooling problems saw Red Bull pack up and head home early.
Final Thought: The worst possible start to their title defence for the World Champions, but, they’re exactly that – World Champions. In the words of Ricciardo ‘time is on their side’. With Horner and Newey at the helm, expect an improvement in Bahrain.
Capitalising on the better-than-expected reliability of their in-house power unit, Mercedes forced home a point in Jerez. As runners-up in the 2013 title race you would expect them to be there or thereabouts, but they went one better in the opening salvo and the F1W05 appears a potent weapon that is the early favourite for the bookies. Lewis Hamilton’s front-wing failure was the only blot on the landscape and provides a minor degree of concern for the ladies and gents at Brackley, but simple strengthening of aero components can easily be achieved. The mammoth lap tally amassed by the Briton and team-mate Nico Rosberg explicitly proved that whatever the secrets of the new V6 turbo, Mercedes have the early whipping hand.
Final Thought: An excellent start for the 2013 runners-up, compounded by one of the better-looking 2014 designs. The only concern is the legality of the nose-mounted cameras, devices that also serve as aero parts. All-in-all, starts to the year don’t get better than this.
Coming off the back of their worst season in over thirty years, McLaren look to be in better shape this time round. Despite missing the first day of running with electrical and hydraulic issues, Jenson Button topped the timesheets on day two in a prelude to Kevin Magnussen’s superb Thursday showing that saw the rookie claim a slice of F1 history as he was fastest in his first official F1 session. The MP4/29’s unique rear ‘suspension-blockers’ turned heads and raised the near-impossible thought that Adrian Newey had missed a trick; the device is designed to help with downforce at slow speed while reducing drag over the rear suspension components at full tilt. Independent shrouds of this purpose are banned but McLaren have got round the issue by attaching the device to the suspension itself – a move within the rules. Button reported the car felt more predictable and stable than its V8 predecessor, but lamented the move to lower power units the new Formula has brought. Magnussen for his part proved consistent and reliable, right up to the point that he span and then crashed in the final hour of Friday’s running; a minor ‘offence’ given his inexperience.
Final Thought: Using the reliable Mercedes power unit is a big advantage, but the car has to play its part. The MP4/29 does, at first glance, do that with aplomb and McLaren end the week hot on the heels of the factory Mercedes team.
A largely anonymous week for Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen posted the fastest time on day one when running was limited to say the least despite a telemetry issue, and the Finn and team-mate Fernando Alonso kept the F14T running with a minor interruption for the Spaniard proving the only interlude. While not bang on the pace of the Mercedes and McLaren machines, Ferrari may reap reward by opting for a ‘conservative’ design in the first year of the new regulations. There was no drama to the Italian team’s week, rather a confident sense of purpose that they could capitalise on the problems of rivals Red Bull to gather a head-start on the Anglo-Austrian outfit. Neither Alonso or Raikkonen felt the car was difficult in any way, though Alonso seemed to push the limits more than Raikkone had done on his days in the new Prancing Horse.
Final Thought: There was no headline-grabbing performance from Ferrari last week so it’s difficult to judge exactly where they stand. Plenty of laps on the board though and no engine woes to speak of bode well as w ehead toward the Bahrain test.
Testing is a notoriously unreliable indicator of form, but the Jerez test will have been a shot in the arm for an increasingly downtrodden Williams heading into a new era. The promise of 2012 faded to the confusion and disarray of 2013 but this year the team appear to have hit the ground running with the attractive FW39 and new recruit Felipe Massa. Valtteri Bottas got the raw part of the deal doing his running earlier in the week, but knuckled down and delivered a solid base on which Massa could build on in the final days. As the week wore on the team looked ever stronger, and Massa’s continued improvement in the wet on Friday ensured he finished the test on a high for his new team. The switch to Mercedes engines couldn’t have come at a better time given Renault’s problems.
Final Thought: An excellent start to 2014 for the British team. Massa gelled well with the men who will work closest with him in the season ahead and the FW39 ended the week comfortably within the top four.
Force India have always pursued policies of giving test, reserve and third drivers equal chance of getting behind the wheel as their main pilots; but sometimes that policy, while admirable, can be criticised. Putting Dani Juncadella in the new VJM07 on the last day of testing, when most of the running is typically done, was one of those decisions. In the first throes of a new Formula, it perhaps would have been wiser to give new recruits Perez and Hulkenberg the scope for more running, particularly the German who got a handful of laps on Thursday as his ‘welcome home’ gift from the team. It’s striking visual appearance (both livery and shape-wise – ahem) is among the most notable of the new crop of cars, and the VJM07 ran relatively soundly throughout the week with a couple of minor hiccups for Perez in day two. However, it never looked like matching the dry running pace of the other Mercedes powered machines, though this may have been down to Force India’s test strategy.
Final Thought: Although he wasn’t expected to make waves (pardon the pun) Dani Juncadella acquitted himself superbly in the wet on Friday and ran the lion’s share of Force India’s running in exemplary fashion for an F1 rookie.
It wasn’t the best of starts for Sauber, who struggled with the new braking style – this affecting Adrian Sutil more adversely than some as the German made two separate mistakes that ate into his running time. Esteban Gutierrez did a solid job, though the brake problems meant neither he nor Sutil could lap the car at anywhere near the pace approached by the frontrunners. The intricacies of the braking system can be ironed out before the Bahrain test more than likely, but it will be something of a clean slate when we get to Sakhir for the Swiss team.
Final Thought: The only consolation at the end of the week is they have a Ferrari power unit rather than a Renault one.
Mirroring the plight of mother-team Red Bull, the Italian minnows had a shocker of a week that culminated in the debacle that was Thursday for Jean Eric Vergne, the Frenchman breaking down three times, one of which was before he’d even left the pitlane. Daniil Kvyat, who had been so impressive in his outing as third driver at last year’s US and Brazilian races, didn’t run at all on Tuesday and completed just nine laps on Friday in the rain.
Final Thought: Things should improve with Renault’s planned updates for Bahrain, but the STR9 has a long way to go to be competitive in Melbourne.
Slammed on Tuesday for the design of its new CT05 car, Caterham hit back with a steady ramping-up of its test program as the week wore on. It ended on Friday with Kamui Kobayashi giving the somewhat-explicit CT05 a thorough shakedown and a competitive showing in the damp/dry conditions before the Renault engine problems hit home. New recruit Marcus Ericsson didn’t get much of a chance to show his mettle, and that was unfortunate.
Final Thought: If only the car wasn’t so ugly!
Predictably failed to make the start of the test in true ‘new team’ fashion, but once they arrived they turned up with arguably the best-looking car of the year. Not that that is any guarantee of racing success, but the new Marussia completed its maiden three-lap run at the hands of Max Chilton, more than could be said for several bigger, better-funded teams. Jules Bianchi ran well on Friday with no embarassing on-track issues, so all-in-all it was a good start for F1’s smallest team.
Final Thought: Bahrain will be about fine-tuning the MR03 to be a true competitor for points in the opening races before the development race takes hold.