The second day of the first test in Spain raised a few questions as the sport kicked into life after a quiet start.
Little more than two months after the chequered flag fell in Brazil, the Formula 1 community reconvened at the pretty – but somewhat archaic by F1’s modern standards –Jerez circuit for the first winter test.
Several teams opted to launch shortly prior to track running commencing on Tuesday, with several outfits featuring new drivers or even a completely changed line-up. The main talking point was, of course, the aesthetically challenging front nose designs, which have been caused by the amendments to the technical regulations on the grounds of safety. Mercedes has found an elegant solution, Red Bull’s paintwork cleverly disguises any potential ugliness but other teams have not been so ingenious. Toro Rosso’s nose design even provoked Ann Summers into a response.
The lack of running on the first day was anticipated, but even some experienced paddock dwellers were surprised that the entire field managed just 93 laps between them. There were mitigating circumstances: Lotus is skipping the first test, Marussia’s car left the factory late due to a technical problem while McLaren encountered similar difficulties. The only definitive conclusion from the first day was that losing a front wing is still not a conducive aid when braking for the first corner, as Lewis Hamilton discovered. It had to happen to the most elegant nose solution!
Wednesday provided the first opportunity to properly gauge any conclusions both on track and through a glance at the results. Not of the times, which some have already picked up on due to their comparative tardiness. Jenson Button’s time was a 1.24, meaning that he remains around six seconds from 2013 pace, which will inevitably lead to fears that Formula 1 will be barely faster than the pace achieved by feeder series GP2. At the moment, the drivers are nowhere near the ultimate pace and the new power units are still in their early infancy. More important was the mileage attained by the teams.
Mercedes undoubtedly will currently feel the most confident of the engine suppliers. Not only is their engine, sorry, power unit, the loudest (and most pleasing) but they racked up the most laps. Button completed 43 laps, Valtteri Bottas amassed 35, Sergio Pérez did 37 laps while Nico Rosberg managed a whopping 97 laps. That’s seriously impressive for such an early phase in the year, particularly when in the recent era of ultra-reliable cars 100 laps for a single day in Jerez was a milestone. It wasn’t a completely smooth day for Mercedes as Pérez stopped at the first corner with smoke coming from the car, but it was an overwhelmingly positive few hours.
Ferrari’s power unit is audibly quieter, with the classic turbo whine, but both of their cars completed a decent amount of running. Kimi Räikkönen amassed 47 laps while Esteban Gutiérrez added 53 to the total, giving them 100 laps for the day.
If there was one company who would have wished for a better start, then step forwards Renault. They cannot take the whole blame for a disappointing start to the year, for one of their clients is absent and another is at the circuit with a car that is barely finished. Additionally, Red Bull’s Christian Horner conceded on Tuesday that his team is slightly behind their rivals, with the RB10 having started crash testing only 10 days before the action began. Nevertheless, problems relating to the energy stores limited Sebastian Vettel to eight laps while Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat never even made it out on track. Caterham did not encounter such problems due to the packaging of their CT05, but their car still sounded as if it was misfiring as Marcus Ericsson took to the track. During Vettel’s run earlier in the day, his car also sounded less than healthy. While times are fairly inconclusive, neither driver will be comfortable sitting 14 seconds off of Button’s pace, having completed just a handful of laps, especially as they now have to wait three weeks until the next test in Bahrain. If the three Renault-powered cars manage substantial mileage across the final two days then their initial problems will swiftly be forgotten. If the issues persist then this setback has the potential to develop into a serious headache for the French company.
There remain a couple of burning questions that fans wish to be answered: how are the cars to drive and what do they sound like?
The obvious answer is that it’s still far too early to say. Jerez has an unusual surface which is exacerbated by lower temperatures than drivers usually encounter. Rain on Wednesday morning also made the situation trickier. The drivers have been having initial struggles, with Räikkönen skating through the gravel while Gutiérrez had issues under braking and subsequently put the car into the gravel. Several others are also enjoying sideways action but it would be incorrect to conclude that the situation will be the same in Melbourne. Nonetheless, it’s a challenge for the drivers and one to which they will have to adapt.
Opinion is split on the sound of the power units. An upbeat Rosberg said that the sound evoked memories of the 1980s while compatriots Nico Hülkenberg and Vettel expressed their disappointment. The reality is that it is still early days and only a handful of cars are on track at any time. Even then, they aren’t running at full revs. There’s some variation in the sounds, even among the same supplier, with the Williams emitting a deep crisp sound, while the McLaren and Mercedes appearing raspier. It’s unlikely that they will be able to match the ear-splitting sounds produced by the V8 engines, but when 22 of them are on track it will still produce a pleasant sound, one which will rapidly become associated with Formula 1.