After a winter break full of changes and major shuffles on the grid and in team structures, Formula 1 returned to Jerez with its first pre-season test which took place from February 1-4, 2015. The fastest time of the week was 1minute and 20.841 seconds clocked by Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.
Ferrari: A stylish gallop to the top
Four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel logged 60 laps on the first day and 89 laps on the second day, putting Ferrari at the top of the time-sheets on both days. As far as acclimatizing himself to his new office went, the new Ferrari SF15-T had very few technical issues apart from a few telemetry ones on the first day. He came out saying, “It’s too soon to give a verdict on the true level of this car, especially as we can’t make a comparison with the other teams, who can be running different programmes. However, I’d say we have a good basis to work from”.
Teammate Kimi Raikkonen logged a total of 200 laps as he placed the SF15-T as the second fastest on day 3 and the fastest on the final day of the test. As the fastest driver of the entire test he returned satisfied with the new car saying “this car is definitely an improvement over the 2014 one. It’s the whole package that has progressed, but there is still a lot of work to do. We are not comparing ourselves to the others, we just got on with our own job, without looking at what they were doing.”
The prancing horse outfit galloped effortlessly to the top of the time sheets but it is only the first test and one can conclude much as test times don’t say volumes. But it is indeed a positive start to the team after a disappointing season last year. In terms of the technical aspects they had an effortless run in terms of the chassis, powertrain, setup and reliability issues. Technical director James Allison summed it up saying “given how it went, overall we can be pleased, because we have had a solid start.”
Mercedes : Still the benchmark
The Silver Arrows team might not have topped the time sheets but they did cover the maximum mileage by logging a stylish total of 516 laps. The priority of their test was to iron out teething issues of the W06 and focusing on minor reliability issues they faced initially.
Nico Rosberg kept Mercedes at a consistent third fastest on both days that he drove by logging a total 157 laps on day 1 and 151 laps on day 3 of the test. On the other hand Lewis Hamilton logged a total of 91 laps on day 2 by clocking the fourth fastest time and logging a total of 117 laps on the final day placing himself third on the timesheets.
By covering approximately 600km more miles than the rest of the teams on the grid, it was obvious that the quickest times were not priority. Instead the team has obviously gone a step further to test heavy fuel loads, and focus on testing the max power output of their ERS on long runs.
Lewis Hamilton said “It’s been pretty amazing this week to see how reliable the car has been and how much mileage we’ve covered” and added “This is where you prove out the car – looking for as many laps as you can, not searching for fast times”. With the nature of their test run being different and their dominance last season, they still remain the benchmark for comparison on the grid.
Red Bull Racing: Headturners
Red Bull Racing team might not have been the head-turners in terms of pace but set the paddock buzzing with striking camouflaged livery on the RB11. Another head-turner was when they ran the car on Day 2 without a front wing, as the one they had got damaged on the first day and they couldnt arrange for a spare immediately.
Christian Horner explained that the livery was inspired by one of Vettel’s helmets last year, and said “It’s pretty much Red Bull: we are not afraid to do things differently. It’s quite striking – and impossible to get details and photographs of the car at this time of the year when everybody tries to be as secretive as possible.”
On Day 1, Daniel Riccardo completed 35 laps and set the fourth fastest timing, but on Day 3 he completed 47 laps and was second slowest on the grid placing Red Bull Racing 7th on the timesheets. Rookie driver Daniil Kyvatt who had his first test run on Day 2 of the testing ended up damaging the front wing in the morning and completed only 11 laps without being able to set a timing placing him at the bottom of the time-sheets. Without a spare wing available he had to complete several installation laps without a front-wing. On Day 4, Kyvatt brought out the first red flag after suffering an ERS problem, nevertheless he was able to complete 64 laps and clock a time ahead of rivals McLaren.
For Red Bull Racing, this is the first time since 2010 when they have arrived at a pre-season test as a non- world champion team. A majority of their technical setbacks have been engine and powertrain related ones. French engine and powertrain supplier, Renault has tried ironing out the glitches over the winter but since engine development requires a larger time frame, it will take them at least a few races into the season to solve the issues completely.
McLaren : Teething problems
With a new engine supplier Honda this season and several changes in the team, what one learnt from the first test is that they are going to take time to put together the entire combination. With Honda’s iconic return to F1, this will be their first season hence one can expect it a learning curve for both them and McLaren.
In the four days one saw both Alonso and Button struggling at the bottom of the timesheets, but both of them did give a positive feedback on the feel of the car. The MP4-30 is innovative in terms of design but their stuttering start in terms of pace will see them struggle through the tests.
Both drivers were able to manage a total of 79 laps to which Honda motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai responded saying “We’d anticipated there would be issues – this is a test, after all. But the difficulties we faced here were more than we’d expected, so we weren’t able to get the running time we’d ideally wanted.”
Despite not being able to get the running time they ideally wanted, they were able to perform sizeable amount of aero tests and get positive feedback on the architecture of the car such as the chassis and aerodynamics. However one can expect improvements and upgrades for them to gain momentum in the next two tests in Barcelona.
Sauber : The surprise package
The Hinwil based outfit arrived at Jerez with a new car, new livery and an all-new driver line-up featuring Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. The distinctive color scheme of the C-34 and improved design suggests a renewed hope for the team as compared to the troublesome C-33 last season. Technically sound architecture and a powerful engine and powertrain supply by Ferrari put them ahead of Mercedes and other rival teams on the timesheets.
Nasr was second fastest on Day 2 of the test completing 89 laps and grabbed headlines by topping the timesheets on Day 3 after logging 109 laps. On the other hand Ericsson was consistently the second fastest on Day 1 and Day 4 of the test and logging a total of 185 laps overall.
On both days the drivers were driving on low fuel loads and using soft compound tyres, which add two seconds more pace as compared to the other drivers on the grid who were using different set-ups. However it is a positive start for the team in comparison with rivals such as Williams, Toro Rosso or Lotus and technically they were in a comfortable place even compared to Red Bull or McLaren who were struggling with issues.
Toro Rosso : Youngest line-up on the grid
With the youngest driver line-up on the grid featuring 20 year old Carlos Sainz Jr. and 17 year old Max Vestappen, the Red Bull junior team managed to get maximum mileage out of the test racking up a total of 353 laps. Given that kind of running the focus of their run was pure testing giving both the drivers maximum time in the STR10 and acclimatizing them to their new job. They managed to overcome niggling issues which were faced initially and focused mainly on reliability, consistency and the drivers. According to their feedback they had no powertrain reliability issues with the Renault engines or issues with car assembly. Overall they had a smooth test run compared to their sister team Red Bull Racing, putting them in a much more comfortable place for the next two tests.
Williams : On a lone trip
The Grove based team ended on a high note last season with a promising comeback and similarly they started at Jerez with a trouble free start. Both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completed a total of 278 laps on the FW-37. Initially they did face a few teething problems on Day one but on the whole they were able to carry out a fair amount of setup work through the test. Although they were not at the top of the time-sheets, they seemed to be on a similar note like Mercedes when it came to concentrating on reliability issues.
The Enstone based outfit had their 2015 challenger arrive a day late which gave them only 3 days of test time. However with a switch to Mercedes engines and powertrain supply, they were able to clock the sixth fastest time of the week which was 1 minute and 22.713 seconds. Numerous technical flaws in the design of the E22 combined with an underperforming Renault power unit had resulted in a disastrous season last year, however the E23 seems to be a step forward with a superior Mercedes engine.
The only team missing has been Force India who have not been able to get VJM08 ready in time for the Jerez test, and made a recent announcement that they might sit out for the second test too. The news is disappointing given their promising lineup comprising Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
Since test times aren’t too important and teams run various setups, once can only see how things pan out in the Barcelona tests to be able to get a clearer picture ahead of the Melbourne GP. The next test will be held from February 19-22 , 2015 at Barcelona in Spain.