Yes it was the only first pre-season test at Jerez, and times don’t matter, and it might be to early to predict, but there are positives for the prancing horse outfit. One can’t ignore that after the winds of change at Maranello over the winter, it is a very different team we are looking at. They have been various structural changes right top level management of the team after Lucas Montezomolo’s departure to the pitlane when it comes to a new team principal, technical director and another four time World Champion in their drive line-up.
The outcome of the change has been positive so far as they have spent more time in developing a superior engine and powertrain units. The chassis of their 2015 challenger, SF15-T is way better than its predecessor, and both drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel have given it a thumbs up.
Pre-season testing might not be important in terms of timesheets as its mostly about putting more mileage on the car, testing various setups, tyres and getting the drivers to get comfortable with the new ride. But when it comes to Ferrari’s effortless run at Jerez, the point worth noting is that they have finally managed developing a car that will do justice to the talent in their driver line-up, unlike the previous years where Kimi struggled in his first year with them, and Alonso has always had to outperform the car despite his immense talents to chase a championship down to the wire.
The tech-talk post Jerez
Currently they might have topped timesheets, but one can’t deny that Mercedes did mask their potential and their real deal as they were running a different kind of test. The kind of test run Mercedes had was they concentrated more on reliability issues and putting more mileage on the car which is basically testing it in ‘race mode’ (i.e. grip, traction, throttle response on more mileage), as compared to Ferrari drivers who topped timesheets as they were running a test that projected their performance in ‘qualifying mode’ i.e. clocking the fastest times.
Kimi was the fastest driver of the week at Jerez but in the speedtraps his speed was 7km/hr slower than the Mercedes driver. The speedtraps are important data in the tests and Vettel’s performance in the speedtraps could not be recorded due to telemetry and transponder issues on the first two days. Therefore they do have a huge gap to close-in on when it comes to development work in the Barcelona tests.
However there is one note on which one can conclude that they will be championship contenders, which is that rivals McLaren and Red Bull Racing have not had an easy test and are lacking in terms of pace, which leads to the fact the other two might not be able to show their real potential till a few races into the season. The superior engine and improved ERS is an advantage on the whole to all Ferrari powered teams as compared to the others, as seen even in Sauber’s performance at Jerez.
2015 advantage: Vettel or Kimi?
Well here’s the thing I’m decoding both drivers and the potential separately, they are World Champions by the end of the day and let’s do justice to both. Both have one thing in common though, both need a car and setup and other technical aspects going for them to propel them to a win. They are good with feedback when it comes to developing a car further but unlike previous Ferrari duel Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, they fail to outperform a car when the chips are down. However both drivers had critics and fans accusing their specific driving styles for their poor fortunes last season.
Vettel decoded: For the four times World Champion convincing the Maranello team that he means business is going to be the real thing. He has had a ruthless winning streak with Red Bull Racing and his mentor Michael Schumacher had a similar one with the prancing horse, but in both scenarios the car was always far superior than 70 percent of the ones on grid. With Red Bull Racing, Sebastian was a favorite with Helmut Marco and Dietrich Mateschitz and could get away with his tantrums, like his relation with Mark Webber or favoritism evolving him getting the better chassis (no1 and no2 driver politics). It wasn’t until last season when a younger Daniel Ricciardo could challenge his game as a teammate, and his driving and talent was questioned. With the new weather at Ferrari and Kimi being their last champion, the same antics might not work, both will get a fair chance. His real test will be outperforming Kimi who is equally good and has a good car this time to get him wins.
When it comes to reputation and respect in the motor racing fraternity worldwide, this time he will have to win it on pure skill, talent and racing. One can’t ignore those headlines that called him ‘crash kid’ in his Toro Rosso days to a ‘cranky champ’ after his spat with Webber at Red Bull. He will have to remember that Ferrari might have been a trump card for his mentor Schumacher but it is a changed team today, and it has been the home and platform to legends like Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Gilles Villeneuve, Niki Lauda who were drivers that build their careers on pure skill.
Kimi’s advantage: He is their last world champion and he does have the hunger to take a double championship. His switch to Ferrari had a simple reason which is he was better off with an engine makers team with the dawn of a new V6 era in F1. His poor fortunes in the last two seasons gathered a lot of critique over his driving style and as to whether he had the mettle and aggressiveness to push it. Well with the Iceman the explanation is very simple but technical.
It all evolves around his driving style which is unique and very specific. When the car lacks downforce at the front end or when there’s no grip at the front, it causes understeer and that doesn’t work too well for him. His comeback with Lotus was magnanimous but that was primarily because of the perfect front suspension setup given to him by the same technical director James Allison. It’s when Allison quit that the design lines of the E21 did not match up to Kimi’s skill and his consistent streak of finishing in the points in every GP came to an end. Allison’s rapport with Kimi has been warm and he has been able to create a suitable SF15-T for the Finn.
With the SF14-T last year, the problem was similar, the car front was designed to induce downforce. Pat Fry is said to have admitted that they used almost seven different front suspension setups to be able to assist Kimi. Induced downforce in the front did not work too well for him with the Pirellis which is quiet contrary to when it did work for him in his McLaren years with the Michelins. That front grip is usually key to the Finns performance else he struggles with corner speeds and one will see him slipping down the timesheets in terms of pace. In the tyre war years it was easier to decipher whether a driver liked understeer or oversteer and for a technical director to work around the chassis design accordingly. Last season was a season of firsts for him, as it was the first winless season since 2006 and his first without a podium since 2001. This season will be a deciding year for him, as he turns 36 and his contract with Ferrari ends by the end of it, so it is make or break!
The team-mate rapport between Vettel and Kimi has been good off the circuit in previous years. But neither are the kind who will sit to play fiddle to each other, both being World Champions. Given a competent SF15-T one can only hope the duo proves lucky for Ferrari, and is able to end their streak of eight years without a World Champion.
In the end all one can say is that if McLaren and Red Bull Racing are not able manage their technical problems before Melbourne, then the only ones to give Mercedes a run for their money will be this Ferrari duel. With two more tests to go in Barcelona, Ferrari’s expectations so far are realistic but they left Jerez on a positive note and with a firm basis for further development work.
The next two tests at Barcelona will be in warmer temperatures and tyre management will be a highlight of the test, with the first one from Feb 19-22, 2015. Till then one can only wait to see how their fortunes unfold from there to the Melbourne Grand Prix which will be held from March 13-15, 2015.