For F1 fans it may seem a long time since the cars last ran at Abu Dhabi, but for teams this has been a busy period as they prepare for the twenty races to come in 2015. Today at Jerez the cars ran at the first pre-season test. With most of the car launches being carried out on-line, some with computer rendered images of the cars, it was the first opportunity for most photographers to see the cars in the flesh.
At this stage last year the power units were brand new and many teams were struggling to string together enough laps to record a time. By the end of the first day in 2014 the times and laps completed looked like this:
Twelve months on and the situation is somewhat different as most teams have more reliable power units as the manufacturers have solved many of the teething troubles that they suffered at Jerez in 2014. The times and laps run look like this:
In comparing the two tables it is clear that Honda are in a similar position to many of the teams last year (only managing six laps in total with only a single flying lap. It is hardly surprising that this was not at all competitive, and we would do well to remember the progress that teams made last year before the first race. However each of the manufacturers last season had multiple teams all running together to help put mileage on the new power units. Honda can only have a single McLaren running each day of testing (only eleven days left) to solve all their problems. It is entirely possible that they will be able to do this, but they are on a much steeper learning curve than any of their rivals. Perhaps we can see why the team wanted the experience of Jenson Button rather than Kevin Magnussen. Honda have stated that they have already solved the (electrical and control systems) problems that stopped Fernando Alonso from adding to his running fairly early in the day.
The next obvious comparison between 2014 and 2015 is that Ferrari ended up fastest on both days. Remembering how badly the red team performed through 2015 should temper any excitement about Sebastian Vettel’s time from today. While it certainly cannot indicate that the team will dominate in 2015, it also doesn’t mean that they will struggle either. To echo an often heard phrase, it is only testing, it doesn’t mean anything. The encouraging for Ferrari is that both team using their power units were able to run reasonably reliably through the day, with Vettel managing 60 laps and Marcus Ericsson going even further with 73 laps in the Sauber. So while Ferrari went twice as far as this time last season Sauber went ten times further. This shows the true pace of development for these power units (as no doubt they are not only more powerful but more efficient as well as being much more reliable).
For the pace setters from the 2014 season though reliability looks even better. Nico Rosberg went over twice as far as any of his rivals, recording 157 laps in his Mercedes. The only other Mercedes customer running today was Williams (Lotus only arrived at the circuit after the running had finished for the day and Force India have elected to miss the entire Jerez test). Even so Valtteri Bottas managed the second equal lap total (73). The Mercedes powered drivers were on different test programmes to the two Ferrari powered teams. While both Vettel and Ericsson set their best time of the day late in the afternoon (lap 45 of 60 for Ferrari and 52 of 73 for Sauber), both Mercedes powered driver set their best time early in the day (on their eleventh laps). It would appear that they weren’t interested in chasing lap times and concentrated on other aspects of their testing programme. As for the late arriving Lotus, they have indicated that it will take most of Monday to assemble the car, so they do not expect to do any serious running until Tuesday. While this is a late start, it should still put them ahead of Force India as they try and come to terms with their new power unit.
The Renault powered teams seemed to have the most problems of all the three manufacturers present in 2014. Daniel Ricciardo only managed 35 laps (the lowest of all bar McLaren with their unproven Honda power unit) while the sister Toro Rosso of new boy Carlos Sainz (how long before we can stop calling him junior?) managed a slightly more respectable 46 laps. This though was still some way off even the Ferrari powered cars. I would think these reliability issues would be causing the teams more concern at present than the apparent lack of pace; as I doubt any of the cars were doing qualifying simulations at this stage of testing.
As to the relevance of the times set, the top six were all substantially faster than the best time set on day one in 2014, and even seventh placed Alonso was faster than the sixth placed car of 2014, despite completing one lap fewer. Another improvement when compared to last year is that every car than ran managed to complete a flying lap. Both Red Bull and Caterham failed in that respect on the first day of testing last year.
So while twitter was full of fans getting excited about a Ferrari resurgence, we should remember that there is a lot of development work to do before the first race of the year. Both Mercedes and Honda made statements today that they have yet to decide on the specification of the power unit that will start the season, it would be a surprise of the other two manufacturers were running the definitive power unit that they plan to take to Australia. To add to this is the vast change to the aerodynamic surfaces that are likely to be made to each car during testing, no doubt Red Bull’s striking testing livery is an attempt to hide these developments as and when they appear on the car.
What did you spot from the first day of testing, and what do you expect to happen over the next three days?