By day three of pre-season testing in 2014 ten teams had managed to complete at least an installation lap of Jerez. There are 11 drivers shown in the table for the third day as both McLaren drivers made an appearance that day, but Lotus did not appear at the first test at all:
Both Caterham and Marussia failed to set a time, this being the first day they had managed to run, while Red Bull also had problems and despite managing to set a time during the eight laps completed on day two could only manage three laps on the third day none of which troubled the time keepers. As Red Bull were the only other team apart from the world champions to win races last season, it is worth remembering their struggles in the opening test when we consider McLaren Honda’s performances this year.
Coming to today’s performances then, it is a dramatic improvement from this time last year, with all teams present in double figures as far as laps completed (and three in treble figures). As last year we have a team missing the first test, and must hope that Force India do not struggle as much as Lotus did last season. While the best time was slightly slower than yesterday, in reality the only team that went slower was Ferrari, with Räikkönen nearly eight tenths slower than Vettel’s best from day two.
Sauber again put on soft tyres for a fast lap, and this time managed to grab the best time of the day. With 108 laps completed they also did a serious amount of running, and with Mercedes and Toro Rosso also comfortably exceeding 100 laps it is promising for the reliability of those Power Units in their second year of development. Yesterday I suggested that Sauber were on a sponsorship hunt, and I still feel this is the most likely explanation for their apparent pace at this stage of testing. It would be surprising for teams to work on qualifying simulations at this stage of testing (when there are usually interim aero-dynamic parts fitted). Sauber’s pace may be genuine, or they could be running under weight, but it is unlikely that we have seen the best from the other teams yet.
Ferrari on the other hand are unlikely to be the hunt for sponsors, so they are less likely to be running under weight to try and grab headlines. Also, their best laps have been set on the medium compound tyres each day, so they should be able to improve the pace on a qualifying run. The Ferrari pace relative to Mercedes may just be down to the different fuel levels that the teams are using as a baseline to test with. Without data from race simulations it is difficult to determine the relative pace of the teams just yet.
With Rosberg back in the car (and the water leak fixed from yesterday) Mercedes again completed over 150 laps. It wasn’t all trouble free though, with Nico causing a red flag when is car shut down on the circuit. It was returned to the pit-lane on the back of a truck, and the problem fixed so that he could resume testing. This was the second red flag (of three) today. Nasr had spun early on a track still damp from overnight rain, and Maldonado caused the final one stopping in the final minute of the day (are Lotus trying fuel capacity checks this early?).
Maldonado missed all the early running on the damp track as a telemetry problem sidelined the car and he wasn’t able to start running for over two hours. Packing in 96 laps in the time left shows that the team are comfortable with the Mercedes power unit installation. Although Massa did venture out on the damp track, Williams elected not to do more than a handful of laps before the track dried. Perhaps they are also short of spares and don’t want to spend the sort of day Red Bull had yesterday. Once the track dried Massa ran reliably to cover 71 laps.
Red Bull had a troubled morning, with Ricciardo equalling Massa’s five laps on the damp track. The team then needed to change the Renault engine and it was early afternoon before the Red Bull was seen again. Sister team Toro Rosso though made up for their poor lap count by covering 136 laps with Sainz driving. The difference in track time may also explain the junior teams better lap time.
McLaren had a much better start to the day than any this test, and were in the first queue of cars to do an installation lap as the circuit opened. Managing 32 laps this morning, Alonso noticed a loss of water pressure on his last lap and quickly returned to pit-lane. This problem needed an engine change, and McLaren’s laps were done for the day. As I mentioned above, their performance over the first three days is much better than Red Bull managed at this test last year, so all is not lost for the Woking team. As long as they keep finding different problems they are making progress, if they start to find repeated problems they will however be in trouble.