Jerez test – what we’ve learnt about F1 2014 so far

The first winter testing in Formula One is a long awaited feature every year. Albeit not remotely representative of a real-life race, it gives the fans the first glimpse of things to come in the season ahead: new drivers, new packages and how they all blend together to give some indication of their future performance. But not in a while has the Jerez test been followed by so many curious eyes as it has in January 2014.

Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

Drooping noses look ugly

One of the key talking points over the post-Christmas period has been the design of the 2014 chassis; the new crash-test regulations required the teams came up with a design featuring a low nose, to prevent launching of the car in the air upon impact with a competitor in front – among other safety-driven changes. The worry here was that the grid, studded with drooping noses, would simply look ugly; and, unfortunately, those worries proved justifiable. 

The ten teams that presented their cars in Jerez (Lotus did not partake in the first test) took different approaches to meeting the regulations with as little aerodynamic loss as possible. Arguably, Mercedes and Red Bull were the best looking chassis on the track; below a gallery of the designs so far…

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Reliability issues

The new power train, encompassing a smaller V6 engine, with a turbocharged transmission, including an energy recovery system (ERS) was long expected to pose the biggest challenge for the sport at the start of the season. Firstly, it meant a completely new design of the power system by the engine manufacturers, with only three of them left to cater for the whole grid: Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. Secondly, the majority computer-controlled ERS is by its nature deemed to cause some headaches for the drivers, who lose that little bit control over the car – previously an older equivalent of the system KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) allowed the release of stored kinetic energy – controlled via a button on the steering wheel.

Common sight in Jerez as Caterham of Marcus Ericsson is loaded onto a truck after in stopped on track. Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

Common sight in Jerez as Caterham of Marcus Ericsson is loaded onto a truck after in stopped on track.
Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

During the winter break Jenson Button was quoted saying Jerez testing would be hilarious, considering the unpredictability of the new system and the drivers’ trying to get to grips with the new package in the cold of Spain in January; more significantly, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner predicted only half of the grid making it to the finish line in Melbourne – which only reflects the unease the teams are feeling for the new set-up.

Fluctuating performance

Autosport columnist Dieter Rencken argued last week that Jerez testing should have been made private – and it is easy to understand the reasoning. By virtue of its name, the purpose of winter testing is to perform the first fitting of a driver to their new car, and to test how the different elements of the car work together on track. Also, the first test will most likely give significantly different results to the final test, when data collected in the course of several weeks will allow the teams to smooth out the creases on their new product and bring it to full working order – but the onlookers of these tests are quick to jump into conclusions.

Having said that, there were some surprising performances on the Jerez track – and some shocking underachievers also.

And so, after experiencing a front wing failure that cut the first day’s running short for Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes have collected the first laurels of the season by not only bagging the largest number of laps in the course of four days (309), but also performing a full-length race simulation in the meantime, by Nico Rosberg.

“It has been fantastic; really fantastic,” Hamilton summed up the test.

“[Mileage] is that biggest positive we can take from here. The car is reliable.”

Red Bull experienced a series of cooling issues throughout the Jerez test. Photo by AUTOSPORT

Red Bull experienced a series of cooling issues throughout the Jerez test. Photo by AUTOSPORT

McLaren looked true to their word when they said their horrible 2013 season was a one-off blunder – although they failed to make an appearance on the first day, the rookie team-mate to Button Kevin Magnussen clocked the fastest lap of all for the whole test, on Thursday.

Williams seemed to have new life pumped into it with the arrival of Felipe Massa, who closed the Friday testing with a fastest time.

But on the other side of the spectrum, Red Bull came through as the biggest loser, experiencing issue after issue with their Renault package and cooling system and only managing a meagre a 21 laps in the course of four days, and packing up early on Friday. Of course, there’s no indication that early troubles will continue until the next  test in Bahrain later this month – but the lack of running means Red Bull has little data to work with to significantly boost its performance for the next round.

“I don’t think it adds pressure,” Ricciardo told Autosport, commenting on Mercedes’ performance at Jerez.

“For all we know they could be racking up a lot of laps, but they could be a second off the pace – who knows? We are not going to read into it.

“We would have loved to do more laps, I came to drive, but there you go.”

Competition slows down

Fernando Alonso agreed that the cars feel slower, but said they still pose a challenge to drive. Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

Fernando Alonso agreed that the cars feel slower, but said they still pose a challenge to drive.
Photo by: Martin Rickett/PA

The innitial feeling among the drivers following the first test is that the cars are now slower than last year’s package. This can be seen in the fastest lap time clocked by Magnussen at Jerez this year: 1m 23.276sec – compared to 1m17.879sec by Massa in 2013.

“We have lost downforce, around 20-30 per cent from last year, and now also the tyres are one step harder. It makes it more difficult all the time,” Sauber’s Adrian Sutil told Autosport. 

“It is a shame because F1 is a bit too slow at the moment. From the engine side it is very powerful, so we are not down on the power side, it is nice to drive and nice to have a turbocharger.

The new V6 engines are designed to produce around 150bhp less than the V8s at 750bhp, but additional power would be coming from the ERS – around 160bhp for 33second per lap from braking and the turbocharger’s waste heat. Hence it’s difficult to judge the actual speed of the cars following the first test of the new package, when none of the teams would be running at their full potential – and still getting used to  revised aerodynamics, a new braking system and eight-speed gearboxes…

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