What to Watch out for as Formula 1 2014 Testing Begins
Tuesday, January 28th, sees the start of the first Formula One test of the 2014 season.
The session will run for four days at the Circuito de Jerez in southern Spain. Ten teams and at least 20 drivers will be taking part, with only Lotus missing out.
As we head into one of the most eagerly anticipated tests for years, here's what to watch out for.
A Chance to Finally See More of the Cars
So far McLaren, Ferrari and Sauber have officially launched their cars.
Lotus posted a few pictures on Twitter, Force India have revealed a side view and Williams released some CAD drawings, but we haven't seen anything from the rest of the grid.
Toro Rosso kick off the Jerez launches on Monday, with Mercedes, Red Bull and Caterham scheduled to show off their challengers before testing starts on Tuesday.
Marussia, Force India and Williams will also be present and we'll get a proper look at their cars.
The only car we'll have to wait to see properly is the Lotus, which is due to make its first official appearance at the second test in Bahrain.
There are three new faces on the grid for 2014—Kevin Magnussen at McLaren, Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso and Marcus Ericsson at Caterham.
All have driven F1 cars before, but this is the first time any of them will be sat in their very own machine, getting it ready for real competition later in the year.
It will probably be difficult to compare their times to those of their more experienced teammates because the track conditions change from day to day, and the teams tend to run only one driver per day.
But it's still worth trying to draw some conclusions from the figures.
A lot of talk over the winter has been about the reliability issues teams will face with the new "powertrains"—that is, the engine, turbo, gearbox and ERS.
The switch from naturally aspirated V8s to turbocharged V6 hybrids is perhaps the biggest enforced technical change in F1 history.
The gearboxes now have eight forward gears, and will have to deal with substantially greater torque than their seven-speed predecessors.
The V6 engines have never been run in proper track conditions, and we haven't seen turbos in F1 since 1988. Plenty of failures of both are expected at Jerez.
And ERS (the dual-source successor to KERS) is new as well, delivering a 160-horsepower boost for around 33 seconds a lap. Losing it would be catastrophic to a driver's race—they won't be able to just live without it like they could if KERS failed.
The very newness of the components means failures are inevitable, but much will also come down to cooling. ERS and the turbo generate a lot more heat than the old engines did, and the teams have been forced to make educated guesses regarding keeping them at the correct temperature.
The teams won't be running flat-out in Jerez, but a realistic bad scenario would be five or six session-ending failures each day.
Definitely something to watch out for.
How Will Pirelli Fare?
More than a few Pirelli tyres failed in 2013, even after years of relatively stable regulations. This year, it's a huge step into the unknown—the 2014 tyres have never been run on these cars before.
The closest they've come was at a three-day test in December using 2013 cars. They will have done a lot of simulation work as well, but there's no substitute for a lot of proper on-track miles. This is as much a test for the new tyres as it is for the teams.
How will they fare?
The extra power and torque (turning force) produced by the 2014 powertrain should impart greater forces under acceleration from low-speed corners. At the same time, reduced rear downforce means the cars will have less grip and be more prone to slides.
For those reasons among others (such as the desire to protect their image), Pirelli are probably going to take a conservative route.
But Jerez has a rough surface and the rears in particular are worth keeping an eye on.
Early Signs of Pace
Testing is notoriously unreliable as a measure of exactly where each team is, but broad conclusions can still be reached.
Especially useful will be information provided by the lucky few F1 journalists who attend and can wander around the circuit. The times may not be entirely representative, but the behaviour of the cars in certain corners often is.
Taking one example of many, Martin Brundle was trackside during the 2012 tests, and spoke on Sky F1's website of how three of the cars looked:
The Ferrari looks a bit of a handful, especially when it's coming out of a corner trying to put the power down. Instead of doing long runs, like the Red Bull and McLaren, they are still trying to sort their car. There's time yet, and they will put a lot of new parts on before Melbourne, and it doesn't look as bad as the McLaren did last year, but they've got some issues - there's no doubt about it.
The Red Bull looks good, like the McLaren, but it is not glued to the track like it was last year. You can see Mark Webber working quite hard at the wheel so I can understand why some of my mates in the paddock, who I would trust to tell me about these sort of things, are saying it's looking really close. The Red Bull doesn't look head and shoulders above the other cars like it did, say, in the second half of last year.
Brundle told a different story to the timing screen, and he turned out to be right.