Formula One fans have known for a while that the sport was undergoing significant changes in 2014. The designs are uglier, the engines are quieter and, perhaps most significantly, the cars are slower.
Estimates for how much slower, compared to the 2013 cars have ranged from two to five seconds per lap. Of course, this also depends on the circuit—two seconds at Spa is different than two seconds at Monza.
Now that the first pre-season test is complete, what can we tell about the relative speed of the 2014 cars when compared to last year's models?
The first tests of both the 2013 and 2014 seasons took place at the Circuito de Jerez in Spain, so at least we can compare apples to apples in that respect.
Before we go too far with this comparison, though, a note of caution: The regulations behind the 2013 cars were relatively stable from the year before, so the teams were at a different level right out of the box at the first test. For 2014, the major changes to the technical regulations mean the teams are basically starting from scratch.
That being said, here are the times for the five quickest drivers across the four test days from each of the 2013 and 2014 tests:
|Driver (Team)||2013 Time||Driver (Team)||2014 Time|
|Felipe Massa (Ferrari)||1:17.879||Kevin Magnussen (McLaren)||1:23.276|
|Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)||1:18.148||Felipe Massa (Williams)||1:23.700|
|Jules Bianchi (Force India)||1:18.175||Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)||1:23.952|
|Romain Grosjean (Lotus)||1:18.218||Jenson Button (McLaren)||1:24.165|
|Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)||1:18.565||Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)||1:24.812|
Based on those numbers, we could be tempted to conclude that the five seconds per lap estimate is not far off. But, as noted, the 2013 cars were operating much closer to peak capacity than the 2014 ones.
Nico Rosberg confirmed as much in an interview with Formula1.com, saying that, for the first test, the team was just trying "to do mileage—and at the second Bahrain test we could start to look at times."
He also said that, "I would like to go faster than last year—but that is not going to be the case. That’s a bit of a downside in 2014."
Slower, yes, but probably not as slow as the times above indicate. In Jerez this week, the teams spent a lot of time on Pirelli's special winter compound tyre, which will not be used during the season and which may have also produced a negative effect on lap times.
Still, it is expected that Pirelli will be more conservative with their tyre constructions overall for 2014, following a P.R. nightmare in 2013.
With all of that in mind, it is not possible (yet) to say exactly how much slower the 2014 cars will be. Five seconds per lap certainly seems like too high of an estimate, though.
With the (non-Renault) teams slightly less worried about reliability and with warmer weather a certainty, we will get a better idea of where the 2014 cars stand when the teams reconvene in Bahrain on February 19.
At that point, if everyone is still five or six seconds off last year's pace, you can officially begin to worry.
Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert