Ranking the Top 5 Pre-Season Testing Setbacks
It’s no exaggeration to say that Red Bull Racing endured a nightmare four days of testing at Jerez last week.
The new engine regulations caused no shortage of headaches for the Renault engineers with battery and overheating problems restricting Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo to a paltry 21 laps between them.
But if you thought Red Bull had problems leading up to the start of the new season, spare a thought for these other unfortunate teams.
Hamilton Endures Nightmare Start at Mercedes
Of all Red Bull’s rivals, Mercedes enjoyed the most productive time in Jerez, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg completing a total of 309 laps between them.
But Red Bull may have cause for optimism considering that Mercedes and Hamilton endured a nightmare start of their own to pre-season testing in 2013.
Hamilton, completing his first test for his new team, suffered an alarming early rear brake failure in Jerez, smashing headfirst into the barriers at the Dry Sack hairpin.
As reported by Autosport at the time, Hamilton revealed he had deliberately smashed headfirst into the barrier to avoid causing too much damage to the car.
"If you go in sideways you rip the whole side off. It is much easier just going in front ways and damaging the nose."
A year later and Hamilton was at it again, smashing into the barriers at Turn 1 as his Mercedes suffered a front wing failure.
Ferrari’s Semi-Automatic 640 Gearbox Dogged by Teething Troubles
When unveiled at the recent test session in Jerez, the current Ferrari F 14 T met with no shortage of criticism for its rather unglamorous looks.
Yet some observers have noted that at certain angles, it bears a resemblance to one of its most well-loved predecessors: the Ferrari 640.
Yet whilst the F 14 T has enjoyed four relatively trouble-free days of testing at Jerez, the same could not be said of the 640. The John Barnard designed Ferrari was the first F1 car to feature a semi-automatic gearbox with the now commonplace paddle shift system.
The gearbox was dogged with reliability issues during pre-season testing and was expected to fail during the opening race of the season in Brazil, especially against the might of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren.
But Nigel Mansell refused to read the script and won on his and the new car’s first outing for Ferrari. As a result, a new hero for the Tifosi was born.
Mansell Too Big for His New McLaren
The 1995 Formula One season promised much for McLaren.
Ron Dennis’ team had switched engine supplier from the ineffective Peugeot to begin a bright new partnership with Mercedes.
The team also chose to partner Mika Hakkinen with the winner of the final grand prix of 1994 and former world champion Nigel Mansell.
On paper, it looked like a strong pairing, but things went wrong from the outset. The ill-conceived MP4-10 was late in completion and at least as ugly as F1’s current incarnations with a bizarre conical nosecone.
To make matters worse, Mansell found it difficult to fit comfortably into the cockpit of the car during the pre-season test at Estoril and the entire chassis had to be redesigned to give him the required elbow room.
Because this required some time to engineer, Mark Blundell sat in for Mansell for the opening two races. When the Englishman did return to action in Imola and Spain, he was so far off team-mate Hakkinen’s pace that he retired for good after only two races.
Virgin Discover Their Fuel Tanks Too Small
The point of pre-season testing is to accumulate mileage on the track, test new parts and work on which areas need to be worked on before the opening race of the season.
Surely then, Virgin Racing should have realised that its tank was too small to last a race distance before the car hit the circuit in danger for its crucial debut F1 race in Bahrain?
Sadly, it was not until after the opening race that it became apparent that the car’s fuel tank was around 13 litres too small to last a race distance, as technical boss Nick Wirth was forced to sheepishly concede via BBC Sport:
We recently applied to the FIA for permission to change the size of the fuel tank on the grounds of reliability and we are pleased that the FIA has granted us this permission. It has become clear during pre-season testing and our debut race in Bahrain that our fuel tank capacity is marginal and if not addressed there is the possibility that fuel pick-up could become an issue in certain circumstances.
Ambitious USF1 Project over Before It Started
At least Virgin Racing recovered from its early setback to become an established member of the F1 grid, now entering its fifth season in its current guise as Marussia.
It’s more than can be said for the doomed USF1 team, which failed to make it to the grid in Bahrain during the same season.
The project was the brainchild of F1 journalist and former Williams team manager Peter Windsor and former Haas CNC Racing technical director Ken Anderson. It was an ambitious undertaking. The team was set to be based in Charlotte, North Carolina with the aim of promoting American drivers and technology in F1, particularly with running its own gearbox.
Alas, the team ran into financial problems before the start of the season with its primary investor, Chad Hurley, withdrawing his backing. Windsor and his partners were forced to admit defeat and the team shut down.
“Obviously I was very, very sad,” Windsor told ESPNF1. “Equally, I've learnt a lot—and, hopefully, I'm a better person for it.”
I wanted to do an all-new and very creative F1 team, we got an entry, we gave it 100 per cent and we didn't make it. A few people have said a lot of nasty, critical things—but, believe me, none of the things they've said has been as tough as the things I've said to myself.
That's what happens when you try something difficult and new. A friend said to me recently that a bit of humiliation is always good for the soul, and, as hard as that is to swallow, I know deep down that she is right.