Winners and Losers from Formula 1 Testing in Jerez
The first Formula One preseason test is now complete and everyone can begin poring over the results trying to determine which teams have an edge as we head toward the 2015 season.
As my colleague Neil James demonstrated, lap times from the first test are unreliable predictors of future success. But that will not stop Ferrari fans, for example, from getting excited that their team topped the time sheets on three of the four days at Jerez.
The first test featured some surprises, like Ferrari and Sauber's apparent pace, and some disappointments, like McLaren's lack of mileage with their new Honda engine.
Now that the teams are on their way home for a furious two weeks of continued development before the next test at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, let's take a look at the winners and losers from the Jerez test.
Loser: Force India
The most obvious losers from the first test are the team that did not show up: Force India. Last year, Lotus missed the first test and fell from fourth in the 2013 constructors' standings with 315 points to eighth in 2014 with 10 points.
Force India had a successful 2014 season, challenging McLaren for fifth in the constructors' championship, but will they have a similar fall from grace this season?
Owner and team principal Vijay Mallya recently told the team's website, "We were on the podium last year, which was an important boost, but actually I think we deserved more than that. So the target is to achieve more podiums in 2015 and we’ve taken some decisions recently to ensure we remain competitive."
However, the team have also released a statement, per ESPN F1, saying their new car will not be ready for the second test, either.
Will just one test be enough to get the new car on the pace for the first grand prix in March? That is unlikely, so it could be a rough start to the season for the Silverstone-based team.
Loser: Red Bull
Last season, Red Bull (along with the other Renault-powered teams) had a disastrous first test. Their new power units could barely complete a lap without blowing up or shutting down.
The first test this year was certainly an improvement over their 2014 performance, but it cannot be what the team were hoping for. Daniel Ricciardo and newcomer Daniil Kvyat combined for just 166 laps over the four days. Seven individual drivers completed more laps than that—including both Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. from Red Bull's sister team, Toro Rosso.
On day two, Kvyat broke the team's only front wing, severely limiting his program that day and necessitating a rush order for a new one from Milton Keynes.
Yesterday, at the completion of the test, head of race engineering Guillaume Rocquelin said, via a press release:
This week has all been about establishing reliability and while we've had a few niggles the car is pretty much where we want it to be. ... We did lose track time over the four days and that's always frustrating, as you inevitably have to scratch some things off the 'to do' list, but the major items were covered so I would say we're leaving Jerez in pretty decent shape.
Pretty decent shape? Force India sound more bullish (pun intended) and they didn't even show up for the test!
But hey, at least that camouflage testing livery looks cool.
McLaren are actually straddling the line between winners and losers. On one hand, they debuted their new Honda engine; on the other, they only completed 79 laps at a slow pace, compared to the other teams.
Honda's chief motorsport officer Yasuhisa Arai acknowledged the limited running in a McLaren press release, saying, "Of course, we’d anticipated there would be issues—this is a test, after all—but the difficulties we faced here were more than we’d expected, so we weren’t able to get the running time we’d ideally wanted."
Matt Morris, McLaren's engineering director, sounded more optimistic. He acknowledged, per ESPN F1, that the engine was not being pushed in its first real test and said, "If we look at [our simulations] and add on where we should be then I'm not too worried really. It would be nice to be further up the time sheets but nothing really to worry about."
One cannot help but think that McLaren were hoping for more, though. The test was nowhere near a disaster like Red Bull's first 2014 outing, but neither was it a huge success.
Now, on to the good news!
Mercedes are the biggest winners from the Jerez test, no question. They might not have put in any flashy lap times, but they did complete 516 laps over four days. The next best team were Sauber, with 382 laps.
Mercedes already know they have the best car and engine combination—the only thing that could stop them last year was the car breaking down.
On Tuesday, Nico Rosberg told the team website, "Reliability was our main issue over the last year, so our goal for 2015 is to sort this out. That is why I can be happy with my first pre-season test as I did a lot of mileage on both days. A big thank you to the team for a reliable Silver Arrow so far. They did a really good job over the winter."
Is it possible that the Mercs will be even more dominant than last year?
Yes, Ferrari produced some fast lap times in Jerez. More importantly, though, Kimi Raikkonen and his new team-mate Sebastian Vettel combined to complete 349 laps in the new Ferrari SF15-T.
Ferrari had a very disappointing season in 2014, but they appear to be on the rebound. In addition to their laps, engine customer Sauber completed 382 laps, also setting fast times.
In a Ferrari press release, Raikkonen, who never seemed comfortable in last year's car, said, "Over the winter, we have made a good step forward and this car is definitely an improvement over the 2014 one. It’s the whole package that has progressed, but there is still a lot of work to do."
Ferrari are the oldest, most successful and most popular team in F1, and a competitive Ferrari team is good for the sport. If the first test is any indication—and remember, it might not be—Ferrari are on the right track.
The final winners from the first round of testing are Lotus. The Enstone-based team only completed 190 laps, and at a relatively slow pace, but that is a vast improvement from last season, when they missed the first test completely. This year, they only missed the first day.
It should also be noted that Lotus were using their new Mercedes engine for the first time. It will take some time before the team is completely comfortable after switching from Renault for 2015.
Romain Grosjean was certainly excited after his first taste of the Lotus E23. According to ESPN F1, he said:
The whole package is better. Engine-wise we know we have the best one from the grid and things are working nicely and in terms of chassis it's the same story.
It will be even better if we are on the podium at the end of the first race! But I called my wife when we stopped running and she said 'So?' and I said 'So, I'm a happy driver.' She said 'Good!' That's all you want.
Lotus had one win and 14 podium finishes in 2013, but they fell to the back of the midfield in 2014, struggling to score at all. The team have also been struggling financially, but their new engine could vault them back up the running order and help secure new sponsorship money.
Things are looking up in Enstone.
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