After the three-day test in Valencia last week, the F1 circus headed southwest across Spain to Jerez for a four-day test.
As expected, Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren (using an interim car) were decent. However, there were a couple of interesting performances from Force India and Renault.
So the scene was set for a few more interesting days in Jerez.
After a pretty miserable first test for Felipe Massa in Valencia, Day 1 in Jerez couldn’t have been more different! The Ferrari man finished the first day of testing on top of the time sheets with a 1:20:709.
Furthermore, the Ferrari man’s time was over seven-tenths of a second faster than the man in P2 (Sergio Perez for Sauber).
Red Bull fielded Mark Webber for Thursday’s test. Like Massa, Webber had a largely difficult time in Valencia, but the Red Bull man seemed happier in Jerez. Webber finished the day in third and seemed relatively happy with that.
Lewis Hamilton was no doubt pleased to be given the opportunity to test the MP4-26 for the first time. His primary job was to check the car and make sure there weren’t any alarming problems.
The McLaren finished a decent fifth, but Hamilton wasn’t exactly frantic. He thought the day had been pretty dull and didn’t exactly shower the car in praise, but he was positive.
Torro Rosso and Force India put in strong performance to finish in Positions 4 (Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso), 6 (Jamie Alguersuari, Torro Rosso, in the afternoon), and 7 (Adrian Sutil, Force India).
All of the drivers offered verbal support for the injured Robert Kubica and many teams sported messages to Kubica in their liveries.
In Kubica’s absence Nick Heidfeld will be evaluated, but on Thursday it was Vitaly Petrov’s turn to take the Renault R31 for a spin.
Petrov put in a strong performance, despite an oil leak and was happy with his position in eighth.
Nico Rosberg finished the day with his Mercedes in P9. He seemed to be running well until a hydraulic issue ended his day. This was worryingly similar to an issue the team experienced in Valencia, but Mercedes GP later stated that they had at least now been able to get to the bottom of the issue.
Lotus had a relatively trouble free first day and finished in P10. Things were less smooth for Virgin and Williams as both teams experienced technical difficulties.
After a pretty lacklustre start to testing, Mercedes GP finally came out fighting on the second day in Jerez when Michael Schumacher finished the day on top with a 1:20:352.
Felipe Massa put in another great performance to finish in second. Ferrari put in a huge amount of laps and I think they will be quietly pleased with their strong showings so far.
Jenson Button was also a happy man on Friday when he got a first chance to test the new McLaren. Lewis Hamilton’s hard work the day before had clearly been useful as Button was able to finish the second day in third place.
Button seemed to be much happier than Hamilton had been, and I think McLaren will be satisfied with the car so far.
Toro Rosso were strong again as Jaime Alguersuari finished in P4. Mark Webber finished the day in P5 and was relatively pleased with the team's progress.
Webber stated that it was still early days and that although there is still work to do, he’s confident the team will be good in Bahrain.
Force India and Sauber ran well to finish sixth and seventh respectively, though Sauber’s Sergio Perez was no doubt disappointed to spin off and damage the car in the afternoon.
Virgin, Renault and Williams all had a decent second day, but Lotus were hampered by mechanical issues.
On Saturday (Day 3), the headlines belonged to Nick Heidfeld, who did his Formula One career huge favours by standing in for Kubica and finishing the day in P1!
Though Heidfeld may not have the "full race weekend package" that I believe the likes of Kubica possess, I think he will be an extremely useful asset for Renault if they choose to take the German on.
Perhaps ominously for the other teams, Ferrari put in yet another strong performance to finish second. (This time the F150th Italia was driven by Fernando Alonso).
Alonso ran with an image of his close friend Kubica’s helmet on his own protective headwear, which I thought was a nice touch. The two-time world champion carried out similar tests to Massa and was pleased with the results.
Well, after all the grief I gave Mercedes at Valencia…I may have to eat my own words, (for now anyway), as Michael Schumacher confidently finished Day 3 in third.
Unfortunately for Lewis Hamilton, a shortage of spare parts limited the McLaren’s run. Hamilton’s unlucky time in the new MP4-26 so far has been pretty disappointing, but his team seemed as pleased as they could be with the information they gathered. Furthermore, the new car was able to finish fourth, despite its issues.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Red Bull’s performance in Jerez. Taking over from Webber, Sebastian Vettel only managed the sixth-fastest time. Of course this is only testing, but while Ferrari and McLaren consistently finish high in the rankings, Red Bull have dropped back a bit.
Having said that, no one seems too concerned and the Constructors Champions are no doubt purely concentrating on learning about and improving the new car.
Sauber, Lotus, Force India and Virgin all experienced a positive day. Kamui Kobayashi was able to finish ahead of a Red Bull in P5, and Heikki Kovalainen was able to set a very encouraging P7 time.
Paul di Resta spent a lot of time getting to know his new car and was happy enough with P10 and rookie Jerome d’Ambrosia was happy with his debut in the Virgin car.
Torro Rosso and Williams experienced mixed fortunes. Sebastien Buemi lapped pretty well in his Torro Rosso in the morning, but his afternoon run was spoilt by Red flags. Still, P7: Not bad.
Rubens Barrichello had an OK time in the morning, but experienced technical issues in the afternoon. Another disappointment for Williams.
After a pretty mixed start to testing, Rubens Barrichello ended the four-day test in Jerez on top with a 1:19:832.
Kamui Kobayashi did well for Sauber to sandwich himself in P2, just in front of Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.
Torro Rosso (P4), and Lotus (P6) had solid final days and Bruno Senna took full advantage of his opportunity to win Robert Kubica’s vacant seat at Renault. Senna finished in P5 and seemed to do quite well, but I think the smart money will still be on Heidfeld.
Though McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Force India all finished relatively low on the leader board, they probably did so because they had decided to concentrate on long runs.
Nico Rosberg finished in P7 for Mercedes, which was OK, but his car did suffer some mechanical blips. Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull followed, and Jenson Button’s McLaren ended up in P9.
The final day was wet and saw many red flags (five in total). Nothing major—just a few mechanical failures and offs.
So what can we conclude from this test in Jerez?
I think Ferrari have a fast car. Sure, it’s testing and everyone has different objectives and priorities, but Ferrari have finished every single day of testing so far, pretty high in the rankings.
I think the new McLaren has shown potential in its first outing and I've been pleasantly surprised to see Williams and Mercedes perform well. Both teams were pleased with their results but concede that there is still a lot of hard work needed.
I suppose I have been most surprised by Red Bull’s relatively quiet few days. I wouldn’t be distraught if I were a Red Bull fan, but I guess I’d be slightly concerned looking over at Ferrari and McLaren.
As I said after the test in Valencia, it’s clear the big teams will be on top, but I’m really encouraged by strong showings from Renault, Force India, Williams and Mercedes. I think 2011’s mid-field will be one of the best in years and that can only be a good thing.
Roll on Barcelona next week and roll on Bahrain!