Jerez Test: Day 1

The 2014 season finally got the green light today as the first pre-season test in Jerez commenced this morning. With Force India, Mercedes and reigning champions Red Bull unveiling their 2014 challengers in the minutes leading up to the start of the session, the pit-lane was a hive of activity from early on in the morning. Unfortunately from a spectator perspective, running was limited today as teams are still adding the finishing touches to their machinery. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton was the first man out onto the track in the morning, yet suffered a front wing failure midway through the day which sent him heavily into the barriers. That was the end of Mercedes’ running. Kimi Raikkonen finished at the top of the frankly redundant timesheet.

Slow Day In The Fast Lane

The first day of testing was always going to be a day of limited mileage and experimentation as teams got to grips with the new regulations. Evidently, the overhaul in technology had stretched the human resources of some teams to the limit, as the finishing touches were being made to cars throughout the day. With Franz Tost stating that the Toro Rosso factory was a hive of activity until 2am on some nights, is a sign of these tribulations. Caterham were set to launch their CT05 this morning along with the other launch events, however, the team were said to be “bolting the final pieces together” well into the morning. In fact, we only caught a first glimpse of the new car when Marcus Ericsson first emerged late in the afternoon. Consequently, Ericsson only completed one lap.
However, the limited mileage was not exclusive to the lower regions of the field. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel did not emerge from the garage until the final 15 minutes of running, as the team made an “overnight mistake,” which restricted the programme. They did not elaborate on the causes of the issues which kept the RB10 stationary for most of the day. Meanwhile, the McLaren MP4-29 did not venture out of the garage whatsoever.
The lack of mileage is a sign of the times – Reliability is a crucial factor which is currently taking priority over raw pace. Raikkonen set the most times laps today with a measly 31, while Hamilton amassed the next highest total of 18, before he made his early exit. Undoubtedly, the mileage will increase as reliability and car characteristics become more documented. Teams are looking to understand the new machinery before putting it through its paces.

Hamilton’s De-Ja Vu

Lewis Hamilton was reminded of his ill-fated first Mercedes outing last year, when he suffered a front wing failure which sent him heavily into the barriers at turn one today. The Brit was top of the timesheet at the time having completed the most laps of anyone when the accident happened. It is difficult to analyse the causes of the failure at the moment and the team are currently investigating the issue. 
Up until his early retirement, Hamilton had enjoyed a hectic start to testing, with the launch of the W05 this morning. The new Mercedes does not feature the ‘anteater’ nose which has proved the popular option this season and instead, their design looks similar to Ferrari’s, featuring a flat nose tip attached by two vertical spars to the front wing. This is by far the best interpretation of the regulations from an aesthetics perspective, but good looks don’t always translate to lap time. 
Despite the accident, Hamilton has been upbeat and has praised his team for their work in building the W05. This is unsurprising considering that Mercedes have already gained time on their rivals in terms of their testing programmes. By completing the second most laps of the day, they have already developed a better understanding of the new machinery, with more data to analyse overnight. “The car feels quite good, especially considering it’s so early in our programme,” Lewis stated. “It’s unfortunate to end the day early when everyone has worked so hard, but we’ll make that track time back and it’s better to have these things happen now than in Melbourne.”

Raikkonen Racks Up The Laps

The morning was certainly anti-climatic for Ferrari’s returning champion. Kimi Raikkonen took his seat back in the scarlet red chassis this morning, yet after his first five corners of his first installation lap, the Finn was forced to stop out on track as a precautionary measure by the engineers. However, he was soon circulating again and racked up 33 laps for the day – a mediocre total for a day of testing, but still the most mileage completed by anyone. It is no surprise that Kimi found himself at the head of the timesheet. “For sure everybody wants to see more laps and we want to do more laps, but it is pretty normal with such a big change,” Raikkonen told Autosport. Kimi was not the only driver to stop out on track. Sergio Perez also ground to a halt this morning on his first outing in the newly unveiled VJM07.

McLaren Watch From The Sidelines

One team who will be disappointed with the opening day of testing will be McLaren, who have yet to hit the track in 2014 after technical issues with the MP4-29 meant that Jenson Button was a spectator for the entire session. With the car having been fired up last week, the team suffered complex “electrical issues” which were difficult to identify. The car had to be stripped down in order for the engineers to locate the glitch. Consequently, the dismantling and re-assembly of the car took the entire day to complete, leaving McLaren on the backfoot.
Red Bull have been suffering similar gremlins to McLaren, (albeit on a slightly lesser scale.) “There has been very little running so far because everyone is struggling,” stated Sebastian Vettel. “The team is very motivated, but at the moment there isn’t a single member of the team focused on results, we are flat-out trying to get the car ready and get on top of the rule changes – just like everyone else,” he added.   
Evidently, teams have not had enough time to acclimatise to the new regulations and consequently, the cars are not entirely complete. It is important to note that testing has begun a week earlier than it did in 2013, which has further stretched team’s schedules. It is easy to see why Lotus opted to continue work at Enstone rather than head to Jerez as they felt that they would be significantly restricted by an incomplete and unexamined package. The Lotus team may have an even bigger headache as Toro Rosso have become the first team to question the legality of the team’s two-tusk approach to the front wing.

Things Can Only Get Better…

A quiet start to pre-season was always on the cards. Early conclusions are that Mercedes and Ferrari have the high-ground as they managed to complete the most mileage. Data is all-important at the moment – The team with knowledge will be able to push on tomorrow, while teams who have yet to venture onto the circuit are already playing catch up. Don’t be surprised if Ferrari and Mercedes are once again the pace setters and on top of the mileage race tomorrow as their rivals look to catch up.

Jerez test, Day One timesheet:
1. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:27.104, 31 laps.
2. Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:27.820, 18 laps.
3. Bottas, Williams, 1:30.082, 7 laps.
4. Perez, Force India, 1.33:161, 11 laps.
5. Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:36.530, 15 laps.
6. Gutierrez, Sauber, 1:42.257, 7 laps.
7. Vettel, Red Bull, No time, 3 laps.
8. Ericsson, Caterham, No time, 1 lap.

9. Button, McLaren, No time, 0 laps.      

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