As the chequered flag fell on today’s session, it was with distinct abruptness that I realized – the first test is drawing towards a close. With just one day ahead, racking up the laps becomes more and more important and as such, day three saw three teams score centuries – the likely candidate of Mercedes topped the mileage stakes for a third day running, but it was Toro Rosso and Sauber who also passed the triumphant 100 mark, with the latter also topping the timesheets. The Swiss side are beginning to get a taste for life towards the top of the timing screens…
Felipe Nasr has certainly had a productive first two days in the C34. Ultimately, Sauber’s entire week so far has been hugely productive. Ericsson’s pleasing haul of 73 laps on Sunday laid the foundations upon which Nasr has built upon, recording 88 laps yesterday, followed by 108 today. In addition, the Brazilian topped the timesheet with a 1:21.545. As always, this statement will be followed by the mantra of testing times are truly a crude measure of performance, however, Sauber’s sustained pace and reliability is impressive. After two days, the only blot on Nasr’s copybook is an off-track excursion faced this morning – and that can be put down to experience.
Despite Sauber’s high level of productivity today, Mercedes were once again the pioneers of mileage, with the W06 completing 151 circulations in the hands of Nico Rosberg – incredibly, that now means that the German has clocked 308 laps in just two days of running. Mercedes in total, have 399. As such, they continue to be firm favorites for the season and it would take a brave man to bet against them. Ferrari may have posted the headline times over the past three days, but by Hamilton’s admission, the team have not stretched the legs of the W06 just yet. This is hardly surprising on account of the fact that the team have prioritized reliability this winter.
What we are less sure of at this moment is the relative pace of the Ferrari. I doubt we will know the full potential of the SF15-T until the paddock embarks on the Albert Park circuit, yet early indications is that the Scuderia have produced a car which is far superior to its predecessor. Those trackside have noted that it appears far more stable under braking and generally appears to be a more well-rounded package compared to last year. The strength of Sauber throughout this week would also suggests that Ferrari’s engine department have enjoyed a far more fruitful winter of development compared to last year. Reliability looks solid, the car and powertrain seem much improved – dare I say it – Ferrari COULD be my early dark horses to topple Mercedes in 2015.
BUT, it is still very early days.
Elsewhere, the two Red Bull fueled teams experienced near polar opposite days. Carlos Sainz racked up a stunning 136 laps today – the best mileage recorded by a rival to Mercedes all week – which will prove vital to Sainz’s development. For both Toro Rosso drivers, mileage this winter will be essential ahead of their Melbourne preparations. For Sainz, following a decidedly mediocre haul of 46 on day one, today’s haul was certainly welcome. Meanwhile, Red Bull suffered yet another day of difficulties. After Kvyat’s excursion on an installation lap yesterday seriously hampered the team’s progress yesterday, an engine change today meant that the camouflaged car only completed 48 circulations. As the graphic below indicates, Toro Rosso’s mileage has been far superior so far and for a number of reasons, Red Bull have had a largely unproductive week.
By last year’s standards, Jerez has been a success for the Milton Keynes based squad – the problem therein lies in the fact that last season did not set the bar too high. With Kvyat back in the car tomorrow, Red Bull will desperately want to put some serious mileage on the board.
Finally, today has been somewhat of a breakthrough day for McLaren, as at last, they managed to put some mileage on their shinny new Honda powertrain. With many of the sensor issues finally resolved, Fernando Alonso managed a respectable 32 laps this morning, before a loss of cooling pressure resigned the Spaniard to the garage this afternoon. However, this morning at least was a quantum leap for the MP4-30 which will hopefully springboard McLaren into an even better day tomorrow.