Pre-season testing made its return today and the opening day of the first Barcelona test was certainly not void of incident. Pastor Maldonado strapped a set of soft tyres to the E23, to finish the day at the head of the timesheet, however, Mercedes’ day was uncharacteristically unproductive, as their programme was dramatically altered when Lewis Hamilton brought a halt to his day after just 11 laps – the Brit, struggling with a fever. Elsewhere, Felipe Nasr and Susie Wolff met on track for the very first time and their first encounter will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Day one in Barcelona was undoubtedly the strangest day of running so far in 2015. The above chart, hints towards the scale of the musical chairs that occurred around lunchtime. A feverish Hamilton jumped out of the Mercedes after clocking 11 laps. As such, with a full programme to complete, Mercedes needed a replacement driver – surprisingly they headed to Force India and asked nicely if they could have their reserve driver back.
While the job description of a reserve driver is to deputize for an out-of-action main driver, it was a curious decision from the team, considering that Nico Rosberg was in the paddock at the time, overalls adorned, completing press duties. Paddy Lowe stated that the decision to recall Wehrlein was driven by the fact that the programme dictated high mileage and with Nico scheduled to be in the car tomorrow, they did not want to over-work him. In my opinion, this is merely a smoke screen to hide the fact that the team wanted to ensure that neither Hamilton nor Rosberg gain a competitive advantage over each other, in what could be another campaign defined by close margins between the duo. It would make sense, as Mercedes’ philosophy throughout last season was to give their drivers equal opportunities, be it on the amount of pit stops they can make or alternating the qualifying sessions in which they are allowed to leave the garage first. Ultimately, it is a feature within the team that deserves praise, even if it was not the prime motivator behind keeping Rosberg away from the W06 today.
The decision to call upon Pascal did, however, mean that Force India’s day was also disrupted. I suppose that is the risk a team runs when they borrow a driver for a day and as such, Sergio Perez received an unexpected call-up. To make things simpler, I have comprised a similar graph to the one featured above, this time featuring the data by team.
In this format, there are far fewer disparities between miles covered. The likes of Red Bull and Lotus both enjoyed much needed productivity today, albeit dwarfed Max Verstappen’s benchmark lap total of 94. The first day in Barcelona did not provide any centurions, yet some drivers came close. Susie Wolff had managed 60 laps in double-quick time for Williams and looked set to break the magic 100 lap marker, yet she collided with Felipe Nasr, (who was also a candidate for a century.) It is a rare sight to see two damaged cars in one test day, let alone two damaged cars that have met on the same part of the track.
Following the session, the pair disagreed on which party was to blame for the accident. Wolff’s version of events; “I stayed completely on my line. I didn’t expect him to move across as aggressively as he did, and he hit my front left with his rear. For me, it was an unfortunate incident but not something I could have avoided.” Meanwhile, Nasr responded, “She was driving quite slowly in front of me so as I took Turn 4 I caught her and I saw her move to the right. I thought she knew I was coming, as she was on a slow lap.” As if to directly oppose Wolff’s statement, the Sauber rookie said, “I think that was something she missed and it could have been avoided.”
I haven’t seen any footage and therefore, I am not about to place my hat in either Camp Wolff or Camp Nasr.
One aspect of today’s running that is glaringly obvious is that McLaren endured rather than enjoyed yet another day at the office in 2015. It was all going so well for the newly rekindled McLaren Honda partnership, as Jenson Button recorded 21 laps in the early stages of the day. Then, an ERS issue curtailed their running. It is still not a crisis at McLaren, but with every passing day, the technical gremlins become more and more costly. FP1 in Melbourne is now only three weeks away and while we keep on hearing that Honda are hugely devoted and determined to succeed, they need to start seeing laps in reward for their efforts. This morning was promising, yet a full day of promise is in order to calm the nerves of McLaren fans.