Its the final pre-season test folks, otherwise known as ‘squeaky-bum time’ for any team who is short of pre-season mileage. As such, the pressure and spotlight is certainly on McLaren Honda this week, as we search for any signs which suggest that either MP4-30 has a chance of seeing the chequered flag in Melbourne. With just 7 laps before a session ending hydraulic leak today, it is yet another story of disappointment. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Williams have finally stepped out of the shadows and revealed that the FW37 has the pace that everyone was anticipating – perhaps even more than was first imagined.
For the first time in 2015, I am about to lead a testing opinion article with Williams. The Grove based team have been enjoying a quiet winter. Following their heroics towards the latter stages of the 2014 campaign – a campaign which saw them exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic of Williams fan – the team have worked through their pre-season programme attracting minimal attention. In fact, I believe I wrote a full compliment of opinion articles during the Jerez test without even mentioning the team until the final day, and even then, it was to remark upon how quiet their week had been.
Today, Felipe Massa bucked the trend, as he took the FW37 to the top of the timesheet with an impressive 1:23.500, set on the soft compound tyre and eclipsing Mercedes’ second test benchmark by seven tenths. Considering that Rosberg set the latter time on the medium compound tyre, the perceived advantage of Williams is far less significant, however, there is now little doubt that the FW37 is a strong entrant. Following a decidedly anonymous few days for Ferrari in Barcelona, I would suggest that it is in fact Williams who are Mercedes’ closest rivals as oppose to the Scuderia.
Williams’ mileage today tells a similar success story, as Massa managed a productive 109 laps – a total only eclipsed by Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber, as the Swiss team completed a race simulation run as they looked to recoup some lost time from a dismal last weekend. Ultimately, it is the aforementioned duo who stand out in the productivity stakes, after a day in which reliability was lacking for so many. Even the mighty W06 was a notable absentee during this afternoon’s session, as an MGU-K failure left Hamilton bound to the garage. Despite all their efforts to ensure bullet-proof reliability this season, Mercedes are still facing issues at this now late stage of testing. However, it is of course, better to discover these issues now as oppose to in Melbourne.
Mercedes’ power delivery problems today are merely a drop in the ocean compared to the nightmare at McLaren. Jenson Button managed just 7 laps today before his Honda powertrain began to creak under the pressure. It was discovered that a hydraulic leak would necessitate a full power unit change – and with that, the ninth day of testing ended in the manner which so many have for McLaren – early.
Brushing the problems away by reminding everyone that this is a first generation powerunit is becoming unfeasible now. Unfortunately for the team, today’s mileage is what would be expected in a first test rather than the final outing of pre-season. I have no doubt that Honda are well equipped to deal with the issues and eventually they will unquestionably be solved for good, but huge question marks surround the team’s Australian Grand Prix credentials. It looks unlikely that they will even reach the chequered flag, let alone finish in a respectable position. The first few races could be a write-off in the opening chapter of a new era for one of the sport’s most iconic partnerships.