Room to improve for Ferrari after subpar outing in Australia

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While encouraged with the reliability of the F14 T after its first race last weekend at the Australian Grand Prix, Ferrari knows that it faces a sizable gap in regards to overall speed to the Mercedes camp.

Last weekend’s season opener was a entertaining one, but Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg still managed to crush the field and won by a margin of 26.7 seconds.

Meanwhile, Ferrari’s tandem of former World Champions, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, were left to settle for fifth and eighth, respectively.

There’s definitely work to do for the Scuderia as we head for the Malaysian Grand Prix, and two of its key figures – team principal Stefano Domenicali and technical director James Allison – have acknowledged that.

Domenicali pointed out that, among other areas, the performance of the team’s new V-6 power unit needed some work.

“I think that area is an area we need to improve,” he said according to British F1 broadcaster Sky Sports. “I know it seems not logical but the more power that you have, the less you stay on full throttle so you also benefit on the fuel.

“I don’t want to focus only on that because the car has to be improved. It’s a matter of everyone doing his job and being focused on what they have to do at home without saying it’s your fault or my fault.”

Meanwhile, Allison has been weighing the good and the bad about the car overall after the first weekend of the year.

“There is plenty about the F14T that is working very well: The starts and the pace in the corners – especially the high speed ones – are particular strong points, but we need to work further on the stability under braking and the speed on the straights,” he said to Ferrari’s official website.

He made sure to also note that with all of the changes for 2014, the Scuderia is expecting an “even more intense than normal” battle against the other teams in the paddock to develop their new cars.

“Our competitiveness was not acceptable in Melbourne,” he said. “But we intend to fight our way back up the grid with the improvements that we will bring to the car.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.