Jerez Debrief: Where does the advantage lie?

1 Comment

As the sun set in Jerez, Spain on Wednesday, the curtain was drawn on the first test ahead of the 2015 Formula 1 season, giving us the first idea of how the field may shape up in the coming year of racing.

After a terrible showing in 2014, it was Ferrari who surprisingly shot to the top of the timesheets on three of the four days in Jerez, with Sebastian Vettel making a perfect start to life at Maranello by finishing fastest in both of his sessions.

The only team to break Ferrari’s dominance was Sauber, who also endured a miserable 2014 season and yet managed to bounce back on day three with Felipe Nasr finishing as the fastest driver.

In contrast, Mercedes did not finish fastest on any of the four days, with Nico Rosberg ending the test with the fourth fastest time. Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton finished sixth in the cumulative classification.

So shock horror! Hold the phone! Ferrari is back in 2015, Mercedes has been vanquished, and at this rate, McLaren will fail to qualify. That’s right, isn’t it?

No. Naturally, this is only testing, and being the first run for the new cars, problems were always going to crop up. It’s unlikely that the teams were going to show their hands in Jerez, so this cannot be taken as a concrete reflection of how the 2015 season will pan out.

Each team entered the first test with some kind of agenda: pace, reliability, or in McLaren’s case, simply getting out on track. They all had targets that may or may not have been met in Jerez. By looking at these, we perhaps get a better idea of who really is in the best shape ahead of the second test in Barcelona.

MERCEDES STILL ON TOP

Hang on a minute, didn’t we just say that Rosberg and Hamilton finished fourth and sixth? Well, yes. But for Mercedes, out-and-out pace was not the point of going to Jerez. Instead, it was about simply putting in the laps with the Mercedes W06 and focusing on reliability, which was the weak point of last year’s car.

The car is by no means bulletproof. Rosberg and Hamilton both encountered issues with the new car across the course of the test, yet they still managed to complete a mammoth 515 laps in total. Rosberg’s day one run was particularly impressive, racking up 157 laps without a single issue, and the team will now be focusing on eking out any of the problems before then unleashing the Silver Arrow’s one lap pace.

“In terms of performance, I don’t think our competitors – one in particular – have shown their true potential over these past days,” Ferrari team principal Mauricio Arrivabene said, not-so-subtly pointing the finger at Mercedes. He isn’t wrong, though.

FERRARI MAY WELL BE BACK

Not back on top, but still ‘back’. The cynics may say that it’s only testing, and point to the fact that Kimi Raikkonen finished fastest on day one in Jerez last year before enduring a miserable season, but it couldn’t really have gone much better for the Italian team.

Forget the results (P1 and P2 in the cumulative standings). The fact is that both Raikkonen and Vettel were very pleased with the SF15-T’s first runs, and although the team didn’t rack up the laps, it certainly had a happy first test in Jerez. So although this isn’t Mercedes-beating pace, or even a guarantee that the team will meet its target of two race wins in 2015, it’s still a pretty good start.

SAUBER: A CYNIC’S VIEW

Sauber’s test was also a good one, with the team completing the second-highest number of laps and finishing well up the order in terms of times. Both Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson were happy with the C34 car, and the team will head to Barcelona with its tail up.

However, you must bear in mind that much of the team’s running was completed on the soft tire. This compound is obviously quicker than the others on offer and is rarely used in the first test as all-out pace is not the focus. So, one could say that the pace of the C34 is being exaggerated by that.

The cynic will also point to the lack of sponsors on the 2015 Sauber and say that this early pace may purely be for show to get fresh investment and companies on board. It was a tactic used by many of the small privateer teams in the nineties who ran illegal cars to go quickly, but this is perhaps outdated. Sauber’s start is good, but we’ll reserve judgement on this one.

Nevertheless, the impression is that the Ferrari power unit has taken a step forwards from 2014, though, as proven by both the works team and Sauber’s pace.

RED BULL, MCLAREN STILL WORKING

Remember how terrible Red Bull was in pre-season last year? It was a diabolical performance as Renault’s tardiness with the new power unit proved costly. The team soon rallied and eventually finished second in the constructors’ championship behind Mercedes, claiming three wins.

The RB11’s livery certainly dazzled, even if the pace of the new car did not, but again, both Kvyat and Ricciardo were simply looking to iron out the issues with the new car. The noises coming out of Milton Keynes are positive.

The same is true for McLaren. Honda’s first true running of the new power unit was always going to present problems, making a total of 79 laps actually better than many expected. Alonso and Button may not get a chance to push the new car in fury until the final test, or perhaps even the first race, so time will tell. Do not write McLaren off just yet by any means.

AND THE REST?

  • Williams had a solid first run in Jerez, failing to stun many but also not encountering too many major problems. There should be more to come in Barcelona from the British team.
  • Toro Rosso’s test was all about mileage for its rookie line-up of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen. 182 and 170 laps respectively is a very good grounding for the rest of the year.
  • Despite turning up a day late, it was a good first run for Lotus. The team managed to get the car out ahead of schedule and finished with a solid 190 laps. Romain Grosjean has praised the E23 Hybrid, meaning we may not have as many raging radio calls from the Frenchman in 2014.

So take everything you saw in Jerez with a pinch of salt. All of the teams came away from the first test with at least one positive to focus on, and the next test in Barcelona will potentially give us a first idea of the true running order ahead of the 2015 season.