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Ferrari Flexes Muscle at Jerez: What does It Really Mean?

Raikonnen apparently likes the new Ferrari.
Raikonnen apparently likes the new Ferrari.

Every team in Formula 1 wants to start out their 2015 season with a successful series of testing days that begin in February at Jerez, Spain and end up with a contender after the final pre-season tests from February 26th through March 1st at Barcelona. It doesn’t, however, work out that way for most. The test days are, after all, very limited in number.

For some teams, Mercedes, and so far this season Ferrari, the testing has gone well with a few bumps in the road, for others not so much.

Testing does not determine what team is going to succeed or fail this season, although it may provide a glimpse, it does not determine who is going to be ‘The Star” driver this season or who is going to find themselves with their nose in the wall. Pre-season testing is an on-track benchmark of how well a team has developed their new car over the winter and each team will have to build off of that benchmark.

The first test of the season has just concluded at a relatively small circuit in Jerez, Spain. The circuit boasts 13 turns, two long straights and a small 174 mph speed trap. Some teams think it’s a great venue for a first session of testing, others, such as Sahara Force India, have claimed disapproval of the venue citing it’s a small window of opportunity to learn. In SFI’s case, they don’t have a 2015 car to run, so you can draw your own conclusions. Fact: Every moment on the circuit is precious time with countless amounts of data to analyze.

The MercedesAMG F1 W06
The MercedesAMG F1 W06

Day one of testing proved to be business as usual for the defending world champions Mercedes AMG Petronas. Nico Rosberg finished a staggering 157 laps with the third best time of the day. Although Mercedes had the most reliable car for day one, Mercedes’ technical director Toto Wolff said they did not test the limits of their car throughout the four days. Most competitors in the paddock agree they aren’t showing their true speed.

Ferrari surprised everyone, testing or not. Vettel was anxious to put his stamp on the new Ferrari and lulled everyone into trying to go for at least one solid flyer each day. Raikkonen disappointed no one, ultimately posting the fastest time of the four days. What does that really mean? Ferrari has a stable car that Kimi can drive and he has no intention of playing second fiddle to Vettel’s orchestra. Is it a winner? No one yet knows, but the Tifosi are all having heart palpitations. F1 captures interest when Ferrari is on form.

McLaren-Honda could be the big surprise after the testing is all said and done.
McLaren-Honda could be the big surprise after the testing is all said and done.

The much anticipated McLaren-Honda, as expected, had it’s share of power-plant gremlins, but recovered nicely compared to Red Bulls nightmare of last season. The chassis is showing stability and the electric power-plant gremlins were held at bay for day three and four. Eric Boullier, the team manager, quite correctly stated: “The driver comments were very, very positive. Fernando said the car is really reacting well, the car is really stable, and you could see a couple of times on the pit wall checking in Turn One, with Mercedes driving at the same time, and you could see the car was really stable on the entry, and this is just a sign.” Our technical director, Bill Marlowe, chimed in: “You know that they have more information than visually observing the car from the pit wall.” Sage words indeed.

The ‘Customer’ Mercedes powered cars, Williams and Lotus, were all within acceptable time windows but did not complete the number of reliability laps that the MercedesAMG factory team were able to show. Conclusion: The factory cars of Hamilton and Rosberg have stable chassis and seemingly reliable power-plants save for a few mechanical gremlins. They are still the team to beat.

Red Bull's 'Camo' look.
Red Bull’s ‘Camo’ look.

The Renault powered cars of Red Bull and their junior team, Toro Rosso, had power-plant problems again, but did show promising speed. Conclusion: Never rule them out as the parts that did cause problems were identifiable and will be fixed prior to the next outing on February 19th at Barcelona. What was a very positive sign is that Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen, the Toro Rosso rookies, showed they have speed and a cool demeanor. Daniil Kyvat, Vettel’s replacement, isn’t a rookie and represented himself quite nicely in the Red Bull.

Final note on the ‘camo’ livery for Red Bull: It’s there for a reason and not for cool aesthetics. According to Bill Marlowe, “With this type of camouflage, it makes it much more difficult for the spy/photographers to Photoshop bits of the car in order to determine airflow, positioning of cooling vents and the shape of the rear aero package, they won’t show up in Australia with that livery.” We agree, the cost of motion sickness bags would be astronomical.

Sauber was able to set the second fastest time on three days with Marcus Ericsson at the wheel of the new C34 and Felipe Nasr topped the charts on one day. Ferrari seems to have the power that it sorely lacked in 2014. Granted soft tires were in play, but it was a boost to the teams moral after suffering from financial problems from last season.

Lotus arrived a day late for the test, but with Maldonado and Grosjean setting times within reason for a first test with a new chassis and power-plant, they showed well. The teams technical director Nick Chestor says the E23 is the most technical car to come out of Enstone.

Conclusion: Mercedes is still the team to beat, Ferrari showed great promise, all of the new kids on the block gave a solid representation of themselves, multiple compounds used at different times gave false impressions of true speed, everyone had a few problems, McLaren more than the rest and no one has a clue as to who has what.

Even though we will go into Barcelona two more times in February, nothing will be truly known until Australia. Who could be the big surprise?

McLaren-Honda.

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