The 2014 Formula One pre-season testing was rife with issues more than results. The myriad of problems included reliability of the new 1.6 Liter turbocharged hybrid power units, brake by wire system failures, complex combustion engine and electronic power integration resulting in spins, minor crashes and on-track system crashes. Red Bull/Renault managed 3 laps at Jerez testing in 2014.
2014 testing at Jerez and Barcelona proved that despite the massive number of problems, there was a new kid on the block who got it as close to right as could be expected with such complex systems. Mercedes AMG Petronas. However, to be fair, even they had reliability problems throughout the 2014 season.
This year may be a different story, but with the same results. Point being, Mercedes got it as close to right as could be expected. Over 1 second faster right. That gives them a distinct advantage for 2015.
Renault, with having missed the horsepower boat in 2014, have vowed that in 2015 they have stepped up their game, hopefully by 50% to Mercedes. That’s progress, but Mercedes has also fired back that they too have stepped up their game. Where the roulette ball falls won’t be truly known until Australia.
However, as we go to press, Red Bull, the factory backed Renault team, are in the middle of a Chinese fire drill trying to assemble their car for the Jerez testing, which is 4 days hence. They can’t afford a repeat of last year.
A little background: Engine manufacturers are able to change up to 48% of their current power unit through a system called development ‘tokens’ for the 2015 season. Renault have taken full advantage of this, since as we know from the 2014 season they weren’t as reliable as the other two manufacturers, they have used 32 development tokens and plan on saving the rest for in-season changes that are now allowed by the FIA.
So Renault constructed a whole new combustion chamber, a new exhaust system, variable trumpets and, interestingly, made their compressor more efficient and appears to have a split turbo system that Mercedes and now Honda have. Ferrari is an unknown.
Who knows what that will improve since most of their engines either blew up in flames or were destroyed internally. We’ll only know once testing starts this Sunday (February 1st). This will also determine if Lotus made the right move to switch from Renault power unit, to a Mercedes power unit.
Ferrari is a mystery, having had a regime change that rivals that of Saddam Hussein. No one really knows what their power-plant is going to look like or how it will operate. They have used many of their tokens, but is the turbo unit one of them? Their challenge is to massage their basic combustion engine to be lighter and with more power. Their aero figures are sheer speculation at this point.
It’s hard to tell when you construct both the chassis and engine, not a lot of information gets leaked. It’s also important to note that these systems aren’t just about horsepower, it’s also how well they can integrate the engine with the ERS power system. Not an easy task.
Williams is the one team that may have something to take to the Mercedes factory party. Towards the last half of 2014 not only did they show promise, but they also showed that they were onto something in the aero department. I would remiss not to mention they have an incredibly strong driver lineup in Felipe Massa and Valttieri Bottas. The Jerez test may show them wanting to publicly flex their newly found muscles.
Speaking of testing, the first round of testing will last four days in Jerez, Spain at Circuito Permanente de Jerez. Right away several teams have backed out from this first round of testing. Not a good sign for non-factory teams.
Different teams have different issues for why they may or may not attend round one of testing. An example could be the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team. Red Bull have focused so much on designing their car and testing it in the wind tunnel, Renault has been late in delivering the power-plants. In a bet, they will make it.
In a skysports.com interview with Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principle says that the team have hit all of their design deadlines, they are pleased with the wind tunnel results to ensure a smoother preseason start and they are in full force mode building the car at the moment. It seems that things aren’t so smooth if you’re rushing to build your car a week before testing.
McLaren Honda have introduced their car and it looks as if they have the Honda power-plant nestled in nicely. The rear portion of the car shows a narrow ‘coke bottle’ shape, which is indicative of a well proportioned engine. Additionally the front wing has Red Bull written all over it, no doubt the influence of ex-Red Bull aero chief Peter Prodromou. One hopes they have rid themselves of the bugs that plagued them in their first attempt to leave the garage in Abu Dhabi. But the Japanese nor McLaren give up easily and we may see a much more refined and capable car from the remarriage than many think. Another complete unknown.
Sahara Force India have a different story. The team claims they aren’t attending the first round in Jerez because the learning opportunity is low. How can a team that finished as poorly as they did in 2014 not learn something at an official test. Mercedes won the championship as if they were driving Millennium Falcon’s and they will be attending. Officially they’ve stated their car won’t be ready as they want to spend the extra time maximizing the development on their car. It’s much more likely that the team, having been outed numerous times regarding legal and financial woes, are fighting to pay the bills. Mainly owed Mercedes.
If you are a Formula One aficionado you would probably know by now that Caterham will also not be attending the test on Sunday because of financial issues. At the end of the 2014 season, Caterham used a website that was able to collect funds from fans in exchange for Caterham merchandise and parts of their cars, as well as exclusive time to spend with the team and maybe have lunch with them. In the world of Formula One, this is desperation and quite sad.
Testing this Sunday won’t determine a pecking order, other than Mercedes at the front, but it will give some insight as to straight-line speed, acceleration out of the corners, systems integration and many other indicators that will enlighten us, to some degree, what the next test may look like.
It’s testing, things are going to go wrong, issues will arise and some teams will close their garages early compared to everyone else. It’s the reason Formula 1 has testing, it’s so that these issues can be identified and, hopefully, solved early on in order to narrow down issues during the evolving season.
Development and progressing is key within F1 teams during the off season, Renault have thrown the kitchen sink at it, McLaren have switched to a Honda power unit in hopes of bringing back the golden era and Lotus have switched to an elite Mercedes AMG power unit.
On Sunday through Wednesday, many things will be revealed.