Saturday, 1 February 2014

F1 2014 - the First Test

On 16 January it emerged that Ron Dennis, former CEO and team principal of McLaren and its F1 team, had wrested back the position of CEO from Martin Whitmarsh (also team principal, at the team of writing). Speculation abounded that someone who isn’t Whitmarsh would be the McLaren team principal. Ross Brawn’s name was suggested.

This probably decreases the chances of Alonso rejoining McLaren, as Dennis is the sole focus of his ire regarding the broken promise of number one status in 2007. With speculation rife Vettel will go to Ferrari in a year or two, we could see Alonso join Red Bull or maybe Mercedes/another team that’s highly competitive.

It was hoped, due to the widespread incredulity and displeasure of spectators around the world, that the insane plan to award double points for Abu Dhabi (the final race this season) would be axed. Sadly, it has not been, and the deranged idea is to go ahead. This is utterly indefensible and completely stupid.

Just as speculation was mounting about the new McLaren team principal (although Whitmarsh’s departure hadn’t been officially confirmed) it was announced that Gerard Lopez had replaced Eric Boullier as team principal of Lotus, prompting immediate speculation Boullier could be off the McLaren.

Schedule of launches and testing is up here:

There are three pre-season tests, each of four days in duration. At the first (Jerez) every team save Marussia and Lotus were present (teething problems meant Marussia did turn up, but a little late). Around the first test Horner suggested that engine failure rates could be as high as 50% during the races, and Newey said the whole first test was basically about ensuring everything worked (and that performance would be an issue for the second test).

During the first test Eric Boullier was, to the surprise of no-one, confirmed as the new team principal of McLaren. Actually, I think he has a slightly different job title, responsible to the newly-created position of racing director (yet to be named), who in turn reports to Dennis.

On the first two days of the first test Vettel’s Red Bull caught fire. At this stage the Renault engine looked rather fragile, whereas the Mercedes (Rosberg did more laps on day 2 than the whole field on day 1) was reliable as a chap from Yorkshire called Bob.

“On average, Mercedes-powered cars managed 51.7 laps on Wednesday, Ferrari-powered cars 47.5 laps and Renault just 6.3.”

After 3 days of the first test Red Bull had completed just 13 laps. The problem seems to be the battery of the ERS overheating, coupled with the Renault engine oscillating excessively (it vibrates like an Ann Summers shop after a lightning strike). They got more running down on the final day, but not a lot.

After the first test the Mercedes engine appeared most reliable, Ferrari was also fairly solid, and Renault was mostly terrible (it worked pretty well in the Caterham, though).

Morris Dancer’s Guide to Noses:
Beluga - Caterham
Tusks - Lotus
Platypus - Ferrari, Mercedes
Rhino - everyone else

The first test also saw Ecclestone make the moronic suggestion that double points should not merely occur in Abu Dhabi, but in Brazil and the US as well. The rule is crackers and should be abolished, not extended.

At this stage, the pace of cars has emphatically not been established. We have, however, a first inkling of reliability. Or lack, thereof, if you drive a Red Bull. The problem is not insurmountable, but if it persists in Bahrain then things will look bleak for them.

Laps by teams and engines:
Mercedes - 309
Ferrari - 251
McLaren - 245
Williams - 175
Sauber - 163
Force India - 146
Caterham - 76
Toro Rosso - 54
Red Bull - 21

Mercedes - 875
Ferrari - 444
Renault - 151

So, where are we? Well, there are two more tests, both to be held in Bahrain. There’s about two weeks until the next, so Renault and Red Bull have some time to work on things. Reports of Red Bull’s demise are greatly exaggerated, at this stage. However, if they still have such dire reliability in Test 2 (Test Harder) then they’ll face a very large handicap early on (not least that they’ll struggle to finish a race). Even if they get it patched up in Test 3 or halfway through Test 2 they’ll have very little running.

At the moment my thoughts are drifting to a market I hardly ever touch: classified finishers. The way things stand I suspect we might see a significant number of retirements in Australia.

I would not advocate betting based on the first test. There’s time for things to change, we’ve got a baseline of reliability but not of pace, and teams always sandbag. In addition, highly variable fuel loads, fuel flow/mixture (increased this year, I’ll mention it more later), tyre choices and track temperature make the times pretty meaningless. Mood music matters more.

Right now, Mercedes are listening to Perfect Day, whereas Red Bull are hearing Dire Straits.

Morris Dancer