Formula 1 is undergoing many changes this season, and the first round of pre-season testing in Jerez, Spain taught teams and fans alike several lessons, according to an analysis posted to the F1 series website on Monday, February 3.
The reigning championship team, Red Bull, was not dominant in the first testing session. In fact, according to Formula 1, Red Bull turned in the fewest laps of any team over the four days, with just 21. This compares to Mercedes with the highest number of laps tested at 309.
After debuting the car and taking a few laps, four-time Formula 1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel left the remainder of the session to new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to finish out. Even then, Red Bull decided not to complete the fourth full day but packed it up and left Jerez early to get to work on the problems they had encountered instead.
Teams who, like Red Bull, are also running with Renault power units experienced similar problems to the current champions. Toro Rosso and Caterham turned in only 54 and 76 laps, respectively. Teams with other engines, such as Mercedes and Ferrari, ran more laps, overall. The total teams breakdown in terms of laps by power unit looks like this, according to Formula 1:
1. Mercedes, 875 (4 teams)
2. Ferrari, 444 (3 teams)
3. Renault, 151 (3 teams)
It's way too early to project the possible strength of a driver to new machine match-up; however, any and every indication of any kind of edge in Formula 1 is scrutinized in any case. The top time of the test session was driven by rookie Danish driver, Kevin Magnussen of McLaren clocking a 1m 23.276s and 162 laps. This is not a bad turn-out for a 21-year-old rookie, especially when compared to current 26-year-old World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who drove the 17th fastest time of the session, 1m 38.320s and 11 laps. Red Bull's Ricciardo posted no better time than his team-mate and drove one less lap.
While fans are looking at, and commenting on all over social media and elsewhere, nose-pieces and other aesthetic features of the new 2014 race cars, the drivers have to make the new machines perform. A few drivers offered comments on how the new cars handled during their first time out on the track.
Former World Champion Jenson Button of McLaren, for example, commented: "It feels [like] the most powerful engine I've driven. It obviously isn't in terms of outright power, but as a racing driver you feel the torque and power at slow speed. It's coming out of the corners when you have so much torque that's exciting."
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes noticed something else, "The steering wheel is completely different;" he said, "it's almost like a smartphone with all the information on it!"
Sauber's Esteban Guitierrez also commented on all the drivers' learning curves with the new machines, "We have to understand what every button does, how each system works, and how you can get a benefit from that," he said. "That is what's going to make the difference."
Perhaps the most talked about technical feature from the first testing session was McLaren's new suspension design. According to Formula 1's analysis, tongues in Jerez were wagging about McLaren's innovation, "in particular the toe link and the rear leg of the lower wishbone which, by virtue of their profile, are in effect large aero devices."
The site explains, "The theory is that at lower speeds these suspension fairings help improve the extraction of air from the rear diffuser, thus boosting downforce, while at higher speeds movement in the suspension components means they cut drag."
The next series of 2014 Formula 1 pre-season testing takes place in Bahrain from February 19-22. Racing begins only too soon for the teams hurriedly preparing to have the competitive edge at the start of the season -- the first race, the Australian Grand Prix, is March 16 in Melbourne.
Some observers have said the first race or two of the 2014 season may be plagued with retirements and reliability issues, leaving fans puzzled, troubled, but mostly still eager to watch and see.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk, Ph.D. has been credentialed by the FIA to write about Formula 1. With a historic racer from upstate New York, she is working on a book about racers and racing.