How is it February already?
Admittedly it has felt like a Narnia-length winter so far and I have taken to scrolling back through Instagram to find photos of happier, sunnier times when I wasn’t a walking advert for North Face/Michelin/auditioning to join the cast of Fortitude [delete as appropriate].
And then, all of a sudden, a few days ago my Instagram feed got flooded with pictures of shiny, brand, new F1 cars. The dizzying array of car launches has just been and gone (admittedly not quite as bold and brash and glitzy as days of old) heralding the start of official pre-season testing. And when you have been starved of any real F1 news or activity for months on end, pre-season testing is a little bit like Christmas (without all the cooking and family angst).
These tests – one has just concluded this week in Jerez, and there are two more to come in Barcelona towards the end of the month – are basically a lot of smoke and mirrors and teams notoriously (and fairly understandably) do not want to show all of their cards. But (to immediately contradict myself) the mirror does not always lie. Last year Mercedes dominated testing while Williams surprised many with their impressive pace after their annus horribilis in 2013. The Renault teams, including the all-conquering Red Bull, and Ferrari were all over the place in 2014 pre-season testing and by and large this was the script for the season that followed. Red Bull did have a resurgence during the season (as was bound to be the case with the genius brain of Adrian Newey whirring away behind the scenes) but was always playing catch up.
So what 5 things can we learn from the first test in Jerez:
- Mercedes are still the team to beat – An obvious statement in many ways after their incredible season last year (record-breaking teams don’t tend to self-destruct that easily or that quickly) but even the other teams were genuinely stunned and horrified in equal measure at the sheer number of laps Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg put in at Jerez. A gargantuan 516 laps in total. What was the thing that affected Mercedes most last season (aside from their drivers crashing into each other)? Oh yeah reliability. And while in Jerez they even had time to practice pitstops. Message to other teams – Be Very Afraid.
- Ferrari is back…well maybe – After their disastrous season where the prancing horse bolted and just kept on going into the distance never to be seen again, things simply had to improve at Ferrari. There is after all a limit (even at Ferrari) as to how many people you can sack before you run out of people to replace them with. Recruiting Sebastian Vettel (whose childlike wonderment and excitement to be driving for Scuderia Ferrari is actually rather lovely) was a good start. The Ferrari drivers topped the timesheets at Jerez on 3 out of the 4 days. Obviously there are many variables like tyres, fuel loads, ambient conditions blah blah and the cars are all running different specs but still the SF15-T looks like more of a contender than its dog-awful predecessor.
- Are McLaren the new Ferrari? – Not a great first outing of the season. A total of just 79 laps in a week marred by electrical issues and engine problems. The McLaren was well off the pace in the dry and I think Ron Dennis will be putting in a few irate calls to Honda. I’m not sure their #makehistory hashtag feels very relevant at the moment.
- Red Bull, just all a bit meh – They have absolutely knocked it out of the park with their stunning camouflage livery although apparently its only a temporary thing (so that it will be difficult for other teams to study photos for the aero changes on the cars). But what counts is what happens on the track and aero improvements aside, they are still plagued with a flaky Renault engine which badly affected their first test. A lot of work still to do (unless that livery is hiding a car of hidden depths and indeed hidden speed)
- Williams, a British thing of mystery – Very hard to gauge their performance levels and whether it has upped things a notch closer to Mercedes than last year. Mileage covered was good and very positive comments from the Williams camp but nothing to indicate that Mercedes would have a closer challenger this year. As yet. I feel they missed a trick in not managing to sign a driver of the calibre of Fernando Alonso (and if they weren’t in the market, then they should have been!).
The next two tests will be more revealing and will further distill how the teams may line up on the opening grid in Melbourne. I loved one headline I saw this week which was “Lewis Hamilton’s pre-season testing takes a turn for the worse after losing control of his Mercedes amid reports of Nicole Scherzinger break-up”. Actually I think the on-track spin will actually have upset him much more although the husband is gutted that he probably won’t get a distant glimpse of the fragrant Nicole in the paddock at Spa. My main mission for the next 6 months is to find childcare to make this weekend happen. But somehow it will!