After an underwhelming opening day of preseason testing in Jerez yesterday, the watching world was treated to a much more productive, and fascinating, day of running today.
While yesterday most teams treaded lightly around the track for just a few laps at a time, a far greater understanding of the machinery at hand meant almost all teams significantly increased their mileage today. Short installation laps perforated by long spells in the garage became decently long runs on track with much shorter spells waiting around. Indeed, the current theme of preseason testing in 2014 is that of small gains. But while small gains last year meant just that, a small gain this year is far more important. Any substantive increase in mileage from one day to the next, or number of laps in a run to the one following has far greater implications than they would have last year.
In contrast to their lackluster running yesterday, Mercedes were mightily impressive today. Nico Rosberg completed 97 laps of the Spanish circuit today, a fantastic result for the team and indeed all the teams using Mercedes engines, as it means that while the team was most likely running very lean in terms of battery charge and fuel flow rate, the engine and its myriad of parts are working well and consistently.
Ferrari were similarly productive, as Kimi Raikkonen completed a second day of successful running in his factory Ferrari, while Esteban Gutierrez plugged along at a similar rate, completing 50 laps in his Sauber.
Finally, Renault. Undoubtedly the story of today, and likely for the rest of the test, were the company’s engine issues. It was not an uncommon sight for the Red Bull, Caterham and Toro Rosso to be out of sight and in their respective garages. This obviously created a fervor that Renault were doomed for the rest of the season. Indeed, judging by the results from yesterday and today one would be forgiven for thinking Renault were on the back foot.
But not all is doomed. Renault has said that the issues identified with their power units were merely hardware related, and that the necessary parts to remedy the problem were being shipped to Jerez. Good news for Red Bull, Caterham and Toro Rosso. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods yet. It is still unclear what the ramifications of missing two valuable days of testing are, and they will do to the teams in their bid for success in 2014.
Much was also made of the new Mclaren, which made its track debut today after missing the opening day of testing due to electrical issues with its engine. Many are fascinated by its rear suspension, which features “blockers” whose performance gains are yet to be proven to the public, but which are potentially a “secret weapon”, says Gary Anderson, for the team in 2014.
The success of this solution could make Mclaren the success, or failure, story of the season. But it suggests that the team is throwing more at the 2014 season than perhaps previously assumed. With Honda coming in to replace Mercedes as the team’s engine supplier in 2015, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of reason to assume the team would wait a year to launch a full-on attack for the titles with their new partner. But with engineers and experts fascinated by the Mclaren’s suspension, and more besides, it looks like Mclaren is holding nothing back.
The fact that Jenson Button topped the time sheets today only fuels this speculation.
Which brings me to my final point. Times mean nothing. I said it yesterday, and will continue to do so until the cars leave the pit lane for qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.
It will undoubtedly grow more difficult to not read anything into the time sheets as the days go on. All the teams are increasing their understanding of the complicated regulations and cars built around them at an exponential rate, each discovery unveiling something more. Technical innovation is its own precedent, and the more of it that goes on here in Jerez as well as in Bahrain will only make the fast-approaching season more exciting.
Nevertheless, the indiscernible blur that was the competitive order yesterday has taken some shape. Not enough to be considered concrete, especially since Renault will effectively have a fresh start tomorrow, but enough to ensure that a headline-grabbing time is more than a disposable jumble of numbers.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic