Testing review: form book (still) yet to materialize

Testing review: form book (still) yet to materialize

With preseason testing done and dusted, there is a myriad of questions still left unanswered as well as drama on both ends of the competitive spectrum, with Williams vying for top honors as preseason favorites with Mercedes and Red Bull still struggling to run more than a few laps at a time. However the first race in Australia pans out, you can be sure it will feature some unexpected results.

The last two days in Bahrain were really the first instances in which we could speak with some confidence regarding the competitive order of the 2014 grid and what we learned is that perhaps some of the assumptions made in Jerez were a bit premature.

Certainly, Mercedes is the engine to have in the back of your car, its comparative reliability and drivability making the actual task of driving just that little bit less stressful. However, the teams bearing the three-pointed star on their engine cover still have to work themselves out competitively.

Mercedes far from faultless in Bahrain

Mercedes far from faultless in Bahrain

Taking stock of the runners after Jerez indicated that Mercedes was ahead of the rest of the field, closely followed by McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and perhaps Force India. After the first half of the first Bahrain test, the same could be said.

By the end of preseason testing, there were all-new questions awaiting answers.

Will Mercedes’ late reliability worries affect the rest of their season? Does Mclaren’s absence from the top of the time sheets late on in testing indicate another poor season? Can we bank on Williams’ form for all of 2014, or is it another false dawn? Will Ferrari remain as anonymous throughout the season as it did in testing? And will the Renault-powered teams have to abandon all hopes of a good season in 2014, or is there a way for their fortunes to improve?

That’s a lot of uncertainty to have after 12 days of testing devoted to eliminating just that.

But these are valid questions. Mclaren planned on testing updates for the Australian Grand Prix on the last two days of testing but failed to bring them out. Whether or not this accounts for all of their speed deficit to Mercedes and Williams is unknown. Mercedes also was responsible for a significant proportion of the red flags in Bahrain, something you wouldn’t have predicted after their success in Jerez.

Williams starred in Bahrain, but their one lap pace relative to Mercedes is still unknown as tires and fuel levels could have played a hand in the team’s fastest lap of the two tests in the Middle East. Their mileage indicates the most security when it comes to races. The Grove-based squad caused only one red flag during all of preseason testing, and it came in the dying moments of the very last day in Bahrain when a high-mileage engine finally gave out.

Ferrari’s anonymity in both Jerez and Bahrain leaves us wondering just what they’re capable of. They only completed a race simulation on the final two days of testing, and lap times indicate a rather large disadvantage compared to Mercedes and Williams. However, their reliability has been decent, and could set them up for a drama-free start to the season.

When it comes to Red Bull, and indeed Renault as a whole, there is a lot to be said. The engine manufacturer solved most of the problems found in Jerez, as indicated by the significant mileage completed by Caterham during the final test in Bahrain. But Red Bull’s “packaging problems”, as they are generally referred to, are still plaguing the reigning champions, and Adrian Newey’s packaging “philosophy” does not mix well with the cooling demands of the new power units and energy recovery systems. Quick, but temporary, fixes were made throughout testing to at least allow the team to get some mileage, but when it comes time to start the Australian Grand Prix those quick fixes won’t cut it, competitively or legally.

A large percentage of cars are expected to retire in Australia, and we may only see that number start to fall once the Formula One circus makes its way to Europe. What seemed an outlandish prediction from Christian Horner (that half the field could retire in the season opener) before testing began is now the accepted reality. At least for now.

For as we all know Formula One has the uncanny ability to improve itself in almost all areas. When speed and reliability plunge after a change in regulations, you can count on a quick turnaround from the engineers at the factories and on the track. Take comfort in that and realize that while Red Bull looked lost throughout preseason testing, there is a way for the team’s reliability to be found, and it could come sooner than you or the rest of the F1 field expect.

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team