F1 2014 Third Test
With testing done and dusted, the real thing is set to start in Melbourne next weekend.
TV: Sky Sports F1 (UK), NBC (USA)
With a little over a week to go until the season proper for Formula 1 gets underway, and eventful two weeks of testing closed off in Bahrain.
What we’ve learned is that one team stands head and shoulders above everyone else, or at least that is what we can confidently concur. No one knows for sure, of course, because teams are notoriously secretive, cunning and sometimes even devious with just how much information they would like the media, and therefore their rivals, to acquire.
The term ‘sandbagging’ has been thrown about a lot in the last few days and there is no question that a number of teams were running higher fuel loads, turning down engines and perhaps even instructing drivers to simply drive slowly to artificially construct their times.
Some, on the other hand, have serious problems. When we see that Caterham aren’t exactly up to scratch, or neither Torro Rosso, it’s something passed off as disappointing but have expected.
However, over the last two weeks of testing we’ve seen the defending World Champions and their defending four time World Champion driver genuinely struggle to get their testing program going. It’s been a horrible couple of tests for Red Bull who are persistently dragged down by reliability and technical faults that frustratingly prevent them from getting out on the track and racking up the miles.
Even though hope among Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel fans remain that the champs have some amazing plan to shock the F1 community and land in Melbourne with a package worthy of the top step of the podium, the simply lack of any continuous running will be a huge worry for Red Bull. Quite frankly, they’ve been let down by Renault.
This problem extends itself to Lotus, a team which finished fourth last year but in all likelihood will by fighting off the competition from the midfield this time round. Set aside their problems of finances, drivers and team principals, Lotus missed the first test and have completed the least amount of mileage in the whole F1 paddock.
The famous marque no longer have their star driver Kimi Raikkonen to rely on and have now two drivers of incredibly similar ilk. Both are very good on their day, but are terribly inconsistent and are notoriously known for some horrendous crashes.
Mercedes, compared to Red Bull and Lotus who couldn’t escape from the problems they face, are on cloud nine. They clearly have the fastest car, even though Felipe Massa set the fastest time in Bahrain, 0.02s quicker than Lewis Hamilton’s, and they also clearly have the most reliable engine. Where Ferrari and Mercedes are mostly rest assured that their cars will be able to get through the entire duration of the Australian Grand Prix, Renault simply cannot provide that guarantee.
The much vaunted power advantage that the Mercedes engine has won’t necessarily be the main difference early on in the season. As the first few races start to get underway, the performance gaps we see are more likely to be related to aero or mechanical differences, where one package might be slightly better developed than another.
It might only be to the very end once the development paths of all 2014 cars are exhausted that the Mercedes engine and its premier ERS system comes into its own.
Until then, though, there is much water to go under the bridge, the first hurdle being for many teams to simply get through Melbourne and register some respectable results. With just over a week to go, the excitement could not be higher.