Thursday, 6 March 2014

Pre-Season Testing

The Turbo Age is back!

We are officially in Full Countdown Mode to the first race in Australia on 16 March. SCREAM. Basically this is the F1 season we have all been waiting for since 2012 – a feeling which grew exponentially as the mind-numbingly boring 2013 season unfolded. The raft of sweeping technical changes without any shadow of a doubt is going to be a Game-Changer. This promises to be an EPIC season! Given Sky F1’s love of a good Shakespearean monologue, they better have secured the services of Sir Patrick Stewart or come to think of it George the Poet (remember this for Monaco last year) for the opening race. 

Sir Patrick Stewart. Bona fide petrolhead.

But reeling myself back in quickly from a random tangent, lets recap what all the hoo-hah is about regarding these new changes.

This season all the cars will have 1.6 litre TURBO charged V6 engines instead of 2.4 litre V8 engines. In the previous Turbo Age of F1 (after they were introduced at the end of the 1970s) the sight of enormous plumes of white smoke billowing from the back of cars as the engine went poooooft was very common. Technology has come a long way since then but the teams will be going into Australia with only 12 days of testing out on track their brand new revolutionary engines. Its going to be a bit messy surely. Oh and apparently the word ‘engine’ is so 2013. This year its all about the ‘power train’.

Turbo engines as they commonly used to look
And a teeny bit more techy stuff (but not much more I promise!) - drivers will have a fuel limit of 100kg per race – whereas last year, when there was no limit, they typically used around 150kg of fuel. Apparently this won’t matter all that much (but nonetheless those more ‘economical’ drivers like Kimi and Jenson must be rubbing their hands with glee!) because F1 has decided to be all right-on and ‘green’. So we have a new bit of technology called…wait for it…ERS (original no?) which stands for Energy Recovery System. As my ill-advised GCSE in Physics was the pinnacle, no wait somewhere far above the pinnacle of my knowledge of mechanical science, I won’t go into an elaborate explanation. Suffice to say the ERS is hooked up to the KERS system and there is a second electric motor that harnesses heat energy from the turbo engine (can you tell I’m slightly floundering here) that will help the

There are also quite a few regulation changes to the chassis that the husband will rewind and freeze-frame over and over and over again (mainly to annoy me) during the build-up to the race. The net effect is that it has made all the cars Fug Ugly. Although – Stop Press – I saw the new Williams car today and it is actually stunning with a beautifully retro livery. Good job guys. You know what they say a great looking car is generally great to drive (and the signs are very promising as I'll get into further below).

Williams Martini (can you imagine the Monaco hospitality tent?!) 

This is all very exciting mainly because all the teams are having to cope with so many new things and we probably will see a lot more retirements and quite incredibly we might even see a driver other than Sebastian Vettel win a race. That is until Adrian Newey, Lord of the Dark Arts etc, nails down the title winning modifications to the currently utter pants RB10 somewhere around the Hungarian Grand Prix. Actually for once I don’t think it will be all that simple. On the face of it, this is set to be the most unpredictable of seasons.

So what can we tell from pre-season testing apart from the fact that these tests are notoriously misleading and impossible to draw any reliable conclusions from (but soddit I’m going to give it a good go otherwise this blog post will be a bit pointless).

1.    Mercedes look like the cream of the crop. They led in terms of pace and generally seemed quite reliable (cue two catastrophic engine failures in the first race). They have two excellent and experienced drivers who are well integrated into the team which could be a crucial difference to other teams where the driver merry-go-round has been in full swing.

These two are the drivers to beat

2.     Red Bull have had a total mare. They achieved the remarkable feat of more breakdowns than completed laps in one day during the last test in Bahrain and their Renault engine just isn’t working. If their car is indeed this woeful in race conditions it will be at least fascinating to see Vettel grapple with a less than perfect car in amongst the more ahem raggedy drivers at the lower end of the grid. The one bright spot for Red Bull is at least they are not Lotus who didn’t even show up for the first test and then when they did they might as well have not bothered. Struggling Lotus (as I fear they may be known throughout this season) have completed fewer laps than any other team including Caterham. And a driver line-up of Maldonado and Grosjean is one of the most potentially bonkers pairings ever seen in F1. Be afraid, be very afraid.

3.     In further shock (but at the same time tremendous) news, Williams looks very strong and new signing Felipe Massa set the fastest time in all pre-testing this winter and their car appears to have the edge on reliability over Mercedes. The decision to switch engine supplier from Renault to Mercedes is looking like a genius masterstroke. If this form extends to longer distance stints we could see an amazing resurgence in Williams’ fortunes. Massa for the title anyone? I’ll get my coat.

4.     Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso set the fastest time of any non-Mercedes or non-Williams car. Yes Ferrari were 3rd in terms of pace and mileage completed but with so many things to throw into the mix – the fact that the Mercedes looked a bit fragile and the fact that Valtteri Bottas isn’t Fernando Alonso (with all due respect etc) – may well mean that Ferrari are properly in the hunt for spoils this season. And have I mentioned that their ‘second’ driver is Kimi Raikkonen (though of course Ferrari would never have such a thing as a number two driver).

The brilliant/combustible/unpredictable/ill-advised (delete as appropriate) Ferrari line-up 

5.     The other two Mercedes powered teams, McLaren and Force India didn’t set the world alight and could be set for yet another season of mid-table mediocrity. Ron Dennis (fresh from his ousting of poor, beleaguered Martin Whitmarsh – has anyone even seen or heard from Martin Whitmarsh in recent months – truly the wrath of Ron is a terrible thing). Anyway Ron Dennis is not a man to accept failure (or even moderate success) lightly so it could be fun and games at McLaren this season. The new boy at McLaren, Kevin Magnussen, has a big reputation for blistering speed so that should add a bit of spice into the mix.

Kevin Magnussen - the one rookie everyone is talking about 

We are shortly going to be entering a Brave New World when the wheels of all the new cars turn in anger for the very first time. Whether the teams are ready or not (mainly not), Melbourne will be Show Time.

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