The talking points from the Jerez test
Is the old Sebastian back? Does F1 have a new sound? How big a task do Honda face? And might Merc have played too safe?
By Pete Gill and James Galloway in Jerez
Last Updated: 11/03/15 8:28am
Ferrari and Vettel have rediscovered their mojo
If there was one moment which encapsulated Ferrari’s positive week in Jerez it was the round of applause Sebastian Vettel received when he climbed out of the SF15-T at the close of play on Monday night after heading the timesheets on both of the opening days. Sebastian later joked that the mechanics were thanking him for not crashing on the wet track, while Ferrari themselves have indicated he was being applauded for completing the emergency cockpit exit in record time.
But Vettel's lap times were surely another cause of the team's upbeat demenaour.
‘Test times mean nothing’ is a well-versed refrain in early February. But Vettel’s timesheet-topping lap of 1:20.90 - bettered only by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen when the Finn used soft tyres – on Monday was an impressive effort whatever the SF15-T’s fuel load. “Ferrari have been an eye-opener for us during the last couple of days,” acknowledged Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg after his final run of the week.
Top of the timesheets on three of the four days, and only denied a clean sweep by a soft-shod Sauber when the F15-T only used hards and mediums, Ferrari were the story of the Jerez test. Have we – and their own hierachy – undersold Ferrari's potential competiveness prematurely?
Vettel was rather more guarded, merely describing his opening salvo in Ferrari colours as a “good platform to start working from”. The team's body language was rather more telling, however, while Vettel’s own extra-curricular commitment also offered a telling insight into the Scuderia’s 2015 prospects. After finishing work at Jerez, the former world champion flew straight to Ferrari’s Maranello base for more hard graft in the simulator - hardly the behaviour of a driver so disillusioned with F1 that he considered quitting the sport just last year.
F1’s fallen idol has rediscovered his mojo.
Have we underestimed the task facing Honda?
In the build-up to Jerez, it was suggested that, given Honda had enjoyed both a year on the sidelines from which to study their opposition and prepare their new turbo engine, a repeat of the struggles the field endured 12 months ago was unlikely.
So much for that nice idea.
In actual fact, Honda’s struggles were almost identical to those of Renault and Ferrari in the 2014 Jerez test. A measly six laps on each of the opening two days was followed by a modest haul in the mid-thirties on days three and four. With a third of the winter season elapsed, and less than eighty laps on the board, it's little wonder that Honda are pushing the FIA for further scope to tweak their V6s even after last month's u-turn. It's already clear that they need every helping hand they can find.
Eschewing the safe option, which would have afforded the Honda V6 plenty of breathing space, the tightly-packed rear of MP4-30 is on the wafer side of slim. It would be a risky design at the best of times – just recall the overheating issues that Red Bull faced with the RB11 after it launched with an equally tight fit. Honda haven't had any overheating issues in the cool of Jerez – they will surely face a tougher, and hotter, test when we start racing.
Has F1 developed a different sound for 2015?
Even by the close of play on day one, there were plenty of paddock observers suggesting that F1 has developed a new sound for 2015. The debate even reached as far as Mercedes’ technical briefing that night with the world champions’ head boffins of the impression that F1 had started 2015 with a different soundtrack but unable to offer any tangible explanation for why it might have been upgraded. All the fundamental components are unaltered.
There was, however, definitely something different in the air at Jerez this week. But what exactly? Was it simply a trick of the mind – did F1 sound different simply because it hadn’t been heard for so long and the winter was so quiet? Was the noise simply being trapped in the rolling hills around the circuit? Or was it just the untuned Honda playing a trick on the ears? The debate continues.
Could Mercedes have played it too safe?
Mercedes’ performance in Jerez was a curious affair. On the one hand, they completed far and away the most laps. On the other, they were the only team to bring out red flags twice over the course of the four days. While one of those instances was the consequence of apparent driver error – Lewis Hamilton’s day four spin – the tally doesn’t include the water leak which prevented Hamilton running in the afternoon sun on day one.
So a test of two halves for the world champions then? Not quite. Mercedes gained far more than they pained. Every other team in attendance would have regarded a couple of stoppages as a small price to pay for such consistent track longevity.
The W06 is certainly a car which could be easily mistaken for a W05-B. “It feels very much the same,” acknowledged Hamilton. “It’s even the same seat as last year.” After dominating 2014, evolution rather than revolution was the obvious and sensible approach to take over the winter. But no strategy is entirely devoid of risk and, though it seems currently unlikely, Mercedes may live to regret their apparent conservatism. If they have targeted reliability at the expense of raising their own performance bar into 2015, might they be vulnerable to the sort of performance surge they themselves enjoyed a year ago?
Or have they been running heavy-fuelled with the engine wick turned down all week so that once we reach Australia, 2015 really will be all about Hamilton v Rosberg, The Rematch?
The Sky Sports F1 Online team will be providing live commentary from all four days of both Barcelona tests. Sky Sports News HQ will also have live updates from trackside.