What a difference four days make. We’ve gone from that slightly eerie day one silence, which was only sporadically broken by the sound of a car heading out for a single lap before gingerly returning to the garage, to a cacophony of V6 engines pounding out laps here in Jerez today – unless, of course the power unit in the back of your car was a Renault.
It was always going to be a fascinating week, but few could have predicted just how many talking points would crop up as the days wore on. A nightmare start for Renault; questions over the part Red Bull Racing’s packaging is playing in their woes, a dream start for Mercedes after day one difficulties, impressive Ferrari reliability, a resurgent McLaren with a possibly stellar new recruit and Mercedes completing a full race simulation just four days in. All remain to be dissected and analysed in the coming weeks.
There is one story that doesn’t require intense examination to understand. Simply, it has been a dreadful week for Red Bull Racing. The champions ended today’s final day rooted to the bottom of the timesheet – again. Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo completed just 21 laps between them across these four days in Jerez. “This is, by far, the biggest challenge we’ve faced,” said Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner at the start of the test. How prescient. The team and Renault believe solutions will be found in time for the Bahrain test but how much head-scratching and how many all-night stints at the factory will go into those over the next fortnight is not something many of us would like to contemplate.
Ricciardo’s final day in the car (well, mostly out of it) ended at lunchtime as the team called an early halt to their troubled week. However, despite day one’s incorrectly mounted part, which prevented any real running, plus Renault’s energy store problems and the team’s own overheating issues, the Australian remains positive: “Time is still on our side. These guys know how to win, that is important. I am sure that sooner rather than later we will get it all together. It’s still really early days. It’s not like the season has started yet. We’re not losing points by not driving now.”
They might not be losing points but they are losing valuable time. Kamui Kobayashi, back behind the wheel of a Formula One car after a year competing in the World Endurance Championship with Ferrari, knows how precious time is.
“We are missing a lot of mileage,” he said. “Today is the first time we completed a proper run this week. We got some proper data, but technically it’s not enough. We had a problem with the power unit system… it’s a very difficult time”.
But the Japanese racer can see a silver lining: “I have to say we are better than Red Bull at the moment because they’ve done very few laps. We have data and the cooling looks fine. We now just have to develop the car and we know how much cooling level we need, so it’s a good start.”
Would Felipe Massa, today’s quickest driver, be concerned if he was in Red Bull’s situation? “Yes, I’d be worried”, he said. “They have some problems and they [maybe won’t be] always winning races and pulling away like we saw in many races last year. Not seeing Red Bull winning all the time can also be a positive thing!”
It’s definitely been a positive start to the year for the Brazilian and even though it’s still early days, today there was no way he could mask a cheeky grin: “It’s good to smile; I always like to smile in life. I think that when you smile it means that things are going well, so I’m happy with the day and the first impressions with the team. There’s still a lot to work on and we can’t forget that this is still only testing – and a more difficult test than last year.”
While Massa’s former outfit Ferrari will also leave Jerez content after watching Fernando Alonso grind out 115 laps today, it’s Mercedes who are most likely to be celebrating after this week’s running. Their progress in Jerez has been impressive, with Nico Rosberg completing a total of 91 laps in three hours and Hamilton adding a further 41 to the team’s tally this afternoon.
Ultimately, however, it’s not about how you start, but how you finish. These four days have been tumultuous but there’s a mighty long way to go before the cars even get to Melbourne, never mind that controversial double points finale in Abu Dhabi. We’ve seen just a cameo of how 2014 will shape up. The big picture will take some time to snap into focus.
Tabatha Valls Halling in Jerez