They say you shouldn’t run before you can walk and that’s exactly what happened here in Jerez today. As pre-season testing got underway there was a lot of treading lightly and a few missteps but not a lot of speed on show – at least not straight away.
It was to be expected, however. The start to the first day of a new era was always going to be a slow but steady one despite many wanting to get the on-track party started immediately in order to hear the sound of the new V6 engines for the very first time.
Today was all about patience: waiting for the sun to rise and light up the cold Spanish track. Waiting for teams such as Red Bull, Mercedes and Force India to finally roll their cars out and reveal their designs to the world. A wait that was even longer at Williams and Caterham, where the initial roll out time was postponed due to some last-minute technical gripes.
A few of the new power units fired up in the pit-lane and the lights went green at exactly 9 o’clock. The excitement was building-up quickly, very quickly, with most of the media lining up along the big glass window that runs parallel to the start-finish straight in the media centre to get a first glimpse of the action.
It was Hamilton who broke their nervous silence — something he got very used to doing throughout the day — generating the first comments about that new V6 sound that’s soon going to become very familiar to us: it’s nowhere near as loud as the engines of old and is much lower in pitch, but it quickly grows on you and is satisfying to hear.
Kimi Raikkonen provided more new engine music to everyone’s ears, but not for long as his precautionary stop half way through his first lap meant he was confined to the pits for nearly two hours. Another long, quiet period followed before Jean-Eric Vergne, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez got their first laps underway, joining an ever-more confident looking Hamilton out on track.
The Mercedes driver was the first to set a timed lap this year, his 1:33.305 resulting in an impromptu round of applause from the press corps in the media centre when it came up on the screens. The countdown to racing had really started.
It’s safe to say its been one of the quietest starts to a test in a very long time. Long periods of silence ruled most of the day but, as Red Bull’s Adrian Newey explained today, this was always expected. Testing and “the opening races will be an engine formula with a focus on reliability over performance,” he said.
He also added that “12 days of testing is a very compressed development schedule and something this complicated can bring a lot of problems, pressures and breakdowns, so reliability will be an issue at the start of the season”.
And that’s just what happened. Teething problems, cars in the garage for hours and breakdowns were certainly a big part of today, instead of the usual long stints and data gathering. It did give everyone plenty to talk about, especially when Kimi and Sergio stopped on track and when Hamilton’s front wing failed, launching him into the barriers at Turn 1.
Drivers have been out on their tip-toes, trying to understand the car while starting to increasing their speed and subsequently reducing their lap times. At least some of them could: teams like McLaren or Marussia have lost a whole day of running due to different technical issues, while Mercedes’ day ended early after that wing failure and Red Bull’s started with only 15 minutes of the session left. Marcus Ericsson finally drove the Caterham out — with a nose design that literally wowed everyone – for the first time late in the afternoon, with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas doing the same a bit later.
It’s clearly an unusual start. A test that’s been unlike anything we’ve been used to in the recent past. Some examples: the fastest time here last year was a 1:18.148 set by Raikkonen. Today, powered by a V6, he was a full nine seconds slower; last year the Finn completed 80 laps in a day, today it as approaching 50 less.
“We wanted to complete more laps”, Kimi said, “but its pretty normal that things don’t work with so many changes.” We can’t forget this is the first day of Formula One’s new era and there’s still a lot to learn. Hello V6’s, nobody said it was going to be easy. Or noisy.
By Tabatha Valls Halling in Jerez