Formula One kicked off 2015 with pre-season testing yesterday, with Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheets for Scuderia Ferrari. Of the seven drivers who completed laps over the space of the day’s running, Vettel’s tally of 60 laps put him fourth overall, but kept him a tenth clear of Marcus Ericsson who took the second fastest time, for Sauber.
“Today was a good start,” reflected Vettel when the day’s action had ended, but kept a grounded attitude and admitted: “I can’t say more than that because this is only the beginning.
“For now lap times aren’t important: I did mine on the medium compound but the comparison has to be made yet again with the Mercedes. They are very quick, let’s just hope they’re not quite as fast as last year…”
While the exact speed of the Mercedes is so far unclear, Nico Rosberg’s incredible count of 157 laps on what is, for some teams, a chance to see how many times the car can break down, was an ominous sign of the Mercedes’ potential strength again this coming season. While half a second slower than Vettel’s quickest lap, Rosberg said the focus of early testing was reliability.
“In the beginning it’s all about reliability and we managed to do a lot of mileage today. The guys in the factories built a complete new car and now we come here and it’s working great, so the team did a fantastic job over the winter.”
On the difference in lap times, Rosberg added: “As a driver, you always want to find out how quick you are compared to the others – but that will have to wait until qualifying in Melbourne.
Marcus Ericsson’s first day of running with his new team also showed positive reliability and he clocked 73 laps overall, tied second with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. The Swede, formerly of Caterham, was clearly pleased with his first experience of the Sauber on track, and praised the reliability of the car under various set ups.
“I think we have good reasons to be happy. We were able to complete a lot of laps, and we went through quite a few different small tweaks on the set-up and did all the installations needed. There were no major problems with the car, which was really the main thing. Overall it’s been a good day, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. I hope we can continue like this.”
Bottas also clocked 73 laps over his track time, and like Ericsson, the Finn seemed happy with his first taste of the FW37. Beginning with shorter stints, Williams began to build up to longer runs, and were happy with the car’s reliability, Bottas said. “The day started off a bit slow, but it turned out to be a really good one. After that initial set-back, we didn’t have a single issue with the FW37, which is impressive for the first day with a new car.
“We know we have a lot to learn and improve, but we also know where these gains can come from, and have work to do with the car performance and the power unit. There are a lot of strengths in this car and we’ve made good progress in just one day, so I am very pleased,” the Finn concluded.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest overall as he gave the RB11 its inaugural running, albeit with a swirly livery, specifically made for testing. In usual fashion, Ricciardo gave his approval of the unique design: “The livery’s cool. It’s a testing specification for us but I think it looks really good. Maybe I need a matching helmet.”
Ricciardo was similarly happy with the performance of the car, saying: “We got going pretty well this morning and I got a few laps under my belt. So the first impressions are good. We’ll get a few more laps over the next few days, but so far everything seems pretty encouraging.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of laps but definitely more than at this test last year! Obviously we had a couple of issues, but once the car is running it’s all going pretty normally. There are some positive signs there.”
Over at Red Bull’s sister team, Carlos Sainz Jr. took the RB10 for a noble 46 laps around the Circuit de Jerez. Although he had run in a filming day already this year, rookie Sainz felt positive about the Toro Rosso’s first proper shakedown.
“We worked well together as a team,” commented the Spaniard. “I felt good in the car today, I was constantly improving, lap after lap. We did some adjustments and I think we have a good starting baseline”.
Sainz’s country-man, Fernando Alonso, had the least successful day of any of the seven drivers, completing a mere six laps on the first day of his return to McLaren. Although alleging to have purposefully run a series of short stints, with the longest run being three laps, McLaren’s day of testing finished at lunchtime when a technical gremlin took the car out of action for the afternoon.
“Given the complexity of modern Formula 1 machinery, the sorts of issues we encountered today weren’t too surprising,” said Alonso of the technical issues. “They’re just the things you experience on the first day of a Formula 1 test.”
“Obviously, I don’t really have a feeling for the car yet – I only did a handful of laps, and most of those were at slow speed, conducting preliminary checks – so I need a bit more time to be able to speak accurately about it. But everything seems to be responding well, and showing us what we expected.”
While McLaren’s day ended early, neither Lotus nor Force India made it to Jerez in time for the beginning of testing. While Lotus’ trucks crawled into the pit lane in the afternoon, Force India’s were nowhere to be seen as it was confirmed that they would not be attending the test. The team have also moved to rubbish rumours that their car, again piloted by Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, will not make it to the grid for the curtain-opening Melbourne Grand Prix on March 15th.
Pre-season testing continues on Monday with Lewis Hamilton, Daniil Kvyat Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Max Verstappen and Felipe Nasr all piloting their respective cars.
Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari.