Theatre people have a saying: “Bad rehearsal, good performance”, which is largely used to reassure themselves when things haven’t been going that well.
A number of Formula 1 teams will be echoing that sentiment after an intriguing first four days of testing at Jerez in south-western Spain last week.
And if you are NOT a Infiniti Red Bull Racing fan you will be telling yourself that the stars of the F1 cast may be the ones who have been fluffing their lines most consistently and damagingly of all in the last few days.
Consider this: in four days of running Red Bull, with world champion Sebastian Vettel and new recruit Dan Ricciardo, contrived to put in a total of 21 laps. Yes, you read that correctly: 3 + 8 + 3 + 7 from Tuesday through Friday.
In that same period Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, racked up 268 laps, culminating on Friday with a full and drama-free race simulation by the German driver.
In fact it was Nico who summed up the topsy-turvy nature of the week when he said: “” It’s come as a bit of a surprise”—by which he didn’t mean the unreliability of other runners, but the sheer reliability his own team had achieved.
For Infiniti Red Bull Racing the ‘issues’, to use the hackneyed expression, have been largely Renault-related: the French engine company has shown up in the worst light of the three who will supply F1 teams this year, while Ferrari and particularly Mercedes have shone during a week that highlighted the complexity of the new ‘powertrains’ and the challenge the electrical side of the new regulations poses.
Renault’s Rob White has not run away from the spotlight: “We now know that the differences between dyno and car are bigger than we expected,” he said, promising that the two weeks before the next test in Bahrain would see the company working flat-out to bridge that gap.
“It’s been a very difficult test,” admitted Infiniti Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner, who added that the team too had ‘issues’ with cooling and on the mechanical side, amid rumours that star designer Adrian Newey was leaving Jerez early to head back to his favourite place: the drawing-board…
To sum the four-day session up, a total of 22 drivers took part, including the three new boys: McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, Marcus Ericsson at Caterham and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.
Magnussen emerged with flying colours: his one indiscretion, a minor ‘off’ over a wet kerb, came with only 10 minutes of the track time remaining and could not take the gloss off the young Dane’s effort in setting the overall fastest time of 1:23.276 on Thursday.
To put that in perspective, though, Pirelli summed things up by saying that the differences in the times set on their varying compounds were pretty well negligible and pointed out that in last year’s corresponding test the fastest time was Felipe Massa’s 1:17.879.
Coincidentally it was Massa in his new environment at Williams who set the fastest time of the final day when the enduringly popular British team managed an encouraging 86 laps.
Over the four days three teams shared the honours: Ferrari on a truncated opening day with Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren with Jenson Button and Magnussen on Wednesday and Thursday, and Williams on the final day.
The 22 drivers completed a total of 1470 laps, equivalent to 6500 kilometres – and that is roughly only one-third of the totals seen at Jerez a year ago. But the encouraging aspect there is that from an aggregate of 93 laps on day one they went out to an aggregate of 688 laps on day four.
Rosberg led the way with 188 laps of his own for Mercedes. No wonder new man in charge Paddy Lowe observed: “It feels like we have hit the ground running.”
Even Marussia, who arrived two days late with the MR03, were buoyed by their 30 laps, Jules Bianchi saying simply, “Not a bad start”, though Kvyat at Toro Rosso said tersely: “This week has not been the start I would have wanted” after putting together just 15 laps in the STR9.
On the other hand, young Swede Ericsson put his finger on the button when he made his own slightly hesitant start for Caterham on the opening day: “We obviously won’t know really where we are until quali in Australia, and one installation lap on day one isn’t going to tell us a lot about the car,” he said, “but to have got that first lap out of the way and on to day two is a good feeling, and, for me, a positive way to start my life as an F1 driver.”
That’s the kind of upbeat approach many of the drivers, the old hands as well as the new, are going to need in the two Bahrain tests that are still to come ahead of the opening round in Melbourne.