TG.com at F1 testing in Jerez as this year’s cars make their debut

Aero? Performance? Efficiency? All key factors as the 2014 Formula One season stirs for the first time at the inaugural test session in Jerez. But with just two hours gone, the emphasis is on one thing and one thing only: reliability.

Make no mistake, if you thought the new hybrid powertrains were kinda complicated, you’re not alone. The entire pit-lane here is on the same page. Don’t think for a second that this is shambolic, or that F1 has scored another of its periodic own goals: this is a massive technological challenge, and it’s going to take time to surmount.

McLaren has yet to even fire its engine up. So far, Lewis Hamilton (above) has completed two half laps, an hour apart, which is still more than Kimi Raikkonen has managed. Ferrari’s technical director James Allison said last week that the 2014 Formula One season would boil down to reliability. Having just watched him witness the F14-T arrive back in the pits on a rescue truck, I suspect he’s bang on. The teams that are running have such tight margins on their engines and ancillary systems that we’re miles away from knowing who’s quick or not. Never has the countdown to Melbourne looked more pressing.

Listen to Hamilton’s 2014 F1 racer here

Still, at least the Mercedes and Ferrari both look pretty cool, as does the new Red Bull. Elsewhere, aesthetics are under attack like never before. Some seasoned observers are struggling to keep a straight face as F1’s boffins offer their interpretation of the new regulations. More than one team has clearly cocked things up. Ann Summers tweeted last night about a ‘collaboration opportunity’ with Toro Rosso, whose new car, er, vibrates with possibilities (see gallery).

Say what you like, though, no two are the same, and that, plus the huge challenge that harmonising all the powertrain elements poses, suggests that 2014 is going to be wildly unpredictable. Were it not for the cost of developing all the new components, and the manpower staying on top of it all requires, it could even be a year for one of the minnows to assert themselves. Maybe it still will be.

TG.com is hugely excited to be here for what is a genuinely historic F1 moment. We’ll be bringing you regular updates throughout the day, plus interviews and insight from the likes of Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe, and Nico Rosberg. See you later…

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UPDATE: Jerez, 2.30pm

Ferrari

Just spoken to Ferrari’s man. He insists that they’ve had quite a good morning, especially compared to some of the other teams.

He has a point. It’s all installation stuff right now, and Ferrari is actually managing to get the various powertrain systems to talk to each other. Unlike, say, McLaren, which has reported ‘hydraulic and electrical installation issues’, the net result being a car that simply will not start. Oops.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton suffered a confirmed front wing failure going into turn one, so the one team that looked as though it was getting on top of things is now on top of that instead. No issues for Lewis, though; he popped his head round the corner, and seemed entirely unruffled.

Mercedes’ executive director, Toto Wolff, is equally sanguine. F1 is all about innovation, he says, and reckons that the pit-lane’s combined mental firepower will have the teething problems eliminated in no time. That’s what today, and the next few days, is all about. Uncover the problems, and solve them. It just so happens there are more of them this year than usual.

Does it look good for Ferrari seeing its re-signed star Kimi Raikkonen dropped back at the garage in a Seat after a sliver of a lap, with the F14-T following on the back of a recovery vehicle? Of course it doesn’t. But they’ll get it sorted. And if F1 turns out to be madcap and unpredictable this year, well isn’t that better than a dreary procession?

More from Nico Rosberg and Paddy Lowe in a bit.

UPDATE: Jerez, 2.45pm: 

The stats so far from the teams (so no Red Bull, McLaren or Williams yet…):

1 Hamilton, Mercedes: 1m27.820s, 18 laps
2 Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1m29.474s, 11 laps
3 Vergne, Toro Rosso: 1m36.530s, 11 laps
4 Gutierrez, Sauber: no time, 5 laps
5 Perez, Force India: no time, 1 lap

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UPDATE: Jerez, 29 Jan:

We catch up with Paddy Lowe, technical director of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team and Andy Cowell, powertrain chief

TG.com: Reliability seems to be the big story so far.

Paddy Lowe: It will be a much bigger story than in recent years. F1 has grown used to an extreme level of reliability. But I don’t think we should assume that newness and complexity brings unreliability. The engineering processes are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be.

Andy Cowell: The reason we go track testing is to unearth scenarios you can’t mimic in a factory simulation. There are issues, we know about it, but we also know how to manage them. We have new bits coming through for subsequent running. You will see everyone get progressively better this week. That’s testing. That’s the development phase.

PL: There will also be a steep learning curve in terms of how long it takes to put the car together. It’s just that bit more complicated. There are going to be late nights this season.

AC: When I think back to the first schematics two years ago, we genuinely thought, ‘how are we going to do that?’ We’ll see how everyone manages over the next few months. The evolution in terms of what our suppliers and partners have been able to do is very impressive. The reduction in volumes under the bodywork, the improvements in efficiency… there’s some really nice technology in there.

TG.com: Can you give us some examples?

[Pause] No… [laughs]

PL: Look back to the beginning of KERS. Mercedes was the pioneer of KERS in 2009. At that time, nobody really knew how we were going to introduce that technology, achieve something that was viable on a racing car in a package that was reasonable at a reasonable weight.

AC: On the KERS motor last year all we could deploy was 0.4 of a mega-joule. This year it’s four mega joules, so that’s 10 times the amount of energy. (In 2007, the KERS system weighed over 100kg, and had a thermal efficiency of 39 per cent. By the end of 2012, it weighed 24kg and had a thermal efficiency of 80 per cent.)

TG.com: So the powertrain really is key in 2014. We like the idea of the engine – though it’s way more than that now – taking centre stage again.

PL: I think it’s more balanced this year. Before the engine freeze era, the engine ranked equally with aero. I felt [the freeze] was a shame, even though there was still room for development, with the hybrid technology and reliability. One of the big focuses of the past few years has been how the engine can assist the aerodynamics. It’s great to come back to something where the engine plays its proper part with the other aspects of the car in the formula.

TG.com: And how big a factor will tyres be this year?

PL: I anticipate corner exit being one of the biggest areas of difficulty. We’ve lost a lot of downforce, while introducing engines that have a wider range of power delivery – that’s the nature of the turbo engine – so the cars will be stronger in corner exit. A difficult aspect for the tyres to cope with, but it could be entertaining.

TG.com: There’s a level of serious expectation around Mercedes this year. How do you feel about that?

AC: We’re not sitting here thinking we’ve aced it. We’ve got lots of work to do and 12 days of testing. Like everyone else, we’re allowed five power units per driver, and they all have to be outstanding. There’s a lot of hard graft to come.

PL: Things will look very different by the time we get to Australia. Even being strong in Australia may not be replicated in Malaysia. The season will be long and varied, and we won’t know the answer until it’s over. Which is good for the sport. We welcome the competition. We have massive respect for our rivals. You can’t dismiss anyone in this sport. Every reveal, it’s nerve-wracking. Have I missed a trick? Some interpretation, some idea… I hate playing catch-up. The nature of innovations is that they come unexpectedly. We were using exhaust blown diffusers in the late ’80s/early ’90s… at what point did we forget that that was a useful source of energy? That one really upset me. The big steps don’t always match the big regulation changes, though.

TG.com: The new noses are proving to be controversial. And none are the same…

PL: I like the variation. There are always conversations to standardise aspects of the car, normally driven by cost saving. I would rather create the framework in which we have to operate, so that we can then operate freely.

TG.com: A lot of artificial measures have been introduced to F1, to improve the ‘show’. How close to pure racing are we likely to get in 2014?

PL: It’s what everyone wants, but we don’t know the answer to that yet. In respect of the fuel side and the tyre side, there are still questions to be answered. But I’m confident we’ll put on a good spectacle. There are a lot of people in the sport who care a lot about it, and try to maintain the correct path through all the changes, to maintain the spectacle of Formula One. Will there be oversteer? Yes, I think we’ll see more of that…

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UPDATE: Jerez, 29 Jan

Nico RosbergWe catch up with Merc AMG F1 driver Nico Rosberg.

TG.com: Reliability is clearly going to be a defining factor.

Nico Rosberg: At the beginning, yeah. Clearly. Because it’s such an incredible mission. The whole thing is new. Last year reliability was an issue, and it was an evolution of a car that had been around for years. The big challenge is to get on top of everything, to figure out how to make the most of it all. It’s very challenging.

TG.com: What are your first impressions of the W05?

NR: The engine power and acceleration are pretty similar [to last season]. It’s just that the engine is quieter and the revs are lower, so it’s strange at first because you don’t think the power is there. But when you push the throttle, it is there. The details are the big difference for me, as a driver. All the settings. The wheel is completely different, the display, it takes time to get used to that stuff.  There’s less grip, and harder tyres, so we’ll be sliding more. I always prefer the car to be quicker than the previous year. It’s a great feeling. This year’s car is a step backwards, so I don’t like that.

TG.com: Do the rule changes obstruct the main task of a racing driver?

NR: I like the challenge. I love technology, because I know if I do a good job with it I can gain an advantage over the others. That’s what I like. It’s like being back at school. I’ve been having proper lessons with HPP. The racing driver in me wants to go faster every year. But I’m fed up refuelling my car every two days, so I’m thinking of getting an electric Smart. It’s taken a lot of courage and investment to move F1 in this direction. We have a fully hybrid car. There is electrical support for almost 100 per cent of the lap. 130 litres of fuel for a full 300km race distance flat-out… the efficiency numbers are really impressive.

TG.com: Does it actually matter that your car is better looking than the others?

NR: In general, it’s a better feeling. It’s a good feeling to have a good-looking car. Some of the cars are not very good looking. That’s not good for the sport, and it’s something they need to address very quickly. Aesthetics is part of it. An F1 car should look awesome, no question.

TG.com: Do any of the drivers like the ‘double points’ rule change?

NR: No! How can you like that? It goes against every principle of sport.

TG.com: So why has it been approved? Everyone I know hates it…

NR: It’s more exciting for the spectators. They might hate it now but they won’t when they’re shaking in front of the TV at the last race, because the championship is still wide open and they’re having a fantastic, amazing experience.

TG.com: There are big expectations around the Mercedes team this year. You OK with that?

NR: It’s too early to say. But there’s an opportunity for us. We’ve come of age now as a team. It’s the best possible moment for such a rule change. A year earlier would have been too early, but we’ve learnt a lot, and it’s an advantage to have everything in house.

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UPDATE: Jerez, 29 Jan:

Want to hear what the new Mercedes F1 car sounds like on a flyby? See below…

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UPDATE: Jerez, 29 Jan

Here’s a recap on Tuesday’s test times at the end of the session:

1. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 27.104s, 31 laps
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes , 1m 27.820s, 18 laps
3. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1m 30.082s, 7 laps
4. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m 33.161s, 11 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1m 36.530s, 15 laps
6. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m 42.257s, 7 laps
7. Sebastian Vettel , Red Bull, No time, 3 laps
8. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, No time, 1 lap

In other news, former Lotus team principal Eric Boullier has been appointed McLaren’s new racing director. Boullier will work with McLaren’s Jonathan Neale and report to the chief executive officer of McLaren Racing, an all-new position which has yet to be filled…

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UPDATE: Jerez, 29 Jan

A few pics from the second day of testing at Jerez, as Jenson Button takes his new McLaren out for the first time…

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