Jenson Button and McLaren were fastest on the second of just 12 short days of testing before the F1 teams have to race what are clearly their mind-numbingly complex new hybrids. And if that wasn’t enough to re-spark your interest in F1, then guess whose name was at the bottom of the timing sheets? Yeah, Sebastian Vettel, who managed just eight laps in the new Red Bull RB10 before it was seen smoking in its pit. Shortly after that Vettel left the circuit. Tomorrow it’s Daniel Ricciardo’s turn in the RB10 meaning the World Champ has had just 11 laps in the all-new car in which he’ll defend his and the team’s championships, and none of them at any kind of speed. Renault look to be in real trouble tonight.
We know that because Nico Rosberg — taking over from Lewis Hamilton — managed 97 laps in the Mercedes W05 today, that’s four more than all the cars together managed yesterday. It makes you wonder what might have happened had Lewis not suffered that front wing failure. But while Nico was reliable he was slightly off what we might now call ‘the pace’. That was set today by Jenson and Kimi Raikkonen, who were banging in fast times in the MP4-29 and the Ferrari F14-T right up until the chequered flag around 4pm Euro time. Exciting stuff.
What a difference from yesterday when the doors to McLaren’s pit garage stayed shut way past the flag, the team apparently rebuilding the entire car after it wouldn’t start first thing. When it did finally appear today and folks got a look at the back of the car it had everyone talking. In what might be the best idea an F1 designer had since the double diffuser came to Ross Brawn in the shower, McLaren look to have done something very clever with the upper and lower trailing wishbone links.
Effectively it seems they’ve flattened the middle section of each out and then rotated them through 90 degrees so the flat faces the airflow. This should hinder the airflow from exiting the car, creating a low pressure zone behind, which will in turn help speed up the air exiting under the diffuser and that means downforce. But that’s not all. The effectiveness of the ‘seal’ is altered as the car settles at speed and the wishbones move up. A gap appears below what Big Gary Anderson is calling ‘blockers’ releasing the air and lowering the MP4-29’s drag.
More downforce when you do want it, less when you don’t. Wow. It’s either brilliant or illegal.
It was enough anyhow to get Jenson — who left everybody with a lump in their throats with a “Papa, RIP” badge on his new lid — over half a second ahead of Kimi, who will hand the F14-T over to Fernando Alonso for tomorrow and Friday. Behind them, Valtteri Bottas in the Williams, another car that didn’t make the track yesterday but which ran a reliable 35 out-of-the-box laps today. Williams are of course running the new Mercedes V6 hybrid this year. Mercedes has been bullish about the PU 106A Hybrid since the middle of last year, and Merc-engined cars were first, third, fourth and fifth fastest today. More importantly, collectively they ran 212 laps today including an off from Sergio Perez (there were a lot of offs today, but none as big as Lewis’ yesterday). Renault engine cars ran just eleven.
Renault is clearly having problems with the Energy F1-2014, in Red Bull’s case apparently with “the energy store”, although I am not sure that explains the images of the RB10 apparently smoking away in the pit box, the new red warning lights around the roll hoop telling engineers the car was still ‘live’. That must have been scary, especially after we saw Sauber mechanics heading out to collect Esteban Gutierrez’ beached C33-Ferrari with rubber gloves and a big plastic thing called an ‘ERS hook’. There is much still to learn.
The fact that the team which has dominated the sport since the turn of the decade appears no further up the learning curve than the other Renault-engined teams Toro Rosso and Caterham (who had equally difficult days with their ungainly new cars) will have given Sebastian Vettel something to thing about on the plane home to Switzerland this afternoon.
Lap times at the end of day two:
1. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1m 24.165s, 43 laps
2. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 24.812s, 47 laps
3. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1m 25.344s, 35 laps
4. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1m 25.588s, 97 laps
5. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m 28.376s, 37 laps
6. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m 33.270s, 53 laps
7. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, 1m 37.975s, 11 laps
8. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1m 38.320s, 8 laps