F1 winter testing: what the 2015 tests had to show

In time for the Australian GP next week, The Sport Space’s F1 man Kyle Archer prepares you with a look over this year’s pre-season testing.

Over the last few weeks, Formula One teams have been getting all the track time they can in Spain to prepare for the upcoming season. Now as they get the cars ready for transport, we look at what the 12 days of testing in Jerez & Barcelona showed and what implications they will have on the season.

When pre-season testing began in Jerez, it was Ferrari opening people’s eyes as they posted the fastest times on three of the four days. Yes pre-season times are not always reflective as everyone is running different schedules and the rules are a bit more lenient than when the racing begins. But coming off the back of winter and going top will have given Ferrari confidence, especially with how well Vettel has settled into the team.

Vettel and Rosberg, Jerez Test - Credit F1Weekends

Compare Ferrari’s opening test to last season’s constructors’ champions, Mercedes, and you would think the Silver Arrows may have slipped up. But in truth the title holders held back in Jerez as they looked for reliability after last years troubles, and this years car proved to be reliable allowing them to rack up the most laps.

By far a contrast to McLaren who no longer run the Mercedes engine. Instead the new Honda power unit proved problematic meaning McLaren saw less than 80 laps completed over the first four days. Luckily for them, Honda will be allowed to develop their engine throughout the season like the other engine providers. But the amount they develop will depend on the average amount of tokens remaining from Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault.

But as pre-season testing continued and the teams moved on to Barcelona for the first time this year, McLaren’s start continued to falter and things got worse for the Woking team when Alonso crashed on the fourth day. The crash was caused by the wind conditions at the Circuit de Catalunya along with Alonso’s car running wide at turn three. Fernando went on to spend three days in hospital for precautionary checks, before missing the second Barcelona test entirely. Doctors have also advised McLaren not to race Alonso in Australia meaning Kevin Magnussen will return to the McLaren cockpit despite being dropped from the race seat at the end of last season.

As for the other teams, Mercedes continued to hold back from pushing for the fastest laps in favour of more reliability in the first Barcelona test. Yet Rosberg’s best time of the test came on the medium tyres, whilst the overall table-topping Grosjean was just 3 tenths faster and on the supersofts. Even Hamilton’s fastest lap of the weekend came within a second of Grosjean’s time despite also posting his on the mediums.

Red Bull also managed to put in a vast amount of laps along with a table topping time, which just goes to show the difference a year can make given the struggles the team faced last year. But the likeliness of Red Bull challenging the front come race day is still rather low due to their Renault engine. Instead the challengers to Mercedes will most likely continue to be Williams and Ferrari unless the team who won four titles on the bounce can pull an astonishing result out of the bag.

An astonishing result may be what Force India are also hoping for given they missed all of the first test, used last seasons car for the second test before finally getting their new 2015 car out on track in the final test. But thankfully for them, their new car proved to be reliable on the cold Barcelona circuit so they would have been able to gather some relevant data ahead of the season opener. In fact the new Force India managed 365 laps in just over two days worth of testing, which is just 15 laps less than McLaren could manage across all three tests.

Hulkenberg, Barcelona test - credit F1Weekends

Unfortunately, despite reliability being on the side of Force India pace was not, which is nothing unexpected given the lack of running the team managed across all three tests. This will mean they find themselves further behind the pack to where they ended last season, maybe even setting up another battle with McLaren in the constructors like last year.

Talking of pace, you cannot ignore Mercedes’ pace in the final pre-season test. After prioritising reliability and long runs, the time finally came to unleash the W06 and when the reins came off, the top of the time sheets was the only destination. And this still came without using the supersoft tyres.

So what does all the testing mean for the 2015 grid?

Well it’s still to early to say for certain who will be finishing where but with the dominance of Mercedes last year, along with their reliability focused testing yet blistering times this year, they will more than likely dominate from the off. The only question is who will put the first foot ahead, Lewis or Nico?

Lewis goes in to this year on the bounce of winning the previous championship and knowing he is only one more title away from equalling the amount held by his idol Ayrton Senna. The Briton also knows he had the upper hand in the races between the two last year but Rosberg will be looking for his own title once again. However if the car is more reliable than last year, will Nico even have a look in on the title?

Coming in behind the Mercedes will be a great scrap between Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams now the Prancing Horse has a new focus, the Red Bull may not be as competitive and the Williams have continued their recent development.

Behind those teams, there may well be a vast gap back to McLaren, Force India, Lotus and Toro Rosso. However, McLaren are yet to really put the Honda power unit to the test so they may well be able to find some pace. Even if they don’t expect to be competitive till they return to Europe.

Lotus, Jerez test - credit F1Weekends

As for Lotus they have a far better car compared to last year and the drivers are already feeling the rewards to the new E23. With better drivability, and a Mercedes power unit bolted in, making the E23 far easier to control and a lot more predictable.

And for Toro Rosso it’s almost a different story. The car, like the Lotus, was completely redeveloped for this season but was found to be unpredictable and slow. So for them to be fighting in the early stages of the season would be a stretch, not forgetting the Red Bull sister team are running the youngest driver partnership on the grid and the youngest ever Formula One driver.

But towards the back of the grid will most likely be Sauber. They may have been challenging the podium spots a few years ago with Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi but this year they have provided Marcus Ericsson and Formula One debutant Felipe Nasr with a reliable car without any real performance.

However, no matter how much they struggle they should still find one team behind them with Manor Marussia confirming their Formula One return after a winter of administration and their plans to run a modified 2014 car being rejected. But now they have found a way out of administration, began work on a legal 2015 car and have confirmed they will be racing in Australia.

Yet no matter what way we look at the possible grid, one thing is for sure and that is Formula One is unpredictable and anything can happen in the blink of an eye or the failure of a gear shift when the cars roll out down under.

Kyle Archer

The Sport Space

In time for the Australian GP next week, The Sport Space’s F1 man Kyle Archer prepares you with a look over this year’s pre-season testing.

Over the last few weeks, Formula One teams have been getting all the track time they can in Spain to prepare for the upcoming season. Now as they get the cars ready for transport, we look at what the 12 days of testing in Jerez & Barcelona showed and what implications they will have on the season.

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