Lotus may have grabbed the headlines by announcing it was skipping the first Formula 1 test, but it is not alone in expecting a tough build-up to 2014.
Engineers, team principals and drivers up and down the pitlane are bracing themselves for what could be a muddled start to pre-season preparations when that first test begins at Jerez on Jan. 28. Teams have spent months — and even years for bigger outfits — working on their 2014 designs to try to make the most of the opportunities given by the clean slate of new regulations. But the rule changes are so extensive that few teams are taking anything for granted about the challenges they could face in getting on top of the new technology.
For years now, front-running F1 teams have got used to completing hundreds of miles of running on the opening day of testing action and then swiftly ironing out new-car problems along the way. But the arrival of new turbocharged engines, new energy recovery systems, new aerodynamics and new tires means few can take it for granted that things will be as trouble-free this time around.
FERRARI HOPES FOR SERENITY
As Ferrari’s technical director James Allison put it, “This year there will probably be more anxiety than normal because the cars are a certain amount more complex. But we are working on the engine side and the chassis side with the tools we have back at the factory to make sure that the day the lights go green on the first day of the first test, we are ready to run on the track and we put on the mileage we have run at previous first tests of the year.
“Everyone on the grid is going to be having that as an objective. We are all going to be frightened, but every year it is amazing what the teams manage to pull out of the bag, and I suspect that this year will be no different.
“There will be some people having dramas and some people having a serene time, that will allow us to make progress before the first race.”
Allison may be relaxed about Ferrari’s situation for now, but one team principal who did not wish to be identified predicted that Jerez could prove to be a “bloodbath” in terms of poor reliability. Engineers have already talked in private of teams facing hurdles even completing installation laps early on as they uncover unexpected issues caused by the new designs.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh has made it clear that no scenario, good or bad, can be ruled out.
When asked about the prospect of a test marred by crazy reliability, he said: “It could be. But a bloodbath is good for the sport sometimes, isn’t it? So, it is good for some people on one side of it.”
RELIABILITY TO DECIDE TITLE?
Ultimately, after an end to 2013 that turned into a one-man show as Sebastian Vettel reeled off nine consecutive victories, the added spice of car failures and team headaches at Jerez could be exactly what F1 needs. And that could become the story of the 2014 campaign, with teams in agreement that reliability may well be the defining factor in the world championship battle.
Whitmarsh added: “It is not that long ago that even when we were screaming away in the lead, there was tension on the pitwall because of things that could go wrong. The reliability is so good now, that I don’t spend the race worrying about finishing in the way that we used to. Teams have got better.
“Oddly, things like parc ferme, which everyone said would detract from reliability by not allowing hands to meddle, has enhanced reliability and enhanced the discipline of building the car correctly. If you get a load of mechanics and you give them four all-nighters, then act surprised when you get finger trouble, then you need your head seeing to, don’t you?”
Early predictions suggest those all-nighters could well be an early theme of 2014, further adding to what looks set to be a fascinating few weeks before Melbourne.