The first F1 test of 2015 has concluded. Nothing is ever clear in pre-season testing however there are some brief conclusions that can be drawn from four days in Spain.
Mercedes – still the benchmark
Undoubtedly they are still the team to beat. They have taken their dominant car from 2014 and refined around aerodynamics, packaging and power unit. Despite relatively minor issues causing stoppages, both Hamilton and Rosberg were quick and racked up the miles. Nico suggested Ferrari’s performance had raised eyebrows but as with pretty much every practice session last year, Mercedes almost certainly have more up their sleeve.
Ferrari – playing to the crowds
People in F1 seem to have short memories. Ferrari topping the time sheets this year at Jerez and running many laps was being hailed as a ‘breakthrough’ and the team were ‘back in contention’. This time last year, Ferrari were doing the exact same: Alonso racked up over 170 laps in two days and a Ferrari was fastest or second fastest on 3 out of 4 days.
After a horror season in 2014 (just like at the start of 2013) Ferrari need to show well in testing to get the pressure off the new management, boost confidence of their drivers and get the voracious Italian media off their backs for a while. On that basis there is nothing concrete right now to suggest Vettel is going to bag pole on his Ferrari debut.
Lotus – could surprise
In every way possible, Lotus’ 2015 Jerez test was a step forward over the 2014 equivalent. The team ran consistently, affording the opportunity to work on the inevitable issues associated with replacing their Renault power unit with the preferred Mercedes version. On the surface their approach to design for 2015 seems more orthodox than last year which, given last season, is no bad thing.
Williams – the jury stays out
Without various misjudgements, Williams would have finished 2nd in the constructors table to Mercedes last season. Never quite as fast as the World Champions, the question for 2015 is whether Williams can keep pace and then make a development jump forward to catch them. Jerez did not answer that and the next test in Barcelona won’t likely either. Williams were solid and unspectacular in Spain but solid and unspectacular won’t catch Mercedes.
McLaren – starting soon
Based on what happened to Red Bull last season between the Jerez test and season end, McLaren are not in as bad a position as the sensational headlines suggest. They found plenty of glitches and ran a respectable number of laps for a team bedding in a new hybrid power unit and starting a fresh partnership. It is easy to forget that Honda are virgins to hybrid power F1. Despite their very positive pronouncements on dominating the sport in time, benchmarking them against where teams were this time last year is more appropriate.
For McLaren the old adage applies as much as it did to Red Bull: it is easier to make a fast car reliable, than a reliable car fast. Just ask Ferrari, they know all about the latter.