Red Bull Racing-Renault
What is it about Red Bull Racing? Some say it is the fact that the team has pot loads of money to pump into Formula 1. Some say it is that technical wizard in their employ - Adrian Newey - whose genius sets them apart from the rest of the squad. And others believe it's Secret Ingredient X that forms a part of their energy drink that also goes into fueling both their drivers and cars. Whatever it is, it looks like the team is finally out of luck for 2014. With the new technical regulations that have come into place for 2014, all the teams up and down the order have had to go back to the drawing board.
The 2014 rule changes could mean that Red Bull's domination will finally end
Red Bull, it would appear, for a team that has dominated the last four seasons, has certainly got things all wrong for now. Their problems are two fold. For one there is the fact that the RB10 is powered by a Renault engine, and Renault have admitted to facing both hardware and software issues when it comes to their 2014 powertrains. The specific problem that the engine maker appears to have is that of excess vibrations that are preventing the proper functioning of their Energy Recovery System. That, however is only one of Red Bull's problems. Newey has declared that the team is facing issues particularly when it comes to aerodynamics and chassis cooling. The first test session at Jerez turned out to be a disaster for the team, with drivers Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo managing to complete just 21 laps between them over the course of four days. The second test session at Bahrain was just a smidgen better. The team managed to complete 116 laps of testing, surpassing only Lotus and Marussia. As the final test session kicks off in Bahrain today, there's plenty for Red Bull to do. The season opening race on the 16th of March at Melbourne will be their proving ground. For now though, it looks like Red Bull's streak of F1 domination, might just end.
Ever since the Mercedes W05 took to the track at Jerez, it started setting the pace for 2014, proving once and for all what the benchmark in 2014 was going to be. And unless the other teams can do some serious catching up, last year's runners up in the contructors' championship are looking set to be the dominant team in the first few races of the 2014 season.
Mercedes looks like they are the team to beat in 2014
How did things go so right for Mercedes, though? Evidently the team hadn't made as much progress as other teams had when they realised they needed to make drastic changes to the car. Given that they hadn't progressed too far down one particular path, going back and changing things was an easier task. There are certain technical changes brought about by the rule changes that the team appears to have managed to get right. The first of this is the engine itself - a seemingly reliable 1.6-litre V6 engine has been developed. Indeed, both at Jerez and Bahrain, it was Mercedes that was able to accomplish race distance runs. At Jerez the team managed to set the top four fastest times, with Rosberg completing an entire race distance run. And at the second test session in Bahrain, Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton once again set the fastest times, even completing 315 laps between them. Rosberg even set a timing of 1min 33.283secs, that was within a second of the time he set in 2013 to claim pole position at the same circuit. Other significant changes that Mercedes has brought about, that appear to be aiding its cause, are to the cooling and diffuser system, the chassis underside that is now stepped, and the front suspension. Although the final test at Bahrain will finally be an accurate measure of the 2014 season, for now it looks like Mercedes is going to come out tops.
While Mercedes managed 309 laps at the first test at Jerez, Ferrari weren't too far behind, managing to put in 251 laps over the course of the four-day session. The scarlet squadron also managed to put in a total of 287 laps over the course of the second official test session at Bahrain. They might not have had the sort of numbers that Mercedes did, but Ferrari's performance, though a little understated, was more than acceptable.
Understated but consistent - Ferrari could well prove to be the joker in the pack
The prancing horse might just have a thing or two up their sleeve, and drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso could well surprise us at the first race in Melbourne. While their aggregate times at Jerez slotted them fifth and seventh on the timing sheets, at Bahrain they were sixth and seventh. Ferrari's F14 T is looking strong for now.
After missing the first test at Jerez, Lotus has some amount of catching up to do
Lotus caused a bit of a stir in the F1 paddock when it unveiled its car for the 2014 season, the E22. The car featured a two-pronged (or twin-tusk) nose, which gave it an unusual appearance, to say the least, but was the best solution according to Lotus engineers to satisfy the new lowered nosecone regulations as stipulated by the new rules for 2014. The other significant difference that the E22 has is that the rear section of the car is asymmetric. But where Lotus really surprised everyone was when they decided to skip the first of the test sessions at Jerez. Technical director Nick Chester, however, didn't chalk this off to any sort of problem with the car, maintaining that the team's schedule had always been to launch the car just ahead of the Bahrain test session. Nonetheless, when it was time for the test session at Bahrain, the team had to make up for the mileage it lost out on at Jerez. By the time the team got to Sakhir, some amount of issues that engine supplier Renault had been facing had been sorted out. Over the four days of testing at Bahrain, Pastor Maldonado managed to complete 85 laps, also setting the fastest time for a Renault powered car along the way. The trouble, however, is that this time was 5 seconds slower than the overall fastest time of the test session set by Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes. Romain Grosjean's test wasn't nearly as fruitful, with the Frenchman only managing to complete 26 laps of testing, finishing the test with an aggregate time that was only good enough to put him ahead of the Caterhams and Marussias.
2013 was possibly the worst season McLaren has had to endure in years, with the men from Woking finishing 5th overall in the championship. The rule changes for 2014 have managed to level the playing field though, and McLaren, as is in evidence from the first two test sessions at Jerez and Bahrain, is no longer on the backfoot.
McLaren has managed to set some competitive timings through the first two tests of the season
They might not have displayed the sort of reliability that the works Mercedes team has managed to so far, but the fastest aggregate time set by Kevin Magnussen at Jerez, went a long way towards proving just how stable the team really is. The Danish driver also managed to complete 162 laps during the test session, while his team-mate Jenson Button slotted in fourth fastest on the aggregate timing sheets, having completed 85 laps. Things improved at Bahrain, with Magnussen setting the fastest time on the second day of the session, and Button clocking the second-fastest time on his first day of testing. What the team will be particularly pleased about is the fact that Button completed a full race distance at Sakhir. The 2009 world champion is also optimistic ahead of Australia. The advantage that Button has is in terms of managing those Pirellis.
Sahara Force India-Mercedes
Force India has been making steady progress over the years, improving its place in the championship standings as each season has gone by. And while they haven't been able to do as well as they did in 2009 at Spa (Giancarlo Fisichella took a fine second place there) they have managed to establish themselves as the best of the midfield runners, pipping the likes of Sauber and Williams (and at one point even leading McLaren in the constructor's championship). Not bad at all. The talking point when the squad revealed their 2014 car, however, wasn't so much about how they'd perform. For jaws had dropped just at the sight of the car.
Strange nosecone or not, Nico Hulkenberg has put Force India on top of the timing sheets once - a sign of things to come?
Even though the squad was the first to release images of their 2014 car, it was just the profile that we got to see. When the car was finally launched in the Jerez pitlane, it was with much amusement that people noticed the, err, rather unusual nosecone. People compared it to a certain body part, but let's not dwell on that. A technological advancement that the Force has is that of their highly innovative stepped chassis. So how did the car perform at Jerez? With a total of 146 laps run between drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, the team set aggregate fastest times that were good enough to put them ninth and tenth on the timing charts. At Bahrain Hulkenberg was particularly impressive, even setting the fastest time on the first day of testing. But with the sort of progress that McLaren has made, leapfrogging them in the constructors' championship won't be easy.
Another unusual looking car for the 2014 season is the Sauber C33, with a very low snout-like nosecone that makes it stand apart from the rest of the cars. However, Sauber adopted a rather staggered approach to the 2014 preseason test sessions, choosing to run a basic version of the C33 at Jerez, and adding performance upgrades to the car for the Bahrain test. Between Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez the team managed to complete 163 laps of testing at Jerez.
Lots of progress still to be made for Sauber ahead of the season-opening race in Australia
The test session was marred by a crash that Sutil was involved in, although the 31-year old admitted that it was down to driver error. The team also appeared to be facing brake by wire issues. Then there was the fact that Sutil's car was plagued by an electrical issue in the second test session. For the Hinwil-based team, the main goal at the moment is to complete one full race distance worth of running during the final test session of the season. With the experienced Sutil behind the wheel and the seemingly fast Gutierrez in the other car, they could score points in 2014.
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault
Meet another one of the Renault-powered cars that seems to be struggling (we've discussed the woes of the Red Bull team in great detail already). Toro Rosso had a troubled start to the 2014 season with the test session at Jerez seeing them only finish a total of 54 laps.
Toro Rosso completed more laps than sister outfit Red Bull
On the bright side, one of the teams that completed less testing than them was sister outfit Red Bull. Although we aren't sure that this will make too much of a difference to drivers Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat. The team did manage 139 laps at the second of the test sessions at Bahrain. But it was far from a trouble-free test. The verdict? Well, that the main problem that the team is facing is with the engine. Renault sure must be feeling hot under the collar.
Given the sort of performance they had last year, the 2014 test sessions are very likely to have put a smile on the faces of Sir Frank Williams and co.
The switch to Mercedes power could not have come at a better time for the Williams team
If there's one thing that the first test at Jerez proved above anything else, it is that the Mercedes engine that powers the FW36 is certainly reliable. The switch from Renault power to Mercedes power could not have come at a better time, especially considering the team's dismal performance last year. Felipe Massa set the fastest time on the second day of the test session - it's been a while since either Massa or Williams has managed such a feat. If it boils down to a battle of the F1 engine manufacturers, Williams, with Massa and Valtteri Bottas, could stand to gain.
Marussia might have pipped Caterham to 10th place in the Constructors Championship in 2013, but the rule changes have ensured that the egg hasn't landed sunny side up for the John Booth-led squad in 2014.
Marussia's been plagued with woes during testing - last place in 2014?
Testing hasn't gone well for the team at all - Jerez was dismal and Bahrain equally bad. The team has a total of 59 laps of testing under its belt going into the third test at Bahrain. Could things be better for the team? Well, Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi will certainly be in agreement that they could.
The team that has adapted to the Renault engine better than any other team, yes better than Red Bull and Toro Rosso, is Caterham. Of both tests so far, the team that finished last in the Constructors Championship last year has managed to do more laps than the other two teams running the same engine.
A GP2 car will be faster than this one, says Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi. Nonetheless, it is the most consistent of the Renault-engined cars so far
Well, we aren't sure how well Caterham will perform over the season, with Kamui Kobayashi declaring that a GP2 car is faster than the car he's been putting through its paces at Jerez and Bahrain. Time will tell.While Marcus Ericsson was 1.9 seconds off the pace of Sebastian Vettel at Bahrain, it really isn't anything to write home about (especially for Red Bull given that Vettel was 6.9 seconds off Nico Rosberg's aggregate time).