Mercedes, McLaren And Ferrari Make The Headlines At First Week Of Testing

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After one of the shortest winter breaks in the sport’s history, Jerez was the venue for Formula One to ease back into action. The first of three pre-season tests saw four days which had plenty of mileage for Mercedes, a troubled start to life in the McLaren-Honda partnership and reason for optimism for Ferrari.

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Mercedes gave their rivals little cause for concern as they comfortably completed the most laps of any team with over 500 laps completed. The reigning champions did not top any of the four days with times but instead focused on mileage. While they had a number of issues and a minor spin for Lewis Hamilton, it did not knock them out of their stride as they showed impressive reliability from the outset. Hamilton himself said that he has always found new cars difficult at the start of testing and that the new Mercedes, named the W06, was no different.

“Every time I’ve driven a car for the first time, it’s never felt good,” said Hamilton.

“The car is at its worst and the tyres aren’t good in the cool conditions here at Jerez.

“Even when we were at Valencia a couple of years ago, or even Bahrain, it never feels good the first time, it’s just how it is.

“At least you know that’s the worst it will be all year, that it will get better through the year.”

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McLaren went through growing pains as they completed less than 100 laps over the first test. The problems were not to be unexpected as the new McLarens drove with Honda engines for the first time since 1992. The team’s total number of laps was six times less than that of Mercedes. The cars rarely got to run for long periods on track as various issues frequently interrupted any progress. Fernando Alonso recorded the highest amount of trouble-free laps on day three when he did 32 laps before stopping due to a water leak. Neither McLaren or Honda were concerned and instead, spoke of progress being made. Honda’s motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai suggested that the problems experienced had been small and that a new engine specification should improve fortunes at the second pre-season test in Barcelona.

“There are many difficulties that we had this week, but we will fix it before the next Barcelona test and get back to work again.”

“The new engine will be a step up, because we are taking things step-by-step. Some parts will be final [race] parts, but not all.

“There are several testing parts still, and we will take final confirmation on those just before Melbourne.”

“There was no major big trouble,” he said. “Our package is very tight and skinny, but some points have been validated.

“It is a tight package, but we had no big trouble with it.”

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Ferrari showed reason to believe in the Scuderia with a strong start to testing. Setting the fastest times on two of the four days, the Italians got just the week they would have wanted as they begin a new partnership of Sebastian Vettel with Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen and Vettel went quickest on separate days, with Raikkonen setting the quickest time of the week, a 1:20.841 set on day four which was a tenth and a half quicker than new team-mate Sebastian Vettel could manage on the second day. Raikkonen said that the car felt better in all areas than it’s predecessor, which endured the worst Ferrari campaign since 1993.

“There are a lot of good points in the areas where we had difficulties,” Raikkonen said.

“Obviously it’s just the first day and the circuit stayed damp for most of the day, but we had good running and got some mileage.

“The whole package is quite a bit better than how we finished last year. We’ve improved in all the areas.

“We have a lot of things to do and things to improve, but it’s definitely a positive start and we have something to work with.”

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 Red Bull set tongues wagging in the chilly Jerez paddock as they trundled around with a surprising new livery. The new black camouflage paint job disguised many of the car’s natural lines with it’s own spirals and patterns. The team did not enjoy a great first week as they went on to record the second-lowest amount of laps of the eight teams present. Enduring issues on all four days, the side did get greater mileage on day three and new recruit Daniil Kvyat was left to run for most of day two without a front wing following a minor collision in the morning, damaging the only front wing the team had. Team boss Christian Horner accepted his team has issues but insisted that it hadbeen a better start than the team endured twelve months earlier when Red Bull suffered major problems with the new Renault V6 power unit.

“Yes, we had issues but they were not major ones compared to the fundamental problems we had last year, with the car not running cleanly or overheating or simply setting itself on fire!

“We had a few niggling issues but this was much more of a standard pre-season test than the one we experienced 12 months ago.”

“The biggest changes are in the power unit. Renault have been working very hard on that but there are always going to be a few things that catch you out,” he said.

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Williams had a solid start to testing, with no big highs or lows. Regularly in the middle of the times being set, they were also in the middle of most mileage completed, with the fifth-highest total of the eight teams present. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa did well and carried out their duties with little fanfare. Bottas was positive as he praised the car’s aerodynamics and insisted that the new car was feeling like an improvement over 2014.

“We had some delays yesterday. Some parts were a bit late and everything was a little bit on the limit to get ready for the first day,” he explained.

“But after we got running, everything went really well.

“The initial feeling was good. I feel it’s a good base to build on.”

“The car was behaving really consistently. I could do really consistent times on the long runs.

“Immediately after the first few laps I had a good feel of the car.

“We were not really trying to set any laptimes. We were just going through the programme and experiencing the new car, and that went really well.”

“They’re a bit more consistent through the corner,” he said.

“So that was a nice thing to feel, because you get more trust in the car.

“The car was already good last year, but it feels better already.

“We still have lots to do to unlock more performance, but we don’t need to do it here, we still have plenty of time.”

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Sauber had attracted much attention before testing thanks to their new blue and yellow livery which came about due to F1 rookie Felipe Nasr being heavily backed by Brazilian bank Banco De Brasil. The Swiss team had the second-highest number of laps of all eight teams, pushing close to 400 laps of the Jerez track. They went quickest on the third day of running with Nasr. Despite a shock topping of the times leading to speculation that the team went quickest as they looked for sponsors, new team signing Marcus Ericsson was adamant that there was good feeling within the team following the week.

“We’ve had a really good test. It’s been very positive that every day we’ve done a lot of laps and we’ve had no real issues with the car.

“And it was interesting for me driving on day one and day four to see the progress we’ve already started to make.

“The car I drove on Sunday to the car I drove this afternoon is quite a few steps on in feeling.”

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Toro Rosso were another team to have a steady couple of days as they went without any major dramas, with a limit in stint lengths the only real problem experienced by the team due to an issue with the Renault ERS water pump. With a lineup of 17 year old Max Verstappen and 20 year old Carlos Sainz, the team have a youthful driver pairing. Franz Tost, team boss, was ambitious in his 2015 target for the team as he stated that fifth place in the Constructor’s Championship is the aim.

“The target is clearly to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship, which means the drivers must be permanently in the points,” Tost said.

“The team is getting better and better – we are building up quite a big infrastructure in Faenza.

“In the last two or three years we’ve [also] built up a strong technical team under James [Key] and this year we will make a big jump forward.

“[With] the package we’ve got from the car side, the driver side and the financial side, we simply must be in a position for fifth in the championship. I am convinced we can achieve it.”

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Late work on the new Lotus meant that the team did not begin testing duties until the second day. The car was ready to go at the start of day two and went on to have a solid week. The team will hope to improve upon a dismal 2014 season where its Renault power unit did not help the team’s cause. Now with Mercedes engines for 2015, there is reason to be hopeful and Pastor Maldonado believes the new car is totally different to that of last year.

“It’s difficult to say something because we only did a few laps today, but it’s quite positive,” he said.

“It’s looking completely different from what we had last year, in terms of reliability and how the entire package is working. So quite a positive day.

“Maybe we were expecting to run a bit more, but we had a small issue in the car. Which is normal, because we have changed quite a lot. We have a new engine, a big revolution with the car.

“It’s another car. It’s not a continuation of what we had last year.

“It’s maybe a different philosophy, but it will have a big impact in the driving point of view, and hopefully in the performance as well.”

Force India did not participate in the first week as they seek to use extra time to work further on their 2015 challenger before it runs on track.

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