Brought to you by TheJudge13 technical analyst Lorenzo De Luca
The much-anticipated first test of the 2014 Formula 1 season in Jerez is over but who has the advantage? Most of the teams struggled with the power unit, the cooling systems failed to work properly, and the brake-by-wire system still has to be fine-tuned. However, what will stick in everyone’s minds is the lack of reliability of the Newey penned Red Bull RB10.
But it was not just Red Bull that struggled and we know now without any doubt that these new cars are much more complicated than originally thought and those of the past.
During the winter break, many experts thought that Ferrari and Mercedes (the only two engine manufacturers to build and develop both the car and power unit) may have a substantial advantage over their opponents, basically because they were able to develop the chassis and engine in parallel and thus adapt them better to each other, something that it seem Red Bull and Renault didn’t.
The new FIA technical regulations are so dramatic that most of the teams almost missed the first testing session as Lotus did (McLaren only passed their crash test two days before the team left for Jerez). When there is little or no regulation changes teams have time to check their cars over well before the first test which means, the test session normally shows which team are where in the pecking order. This year however times were so tight that they didn’t have the time to test reliability, hence during the first day of testing in Jerez, we saw many teams unable to go on track due to electrical failure, issues with gearboxes etc.
But among all of these teams, there were two who gave the impression to have almost everything (if not all) under control from the start: Ferrari and Mercedes.
Mercedes W05 impressed with the amount of laps it was capable to run without any issue, bar Hamilton’s front wing failure on the first day. On only the second day, Rosberg was able to simulate the full distance of a GP. Very impressive for a totally new car (unveiled on the morning that testing started at Jerez) while other teams (aside from Ferrari ) were still struggling to get a couple of laps in a row.
Mercedes gave the impression of already being ahead in the development of the car and in the management of their new power unit so that they were able to do some aero evaluation with new parts while other teams already said before the start of the Jerez test that new aero packages would only be available for Bahrain.
Looking at the W05 we can see that engineers at Brackley took great interest in the rear of the car and the side-pods – they are the most tapered among the Mercedes powered cars. This is a clear indication of the benefit they had building the power unit around the chassis and vice versa.
The RB10 is a great example of where this integration was not the case. Newey is famous to come up with extreme aero solutions and while at first glance the RB10 may look conservative, it has one of the slimmest coke bottle areas on the grid!
Without going deeply into a RB10 tech analysis, it’s easy to see that the RB10 is fitted with some extreme chassis design solution which don’t allow the Renault V6 power unit to work into an optimal temperature range. This is an issue born during the development of the car where they did not work hand in hand with the design and development of the Renault power unit.
Evidence to support this can be found in the Caterham CT05. This is a car with oversized side-pods and it also did the highest mileage of all the Renault powered cars.
The reason for this is clear. Enough airflow means adequate cooling and less stress on the power unit. It is a very conservative solution, which surely will be reviewed in the next few days studying the valuable data obtained from the tests.
These two cases clearly illustrate the importance of developing the chassis and power unit together in order to have a solid starting point from the first days of testing while others customer teams had to wait to get data on how the engine and chassis interact with each other. During the test Red Bull tried to rectify their cooling problems as can be seen in the photo below but this was in vain.
It’s obvious that Renault and Red Bull must work more closer together to find a solution to such problems.
To prove this theory, we can look at the other engine manufacturer on the grid: Ferrari. The Prancing Horse arrived in Jerez without revealing the design of their power unit, rumoured to be totally different from its competitors, designed to be as light as it can be. The F14-T also comes with tapered side-pods and a very slim rear end, but even so, despite a couple of stops, the car already showed good reliability which allowed the engineers to focus their attention on the study of the airflow around the car from the first day.
It also allowed them to carry out some comparative work with diffusers during the following days, in short, as for Mercedes, you have the impression that working on the engine and on the car at the same time has given these two teams more knowledge on how the new cars will work and how to make the most out of the power unit and its elements.
Until now we’ve spoken about Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari; obviously other teams have not been sitting idly with folded hands. Indeed it’s worth dwelling for a while on the new McLaren MP4/29, a car under the scrutiny of most of the paddock due to its innovative “butterfly” rear suspension (a solution studied to recover some of the aero load loss with the ban of the beam wing). Having said that even the team from Woking struggled with the car on the first day (not even making it on track for an installation lap due to electrical issues – highlighting once more how much complicated these new cars are), they were able to put a good number of miles on the car.
As I said, it’s worth dwelling a while on the new MP4/29, as it’s appears to be the only team who will sacrifice drag for downforce (remember that this year new rules force team to use only 100Kg of fuel per hour), indeed they focused a lot on the rear where we see the first appearance of a “Mercedes style” monkey seat, and after a winglet placed on the upper wishbone (not visible on the picture above).
Obviously the first testing session, never returns reliable data, each team focus on their schedule and development, without looking at the time sheet, even more so when the new season brings totally new cars, unknown to both engineers and drivers.
In that sense, the 2nd test in Bahrain will give a clearer indication on performance as all the teams will focus on how to get the new Pirelli tires (it seems we’ll see a larger use of products such as Polysil by Nanoprom) to work properly and obviously aero efficiency.
It’s not difficult to see that teams who managed to gather good mileage in Jerez could have a little advantage, and I say “little” deliberately, as in Bahrain temperatures will be much higher than those we had in Jerez, which combined with the fact that teams will want to push the new power unit to the limit, could mix up the grid considerably.