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Dawn of a new era - Jerez test preview

27 Jan 2014

This Tuesday Formula One racing will swing back into action after a short winter break with the much-anticipated first pre-season test of the year in Jerez. Testing has always been a hugely important part of every F1 team’s preparations, but there’s added intrigue ahead of the four-day Spanish session as it’s the first time the new generation of 1.6-litre turbo cars will officially turn a wheel in anger…

Who will be there?

Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams, Marussia and Caterham will all put their new cars through their paces in Jerez. Can you spot the notable absentee? It’s the team that finished in fourth place in last season’s constructors’ standings: Lotus. The Enstone team - who were convinced other teams would also miss the test - say that attending the Spanish session isn’t ideal for their build and development programme, but what does this really mean? In the past, teams have left it late to begin pre-season testing when they’ve wanted to either spend more time in the design studio or keep an innovation up their sleeves for as long as possible. But with the amount of new technology being introduced this year Lotus wouldn’t have taken such a risk - for one reason or another, it must be assumed that they are simply behind schedule.

Why the Jerez test is important

The teams only have 12 days to test before March’s season-opener in Australia, so Lotus have effectively cut their pre-season running by a third in missing the opening Jerez session. Whilst they’re busily piecing their new E22 together back in their factory, the teams and drivers that are out on track in Spain will not only be honing reliability - a hugely important factor in this year of change - they’ll also be gathering valuable performance data about their new cars.

There is an incredible amount of new technology that the teams and drivers need to get their heads around, from both an engineering and a driving perspective: the brand new power unit and its complex energy recovery and cooling systems, the revised aerodynamic package, the new electronic rear braking system, the unfamiliar eight-speed gearbox and the 2014 specification tyres, to name but a few things.

All being well, the teams will also begin to work on race simulation runs and experimenting with how best to manage the limited amount of fuel they’ll have at their disposal in this year.

Of course, Lotus won’t just be sitting on their hands. They’ll be undertaking a substantial amount of simulator work, plus they’ll be able to glean some information about the new power unit from Renault’s other customers at the test (even though each installation is different).

They can also take heart from the fact that running in Spain is likely to be heavily interrupted by red flags for technical problems and that anything the teams learn about the new Pirelli tyres must be taken with a pinch of salt - Jerez’s surface is notoriously abrasive and unlike anything raced on throughout the year. Also, temperatures are likely to be extremely low in Spain, and much more representative in Bahrain for tests two and three.

What to watch for

It’s always difficult to decipher that much from testing - teams run to different programmes, have different aims and objectives, and will inevitably run with different fuel loads or engine maps. So whilst lap times are interesting, they can also be very misleading. Often the best way to read how well a team is progressing is via body language or by the looks on the faces of the drivers and senior team personnel!

As mentioned, with so many new systems on the cars, reliability is likely to be a huge factor this year, particularly in the early part of the season. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has gone as far as saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if half of the field retired in Australia, so it will be interesting to see how many laps each team can accumulate in Jerez. If a team manages to lap consistently without problems, they can worry less about reliability and focus more on making their car go quickly, rather than simply trying to make it go at all…