Testing 2014

Testing for the 2014 season got underway this week at the Jerez circuit. Testing is notoriously unpredictable and any attempt to ascertain a pecking order are ultimately futile. However this week was certainly not without it’s surprises. First were the problems encountered by Renault, with the engine manufacturer seemingly behind in it’s efforts to get on top of the new “powertrain” regulations. The Renault powered teams have struggled so far, completing a total of 151 laps compared to Ferrari’s 444 and  Mercedes’ even more impressive 875. Numerous reports have flown around the paddock, ranging from energy storage problems to vibration issues, which appears to suggest the Renault engine has a number of problems, ranging in complexity. This is less than ideal, especially considering the complexity of the new engines.

Second was the abject failure of Red Bull, the dominant team of the previous regulations. Whilst they are attempting to put a brave face on their issues, I can’t help but feel that Daniel Ricciardo let more slip than he would have liked, telling the media that if Red Bull’s problems persisted he was confident that they would make up ground throughout the season- hardly bullish aspirations and essentially admitting the team were behind. Of course Adrian Newey rarely designs poor cars, his design record is testament to his brilliance. However Newey’s aggressive hunt for aerodynamic performance may be hurting Red Bull at this early stage of the season; Newey is famed for his attention to aerodynamics, pursuing tight packaging that pushes the limit of cooling. There are reports that the Red Bull is experiencing overheating issues, with rumours of burning components. At this stage of the game surely it would be prudent to take a conservative approach, putting miles on the car, getting a sound understanding of the base chassis before searching for those important performance gains. Mercedes and Ferrari, Red Bull’s principle rivals last year, have been very reliable and it would not be a stretch to say they have a substantial advantage at this moment in time with regards to understanding their package. We of course do not know if the Red Bull is quick yet, no team has any true idea as to the pecking order, but what’s better- to qualify on pole and retire, or be slower yet reliable? As usual, only time will tell and I can’t wait.

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Tensions flare at Red Bull

Let’s be honest, whilst the actions of Sebastian Vettel in the Malaysian Grand Prix were incredibly short sighted, they were not exactly shocking were they? In light of Turkey 2010, Britain 2011 and Brazil 2012 it has been clear for a long time that the Red Bull pilots do not see eye to eye. What is interesting is the degree to which we were able to see how far their relationship is strained on Sunday.

Mark Webber is not a driver that minces his words or hides his feelings and on Sunday his raw anger was there for all to see; with the advent of immediate podium interviews (conducted brilliantly by a fearless Martin Brundle) F1 fans across the globe were able to see just how Webber truly felt, not only about Vettel’s highly questionable actions during the race but about the team in general.

Whilst not a fan of team orders I still feel for Mark; after having a tough couple of seasons being outpaced by a seemingly invincible Vettel, it must be said that he was fantastic on Sunday. He appeared to be comfortably managing the pace of not only Sebastian but Lewis Hamilton too, who could have been right up there until the very end had he not been under-fuelled and wasted some 5 seconds on a trip down nostalgia lane. As we all know by now, both Red Bull drivers were told to hold-station after their final round of pit-stops, turning down their engines and managing this seasons infamous tyres. However Vettel, returning to his somewhat petulant former self (think Belgium 2010), decided to ignore the team’s instructions, taking advantage of a surprised and off-guard Webber and disappearing to yet another win and extra 7 points.

Obviously Webber was fuming with Vettel, confronting him before the podium (“Multi 21, Seb!) and during one of the most awkward post-race press conferences I’ve ever seen. This will of course have huge repercussions for the Red Bull team, no matter how their PR team attempt to spin it in this 3 week break to China. There is the serious possibility that the driver dynamic will have completely broken down. There were reports of Webber impeding Vettel in Brazil last year, who needed to finish in the points to ensure his 3rd successive World Championship. Webber is known to be a good friend of Fernando Alonso, Vettel’s Championship rival at the time, and was linked with a move to Ferrari in the off-season before deciding sticking with Red Bull who he thought would give him the best chance of a World Championship of his own. Just how will Webber race now for a team that he believes are behind his team mate?

Red Bull are highly unlikely to impose any punitive measure on Vettel, seen in some circles to be their golden boy. This of course will not be an easy pill for Webber to swallow and may just be the final straw in his already strained relationship with the team. Red Bull have dominated the constructors title for the past three years with Webber being a reliable points scorer and occasional race winner. Will he now effectively give up helping a team which seems to provide little support? The pragmatist in me would say no, with 17 races still to run this year Webber of course still has a chance at a world championship in what increasingly appears to be his final year in F1, or at least at the Newey-inspired Red Bull. If however he is out of title-contention with 5 or 6 races to go it makes me wonder how long his memory is…

Of course this is all conjecture, we can never be sure of anything (especially in this sport) but it is delicious food for thought. Looks like 2013 could have more fireworks in store.