F1 testing: 10 things we have learned as grand prix season gears up

Lewis Hamilton - Formula 1

We knew Mercedes were ahead of the field but after three testing sessions everyone’s fears were more than realised – they are way ahead.

1) Mercedes are light years ahead

They even shocked the other teams. In the final test they showed what they could do on soft rubber and blitzed the field. Nico Rosberg had the better of the last testing session, completing more laps and going faster than Lewis Hamilton. And both drivers were still admirably dissatisfied with the car. Awesome.

2) McLaren are faltering

Barcelona is full of glories and the most dazzling of them all is the Sagrada Família. When Antoni Gaudi died in 1926 he hadn’t completed his ambitious church. It is still not finished but they reckon they will sign it off in about 15 years. I thought of the Sagrada Família watching McLaren this month. The Woking team are still a long way off being ready and even admit they won’t be really there until the circus comes to Europe. The trouble is there are four races before then, and everyone else will take another step up for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. The car looks half-decent but Honda are having more teething troubles than they feared, and so is Fernando Alonso. They should be sponsored by AA, someone tweeted. Even when they get the car going it’s two seconds behind Mercedes.

3) Ferrari are back

We didn’t quite believe those showboating laps in the first test in Jerez but the Prancing Horse really had made a leap forward. There was more bloodletting last year than in the Godfather movies but they have something to show for all the changes they made to the senior staff. From the very first day they caught the eye of other drivers. Mercedes may be the class of the field but Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams should give us plenty of entertainment as they battle it out for the other podium places. Williams might have the edge, which would be a great effort, given their very different budget.

4) We still don’t know Red Bull’s full hand

Red Bull have been travelling incognito all month, from the moment they appeared in their strange livery for the first test. They didn’t give us the low-fuel runs which would have helped gauge their outright pace. Their aero looks very good, as usual, and so does their chassis. But that Renault engine, which gave them so much heartache last year, has not improved as much as they would have hoped. They will hope to make the most of their development tokens later in the year.

5) Lotus are the best of the rest

Lotus were just about the most impressive of the midfield teams, making the most of their switch to Mercedes power. They looked marginally better than Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India, who came late to the party but made up lost ground and appeared to be as reliable as ever in the last test in Barcelona. The difficulties suffered by Marussia and Caterham last year had a knock-on effect, with suppliers short of cash. That made them ask for money up front from Force India, who had to go cap in hand to Bernie Ecclestone.

6) Manor Marussia will be at the back

At least we know who will be at the front and the back. Manor Marussia will have performed a miracle if they turn up in Melbourne next week, given the scale of their problems last year. But they will be running a modified 2014 car and their lack of running places them at a terrible disadvantage. The problem is will they be fast enough in qualifying to make the actual race?

7) Max Verstappen has real quality

There were some shocked expressions when the 17-year-old was named by Toro Rosso for this year but now we can relax. There was a precocious composure about the way he showed the consistency you normally associate with more experienced drivers. He might be driving for one of the big teams in a few years. Another feather in Red Bull’s already exotic plumage. Their academy system really is paying dividends.

8) F1 cars will be faster this season

Forget all those moaners who complained about the lack of noise in 2014 – actually the new hybrid V6s sounded terrific last year. In Jerez they were about one and a half seconds a lap faster than in the test there last year. By the time the season gets into full swing expect the cars to be two or three seconds a lap quicker, thanks to more bhp, more downforce and with all those development tokens still to come. Great news.

9) The golden oldies are still worth their place

The two oldest drivers in the field, the 35-year-olds Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, are still worth their places. Button hasn’t had much of a chance yet – though he did manage to pile up 101 laps on the second day of the last test. He’s the best man to have in the team as McLaren look for feedback to solve their many problems. Raikkonen showed flashes of his old speed and the normally dour Finn was so chatty his Ferrari team thought he must be sick.

10) Barcelona is one of the best places in the world to eat

It didn’t matter how late it was, the overworked mechanics and engineers always found plenty of eating options in Barcelona. And it’s not all tapas. I like the local proverb: “Menja be’, caga fort i riu-te de la mort,” meaning “eat well, shit hard and laugh in the face of death”.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Weaver, for theguardian.com on Monday 2nd March 2015 22.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010