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Analysis: What we learned in Jerez
1 February 2014
Before winter testing got underway in Jerez at the start of the week, few would have anticipated that Caterham would be RenaultSportF1's effective works outfit.
That honour should have gone to Red Bull, the four-time champions who have been running Renault power since 2007. But Red Bull's Jerez difficulties have been well-documented, and it was the Leafield racers who proved to be Renault's most reliable customers over the course of four days of racing, thanks in no small part to the 54 laps logged by Kamui Kobayashi on Friday.
But Caterham and Red Bull have – unsurprisingly – gone for a tortoise and hare approach, and there is no denying that slow and steady has won this week's particular race.
Adrian Newey is notorious for his tightly-packaged cars, and the combination of integrating a number of complex energy recovery systems whilst also trying to manage the cooling for those and other systems has proven to be the RB10's Achilles heel this week. In contrast, Caterham have taken the decision to err on the side of caution where cooling is concerned in the early phase of the season, and are running a substantial package as a consequence.
This topsy-turvy year will provide mid-fielders and backmarkers alike with the opportunity to pick up points in early races likely to see higher levels of attrition than has been the case in recent years. Which is why the CT05's design philosophy was based on getting to the finish at the first four fly-aways before upgrading to a smaller and more tightly packaged cooling system once the teams return to Europe.
That approach comes with the added bonus of giving the Caterham tech team more time to get to grips with the new 60 percent wind tunnel model they will be using in Toyota's Cologne wind tunnel, where development work began on Tuesday.
Whatever strengths and struggles were on display by the various Renault-powered teams this week, however, the first week of winter testing after a massive regulation change is no barometer of likely performance across the year as a whole. There will be long nights ahead in Viry-Chatillon, in Leafield, in Milton Keynes, and in Faenza, but the nights will be no shorter for the Mercedes- or Ferrari-powered teams.
In reliability terms, Mercedes have the upper hand among OEMs, with an impressive 875 laps completed over the four days (309 by the works team, 245 by McLaren, 175 by Williams, and 146 by Force India).
The Ferrari powered teams managed 444 laps, with 251 from the Scuderia, 163 from Sauber, and 30 from Marussia. In contrast, Renault's customers achieved a total of 151 laps, 76 of which – more than half – were logged by Caterham, though the absence of Lotus for this test was always destined to put the firm at a slight disadvantage.
Each team will of course have its own challenges in the two-week fix and panic stage before Bahrain, but the effect of reliable power units and teraflops of data on a team's confidence should never be underestimated.
Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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