- Jul 23, 2014
Nine teams participated in the latest round of Formula 1 mid-season tests at the Red Bull Ring, home to the most recent Austrian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg won the race for Mercedes-Benz on Sunday, and to little surprise, the title challenger was the outright fastest driver during the two days of testing on 23-24 June.
With heavy rainfall hitting the track on the first day of testing, the teams agreed to extend the running on Tuesday by two hours. During which, we saw plenty of intriguing developments, the most captivating of which were a set of winglets that popped up along the side skirt and right ain front of the rear wheels of the Williams FW37, piloted by Susie Wolff on Tuesday:
Both Valtteri Bottas, along with Williams' chief test engineer Rod Nelson, confirmed that the winglets were there solely for collecting data about where the team can make gains in the aero department. The data collected can only benefit Williams Martini Racing as they seek to find more downforce on a chassis that is out of its element away from low-downforce circuits, so that Bottas and Felipe Massa can regularly challenge for podium finishes and victories - and close the gap to Scuderia Ferrari ahead of them in the Constructors' Championship.
Max Verstappen, who turned the most laps of the afternoon, and Romain Grosjean were the only regular drivers to participate on Friday, as Mercedes-Benz protege Pascal Wehrlein set the fastest time of the session once the track dried out, with a 1:11.005s. Wehrlein made the most of the adverse conditions on Tuesday, saying, “I got to try the slicks, intermediates and wets, so it was good from my perspective to be able to compare the tyres and get some experience in all conditions - even if it wasn't ideal for the test programme.”
But not far behind was another Mercedes-backed prospect, the reigning European F3 champion, Esteban Ocon - who was second-fastest in the new B-spec Force India VJM08 that debuts in the next race at Silverstone. Perhaps just as eye-popping as its nostril-equipped nose section, was the pace of the heavily-revised car, which was just under two-tenths slower than Wehrlein's quickest lap in the dominant W06 Hybrid.
"It was a shame that we had so much rain this morning," the Frenchman Ocon commented, "but I’m happy that we were able to run late into the evening. The car was brilliant today – very enjoyable to drive and I noticed how much it had improved compared to the last time I drove in Barcelona." With these comments, it seems that Force India are due for a massive push up the running order over the next several races, and that will be good news for fans of Nico Hulkenberg, who scored his best finish of the season on Sunday by finishing sixth, and after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber the week before, has garnered the interest of the racing world at large.
Hulkenberg's supporters hope for a bright future for their favorite driver, and speaking of bright futures - Ferrari's investment in its Driver Academy led to an exciting debut test for young Antonio Fuoco, a former Formula Renault 2.0 Alps champion and current GP3 Series standout.
Fuoco turned in the fourth-fastest time with a 1:11.331s, but his Turn 1 crash in the mid-afternoon dominated much of the post-session discussion. In mixed conditions, Fuoco clipped just enough of a wet outside kerb to spin the car head-on into the safety barriers. The Italian accepted responsibility and was upset with himself, but the damage was minor, and the 19-year-old newcomer was uninjured.
UNOFFICIAL FASTEST TIMES - TUESDAY 23 JUNE
1st - Pascal Wehrlein - Mercedes - 1m 11.005s - 67 Laps
2nd - Esteban Ocon - Force India-Mercedes - +0.187s - 76 Laps
3rd - Max Verstappen - Toro Rosso-Renault - +0.323s - 97 Laps
4th - Antonio Fuoco - Ferrari - +0.326s - 71 Laps
5th - Romain Grosjean - Lotus-Mercedes - +0.504s - 45 Laps
6th - Pierre Gasly - Red Bull-Renault - +0.752s - 80 Laps
7th - Raffaele Marciello - Sauber-Ferrari - +0.821s - 53 Laps
8th - Stoffel Vandoorne - McLaren-Honda - +1.525s - 76 Laps
9th - Susie Wolff - Williams-Mercedes - +2.243s - 39 Laps
Wednesday testing was blanketed by a welcome cascade of sunshine over the foothills of Austria's rolling countryside, which benefited the teams and drivers as all but one of the nine runners turned over 100 laps during the day.
Rosberg's benchmark for the day, an early timed lap of 1:09.113s, was just a half-second slower than his qualifying time for the Austrian GP. But it was still eight tenths faster than second placed Esteban Gutierrez, who took over in the Ferrari SF15-T for only the second time this year. The former Sauber driver was the only other runner in the sub-1:10 bracket, enjoying 110 productive laps around the Red Bull Ring for Ferrari.
Afterwards, Gutierrez said, "It's always nice to be able to drive the current Formula 1 car and I want to thank the team for giving me this opportunity. It was a positive day, we did a good job and we completed the programme we had set ourselves, gathering plenty of data that we can now carefully analyse."
But the surprise of the session came in the form of reigning DTM champion Marco Wittmann, who completed a session-high 158 laps in the Toro Rosso STR10 and had the fourth-fastest time of the day - a 1:10.103s that would have been good enough to put Wittmann on the inside of row six for the race this past weekend. "This has been an amazing experience for me," Wittmann said. "I was surprised at the power of the car. I enjoyed the whole day, which was trouble free, so I was able to do a lot of laps."
Toro Rosso's gesture of extending an F1 test session to the 25-year-old DTM champion may sadly turn out to be a one-off outing, but he showed plenty of pace and consistency that would legitimately warrant classifying Wittmann as a Formula 1 caliber driver.
Wehrlein was fifth-fastest after hopping from Mercedes to Force India on Wednesday, completing the third-most laps (132) behind only Wittmann and Felipe Nasr (138) in the Sauber-Ferrari. Last year's GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer enjoyed another productive test by turning 110 laps around Spielberg, and Fernando Alonso will be glad to know that he completed almost as many laps in one day (104) as he has in the last four Grands Prix combined (111).
Daniel Ricciardo brought out the only red flag of the session in his Red Bull RB11, which sported this rather massive sensor grid throughout most of the day. Ricciardo commented, "We learned a few things and we tested a lot of stuff. We had a big aero rake on the car this morning that looked like something out of ‘The Terminator’ but it’s all good information for the aero guys and will help going forward. We have some updates coming to Silverstone as well, so I hope we can take the fight to our immediate rivals."
The teams will now take the data they acquired back to their factories, and for most, they'll only need to take their newest developments a short distance to Silverstone - home of the upcoming British Grand Prix.
UNOFFICIAL FASTEST TIMES - WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE
1st - Nico Rosberg - Mercedes - 1:09.113s - 117 Laps
2nd - Esteban Gutierrez - Ferrari - +0.818s - 110 Laps
3rd - Valtteri Bottas - Williams-Mercedes - +0.916s - 74 Laps
4th - Marco Wittmann - Toro Rosso-Renault - +0.990s - 158 Laps
5th - Pascal Wehrlein - Force India-Mercedes - +1.140s - 132 Laps
6th - Jolyon Palmer - Lotus-Mercedes - +1.260s - 110 Laps
7th - Fernando Alonso - McLaren-Honda - +1.605s - 104 Laps
8th - Daniel Ricciardo - Red-Bull Renault - +1.644s - 116 Laps
9th - Felipe Nasr - Sauber-Ferrari - +1.809s - 138 Laps
What was your biggest takeaway from the most recent tests? Were you impressed by any of the non-regular drivers' performances? Any new parts or pieces you saw that you want to discuss? Leave a comment below, and be sure to visit our F1 forum for more discussion!
Image Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Ferrari, Red Bull Media House