One of Formula 1’s longest-serving paddock correspondents, Roger Benoit, had a telling word for the non-goings on here on the first day of car-testing.
It was “embarrassing”.
“I have not experienced such a start to a new test season in 45 years in F1,” Benoit, who writes for the Swiss newspaper Blick, told Germany’s Bild-Zeitung.
DRIVERS WEREN’T LAPPING IT UP
As the new hybrid and V6-powered single seaters – featuring bizarre and often rude-looking nose appendages – broke down, hit barriers or even failed to emerge from their garage, Benoit said F1 had “pulled its pants down in front of the whole world”.
“Why do we always make everything more complicated?” he lamented.
Marc Surer, an expert pundit for German television Sky, agreed: “I had not imagined it would be quite this bad.”
Where usually 100 laps a day is de rigueur in F1’s era of tightly limited testing, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was Tuesday’s most prolific runner – only 31 – and his best was 10 seconds off the pace of a normal Jerez test.
Even though he insisted “that doesn’t mean anything” and added: “We are only learning a new car and driving as much as we can.”
Most of the rest of the field could count their lap tallies on the fingers of one hand, including the bizarrely double-nosed new Caterham, whose Marcus Ericsson managed only a single out-lap all day.
“If it’s slow but beautiful then what’s the point of that?” rookie Ericsson said.
UNSEEMLY TORO ROSSO
At the moment, however, only “ugly” and “stationary” were only conclusions to draw from F1 2014. McLaren’s MP4-29 didn’t leave the garage at all.
Jean-Eric Vergne, in the unseemly new Toro Rosso, managed 15 laps and was happy “because just getting the car on track was an achievement”.
2013 F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was stranded in the pits nearly all day after mechanics installed one of the new Red Bull’s components upside down but he didn’t point a finger at his crew, Welt newspaper that this year’s cars were “like a puzzle” to put together.
“Before, F1 cars were not so close to rocket science,” he was quoted as saying by F1’s official website.
Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost said: “When we ran the car at Misano it became clear how difficult it was to get all the systems interacting with each other.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told the BBC at Jerez: “There’s probably 40% more drawings required to produce the car and therefore that many more parts to be made and tested. I don’t know how the little teams are coping.”
SPONSOR STICKERS MISSING
It was obvious to say that, given the team’s former dominance, Red Bull would have preferred the regulations stay the same in 2014.
“It is clear that F1 must evolve and be relevant to the automotive industry,” Horner was quoted as saying by Brazil’s Totalrace, “but we do need to question the timing of this change. There are several cars here without many (sponsorship) stickers.”
The boss of one of those smaller teams, Toro Rosso’s Tost, admitted that the necessary annual budget had increased by 25% over the (northern) winter, “and that money is only to build a car and perform at about the same level as 2013.
“In short, the situation is difficult,” the Austrian told Russia’s f1news.ru. He predicted, however, that the farcical sight of constantly waving red flags would eventually end.
“I think in Melbourne it will not happen,” Tost said. “I think already here, on Thursday and Friday, we will be hearing the fantastic music of the new turbo engines. This is only the first test day in January – there is plenty of time until Melbourne.”
TRYING IN ‘SAFE MODE’
Some, however, are not impressed by the milder V6 tones, Nico Hulkenberg admitting Tuesday’s proceedings reminded him of a German Touring Car test.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, however, said early testing was not a good test as the engines were not running flat-out, and French driver Vergne agreed: “I would say that we were trying everything in ‘safe mode’.”
Finally, as Tuesday’s most prolific runner, the spotlight fell on the taciturn Raikkonen to deliver the verdict on how 2014 felt from the cockpit. “It’s definitely different,” he said, “but it’s not like night and day.”
And what did he think of F1’s brave new era? “The rules are what they are,” Raikkonen told the Finnish broadcaster MTV3, “and the cars are built to whatever the rules are. It makes no sense to complain now.”