Ted Kravitz and David Croft Q&A: The Sky F1 pundits dissect the first test in Jerez
How bad are Red Bull's struggles? Who are the title favourites? And how will Eric Boullier fit in at McLaren?
By Sky Sports Online. Last Updated: 07/02/14 12:35pm
Red Bull back to the drawing board
David Croft and Ted Kravitz popped into the Sky Sports News studio on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Red Bull's Jerez struggles, whether Mercedes are now title favourites and how Eric Boullier might fit in at McLaren.
How much trouble are the World Champions in, David?
David Croft: "It's back to the drawing board for them - or the CFD or the CAD or whatever Adrian Newey has at his disposal - and they will put their heads together and work some very long nights and work out what went wrong. But as Ted knows as he was in Jerez, it is a multitude of things: it is not just Adrian Newey's design and what the team came up with, but Renault's power unit and everything else as well. So it might just take them the full two weeks between the tests before they find a solution."
Ted, the car seems to have been designed in such a way that it's overheating. Is it too simplistic to say Adrian Newey misjudged the new regulations?
Ted Kravitz: "It is a little because it is in a way 'double trouble' for Red Bull - not only do they have their own problems, in that they have underestimated how much cooling was going to be needed by these new engines, turbo chargers and batteries, but they are also powered by the Renault engine and the Renault battery - and Renault have made a critical mistake with how they work all their batteries. It is not just one big battery, like a giant mobile phone battery that sits in the middle of the car and powers all the electric motors, it is made up of 50 or 60 individual cells and some of those are shorting out.
"So it is two-pronged trouble that Renault and Red Bull have to get through together. But they will be working very hard now because we cannot underplay how little running they did in Jerez. The recovery truck, the flatbed truck to recover the cars, that did more laps than the Red Bull RB10 in Jerez."
In contrast, 309 laps were completed by Mercedes, who look very strong. Are they the real deal, David?
DC: "When we got together at the end of last season, we were all of the view that this was Mercedes' best chance to win a World Championship - if their engine department could deliver a good power unit. If you look at the running that Force India and Williams got through as well, there is a good power unit underneath the bonnet. But the actual works team, they had the problem on the first day with the front wing, but once that was fixed they got a lot of mileage in and had reliability so now they can go to Bahrain for the next test and start to work on performance.
"You can bet your bottom dollar that the power unit running in Jerez was not running anywhere near the amount of revs that it will be by the time we get to the end of the Bahrain test, when the engines will be running at full pelt. I seriously think this could be Mercedes' year but looking at the two drivers, who do you chose? Lewis Hamilton, the out-and-out racer, or Nico Rosberg, the man that can race but probably thinks a bit more as well. Both could be competing at the final end of this Championship."
Do you agree with that Ted?
TK: "I would sound a cautionary note here with Mercedes. Yes they are reliable, so they can run and run all day, but are they fast? That we do not know; the stop watch doesn't lie. I would also throw Ferrari into the mix here - they have shown they are just as reliable as Mercedes, but they were throwing in some very eye-catching lap times as well and I would say they have just as strong a driver line-up as Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.
"That could work in their favour - having two great drivers in the same team - but it could also work against Ferrari. Are those two guys going to work head-to-head or are they going to cause a disaster in Ferrari, which is used to things going wrong from time to time."
DC: "I would also say from testing, though, don't take any notice of the times. We know there are false impressions that are given in that first test from teams chasing headlines, trying to make it look like they have a bit more pace than they actually have. Mercedes are in a position as a works team that they don't need to be doing that. Ferrari are a works team, but they need some good news to boost performances and keep the fans happy as well."
Many were surprised by McLaren's performance in Jerez, but there's controversy around the design of their rear suspension. Is it legal?
TK: "Well it is legal. We understand from the FIA's technical department headed up by Charlie Whiting that he accepts that it's within the rules. But I can tell you there are quite a few other teams thinking that they're going to have a go at protesting it once we get to the first race because the teams can go to Charlie Whiting and ask, 'What's your opinion? Do you think this is legal?' [But] he can only express an opinion; he is not the final arbiter of what is and is not legal - and we've seen his opinion overturned before.
"So I think we might see a protest against the McLaren cars at the Australian Grand Prix because it all centres around these wishbones, which are to support the car and keep the wheels on. But they're clearly also for aerodynamic benefit, so it's certainly in contravention of the spirit of the regulations. But Formula 1 teams have been getting around the spirit of the regulations for 50-odd years!"
Questions remain over who's running the team. Eric Boullier has joined as Racing Director, but there's still no official word on Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh. Do you know the state of play?
DC: "No, not officially. No-one's heard from Martin Whitmarsh. I don't even know if Martin Whitmarsh is in Woking at the moment at the McLaren Technology Centre - I would very much doubt it. And I think that maybe a compromise package is being agreed behind the scenes that releases Martin Whitmarsh from his job as Team Principal. Where does he go then? I'm sure there would be others in Formula 1 that would love to take him on.
"Eric Boullier has come in as Racing Director, reporting to Ron Dennis, the overall man in charge. Jonathan Neale has taken on the role as temporary CEO, so where does Eric Boullier slot in? Does he take Martin Whitmarsh's job bit for bit for bit? I'm not quite sure Eric would be the right man for that - as good as he is, I think his qualities, that we saw at Lotus last year in keeping that team afloat and driver management over the years, are not necessarily what McLaren are looking for. So I just don't know where he fits in on a day-to-day basis at the moment."
TK: "I think he fits in under Ron Dennis - Ron Dennis is back in charge. As I understand it, Martin Whitmarsh, since losing this power struggle with Ron Dennis, hasn't been in the factory at all at McLaren; he's not been at work and is working out what he does next. So Ron Dennis is back in charge at McLaren, fair and simple, that's what's going to happen. He's the boss again."
Finally, the issue of double points at the Abu Dhabi GP. Red Bull were opposed to it, but if they start the season badly might it work out to their advantage?
DC: "I'm sure if they do start the season badly then Red Bull will be saying double points is a great idea and Sebastian Vettel, who was one of the chief drivers opposed to double points, will change his tune. I'm not a fan and certainly if we go to three double points races at the end of the season...this is a Championship; it's not a cup competition. Every race should be as important as every other - that's why Sky Sports F1 shows all the races live, because they're all equally important. And I don't see why you should put more emphasis on the final race and give it double points. It makes it a bit of a lottery for me."
TK: "It's gone down very badly with the fans, the idea that some races are more equal than others, and the traditionalists hate it as well. I think if it's what we've got then it might create a bit of a grandstand finish for the season; if it's what we've got then there's no point complaining about it. It is artificial; the fans don't like it; the Formula 1 teams and the rulemakers seemingly aren't listening. Hopefully it'll get changed for next year."
The Sky Sports F1 Online team will be providing live commentary of all three winter tests, with live updates from trackside also on Sky Sports News.