JANUARY 28, 2014
Anticipation high at Jerez as opening test begins
Interest in this week's opening test of the groundbreaking 2014 season is near-unprecedented.
The new rules, spearheaded by the new V6 hybrid turbo 'power units', have attracted 25 television networks and 160 accredited journalists to Jerez, where the odd-nosed grid for the new year is taking shape.
Unfortunately for some, the weather might not play along, as dark clouds were gathering above southern Spain late on Monday, ahead of the first of four days of testing.
F1's continuing tyre supplier Pirelli is well prepared, and may not have to water the circuit as planned on Friday in order to test its wet-weather range.
The Italian marque has also developed a special 'winter' tyre for the crucial 2014 pre-season, having learned the lessons of 2013, when Paul Hembery recalls that "We even saw some ice on the track at one point".
For once, however, tyres are not expected to be the talking point over the coming weeks.
The keyword will instead be reliability, or failures, as the teams get thousands upon thousands of all-new components all working harmoniously following perhaps the biggest year-on-year regulations change in memory.
"I think it will be a very turbulent time for everybody, especially at the beginning," world champion Sebastian Vettel, at Jerez to drive the so-far unseen RB10, is quoted in the German media.
"Of course we had a very sound basis in terms of our car after the past four years, but now everything is new," he added.
Vettel is quoted by Sport Bild as worrying that the restrictions on fuel usage in 2014 could make the on-track action "somewhat limited".
And that will be after a particularly arduous off-season for the sport's taller drivers, such as Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, who although standing at less than 180cm, looked visibly slimmer at Jerez on Monday.
The heavier 2014 regulations have pushed the teams to the limit in trying to get their new cars under the mandatory minimum weight, penalising drivers like Adrian Sutil, who is six feet tall.
"I didn't eat too much over Christmas and New Year," admitted Sauber's German driver.
Also well-built is Red Bull's new recruit Daniel Ricciardo, who desipte his Australian nationality admitted to having played "many winter sports" since the last race of 2013.
"This year, every gram counts," he said at Jerez, where he will drive the RB10 on Thursday and Friday.
More immediately crucial, however, will be clocking up laps, after Jenson Button predicted Jerez could be a "hilarious" test characterised by technical failures left, right and centre.
"Whoever has less failures this year will be world champion," former triple world champion Niki Lauda agrees.
Some believe that, unlike in the past when cars would amass 100 testing laps a day and more, a haul of 40 laps will be considered a success in the 2014 pre-season.
"If someone was to get 100 laps he will not have won the world championship," Ferrari technical director James Allison is quoted by Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport, "but he will be on the right track."
Backmarker Marussia, for instance, is already behind schedule, announcing it will miss at least the opening day at Jerez due to a "small but frustrating technical issue".
"The aim is to solve the issue as quickly as possible and send the car on its way," said the team. "We're all set up here in Jerez ready and waiting for it."
The mood at Jerez, while full of anticipation, is also sombre, with Michael Schumacher's ongoing coma not far from minds.
His last two teams in F1 are paying tribute to the great German; Ferrari with a pitboard on Monday that read 'Forza Michael', and Mercedes with the Twitter hashtag #KeepFightingMichael written on the livery of its unrevealed W05 car.