The Inside Line #87: February champions

TILI Logo PrintLow-fuel attention-seeking glory runs, or the beginning of a legitimate resurgence? That was the question being posed after the first pre-season test at Jerez last week, when Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel ended the four days in Spain atop the timesheets. The size of the margin Raikkonen had over the next non-Ferrari – more than seven-tenths of a second – did raise eyebrows. Have Ferrari got it right after a year of not being able to see the top of anything without a telescope? Is there anything to be gleaned from forensically examining the timesheets at a fiddly circuit with very particular asphalt that’s unlike anywhere on the F1 calendar? Probably not, but there’s clearly enough there at Ferrari to motivate Vettel, who went straight from his two days of pounding around Jerez back to Ferrari HQ to spend some more time in the simulator. Doesn’t sound like someone who apparently wanted to walk away from F1 last year, does it? [1]

We probably should have expected a strong presence at the top of the timesheet from Sauber – as one eagle-eyed wag noticed, there are more sponsor logos on Ferrari’s rear wing than the entirety of the new blue and yellow Sauber, meaning some headline times might prompt an injection of funds from a new backer. Red Bull showed flashes without setting the world on fire [2], McLaren had predictable teething problems as it begins its association with Honda, and then there was Mercedes.

The number of the week for me was 157 – as in the number of laps Nico Rosberg managed in the W06 straight out of the box on day one, more than double the tally anyone else amassed. By the end of the test, Mercedes had racked up more than 500 laps, had a few troubles that weren’t easily solved, and might be further in front of the field than they were last year. Toto Wolff tried and failed to be convincing when he said that the first day “didn’t mean a lot” [3], and early indications suggest that anything other than a Silver Arrow on the top step of the podium in Melbourne would be a surprise. We can only hope that someone – anyone – gives them more of a fight this year than 12 months ago.

A wrap of the Jerez test is the headline act on Episode 87 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also take a look back at the fabulous resurgence from Williams last year through the eyes of the key players at Grove, and check in with Esteban Gutierrez at Ferrari. Seeing the Mexican in red doesn’t jar quite as much as seeing Vettel in Ferrari overalls, but if you can’t be on the grid, being at Ferrari surely must be the next-best thing, even if it’s almost wholly to do with the depths of your pockets than any driving ability. Raikkonen, remember, turns 36 this year, and openly suggested last year that 2015 might be his last go-round – the list of potential replacements will be long [4], but Gutierrez will be hoping that incumbency counts for something.

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 (9pm AEST Wednesday) and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

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[1] Vettel’s dignified – in public at least – silence as Christian Horner continues to take pot-shots at him has been admirable. One day, the real story behind why he left Horner’s team will come out. It just won’t come from Vettel himself.

[2] The camouflage livery was a belter. Would be nice if more teams did something interesting before the season started. How much publicity would, say, McLaren have got if they ran an orange livery through the pre-season in a nod to its past?

[3] Perhaps Mercedes were taking the piss. Come to think of it …

[4] They should have employed Nico Hulkenberg at the end of 2013. I may have already mentioned that one or 100 times previously …

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