Tag Archives: McLaren

Pit Stop – Turbo is back with a bang – By Lewis Brearley

Formula One testing gets underway only next week but until then there’s nothing really to except speculate. Who’s going to surprise? Who’s going to fail? How ugly exactly are the new cars?

However, all this is just an exercise in futility so until testing actually happens it’s worth looking back to Formula One’s previous turbo era: 1978 – 1988.

Renault was the very first team to race with a turbocharged engine, a 1.5 litre V6. While at first it was unanimously seen as a joke, slow and extremely unreliable, but by the end of the season the first signs of promise were visible.

The lack of reliability would plague the Renault throughout their span in the sport. Alain Prost had runs at the title in 1981, 1982 and 1983 but was always hampered by his car’s inability to finish.

All this disappointment and the loss of Prost to McLaren, caused Renault to withdraw from the sport at the end of 1985. However their turbo technology had revolutionised the sport.

By 1984 all the teams were using 1.5l turbocharged engines and the McLaren-TAG combination began to dominate despite impressive competition from Williams-Honda, taking three successive drivers’ championships from 1984-1986.

1987 saw the Williams-Honda finally take a driver’s championship with Nelson Piquet after his team mate, Nigel Mansell, severely injured his back which forced him to miss the final two races.

The year after was the final year for the turbos as they were banned for 1989 in a bid to slow the car’s down. But it was the final turbo year – 1988 – which came to define the era that preceded it.

McLaren procured the awesome Honda engine thanks to signing Ayrton Senna, who had built up a close relationship with the Japanese company in his time at Lotus. When combined with Alain Prost, then a double world champion, it delivered a championship double after winning an unprecedented and unbeaten 15 race wins out of 16 races.

The only thing that stopped McLaren taking a 100% sweep was the infamous incident at Monza, where Jean-Louis Schlesser turned in on Senna while being lapped, which cost McLaren the victory.

Despite the fact that the 2014 engines use turbos, the new and upcoming turbo era is going to be very different from the eighties. Whereas the old era was all about pure, awesome power with engines giving out more than 1000bhp when on maximum boost. This new era will be much more focused towards efficiency and refined power.

The turbo itself has a system where a large proportion of the waste heat from inside the turbo is stored and then utilised by the engine.

The style of racing will change for next year and whether it’s popular or not the technology inside the cars is an interesting and impressive step  up from the past few years.

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Pit Stop – Testing is close – By Lewis Brearley

It is now just one week until Formula One testing gets underway at Jerez and the hype is beginning to build.

Despite the confidence of the Lotus team that they wouldn’t be the only ones to miss the first test, they remain the only team to have announced that they won’t be there.

The effect this will have on Lotus’s preparations for the new season is as yet unknown and probably won’t be until the Australian grand prix on 16 March, but with the huge implications of the complex new regulations added to the negative stories around the finances of the team, it is generally expected to be a significant setback.

Yet, as the team and their fans will argue, setbacks during pre-season testing can be overcome. Lotus themselves lost two days of running last season when they found their new chassis was cracked and McLaren are infamous for their tendency to have poor starts to the season and often manage to overcome their problems by the time the season gets going.

Another big unknown is the driver situation at Caterham, who haven’t yet announced their partnering. Rumours gathered pace this week that one will be Kamui Kobayashi, the popular and exciting talent who has been out of the sport for a year.

When taken amid the current furore over the prevalence of pay drivers, if Caterham does decide to sign Kobayashi, it will be a real positive for the sport and certainly should give Paul di Resta confidence that it is possible to return to Formula One after being dropped.

His team mate is likely to be the young Marcus Ericsson, who has shown inconsistent flashes of speed in four seasons in GP2. He was often seen around the Caterham garage last season which backs up the rumours that he will be driving for them next year.

Regardless of who gets signed, the fact that Caterham haven’t yet announced their drivers raises eyebrows. With the competition to get seats being so high, perhaps they are just using the luxury of holding all the cards, and using all the time to make sure they get the best deal they possibly can.

Interesting things are also happening at McLaren. While they may have their driver line up of Jenson Button and the promising Kevin Magnussen sealed, they executive structure is set for a re shuffle.

Ron Dennis wrested back the controls of the team from his former trusted protégé, Martin Whitmarsh after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the team’s recent lack of success.

In his statement Dennis said to prepare for “changes to be made” and with Honda teaming up with McLaren next year, former Honda team principal and recently retired Ross Brawn is a possible new team principal.

McLaren really need a strong year, and next week at Jerez, Button will find out whether he has the car to be able to bid for his second world championship.

The teams are now almost ready but as of now it’s all unknowns.

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Pit Stop – F1 changes – By Lewis Brearley

Almost all Formula One fans have ideas about how the sport should be improved. From less prescriptive technical regulations to more prescriptive technical regulations, more durable tyres, less durable tyres, bringing back refuelling, fewer teams, more teams, a budget cap, stopping racing on the newer and less romantic Tilke-designed circuits, there’s myriad ideas, some more worthy than others.

This week, the newly established “Strategy Working Group,” which comprises six team principals and six representatives from both the FOM and the FIA, had their first meeting and agreed on some changes which they believe will improve Formula One.

Firstly they decided to bring in, with immediate effect, permanent numbers for all the drivers. Sebastian Vettel will get the first choice, including the option to use the #1 earned by winning the drivers’ championship, with the others getting their choice in championship order.

This is a pure marketing tool and has been very well received among the fans and drivers alike. Formula One bosses will be hoping that sometime in the future they will be able to match the image and income of Valentino Rossi’s iconic #46 in MotoGP.

However, it’s unclear how the system will be implemented. If a driver retires only to return a couple of years later such as Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, will their number be kept “on ice” for a couple of years or will they have to pick a new one?

Also, how will the numbers be visible? At the moment the numbers on the cars are too small to even be seen in slow motion close ups, and the teams are unwilling to increase this size for fear of reducing space for paying sponsors.

A number which is therefore only really visible on the driver’s caps and t-shirts before and after races is hardly going to have the same impact as the clear numbers used in MotoGP.

Secondly, a tentative plan to have a workable budget cap for 2015 was announced. Due to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes’ current blasé and selfish attitudes to the ridiculous current financial situation in Formula One, it’s very unclear how this system will be properly enforced.

It’s certainly very unlikely to be set as low as the $40 million cap pushed by Max Mosley in 2009. The lack of information in the press release itself shows just how early into negotiations this decision is.

A more immediate change to the rules, and the one which has gained the most headlines, is the decision to award double points in next season’s final race.

This means the winner of next year’s Abu Dhabi grand prix, a race seen as one of the least challenging on the calendar, will receive 50 points.

As of now, Vettel is the only man to share his opinion on the issue, calling the whole idea “absurd and unfair,” and he is completely right. Never in the history of Formula One has one race been worth more than others.

This is a purely business-driven move, just like the permanent numbers, as it almost guarantees a final race championship decider, yet this is different as it affects the racing itself.

In football, the goalposts aren’t widened in stoppage time and in a 19-race championship, one race should not outweigh any of the others.

It’s also a sign of Formula One taking a worrying direction towards gimmickry and entertainment and away from sport. What’s to stop a circuit organiser deciding to pay double the hosting fees to get their race billed as a “50 points super-race?” Or giving points for overtaking in the final few laps?

This sort of gimmickry is not what Formula One needs to be entertaining and it’s concerning that the very owners of the sport think it is. They need to have more confidence in their product and remember that when Mika Hakkinen overtook Schumacher at Spa in 2000, or when Raikkonen overtook Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap of the 2005 Japanese grand prix, there were no gimmicks, no double points and no overtaking aids.

Pure racing, rivalries and personalities is what makes Formula One the second most watched sport in the world. There’s no need to dilute that.

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Pit Stop – Mclaren to decide on drivers – By Lewis Brearley

The news that McLaren hasn’t yet confirmed Jenson Button as one of its drivers for next season surprised most fans. After all, here is a man who was performed consistently very well for the team for the past three seasons, taking eight victories and finishing second in the 2011 championship. Here is a very experienced and technically strong driver, vital qualities for the big rule changes next season. And here is a public relations and advertising dream; good looking, gregarious and cheery.

So the question stands, why have McLaren not offered him a contract extension? As the public are not privy to inside McLaren management discussions, it’s impossible to know for sure; but it is possible to have a few informed guesses.

The first reason is, or more accurately was, Kimi Raikkonen. McLaren Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh is known to be a huge fan of the Finn and talks were rumoured to have taken place between the two parties. However, now that Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari instead, and Button has still not been signed up, it’s clear there must be a different answer to the question.

A second possible answer, which appears outlandish upon first thought, involves McLaren’s junior drivers. Rivals Red Bull have promoted one of their juniors, Daniel Ricciardo into their team for next season and McLaren have made a few noises in the press recently about their juniors, Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne – currently first and second in the Renault World Series.

The two young drivers are highly rated by McLaren and the team has been making determined efforts to get one of them, namely the more experienced Magnussen, a seat in Formula One.

Talks took place with Force India, who have benefited of late from a large technical partnership and windtunnel usage agreement with McLaren, and Magnussen was booked to be Force India’s driver at the Silverstone Young Driver Test.

However, for unpublicised reasons Force India ditched Magnussen in favour of James Calado. Since this announcement, McLaren have made further media comments about finding a seat for Magnussen and are known to be working on a strong sponsorship package for the Dane.

The issue is complicated by the current state of Formula One finances. Small teams are picking drivers on the money they bring to the team, such as Pastor Maldonado and his huge PDVSA sponsorship money. It is indeed a sad reflection on the sport, that it is not enough now for a driver to get a seat on his talent alone.

Yet it is not the teams’ fault that this is the situation. Teams need to survive and to survive they need the money. It is a short term view, but it is the only one the teams can choose.

It would surely be easier for McLaren, if Magnussen’s talent is as brilliant as the team claim, which now can be roughly judged on the team simulator, to give him a seat at the big team itself.

Sure, it sounds absurd. Why would a hugely respected team switch world champion Button for a rookie when its other driver is the inexperienced and often criticised Sergio Perez.

But McLaren are in a state of change. A technical partnership with Honda starts in 2015 by which time Button will be 35 years old and new title sponsors are being signed up.

A gamble on Magnussen wouldn’t be the safe thing to do. But think of the last time McLaren signed a rookie and the theory isn’t as absurd as it may first appear.

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Pit Stop – Engines at war – By Lewis Brearley

McLaren’s freshly announced engine partnership with Honda brings into focus the situation surrounding next year’s engine supplies.

Four teams have not yet confirmed which manufacturer they will use for power from 2014. Lotus, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Marussia are all still seeking final confirmation from their preferred choices.

With 11 teams on the grid and three engine manufacturers present next season, four teams for two manufacturers and three for the other appears to be the optimum and obvious solution.

However, upon further analysis it soon becomes clear that in reality this vision may be a little cloudier.

Renault has already confirmed deals with Red Bull, Caterham and Williams but has two more teams – Lotus and Toro Rosso – pitching for engines. If the Renaultsport management are to be taken at their word and a five team supply is indeed out of the question, that leaves one team left for either Mercedes or Ferrari.

In fact it’s this decision which is causing the logjam with the other teams’ engine supplies and Renault needs to make a decision quickly. But it’s not just a 50/50, random choice. Out of the two teams – Toro Rosso and Lotus – Lotus is the one most likely to deliver success and the worldwide promotion that follows. Yet on the other hand, Red Bull are pressuring the French firm to supply their sister team Toro Rosso and Red Bull is Renault’s number one, world championship-winning team.

Once this situation is resolved the rest of the grid will quickly be fully powered.
Mercedes, just like Renault, has three teams secured – Mercedes, McLaren and Force India – leaving space for the German manufacturer to pick up another should the need arise.

However, Ferrari has no engine supply deals agreed outside their works team. It’s very likely that they will supply their long-term partners Sauber and will very probably be contracted into supplying Toro Rosso should the Italian team be turned away by Renault.

This would leave Marussia, who can hardly cobble together enough money for an engine deal anyway, at the mercy of the generosity of Mercedes and Ferrari. Marussia hope that their signing of Ferrari academy driver, Jules Bianchi will persuade Ferrari into giving them a deal. But that is not a nailed-on certainly in even the slightest terms.

If this sounds complicated it’s simple when contrasted with the situation that would arise if Renault were to bow to Red Bull’s demands and Lotus were left at the doors of Mercedes and Ferrari.

The Enstone team’s first port of call would be Maranello, even if the name Lotus-Ferrari is anathema to the purists among you.

As bad as no Enstone team though? Because Ferrari have never in their history supplied a championship contending team (a rival) with engines and Mercedes would take some persuading to supply three championship contending teams when their own board are begging for success for their own team.

The die lies with Renault. When it is finally cast, one team reaches for the emergency plan.

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Pit Stop – Bahrain Grand Prix – By Lewis Brearley

Watching the Bahrain grand prix it was hard not to imagine being in the shoes of Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal.

As his two drivers, the experienced Jenson Button and his new protégé Sergio Perez aggressively raced each other and banged wheels, I was on edge. Whitmarsh, as the man responsible for McLaren’s success must have been near cardiac arrest.
After experiencing this sensation and reflecting upon it, it is hard not to feel confused about why there was no communication from him to either of his drivers.

Perez was getting more success with looking after his rear tyres and was therefore faster than Button at the later end of their respective stints. Button was therefore fighting a battle he could not realistically win.

With so much on the line, the race having seen the best performance from McLaren so far this season, surely it was a massive risk not to order Button to let Perez past or, if McLaren are so set on not using team orders under any circumstances, at least inform Button of the likely futility of battling his team mate, to allow him to make his own informed decision.

Certainly it is hard not to believe that with the same situation at any of the other top teams, the team principal would not be heard over the team radio with some kind of instruction.

Brawn at Mercedes, Domenicali at Ferrari and Horner at Red Bull, having now learnt his lesson would have all taken to the radio airwaves.

McLaren left Bahrain with just three points less than Mercedes but if you analyse the finishing positions it becomes clear that this wasn’t the maximum return for their efforts.

The decision not to tell Button about the risks of being so aggressive with Perez arguably exacerbated his tyre wear issues and led to a fourth pit-stop being made which dropped Button right down from sixth to tenth.

Another team to make operational mistakes in Bahrain was Ferrari. After the DRS system on Alonso’s car failed early in the race it was obvious that it would be a risk to engage the device again. Yet Ferrari told Alonso that all would be fine and this decision cost Alonso any chance of getting the podium which had looked likely.

He instead finished eighth and with the competition looking so strong, who knows how costly this could be.
After four races the season looks to have distilled into a battle between the raw pace and aerodynamic superiority of the Red Bull versus the more efficient tyre use and balance of the Lotus. In fact the podium at Bahrain was the same as it was last year.

However that doesn’t mean we can discount Ferrari, Mercedes or even McLaren, all three of these teams having shown pace at different points of the four races now passed.
Bahrain certainly showed who must be classed as the favourite to succeed though. He can lead from the front, he can overtake, he can keep his head and he’s got a terrific machine under him: Vettel.

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Pit Stop – F1 Season Race 1 Review – By Lewis Brearley

As the cars lined up on Sunday for the first race of the season, everyone was ready for a Red Bull clean sweep; a continuation of the dominance of the past two years. The tension in the race would be the gripping battle for third.

Right at the start however, Red Bull’s number two, the home boy, Mark Webber was back in the lower points positions after a bad start caused by an ECU failure recognised before the lights went out. There was nothing Webber could do as the whole pack of frontrunners swamped past him in the run to the first corner.

Yet at the end of the first lap Red Bull still looked set for an easy victory. Sebastian Vettel led by two seconds after just the first lap with both Ferraris, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus all in a pack further back.

After the third lap, it became clear quite quickly that Vettel was struggling much worse than his rivals with tyre degradation and his lead was reducing noticeably. The Ferraris, led by Felipe Massa, closed right on to the diffuser of the number one Red Bull but were unable to get past.

Lap seven saw Vettel enter the pits with Massa following a lap later and Alonso and Räikkönen two laps further still. The group all rejoined slightly further spead due to Vettel getting an advantageous undercut on fresh rubber. The two Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg however pitted a couple of laps later still, having decided to try a two stop strategy to overcome the lack of pace that had quickly dropped them from contention.

Vettel and the two Ferraris closed in on Adrian Sutil, who had not yet pitted, his Force India taking beautiful care of its precious tyres; an advantage gained from being allowed to start on the medium tyre for qualifying outside the top ten.

Vettel soon found he was unable to pass Sutil, and with Massa unable to overtake Vettel and Alonso stuck behind him, Alonso made the pit on lap 20. This would give him an undercut which, if he used it properly, would allow him to surpass Vettel and Massa but meant a risky long stint on the delicate tyres.

A lap later Red Bull responded by bringing in Vettel whereas Massa was unwilling to risk the longer than optimum stint his team mate had risked. The lap on fresh tyres allowed Alonso past both Vettel and Sutil into the clear air. He used this privilege to close in on leader Raikkonen, who then pitted on lap 34 to rejoin fifth. With everybody but Sutil requiring another stop, suddenly the race became a duel between Alonso and Raikkonen.

After Alonso’s third and final stop on lap 39, the Spaniard closed in rapidly for a couple of laps on the Lotus of Raikkonen. However, he quickly realised his Ferrari was not going to be able to retain this pace to close in on Raikkonen, a theory quickly confirmed when Raikkonen fired in a fastest lap on older tyres than Alonso had.

Raikkonen later crossed the line with his hands aloft, a rare expression of emotion from the laconic Finn. It was a superb performance from the wheel of a superb car. In a year when tyre degradation looks likely to play a huge role, it firmly placed Lotus as realistic championship contenders; however much they and their star driver denied it.

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Pit Stop – F1 is Back – By Lewis Brearley

This weekend marks the long awaited first grand prix of the Formula One season. Down in Melbourne, Australia, the lights will finally go out to kickstart the race for the 2013 World Championship.

Last year’s championship was one of the closest and most competitive in the history of the sport, with seven different winners in the first seven races – an all time record – which became eight when Kimi Raikkonen took victory later in the season.

This season looks set to be even closer, with rules remaining the same, performance gains become ever smaller as teams reach the very edge of the potential of the rules. Also Pirelli has constructed a new range of tyres with the aim of 2 and 3 stop races becoming the norm. This was in response to criticism from some fans after a run of one stop races later in the season. Testing has shown the new tyres to be very delicate but more predictable and less erratic than the early 2012 versions which will surely come as a relief to the teams.

Predictions currently fill the F1 news-sites and magazines, but the only prediction that you can be confident about is that no-one, not even the team’s technical directors, know who the contenders will be.

Actually such is the current development rate of F1 that even the form for the first race is unlikely to tell us who will be on form come the final part of the season at the long-haul Asian races.

The big three teams – Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren – are all looking strong even if McLaren do seem slightly concerned that their car is lacking consistency in its pace.

These look likely to be joined in the battle for the championship by Lotus, led by Kimi Raikkonen – revitalised after his two year break, and Mercedes; boosted by the addition of one of the biggest names in F1, Lewis Hamilton.

These five teams appear to have a slight performance advantage over the remaining six teams. Williams, Sauber and Force India all look strong with Toro Rosso having made significant gains over the winter after the arrival of a new technical chief, former Sauber man James Key.

The midfield teams lack a couple of tenths to the bigger teams, however good tyre understanding and management or a bit of luck could, in a field so close, see them achieving the occasional podium.

Lagging behind the group, Caterham and Marussia look set to continue their quest for a single point. At the moment only an attrition filled race would bring such a result, but the two teams should edge closer to the midfield throughout the season.

The form of the teams may decide who is challenging and who isn’t but this weekend it’s finally the turn of the drivers to take their place in the limelight.

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Pit Stop – Ferrari – By Lewis Brearley

“We don’t ask to be half a second in front of everybody, but two tenths behind everybody is OK.”

This is a quote from Fernando Alonso, the Ferrari driver. Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport’s history.

Taken in that context, it appears at first glance to be quite a strange attitude for a Ferrari driver.

Is it not the prerequisite of Ferrari to have a car at the apex of the grid? Certainly, the weight of criticism whenever they lose a championship would encourage you to believe that it is their right to be the best at all times.

Indeed, they are the only team expected, not just predicted, to be at the very front all the time. Anything less than a victory is a disappointment for the Tifosi worldwide.

But if you analyse the situation that Ferrari is in, the quote becomes much more illuminating. Ferrari have openly acknowledged what they have been complaining to the FIA about for a while, that their development process revolved around real track based testing and that the current ban on such methods puts them at a major disadvantage.

Ferrari were the masters of such testing based development. Their test drivers such as Luca Badoer pounded round Fiorano, their own private test track, trying out hundreds of new parts the Ferrari millions could put out.

The money is still there, but the track isn’t. While Ferrari enjoyed their own test track, McLaren and Red Bull were piling the funding into developing simulation based methods of development and improving their windtunnel technology.

This lack of development of their own simulator and windtunnel is now damaging Ferrari chances of winning another championship. The team is simply not able to keep up.

Ferrari themselves now realise this. They used a day of pre season testing this year to give Pedro de la Rosa the chance to get a feeling of their car in order to compare it with their simulator and to help further improvements to it.

De la Rosa was a very specific choice as he spent most of the last decade developing and working on McLaren’s very advanced simulator and therefore will have a firm grounding in how they work and also on how far Ferrari have to go to catch up.

Also last season a vital decision was made. The discovery that the Maranello windtunnel was not giving the results it should led the team to transfer their operations to Toyota’s high-tech windtunnel in Cologne while Ferrari upgraded theirs.

The first benefits of this move will be seen this year as the F138 was conceived and will be developed in that windtunnel.

This acknowledgement of inferiority is a radical shift in attitude that adds up to create a new image for Ferrari, one of the old, aged hero fighting against the advanced newbies, rather than the dominant force of old. And is there not a better man to lead this underdog team, than the ultimate embodiment of tenacity, Fernando Alonso?

If Ferrari are to become world champions this year, a lot of factors need to fall into place. Felipe Massa needs to continue his good run of form seen at the tail end of last season in order to take as many points as possible from their competitors; and the technical team need to finally get some development momentum from their interim windtunnel.

They’re starting from a better place than last year, and we all know how close they were to winning then.

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Pit Stop – Pre-season Testing – By Lewis Brearley

The shrill, bone-shaking, violent roar of a pack of V8 engines splits the peaceful air around the Jerez race circuit. It’s a tradition that signifies one thing: the start of Formula One pre-season testing.

As much as it would be exciting to say otherwise, the first three days of 2013 testing haven’t really given much of an indication of the teams’ performance. A different team topped the timesheets on each of the days and most of the laps were spent testing their new car’s reliability and checking data correlation.

However, by analysing the teams’ new cars and using insight from trackside observers it is already possible to draw a sketchy picture of which teams have started with the strongest foundations.

McLaren set the pace on day one while Romain Grosjean recorded the fastest time on day two for Lotus, and observers noted that these two teams seemed to be the starring performers of the test, just ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull – the usual contenders then.

No midfield teams surprised and caught the attention so the headlines were left all for Mercedes, who suffered the ignominy of completing less than 30 laps in the first two days, after a wiring-loom problem on day one, and a brake related failure the day after both caused the loss of the rest of the day’s running.

Determined to make up for this the team ran Rosberg for a mega 148 lap day behind the wheel. This certainly allowed the team to catch up to the four teams they hope they will be competing for wins with in 2013.

For the answer to that though, we’ll have to wait until Lewis Hamilton steps in the W03. This is the big benchmark for Mercedes as Hamilton is used to a McLaren and will soon be able to tell how far his new team are behind.

This wouldn’t be Formula One without a hint of controversy involving liberal rule interpretations and indeed pre-season was not one day old before teams raised concerns about something. Strangely, it is a back of the grid team which has caused all the fuss.

Teams complained that the Caterham team were running an illegal exhaust system. Rules stipulate that no bodywork may lie within an imaginary cone from the exhaust exits to the centre of the rear wheels; however the CT03 does indeed have a turning vane within that specified area.

James Allison, the Lotus technical director, is one adamant about the legality of the vane. When asked for his comments on rival machinery, he said: “…I saw a detail on the Caterham’s exhaust that I am not sure will survive until Melbourne…”

All this while Fernando Alonso continues physical preparations in the Canary Islands, firm in the knowledge that he has made the right decision to prioritise this over figuring out the dull correlation work that his team are doing.

With only a quarter of pre-season testing completed, there are still many pieces of the puzzle waiting to slot into place.

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