Kevin Magnussen (who?), reigning Formula Renault 3.5 (what?) champion today recorded the two fastest times of the new F1 hybrid era (eh?). We kid. We’re fully aware of just who McLaren’s rookie is and how he’s proved over the last eight seasons. We’re just blown away that a man (just, he turned 21 last year), can climb aboard a brand new F1 car for only the second time (McLaren nominated him to test the MP4-27, its last great car in 2012) and go faster than Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who both looked to be have been really trying today.
Magnussen is clearly a class act, or maybe it’s the MP4-29. Most likely it’s both as Jenson Button (above) was comfortably quickest this morning before handing over to his new team mate. The two split the day because McLaren, you will recall, could not even get the MP4-29 started on the first day of the test on Tuesday.
That come Wednesday, one day later, they were topping the time sheets must have given Red Bull some hope after they’d sent Sebastian Vettel home after the new RB10 apparently cooked some vital components. Today was to be a new day, a new dawn and a new driver, Daniel Ricciardo, graduate from the Toro Rosso School of Future Champions. Only it wasn’t to be. Ricciardo managed even fewer laps than Vettel, just three all day. Vettel managed eight yesterday, three on Tuesday. So that’s 14 for the RB10 for the entire week. Mercedes have managed 167, Ferrari 136 and McLaren 135.
You would never, ever write off Red Bull, but the fact that Christian Horner and Adrian Newey took the same midday bus away from the circuit as Vettel yesterday does rather suggest the team is beginning to lose faith there is an easy fix. Ricciardo abandoned his third run in a similar cloud of smoke, as did Vettel. The gossip is already suggesting Renault are accusing Newey of pushing the package, especially of the electronics and the considerably larger battery. History however would suggest Newey will win out here.
How to react to Red Bull’s travails? It would be wrong to write them off, but they have clearly slipped up. F1 is a team sport, everyone needs to deliver all the time and someone, somewhere isn’t. It matters because there is so much still to learn about these cars, setting them up, making the systems talk to each other, driving them…. Some of the drivers are already clearly starting to lean on their cars, but there’s still so much to learn about racing them. Red Bull and its drivers have already lost 25 per cent of the time they have to get to the know the RB10 V6 hybrid before the start of the season.
So will this year’s title chase be all about McLaren and Mercedes with Ferrari in pursuit? Seemingly not. Between Magnussen (fastest) and Lewis (third fastest) was Felipe Massa in the Williams, another team running a Mercedes engine this year. You will recall Valtteri Bottas was third fastest in the Williams yesterday.
Oh, it’s just testing, but it does mean rather more this year as there are clearly three levels here — just getting it started, making it run reliably and then getting a move on. Some are more ready for stage three than others, we love this quote from Lewis, spoken to F1 specialists Autosport:
“It has probably been the shortest winter I have ever had out of the car. I spent Christmas and New Year training in the mountains and I even put a turbo on my snowmobile, so that I could get used to the feel of a vehicle delivering power in that way, which was pretty awesome.”