Of Ricciardo, rookies and rubber

What did the three-day Silverstone Young Driver Test tell us about tyres, tyros or transfers?
Antonio Felix da Costa gets into the zone
Antonio Felix da Costa gets into the zone © Mark Thompson/Getty Images
By Justin Hynes

So after thousands of kilometres and 224 sets of Pirelli’s new tyres, hundreds of excited yelps from a litter of young pups making their F1 debut and all the fuss and bother surrounding Daniel Ricciardo’s outing for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, what have we learned?

Well, just as pre-season testing is notorious for providing snippets of info that, like a Polaroid jigsaw puzzle, are stuck together and then a proper picture emerges in Melbourne, so this week’s tyre test provided clues, but it’s only in Hungary that anything like a real portrait of how the new rubber has affected the pecking order will appear.

While a lot of the race drivers were cagey about the tyres – Sebastian Vettel simply saying “not much difference” – others were slightly more forthcoming.

Pastor Maldonado reckoned the new rubber "is an improvement in terms of reliability and performance. They are very consistent.”

Giedo Van der Garde agreed, saying: “The main thing was finding out how much more consistent the tyre drop-off was on the new sets Pirelli brought – it should mean we can push harder in the races.”

So there you have it – slower degradation, less acute drop-off and more consistency, things that should help, well, everyone really! Ultimately, it was left to Nico Hulkenberg to articulate that old, but sadly true, testing adage: "I think we really have to start a race weekend and see how it develops.”

Daniel Ricciardo gets comfortable
Daniel Ricciardo gets comfortable © Mark Thompson/Getty Images

On to Ricciardo? Anything to divine from his run in the RB9? Well, yes, but the major revelation that Jean Eric-Vergne is now out of the running for Mark Webber’s seat came as soon as the announcement that Daniel would test was made.

As for his time in the RB9, it was no less than anyone expected. Daniel’s been working with Infiniti Red Bull Racing since he was a teenager, he understood what was required of him and delivered his usual pace and what Race Engineering Co-ordinator Andy Damerum called “exemplary feedback”.

What about the new kids? In short, there was a lot of happy sounds that didn’t signify much. Tio Ellinas reckoned his run for Marussia was the “the best day of his life”, James Calado was “over the moon” at Force India, while Carlos Sainz Jr branded his day in the STR8 and RB9 as like “winning the lottery”.

Carlos Sainz Jr has "won the lottery"
Carlos Sainz Jr has "won the lottery" © Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The Spaniard surprised a few people, however. Sainz’s performances in GP3 have been erratic but on Friday the 18-year-old not only set respectable and consistent times but earned praise from Damerum for his pace and “exceptional feedback for someone of his experience”.

Elsewhere the ‘drivers most likely’ showed why they are such. Formula Renault 3.5 title challenger Kevin Magnussen comfortably topped the Day 1 timesheet for McLaren, António Félix da Costa was always towards the front of the pack on Day 1 and during his curtailed morning session on Day 2 and Daniel Juncadella looked good on Day 2 for Williams.

However, just as a pecking order is impossible to define in pre-season testing due to differing fuel loads, imperatives and targets, so too it was impossible to ascribe true pace to any of the rookies on show. Only the teams who ran them will have a clear idea of whether they’ve got a good ’un or not. The rest of us will just have to wait and see.

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