While the morning may have started out with somewhat temperatures, by 2 p.m. spectators had shed any coats and jackets and the banks of Turn 1 looked like a great place for sunbathing. Fog, which caused helicopter issues and a 40-minute delay in the schedule posed an early wrinkle but the weather cleared for another gorgeous day at the track. The official count for the day was 58,276 fans, somewhat down from 2012’s inaugural year’s first day total of 65,360.
Penalties: A penalty was awarded to Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button during Practice 1; he overtook a car under Red Flags, which earned a three-grid position drop.
Substitutions today included Daniil Kvyat, who made his F1 official race debut in the practice session coming in for Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne. Rodolfo Gonzales, Marussia F1 Team reserve driver, came in for Jules Bianchi.
Fernando Alonso (Scuderia Ferrari) concluded Practice 1 in first position with a best lap time of 1:38.343 after 16 laps at a speed of 201.812 kph (that’s 125.4 mph). To give you an idea of the closeness of the competition in F1, there was a 5.373 second gap between Alonso and the last place driver, Rodolfo Gonzales, Marussia F1 Team, whose time was 1:43.716 at 191.357 kph (118 mph). American darling Alexander Rossi, reserve driver for Caterham F1 Team, clocked in at 19th position with a time of 1:41.399 for 21 laps at 195.729 kph (121.6 mph).
Max Chilton in car 23 for Marussia had to be removed at turn 20 after spinning out in Practice Two; small flames could be seen in the right front wheel. The COTA crew used a fork lift-type crane vehicle to lift the disabled car up off the turn (the crew could be heard over team radio grumbling about the amount of time it took).
The afternoon’s Practice 2 saw Vettel in first (best lap of 1:37.305), Mark Webber from Red Bull Racing) in second, and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) in third—only 0.480 seconds separating first from third.
Rule Changes for 2014
The afternoon news conference lent itself to the more technical side with comments and questions regarding next year’s big rule changes: the new 1.6-liter, turbocharged V6 engine, some alterations to aerodynamics, and more emphasis on energy recovery systems (to name but a few). Adrian Newey, chief technical officer for Red Bull, said that “Movement is the nature of F1” and that there was good strength and depth in the team when asked about the difficulty of continuity in light of the changes. “Watching drivers adapting to a new environment will be something interesting to watch,” remarked Rob White, deputy managing director (technical) for Renault. Nick Chester, Lotus technical director, said that the new rules are “the biggest change in regulations I’ve seen in 20 years in the sport” and Newey went on to explain that drivers “won’t be able to replicate almost a decade of power train knowledge across the teams.” Sam Michael, McLaren’s sporting director, opined that “it’s going to be a development war all the way through the season and probably into the next year as well” with Newey agreeing: “Reliability is going to be quite an issue for the teams, could well be a deciding factor in the Championship.” Paddy Lowe (executive director, Mercedes) showed his technical bent by declaring, “The exciting aspect about next year is that we return to competition amongst engines…so we return to an issue of a campaign not just with the chassis but with the power unit as well, and I think that’s really exciting and a good thing for Formula One.”
The conversation turned to Sebastian Vettel; Newey was asked what qualities made him a champion driver. “Like all the true greats,” he replied, “he has the ability to drive the car and at the same time have enough mental reserve to understand how he’s driving and be able to play that back…He has very good recall…he’s able to play back in his own mind what he’s experienced, digest that. He works hard in the evenings with the engineers, and the result of all that is that when he steps in the car again the next day, he’s learned that little bit more.” When the group was asked if the new technical changes will affect the aesthetics, Lowe lightly responded that “any car that is actually quick tends to start looking good” while James Allison (chassis technical director of Scuderia Ferrari) was a little more reserved: “Hopefully, the beauty is got for free along the way.” Newey pointed out that “regulations have caused some ugly areas,” and in particular, pointed out that the stepped nose could create “some awkward-looking aesthetics.” The conference ended with Michael reminding the group that “F1 teams are quite capable of proving impossible things are possible in that short period of time.”
Tomorrow’s events kick off with COTA’s gates opening at 7:30 a.m. Team pit stop practice starts the day, followed by track inspection and test just prior to Practice 3, which begins at 9 a.m. The real fun starts at noon with the first qualifying session, followed by the first races of the Ferrari Challenge and the Formula Vintage to cap off the day.