Barcelona was the last time Formula 1 cars are driven in anger until Albert Park in around 10 days time, and whilst the past week or so was a case of smoke and mirrors (to be expected) there was quite a lot to be learnt once you dug up under the surface. Some teams struggled, whilst others prospered, and it creates a very interesting picture ahead of the first race of the season. So without further ado, let’s grab a spade and see what we can uncover.
The stand out performers from the second test had to be Mercedes. Yes I will be the first to admit, I was one of the big detractors over the winter period, criticising their management structure and how they were so drastically reorganising the team so close to the start of the season. But if the past few weeks are to go by, the W04 does seem to be a very competent car indeed. Whether showing front running pace for the majority of testing has shown the team’s hand far too soon is another matter, but when Rosberg went 1.6 seconds faster than his Qualifying time last year in Barcelona, it shows progress has been very good over the winter at Brackley.
The car seems incredibly softly sprung (the hydraulic suspension has perhaps finally been nailed) and under the large loads of fast corners, the car was incredibly low to the ground. The redefined (yet cleaner) sculpted sidepods have looked to optimise the exhaust tunnels, and overall the car looks very solid, producing the second highest mileage of any team after two very tricky days at the first test in Jerez. They were very reluctant to try the super soft tyres on runs, unlike many other teams and whether that potentially highlights degradation issues or not is unclear at this point in time (come Oz we will have a much better view on it).
Ferrari have been incredibly busy in Barcelona, they have tried a lot of new bits, and are genuinely feeling a lot more optimistic ahead of the 2013 season. They totally redesigned the profile of the exhaust tunnel (a lot steeper and more aggressive) in a bid to get the exhaust gases hitting the floor at a much faster rate, therefore increasing rear downforce. Alongside a new 7 element front wing and an innovative rear wing featuring clever slats, which increases the operating window of the wing when under high loads. These upgrades seemed to have had a positive effect on both Massa and Alonso, where on the final day of testing the Spaniard was second quickest 0.3 seconds behind the gazelle like W04 of Nico Rosberg.
The Renault powered cars are of big interest to me, especially Williams, RedBull and Lotus. They have all adopted steep ramp like exhaust solutions which feature under tunnel configurations. Whether this ties in with the characteristics of the Renault engine (and potentially the controversial maps) deserves an article on its own, but to me it comes as more than a mere coincidence. Lotus’ biggest problem has been reliability, having lost Kimi Raikkonen for a whole day due to illness and then, once again, the E21 suffered yet more gearbox woes. It is a big shame, as when they have ran consistently the car has looked ridiculously quick (especially on longer runs).
The E21 once again looks very soft in its suspension set up, much like its predecessor, which especially on heavy fuel will mean much better overall tyre wear – hence the ultra consistently quick high fuel runs. There is of course a catch 22 to this, as whilst the softer settings of last season’s E20 made it ultra easy on tyres, it meant the car generally struggled to get heat into its boots over 1 lap, which hampered their qualifying efforts – something which they need to crack come Melbourne in 10 days time.
RedBull are an unknown, the atmosphere has been one of subdued nature, and Sebastian especially, seemed very confused regarding the progress of the RB9. The team has desperately trying to “perfect” the ramp like exhaust, in terms of speeding up the rate at which the hot gases hit the floor and then combine with the airflow going through the “under tunnel”. New front wings have come and gone, and reliability has not been brilliant. For the majority of the days at the second Barcelona test, both Webber and Vettel were not out to set outright laptimes, but to gather as much data as possible regarding new parts.
When they did, for a split second show some speed, the Aussie put RedBull at the top of the timesheets on an unpredictable day one, with a laptime of 1.22.693. But there does seem to be an air of confusion over upgrades to the RB9, with no real direction made by the team – especially when it came to the Periscope DRD the team tested during the week – will it be on the car for Melbourne?
Only one word is needed to assess McLaren’s testing experience Barcelona and that is consistency – or rather the lack of it when it comes to the MP4-29. Both Perez and Button were rather downhearted over the car’s Jekyll and Hyde personality. It seems the operating window for the new car is very narrow (much like Torro Rosso suffered from last year) and it can be ominously quick for one session, and then struggle for balance the following day. Sergio during the final week was quick to announce more set up work was needed to fully understand the cars strengths and get the most out of the much criticised Pirelli rubber.
One of the key aspects they have been rather unsure about is the leading edge sidepod slats, which look to optimise the airflow going over the top of the sidepod and extract extra performance from it. They disappeared at the start of the second Barcelona test, but made a return towards the end of the week – this is an area both Mercedes and RedBull have investigated with Vortex generators.
I am going to end with Torro Rosso , Sauber and Force India. The Torro Rosso team last season did have a very good car; however their operating window when it came to set up was far too narrow, therefore both Ricciardo and Vergne would “disappear” during a race weekend. For 2013, the big improvements were not meant for the car as such but how it reacted to different set-ups for the variety of tracks Formula 1 will visit during the season. It appears to have worked, as especially in the mixed conditions experienced at the start of the week, Jean Eric looked very consistent.
Sauber look steady, they are the most reliable team on the grid, and completed the most mileage of any team in pre season testing. Upgrades such as a new floor and even slimmer sidepods have looked to further enhance the airflow going over the top and around the C32. This potentially means they can play around with wing settings to a much greater degree, as more airflow is hitting the rear of the car due to the incredibly small sidepods. Gutierrez racked up a lot of mileage and Hulkenberg looked consistent over the entire week.
Force India finally secured the services of Adrian Sutil (to the surprise of some) and he looked bang on the pace in his days in the car (P3 on day 3). He and Di Resta look set to be a very reliable pairing, and the VJM06 does appear to be very solid indeed, perhaps being the best example of evolution rather than revolution compared to 2012.
It appears the current strife surrounding VJ Mallya outside of Formula 1 with Kingfisher Airlines, has not affected the team within Formula 1 (something that the team has expressed will always be the case). But due to Sutil being given the race seat, based on cheaper Mercedes engines for 2014, it does question whether Force India will be able to keep up in the development race during 2013 if money dries up from the main investment it has – VJ Mallya
What is a bit of analysis without some predictions so here are my Australian Grand Prix efforts:
Pole Position: Fernando Alonso
Race Winner: Kimi Raikkonen
Podium: 1st Raikkonen, 2nd Jenson Button, 3rd Sebastian Vettel
Feel free to post yours below and thank you for reading.
Guest Writer – James Parker
James Parker is someone I’ve met on twitter. James describes himself as follows, “Formula 1 Fan, Head of Business Development/Social Media at @F1Merchandise, GPM blog. Contribute to @F1plus @F1InPubs and @SpeedMonkeycouk. Petrol runs in me.