The first week of testing is always a exciting time, both for the teams and interested onlookers keen to take home any crumbs of information that might give an early indication of form. At the same time every single person involved knows that drawing concrete conclusions is completely pointless and often misleading.
So with that in mind let’s take a look at the things we have learned this week.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the new W07 from Brackley was the package of envy up and down the paddock. The team had such ominous confidence in their new car to go straight to long runs with faultless reliability, just like last year. They have had to split the workload on the drivers between the morning and afternoon sessions to prevent fatigue. You have not seen them obliterating the time sheets just yet as they have not needed to show their ultimate pace, not running low fuel or soft tyres in the first week as a result.
One area of interest was their new nose structure, which holds on to the front wing by a tiny portion of the struts. This is designed to push the wing as far forward as possible, minimising the airflow disturbance to the front of the floor and over the rest of the car. It also incorporates their version of the “s-duct”, a device to divert turbulent air from under the nosecone through a tube to create a smooth laminar flow on top of the chassis. Their design is also unique in that it is much longer than seen with other teams, which stretches the S shape. The less acute angles will make their device much more efficient.
The airbox scoop is much larger than last year to incorporate the “ears” either side, and has been divided quite far forward to split the airflow between the cooling of the PU components. This creates a larger frontal profile, but must provide a necessary cooking benefit. The airbox has been tilted rearward slightly to reduce this detrimental effect.
Felipe Massa summed up the situation perfectly “what they’re doing on track definitely shows they’re going to be very, very strong again.” Lewis even had time to zip around the paddock on his motorised unicycle with pooch Roscoe eagerly in tow.
This week Ferrari have demonstrated that they will once again be the strongest hope of taking the fight to Mercedes this year. Noises from the drivers have been cautiously positive, even the usually stoic Kimi has been heard talking in long sentences and rumours of a smile have percolated through the paddock. “It’s where we want it to be, and I’m sure we can improve it some more.” – gushing praise indeed.
There have been some reliability niggles creeping into the Ferrari stable, with some fuel system issues curtailing running. Over the four days they only managed just over half of the total number of laps managed by Mercedes.
The car itself has seen a reasonably large philosophy change. The long platypus nose from last year has been ditched in favour of the ultra short thumb nose as seen on the Williams. This allows a greater mass of clean flowing air over the car that should provide an aerodynamic benefit. They have also returned to push rod front suspension, which makes for easier setup changes without a dramatic increase in drag. Time will tell if this shift in direction provides further upward momentum.
Many believe that Williams have achieved an incredible feat in maintaining third in the constructors championship and without manufacturer backing are realistically unlikely to be able to topple their competitors from Maranello or Brackley. They have been pushing very hard over the winter to keep that position safe from the clutches of Red Bull, Toro Rosso and a resurgent Force India.
The Williams cars struggled in low speed mechanical grip reliant conditions last year, such as slow street circuits and in the rain. Silverstone was a perfect example, where they could battle with the Mercedes in the dry, but as soon as the rain came they tumbled down the order. In an attempt to alleviate these weaknesses, the front suspension mountings have been lowered in to try generate more front end grip, keeping heat in the tyres during low friction running. The rear of the car is much more aggressively packaged this year to clean up the wash produced by the car, making it even more slippery than before. You can still expect them to be topping the speed trap figures again this year.
The drivers have not been as forthcoming with praise for the new car as others have been, possibly reigning in hopes that they can maintain their position until other teams start to show their hand.
At this point last year Force India were in big trouble and many, including myself, had written off their chances of even boarding the plane to Australia. Even so they managed to struggle on with a poorly developed 2015 car (which was essentially an upgraded 2014 chassis) before releasing the b-spec 2015 car half way through the year, at which point their fortunes turned and points came in abundance.
They have made a much better start to 2016, with the new car proving to be reasonably reliable so far and some headline pace from Hulkenberg. However, smaller teams do tend to run lighter and on softer rubber in testing in order to attract interest and sponsorship, but the drivers seem confident. Nico confirmed this feeling by saying “it does feel like we are moving in the right direction. The important thing is that we are getting lots of laps under our belt at this early stage”.
The 2016 car is an evolution of the b-spec car from 2015, rather than a whole new philosophy. Technical director Andrew Green explained this choice by saying “with the regulations likely to change for 2017, it didn’t really seem like an efficient use of our resources to start from scratch on a project that would have such a limited lifetime”. Expect Force India to start the season strongly, but they might reach the end of their development curve earlier than it’s close competitors.
A summary of the rest of the teams from the first week of testing will follow over the weekend.