Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The second winter testing at Barcelona has been done. The picture has gotten clearer although that would be an understatement. As with all F1 testing, different teams have different programs, run different fuel loads at different times with different tires, use different setups, etc. But does that put us F1 fans off trying to understand the order and trying to forecast who is strong and who has the fastest car? Of course not! It just makes us speculate more, forecast, argue and strengthen our opinions of our own favorite drivers and teams.

I'm just like any other F1 fan out there, I'd like to know that my chosen driver and team has got it right. Has got the strongest package, are doing the right things, have the opportunity to test all their theories correctly on the track and dominate long and short runs, low and high fuel loads, hot or cold temperatures, maintain an even pace when the tires drop off. But, we have to be realistic. And base it on facts.

And the fact is, Barcelona was cold, very cold which does not represent most track conditions throughout the season. And on the last day it rained with some hail even. Temperatures were reported at around 6c even. Of course the teams got some good data on wet and cold conditions but a lot of points are going to be fought over in hot track conditions. So hopefully, this week at the third test at the same track, we'll have some nice dry and sunny weather.

Well, at least I know Lewis Hamilton is still good in wet and cold conditions as he set the fastest time on the last day (which was wet and cold). See what I mean by us fans wanting or just seeing what we want to?

So, since we are going to look at the tests from a more informed angle, where do we start and what do we look at? Well, for me there are a few areas we should look at but the most important are:

1. Short runs with tires used
2. Long runs with tires used and the consistency

Short Runs

Short runs tends to tell you how fast the car is on low fuel, which would indicate a qualifying lap. This also tells you which lap the car is able to set the qualifying lap i.e. 1st, 2nd or 3rd and so on. How long the car takes to warm up the tires and get that lap in or how many laps it has before the opportunity slips away as the tires (especially the supersoft or soft) will drop off the cliff after a few laps.

This year we're learning that the tires are dropping of quite aggressively and only gives their best performance in very little laps i.e. 1 or 2. Sergio Perez of McLaren puts it right on the jaw:
“It’s extreme. The degradation is very difficult. It’s a big surprise. Normally in winter testing we see a lot of degradation, but never this much. We are going to have a race here so it’s a bit of a worry. But we are still learning about the tyres and I think once we go racing I hope things will change. I definitely hope it changes, because if we are in this situation in Melbourne we are going to see something like seven or 10 stops."
7 or 10 stops in 1 race? That is a bit extreme then Perez. Maybe 4 or 5 looks more like it if it was based on the results so far.

It has been frequently mentioned that the new tires are degrading at a quicker rate than last year. However, as JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan hinted earlier in the week, Pirelli believes that the tires are graining due to the cold track temperatures and believe that once they move to the warmer climates of the season, the tires will be fine once in their operating range. Paul Hembery of Pirelli has this to say:
"The conditions we had in Barcelona are far from typical of the rest of the season, with much cooler ambient and track temperatures than we would normally race in, and even some rain on the final day. This put the tires outside of their usual working ranges, which led to problems such as graining. The conditions were particularly unsuited to the supersoft tire, due to the circuit layout and the roughness of the surface in addition to the cold temperatures.
Coupled with the fact that teams are still making big set-up adjustments to their new cars and trying out our complete range of our tires to optimise the package, we saw levels of degradation that are not typical. Once we get to Melbourne the tyres should be much more within their intended working range, which will eliminate the unusual amount of degradation that some teams have experienced."
Long Runs

Long runs are more interesting. Most people tend to look at the times for the day and make some sort of conclusion that "that car is fast" or "that car has a problem" or whatever. But the races are long where a car needs to last for 50 to 60 laps. So, how a car manages it's tires and how consistently it can maintain the lap times over those 50 or 60 laps is crucial.

We've seen some teams managing quite well on the harder compounds on long runs. So even if they did not set eye popping times at the end of the day, they are quietly showing that they can sustain a long run well which bodes well for races. One example is Mercedes on day 2 with Lewis Hamilton setting the 4th fastest time on the hard tire at the start of a long run with the 3 other drivers in front of him setting better times but on softer tires than him. As James Allen puts it:
"Perez and Vettel both set their times during a one-lap run on the soft tyre, before switching their attentions to extended stints in the afternoon. Whilst Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton behind set their fastest laps on the medium and hard compound respectively, with Hamilton’s lap in particular likely to make the other teams raise an eyebrow as it was set during an eight lap run."
Mercedes (and Lewis Hamilton fans) will be encouraged by the pace and tire management shown by the W04 compared to the previous 3 years when the Mercedes car just seem to chew up its tires easily. Again James Allen makes this point clear on day 3:
"It seems at this point, when comparing long runs on the same tyre, that Mercedes and Lotus are very closely matched. Rosberg looked to be running faster during their stints but Grosjean had a heavier fuel load as he completed his race simulation in the afternoon. When Grosjean came to the final stint of his race sim, and with a lower fuel load, his pace matched that of Rosberg earlier in the day.
That will be pleasing for Mercedes as the W04 has got to grips with this years Pirellis better than it has in the previous two years and they can compete with Lotus, who were particularly good at making their tyres last in 2012."
And the long run form seems to continue even in wet conditions of the 4th day when Hamilton set the fastest time on a sixteen lap run on medium tires, he set his fastest time at the beginning of that lengthy stint. So, yes tests don't reveal much and all drivers and teams like to repeat that. In a way they don't want to show their hands yet and they are always playing minds games with their competition but as fans we know that some things do reveal something.

Consistency is crucial to winning a race and that extends to consistency in development throughout a season in order to win the championship. For a more detailed explanation of the consistency recorded at Barcelona last week, have a look at James Allens' analysis here with the help of former Williams technical director Mark Gillan. The charts they have put up shows what I mean.

Following are the times for all days and the combined times for the whole test. Look at the times, the gaps between drivers, the tires used and the weather when it was set. You may be able to glean some informed conclusion from it but beware that your conclusion will be clouded by your support for a particular driver or team. Of course the point is to realise a car/driver combo is fast or strong even if it is not your preferred driver/car.

This week we will see more clearly as this will be the final test before the first race and everybody will have to test their Melbourne spec cars, as Eric Boullier puts it:
"It's just testing and I know at the next test everybody is going to bring their Melbourne spec [cars], so we will see next weekend how it's going and then you can start to draw some conclusions. But at the end we'll see in Melbourne."
Day 1

RosbergMercedesM541:22.616126.044 mph
VettelRed BullM661:22.9650.349
RicciardoToro RossoH731:23.8841.268
Di RestaForce IndiaM821:24.1441.528

Day 2

PerezMcLarenS971:21.848127.226 mph
VettelRed BullS841:22.1970.349
RicciardoToro RossoM701:23.7181.870
Di RestaForce IndiaM621:23.9712.123

Day 3

AlonsoFerrariS971:21.875127.184 mph
SutilForce IndiaS781:22.8771.002
WebberRed BullM1081:23.0241.149
VergneToro RossoS1061:23.3661.491
Van der GardeCaterhamS931:26.1774.302

Day 4

HamiltonMercedesM521:23.282125.036 mph
VergneToro RossoS801:24.0710.789
BianchiForce IndiaM611:25.7322.450
Van der GardeCaterhamM501:27.4294.147
WebberRed BullM641:27.6164.334

Combined Times

20-FebPerezMcLarenS1:21.848127.226 mph
20-FebVettelRed BullS1:22.1970.349
21-FebSutilForce IndiaS1:22.8771.029
21-FebWebberRed BullM1:23.0241.176
21-FebVergneToro RossoS1:23.3661.518
20-FebRicciardoToro RossoM1:23.7181.870
20-FebDi RestaForce IndiaM1:23.9712.123
22-FebBianchiForce IndiaM1:25.7323.884
21-FebVan der GardeCaterhamS1:26.1774.329

If you enjoyed this posting, please do share it with your network so more people can enjoy it as well. Also, check out my t-shirt designs for Formula 1 fanatics, click on image.

No comments: