I didn’t think that anything could top last season, with the championship decided in the final corners and many races where most of the field was separated by a second, but talking to the teams, the feeling is that it’s going to be very close again this year, despite the massive rule changes, which normally spread the field out.
The recent Bahrain test showed that Toyota and BMW are closer that expected to Ferrari at this stage of the game and the Toyota looks to be pretty reliable as well as fast. Meanwhile Ferrari and McLaren have also been paying close attention to the lap times being set by Red Bull and Williams.
I’m going to the Barcelona test in the second week of March to get a closer look for myself, but it seems amazing to me that in a year when the rules have been changed so dramatically and with the introduction of KERS, the cars should be so close to each other on performance.
And remember that it’s not as if Ferrari are going to do a final test at Imola where they bolt on some new Bridgestone tyres and suddenly go half a second faster ( as they did before the start of the 2004 season). There is a lot of development to go on once the season starts and it will probably by there that McLaren and Ferrari edge ahead, although you’d have to say that last year Renault made some pretty dramatic improvements over the season.
Toyota has put a lot of emphasis on making sure that the rear tyres last over race stints and they seem to have succeeded in this. Their weakness in recent times was the car’s inability to handle bumps. I’ll be interested to see if they have changed the DNA there.
The FIA’s dream is that KERS is the deciding factor in performance terms and that this will drive a development battle on regenerative technology. Toyota is not running KERS at the start of the season, and BMW, like many others, is keeping its options open, but some positive noises on KERS have been coming out of Ferrari and McLaren after the most recent tests. If they can get the system working well enough that the performance gain outweighs the disadvantage of weight and braking difficulties, then they will get an advantage from it.
In the early days of development, most teams worked out that KERS was going to cost lap time, not gain it, but I’m starting to sense with the top two that they are starting to believe it could be a net gain.