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JA at the Barcelona test – Day One
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JA at the Barcelona test – Day One
Posted By:   |  09 Mar 2009   |  6:58 pm GMT  |  25 comments

After several months of not hearing and seeing racing cars it was fabulous to come to the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona today and get up close to the 2009 cars.

At the end of the day, all the drivers lined up for practice starts on the main straight and I could feel my heart thumping the inside of my rib cage, just as it was when the last engine was switched off in the pit lane in Brazil last November.

All the teams are here and, although the 2009 cars take some getting used to with their ungainly front wings and tiny little rear wings, they are starting to grow on me.

It’s an important week for all the teams. Some like BMW, Ferrari and Toyota, have already done the bulk of their days of testing and for them this represents a final dress rehearsal before Melbourne. The race team mechanics are here, they’ve got their fireproof suits on and they are practising pit stops and sharpening up for the new season. Others, like McLaren, Renault and Williams have another few days after this in Jerez to bring some new parts to the car and find a bit more performance.

As the teams are at different stages of their plans, so some are trying qualifying and low fuel simulations, whereas others are running heavier. I think the times are closer in reality than they appear on the chart below. It’s not yet clear exactly what the pecking order is, but from what I’m seeing here with my own eyes, BMW and Toyota start out as the teams nibbling at Ferrari’s heels. It’s very close between them all and perhaps it’s no coincidence that those are the three teams who were testing in Bahrain where, sandstorms apart, they did some useful work.

Toyota keep bringing new things to the car at every test and improving it. The team was trying a new front wing today and this looks like it could be the year of the breakthrough win for the team (see separate post). Meanwhile Renault seems to be catching up after a tricky start, which was no doubt due to the channeling of efforts into their 2008 car right to the end of the season, whereas BMW in particular threw their effort into 2009.

McLaren have some problems, that is very clear. It’s in the rear of the car, either the rear wing, or possibly the diffuser, which is causing the back of the car to be unstable and is causing quite high tyre wear. The fact that they keep changing the rear wing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the rear wing that is the problem. It could be the diffuser as problems there can sometimes be sorted by changing the rear wing. Either way, it looks like it’s not a simple problem, more like a series of things, which makes it harder to identify and to fix. They are going to have to work hard to get the car up to speed for the start of the season. Can you imagine if they were the third fastest Mercedes-powered team at the first race?

BARCELONA TEST DAY 1 – TIMES

1. HEIDFELD -BMW 1’20.338
2. RAIKKONEN – FERRARI 1’20.908
3. TRULLI -TOYOTA 1’20.937
4. BUTTON -BRAWN 1’21.140
5. PIQUET -RENAULT 1’21.662
6. BOURDAIS -TORO ROSSO 1’22.158
7. WEBBER -RED BULL 1’22.246
8. SUTIL -FORCE INDIA 1’22.452
9. NAKAJIMA -WILLIAMS 1’22.813
10. KOVALAINEN – MCLAREN 1’22.948

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25 Comments
  1. Eric says:

    Yes I can certainly imagine that if they have gotten it entirely wrong and it is not a simple fix. I also can see them remaining the third fastest Mercedes team for the duration of the season.

    2009 is not a good year to be having problems correlating the mathematical CFD and wind tunnel models to real-world performance due to the severe reduction in testing. I can see McLaren taking all year to get on top of their problems – which could be the sensible thing to do if they have correlation problems. Therefore I reckon they will focus on 2010…that is, if it’s not a simple fix.

    Thanks for the insight James as, to my knowledge, this has largely been unreported.

  2. lower-case david says:

    as for mclaren: they started to turn the handle this afternoon, if the theory of them playing it all ice-cold and frosty is true, we will suddenly start to see a lot more new shapes on the car in the next few days.

    coupla minor front wing tweaks, a new exhaust section and a radical big ‘ol cut-out floor already this afternoon … looks like this year for mclaren is a big bet on diffuser theory and mathematics.
    if they can run with just a tricked-out diffuser and smart multi-element front wing providing the downforce, and everything else on the car tasked with keeping out the way and reducing drag, well it might just work.

    you don’t knock up a new floor like that in a hurry or in a panic, that has been cooking for a while. they’ve done their 2010 tyre testing, and there’s a suggestion they’ve even had a try out of the monaco-spec front-wing on the car last week. they’ve even been fiddling about with tiny edge deflectors on the front-wing end-plates … who knows, but not exactly the actions of a team all at sea with a fundamentally borked car design.

    if the computers insist that they can get 2008 levels of rear downforce when it’s ultimately all bolted together in a coupla days (or even leaving it to jerez, zoiks), and all the flow-viz agreed with the CFD, then it puts all that 08 wing running in a slightly different perspective.

  3. Thanks for all that information James. Looks like you have been very busy today. You can’t keep your fingers off the keyboard.

    I am quite worried about Mclaren’s form as a big fan of theirs. Hopefully they can get it sorted in time for Melbourne. At least they have another 3 days of testing time in Jerez before the season starts.

    Testing has been really interesting so far this season. To me Toyota look like the best all round package so far. It’s got the speed, the consistency and reliability. It’s achilles heel could end up being that they don’t start the season with KERs. But on the other hand that could become a positive if the teams starting the season with KERs have problems.

    On the subject of race starts, I was thinking earlier. At the starts are we going to see all the KERs teams shooting off like rockets off the grid? There is potential for a bit of a mess if thats the case with half the cars using the boost at the start and others not having it.

  4. Tom says:

    Nicely put, it’s the first time we have a second Mercedes-powered team, let alone a third!

    Will that be an issue for McLaren at all – their engine partner going from one team to three?

  5. Aaron James says:

    Thanks so very much for the recap James. I have to say in the space of a few months you’ve managed to provide an authoritative source of news to rival Autosport (no mean feat) and commentary to rival Ed Gorman at The Times.

    You gotta figure out a way to monetise this somehow, I’m sure it wont be easy, but if you can figure it out, I think us fans will be the better for it, and no doubt you’ll be able to continue to indulge us with your obvious passion.

    What I find somewhat ironic is that behind the mic you were a particularly divisive figure for hardcore fans. And now, arguably, they’re almost without qualification among the most ardent fans of this blog/news service.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thank-you for your words and insight here, content you give away for free. I hope you can find someway to spin some pounds out of it so long may it continue!

  6. Eric says:

    That’s an interesting theory david. I don’t agree with it as I don’t believe McLaren would spend that amount of time testing with a car setup which wasn’t close to their 2009 specification when they could be focusing on making the car go faster. I could be wrong.

  7. Matthew says:

    Thanks for your information James! I am just curious to know that who you think will be WDC this year?

  8. All the teams are here and, although the 2009 cars take some getting used to with their ungainly front wings and tiny little rear wings, they are starting to grow on me.

    I have to say, I’m still not there yet, and 20 of the things hurtling towards the first corner at Melbourne is going to look a bit silly I think…

  9. guy says:

    Great stuff James – thank you. I am v depressed about mclaren – you’ve been going to these tests for many years now, therefore what is your feeling? Are mclaren worried or not?

  10. Peter says:

    Somehow I have a similar view on Macca as David, they are playing poker and slowly showing their cards after some bluffing. In my view they are just making the pre-show more exciting, either way.

  11. Kevin M says:

    Hi James,

    Do you know at this stage who is and who isn’t running KERS? I know Force India have suggested they won’t be using it in the first couple of races. Are there likely to be quite a few teams in the same boat?

  12. James Allen says:

    JA writes: In answer to Matthew, I cannot say yet, but I fancy Kubica to win Melbourne. Massa and Kubica and Alonso will be there or there abouts championship wise. Kimi and Lewis? Time will tell. I don’t think McLaren are bluffing, but neither do I think they are doomed!

  13. James Allen says:

    In answer to Phil, that is not true. They can use KERS at the start and it will be worth about 70 metres compared to a non-KERS car, but it only kicks in once the car reaches 100km/h, which with these things is about 2 seconds after launch!

    In answer to Aaron, don’t know what you mean by ‘divisive’ in that context, but glad to hear you like it and please make sure to spread the word.

  14. JEFF says:

    i read somewhere that the mclaren sandbagging theory was given a boost by kovy being observed to “back off” regularly at barcelona on monday.
    my feeling is, that mclaren do have rear end issues, and they do have tyre wear issues…but, they arnt as slow as the head line times makes them appear.
    Kovy is the one suffering bad rear tyre wear, and i think the observation of him backing off is more to do with being told by the team to watch his tyres…. kovy dosnt seem to have anything inbetween full chaff, and cruising.
    i think in the hands of lewis, the car will be a little off the ultimate pace, but in the chasing pack.

    btw, i agree with the positive comments about james blog…it is a good read

  15. Raz says:

    Not to lower the tone or anything but, I like many ‘conspiracy theorist’ believe that Mclaren of 2008 was essentially an “upgraded” 2007 car, and because of all the stolen Ferrari data etc.. haven’t actually built a half decent car on their own.. to back this up, look back at 2006? they went winless, and when it came to 2007 they adopted a bit too quickly from the michelins to the bridgestones – it took Renault 1 and a half seasons!

    Also do you think they spent alot more resources last year to secure Lewis’ title that they got the balance of development wrong, and since there is an In-Season testing ban they’ve kinda shot themselves in the foot with the development schedule?

  16. Ben G says:

    I love the reports from the tests – it sounds like one of the best ways to get up close to F1.

    So what’s it worth to get a press pass for the next one, as James’ “assistant”? I’d happily fork out for the chance to blag my way along the pitlane!

  17. Chaz says:

    The McLaren issue is beginning to concern me deeply and I really hope they can sort things before Oz as it will be a shame to see Lewis languishing. I’m also wondering if Lewis’s relative set-up inexperience will play against him…

  18. Beflox says:

    This happens every winter test to an extent, but this year seems even more so : almost every team looks good, in their own way.

    If we talk about any team individually (except McLaren it seems) they all seem to be doing better than was expected, and many people around them are suggesting that this could be “their” year. It’s such a great situation to be in after such a big rule change … perhaps trying to work out which team are going to be at the back of the grid will be a simpler task … (although, I would have said Force India, but even they, it appears, are planning on moving up the grid next year.) Hmmm

  19. john g says:

    interesting BMW topping the time sheets, they don’t normally go for the quick runs in testing, unless they were doing some sort of qualy simulation…

    great for honda to be so competitive straight out of the box, right into the middle of a pack of cars that have been out testing on the road for the last 2 months!

    there has to be concern over mclaren though. looking at their car, it appears to be exquisitely detailed compared to some others, and you’d never have expected such a strong team to suddenly struggle like this, but i have to say, it doesn’t look good at the moment. could be an interesting year for hamilton, having declared his marriage to mclaren but yet to suffer an uncompetitive car…

  20. Aaron James says:

    James, by divisive I mean hardcore fans either liked you a lot or not much at all. There was little middle ground. Much of that had to do with the fact that at ITV you had to cater for a wide range of fans and I think that made many of the most passionate fans feel as if they were being treated a little bit like idiots (e.g. the nth explanation of the qualifying format, or trying to create drama in the dying stages of a race when it is clear from the online timing screens the race is finished – bar catastrophic misfortune).

    Another example is when you recently said you often knew more than you gave away about the fuel loads but didn’t want to let on. To the casual viewer that might make sense, but the hardcore fan spends obscene amounts of effort trying to figure out the fuel-loads in advance and analyzing every piece of data they can get their hands on. Those kind of fans want to know fuel loads, it helps them enjoy the race more since they can make sense of the online lap times and what it means to the strategy.

    But here, you can more readily cater for those kind of fans without alienating the more casual ones that will no doubt slowly find their way here.

    Like I said this is a fantastic resource you’re giving us fans, and I hope you can make some money out of it :) [ New season, new rules. And that goes for JA as well. Glad you are enjoying the blog - Moderator ]

  21. brownboy says:

    i remember wen the mp4-24 was lauched ron said there will be loads of sand bagging is that anything to do with the testing i wonder?

  22. Phil says:

    Teams aren’t allowed to use KERS at the race start, so that eventuality was obviously thought of by the rulemakers!

  23. lower-case david says:

    not quite … by rule teams aren’t allow to use KERS at less than 100kph.
    off the line, lack of horsepower isn’t the problem, it’s lack of traction – you wouldn’t use boost off the start even if you could … but it doesn’t take an f1 car long to reach 100kph, and in the crucial pick-up phase of the start with the tyres rotating nicely, that’s where you’ll want the juice.

    the run down to the first corner, if half the pack start KERSing and others can’t, then it’s gonna get messy in the braking zone. add the big wide front wings and if you’re a marshall after an easy shift, i’ll tell you exactly where not to stand.

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