On an interesting day’s running in the third official test at Barcelona, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull again came out on top and main rival Fernando Alonso was forced to admit that the world champion team look like they will start the season with an advantage.
Vettel did a series of short runs culminating in a lap of 1m23.315s, which is 2.7s slower than the pace set in similar circumstances last February on day two of the Barcelona test – a combination of downforce lost from the double diffuser and the relative pace of Pirelli tyres compared to Bridgestones.
Once again the Toro Rosso showed some good pace, illustrating that although they are building their own car for the second year, the Red Bull sister team has been able to raise its technical level from last season. The runs were short, but so were Red Bull’s.
Ferrari lost some time today, for once, with electrical and other problems. But they still managed to cover 90 laps. New technical second in command Pat Fry said today that he’s delighted with the way the new Ferrari has been running and with how gentle it is on its tyres, but added that it’s harder to judge than last year where each team is in performance terms because not only of the fuel weight range but also the KERS and adjustable rear wing deployment. “The lap time can vary by seven tenths to a whole second depending on whether you use it all or not.”
He reiterated that success this season will be as much about making the fewest mistakes as it will be about sheer performance. He also talked up Barcelona as an ideal test venue for showing up the positives and negatives in a car, mentioning cheekily that it was there in 2009 when his former team McLaren realised that they had a serious problem with their car…
Alonso is in expectation management mode and said that the Red Bull has the performance edge, “We all know that Red Bull should be ahead of everybody, so we expect Red Bull to be very competitive. But it will be two or three races before we can say for sure. There is a lot to come from Ferrari as well.”
This is not surprising given were they were last season and where their 2009 car was relative to the rest before everyone was forced to adapt their cars to run double diffusers, which have now been banned. But as Williams’ Sam Michael told us last week, all the new rules for this year will also mean that the development rate will be higher than usual as the best teams extract the maximum from the new components. He believes we will see over a second of lap time gain during the season, so there is plenty to play for among the top teams. Red Bull, however, showed last year that their production facilities are able to keep pace with to anything Ferrari and McLaren come up with in development terms.
While Ferrari continues to put miles on its car, McLaren has been having some issues with its new car, which was launched a week later than its rivals and therefore missed the Valencia test. Jenson Button did only 54 laps today and spent much of the morning not running as the car had hydraulic issues and he admits that the team is a little behind at this stage, “We’re not doing as many laps as we’d like, so we’re a little behind some of the other teams, which is a bit of a disadvantage, but that’s something we’re addressing,” he said. “Over the next two days, hopefully our reliability will be better, and we’ll be fully equipped with spare parts.”
McLaren will be most anxious to secure a fourth official test to replace the Bahrain test in early March. It must now be considered most unlikely that either the test or the race in Bahrain will take place. A fifth test in mid March is a possibility in the event that the first race is cancelled.
Renault gave both its drivers time in the car today. Petrov had a troubled Friday losing time with issues on the KERS system. Mercedes continue their uncertain form, the day after Michael Schumacher said he felt they might win races this season but that the championship looked a tall order. Rosberg did a 1m 24.7s lap on a short run.
Tonio Liuzzi took the wheel of the 2010 HRT car for the first time today. The Italian covered 70 laps in total as he auditions for the final seat on the F1 grid.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 2
1. Vettel Red Bull 1m23.315s 104 laps
2. Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m23.519s + 0.204 97 laps
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m23.978s + 0.663 90 laps
4. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m24.008s + 0.693 118 laps
5. Heidfeld Renault 1m24.242s + 0.927 41 laps
6. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.243s + 0.928 125 laps
7. Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.730s + 1.415 131 laps
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.923s + 1.608 54 laps
9. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m25.194s + 1.879 80 laps
10. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m26.421s + 3.106 58 laps
11. Petrov Renault 1m26.884s + 3.569 61 laps
12. Liuzzi HRT-Coswrorth 1m27.044s + 3.729 70 laps
13. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.242s + 3.927 66 laps
14. Teixeira Lotus-Renault 1m31.584s + 8.269 26 laps