Today was the final day of the test at Barcelona, a momentous day with the announcement that the first race of the season in Bahrain has been cancelled. This means that the F1 teams will be back here for a further test on 8th March, which replaces the one scheduled for Bahrain.
The Ferrari is a good car, there’s no doubt about that, close to the pace of the Red Bull, but we haven’t really seen what the Red Bull can do fully extended on a qualifying run. It seems as though the two cars are reasonably close on race pace in long runs, but the feeling from engineers I’ve spoken to is that the Red Bull is probably around 4/10ths faster than the Ferrari at this stage, which is quite a bit.
But a lot can change, as we saw last year, with development. Ferrari need to keep the pressure up on that front and they need to innovate. As we have seen all winter, they are setting a lot of store by the way they go racing, the strategy decisions Pat Fry and Neil Martin will take and so on. By making fewer mistakes than the opposition they can gain a lot, even if they don’t have the outright fastest car. And in Fernando Alonso they have the strongest driver in the field over a race distance. They will keep Red Bull honest all year.
The postponement of the first race is potentially good news for McLaren, who have a problematic car at the moment and they need more time to sort it out. It’s not as big a drama as 2009, where the car had some fundamental aerodynamic issues, but the car is complex, loaded with technology and clearly has handling issues. Also it seems as though Lewis Hamilton is eating up the tyres more quickly than many drivers and is getting frustrated by that.
Today he was unable to get on the throttle through Turns 11 and 12, for example, losing tons of time in the process. Tyre management is going to be vital this season, which is more of a Jenson Button strength than a Hamilton one.
I had a long chat with Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery today. Pirelli have come in for some stick for the way the tyres are degrading, but he argues that this has a lot to do with them being designed for a higher working range of temperature. If the Spanish GP were held today, for example, it would be at least a three if not four stop race. However Hembery believes that when the race is held here in May in warmer conditions it will be a two stop race.
There has been a lot of talk about the way the track doesn’t rubber in with these tyres. That is due to a treatment they use on the tyre related to increasing the working range. Again it’s not something that will stay that way for ever.
I noticed when cars came in to the pits from long runs a build up of ‘marbles’ on the floor of the car just ahead of the rear wheels. Again this effect is due to the tyres chunking in the low temperatures and again Pirelli say it will be better in a higher temperature range. That’s why the loss of Bahrain test is a blow to them, as they were hoping for validation of their theory.
Currently the gap between the supersoft and the medium tyres is too great, which would make qualifying and races very interesting and would put pressure on the leading teams in the early stages of qualifying, if the smaller teams all ran the supersoft, to do the same. The supersoft tyres also don’t last very long. Pirelli are going to have to do some more work on the super soft, but they’ve bought themselves the time to do that by announcing that the tyre will not be used before the start of May at the earliest.
The performance gap between the soft and the hard, which they will use in the opening races, is around 8/10ths of a second. In these cool conditions the soft lasts around 12 laps, the hard around 20-22 laps. Being able to do the extra odd lap here or there is absolutely critical to race strategy as if you cannot eke the tyre out you might be forced to stop four times in the race, which loses you 25 seconds and could be the difference between finishing fourth and ninth, for example.
The major update kits the teams had planned for Bahrain test will be brought here on March 8th and we will see the picture change a little in some respects. Mercedes are staking a lot on their update kit and believe they will move forward. They are just behind Renault at the moment in the pecking order, but they have stronger drivers. Williams is stronger than last year, as is Toro Rosso, which has a very nice car.
Sauber has benefitted from taking not just the Ferrari engine and gearbox, but also the hydraulics and rear suspension this year and from a solid aero programme laid out last summer by James Key, the technical director. These midfield teams moving forward means that Force India is under a bit of pressure and could start the season just behind them. Lotus appears to have gained about a second relative to the field and is closer to the midfield teams, while Virgin doesn’t appear to have closed the gap by much.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 4
1. Massa Ferrari 1m22.625s 121 laps
2. Webber Red Bull 1m23.442s + 0.817 69 laps
3. Buemi Toro Rosso 1m23.550s + 0.925 90 laps
4. Heidfeld Renault 1m23.657s + 1.032 95 laps
5. Hamilton McLaren 1m24.003s + 1.378 107 laps
6. Maldonado Williams 1m24.057s + 1.432 121 laps
7. Sutil Force India 1m24.177s + 1.552 64 laps
8. Perez Sauber 1m24.515s + 1.890 74 laps
9. D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m26.501s + 3.876 50 laps
10. Schumacher Mercedes 1m27.079s + 4.454 114 laps
11. Trulli Lotus 1m29.992s + 7.367 18 laps