Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull continue to be the team to beat as the F1 testing season reached the half way point today.
I was trackside today in Barcelona, getting a first view of the 2012 cars in anger and sounding out the feeling of teams and engineers up and down the paddock.
On Day two of the second of three tests, the Red Bull carried out a race simulation run in the afternoon. It wasn’t spectacular, which gave other teams some encouragement, but the car clearly works in all conditions and is fast and well balanced. It picks up where last year’s car left off.
The fastest time on Day 2 was set in the morning by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, using the super soft compound tyres for the first time, but the Red Bull is acknowledged up and down the pit lane as the form car. “We’ll win races this year,” said one leading figure in the team, somewhat ironically.
However the picture is emerging of how the rest of the teams are shaping up and a good battle appears to be in prospect for the season. McLaren are not ahead of Red Bull, but nor did they expect to be. However they believe that they are likely to be close enough next week, once the definitive Melbourne specification parts are fitted to the cars, to know that they can take Red Bull on this season. It’s a long season with development again likely to be the key and McLaren look happy enough with where they are.
Ferrari’s disappointment has been well chronicled, but this is more disappointment that they are not ahead of Red Bull, as they expected they might be with the dramatic step change in direction they have taken. The signs are that they won’t be challenging for honours at the start of the season, but the car has potential and it’s really a question of whether they can get it working well soon enough to challenge for the championship. Understandably there is some nervousness about that in the team.
Meanwhile the Mercedes appears at first sight to be a good car with some interesting solutions in the diffuser, the exhausts and other areas, but it does not contain the silver bullet that some were expecting. It is a step forward for the Silver Arrows and should certainly bag some podiums this year, but whether it’s enough to challenge for the odd race win, it’s too early to say.
Although it suffered some reliability issues today, the Toro Rosso looks a good package and is likely to score points certainly in the first half of the season. The midfield battle with Force India, Sauber and the rest will be very tight this year, but I fancy Toro Rosso to start out at the front of it.
Lotus’ dramatic setback, with a chassis failure on Day 1 here, has been a major talking point. It appears that they thought they’d come up with a super new way of making lighter weight monocoque using clever composite techniques, but when the car tested in Barcelona, for some reason, perhaps to do with loadings, perhaps a construction issue, the chassis failed. This was verified when the other chassis was put on the test rig at the factory.
Although the problem area can be repaired, this comes at the worst time in the testing cycle for the team, as they have lost the entire middle test and are only able to claw back one day of the four that will have been lost, which they can add on to next week’s test. The car had appeared to be going well so it is a major setback.
Elsewhere in the field, the Williams looks a better car than last year’s, is very reliable with the highest mileage so far, but lacks some pace still.
Vitaly Petrov was out in the Caterham today, but struggled to get comfortable in the car at the start of the day, before getting down to work.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 2
1. Hulkenberg Force India 1m22.608s 112 Laps
2. Perez Sauber 1m22.648s +0.040 85
3. Vettel Red Bull 1m22.891s +0.283 104
4. Alonso Ferrari 1m23.180s +0.572 87
5. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.639s +1.031 48
6. Hamilton McLaren 1m23.806s +1.198 121
7. Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.555s +1.947 82
8. Bottas Williams 1m25.738s +3.130 117
9. Petrov Caterham 1m26.605s +3.997 69
10. Pic Marussia 1m27.343s +4.735 108