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Barcelona test day 1: Vettel on top as Lotus rocked by chassis problems
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Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Feb 2012   |  7:20 pm GMT  |  84 comments

A Formula 1 pre-season is not really considered to really get going in earnest until the schedule reaches the Circuit de Catalunya and so it was somewhat symbolic that Sebastian Vettel – the man that everyone is expecting to again have to beat in 2012 – set the pace on the first day of running at Barcelona today.

However, it was the early evening announcement by Lotus that the unusual problems with the second E20 chassis that had already curtailed its Tuesday running would now keep the team out of the rest of the test, that proved the real headline story of day one.

Romain Grosjean had initially completed seven laps in the new Lotus chassis this morning but thereafter wasn’t seen on track for the remainder of the day after the team found the chassis wasn’t behaving as it should. After initially announcing that the chassis would be returned to Enstone for further investigations and the original E20 chassis flown over to Spain overnight, the team released a press release just after 6pm revealing that modifications needed to be made to both chassis and they now wouldn’t be returning to action until the start of next week’s sessions at the circuit.

“Before we were due to fly chassis E20-01 out to Barcelona in replacement of chassis E20-02 – damaged this morning – we ran a series of simulations at the factory based on the data provided by our brief running on track today,” said technical director James Allison. “As a result, we were able to identify an area which requires some additional work. It will be more productive for us to carry out these modifications to both chassis at Enstone rather than send E20-01 out to this week’s test. We’ll put the right measures in place and we will be able to fix the problem before next week.”

So while Lotus’s preparations for the new season have been somewhat rocked, World Champions Red Bull can look back on another positive day for its RB8 on the track – which this time ended with Vettel on top of the times for the first time this winter.

After a morning tussle between the world champion, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timesheet, Vettel edged nearly two tenths of a second clear after a run on Pirelli’s harder tyre during the afternoon.

That time, a 1m23.265s, was 0.175s quicker than Hulkenberg and 0.325s quicker than Lewis Hamilton, who was the only one of the established top runners to complete more than 100 laps during the course of the day. For the majority of the afternoon the field switched to longer simulation runs, with Vettel’s improvement the only significant one of note in the day’s closing hours.

Fernando Alonso was within 0.9s for Ferrari, as was Michael Schumacher in the brand new W03. Having completed a private shakedown at the circuit over the weekend, Mercedes wasn’t therefore starting completely from scratch with the car and it ran reliably enough for the team to complete some morning set-up comparisons. A hydraulics problem later cut his day short with 51 laps gone but Schumacher was confident enough to suggest Mercedes has taken a much-needed step forward.

“My initial feelings with our new car are certainly good. I’m happy with the different evaluations that we have done over the last week, but obviously with the rule changes, we won’t know more until later,” he said. “It’s certainly an improvement and we have worked hard on the areas we had defined last year. Even though we had the hydraulic problem today, I’m pleased with all the mileage we have achieved so far with the new car.”

Sauber and Caterham were two other teams to lose track time; the latter’s problem proving more significant after the failure of a rear track rod caused Heikki Kovalainen to stop out on the circuit. Repairs did however allow the Finn to return in the final hour to move onto 31 laps.

BARCELONA TEST, Day One
1. Vettel Red Bull 1m23.265s 79 laps
2. Hulkenberg Force India 1m23.440s 97 laps
3. Hamilton McLaren 1m23.590s 114 laps
4. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.618s 76 laps
5. Alonso Ferrari 1m24.100s 75 laps
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.150s 51 laps
7. Perez Sauber 1m24.219s 66 laps
8. Senna Williams 1m25.711s 97 laps
9. Kovalainen Caterham 1m26.035s 31 laps
10. Grosjean Lotus 1m26.809s 7 laps
11. Pic Marussia 1m28.026s 121 laps

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  1. Andy says:

    This is a disaster for Lotus, no matter what they may tell publicly. Both their drivers could use all the time in the car they can to get up to speed again after being away.

    James, do you think Lotus will do a “Mercedes” and extend their testing next week due to missed days this week (like Mercedes did on Sunday due to not testing on the final day in Jerez)?

    1. James Allen says:

      Possibly yes. As long as the circuit is available and the staff.medical people etc are on hand. Will cost them though..

      1. Chris H says:

        I’m curious on the costs of a possible private running James. Could you provide a ballpark figure?

      2. James Allen says:

        No but many thousands. They are only allowed one day to make up for time lost, not three days

      3. Dave Roberts says:

        It doesn’t seem to worry them about the cost if they were prepared to fly one chassis back and the other out overnight. I bet you could not send one of those with UPS or DHL!

      4. Kevin Green says:

        That’s probably exactly who is shifting it!

      5. Dan Orsino says:

        James, do you give any credence to a view published on the bbc site that the car may not be ready for Melbourne?

  2. Godfather says:

    I feel sorry for the Lotus guys. They were doing well during the last test.

    Caterham is still at the bottom. I hope they can sort out their issues and move up this week.

    I wonder what is happening with HRT. Will we see them on the grid this year?

  3. Steve says:

    1. Vettel Red Bull 1m23.265s

    Ok, show’s over people. Move along.

    1. tifosi down under says:

      I tend to agree with you here steve. as much as it pains me to say it, I really think the championship is over already lol. ohwell we will find out in melbourne shortly. cant wait go my tickets, go webber, ricciardo and ferrari
      :D

    2. JohnBt says:

      Please don’t say that.

    3. Brook says:

      Well played.

    4. Wu says:

      ??

      You expect the Force India to be less than 2 tenths away from Red Bull?
      There is absolutly no way you can guage each car’s speed from testing. It’s hard to do it from friday practice, but pretty much impossible from testing.

      Long run lap comparison and visualy checking each car’s handeling characteristics through the corners, steering wheel imput, etc will at least show how easy it is to drive, and how it treats its rubber, but you can never tell the overall speed of the cars.

    5. azac21 says:

      set on hard tyres….

    6. newton says:

      Hulkenberg Force India 1:22.608

      Show’s not actually over, people. Stop moving along!

  4. goferet says:

    So it appears Red Bull & Vettel in particular are going to have the fastest car 3 seasons in a row & a good car for the past 4 seasons and least we forget, Adrian Newey said he would never walk out on his babies —> Booooo.

    The way things are, I guess Ferrari can expect Vettel in their cars well into his 40s for why leave a perfect marriage especially one that offers free energy drinks.

    Anyway at least it appears Red Bull are very much within striking range this time & I still think Mclaren might be much closer than the 3 tenths due to their habit of running more fuel than Red Bull.

    Force India looking promising too & in Hulkenburg we just might have another speed merchant especially over one lap

    Ferrari are slowly but surely reducing the gap but still clearly off the pace, they better get a move on or else, Lotus may fill that power vacuum nicely though it’s a shame we won’t see how Lotus goes around Barcelona after today’s set back.

    As for Schumi, I would take his positive assessment with a pinch of salt for Schumi has always been the type that sees a glass half full irrespective of the reality & most definitely not the type to slag off his team.

    Of the mid field runners, I would say the Torro Rosso is the fastest at this stage of the game based on the driver quotes & the fact that the cars have always been among the top times since testing began while the slowest mid fielder has to be Williams for even with thrice the laps Caterham managed, Senna was just 3 tenths faster than Heikki —> Not good, not good at all.

    1. Welps says:

      McLaren much closer than last season? They won 6 races, could have won 9 (half the races) and the last quarter of the season they had a car as fast and sometimes faster than the RBR.

      RBR was only ‘dominant’ in Vettel’s hands, no matter what the nay-sayers want to use as excuses.

  5. AlexD says:

    James, what is the word from engineers about the Ferrari after today?

  6. Rich C says:

    New definitions of the day:

    “an area which requires some additional work” = the wheel fell off.

    1. Stuart Moore says:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcU4t6zRAKg – “The front fell off”

    2. Sebastian says:

      Was this what happened? Any source?

  7. Guillaume says:

    Hi James, any information on what’s the exact problem on E20 chassis?

  8. James,

    How does Lotus go from a great showing at Jerez to this? Chassis #01 didn’t seem to have any problems two weeks ago… Curious.

    What do you think it could be?

      1. Quang Luu says:

        Here’s an interesting article I read. Gary Anderson seems to think it’s a engine mounts..

        http://www.totalf1.com/full_story/view/407775/Analysis_Whats_wrong_with_the_Lotus/

    1. Alex C.D. says:

      This could be interpreted as an easily identifiable weak area on the chassis that quickly developed on chassis #2 but not on #1 meaning that it could have happened by now at Jerez (but didn’t) or it could have developed on lap1 tomorrow with chassis #1 too. That’s how I see it.

    2. Sean says:

      I think the explanation lies in the start finish straight and first three corners.

    3. Davexxx says:

      It kinda sounds like they have discovered a serious safety issue, since they’ve decided to tweak both chassis…

    4. Optimaximal says:

      ‘Expert Analysis’ says that it’s an issue that wasn’t highlighted at Jerez due to the differences in the aero and mechanical natures of the tracks.

      Things such as the long turn 3 put forces on the car and the suspect is how the engine was mounted in the car.

      Logic dictates that Chassis 1 would have the same problem if it’s a design or part failure.

  9. Andrew Cumbria says:

    Is the mud really any clearer ?

    The Red Bull looks fast, the McLaren is certainly more reliable than last year, the Ferrari seems to be improving, but are they sand bagging or is there performance really not where they wanted it to be. Mercedes have only just rolled out their W03 its hard to say anything about that one yet……….

    Only Marussia and HRT are yet to show their new cars, they look likely to be at the back of the grid again this year because of their relative lack of running.

    Equally we have seen other lower ranked teams doing well, but are they glory laps for sponsorship and early good press.

    For me roll on Melbourne Park and qualifying then we will really find out who are the babies wet behind the ears, the boys, and lastly those who are the main men.

    Till then all we’re getting is posturing, conjecture, guess work and plenty of hot air.

  10. you seem to have omitted any comment re ricciardo. his times look rather tasty at this early stage.

    1. Nathan says:

      Yeah I agree can’t wait to see what he is capable of and in my opinion the toro rosso has been impressive times have been there or there abouts pretty reliable and gone under the radar

  11. Fareed says:

    How do these times compare to the the times from last year’s tests at the same track? Would be interesting to compare to see how new regs are affecting lap times.

  12. Paul J says:

    Very encouraging news for the Marussia to have covered 121 laps today. Bad news for Lotus – I hope they can rectify this problem quickly!

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, but Marussia was last year’s car

  13. BobbyT says:

    Is it an omonous sign that Vettel improved his morning time that he had set on the soft compound on the hard compound in the afternoon? The RB8 looks like it is still running on rails in the high speed corners

    1. John T says:

      I suspect in the afternoon it had less fuel, Higher temperature track and a more rubbered in track. From the lap count, McLaren look to have been doing high fuel long runs.

  14. Giles says:

    James,

    When you get to Barcelona can you do some of your investigative work to find out if that Red Bull slot on the nose really is for driver cooling as Newey says it is?

    Very keen to hear more about that.

    Thanks,
    Giles

      1. gerry mc says:

        no where else do the fans get this service….. love it. :-)

      2. Davexxx says:

        Form an organized queue, guys!

    1. Grayzee (Australia) says:

      + 1 Yes please! More info!

  15. Bakdraft says:

    I do not think there was a ‘Tussle’ at the top of the time sheets… nor was anyone ‘setting the pace’ well not just yet… be assured that by Friday these times will be completely irrelevant. At the moment they are just playing around…. but boy its great to have some action back… it really is starting to feel like the season is starting…

  16. Sam says:

    Will be interesting to see the times tumble over the week in comparison to last years times.

    Will you be spending time at the track, James? I find informed bystander’s analysis fascinating

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes I’m there all day tomorrow.

      1. Dave Roberts says:

        Where do you find the time James? You must be one of the busiest indiviuals in F1 with the various roles you play.

  17. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    Eric Boullier maybe still can blame Heidfield for the car problem…

    1. Wu says:

      You’re being a tad harsh on him. Since losing Kubica, Renault has been slipping back to 07-09 type of effort. Kubica brought in talent, determination and pushed the team incredibly whilst giving results back in return, often flattering the car. Their morale has not been so high since Fernando won the second WDC with them. Eric knew that Kubica could be their next WDC even without Flavio… then the accident happened.

      Heidfeld was meant to replace Kubica not only in talent (which he failed) but team morale, team effort, car development, a team leader if you will. Instead they got another second driver, without sponsorship money. Also we really don’t know what has gone on internally in the team, but Heidfeld didn’t leave the team on good terms at all.

      Even though they signed Kimi, a WDC, they still wanted Kubica back, because they really need a driver like him. Talent is one thing, but a driver that leads is very important to them.

      1. Tornillo Amarillo says:

        What about the boss’talent to build a team, to sort out setbacks and build confidence?

      2. Wu says:

        You could say the same about Flavio’s successes – Only 2 drivers gave the team the lift needed to succeed, both of which are multiple world champions.

        Kubica never run the team, and team bosses do not drive cars. Last year, they didn’t have a driver that could encourage, lift, motivate and lead the team like Schumacher and Alonso did.

        It’s funny that after Fernando’s comeback to Renault the team didn’t get anywhere. Alonso was counting days till he got his red car, and the team knew it. The team suffered similar low morale last year. Now with Kimi in the team they can get their hopes up again, and will function once more as long as Kimi stays motivated and works up the team like Kubi did.

  18. Kevin Green says:

    Whats your thoughts on Ferrari and Mercedes so far James?? sandbagging somewhat? For the teams showing there cards so far for me its Force India that are the most impressive thus far all things concidered.

    1. James Allen says:

      Merc is new, Ferrari is a complex car with some things that aren’t working as expected

  19. JohnBt says:

    Why isn’t Red Bull sandbagging this year?
    Top seven separated by 1 second is good, but it’s testing.

    1. Kevin Green says:

      Bloody well hope not but its been in the back of my mind too (how important is that big slot?) if they are sandbagging looks like were in for another dominant edging towards boring again season as last yr was despite all the other apparent improvements in rest of pack/tyres etc etc

  20. Soubert says:

    Hi James,

    This is a little off topic and I apologise, but I stumbled across this video this evening and thought it was fantastic:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8933869810642490334&hl=en

    I think an event like this would be a great way to end the season and allow the drivers to let their hair down a little, not to mention letting us see some wheel to wheel action in equal machinery!

    I could picture somewhere like Abu Dhabi building an indoor karting arena. We could have F1 drivers leading teams with perhaps a GP2 driver team mate taking part over a weekend, lets say a series of heats on Friday evening and Saturday leading to a final on Sunday?

    Have a word and pull some strings James!

  21. Glennb says:

    Toro Rosso are looking ominous so far this year. The car looks quick and the 2 young drivers have everything to prove. I think the TR might just be the dark horse for a decent result this season ;)

  22. Sri says:

    Gary Anderson has this to say:
    http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/21022012/66/analysis-wrong-lotus.html

    Perhaps James has his own take on this issue. I would like to hear that too.

  23. Michael S says:

    I am gutted for Lotus, especially as Kimi needs all the testing time he can get before the season starts. I think they need to bite the bullet and pay for an extra day or two of testing….

  24. Sudha S says:

    RBR8 looks ominous. McLaren looks like they can challenge but a little short of top pace. Are Ferrari & Mercedes sandbagging or are they in trouble?
    Force India seems like the surprise package so far with good reliability and speed. With their 2 young drivers maybe they could challenge for 5th place atleast. Hope Lotus can get past their problems and give Kimi a good car

  25. Dmitry says:

    I might be alone, but I still believe times are almost irrelevant.

    Everyone is on different strategies and clearly not pushing at all – we are still miles away from last year’s test times and even further from race weekend’s times.
    Look at Hamilton – he was on long runs for most of the day, and judging by the times was probably testing tyres more than anything else, and as a result he didn’t “need” to set fast times. Vettel on the other hand had mostly gone for short stints and did only 2 really long runs.

    We can argue of course, that we can see the tendency here… but I still disagree. In Jerez everyone thought “Wow! Lotus is cool and is going to be fast”… and now they have packed and left Barcelona… and left Kimi without any additional running.

    C’mon, it was only the fifth day of F1 2012 (action wise), too early to draw any conclusions.

  26. Chris Topher says:

    Hi James, what’s your opinion on Toro Rosso at this stage? They seem to be right up there on all testing days so far.

  27. Mo kahn says:

    Conspiracy Theorising here…
    Does Lotus seriously have a problem or have found the holy grail which they want to guard vide private tests? And give very little time for the competiton to replicate in the last tests before Melbourne?

    1. Martin says:

      They only did seven laps, so that might waste a day of testing.

  28. Ryan Eckford says:

    That is two years in a row that this team has been rocked by something in pre-season testing. I think they will recover, but it is certainly not ideal.

    1. Optimaximal says:

      I don’t think a rectifiable (?) mechanical glitch is quite on the same scale as the lead driver nearly killing himself in a racing accident.

      1. Ryan Eckford says:

        I mean, They are both very bad situations.

  29. Aniket says:

    James,
    any update on how the ferrari is handling this session as compared to jerez???
    also how do the mclaren and redbull look in terms of handling???

    1. James Allen says:

      I’ll tell you later. On way into track now

  30. james H says:

    james what was marussia times in testing last year to this year as it was the same car.would be good to see how much time a back team made up over the year.thanks

  31. Chris says:

    Anyone agree that Force India have looked strong so far?

  32. Adiel says:

    James. Is there any news on what was wrong with chassis of the Lotus team.

  33. radi says:

    McLaren have the best looking car out there.
    If they also are among the fastest, that would be massively good news to mclaren fens.

    pray, pray, pray..:)

  34. CartRider says:

    If they want to improve the show component, they should go with the first race without any testing. Then there would be mechanical failures, mistakes, and the whole field upside down while the teams learn their new cars. After the first race they should conduct a series of tests, one or two, to allow the teams to cure teething problems and go with the second race three-four weeks after the first one.

    The way seasons go now, the teams present their cars, then burn fuel in pre-season tests, heavily update their cars, spend a hefty amount of money and effort, and all of this without any racing, i.e., without any real value for the championship.

    Pre-season tests should be disallowed altogether! It would make racing more interesting and help save the teams some good money.

    1. SteveH says:

      With a twenty race schedule that would leave very little time to fix problems; the teams are pretty much at the limit now. Bad idea.

      1. CartRider says:

        That is the idea! Why do we need bulletproof cars at the start of the season? Why waste all this money and effort on pre season testing if all this work is unnoticed by the majority of viewers except the die hard audience? This will not only help to optimize spendings but will help mix up the grid and improve the show component; it may give mid-fielders and backmarkers a chance to score some points at the beginning of the season

  35. Mark Crooks says:

    I’d like to know if the cars are any less stable through the corners now that they don’t have the blown diffusers.

    Especially McLaren cause I know how much Button prefers a less twitchy car than Lewis. I have a feeling that the regulations will assist Lewis more the Jenson this year, I hope I’m wrong.

  36. KimTin says:

    Hello James,
    I would like to share a thought with you. If the situation in Lotus is due to an Engine mount affecting the chassis than its for sure something a big problem. But given that, they now need to work in both chassis, I have a feeling that it might be something they didn’t give good notice in last test and coming to a grand prix track they felt so. But for a team like Lotus considering the paste, isn’t it a very unusual thing, that the team comes up with a problem as critical as this just before 20-25 days to start of the season? thanx

  37. One lunger says:

    In 2010 RB sandbagged at this test, made everyone think they were close and RB had about 1 sec on the field in Q3.

    In 2011 they again sandbagged and baited Ferrari into thinking they were close but no one had anything for SV.

    They are already faster than last year even with reg changes and of course, all the top teams and holding out.

    Same old story.

  38. Davexxx says:

    James I have an off-topic yet relevant question regarding car chassis (Lotus for example).
    If any team bring any new chassis to any new race (Lotus Chassis 3 to Australia for example) does it first have to be tested or crash-tested by FIA before it can race? Or are the pre-season ‘crash tests’ we hear about done to the driver module only?

    1. James Allen says:

      One chassis is crash tested and the others have to be the same

  39. veeru says:

    james, looking at pictures on F1.com, i see some of the cars running intermiediate tyres or so they look like..

    any idea why they might do that?

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