The second pre-season test drew to a close today in Barcelona with all the leading teams focussing on longer runs and not on setting headline lap times.
The next test will be the one where we see the definitive Melbourne specifications and there is no doubt that for most teams there are some big updates coming. This is certainly true for Red Bull and McLaren, no doubt for Ferrari and Mercedes too.
Mark Webber certainly hinted that Red Bull has some big changes in the pipeline, “We have a lot of work to do back in Milton Keynes over the next few days to get the car ready for the next test. We’ve done well over these two first tests and the feeling is pretty good,” he said.
Red Bull hasn’t been doing headline grabbing lap times this week, there is some gamesmanship going on between teams on fuel loads, use of DRS wings and so on, perhaps even more than normal. Usually by this stage we’ve seen some fast laps, but so far this year it’s just been Williams, Force India and Sauber stretching the car’s legs on performance runs on new soft tyres.
Mercedes did another race distance with Nico Rosberg this time at the wheel; it’s been a good first week for the new car from the UK based German team. Ferrari had a better day with Felipe Massa saying that the afternoon session gave glimpses of how much potential the car has. A lot is riding on the final test for the Scuderia, which has shifted to a Friday to Monday programme, from Thursday to Sunday. This will give one extra day for production of new parts. Red Bull are doing the same, while Lotus can make up one of the days lost this week after a chassis failure.
The Pirelli tyres are clearly lasting longer than the 2011 models, although they still degrade, so there’s no return to Bridgestone type performance. In the cooler conditions seen at times this week the tyres have degraded quickly, but this shouldn’t be so much of a problem in warmer conditions.
Some engineers have suggested that the gap between the soft and medium is a little too small, but again time will tell. For Melbourne the tyre choice is soft and medium, but in Malaysia it’s medium and hard so we’ll get a good picture in the first two races.
Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said, “The teams completed 17,207 kilometres as opposed to 14,949 kilometres in Jerez. This allowed them to gather plenty of data on all four slick tyres that we can now analyse in order to come up with a few different scenarios for the first races related to strategy options and crossover points. As we expected, most teams chose to concentrate on the medium tyre, with the emphasis often on aerodynamic set-up work rather than tyre evaluation.”
Caterham have had a tough week, with a variety of issues on the car. Today they had an engine change to make after an electrical problem, “Things haven’t exactly gone as we would have liked, but I think we all know where the car can and should be when it gets real in Australia,” said Heikki Kovalainen, “So now the challenge is to regroup in time for next week and make sure we come back here ready to put in a final week of hard work on track and get back to where we want to be.”
Marussia also struggled today with their 2011 car, a suspension problem preventing them from doing any running. Their new car, the first produced in house, will appear at the final test next week. HRT meanwhile has passed two of the crash tests and is taking another. It will be touch and go for them to make Melbourne and it’s looking as though the car’s first lap might be in practice at Albert Park.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 4
1. 1. Kobayashi Sauber 1:22.312 144 Laps
2. 2. Maldonado Williams 1:22.561 134
3. 3. Di Resta Force India 1:23.119 101
4. 4. Button McLaren 1:23.200 115
5. 5. Massa Ferrari 1:23.563 103
6. 6. Webber Red Bull 1:23.774 85
7. 7. Vergne Toro Rosso 1:23.792 92
8. 8. Rosberg Mercedes 1:23.843 139
9. 9. Kovalainen Caterham 1:26.968 70