The first pre season test of 2012 concluded yesterday and although it’s too early in the game to draw conclusions on the pecking order in terms of outright pace, it is possible to look at what some of the front running cars managed in comparable circumstances. Here we will look closely at some comparisons.
One of the headlines is that Pirelli have done an excellent job with the first stage of development of their tyres. Engineers and drivers alike are full of praise for them. The 2012 tyres are more durable and offer good grip. This was particularly evident when the track was cooler; the wear was significantly better than last year.
According to Pirelli, during the four days in Jerez “a total of 3380 laps were covered by 23 drivers – equating to 14,949 kilometres.” The new medium tyre completed the most with 1776 laps, followed by the new soft with 1010 laps run and the hard with 594 laps run.
Lewis Hamilton gave his assessment of the competition at the front, “The Ferrari’s not really showing anything just yet. Of course, the Red Bull looks fast – as it usually does – and we’re there I think.”
Although RBR have not gone for an eye catching time this week Vettel did use a set of new soft tyres on the final day, but his best time in a seven lap run on them was a 1m 19.7s, which indicates that he had a fair bit of fuel on board. His next run was on a set of used medium tyres and he did a 1m 19.6s straight off and then a sequence as follows – 1:28.1; 1:21.1; 1:21.5; 1:21.5; 1:21.7; 1:21.5; 1:21.7.
The Red Bull certainly looks consistent, as it did last year, driveable, stable and fast.
Hamilton did a nine lap run on new soft tyres and his first lap was a 1m19.9s, so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions. If the fuel loads were the same the McLaren is 3/10ths slower, but there’s no way of knowing how different the loads were. Just 10 kilos difference would account for 3/10ths of a second.
Alonso did a 6 lap run on new softs where the first lap was 1m 18.9s, but given the way the Ferrari had been running this week this was likely to have been done on less fuel than Vettel or Hamilton were using in comparable runs. There was no comparable used medium tyre run by the Ferrari, due to some reliability problems in the afternoon.
“Eight or nine hours of testing and only 40 laps, “said Alonso yesterday, “In Montmelo (Barcelona) we must do a hundred odd. We’ve understood only about 20% of what we need. This is a completely new car. In four days we’ve turned it around and seen progress even if it doesn’t show in the times.
“There is still much to do, especially on the aerodynamics and on reliability.”
Meanwhile Grosjean did a 13 lap run on used mediums with the following sequence – 1:23.6; 1:23.2; 1:23.4 ;1:23.5; 1:23.6; 1:23.6; 1:24.1; 1:24.2; 1:25.0; 1:25.2; 1:24.6; 1:24.9; 1:24.7; 1:25.3; 1:25.9.
Hamilton’s 13 lap run on used medium tyres was as follows – 1:22.1; 1:21.7; 1:21.8; 1:21.9; 1:21.9; 1:22.0; 1:22.0; 1:22.0; 1:22.5; 1:27.5; 1:22.6; 1:22.1; 1:23.9; 1:23.5.
Although you cannot zero in on the precise underlying pace of the cars, you can look at reliability and this shows that both Ferrari and Red Bull had some problems. Ferrari’s are to be expected given a completely new concept. The Red Bull niggles on an evolutionary car are a little more worrying, but they have time to sort them out.
For the most part the McLaren, Lotus, Williams and the midfield cars ran pretty reliably. Kimi Raikkonen covered 192 laps in his two days in the car and he’s clearly right there despite two years on the sidelines. It helps a bit that his team mate Grosjean is a little ring-rusty and playing catch up.
Engineers are saying that its going to be close this year behind the front three or four teams (Mercedes’ new car is an unknown) and that it will be vital to have all the performance enhancing parts working well in order to get results. These are things like KERS, exhausts blowing on rear wing elements and other aero developments that teams incorporate as the year goes on. Anyone who’s limited on development by budget could find themselves sliding back as the year goes on.