The penultimate day of testing before the start of the new F1 season saw a dramatic piece of theatre from Red Bull Racing, who had such a significant upgrade package they needed to ship out a new car to Spain. The real Red Bull RB8 stood up in the pitlane and now the opposition know what they are up against. And by leaving it so late, Red Bull have not given the opposition much time to study their design and copy it.
Under FOTA single car testing rules, this required permission from other teams, which was granted and the car duly ran with Mark Webber at the wheel. Sebastian Vettel will take over for the final day’s testing on Sunday.
The “Version B” of the RB8 features new front and rear wings, new rear end aerodynamics, new diffuser and a new exhaust layout among the visible changes, but there are sure to be others under the skin. Red Bull has been working hard in the wind tunnel and gave their rivals the slip by changing not just the position of the exhausts and their function, but the philosophy behind it. It’s quite a statement of Red Bull’s design and production capabilities. One could almost say that they were ‘showing off’.
FIA rules state that a team has to homologate a chassis at the start of the year, so this isn’t a “new car” in that sense, but it was sufficiently revised that it was considered better to build it up in the factory in Milton Keynes, rather than have the mechanics in Spain work all night to build it up.
“The thing that everyone’s obviously asking about is the changes we made to the car but I have to say the car was not massively different to the one I drove on Thursday,” said Mark Webber coyly. “We went through our normal programme, nothing drastic happened, and we just keep working away.”
Apart from the front and rear wings the most obvious change to the Red Bull is the rear end aero and the exhausts, which used to exit “internally” low down and close to the bottom element of the rear wing, now exit “externally”, further forward and blowing across a complex pattern of channels down to the diffuser.
This is the kind of radical solution that Ferrari had tried from the outset but failed to get working and has now rowed back from, to try to build up to it over time.
Red Bull isn’t the only team with upgrades for the final two days. Their closest challengers, McLaren, brought out the Melbourne specification package on Saturday, a new nose and front wing among the changes, giving Jenson Button the step up he had been looking for, “There were some areas where we were lacking in the car, but we knew it would become better when we put the updates on,” he said.
The final day might show the outright pace of both cars, but given how cagey everyone has been this winter, it’s unlikely.
Sergio Perez set the fastest time, but the front running cars were carrying more fuel. What is noticeable is that most cars set times in the 1m 22s range. Although tyres and fuel loads were different, it nevertheless shows that the midfield is pretty closely matched.
Ferrari meanwhile took the unusual step of not allowing the drivers to speak to the media, something which has incensed the Italian and Spanish media in particular. This has sparked talk of the team being in ‘crisis’, with a car which devours its tyres, has no grip on corner exits and Fernando Alonso’s patience running out. It’s a situation which needs to be very carefully managed with a 20 race season lasting 10 months in prospect.
BARCELONA TEST, Day 3
1. Perez Sauber 1m22.094s 114 Laps
2. Button McLaren 1m22.103s +0.009 44 Laps
3. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m22.155s +0.061 131 Laps
4. Massa Ferrari 1m22.413s +0.319 122 Laps
5. Di Resta Force India 1m22.446s +0.352 108 Laps
6. Senna Williams 1m22.480s +0.386 111 Laps
7. Kovalainen Caterham 1m22.630s +0.536 64 Laps
8. Webber Red Bull 1m22.662s +0.568 70 Laps
9. Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.932s +0.838 129 Laps
10. Raikkonen Lotus 1m25.379s +3.285 43 Laps