Now the dust has settled on the Young Driver Test at Silverstone, we can analyse who performed well and look at some of the drivers for whom this was a vital audition, like Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull. We can also look at some of the tyre test runs carried out by the experienced race drivers to see what the new generation Pirellis will be like for the rest of the season.
With the help and input of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, former chief operations engineer at Williams, we will look in detail at Kevin Magnussen’s run in the McLaren; Daniel Ricciardo’s run in the Red Bull and Susie Wolff’s run in the Williams in particular.
It is important to note that it is hard to draw too many comparisons from this test, as there are too many variables. With young drivers testing cars with various development parts on them, while experienced drivers were forced to tyre test only with no technical trickery, so you cannot compare them.
What you can look at, and what the teams will be looking at, is the consistency of the runs and the way the traces of lap time graphs are shaped. The rough rule of thumb is that a nice consistent line, gently descending, shows good consistency and minimum tyre degradation.
Explanatory note – To read these charts, the vertical axis is the lap time, the higher up the slower the lap time, the lower down the faster. The horizontal axis is the number of laps carried out. The early runs are on the left, the later ones on the right. A good long run is one where the lap times show a consistent grouping with a downward trend from left to right.
Magnussen – impressive consistency
Perhaps the standout performance of the test was young Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren on Day 1. The 21 year old has had limited experience in F1, but put in a performance that he and the engineers will be delighted with.
He was sent out with a lot of fuel in the car, but his runs (shown in blue below in Fig 1 below) show highly impressive consistency. If you compare the time delta between the high fuel runs, (shown on the left, the lap times are higher, reflecting the extra weight of the fuel in the car) with the lower fuel runs, on the right, you can see that the difference is what it should be – so he has been able to take the maximum from both the higher and the lower fuel load and has been able to string together laps very consistently in both conditions, with a nice downward trend on both long and short runs.
“If I was on the technical team at McLaren I would be very impressed and very happy with this run,” says Gillan. “It’s a very impressive run for a young man who has limited F1 experience.”
Daniel Ricciardo’s audition for Red Bull
All eyes were on Daniel Ricciardo on Day 2, as he went out and drove his audition for his big career break; a possible promotion to the Red Bull seat, due to be vacated by Mark Webber. Ricciardo is a known quantity to Red Bull, of course, because they have access to all the data from their junior team, Toro Rosso, for whom Ricciardo has raced for a season and a half. He also drove for Red Bull during the Young Driver tests before he made his Grand Prix debut in 2011 with HRT.
But this was an important occasion for the Australian as he battles with Kimi Raikkonen for the drive. Raikkonen is a known quantity, a very fast and consistent race driver who has competed for the world championship for the last two seasons and is on a record run of consecutive points finishes.
On paper Red Bull would be wanting to put the best available driver in Webber’s seat, which on the face of it is Raikkonen. So Ricciardo had to show on Thursday that he has the consistency at a high level and shows potential to be something special for the future, with Vettel only contracted for two more seasons to the team and his intentions unclear beyond that.
He needed to show Red Bull management that taking him is not the risk it appears to be in comparison with the known quantity (albeit far more expensive in wages) that is Raikkonen.
As you can see in Fig 2 below, Ricciardo did a good job in terms of consistency. His Toro Rosso runs (in Red) appear to have been done with lower fuel than the Red Bull runs, (the lap times are lower) probably around 50kg in the Toro Rosso. He was sent out with high fuel only in the Red Bull (hence the slower lap times shown on the vertical axis) but the downward trend in his last run is really nice, with the lap times coming down in line with the fuel burning off. The run shows little tyre degradation so he is managing the tyre as well. Compare this with Maldonado’s final run in Fig 1 in the Williams (shown in green) which shows significant degradation at the end of the run.
Ricciardo’s final run then is very strong and that will be the card he left on the table with Red Bull engineers from this week’s test. They will be reasonably impressed. Only they know how much fuel was in the car, so how outright fast he was. That is not possible for us to say here. If he was on the same fuel as Vettel the next day (Fig 3 below) then he looks slightly slower, but it’s not possible for us to say definitively.
Added to that is his strong qualifying performance in the last few Grands Prix for Toro Rosso, where he has been solidly among the front runners.
He’s giving it his best shot.
Susie Wolff – a competent job
Susie Wolff set a fastest lap 0.4s slower than Daniel Juncadella, the Euro F3 champion, but felt that her five lap run on the faster medium tyres had come too early in the day for her to push to the maximum. She completed almost 90 laps in total and the performance run came on lap 34.
She covered a lot of laps (89 is a more than a race distance and a half), but she didn’t string runs together like Magnussen or Ricciardo. So we cannot look at patterns. She improved in the morning (her runs are shown in dark blue in Fig 3), but there are no long runs to draw conclusions from. She didn’t go off the track and did a solid job, which allows her to speak more knowledgeably about the sport as as development driver in PR appearances and media commitments. She will no doubt push for more opportunities to drive the car and it will be interesting if she gets the chance, with increased testing next season, to see if she attacks it with more confidence next time.
“It was important for me to show I have the performance, it was important to show, given the limited laps I had, I can be on the pace,” Wolff told BBC Sport Online.
“I was only 0.4 secs off the F3 European champion, the guy who’s rated as an up-and-coming young star. For me that was important. If that has more meaning for other people because I am female, then I will use that to my advantage but I’m not going to play the card ‘I’m a girl so give me the car I’m fast enough’.”
Carlos Sainz Jr was given plenty of opportunity to run and to showcase his speed on his first ever outing in an F1 with two days in both the Toro Rosso and Red Bull cars. The 18 year old did a 1m 33.061s on the fifth lap of a five lap run on medium tyres in the Toro Rosso on Thursday and a 1m 33.546 on the first lap of a six lap run in the Red Bull with hard tyres on the Friday. His father was delighted with his performance and Red Bull engineers will know how much fuel he had in the car on those runs. He seems to have done quite well.
New generation Pirellis – a more stable race tyre
The runs of Di Resta (Fig 1), Vettel and Sutil (Fig 3) show that the new generation Pirelli tyres, with 2012 constructions married to 2013 compounds are not only safer (no failures in hotter conditions at Silverstone than for the GP) but also more consistent with less degradation. The rest of the season should therefore see the teams doing fewer pitstops than in the early part of the season (Barcelona would be a 2/3 stop race, for example, rather than the four stopper it was) and the drivers will be able to push harder for longer.
There do not appear to have been any surprises on the tyres and therefore there doesn’t appear to be any reason to suspect a major change in the pecking order. The teams that look after their tyres better will continue to do so (look at the impressive final run of Sutil, for example (Fig 3).
But it is going to be hard for any team or driver to catch Vettel and Red Bull for the remainder of the season, as these tyres certainly will not constrict them and they will be able to get the most from the car at every round from now on. It comes down to whether any other team wants to allocate the money and valuable wind tunnel time away from their 2014 development work to have a crack at them this season.
Red Bull have a healthy margin and can thus manage the situation from here.