The final pre-season test begins tomorrow in Bahrain, giving teams just four more track days to prepare their cars for the new F1 season, which starts on March 14th with free practice in Melbourne.
It is already clear that, with the radical changes in technical regulations this year, and cars now running 1.6 litre hybrid turbo power units, some teams are in better shape than others.
For Red Bull and the other Renault powered teams, for example, it is a crucial test as they have done very limited running compared to their rivals.
With this in mind there was a limited amount to be learned so far in terms of performance, but ahead of this vital final test, we thought we would show some indicators from last week’s test session in Bahrain as pointers for what to look for this week.
Below is a chart showing the raw – i.e. not not fuel-corrected – lap-times from Day Four at last week’s first Bahrain test. The vertical axis is the lap time, the horizontal axis is the lap number. They are done in sequence, the laps run from left to right as the day goes on a shows the various runs they made. The shorter ones with peak laps are the low fuel runs, such as the one which gave Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg the fastest time of the test.
[Key: RIC= Ricciardo, Red Bull; MAL= Maldonado, Lotus; RAI= Raikkonen, Ferrari; ROS= Rosberg, Mercedes;BUT= Button, McLaren]
This is exactly the kind of lap graph that F1 teams and engineers study as it shows patterns of performance. Dots that sit low in the graph, indicate a faster lap time, whereas ones higher up indicate a slower lap.
In this case what you are looking for are groupings of laps together, particularly on longer runs if the dots stay relatively consistent and don’t rise up as you look to the right. This is an indicator of pace and that the car is looking after its tyres well and is not suffering particularly bad degradation. You can clearly see this with Rosberg’s penultimate run where the lap times are relatively flat, rather than sloping steeply upwards.
JA on F1 Technical adviser Mark Gillan, former chief operations engineer at Williams, prepared the graph and he comments: “Clearly we do not know what fuel levels were being used by all the teams, but Mercedes must be very happy with this test. Rosberg’s graph shows the clear pace of Mercedes over both the short and longer runs, with their tyre degradation being good, especially on the penultimate run.
Similarly McLaren and Ferrari have clearly done a good job with their new cars, but appear to have a bit to do to catch Merc’s general pace.
“Unfortunately with the lack of running it is hard to quantify Red Bull’s pace.” (Shown in the graphs as “RIC”, meaning Daniel Ricciardo)
With less than 3 weeks to the first race the final pre-season test starting tomorrow in Bahrain is crucial, especially for the Renault-powered cars and hopefully we’ll get a clear indication of the relative pace when the cars attempt their race rehearsals. We will also get a much clearer picture of relative pace as teams were at different stages of their preparation last week. Mercedes and its customer teams had started working on set-up and performance while some of their rivals were still evaluating cooling and doing reliability work. Everyone should be flat out looking for performance this week if they are to compete in the early races.
During this week’s test we should see plenty of new development parts coming onto the cars, aimed at performance. These will have been scheduled since the car launch, while other new developments arising from the first tests will be in production with the target of getting them onto the cars for evaluation during the practice sessions in Melbourne on March 14th.
There is still a lot to learn, but with Mercedes seemingly ahead, Ferrari and McLaren quietly looking strong and Red Bull playing catch up, this is shaping up to a season with plenty of sporting intrigues.
Meanwhile Pirelli has released details of the definitive tyre compounds which it will race this season and which teams will evaluate during this week’s test.
After a dramatic couple of seasons with heavy criticism hitting the Italian company for tyre failures and degradation having an excessive effect on the racing, Pirelli has understandably played it safe with durable tyres which can cope with the significant extra torque these hybrid turbo cars produce. Wheelspin out of slow corners and under acceleration generally is a huge factor and mastering this will be a huge part of the success of whichever driver comes out on top this year.
Here are Pirelli’s notes on the details of the four compounds:
P Zero Orange – Hard
The toughest tyre of the range is designed for circuits that are often characterised by high ambient temperatures, putting the highest energy loadings through the tyres with fast corners or abrasive surfaces. The compound takes longer to warm up, but offers maximum durability – which frequently means that it plays a key role in race strategy. This is a high working range compound. Like all the 2014 tyres, this is a brand new compound with a new construction to meet the requirements of the latest cars, with increased torque, extra energy recovery systems, but reduced aerodynamics.
P Zero White medium
Theoretically this is the most perfectly balanced of all the tyres, with an ideal compromise between performance and durability. As a result, it is very versatile, but often comes into its own on circuits that tend towards high speeds and energy loadings. This is a low working range compound. As is the case with all the 2014 tyres, there is a new profile at the front to take into account the altered vehicle dynamics and improve handling.
P Zero Yellow soft
This is one of the tyres most frequently used tyres in the range, striking a very good balance between performance and durability, with the accent on performance. It is still biased towards speed rather than long distances, but is nonetheless capable of providing a competitive advantage both at the beginning of the race on full fuel and when used as a ‘sprint’ tyre at the end. This is a high working range compound. All the compounds are generally slightly harder than their equivalents last year, in order to deliver the same performance despite the extra forces placed on the tyres.
P Zero Red supersoft
The softest compound in the range is ideal for slow and twisty circuits, especially in cold weather, when maximum mechanical grip is needed. The supersoft benefits from an extremely rapid warm-up time, which makes it ideal in qualifying as well, but the flip side to that important characteristic is of course increased degradation. This is a low working range compound. One of the key evolutions this year has been optimisation of the footprint pressure and temperature distribution. This presents a more even contact with the asphalt, improving grip and handling.