Today is the final day of the group pre-season test programme for Renault and Brawn. McLaren and Williams continue until Thursday. It’s the last chance the teams in Jerez will have to try out new parts and fine tune their cars on the track before Melbourne. We have Brawn, McLaren, Williams and Renault all operating with a single car.
So far this month the two main stories have been the stunning performance of the Brawn Mercedes cars, which came so close to never seeing the light of day after Honda pulled out of F1 and the trouble McLaren has been going through with a slow car.
Those two teams are to the fore in Jerez this week, with the Brawn car clearly a good second faster than the rest, while McLaren seems to have improved its car thanks to new aerodynamic parts, including a new diffuser.
Yesterday’s lap time sheet was misleading. It showed Alonso fastest, but that did not tell the story.
Rubens Barrichello drove the car yesterday morning and his lap times looked effortlessly fast and consistent. It’s not just the speed of the Brawn which impresses. It is the consistency, which makes it a formidable weapon in races as well as qualifying.
Rubens was easily circulating in the 1m 19s all morning. His fastest time, a 1m 18.398s lap, came on lap 4 of a 7 lap run, in which three of the laps were 1m 18s and three were low 1m19s. The car would go signficantly faster on a low fuel qualifying simulation. He handed over the car to Jenson Button, but the Brit managed only a couple of short runs before the car stopped with a gearbox problem, missing the last two hours of running. The car has done well to run fairly trouble free so far, but this incident shows that reliability is the main concern for Melbourne.
Renault’s Fernando Alonso ended the day a fraction faster than Barrichello, catching all the headlines, but his time came out of the blue, on a single lap qualifying simulation, so he would have been carrying quite a bit less fuel than the Brawn car. Looking at his other runs, they were manly quite short, but a 14 lap run saw laps mostly in the high 1m19s and low 1m20s, the thick end of a second per lap slower than the Brawn.
McLaren had Lewis Hamilton on track and the world champion did mainly short runs, mostly in the 1m 20s and 21s. He did a 21 lap long run with laps mainly in the low 1m20s, so a good second off the Brawn car.
Williams had Nico Rosberg doing long runs once again. The team seems to have focussed on long runs with heavy fuel at the recent tests, clearly working on reliability. The car showed that it’s pretty fast though, in Barcelona, when Rosberg took the fuel out and went for it. Yesterday the car was lapping in the low 1m 21s improving to 1m 20s on the third long stint.
It looks as though there isn’t much to choose between the McLaren, Williams and Renault in performance terms, but the Brawn is in another league altogether.
Extrapolating that out with the results from last week’s test, it seems that the pecking order at the moment is Brawn, then a gap to Ferrari, Toyota and BMW, then a small gap to Renault, McLaren, Williams, Red Bull with Force India and Toro Rosso somewhere just behind that group.
But as we saw last week with Renault and have seen this week with McLaren, the cars are so new, it’s possible for a team to make a big step with one development part. So the pecking order may not stay that way for long.