F1 Winter Break
JA at Barcelona test – Day 2
JA at Barcelona test – Day 2
Posted By:   |  10 Mar 2009   |  8:19 pm GMT  |  33 comments

I come away from the Barcelona test feeling that this is going to be a great season of racing, but in a very different way from the McLaren vs Ferrari battles of the last two years.

The testing performances we have seen so far suggest that McLaren has, if not a mountain, then certainly a big hill to climb, while Ferrari, BMW and Toyota look very strong, one might almost say equally strong.

If the performance we’ve seen here is carried over to the early part of the season, as it has been in recent years, then you could see Kubica, Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Massa, Trulli and Glock fighting for wins and podiums early on. I don’t think it will be too long before Alonso joins in either, as the Renault team made a big step forward this week thanks to a new front wing and underfloor parts. They started behind and are still a bit behind, but closing in fast.

Kimi Raikkonen said that the Ferrari team has not yet pushed for the ultimate lap times, implying that there is more to come, but from what I saw in Barcelona there is little to choose between the top three teams on pace. Certainly when the BMW does similar runs to the Ferrari, it sets similar lap times. When it comes to racing, Toyota may have a slight disadvantage from not running KERS at some tracks early on, but they are adamant that the decision, taken early, not to start the season with KERS was the right one. Their car is very driveable, predicatable and consistent. Jarno Trulli thinks he can do great work with it. The car is still not as comfortable as some of its rivals over the kerbs, but it’s a vast improvement on last year’s model.

The new rules have cut the maximum downforce level available on the cars to below the level they used to have on low downforce tracks. This has meant many things, but one of them is that braking stability is now harder to find, as downforce is an important part of getting the car slowed down. I stood at the heavy braking zone at Turn 10 for a few hours this morning and studied this closely. Everyone is more jittery than they were there last year, but if I had to pick a winner under braking I would say that it’s the Ferrari. The Brawn car is giving a little bit away there compared to the Toyotas and BMWs, and so is the Renault.

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Fascinating stuff. Either McLaren are pulling the biggest cloak-and-dagger trick ever, or they're going to be to this year what Toyota has been to every other year.


I was wondering if you had any further opinions on the Williams. Apparently PH is not too happy about some of the updates and the team has gone slightly backwards. Any info?


It sounds less and less likely that Mclaren are sandbagging, but could someone explain to me how Mclaren (or any other F1 team) would benefit from making themselves look slower than they actually are in testing anyway?

But even if Mclaren are struggling, don't panic (or celebrate if you're a Lewis- hater) just yet. Don't forget that BMW, Ferrari and Toyota have all had a few days more testing than the others and Mclaren, Renault, Williams and Brawn will presumably have closed the gap a bit after the Jerez test next week.


It's so great to have a succinct daily wrap-up from the tests. Glad you're there and blogging. No other form of motorsport starts the intrigue so early and keeps it coming all season long. I hope the rule makers don't make any more moves to level the field...this is fascinating.


Any comments on Williams, James? Nakajima's time was set on low fuel (for Williams) and AMuS quotes Patrick Head as saying that changes to the car's sidepods and diffuser haven't had the desired effect.

I'd love to see Hamilton in a non-front running car, just to see what he can do. His class is obvious when he has a car capable of running at the front - can he be just as impressive when it's not so fast?


JA writes: Not particularly. They've been running heavy fuel last two days, took some out to set the time today obviously. Looking at long run times on the fuel they were running, they are in the mix but need to see what Rosberg does later this week. It's still a moving target.


Kimi is looking ominous. He seems to perform on a bi-annual basis. He seems to be very quiet but very fast again.

lower-case david

who knows ... f1 nowadays, more than ever, it's a tough racket and it wouldn't take very much of an error to see a championship team get spat out the back, but those sort of mclaren laptime gaps, slower than a Force India and a Brawn that both only recently finished drilling different mount-holes for their Merc engines? really?

i don't get the feeling its old-fashioned sand-bagging either ... we could be looking at something brand new here. a methodical program to carefully connect the 09 car on the track back to the computer predictions, and ensure precise correlation. if so, then it's not really about doing fast lap times, it's about doing the same laptime that the computers said that you would.

there is no in-season testing this year, no 100% wind tunnel work, engines have to last even more weekends, after setup-work, spare practice mileage for testing, using unrubbered Friday tracks, will be tight ... that's game-changing stuff. the old methods no longer work. how do you make sure that you are in a proper position to aggressively and reliably develop the car all year long.

mclaren want their engineers, designers and drivers to be able to heavily lean-on software and simulations, much more than anyone has ever seen before (ron's nirvana surely? all the engineering, none of the mess) ... i think perhaps what we've seen from mclaren so far this winter is the long-game, it isn't about melbourne, it's about being ready for the nurburgring and for fuji. to confidently bolt on new "untested" parts and knock two tenths off when you need it.

if this is what they are trying, how successful have they been, we punters won't know till mid-season, but i can't help feel that getting distracted by the stopwatch might mean missing out on a much more interesting bigger picture.
here comes pedro, the SMS text-pest, what's he got to say, "We are doing a lot of comparative work with different configurations. What has surprised us is that other teams are not doing the same".

either way, that new floor was clearly designed months ago, it represents a very clear and distinct aero design philosophy. all the flick-ups, fences and steps, it's not a hacksaw-job and it represents decisions taken way before any "winter testing crisis".

haug was quoted a month or two ago talking off "a completely new interaction between floor and rear-wing". i think we saw the first part of that new interaction yesterday.

today, mclaren bolted on some small sidepod winglets, important but not critical aero elements, and again, after a few laps, splattered them with flow-viz paint. more checking, more validation and more real-world feedback for the computer models.

sure, it is absolutely possible that they have produced a broken hopeless car that will on these times struggle to get out of Q1, or instead they could have shown us how all F1 cars will be tested in the future. that's pretty much your two choices, place your bets.


Think Glock is more likely to give Toyota a result .... Jarno has rarely sustained his quali performance over a race distance.


Your comments on the McLaren having to wait to get on the power are very interesting. Most discussions have focused on the McLaren having aero problems at top speed on the straights with a 'stalling' rear wing. In your opinion is the grip problem the main issue facing McLaren or is it the aero at high speed?


What is your opinion on the Ferrari team? More, precisely, does Kimi look like "he's back to his natural driving style"? They had last year some problems heating the tyres (especially Kimi). Does the car struggle on the first laps of the stints or does it seem to be able to heat the tyres quickly enough?


Thinking about all the Mclaren back-end problems surely this is a result of the design borne out of Hamilton's desire to throw the back of the car into the corner and sort it out as he's exiting - something which befuddled all his competitors in the previous years, how he could carry so much speed through a corner.

So maybe Kovalainen is just wrestling with a car designed for Lewis...?

As for the viz-paint, well we do know how Mclaren like to have an interesting paint job to highlight their car on the TV for the sponsors, maybe they're "pushing the envelope" with some "Green Sky thinking"


I tend to agree with @IM. Using the 08 rear wing & aero paint suggests the wind tunnels and computer models have thrown up some miscalculations. And then you have to wonder what else is wrong. JA's observations would seem to confirm this.


Fascinating stuff. The information you have given from the test is a million times more useful than anything I have read anywhere else.

I do hope it stays as close as this right until Melbourne. Although I tend to think that Ferrari will be able to pull away by a few tenths by then. We will soon find out.

One thing I have noticed in the last couple of days is the "shark fin" seems to be popping up again. Renault launched their car with a shark fin but now I have seen it on the Red Bull and the BMW.

Is the shark fin actually allowed under these new regulations? And won't a shark fin just make overtaking harder which goes against the intention of these new rules?


I cannot believe that McLaren have a real problem with the rear wing, it's such a fundamental and major part of the package and everyone else has shown that there is no real issue. I rather think that they are simply trying to increase the down-force in order to get LH's tyres to last more than a few laps. They certainly have enough experience and computing power. OF course Lewis's driving style will not help since he will probably be hanging the back out and sliding it about all over the place, nervous because he now knows the queen will be watching. 🙂

BTW in order to gain a couple of feet advantage in the event of a visual dead heat, the transponder needs to be in position "C". between the front wheels rather than A or B beside the cockpit opening.


James. Will we see you in commentary box this year, i am not going to watch F1 if you are not there ... [ There may be tears in the Javed household, I fear -- Moderator ]


I agree ... great coverage James! MUCH more useful than anything on the news sites with quotes from the teams and their mandatory spin, or speculation and rumor starting by journalists with nothing else to print. Fascinating is right.

I personally would enjoy seeing McLaren struggle and as someone said ... seeing how Lewis handles not having an ideal car. THEN we'll see what he's really made of.


after reading the latest time sheets (from the last testing days) i'd say that McLaren are not sandbagging. they really seem to have huge problems.

All i want to ask is can the designers provide them with an accepted/good solution within the next week(s)?

IMHO they do not have ample time to do so..


- It's hard to believe that after such a competitive car last season Mclaren is having issues putting one together this year. I know they were developing all the way to the end of the season but Ferrari were doing the same and they're setting the pace now. So much for that facility in Woking.


BostonF1, it happened to Ferrari after 2004... However, wonderful post by Mr. Allen! I am happy that I discovered this site!


It's happened to McLaren before, the MP4-18 was so bad is was never raced, the MP4-19 was slow and they got Newey to pretty much design a new car mid-season in the guise of the MP4-19a, only then did they start winning races.

Every car from then to the championship winning (for Lewis) MP4-23 was an evolution on the MP4-19a and as such they started from a winning position.


F1 is a sport of small/fine margins. By sandbagging you are setting a false hurdle. If no one knows how high you can jump, they can't jump higher than you.

If Mclaren & Ferrari are not sandbagging Mclaren knows it has to find 1.6s a lap. Simple calculation. Assume Mclaren finds this performance, Melbourne will be a tight race. In theory. But if Ferrari have been sandbagging 1s a lap, then even if Mclaren finds this 1.6s a lap they will be trailing by 1s a lap & it'll be to late to do anything about it.

That's why teams sandbag.


If one team were doing extra-fast laps all winter, then the other teams would know how much more was achievable within the rules and would get to copying parts, etc. They'd know that there was more time to be got.

By sandbagging, no other team will copy their ideas (after all, why copy a car that's slower than your own?), and no other team will be quite aware of the ultimate time available from the same regs.

I like @lower-case david's idea of them tying up the CFD / simulation results with on-track results. I hadn't thought of it that way, but did think that they were not where it seems they are.


My wife says I over-think things too but the information age is over - it's the knowledge age. The edge is no longer what information you have access to, it's what you choose to collect and what you do with it.

With testing so limited, what is more important? Topping the time-charts every test or making the most of every minute in test time to maximize your chances of topping the time-charts in qualifying and winning races?


Hey Tony - I don't hold it against him and I accept your exceptional qualifier/good racer nomenclature. But I still think that means that Glock is more likely to deliver over a race distance. Now't against Trulli - he's a lovely chap. Hopefully, he'll prove me wrong about his race potential.


The shark fin increases high-speed straight line stability, increases rear-end balance and airflow around the engine cover.

The downside being at circuits with high cross winds, such as Silverstone it can have an adverse effect.

What I have seen that is interesting recently is how far back the Red Bull shark fin goes. It looks as though it is connected/sealed to the rear wing. Can anyone confirm. http://www.formula1.com/photos/597x478/manual/deh0910ma61.jpg" rel="nofollow">Have a look here


That is an interesting perspective Lower-Case. Accurate calibration between the virtual and the real will give mclaren a lot of confidence in their CFD simulations going forward. It will be interesting to see at the end of the season the impact of the testing ban on development.

But, as webber pointed out, mclaren have a history of creating shit boxes. Good years followed by bad year.


That was a wonderful analysis. Nice job.

With all due respect James, you should watch out for him.


Sorry mate but I think you've added 2 and 2 and got 102.

CFD and wind tunnel testing can only take you so far and yes it must be validated by actual track data. No team will be able to go only on computer predictions when developing a car. What your seeing now most likely has more to do with Mclaren trying to figure out where their computer predictions are going wrong rather than doing some checks so that they can do away with track testing all together..

Lapping slowly with some bright pait on does not suggest all is well with the CFD/wind tunnel to track data conversion. They might as well have painted "why isn't our car doing what the computer says it should do" on the car with the flow vis stuff because that is what it is there for. If the car was performing as they had expected then none of this excessive checking would be going on.

Look at Honda in 2007, their wind tunnels said they had built a good car but they obviously had not; they spent the whole year trying to figure out where their predicted results were going wrong.

That's not to say Mclaren have built an RA107, but everything points to them trying to figure out why they are not getting the results they expected from the predictions.

With today's cars being so complex every team at some point has struggled matching up track data to CFD/Wind Tunnel data and Mclaren testing the way they are suggests they going through this common problem.


I've never really thought this reputation was fair. I think it's more accurate to think of Trulli as an exception qualifier and a good racer. I find it odd that people hold it against him for putting his car in a much better starting position that it deserves.


I think Ferrari had a tradition already of many many years already for being stronger in races than qualifying. With Massa the problem (or strength) doesn't show so clearly because he is rather wild driver and cant push so hard lap after lap as Kimi.


I expect the Macca problems are in part covered by James' paragraph talking about all the cars having the back ends swing out in corners. If the rear of the Macca is particularly twitchy and having stalling problems, then this would presumably make the drive out of corners more tricky as well ... waiting for the car to be ready for traction. The aero problems into and round corners will impact on traction coming out of corners as well. Part and parcel of the same problem?

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