The final official test starts this morning in Barcelona, with 11 teams out on track – all the teams competing this season except for USF1 and Campos.
The four day test is the final chance for the teams to test out new developments before the first race in Bahrain on 14 March.
The first two tests were largely about proving reliability, while the more advanced teams started to push the performance side a lot more in Jerez last week.
For this week a wide range of new aerodynamic upgrades is expected. Teams like McLaren and Ferrari have produced significant packages of top body, floor, engine cover and so on, primarily aerodynamic steps as it seems from talking to the engineers that aero is still the big area of growth potential, despite all the cut backs. These steps should be worth significant chunks of lap time.
This will inevitably mean that the pecking order, which started to appear last week in Jerez, might get reshuffled a bit. We saw very little low fuel running last week, most teams set their fastest time with around 50 kilos of fuel in the car. This week we will see a mixture of high fuel running, ie the full 150/160 kilos they will start the race with and some very obvious low fuel qualifying runs, where the headline lap times will come.
From this we should see who has the best long run performance for the races and who has the best qualifying performance. This year a car is required to have both and this is a difficult balance to strike, because you are asking your car to be hard on the tyres for a single lap in qualifying and then without being able to change the set up, be gentle on the tyres for the race.
It will be particularly interesting to look at McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton’s style naturally leans on a tyre, which will be good for qualifying, whereas Jenson Button is more smooth, so switching the tyre on for qualifying will be his challenge.
Both are high quality experienced drivers so they should be able to adapt, but there may be a difference between them in this area at this stage. It will not be easy to compare as they will be running on different days and track conditions change a lot at Barcelona from day to day.
Most engineers I have spoken to agree that prioritising qualifying is the right thing to do this year, but if you go too far down that line you may end up wrecking your tyres in the race and get overtaken in the closing stages. Being able to trim the car as the race unfolds, using the front win adjusters, will be important for maintaining tyre performance and that is something we will see a lot of this week.
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