The start of F1 testing is just 23 days away and most of the teams are flat out getting their first chassis built. It’s an exciting time but also a nervous one. From talking to a number of teams this last week they all share an anxiety that one of their rivals might have come up with a silver bullet, this year’s equivalent of the F Duct – a must-have aero device which gives a good few tenths of a second advantage and all must copy.
The ones they really fear are those built into the chassis, like McLaren’s F Duct scoop last year, because chassis have to be homologated and you cannot make changes after that. So you have to go about copying it in a different, less effective way.
It’s interesting that McLaren has decided to launch its car after the first test and it will be closely scrutinised for any clever new devices when it breaks cover.
Red Bull will have its new car at the first test and Ferrari will also be in Valencia with a new car Engineers at Ferrari are painfully aware that it’s been a while since they truly innovated, brought out something that everyone else had to copy.
McLaren, like Force India, have taken the option of bringing an old or interim car to Valencia on February 1, partly to get more development time in the wind tunnel, but also to use the first test to cover lots of ground with the full range of Pirelli tyres. This comes on the back of a test in Abu Dhabi where they used Gary Paffett for both the young guns test and the Pirelli test, which gave them good back to back information on the comparison of the tyres. Force India did the same with Paul di Resta.
Pirelli will be bringing a large selection of tyres to the tests, not simply four compounds. They have yet to specify the tyres for the first Grands Prix and the Bahrain specification will probably have to be made soon after the second test in Jerez in order to have the lead time to make and ship the tyres for the first race. Last year Bridgestone brought the super soft and the medium to Bahrain, Pirelli have to decide their four compounds from the range and then decide which two to bring to Bahrain. How hard should they make the super soft? Do they want to be conservative at the outset or produce a more edgy tyre, which will make the drivers and strategists work harder? To me that equals better entertainment for fans and I hope we see it. We don’t want every race to be like Montreal last year, where the tyres weren’t lasting at all, but a few races of that kind would be welcome. And from speaking to teams they’d welcome that variety too.
But it’s a tough choice for Pirelli. The choice they make will suit the characteristics of some cars more than others and, after probably two tests, they will know that when they make their choice.
The lesson from the Abu Dhabi test was that the tyre wear was high on the Pirellis and once the performance had gone off they didn’t come back, unlike the Bridgestones. The other lesson was that Yas Marina wasn’t ideal for testing because it constantly improves, so engineers don’t know how much a change is worth relative to track improvement.
The Pirellis work fine on a 2010 car so by having well sorted reliable 2010 cars out there pounding around, Force India and McLaren will get through almost thousand kilometres and learn a lot.
All the other teams will hope to do likewise in Valencia, but with a brand new car there is always the risk of lots of time spent in the garage.
The other factor for McLaren is that race drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton didn’t do the Abu Dhabi test as part of a deliberate ploy. So they will want the maximum time on the tyres to get a feel for them. When I spoke to Button about this at the final race he was adamant that the tyres will have changed a lot from the November test to February 1, so he wanted to maximise his mileage in February when the data would be more relevant.
Photo: Darren Heath