The winter break ended today with the first day of Formula 1 testing on the permanent circuit in Valencia ahead of the 2011 season and the top of the time sheets looked much as they did in November with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel on top.
In total eleven teams were running today, all except Lotus, whose planned programme in the new car starts tomorrow.
Although world champion Sebastian Vettel set the pace today in the new Red Bull RB7, not all teams were using 2011 specification cars. Force India, McLaren, HRT and Virgin were using last year’s models, aiming to gain knowledge on the Pirelli tyres with the old car before running with the new one.
McLaren is using a car with an approximation of 2011 aerodynamics, with a blocked up diffuser, for example, but it is using a 2010 rear wing, not an adjustable one.
The headline lap time was 1.2 seconds slower than the first day of last year’s opening Valencia test, but so much has changed on the cars, with new tyre supplier, adjustable rear wing, KERS, no F Duct wing and no double diffuser. It is very early days yet and much will change over the next five weeks.
There has been a lot of interest in the exhausts on the Renault, which exit in the base at the front of the sidepods, blowing air out down the side of the sidepods onto the floor. This takes things on from the concept from last year of blowing exhaust gases through the diffuser to gain extra downforce. Keeping the internals of the car cool, not to mention the paint and bodywork around the exhaust exit with temperatures around the 800 degrees mark, is quite a feat for Renault.
All the drivers have been experimenting with the adjustable rear wing and for many it was a first experience of using KERS – often both at the same time. Getting the wing back to its higher downforce position before braking and corner entry will be important otherwise vital downforce and therefore grip, will be lost. Nico Rosberg said that it was an unusual feeling but that no doubt all the drivers will get used to it quickly, such is the nature of the sport, “That (adjustable wing) takes some getting used to because you push the button and the thing goes down on the back so you feel a little bit that the car gets lighter and then you release the button again before the braking and you think ‘Geez, what if this thing hasn’t gone back to its old position?’ ..then you’re off in a big way.”
Vettel covered 93 laps, an impressive total for a new car and two more than McLaren’s Gary Paffett, “Looking back it is something that we never got quite as good on the first day over the last two or three years, so that is a very good sign,” he said. Alonso managed 98 in the new Ferrari. The bar is high from the start.
Vettel acknowledged that he and the Red Bull team have now gone from being the hunter to the hunted, “It is a difficult situation we’re in, more difficult than last year when we said ‘okay, let’s just go for the title, ” he said. “This year is a different story because we want to try and defend the titles, but we have to develop from how we were last year otherwise we will be taking a step back and others will pass us.”
Although he set the slowest time of the day, due to time lost with a hydraulic issue, Nico Rosberg gave the new Mercedes the thumbs up, “”I think it’s just a better car in general,” he said. “The whole car is just a big step forward for us. With the aerodynamics there’s still a lot to come so in the next few weeks I think we will make quite a lot of progress still.”
Sauber’s technical director James Key shared the view of many when he observed that the performance of the Pirelli tyres still dropped off quite sharply and that degradation was quite significant, a characteristic teams observed in the Abu Dhabi test last November. Each team has just 20 sets available to them for this test.
McLaren’s Gary Paffett put a positive spin on it,” Today was about trying to understand the tyres – we established a good baseline and then did some long runs. Happily, the wear issues we experienced in Abu Dhabi have definitely improved; we saw better wear patterns and fewer problems with the tyres. It’s useful to understand how the tyres go off, and how the balance changes once they do. The Medium seems to last the longest and the Super-soft the shortest, but that’s exactly what you want from a tyre – and it should lead to different strategies once we start racing.”
It is early days yet as the track is still rubbering in. It will be interesting to see what the story is after three days.
Recent winter tests in Spain have been blighted by bad weather, but today the weather behaved and the forecast is good for the next few days.
– Additional reporting Tom Clarkson –
VALENCIA TEST, Day 1
1 Vettel Red Bull 1m13.769s – 93 laps
2 Hulkenberg Force India 1m13.938s +0.169 -71 laps
3 Paffett McLaren 1m14.292s +0.523 – 91 laps
4 Di Resta Force India 1m14.461s +0.692 – 28 laps
5 Alonso Ferrari 1m14.553s +0.784 – 98 laps
6 Kobayashi Sauber 1m15.621s +1.852 – 68 laps
7 D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m16.003s +2.234 – 71 laps
8 Petrov Renault 1m 16.351 + 2.582 – 28 laps
9 Schumacher Mercedes 1m16.450s +2.681 – 15 laps
10 Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m17.214s +3.445 – 20 laps
11 Barrichello Williams 1m17.335s +3.566 – 78 laps
12 Karthikeyan HRT 1m18.020s +4.251 – 45 laps
12 Rosberg Mercedes 1m19.930s +6.161 – 15 laps