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Barcelona Day 2: Impressions from the trackside
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Feb 2012   |  11:43 pm GMT  |  125 comments

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull continue to be the team to beat as the F1 testing season reached the half way point today.

I was trackside today in Barcelona, getting a first view of the 2012 cars in anger and sounding out the feeling of teams and engineers up and down the paddock.

On Day two of the second of three tests, the Red Bull carried out a race simulation run in the afternoon. It wasn’t spectacular, which gave other teams some encouragement, but the car clearly works in all conditions and is fast and well balanced. It picks up where last year’s car left off.

The fastest time on Day 2 was set in the morning by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, using the super soft compound tyres for the first time, but the Red Bull is acknowledged up and down the pit lane as the form car. “We’ll win races this year,” said one leading figure in the team, somewhat ironically.

However the picture is emerging of how the rest of the teams are shaping up and a good battle appears to be in prospect for the season. McLaren are not ahead of Red Bull, but nor did they expect to be. However they believe that they are likely to be close enough next week, once the definitive Melbourne specification parts are fitted to the cars, to know that they can take Red Bull on this season. It’s a long season with development again likely to be the key and McLaren look happy enough with where they are.

Ferrari’s disappointment has been well chronicled, but this is more disappointment that they are not ahead of Red Bull, as they expected they might be with the dramatic step change in direction they have taken. The signs are that they won’t be challenging for honours at the start of the season, but the car has potential and it’s really a question of whether they can get it working well soon enough to challenge for the championship. Understandably there is some nervousness about that in the team.

Meanwhile the Mercedes appears at first sight to be a good car with some interesting solutions in the diffuser, the exhausts and other areas, but it does not contain the silver bullet that some were expecting. It is a step forward for the Silver Arrows and should certainly bag some podiums this year, but whether it’s enough to challenge for the odd race win, it’s too early to say.

Although it suffered some reliability issues today, the Toro Rosso looks a good package and is likely to score points certainly in the first half of the season. The midfield battle with Force India, Sauber and the rest will be very tight this year, but I fancy Toro Rosso to start out at the front of it.

Lotus’ dramatic setback, with a chassis failure on Day 1 here, has been a major talking point. It appears that they thought they’d come up with a super new way of making lighter weight monocoque using clever composite techniques, but when the car tested in Barcelona, for some reason, perhaps to do with loadings, perhaps a construction issue, the chassis failed. This was verified when the other chassis was put on the test rig at the factory.

Although the problem area can be repaired, this comes at the worst time in the testing cycle for the team, as they have lost the entire middle test and are only able to claw back one day of the four that will have been lost, which they can add on to next week’s test. The car had appeared to be going well so it is a major setback.

Elsewhere in the field, the Williams looks a better car than last year’s, is very reliable with the highest mileage so far, but lacks some pace still.

Vitaly Petrov was out in the Caterham today, but struggled to get comfortable in the car at the start of the day, before getting down to work.

1. Hulkenberg Force India 1m22.608s 112 Laps
2. Perez Sauber 1m22.648s +0.040 85
3. Vettel Red Bull 1m22.891s +0.283 104
4. Alonso Ferrari 1m23.180s +0.572 87
5. Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.639s +1.031 48
6. Hamilton McLaren 1m23.806s +1.198 121
7. Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.555s +1.947 82
8. Bottas Williams 1m25.738s +3.130 117
9. Petrov Caterham 1m26.605s +3.997 69
10. Pic Marussia 1m27.343s +4.735 108

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Hi James,

Looking at photos from testing it appears that the top teams have taken somewhat different approaches to rear end downforce this year. As with last year, this years key development area seems to be the rear end aerodynamics. In particular, how to best use the airflows coming from the exhaust and radiators (engine, tranny, KERS, etc.). Red bull pioneered routing the radiator airflow out through the single port on the engine cover. Ferrari actually tested a solution similar to this last year, but decided to take a different approach this year.

Red bulls approach seems to be focused on creating downforce on the rear beam wing by blowing the exhaust and radiator outlet airflow across it. The nose cone step air inlet on the red bull must simply be redirecting small jets of air down to a key point on the floor. The red bulls diffuser approach is also unique in that the centre section dips down to form a channel for air passing around the side pods and down to the centre of the car below the transmission. There is an excellent photo that shows this on f1-fanatic.

In contrast, both Ferrari and mclaren seem to be using the exhaust and radiator flows to energize the airflow coming out from under the diffuser. Could mclaren and Ferrari be using a single outlet for both the exhaust and radiator airflows? The Ferrari in particular is very blatant in its design, with the rear exhaust ports clearly angled down towards the floor. Given the new exhaust outlet orientation regs, they might be trying to use the manipulated radiator airflow to help redirect the exhaust gases down towards the floor. This could help energize the airflow coming out of the diffuser by blowing the hot gasses across the top of the floor. They may also have specific slots or gaps in the floor to transfer some of the outlet airflow under the floor.

Any insight on these seemingly contrasting design directions James?


Thanks for that thorough appraisal. I’ll investigate and post some thoughts on it


That STR has seemed strong on pace so far but a bit lacking in reliability; Ricciardo has been the cause of four red flags (one of which was a deliberate “out of fuel” run). Any idea what the problems may be? (I say this as a concerned Ricciardo fan)


Hi James,

Please could you clarify the term ‘chassis failure’…Does this actually mean that the chassis has failed in the sense that part of it has literally broken, or does it just mean it has failed in terms of predicted performance?


I think it broke.


Hi James what`s your take on this…please do reply…and Also reply Ferrari`s engine mapping on this…

[B]Teams that use Renault engines and Mercedes in serious trouble[/B]

If you are confirmed German press reports today, that before the season starts we are preparing a small revolution. Three days ago I mentioned to you that Renault and Red Bull worked very hard over the appropriate mapping for the engine to compensate for losses caused by non-blowing in the diffuser. Once the information has reached us, is undoubtedly also be given authority of the FIA.

The first signals that reach from the federation can be very disturbing for the teams that use Renault engines, but not only. According to the experts working for the FIA engine software used by the engines Renault and Mercedes in breach of applicable laws. Although the exhaust pipes are not addressed in the diffuser, it still throws gas engine when the driver pull off the accelerator.

Soon, interested teams should get the records detailing the technical directive regulations in this regard. In early March, it should also hold a meeting of representatives of the teams with the authorities of the FIA, in which the problem will also be moved. If a team fails to comply with the recommendations, the FIA provides that it does not allow them to race at the start of the season in Australia.

I stress again that if the information provided by German journalists are true (and I have no reason to believe that they are not), then the team mentioned above will be placed in a very difficult situation. The teams have spent a lot of time to design a new exhaust system and any change in the way the engine can have a huge impact on the balance of the whole structure. Only Ferrari can feel secure, which may soon be the cause of many conspiracy theories, but so far we do not reopen this issue.


Why is no one reporting this if it is the case?


Not something I’ve heard about but I’ll look out for that, thanks


James few updates i got from one of the post…even i don`t know what`s true n what`s not…but here is the post…

FIA says they did have a meeting and they’re still discussing about it. But nothing is been banned or called ilegal so far

-Charlie Whiting says “a” team came over to the FIA complaining about the engine mapping and they’re discussing about it. More info at 5pm

-So that we’re all clear about it, C.Whiting didn’t say they’re having a meeting with the teams now. Discussion is happening within FIA


Any news on this?

I read this on There are rumours Renault and Mercedes-powered teams are still using clever engine mapping techniques for aerodynamic effect.

I also read that Merecedes is hiding something special. Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reports that mechanics working for the Brackley based team are making more efforts than usual to hide the front and rear of the car. But a big secret is now out of the bag, and it’s located beneath the rear rain light and being described by insiders as “like a double diffuser”.


ok thank you James will be waiting for ur reply…


Thanks James this is great info


i think the mp4 27 is a good car ,what i cant figure is the exhaust lay outs ,they seem to be blocking the air flow to the lower spoiler ,thought it would be better to have them closer in to help energize the air flow on to the lower spoiler thus creating more down force

hope this year all four top teams are close a one man show is boring the best action last year was button chasing down vettel in canada and lewis coming through the field and his battles with massa lol love it ,the ideal race all four top teams start at the back


James, is there a decent lap time gap between the different tyre compounds? People are praising the new Pirellis’ consistency but does this mean that the tyres are super reliable just like the Bridgestones were? Which made for boring strategies as the tyres just kept on going no matter they did with them…


Gap is down, probably a bit too close between soft and medium. But the key thing is the tyres degrade, which Bridgestones didn’t. So it cannot be the same as it was then


James is there a big difference in tyre performance compare to last years?


There have been rumours reported that Renault and Mercedes are still exploiting off throttle engine maps!

Do you have any information on this or can you quash the rumours?


James, thanks for the report from trackside in Barcelona.

Did you hear anything about the issues that Ferrari has with wind tunnel and track data correlation?


Hi James,

Can you please clarify in what tyres did Vettel and Alonso set their time?




Vettel – Soft

Alonso – Super soft

Tifosi numero uno

Very concernd about my boys in Red, I just really hope there is some more upgrades coming towards melbourne so were at least fighting for podiums. Also im so happy for my fellow australian Daniel Ricciardo, looking at his times from this weekend and following his career now since he was abit younger, absolutely stoked for the lad. H


Ferrari are testing many different setups with the new car. These tests are about data acquisition so they can best predict how the car will behave in all situations and then they can develop parts to increase performance. Don’t be too worried right now. This 20 race season is a marathon, not a sprint. The championship is not won during pre season testing. Ferrari will be ready for Melbourne.


James, with regard to Lotus, can a new chassis be built in less than three weeks?


Yes I can see the Hamilton bregade all rubbing their hands and think that Vettel will be toppled this season but sorry to disappoint you guys the finger is here to stay as champion and even if the pace of the car is even Seb will take the title, don’t make me say I told you so after Melbourne.


If the pace of the McLaren and RBR are the same through the season, then Vettel will not win the DWC. But time will tell …


The title is decided after Melbourne?


did the statistic show whoever won in Melbourne has a good chance go on and with the title?


…can you feel that?….its winds of change are already blowing in Spain. A hurricane called LHWDC2012 will be hitting Melbourne in March 🙂


Hi James what is the mood at Williams? The team is in dire need for some results this year after a raft of changes in personnal and I imagine the money men involved with the team must be getting annoyed.

You say the car lacks pace not a great sign as I do not think that Williams have the best track record in developing a car over the season in recent years.


Stil recovering from 2011, but more confident in the 2012 car, even if it needs some more speed


I might be wrong (its contrary to reports afterall), but what I’ve seen of the McLaren so far I think they are in serious trouble. Watching it turn in and turn out of corners has, at the moment, got me thinking it is behind Ferrari, way behind Red Bull and perhaps even struggling to keep up with Mercedes.

But like I said I could be wrong.


No, the car is good. It’s not Red Bull good, but it’s close enough that the development programme will give the drivers a chance to fight for the championship


James, I don’t mean to speculate, but from the minimal information in testing so far, McLaren seem have made a major step forward. Poor high speed corner grip was their downfall last season and they seem to have found a solution early on.

One thing I feel that has RBR worried is that the progress has come using a different design philosophy. I think copying any of McLaren’s performance upgrades may not be as simple this year, for the stepped nose teams 🙂


That works both ways, though…


True, but judging from the speed at which McLaren develop their car over the season. I am sure RBR is already wary


I’m an F1 fan foremost and McLaren happen to be my favorite team. So while I hope you’re correct, your theory doesn’t weight out.

McLaren’s development through the season, whilst impressive, has usually involved implementing their own versions of other teams ideas.

If the two philosophies are difficult to copy from then Red Bull have 11 other teams they can look at to copy ideas from. McLaren rely entirely on its own innovation.


Good to have second test impressions, and being a McLaren fan I was a little concerned that their front end design was different from all the others, but it looks as though they have made a beautiful design work well. They do seem to have excellent reliability just hope they are fast enough to really challenge the Bulls. Next week’s test should be a little more revealing as the cars edge closer to race trim, but can’t wait for Melbourne.


Hello James, I am waiting for your verdict come the end of the pre-testing. I rememeber how you sort of announced the 2009 Mclaren as a very bad car as compared to the brawn gp, RBR…I wasn’t ready to accept it but it was the case come Melbourne.

Mark in Australia

Anyone inform me what’s the black pole is on top of the air intake is?? Is it a testing apparatus of some kind?


Testing has been very interesting so far. Red Bull looks strong, but McLaren is very close to them, so at the moment it will be those two teams fighting for Pole Positions and Race Wins.


Hi James, a bit off topic, but do you think the funding crisis that has hit Mr. Mallaya’s airline back in India will have any impact on his F1 team? Looks like the man himself is going to be very distracted for the forseeable trying to remedy a major problem in one of his core business interests. That must surely have some affect on his F1 team….?


Isn’t that the very reason he offloaded half of his F1 team to Mr. Sahara?


Could do. It’s a question many in F1 are asking too


Looks like another dog of a Williams – Its worse than a Kevin Costner Movie(s)!


Hi James, regarding Lotus and the chassis failure…why hasn’t this come up during the FIA impact tests? Thanks


I suspect that they have been deploying the “Thin Ply Technique (TPT)” for laying up the carbon composites.

Refer to recent Seahorse articles by North Sails where they expound on the increase in specific stiffness and lower weight that can be achieved by laying the carbon down onto the tub mould in 50 gsm tapes rather than 300gsm or 900 gsm tapes.

The lower denier fibres used in the TPT carbon unidirectional material leads to a reduction in voids for the glue matrix, giving a claimed higher carbon content and increased stiffness.

This technique has been used in carbon mast making for the Volvo round the world race. It also the technique for laying up the black monolithic sails used in high end yachting sails. Pity several snapped in the early phase of the current event.


Thanks James – I’ve read a lot about the testing, but this piece has been by far the most balanced and informative – going well beyond what the times sheets show (which we know at this stage gives very little idea about the teams’ relative stanidngs) and instead focussing on the little things that give us real insight into how well the teams are doing. Keep it up!

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