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What to look out for in the final pre-season F1 test
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Feb 2012   |  11:28 pm GMT  |  47 comments

This week in Barcelona the F1 teams will have their final chance to test the new cars before shipping them off to Australia for the first race, which is just over two weeks from now.

The test starts on Thursday and runs to Sunday. It’s a crucial opportunity to put the planned development updates on the car which will be used in Melbourne and it should give us a clearer indication of who starts where at the opening of the season.

It is however important to point out that there is likely to be a lot of movement from the start of the season to the end, depending on the amount of development budget teams have and on the directions they take with their cars. So a team which starts strongly in the midfield in Melbourne, for example, could be behind its rivals by Silverstone, so much can change.

Conservative estimates would say that a decent development programme through the season would make a car around 2 seconds per lap faster in Brazil than it will be this week in Barcelona. That’s roughly what eight months and around £15 million of development spend will bring you.

From what I’ve seen so far and picked up from sources and friends in the paddock, Red Bull is ahead and has a significant update package to roll out this week. Whether they will go for an eye catching lap time remains to be seen, but from what we’ve seen so far in testing this year, caginess is the name of the game, so I doubt we’ll see Vettel stick in a low fuel flyer on the final day.

McLaren is close to Red Bull and there’s a mixture of relief and confidence in Woking; relief that the car isn’t a dud like last year’s was at this stage and confidence springing from that, which says that the intense development programme planned should put them in the hunt from the early races, even if they are a few tenths off in Melbourne qualifying.

Those two teams are out front at the moment. Mercedes is next, with everyone looking very closely at photos of the Mercedes diffuser, which has some clever solutions for channeling air and exhaust. It could be the first device to be widely copied, as everyone scrabbles around to recover lost downforce at the back of the car. Nico Rosberg did a very useful race distance run last week and we’ll be looking out to see another step on from there this week.

All eyes will be on the Lotus garage. The black and gold team suffered a major embarrassment when the car had to be withdrawn from testing on day one of the first Barcelona test due to abnormal behaviour of the chassis construction. New composite techniques aimed at lightening the weight of the monocoque appear to have backfired, costing the team four valuable days testing.

Prior to that the car looked quick in Jerez; the team had gone about that first test aggressively, Raikkonen looked impressively sharp for a driver who’s been out for two years and Grosjean was quick when he followed the Finn into the car. Perhaps the longer runs showed that they weren’t quite as quick as initial impressions suggested, but this week will give a better idea of where they are relative to Mercedes.

Ferrari are a big unknown at the moment. They made some progress last week in Barcelona after a painful birth for the car and it’s really a question of how calm they’ve been able to remain back at base in the face of what was starting to look like a mini-crisis. If they’ve stayed cool and thought carefully through the next steps, then we should see some further progress this week at the test with new solutions on the exhausts and on rear end aerodynamics in particular.

Force India look to be in very good shape. Their car is quick and they have two young, quick drivers who seem to be pushing each other along very well. This looks like the form outfit of midfield at the moment, with Toro Rosso also looking reasonable. Of the two you’d have to back Force India to go on and develop the more strongly over 20 races – it looks like being a good year for the Indian team. Their car has still got the characteristic of being very fast in a straight line, but clearly has plenty of downforce too, which bodes well.

Williams has done a massive mileage and now needs to squeeze out some more pace from its car. The emphasis this week in Spain will be on looking to unlock more speed, making sure that they’ve got everything working to the maximum. The team has a Renault engine and KERS, which is a good start.

Sauber did some reasonable times in the first Barcelona test, as it goes about its business without a technical director; James Key having left the team just before the start of the season. Qualifying pace is a key area for the team, after a patchy performance in this area last year.

Caterham is quite hard to read as some promising early signs were rather scrubbed out by reliability issues in Barcelona last week. We’ve not seen yet the kind of pace which is going to bridge the gap from where they were last year to the Williams/Sauber/Toro Rosso pace and that’s what we’ll be looking for this week.

As for the two backmarker teams, Marussia and HRT, sadly the new rule for 2012 which obliges all teams to pass 18 different crash tests has made life tricky for them. Marussia looks set to miss the week’s testing after failing one of the tests, while HRT has now finally got through. Hopefully they will make an appearance at some point this week in Barcelona.

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Great article James.

Really appreciate the insight.

My only questions is (and I agree with you with the form of the teams and preliminary pecking order) that if everyone is optimistic and confident of moving up the order, then – a lot of them are wrong. There is only 1 first place, 1 podium, 10 points paying positions…

I love the pre-season and build up to the first grand prix, but so many of these guys will be eating humble pie.


Well it’s all shaping up to be one of the best seasons ever. – I could be wrong, but I suspect Red Bull and McLaren are so close that there maybe only a hairs breadth between them. Initially I think Mercedes will be next with I think Lotus beathing down their necks. Ferrari seem to be in disarray, but don’t underestimate the brain power there as they may suddenly switch on that car of theirs to become a real championship contender at the front. – Just look at that gaping mouth! – One would think they had downforce by the bucket load. Force India look strong and I expect them to move forward rather more than expected particularly if Ferrari continue to underperform.

Whose championship? – I think it may be between Vettel and Hamilton. Vettel is on the crest of a wave, Hamilton has something to prove.


“New composite techniques aimed at lightening the weight of the monocoque appear to have backfired, costing the team four valuable days testing.” – not sure if this is the case.

I heard that the Lotus issues were to do with front suspension. James Allison, Lotus technical director said this regarding the first day in Barcelona testing: “We saw immediately that we had a problem with the mounting of the upper front wishbone rear arm.”


Yes that’s right, but the issue is with the mounting point for the upper wishbone for the front suspension on the chassis. – So it’s a chassis problem, and as they have had to strengthen this up resulting in adding an extra kg which could have all but cancelled out any weight saving they originally envisaged.


I’m wondering what the reasoning is for Red Bull not to go for a low fuel headline grabbing time. On the face of it, seeing how far ahead they are could demoralize the opposition, and the only reason not to would be if they lack confidence that they are significantly ahead.


At this point in time subterfuge is better than headline grabbing.Better to keep the opposition guessing than giving them a yardstick, but they will know exactly how quick they are.


It’s far more effective to demoralize the competition in Q3 and the first stint of the race!


At this stage it’s difficult not to imagine a relative re-hash of 2011, up the front. Vettel was very rarely more than a few seconds up the road in 2011, but that was all he needed and it appears he has the tools to do so again.

I think the most fascinating thing might be the two sets of drivers who need to be impressing: Di Resta/Hulkenberg and Vergne/Ricciardo. It’s hard to imagine all four going the distance long-term.


Things don’t look to be boding well for Ferrari.

I had such high hopes for their 2012 challenger but it looks like they’ll be taking a step back from the start of this season.


As far as I am aware, Williams are still using their own KERS, not the one developed by Renault.


It was poorly expressed I meant to say that they have KERS and they have Renault engines.


Are Williams running Renault KERS or their own?


Cant wait for this season to start. I’m know that I am going to end up watching the race 2 or 3 times though to hear James, Brundle and Coulthards take on whats happening! agghh. Bring it.



Hi James,

Will the track be wetted for part of the final test in order to test the wet tyres, or do the wet tyres remain unchanged from last year?


Alonso is right now, at this very minute, regretting signing long term to drive the red ‘fire trucks from Maranello’.


Thanks James,

nice insight! normally everyone claims that testing times are hard to read, but later in the season teams admit they exactly knew the pecking order right from the beginning of winter testing! Somehow this still feels to me an insider business, where journalists get very little insight, which is a shame!



Fantastic article James. Sets us all up rather nicely for the next test and the first race. Still the ‘go-to’ website for informed F1 news.


The way Ferrari are behaving (drivers, team principal, engineers etc) makes me wonder if they are really worried or acting so.

Their statements seem very philosophical and understated always with only Massa giving some sort of a positive comment. Alonso with his ‘the car has potential’ comment doesn’t reveal a lot. But I think that they are playing it very clever during the testing to show their true hand when Melbourne comes.

Ferrari even in their worst year (F60) did some good times before Brawn came with their all conquering DDD. So to see them this behind in terms of pace is a mystery particularly after last year’s debacle.

James, do you know of any info about Ferrari since as per the latest news from Barcelona they had actually found a direction in which they would need to develop/tune their car, which seems very valid since they have taken a very radical approach compared to their previous years.


I’m wondering why teams don’t like to ‘show their hand’ with a fast lap time in testing? Surely, all competitors are working to the maximum on their cars anyway. Shouldn’t they be looking to extract maximum performance from their cars regardless of where the competition is at?

I can only think it would apply to a team that might have a special trick up their sleeve (eg F-duct), that they wish to hide the benefit of.


Oh, hadn’t realized the Mercedes is that good and as things stand at the moment, they’re the third best team on the grid —> Yeah, didn’t see that coming.

Yes this last Barcelona test will be very interesting indeed & possibly revealing on who has got what & I think Red Bull will come out swinging since they already know they’re the favourites among the fans & pundits so why hide their hand any more.

I myself am glad the Red Bull is still the fastest team for we wouldn’t want the list of excuses to get printed out once those Bulls get taken to the butcher’s, would we now?

Mclaren too said they were bringing upgrades so I will keep my eye on the stop watch to see what deficit we got to play with.

As for Ferrari, am sure it will come good eventually considering in a way, it’s a Rory Byrne car lets not forget, so surely it has to have speed locked up somewhere in that beautiful nose, it’s all a matter of how fast they can get it out.

As for the midfield with them being that close, lets just hope this won’t mean we shall see lots of shunts happening within that park, it’s seems it’s all set up nicely for a disaster.

Let the good times roll.


Seen it coming a couple months back. Cars going to be strong i feel not so sure the drivers will do the car total justice for sure.


With all Mallya’s financial difficulties back in India, I’m not sure how rosy this season is really looking for Force India.

I hope something can be sorted out. Di Resta deserves a good car.


I was thinking the same thing. I hope they are able pull together a good development budget for 2012.


Well, Most of the Press has highlighted the sad state of Kingfisher Airlines, but they have forgotten that he has a Booming Spirits business keeping him Afloat. All that Aside, Force India have seen a Phenomenal Growth from the last to 6th in the Championship, which itself is a no mean feat. This Year Promises to be very interesting with a very exciting pair of NICO & PDR.


Sahara Backing is there. Besides,Dr.Mallya has a BIG Liquor business,so cash is no issue


From what I’ve read it appears the loans for his airline are secured on his booze empire. Even if he leaves F1, I’m fairly sure somebody will buy Force India if Sahara doesn’t want it.


Defo plenty cash buzzing about India now and the growth since the team was formed alone is phenomenal. What better team to buy for any Indian tycoon??? clever thinking with the name at the time Esp how in tune it is with the symbol F1 that’s a team i cant see sinking or changing name in 20yrs+ as long as F1 as such is still as buoyant.


A) actually sold a significant chunk to Sahara

B) mallyas airline is in trouble, his other companies are doing handsomely. So. While fi may lose kingfisher air sponsorship they. Have now found Sahara. And I’m pretty sure with f1 picking up in India other sponsors will follow if he leaves.


they seem to have a quick car. I think Findia will do fine during the whole season.


Mallya’s airline is having problems but his spirits business is doing very well. Plus the Sahara money should cover up any shortfall.


Force India could be looking for a new owner mid season, or go bust.


Hi James.

You said before Ferrari car have potential and If they reach full potential of their car then where they stand in your list.

Can Ferrari F2012 be faster than Red Bull RB8?


James, is the general opinion from those in the know that Merc have jumped ahead of Ferrari? It would be quite an achievement if they have, and would that be mainly because of them making progress or Ferrari faltering in your view. Is the diffuser something that can be copied quickly?


In regards to the diffuser design, I suspect the wheelbase length would be key. Too long or too short relative to the Mercedes would determine whether the idea could be copied. The wheelbase for this purpose is determined primarily by the gearbox length, which is homologated for the season and then drives sidepod packaging.




The so called diffuser can be copied quickly, and overall it’s not a big benefit, it’s just an aid with relatively small gain. IMHO.

Whether they jumped ahead of Ferrari will become clear soon, depending on what Ferrari have to show in the final test.

If their statement is “data gathering” you can be sure that there are issues going on. But still, anything can happen in the races, we all know that.


Hey James,

This week Sir Frank suggested that he made a mistake in releasing Adrian Newey over dispute on William Shares. Any ideas why Newey left McLaren? I know he said he wanted a new challenge and so on, but is there any inherent characteristic in McLarens Management/Culture that has lead to departures of leading designers like Newey and then Pat Fry (not to mention the numerous brainy colleagues/subordinates of theirs that would have followed suite).




Newey was poached by RBR about the time the team started – I think they may have been some gardening leave involved.

He was going to leave McLaren earlier, but RD managed to convince him to stay.


I seem to recall that Adrian left in response to Damon Hill being sent packing AFTER winning the WC in ’96


Damn right he made a mistake over some share options! What were he and Patrick Head smoking?! Worst decision ever if it is true, and it’s not even as if they can say “it’s easy to say so with hindsight”. The man had already made them world champions in 92, 93, 96 and 97 with four different drivers. If Senna had lived, one can assume there would have been at least one more.

Sir Frank “suggested” it, did he? I suggest that it is pretty bleeding obvious!

Predictions for 2012….

Three out of three for Vettel, who now has the maturity and experience to cope with a sustained challenge from Webber, who comes out of the season with a lot of credit.

Heads roll at Ferrari and Alonso is linked with Schumacher’s seat at Merc for 2013.

Hamilton has a similar season to 2011 – his chosen route down the spoilt celebrity brat path is now past the point of no return. He may win another championship one day, but he needs to get over the PR nonsense and also probably leave McLaren, which is now Button’s team.

Button himself will have a decent season, finishing third, but never hitting the heights of 2011 (due mainly to the strong performance of both Red Bulls, and not just Vettel).

Mercedes win a couple of rain/incident affected races with Rosberg. Schumacher shows well throughout the season, with glimpses of the old magic and a second place at Spa where he pushes Vettel close for the win. Retirement comes at the end of the season with his reputation intact if not enhanced.

Either or both of HRT and the Russian team pull out of the season mid way through.

I’m with James – I think Force India will do well, and pip Lotus who take a while to get going after the chassis problems. Raikonnen will be linked with Hamilton’s seat at McLaren at some point.


Interesting predictions. I agree with most of it except the bit about the backmarkers pulling out mid season. I do think that if Schumi wins a race he may call time again opening the door to one of the Force India drivers if not a disgruntled Lewis. I can’t see Fernando jumping ship before the major formula change in 2014.


If the car is competitive and he wins one or more races, you can guarantee Schuey will be back next year


I think you must of been up all night on the bong never mind Frank & Patrick


Nice article James, but isn’t it fair to say we won’t have a good idea of the pecking order until Q3 in Melbourne, or at least until a proper circuit like Sepang or Bahrain? Remember last year analyst had Ferrari 1st or right with RBR & McLaren in the mid-field.

My point being it’s hard to tell much of anything in pre-season testing.


I do hope that some teams are sandbagging ther performance. I really dont want a year like 2011 where one team has such an enormous advantage. It makes for a truly boring season.

I want at least 4 teams mixing it up, I dont want a repeat of the 2000-2004 seasons!!


Actually 2000 was an entertaining season.


As I’ve said before you can get a picture. At certain times they have to show certain things


James I know you are a gambler! You sound just like one!

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