The first F1 test of the 2013 season at Jerez provided little in the way of concrete pointers for the season that lies ahead; we do not know who is favourite for pole in Melbourne yet. But one would not expect to at this stage, as it was only the first test and the cars will change a lot before the season proper starts again with Melbourne qualifying on March 16.
Many of the cars started the week looking like 2012 models, but the wind tunnel models will look quite different already.
However, it is possible to read some trends and some signs from the testing done so far; to look at the kind of car some of the teams are dealing with, to look at early indications of how they are using the tyres and at some trends on single lap and longer run pace. So here are some pointers, with the thoughts of JA on F1’s technical adviser Prof Mark Gillan.
The first thing to say is that it is clearly going to be very close this year at the front and also between midfield teams, so we should have a really exciting championship and points will be hard to get for the midfielders.
It will come down to development, as always, but with no rule changes the gains the teams can make are constantly diminishing in size, so it could come down to tiny margins later in the year.
The new Red Bull looks a step forward from the car that ended the 2012 season fighting for wins with McLaren. Aerodynamically it is efficient, as Adrian Newey’s cars always are. It’s not done any eye catching times yet; this is classic Red Bull, they don’t show their hand.
As has been the trend in recent years, the Red Bull is the second slowest car on the straights: Vettel was clocked at 291km/h in the speed trap, compared to 305km/h for Force India and Lotus.
Last year their double DDRS system increased their straight line speed without sacrificing downforce in the corners towards the end of the season, but without it (and without being able to use DRS anything like as much under 2013 rules) they are back down the list.
This doesn’t matter if you are the quickest car and start from pole. But if you are in a battle, being 10-15km/h slower than your rivals could prove your Achilles Heel in a race.
The Red Bull’s longer runs on the Red Bull look consistent and fast, so they are on target. But they have lost something due to new rules on aeroelasticity on the front wings (i.e. flex wings) and one of the key areas engineers will be studying from the test data is how much performance has been lost there.
The Ferrari set the fastest time of the four day test in Jerez, with Felipe Massa dipping into the 1m 17s on Day 3. The new Ferrari is a good step forward from last year’s car and clearly is not riddled with problems, as last year’s was on its debut. This meant that Ferrari was able to crack on with testing development parts from as early as Day 2. They ran different exhausts, floor, diffuser and front wing in Jerez and many new things are no doubt planned for the Barcelona tests.
The Ferrari is using a DRS booster system using a Fluidic Switch, which channels air flow above a certain speed to increase the drag reduction system. It’s a difficult thing to get working right on a race track, but could be a useful gain if they nail it. Most of the top teams will probably evolve one as the year goes on.
It looks like this innovation could be the first “must-have” technology gizmo of the 2013 season.
The goal for Ferrari was to start the season with a car that is at or close to the pace of the front runner, as that will provide a platform for Fernando Alonso’s relentless consistency to mount a title campaign.
McLaren maybe just shaded Round 1 – this first test – but it’s debatable.
Jenson Button’s lap in the 1m 18s on hard tyres on a dirty track on Day 1 was an eye opener. The McLaren hasn’t done anything eye catching since, but it got all their competitors wondering. At this stage the car looks better on the hard tyre than the soft, but there is a lot of new parts and set up changes to come so that may not be a pattern for the season. If you take a one second delta for the hard to the soft tyre, then this equals the Massa’s time on Day 3 when allowing for the tyre difference, but Button did the time on a dirty track on Day 1, whereas the track was clearly faster when Massa did his time. So it’s close, but the McLaren looks fast.
The Lotus was arguably the most consistent car across the 2012 season and this year’s model looks like a nice improvement. They will be there or thereabouts, which is good news for Kimi Raikkonen fans.
James Allison’s technical team approaches things in a sensible, pragmatic way if new ideas aren’t working out. The feedback so far has been good and the car looked fast on the single lap runs on the soft tyre. Qualifying was a weakness of the 2012 car, so this is an area they have to get right this year if they are to better their 2012 results.
The Mercedes had reliability setbacks on the first two days, but they also didn’t look as strong as the front running Red Bull, Lotus, McLaren and Ferrari in the two high mileage days. The car is definitely losing its tyres on the longer runs, so they still have a lot to do, but Hamilton is making all the right noises and it’s really down to development from here.
Sauber is always a dark horse, they were impressive last year in terms of capability to manage the tyre. They are on a similar budget level to Lotus, but have always done a good job. They aren’t far away and look to be ahead of Mercedes at this early stage.
Gutierrez caught the eye with some fast, consistent longer runs at the end of the week. It’s easy to go well in testing; for him the mental pressure of stepping up to having to deliver on a race weekend will be the challenge, it’s a big step up that some drivers don’t manage and we will watch that with interest.
What are the teams trying to achieve in a test?
F1 Teams are very regimented, they run 4 fuel levels: 20kg, 60kg, 80kg and 140kg. Most of the running you see at tests is done in 60-80kg loads. The only time they will do 140kg full tank runs is when they do a race simulation. The only time they will do less than 20kg, is when they simulate qualifying prior to the race simulation run.
Serious teams don’t run less than 20kg, which is a six-lap run. They have to be careful because the tyres don’t last more than a couple of timed laps.
Temperatures this week were 15 degrees, which isn’t too bad for winter testing, but it’s still not representative of the race weekend running which is usually 30 degrees plus and this is always one of the unknowns coming away from winter testing.