There are three tests before the start of the season, the first starts this morning in Jerez. So what are we going to see this week and will these first four days have any relevance to the 2013 season as a whole?
This week’s initial four day test is where the basic launch cars circulate, doing the initial checks on cooling, brake systems and so on, as well as taking aerodynamic measurements that are essential with any new car and over the next few days working on understanding the new Pirelli tyres.
However the chase for performance will follow at the next two tests in Barcelona and the definitive aerodynamic packages that the teams have in mind for the season opener will start to come on stream at those two tests, especially the second one.
The lead times on some items like front wings are very long; it takes 1,000 hours to make a front wing, for example. So teams are in a frantic race to get them ready for Melbourne and they need them to work in the Barcelona tests and just as important, not get damaged before the first race.
Barcelona is the better test venue than Jerez to give a read on a car. In order to get the maximum aerodynamic benefit you need time to bring it to the car at the Barcelona test. That is why many of the cars we have seen launched this week have looked rather similar to the 2012 models. They key question is, do the teams have a progressive aerodynamic package up their sleeves for the later tests?
As Adrian Newey said at the Red Bull launch on Sunday – possibly the only thing he gave away the whole day – getting the tyres to work is of first order importance right from the start.
The first seven races won’t be as chaotic as the first half of last season because there aren’t significant rule changes combined with as tyre specification changes. However this year there is a new Pirelli tyre construction and new compounds and it will be crucial to get a feel for these during the tests.
Although the teams had a chance to sample the new Pirelli construction during free practice at the Brazilian Grand Prix last year and all commented that they were pretty similar to the 2012 tyres, Jerez will be the first time that they try out the new compounds, which are designed to warm up more quickly but also to degrade more quickly. THe new tyres should be around 0.5s a lap faster than last year’s tyres.
Each car will have a maximum of 35 sets of tyres in Jerez; made up of 1 set of soft, 6 of medium and 7 of the hard compound.
The game this year will still be getting the front and rear tyre temperatures in their respective windows as soon as possible (for Qualifying) and keeping them there as long as possible (for the race), without overheating.
Hence the various rim heating devices seen last year and very complex brake/rim cooling devices (which for some cars, especially Lotus were even handed, left to right). The front tyres typically need lots of cooling during a race and the rear tyres less so.
We have already seen quite bit of this on the launch cars.
The tyres are going to be a challenge; Pirelli’s Paul Hembery said at the company’s F1 launch that their objective was to “challenge” the teams and to avoid the predictable one stop races of the past.
McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh welcomes it, “Pirelli have contributed to exciting dilemmas for teams,” he said last week. “In truth they probably got a bit conservative at the end of last year.
“I think it’s a good thing they’ve changed the construction and compounds. I think it will be good for the sport. We have two drivers who are good at conserving the tyres.”
One thing which has not been mentioned much in the launch season is that the tyre profile change has a big influence on the aero development programme and most teams did not want any profile change; with any major construction change the loaded tyre will clearly have a different profile than the previous tyre, thus necessitating a new set of aero components to be optimised to the new tyre shape.
The Teams get 50 and 60% sized win tunnel tyres (dependent on their model size) which reflect the changes to the full scale tyre as early as possible in the design phase.
They will all have been working with them through the winter to try to get the best package around the new profile.
* As the testing kicks off we have introduced a new widget on the page to help fans move quickly and easily from team to team to catch the latest Tweets or Facebook postings as they increasingly post lots of content on these social media platforms during testing.
Have a play with it; we hope it will help to bring you closer to the sport and closer to the testing action.
A steady stream of live Tweets from journos at the test can be found at http://connect.jamesallenonf1.com/f1-on-twitter/
[Additional technical input: Mark Gillan]