Now that the testing is finally over and the teams are back at base preparing their cars for departure to Melbourne later this week, we can look more closely at what happened in Barcelona last week and what it tells us about the relative pace of the cars.
We’ll do it in two separate posts:
* Analysis of lap times and long runs, looking for further trends and indicators
* A look at some of the Technical innovations which indicated what we might see in season
With the help of JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan, formerly the top operational engineer at Williams, we can look closely at what happened on the final day of testing in Barcelona, with some stunning single lap times and some longer runs.
We see a similar pattern with several of the teams, like Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari, where the drivers did short low fuel runs in the morning, when the track was improving and then in the middle of the day through the afternoon, they focus on long runs. The difference between the short run lap times and the long run times is significant – up to 8 seconds per lap. This isn’t all fuel load, some of this is the drivers working on ways of getting the tyres to last.
Nico Rosberg set the fastest time of the test, 1.5 seconds faster than last year’s pole position time on a qualifying simulation run on soft tyres. It appears that the Mercedes ran on less fuel than its rivals when it did the short runs, as the lap time margin between short runs and long runs is bigger for them than Ferrari, for example.
The tyre degradation for the Mercedes and the Ferrari looks quite similar, if you study the longer runs on the right of the graph. This indicates that Mercedes has improved in this area over the recent testing period; so they will be quite pleased after the test with both qualifying pace and tyre degradation.
Although they have showed their hand, at least they know that their car can find the grip on the single lap, whereas several teams have not been able – or willing – to show that yet. Remember that Mercedes was a clear second slower than the pacesetters in the final few races of 2012, so they will not have made up all of that in one winter. But they have definitely improved their car.
The Ferrari looks very consistent on longer runs and was faster than the Mercedes in Sector 1 and Sector 3 on the short run, so it looks like a car that Alonso and Massa can compete with. There are more development parts promised for Melbourne and Malaysia. Ferrari was behind in the final races of 2012 and will not have made up all the gap. However, the car looks stable and one has to presume that Alonso will get the most from it throughout the year; they should be in the hunt therefore.
Button’s long runs show consistency too, but the lap times area clearly slower than the other two, noticeably so. It could be higher fuel, but more likely the gap in correlation as they try to get the maximum out of the changes they made to the chassis from last year. It’s a longer-term project with McLaren, from the looks of things. They can never be underestimated when it comes to development, so they will be there as the season goes on, even if they don’t set the pace in the first race.
Of course the question everyone wants to know at this stage is – who will be the fastest in Melbourne?
These graphs illustrate how hard it is this year to predict that accurately, for the reason that not all teams have been as open as Mercedes in showing what they have got.
Red Bull, for example, were working to a totally different run plan to Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren.
Vettel’s graph shows consistency, with shorter runs. In the morning the team was working on its passive DRS system as well as trying different floors and in the afternoon a development passive DRS, according to sources. This is consistent with this kind of run plan. At no stage do they show their hand performance wise, because they are working on trying out different things.
This shows two things: they are pushing hard to get the passive DRS working, as they clearly see significant gains from it, but also it shows that they are confident their basic car is fast enough to compete in Melbourne. For all that Vettel said it hadn’t been a great test, this run plan looks like a team that feels it has a good car to start the season, but is pushing the envelope hard for the future.
As for Sauber and Force India, both teams had similar run plans, short runs in the morning until the track stabilises and then longer runs in the afternoon. Both look reasonably consistent on the long runs, the Sauber is pretty much where you would expect them to be, building on last year, given that they had a good car last year and have put a fast driver into it.
As for the other teams, Ricciardo looked very consistent on his longer runs, but they were much slower than the front runners. You have to be careful with a graph like his because the tyre degradation is always worse when the driver is hitting a faster basic lap time.