Analysis of the final Barcelona F1 test
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Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Mar 2013   |  7:15 pm GMT  |  181 comments

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.

Hulkenberg’s last three runs look good as do Di Resta’s last two.

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.


The Toro Rosso and Williams cars didn’t look particularly quick at the end of this Barcelona test. Williams has had to change its exhaust, which may be part of the reason.

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1

James, in your view “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”. I beg to differ.

For example, when one looks at the long or longish runs of the Mercedes and Ferrari, its noticable that Rosberg’s runs were on average much longer than those of the Ferrari, suggesting, in my view at least, that the difference in lap time margin may be due to Rosberg carrying more fuel on his long runs than the Ferrari, for example.

2

Mercedes improved but so did everyone over the winter, I still don’t buy the hype. I got the feeling RBR and McLaren are sandbagging big time, RBR didn’t even do one lap testing, they’re so confident in the overall pace of the car! Judging from Alonso’s comment, I think Ferrari should be there about too. I’m still betting it will a close battle between the 3 top teams again.

3

Hi James, good article!

What I would like to understand is why everyone keeps saying that ‘Mercedes’ was 1 second slower (or more) than others on last season.

I did a quick look at the last three qualifying official numbers from last season, and the result is this:

For Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton (pole) time was: 1.40.630. Nico (the first Mercedes) was: 1.41.603. BUT the first ferrari (Alonso) was: 1.41.582. And nobody says that Ferrari was 1 second slower during these tests, just Mercedes… AND Jenson’s time in Abu Dhabi was 1.41.290. So, more than half a second slower than Lewis. Well, it was the Mercedes and Ferrari that were 1 second slower than McLaren, or Lewis was quicker than the others (independent of the car)?

In the USA Mercedes was even in front of the first Ferrari (Massa), and half a second quicker than Alonso’s Ferrari (Michael 1.36.794 against 1.37.300). AND Jenson could not even get into Q3!

Again, McLaren or Hamilton?

Mercedes and Ferrari 1 second slower than front runners?

The last race in Brazil, Alonso 1.13.253 and Nico 1.13.489.

Yes, I’m a Lewis Hamilton’s fan, but just look at the numbers from last season qualifying, and you will see that all the buzz around the McLaren car is because of the Lewis Performance. If you take his numbers out, McLaren would look like a bad car and having a lot of work to do this year, etc, etc. In my opinion, more or less what happened with Mercedes and Ferrari qualifying last season.

In Q2 in USA, Hamilton was 1 second faster than JB. He will give this second again this year. But now driving for Mercedes…

4

I love these questions. Brilliant.

When is a car slow and when is it all about who is driving it?

The Ferrari was slow (except for Alonso). Was the McLaren faster, or did they just have a blindingly outstanding talent in Lewis? He never ever claimed to be “lost and confused” by setup, again, just like Alonso.

Perhaps, this seasons McLaren is as fast (or even faster) than last seasons, but we might never know.

What really had speed last season, driver or car?

5

You got my point… thanks! 😉

If Button qualifies this season 5th, 6th… what they will say?

That McLaren car’s improvements (the faster car from last season for some), from the winter was: “turn the car slower than last season”?

Leal

6

Thats because, once the race starts, the Ferrari only moves forward relative to the front runners, while the Mercedes only moves backward…

7

Ok, that I can understand. But that does not makes the car 1 second slower or something, that is related with the management of tyres or other stuff. How fast a car is has nothing to do with reliability, pit stops, tyres management or etc. Or the car is fast or it is not. If Mercedes had the faster car on last season, the work they should have done on winter would be totally different (consistency, tyres management, and etc). Ferrari for example, had a bullet proof consistency and reliability, but lack of raw speed. The work should be better aero, better downforce, qualifying speed.

That’s my point… if you look at the quali times from last season, Mercedes does not seems to be 1 second slower. In the begining of the season they had two or three poles…

8

I feel that Red Bull know what they have and have no need to flaunt it! As for Ferrari I think they have stronger package/driver than McLaren and will fight for the title only because of Alonso’s drive to win.

I was in Jerez and was quite impressed with the Lotus and Sauber, espicially Kimi and Gutierrez. Also I don’t think we can discard Hamilton….the guy is like Alonso, he can compete in a Go-Kart!!

9

“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.”

Possibly the last 8 races/fly away leg at the end of the season that Vettel always seems to clinch the title through. Seriously, Vettel’s three WDC winning seasons have all been pretty interesting until around Singapore.

Can’t wait for Melbourne, got Grand Stand tickets all 4 days!

10

EDIT, two of them were nail biters after Singapore but that’s generally his and Red Bull’s purple patch of the season.

11

Excellent analysis as always James. However from my years of watching F1 I have learned that nothing matters in testing, we have no idea who is genuinely fast till the first race. We can speculate but except in the rare occasion where a car is clearly much faster than the others (Brawn 2009) It’s all up in the air.

In spite of what I have just said, for what its worth. Red Bull will not be slow and Mercedes will not be the fastest. Time will tell! Not long now!

12

James, I wonder if you think Mclaren are using this as a development year to get the Chassis and development plans in place ready for the rumoured Honda engine deal. I also hear that Honda would be ready to enter in 2014 as well?

13

‘Sandbag’ : Generic fall-back explanation for those who couldn’t be bothered to read the article properly or are too lazy to think.

14

This is all very interesting but I think there is way too much speculation going on! I don’t mean from James necessarily but from the F1 world and fans particularly. We all have our own little favourites who we would like to win so some think McLaren and Red Bull are sandbagging others think they are in trouble, some think the same about Ferraris, other that Mercedes are alternately genuinely quick or fuelled light. We won’t know until not Australia, but probably Sepang or China at the earliest. From testing all I think we can conclude is that the top 5 are McLaren, Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes in one order or another. All I can say is that I’m really excited about this up coming season. Hopefully no one dominates!!

15

Insightful analysis as always explained helpfully in laymans terms. As a longtime Willams supporter I have nothing but admiration and respect for Prof Mark Gillan and the job he did with Williams during his tenure.

Just enquiring though, is it because of this that the team has recived little technical analysis on the blog James, including a launch review of the FW35?

Keep up the good work James & Co, free to read blogs like yourself and Joe Saward provide are underappreciated in this day and age.

16

Aren’t Mercedes the ones with the most pressure on them (shareholders, public expectations, etc.), so implicitly the ones who have the most to gain by topping time sheets at this point? So while I am inclined to believe the car is at least closer to Lotus level than they were at the end of last year, I am skeptical about their real ability.

17

Thanks for the analysis James.

What the graphs don’t tell is who had is foot flat on the floor and who was driving at 90% during each stint- that will only come Melbourne.

Any idea if Lotus were exaggerating – cause they keep saying they never ran low fuel – always had plenty on board- but that probably explains the 1+second on the last day.

Going to be one hell of a weekend at Melbourne as all the BS stops and the racing starts- driving down from Syd on Friday.get there about 2.00pm

18

On Red Bull, I hear different opinions.

One of the opinions is presented by James here that Red Bull is all good, they know that they car is fast already now and they focus on the new DRS to ensure that they gain an advantage.

Some people say that the change of the engine mapping after Jerez impacted Red Bull and they lost a bit of performance. People believe that this was the reason why Newey was absent from the last test as he has to work extremely hard to redesign the exhaust to make up the lost performance.

Who knows? We will see in Australia.

19

So everyone forgets that Mercedes seemed to be fast at the start of last year too… Shuey plonked it in the second row in Melbourne in qualy. The double DRS they had helped them with that one lap speed. Overall they were slow. Don’t think they didn’t learn anything from that, even if they can’t run that system anymore.

All this says to me is that a lot of people can’t wait for the season to start.. bring it on! see you in Melbourne!!!

20

a little water to the mill here :

The F1 World Qualifying Championship 2012 :

Hamilton 289

Vettel 260

Webber 221

Button 175

Alonso 176

Raikkonen 140

Grosjean 135

Schumacher 109

Maldonado 129

Rosberg 99

Massa 98

Kobayashi 53

Perez 48

Hulkenberg 48

di Resta 40

Ricciardo 11

Senna 4

based on Q3 results, 10 for 1st, 9 for second, etc

21

Mercedes were fast early last year, but it’s only relative to the other cars around them. Aside from Melbourne, they also followed it up with great qualifying and (for Rosberg) a great race. Schumi also set the fastest quali time in Monaco, with Rosberg not far behind (and once again, a good race result for Rosberg and another DNF for Schumi).

But then everyone developed their cars better than Mercedes, and everyone got a handle on the tyres while Mercedes seemingly went backwards in that area. It certainly wasn’t all down to the DDRS. Red Bull have certainly proved over the years that straight line speed isn’t everything.

22

One suggestion if it has not been suggested yet. Put all the data into a single graph with an option to click on driver’s name to turn on or off their individual graph. That will make comparisons easier with two or more drivers.

Starting with the race analysis graphs once the season begins, perhaps?

23
Adrian Newey Jnr

James – Torro Rosso seems to have underperformed for the past few years. Where do you think Mateschitz/Marko wants them to be in the pack? Obviously it wouldn’t make sense for them to challenge the premier team, but equally it must irk them to be at the lower end of the mid-pack teams with supposedly the next generation of Sebastian Vettel’s!

24

I think it’s more to do with changing the drivers.

Having complete rookies can’t be good. We shall see this year an improvement, as both drivers are in their 2nd year.

25

Seems a nice idea. Not so helpful for testing as even if you work out where a race simulation starts, there is still the different time of day leading to track condition changes.

The first stint can be varied a bit by how the driver starts. If you do a race start simulation the tyres get a lot hotter than if you cruise out of the pits. This year’s tyres may not be as critical, but as an example, the first lap safety car at Monaco last year was regarded as very helpful at ensuring a one-stop race.

26

RB will still have the pace … their pace from last year has not disappeared!

They are just obsessed with the passive DRS because they really need the straight line speed boost.

Their entire strategy for 3 years has worked because of their qualifying advantage.

That lets them lead the pack in the race, which as we have seen is a HUGE advantage for tyre deg control.

However we also saw that last year, other cars also matched them in quali, therefore straight line speed in the race was more important for them – and the lack of it was their downfall (even though they won the WDC thanks to Lewis’ car problems stopping him from winning in AD, SP, Sing, and McLaren idiocy from Barca etc.).

This is why they don’t car about ‘finding out’ anything else other than how to add on straight line speed to their existing package.

McLaren are guaranteed pace … at SOME races. At others, we will hear Button give out his incessant “I don’t know why we were not fast here” speech.

Mercedes are also not the fastest, because they do not have hot weather tyre experience with their current package. If they get a smidge of luck with tyres, they can win.

27

Red Bull lost their qualifying advantage when the regulations changed and removed the aero devices they’d put so much into. If they can regain an aero advantage, they don’t need straight line speed to win races.

And given their success with their “downforce > straight line speed” method, I don’t imagine they’re suddenly abandoning it and putting all their stock in gaining speed down the straights. Look at Monza in 2011 when they were the downforce kings. They were 20 or so km/h slower down the straights from memory, and Vettel still put it on pole and won the race.

Why they might be putting more track time into the passive DRS over other aero might be that they already tested other things and found the results they’d predicted in simulations, so they’ve moved on. They’re no doubt already working on new components for future upgrades anyway, but that takes time. The passive DRS is possibly something they also want to put more track time into. They might be relatively confident in their simulation and wind tunnel testing for wings, sidepods, etc. but feel the passive DRS switching is something that really needs to be learned about on track.

To say they’re putting all their hopes on the passive DRS just because they’re out there testing it is a bit of a jump.

28

The major components (DDRS, flexi-nose etc) that boosted their top speed above the feild last year, have been banned for this year, so it is really hard to justify any claims about pace carried over from last year.

Lets wait for Melbourne to know the new speed ranking.

29

based on a 10 stop strategy, we’re looking at 6 laps as a long run. Man the next 7 days in Melbourne are all above 30 degrees, I hope there is a cool change expected for the race weekend. I hate going to a boiling hot GP. Oh and i like the point that the first race starts at 5pm… i wonder if melbourne has the biggest temperature variation during a race. probably not a big deal… just a thought.

30

Just a thought. What if its Mercedes thats sandbagging?

A few years back, when the Brawn did the same at tests we all thought the bigger teams were sandbagging, only for the Brawn to be a whole 2 seconds quicker than the feild on race day.

What if?

31

They dominated the test times that year. Everybody knew exactly what was coming in Melbourne.. I seem to remember a headline on this site saying words to the effect of ‘get your money on brawn for the championships”

33

While it is possible that Mercedes is holding back, the view that Red Bull is fast does not come from the lap times but people watching the cars on the track.

I’m not sure of the truth, but there are suggestions that Mercedes has been using standard DRS more than other teams to get times, and that Red Bull has at times not used it at all.

The commentary on Autosport, such as from an ex-McLaren mechanic is that the Mercedes drivers were trying, so they were making errors. The teams also have acoustic analysis systems that gauge how fast a car is accelerating, so that gives a clue on fuel weights and each team tends to stick to its testing pattern. Mercedes/Brawn probably run at the lighter end given previous history with the team, and Red Bull, partly based on mechanics changing teams and the word getting around tend to be heavier than most. The latter point makes sense as Red Bull makes a point of being fast at the beginning of a race as this cuts off the undercut opportunities for teams to mess around with your race if they have cars in positions 2 and 3.

34
Craig in Manila

A so-called “long run” in 2013 is approx how many laps ?

35
Scuderia McLaren

about 1.5 laps is defined as a long run I think.

36
Craig in Manila

Yup, agreed.

Hope the mechanics are getting paid per pitstop instead of a “flat rate” arrangement.

And they can certainly forget about any thoughts of sitting in those chairs watching the TV !

37

Lol, everybody is just guessing, might as well predict the lottery for next week.

38

Based on lap times yes, but the teams have other info including watching the cars on the track and acoustic analysis systems to estimate fuel levels. It isn’t perfect, but Massa is quite well qualified to say that when following a Red Bull that it looks pretty good with lots of rear grip.

More of that plays into race pace than qualifying, the grid in Melbourne is in my view a bit of guess work.

39

Yes. Dressed up, pure guesswork.

40

For us random internet-dwelling F1 fans, probably more like pure guesswork. For people with years of experience in the sport, it’s more like educated guesswork. Still guesswork as ultimately they don’t know certain details, but guesswork based on knowledge. An extrapolation more than just a wild stab in the dark.

41

Regarding this James

“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.”

Is this an assumption based on the notion that all teams start their long runs on full tanks? Because if not, then surely Mercedes could have just been heavier on the long runs, rather than lighter on the short runs.?

42

Hmmmm! I wonder if some of McLaren’s test time hasn’t been taken up with evaluating Honda engines? Maybe engine decision troubles and staff depletion is partly why their testing was so here and there?

Its confirmed they’ll be using Honda engines from 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/21655985

43

That would be confirmed in inverted commas. Typo.

44

I don’t think Mercedes have showed their hand. We still haven’t seen the car that will race in Australia. All the teams will be making improvements.

45

For Ferrari – The graphs does not seem to say that their long run laptimes are consistent.

Anyways we shall see in Melbourne where all of them stand compared to each other.

Hoping for a close & exciting season.

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