Analysis: 5 things we have learned from F1 new car testing so far
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Sebastian Vettel
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Feb 2017   |  9:33 pm GMT  |  218 comments

We are now two days into testing of the new F1 cars at Barcelona and although no-one is yet making predictions for the season that lies ahead, the teams have an initial sense of where they stand on baseline performance.

That said, with a major rule change such as this one there will be large steps made on development throughout the year and the performance levels will fluctuate as a result. We will see some significant new aero developments on cars at next week’s test, for example, worth half a second to a second a lap in some cases. So the picture is fluid.

But it is possible to see a rough outline of where teams stand now and draw some interesting notes and pointers from what has happened so far.

So with the help of our JA on F1 technical team here is our take on the undercurrents from testing.

Mercedes F1
Mercedes has plenty in hand
Lewis Hamilton said on Monday that his car is “1,000 times better” than its rivals. So is another Mercedes whitewash in store, despite a major regulation change?

Although everyone says you can’t learn much from testing, that’s not entirely true. It is true that F1 has become very hard for even knowledgeable F1 enthusiasts to follow, as the problem is that these days there are so many variables, different tyre compounds can be evaluated (although here there are compounds and ‘back ups’ which have a slightly different construction and performance) but there are more tricky things like whether a driver used DRS on the straight or not. Another is whether the ERS is running ‘sustainable mode’ or not, which is worth 6/10ths of a second either way.

And above the biggest variable early on is what level of fuel he uses; typically teams like to run around with 70-80kg in the tank, but some run lower around 30-40kg. You only find that out when they do a ‘step change’ from high fuel to lower fuel. Then you start to get a picture of underlying pace, albeit still with caveats about engine modes.

On Day 1 Ferrari and Williams were the only ones to do a ‘step change’ during the day’s running ie run two different fuel levels during the day. This gives us an indication of their higher fuel (70-80kg) and lower fuel (30-40kg) pace. This shows their hand a bit; we can draw some conclusions from that.

Mercedes F1

In contrast, Mercedes kept a steady fuel load, likely to have been in the 70-80kg range from past experience. So they were not giving anything away. Assuming they were running a similar programme to last year fuel wise (because why wouldn’t they?) it looked like the Mercedes is a good bit faster than the Ferrari.

On Tuesday we got some more information from the second day’s running. Hamilton again looked fast, but Valtteri Bottas seemed to be struggling more for pace. He also had a minor off. When Bottas is in the car, it’s on the same pace as Ferrari. When Hamilton is in the Silver Arrow, it’s faster.

How can some cars do 700km on Day 1 and others break down?
It’s been a shocking start for McLaren, with problems on the new Honda engine from the outset on Day 1 and only 40 laps for Vandoorne today. An oil tank design issue is one possible cause doing the rounds.

In contrast Mercedes did 700km on Day 1 and over 1,000 today, while Ferrari covered 500km today.

The top teams can do this, partly thanks to a reliable engine, but also thanks to their dynamic test rigs, which are multi million dollar pieces of equipment that ‘test’ the car back in the factory before it gets anywhere near a race track.

These machines have been around for a couple of years and they are the reason that we see such high mileages in Barcelona. Red Bull has one too, but Adrian Newey’s complex designs and last minute aero updates mean that the team don’t get the car onto their dynamic rig until the last minute. It’s always impressive to see the midfield teams without a rig doing over 100 laps as Haas did today or over 80 as Force India managed.

Ferrari F1

The high-risk Ferrari aero design works, but is the car fast enough?
When the new Ferrari was rolled out last Friday the Italian sports paper Gazzetta dello Sport put it on the front page with a headline “Ferrari risks everything”. After years of not being very innovative, Ferrari’s new aero team under David Sanchez has gone properly left field with the treatment of the leading edge of the floor, sidepods and turning vanes, with some very complex shapes. The good news is that the various parts of the Ferrari aerodynamic journey seem to work, in other words it is not a turkey.

But that’s not to say that it is fast enough to compete with Mercedes, which has a very highly curated car and clearly a step on the engine too.

Today we saw Raikkonen go fastest on the first flying lap of a five lap run on soft tyres in 1m 20.960s. We could also see from the long runs that Raikkonen was comfortably in the 1m 24s and the car seems quite gentle on the tyres on race runs. There was a ‘cliff’ on the Pirelli tyres today, but it was less pronounced for Raikkonen than for Bottas on his race distance, for example.

Qualifying pace has been a real weakness for Ferrari and it will be very interesting to see where they are when they do their first qualifying simulation run in Barcelona.

Red Bull had comparable long run times with Verstappen so they look reasonably close. But all teams will have some major aerodynamic updates for next week’s test and Melbourne which could be worth up to a second, so it’s still way too early to say how the front three rows of the grid will look in Australia.

Incidentally a Technical Directive went out from the FIA to teams about the clever suspension systems that adjust the cars’ ride heights between corners and straights, which Ferrari has been questioning, as they aren’t up to speed on it. The TD featured some guidelines on how the systems will be evaluated during the season. Despite the clarification it seems that there is nothing at this stage for Mercedes and Red Bull to worry about unduly from this development.


New Pirelli tyres don’t degrade much – how many stops in races this year?
We haven’t seen F1 tyres that do not degrade since Bridgestone left the sport in 2010.

However with the switch to the wider front and rear tyres there were signs during the mule car testing and again on day 1 in Barcelona that this would appear to have changed. Unlike the old size tyre, this wider format is a tyre dimension to which Pirelli can build a tyre that doesn’t suffer from temperature spikes and thus is very stable and robust.

On Day 2, however, when the drivers began to push a bit more, we saw some degradation and there was even a noticeable ‘cliff’ of performance, after which they needed to be changed as the margin to a new tyre was growing. This is quite encouraging and hopefully Pirelli has the balance right between a tyre to stop the drivers complaining about “not being able to push”, but with a small degree of degradation to keep intrigue in the strategy side of the races. What we must avoid is races becoming mostly one-stoppers, as in the Bridgestone days. The mechanics would be happy as these new rear wheels are 5kg heavier and that makes pit stops back breaking work.

In general we’d hazard a guess there will be one stop fewer at each venue than last year. On tracks where there is no degradation, cars will finish in car performance order as there are few things that midfield teams can do to get the likes of a Perez or a Grosjean ahead of the bigger teams, without using tyre choice and smart driving.

Red Bull F1
Good news for Red Bull and Toro Rosso: New Renault engine looks a really good step forward

The signs are that the Renault engine is a good step stronger than last year’s motor. And Red Bull has demonstrated that through the speed trap on both days so far. It’s been a very long time since we saw Red Bull among the top three through the speed trap, but they have clearly more power and also a very efficient car aerodynamically. So it’s got plenty of downforce in the corners but without costly drag on the straights.

In contrast, the Toro Rosso looks a decent car, but it’s clearly draggy on the straights.

McLaren F1
Conclusions so far?

It’s very early days, but Mercedes is clearly still the team to beat. Ferrari looks good, especially on long runs and Red Bull has not shown its hand yet on lap times, but the corner speeds and straight line speeds indicate that it’s a competitive car.

Behind them we have what appears a reasonably tight midfield with Williams, Haas, Toro Rosso and Force India probably in that order, very close on pace.

Then comes Renault, with Sauber on its own at the back.

McLaren is a question mark because the tiny amount of running it has done has been with everything turned down for reliability reasons, so corner speeds, straight speeds are all down. Its too early to say that this is 2015 all over again for them, but there will be some anxiety in that team’s garage this week.

What do you think? What has caught your eye? Leave your comment in the section below

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1

Honda has lost face.
There is absolutely no excuse for their engine not being reliable.
They look incompetent and it makes the entire team look, at best poorly run, and at worst stupid.
The “Honda Way” & culture clearly is not up to the task.

2

After seeing yet again a Honda-meltdown at start of 2nd week of testing in Spain: Very surprising and disappointing, considering the proud Honda history and their access to unlimited R&D resources, e.g. dyno-benches to run all they want 24/7.

3

Some interesting points from Gary Anderson who was trackside in Barcelona.
The Ferrari was easily the most planted and stable car in the corners.
The Mclaren chassis was struggling. So it’s not a Honda problem reliability aside.

4
Graham Schmidt

It would be a pity if Mercedes dominated again this year

5

Yes its just a test I am sure more things would be their in 2nd test but if a big team have a problem will they have time to solve that by Aus GP. Also in 1st test surly Ferrari didn’t shown us all if we see their run they did very less soft and supersoft runs in other hand Merc did ultra soft run and too as Red bulls what this tell u that like previous year Merc are less confident on Medium tyres . whatever the engine and fuel level are it was slow. also in last day they had a problem were Ferrari had no Problem. and this wasn’t case last year were Ferrari had reliability problem.so they spend time on solving that. I also believe last year was really unlucky year for Ferrari they lost their key person and was really unlucky in few races were clearly they were match to Merc. Let hope this year Ferrari can win

6

i dream of the day Ferrari pull out of F1 and we can all watch F1 die

7

I think it will be more of the same as last year. Not sure about McLaren and even if they caught up in terms of power, I still expect the grenade Honda engines we know of from Jensons days. Maybe not as bad but reliability could be an issue this year.

8

What I would like to see in this new media friendly era of formula one is no screens allowed in the pit lane and an FIA steward in each garage who will tweet the fuel level of each car as it leaves the garage. Let’s end this secret testing!

9

I know its early days !! But it would ould be sooo funny if Palmer would outpace Hulkenberg and Magnussen do the same with Grosjean ; )

10

Magnussen outpacing Grosjean, I see as a possibility. And I actually consider both these two drivers very strong and capable. Probably also both stronger (or at least with bigger potential) than the Hulk.
Palmer outpacing Hulkenberg would though be more of a surprise to me.
That is of course if the Hulk has not run out of date and Palmer still has more to show, than what he demonstrated last year. ;o)

11
Tornillo Amarillo

Cars are faster this year, we’ll have less pitstops because of less degrading tyres, therefore less opportunities for midfielders to be at the front staying on track…

…and Renault is at the very back so far, so…

bye-bye any hope for a maiden podium for Hulk?

12

lance stroll seems to enjoy stroling in the park.

13

Had my fingers crossed we’d see Alonso putting in lots of laps with competitive times. My guess it’s this season will be much like 2015 for them, it is starting the same way. Sad to see FA in such a weak team. You could not blame him if he walks away, surely cant see him pushing a broken down ugly orange beast down the pit lane. I would be completely out of patience if I were in his shoes.

14

After following the testing and apart from the usual front runners:
Mclaren car looks nice with its brave and original styling. Hope they can iron out the problems and it is testing after all.
Regarding what Honda are getting out of it? being as diesels are pretty much mobile poison machines Honda getting hybrid experience is a must and they will end up with a vast store of knowledge and trained employees.
people fawning over the torro rosso shows how much a consumer brand can be imprinted in people’s minds.
Seeing Rosberg reminds me of a bloke that keeps turning up and hanging around outside his ex job.
Eventually security should move him on lol.
This new ability to report live snippets from the track looks promising. If all the inane celeb bits
can be consigned to this then we can just concentrate on those actually involved in the teams during the race.
Finally glad to see Ferrari looking good. Just goes to show boffins you had never heard of can do great things.

15

Stroll can’t even keep it on the track when he is on his own. I am not sure the other drives will be too happy lining up next to him at the opening GP. He doesn’t look like he has control of the car which would concern me if I was at Williams.

On the plus side daddy Stroll can pay for all the extra bits Williams need to bring to the race…

16

Papa Stroll but be wondering why he has forked over a shedload of dosh to a buch of amateurs who turned up with a hard to drive new car and only one wing and then after a minor off on Wednesday could not fix the thing overnight to run on Thursday. I can’t see Red Bull or Mercedes failing to patch the car up for the following day. It was almost as though Williams were trying to make some perverse point!

17

James,

Which cars have had the most downforce 2004 era or the cars in 2017?? I’ve always thought the 2004 cars had very powerful diffusers or are these cars the most downforce ever??

18

Interesting to hear Ted Kravitz interview with Adrian Newey on Sky, Adrian stated that Red Bull have a very clean car at the minute with very few aero trinkets attached as they are using this test to understand the aero movement around the car.

Here’s hoping they learn lots from this test and can make massive gains in the very near future.

19

Will Hamilton win every race this year, it’s very possible and it must be in his thoughts? Comments please

20

Only if his car doesn’t break down 🙂

21

Oh c’mon. That will never happen, there’s too many variables that would have to come together perfectly for that to ever transpire. You’d need an extremely fast car, with perfect reliability in every qualifying session and race, with a teammate that is a definite tier below.

22

Sure are a lot of observations which seem quick to render judgment and/or assume. Not so sure that the situation with VB is necessarily as characterized above.

And, McLaren might even get things working.

Guess that’s why we have a season to reveal the order. With luck, Haas will continue to be well presented. Only time will tell, eh?

23

extremely fast car – check
team mate a tier below – check
perfect reliability – not sure but 150 laps on day one is a good start

24

@ KRB…Ye of little faith hahaha

25

“What we must avoid is races becoming mostly one-stoppers, as in the Bridgestone days”

I’m not against one stoppers per se, but I am against the regulations that force the drivers to start on their qualifying tyre and then make a pit stop to run another tyre that’s been chosen by Pirelli. These two regulations severely reduce the opportunity for strategy variances between teams.

With the 3-tyre regulation now in place, I’d be keen to see drivers being able to start on whatever tyre they wanted, and for us not to find out until the tyre blankets come off on the grid. I’d also like to see drivers allowed to use whatever tyres they wanted during the race; whether that’s an aggressive series of stints where a driver uses the softest tyre available or a more conservative one with fewer stops.

There’s a bit too much over-regulation at the moment with the tyre strategies and it takes a lot of the fun away.

26

@ Anil That is identical with what i have been saying for the last three/four years and i am in full agreement.

27

Excellent comment – regardless of the improvement in these new tyres, the start rule and Pirelli ‘choosing’ the tyres simply restricts some possible variations in strategy.

Everyone focuses on Aero being the major issue and overtaking.

I think the above is where matters could be vastly improved and shake up the trully train type races

28
The Grape Unwashed

Ferrari makes a habit of flattering to deceive during testing, so I don’t expect it to overhaul Red Bull this season – let alone Mercedes. It’s looking like another Mercedes whitewash to me, but perhaps Red Bull can have a stronger development race thanks to Adrian Newey’s renewed interest.

Ferrari needs to push hard for the trick suspensions to be banned in order to stand any chance. And let’s not talk about McLaren 🙁

After rubbing my crystal ball… The story of 2017: Max Verstappen goes mano-a-mano against Lewis Hamilton after the mid-season break. 🙂

29

so situation normal all over again.
LH has the WDC in the bag. Without his team mate beside him on the front row, Lewis will disappear into the sunset.
So the big interest this year will be whether Macca beats Sauber into last place.
let’s hope this is a transitional year before Liberty starts with a clean sheet to fix this sport.

30

I recall everyone saying the same thing last year … did Lewis snag the WDC? Anything can happen in a season. You can have the fastest car, but be derailed by things out of the driver’s control.

I will be more surprised if it’s a Mercedes steamroller again this year. I think we’ll have a decent fight up front. If Mercedes win over two-thirds of the races, I’ll be surprised.

31

@ KRB…. ‘did lewis snag the WDC!’ According to most hamilton fans as in their mind they ‘thought’ he did as they devalued rosbergs’s win saying it was only because of hamilton’s unreliability.

32

Such an odd statement. I don’t recall any Hamilton fan thinking that Hamilton won the WDC last year.

Facts are that Nico won the WDC, and the biggest factor in him winning was the uneven reliability between the Mercedes teammates. Simple facts.

kenneth, is this a factual statement? “Ricciardo drove better than Kvyat in 2015, but scored less points owing to worse reliability over the season.” To me that is true; don’t know about you.

33

you’re on… i accept your bet!

34

I just hope this is Ferraris true pace and not just as a result of an underweight car. Fingers crossed there is actually some competition this year.

35

James, If I may ask, how much input did James Allison have with the new Ferrari?

36

A lot – the concept for sure, the layup will be done before Raster

They probably changed quite a bit of aero programme etc after he left in August

But still..

37

In my understanding a lot of this car actually comes from “the little kids” at the different departments at Ferrari. What Allison brought was really the step stones, the parameters to match… he was involved in the first steps but besides the personal sad events, there was no love left at Maranello as he was not listening to ideas that were brought to him, making the structure too vertical to the point nothing was getting done. So after he left an overhaul in working has happened; and it seems that they are in the right direction. If that is the case we can see a Ferrari working very fast on development in the future. Don’t get too excited though… It seems to me that Merc has still quite a bit in the pocket but I wonder if they just pushed their idea a little bit too far… that long wheel base is now VERY long… hope it does work well in all tracks (I am sure they ran their data)… as it can make the car difficult on the front and snippy on the back. RB looks strong as well.

38

Oh dear, I just asked this question on a newer article, and now that I see the answer I am worried. I am afraid that James accomplished exactly what he was trying to do, which was to get Ferrari to focus on the future, and now that he is gone they will be lost at sea with an amazing vessel but nobody to guide the development and improvement of it.

And nobody to do a good job with the 2018 car.

Vettel to Merc in 2018.

39

Interesting this Ferrari so far looks decent and JA is about to get credit for it?
The ’16 car fully developed by him flattered to deceive, as he stopped coming to races in ’15 to get the car right!

40

Well, here’s hoping Ferrari are “there”.
Hopefully we get to see you in Melbourne, always a pleasure listening to your insights and intel’.

41

Then why as he allowed to join Mercedes after just 6 months? He obviously brings a lot of knowledge about the Ferrari car over to Mercedes, not that they need that info. It still seems very fishy to me and Ferrari should’ve let him go with a non compete disclosure of without permission to work for another team for at least one full season

42

Maybe Ferrari thought, “good, let him go to Mercedes and cause havoc there!
(that’s based on personal experience when certain staff have left to join a competitor)

43

“Mercedes a fair bit quicker than Ferrari”
Hamilton faster than Bottas, who,is struggling for pace.
Oh well, write this season off.

44

Not at all development will be huge with new rules over next nine months

I think there’s every chance of a competition

45

Considering Honda problems any chance they would try and get outside help like Mario Illien since his not working with Renault anymore or try and poach people form Merc or Ferrari engine team or is Honda to stubborn and want to do everything in house ?

46

A fair bit has been written about Honda liking to keep everything “in-house” in terms of Japanese personnel. Still, if Ferrari prefer everyone in their team to be Italian, then it suggests that this approach can work…… eventually!

47

Pretty good summation of the state of play thus far James. We’ve only had two days of testing but early results indicate that it looks like being a three horse race with Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari dominating although not necessarily in that order, especially with unrestricted in-season development permissible.

If driver reactions are anything to go by – with Lewis dubbing is car the “beast” and Verstappen and Ricciardo expressing their satisfaction with the development of the RB13 – we could be (hopefully) in for a fight for the top step of the podium. Unless of course if Ferrari have got something to say but it seems that they’re leaving their talking to Melbourne.

48

@ Adrian…It’s called ‘cautious optimism’ and i recommend it. There is no need to show anyone ‘their hand’. I sometimes liken F1 to playing poker as there are many similarities. Firstly validate the new engine then bolt on the bits and away we romp hahaha. Melbourne quali is eagerly awaited.

49

Thanks for the insightful analysis James.
Have the cars been running closely to one another so the drivers can gauge the ‘dirty air’ issue that may or may not allow increased overtaking opportunities?

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