Inside line: F1 testing wrap-up
F1 traditionally has two world championships – the official, (European) summer-centric series, and the unofficial ‘winter world championship’, which is played out before the season starts in the form of testing.
In the past teams traditionally hit the test circuits - usually in Spain due to the milder weather in that part of Europe, but forays to Kyalami and the Middle East were not unheard of when the regulations allowed – immediately the old season was history, but recent changes to the regulations and agreements struck between the teams have chronically reduced the test window.
In fact, between the last race of 2009, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and 1 February this year, no F1 cars ran in anger save for a four-day period in mid-December during which time teams evaluated ‘rookie drivers’ (which term was clearly defined).
No private testing
The agreement reached between the teams restricts them to testing with one car only during four four-days tests at specified circuits, these being for 2010 Valencia (one test), Jerez (two back-to-back sessions) and Barcelona (one test). The last session started at the city’s Circuit de Catalunya today, Thursday, and lasts until Sunday, where after teams crate their kit for the journey to Bahrain and the first race on 14 March.
No private tests are permitted at other venues save for ‘shake-downs’ of maximum 50 kms total, while teams may test for no more than 15 000 kms in total during the four sessions.
Weather-wise the spread of circuits has worked perfectly: the skies during the first session were clear but coolish (12-15C), while both Jerez sessions were hit by rain of varying intensity – which proved great for set-up and wet weather runs - while the long-term forecast for Barcelona is clear, dry and 18 – 20C.
Generally the teams have split driver duties equally, with the workloads divided into two-day sessions per pilot. However, not all teams ran to such rigid schedules, with Mercedes GP, for example, replacing Nico Rosberg with Michael Schumacher halfway through the first day in Valencia. The returning seven-time champion proved quicker than the youngster within ten laps...
With the 2010 F1 sporting regulations banning refuelling but mandating at least one tyre change (to the ‘other’ of two compounds specified for each event) per race, fuels loads will approximately double in weight from the average 80kgs each car took to the start in 2009 to 160 – 180kgs. That, in turn, places huge stresses on tyres (particularly the fronts, which are narrower by 25mm this year) and brakes.
In addition, the top ten cars after Qualifying 1 and Q2 go through to the Top Ten shoot-out on low fuel, then take the start with full tanks but no changes to set-up. The implications during the opening lap – particularly as they brake for Turn 1 on fresh rubber – are obvious...
Thus, teams have not only concentrated on traditional programmes such as overall reliability, component and configuration testing and different set-up during the sessions, but have also undertaken fuel- and tyre-management runs. Different agendas amongst teams have resulted in vastly different daily programmes, producing what on the surface appear to be inexplicable variations between teams and even two team-mates.
Then, teams have gone for ‘glory runs’ at varying times (normally when an important sponsor has popped in...), explaining why, for example, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi ended fastest in Jerez, ahead of the likes of Schumacher and Ferrari’s 2005/6 champion Fernando Alonso.
After 12 days of testing what have we learned?
That the Ferraris are obviously fearsomely fast, so much so that the team switched from outright speed tests after the Valencia tests to long, heavy fuel runs, with both Alonso and the recovered Felipe Massa professing to be satisfied with the speed of their steeds. In fact, Alonso described the F10 as the best car I have ever driven.’
Then, the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel (this writer’s choice for 2010 champion) and Mark Webber both topped the time sheets in Jerez, with Webber again comfortably fastest as this is written towards the end of the first day at Barcelona. The team launched its RB6 later than the rest in order to maximise design time, and it seems to have paid off.
McLaren’s pairing of reigning champion Jenson Button (poached from Brawn) and his title predecessor Lewis Hamilton proved fastest at some stage – predominantly during wet sessions – so is obviously another team with the necessary speed.
The final ‘Big Four’ team, namely Mercedes (nee title winners Brawn), has been there or there about, but Schumacher admitted last week that they still had some way to go. However, don’t underestimate Schumi’s determination to return to his winning ways ASAP, so he and team boss Ross Brawn – who together so devastatingly dominated the opening half of the decade with Ferrari – are putting enormous effort into finding those crucial tenths.
Force India, which last year proved quick on low downforce tracks (Spa-Francorchamps, Monza), seems set to repeat the pattern, with Adrian Sutil showing impressive speed. At Renault Robert Kubica has made steady progress after both faced an uncertain in the wake of BMW’s withdrawal (leaving Kubica without a seat) and Renault’s vacillation over continuing in F1.
Williams-Cosworth - an evocative name harking back to the early eighties - has also done the business, with rookie Nico Hulkenberg, who won both the A1GP and GP2 titles in the recent past, particularly proving his mettle, although F1’s senior statesman Rubens Barrichello topped the times during a wet Jerez session.
What of the four new teams, namely Virgin, Lotus, Campos and USF1? The last two have financial problems and their presence in Bahrain is doubtful (although they may be granted conditional late entries), but Virgin and Lotus attended the Jerez and Barcelona tests, and impressed with their overall reliability if not speed.
The final test ends on Sunday, and Wheels24 will bring a full wrap-up. Then it’s time for the summer championship...
Latest test times on Thursday:
1. Webber - Red Bul - 1 minute 21.487 seconds
2. Hulkenberg - Williams - 1m 22.407s +0.920
3. Rosberg - Mercedes - 1m 22.514s +1.027
4. de la Rosa - Sauber - 1m 23.144s +1.657
5. Button - McLaren - 1m 23.452s +1.965
6. Liuzzi - Force India - 1m 24.064s +2.577
7. Alonso - Ferrari - 1m 24.170s +2.683
8. Petrov - Renault - 1m 24.173s +2.686
9. Alguersuari - Toro Rosso - 1m 24.869s +3.382
10. Di Grassi - Virgin - 1m 27.057s +5.570
11. Fauzy - Lotus - 1m 28.002s +6.515