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Archive for the ‘Testing’ Category

Yesterday I posted on Heikki Kovalainen’s quick lap at Jerez, as McLaren pile on new aerodynamic parts in an attempt to claw back lost ground on the opposition.

Kova did a 1m 18.202 lap on a single quali lap simulation. He’d tried a two lap run shortly before which was in the high 1m 18s.

This compares with Jenson Button on Tuesday in the Brawn, who did a 1m 17.844 lap, again on a single flying lap simulation. So on that basis the McLaren was 4/10ths slower than the Brawn in outright pace. If that is a true reading, it means that they have found about 6/10ths this week with the new parts.

However, when you look at the long run times, the picture is not so encouraging for them. In comparable runs, albeit on different days, Button does a 10 lap run on Tuesday with laps mainly in the high 1m 18s and a couple of high 1m 19s.

Meanwhile yesterday Kova did only one long run, a 12 lapper, which was mainly in the low 1m 20s. So on that basis, McLaren is still some way behind on the long runs.

Today they are with Williams again and I think tomorrow they have the place to themselves. Some secrets will be coming out of the box, no doubt stuff they don’t want others to see before Melbourne. Look out for their press release this evening with details of the times, but will they tell the full story?

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McLaren find some speed

Heikki Kovalainen turned the wick up today on the McLaren as the Jerez test continued for a fourth day with just McLaren and Williams present.

It was very hot again in Jerez, the track temperature was 37 degrees and the McLaren pulled a lap of 1m18.202, which is four tenths slower than Jenson Button’s fastest yesterday. By recent standards this is quite an improvement for McLaren. Even yesterday their fastest run with Lewis Hamilton at the wheel was

1.21.199
1.19.268
1.19.144
1.19.165
1.20.510

The team has been bringing new aero parts to the car in an effort to solve the problems which have dogged their testing so far; lack of grip and rear end aero instability, largely caused by the diffuser.

It looks like McLaren may be moving closer to the front. It’s been a superhuman effort by the team in Woking and there will no doubt be plenty more to come throughout the season.

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Fernando Alonso set the fastest time on the second day at Jerez today.

His lap of 1 min 18.343 was 5/100th faster than Rubens Barrichello’s best in the Brawn. This compares with the time of 1min 19.945, he set on the final day of the last Jerez test a fortnight ago. This does not mean that Renault has suddenly vaulted ahead of Brawn, as they were some way behind in Barcelona – a second and a bit. Jerez arguably suits their car better than Barcelona at the moment, Alonso was quick there earlier this month.

Renault had a slow start to their testing programme, but they seem to be motoring now, the new front wing they added in Barcelona, among other things, helping them find more performance.

renault-nose
“I’m happy with the day, ” said Alonso, “As we did more than a 100 laps which was our target for my final day of winter testing. This has been the first time we have run on a really hot track and the information we have from today will be very useful for the first few races, which are usually very hot.

There was also some encouragement for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton did a lap of 1m 19.513, using aero updates and measuring devices to check the pressure of air going through the diffuser. This indicates an improvement, although again Barcelona is the track where good aero shines more.

Tomorrow is the final day of pre-season group testing, so we will see what the final reckoning is, but this has been an astonishing pre-season ‘testing world championship” already.

On another note, it’s been a eerily quiet build up to tomorrow’s FIA world council. Given that the FIA put out a statement a few weeks ago about how a drastic cut in costs was needed and veiled suggestions of budget caps rearing their heads, the €50 million budget and so on, it’s amazing that there hasn’t been much said ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. But there has been a lot going on behind the scenes as the FIA seeks to get the balance right.

The teams’ association put its ‘road map’ to the FIA last week and we will find out tomorrow how much of it is to be adopted. Remember FOTA suggested overhauling the points system this season and making the fuel strategies transparent, among other things.

The FIA wants to go further than FOTA in cutting budgets. Tomorrow promises to be a very interesting day, which is why it’s odd that the build up has been so quiet.

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BMW boss – Now for the world title

Mario Theissen put out a quick Q & A today with some comments about FOTA, a look back at the winter testing and a quandry about whether to use KERS or not at the first race. He makes no mention of the Brawn phenomenon.

BMW’s testing has gone pretty well, but not outstandingly. Many, including myself, though that they would start the year with an advantage over Ferrari and McLaren because they devoted more energy earlier to the 2009 programme than their rivals. But despite topping the time sheets occasionally at tests, they have yet to show blistering pace. Robert Kubica signed off in Barcelona on s bit of a down note, saying he felt that BMW was behind Ferrari, Brawn and Toyota.
bmw-pit-stop-pic

My only thought is that last winter they masked their true performance in testing by carrying extra fuel and that became clear once the racing started. They could be doing that again, but I’m not hearing the chatter from the other teams about it like I was 12 months ago. Then again, Brawn’s performance has recalibrated everyone’s expectations.

Theissen confirms Kubica’s line last week that the team has yet to decide whether to use the KERS system in Melbourne.

” We’ve got our KERS to the stage where it is race-ready, which means we can use it in Melbourne. Now it’s just a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. On the positive side, the drivers would have an extra 82 hp at their disposal for 6.6 seconds per lap. However, the system adds weight to the car and this has an impact on the car’s weight distribution and tyre wear. We will make a decision on a driver-by-driver, circuit-by-circuit basis.”

The driver by driver bit is significant as he goes on to say that KERS really punishes heavier drivers and although Kubica is a whippet, he’s still heavier than Heidfeld. I can see Quick Nick using the system at times where Kubica doesn’t.

As to the objectives for the season, Thiessen stops short of coming out with a bald,’ We must win the title” line. He’s a master of setting achievable targets and hitting them, that’s the corporate player in him. Although the expectation now has to be to fight for the title down to the wire, he’s more cagey than that.

“We are following a long-term timetable,” he says. “In our first year we set out to finish regularly in the points, in year two we wanted to record podium finishes and in our third year we were aiming to notch up our first victory. We achieved all of these ambitious aims. In 2009 we are looking to take the next and most difficult step yet: we want to be fighting for the World Championship title. The F1.09 gives us a good platform to fulfil this aim; now we have to see what happens in the season’s 17 races. What we know for certain is that you can plan your level of performance, but not your results.”

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Felipe Massa ended this week’s Barcelona test with a positive message for Ferrari fans around the world, “We have the car we had hoped for.” The only problem is, there’s another car in front of it.

The F60 has suffered a few reliability problems this week, a leak in the cooling system prevented Raikkonen from completing a race distance on Tuesday, while Massa lost some time with a hydraulics problem. However the pace of the car has been class leading, leaving aside the Brawn-Mercedes, and Massa heads for Melbourne feeling that he has a car which is capable of fighting for the world title again.

“The car has grown a lot, ” he told Italian reporters. “To start the season well you need a car which is fast and will make it to the finish line, lots can change during the season, but the points lost at the start can be decisive.”

Massa should know, Melbourne has been a bogey track for him. Since he got a competitive drive in 2006 his best result there has been sixth place. It’s worse than that though; after the first two races in 2006 he was 14 points behind, in 2007 it was 11 points behind and last year 14 behind again.

The start of the season is Massa’s Achilles Heel.

Massa says he is happy with the car,
“We’ve had some little problems, but since Wednesday afternoon I did a race distance and a half without getting out of the car. I’m also happy with the performance of the car relative to the others, apart from Brawn. For sure in terms of consistency and speed they are ahead.”

As for his expected rivals, McLaren, Massa admits to being astonished by their poor showing,
“I’ve never seen McLaren so far behind,” he says. “However they have another test to find out what’s wrong. It’s a team which can improve from one day to the next so we need to give them respect.”

Massa also confirmed that the Ferrari will start the season using the KERS system.

I liked the look of the Ferrari when I watched it in Barcelona this week. It’s very balanced, has good braking stability, changes direction well at high speed and is nimble through the slow chicane and over the kerbs. It looks like a really good, driveable car.

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Today McLaren swung into action to respond to the waves of speculation about their poor testing performance and to manage expectations ahead of the new F1 season. Regular readers of JA on F1 will know that I was in Barcelona this week and reported seeing the difficulties the driver Heikki Kovalainen was having with the car, as well as analysing the lap times for further evidence of problems.

New team principal Martin Whitmarsh went public on Friday with a frank admission that the car is not fast enough and that it has some problems,

“”Initial testing of MP4-24, which first ran with an interim aero package, went in accordance with our early developmental expectations. This week the car has run in Barcelona with an updated aero package, as we had always planned it would, and a performance shortfall has been identified that we are now working hard to resolve, ” he said.

The car, he admits is not quick, “Not at the moment – and certainly not by our team’s extremely high standards.

“But Lewis is the reigning world champion, and he became world champion in one of our cars.” Indeed he did, but he’s not even in the top ten as things stand today.

So now we are clear, McLaren are not sandbagging, they are not trying some innovative new way of testing in light of the season long testing ban, they are in the do-do and the question is, how far off are they and how long will it be before they get out of it?

Answering the first question first, the lap times from this week’s test show progress as the week goes on, but it still leaves the car well behind the pace setting Brawn Mercedes. The fact that that car uses the same engine as the McLaren adds further pain, because there is clearly no weakness there. The engine appears bullet-proof and has class leading performance. Mercedes is not the weak link here. The weak link is the chassis and in particularly the aerodynamics.

The Brawn designers appear to have got the new aero rules spot on, whereas the McLaren guys have lost a link in the chain somewhere. Inevitably it has come from the effort that went into winning last year’s championship – think back to the famous $4 million front wing they brought to Interlagos, for example. Ferrari had the same pressure on them, but they seem to have got the 2009 package more sorted and not lost ground to their challengers, like BMW.

The engineers I spoke to believe that McLaren’s problem is more likely to be in the diffuser area, but could also be in how the air is reaching the diffuser under the car. It might be related to the rear wing, but the changes of rear wing could equally be about trying to calm the effect of the diffuser issues. I’m no aerodynamicist and I don’t pretend to understand the science in the slightest. But that is what I heard from people who do.

Looking at the lap times from Wednesday and Thursday, Hamilton doesn’t do any long runs, 10 laps is his maximum and the car runs in the 1m 22s and high 1m 21s. It’s very hard to guess how heavy the car is when they did this run, as 10 laps worth of fuel is only about 25 kilos, so the car could have had another 30 on board at the end of the run or just fumes.

Generally I would expect them to have a total of around 40 kilos in the car as a reference for their tests. They were not doing long runs or race distance tests, where you’d expect to use 50 kilos per 20 lap stint.

Toyota’s Timo Glock does a 20 lap run the same day where most of his laps are in the low 1m 21s, so substantially faster.

Lewis sets his fastest time on Thursday, a 1min 20.869, on the first flying lap of a five lap run. In a comparable length run Williams’ Nico Rosberg does a 1m 19.774 lap, which looks like a qualifying simulation and Felipe Massa does a 1m 20.677 as part of a 10 lap run.

The Brawn meanwhile is on another planet, doing a 20 lap run in the low 1m 21s and high 1m 20s, with a best time on low fuel in the 1m 18s.

The BMW is interesting, Kubica does a 1m20.740 on the fourth lap of a 21 lap run, so no attempt at a low fuel lap for him. I still think they are faster than they look at the moment.

So looking for a reliable yardstick, it looks like the McLaren is a good second off the pace of Ferrari, perhaps more. They will bring a fix to Jerez next week and that will be a huge week for them, the last chance to track test new parts before Melbourne. We will see their pace relative to Brawn and Williams there, which will make the picture clearer.

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It’s official! The Brawn is the fastest car in the F1 field with two weeks to go before the start of the season! It is an extraordinary story.

The Barcelona test, which finished on Thursday, could well go down as one of the most remarkable events in recent F1 history, as a team which seemed dead in the water at Christmas, bounced back and not only set the fastest outright lap of the week, but showed that it is faster over the race distance than the Ferrari!

Amazingly for a brand new car, reliability was very good too. The car covered over 2,000 kilometres during the four days using the same Mercedes engine (!) and had very few technical issues.

It looks very much as though the battle for victory in Melbourne will be between Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, as long as the car lasts the distance. It has done two race distances in the last two days, so the omens are good. And the competition between the two Brawn drivers is fierce – yesterday Rubens was faster than Jenson was the day before over the long runs, but there was far less wind and the track was more rubbered in.

If you make a direct comparison between the race distance runs of Massa and Button on Wednesday and Barrichello on Thursday you see that Jenson does 19 laps below 1m 21, Barrichello does 14, while Massa manages just 2!

What is even more impressive is that on the 19th lap of his 20 lap first stint Rubens does a 1m 19.971 – startling proof that the Brawn looks after its tyres very well over a long run. The team really are in amazing shape! In contrast the Ferrari’s lap times tail off into the 1m 22s at the end of the 20 lap stints.

If I get some time I’ll work out exactly how far ahead of the Ferrari the Brawn would have been over a race distance.

In fact, so stunning was the Brawn’s pace in Barcelona, it has caused all the F1 teams to completely revise their targets for the season. As I write this, there are briefings going on in all the team’s factories as the full impact of the Barcelona data sinks in. Of course the teams will have big updates for Melbourne, which will make them faster, whereas the Brawn car is is Melbourne specification now, so the gap will close up.

Also Brawn flying is not the best advert for KERS, as the team is not using it and won’t be until later in the season.

Don’t forget, Barcelona is a great yardstick for the season as it rewards aerodynamic efficiency and good tyre management, so if your car goes well there it’s going to go well at most places.

One team engineer I spoke to remembers an meeting last season when the then Honda engineers said that they were going to be a long way ahead in 2009. Given where they were at the time, everyone laughed it off. They are not laughing now.

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After several months of not hearing and seeing racing cars it was fabulous to come to the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona today and get up close to the 2009 cars.

At the end of the day, all the drivers lined up for practice starts on the main straight and I could feel my heart thumping the inside of my rib cage, just as it was when the last engine was switched off in the pit lane in Brazil last November.

All the teams are here and, although the 2009 cars take some getting used to with their ungainly front wings and tiny little rear wings, they are starting to grow on me.

It’s an important week for all the teams. Some like BMW, Ferrari and Toyota, have already done the bulk of their days of testing and for them this represents a final dress rehearsal before Melbourne. The race team mechanics are here, they’ve got their fireproof suits on and they are practising pit stops and sharpening up for the new season. Others, like McLaren, Renault and Williams have another few days after this in Jerez to bring some new parts to the car and find a bit more performance.

As the teams are at different stages of their plans, so some are trying qualifying and low fuel simulations, whereas others are running heavier. I think the times are closer in reality than they appear on the chart below. It’s not yet clear exactly what the pecking order is, but from what I’m seeing here with my own eyes, BMW and Toyota start out as the teams nibbling at Ferrari’s heels. It’s very close between them all and perhaps it’s no coincidence that those are the three teams who were testing in Bahrain where, sandstorms apart, they did some useful work.

Toyota keep bringing new things to the car at every test and improving it. The team was trying a new front wing today and this looks like it could be the year of the breakthrough win for the team (see separate post). Meanwhile Renault seems to be catching up after a tricky start, which was no doubt due to the channeling of efforts into their 2008 car right to the end of the season, whereas BMW in particular threw their effort into 2009.

McLaren have some problems, that is very clear. It’s in the rear of the car, either the rear wing, or possibly the diffuser, which is causing the back of the car to be unstable and is causing quite high tyre wear. The fact that they keep changing the rear wing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the rear wing that is the problem. It could be the diffuser as problems there can sometimes be sorted by changing the rear wing. Either way, it looks like it’s not a simple problem, more like a series of things, which makes it harder to identify and to fix. They are going to have to work hard to get the car up to speed for the start of the season. Can you imagine if they were the third fastest Mercedes-powered team at the first race?

BARCELONA TEST DAY 1 – TIMES

1. HEIDFELD -BMW 1’20.338
2. RAIKKONEN – FERRARI 1’20.908
3. TRULLI -TOYOTA 1’20.937
4. BUTTON -BRAWN 1’21.140
5. PIQUET -RENAULT 1’21.662
6. BOURDAIS -TORO ROSSO 1’22.158
7. WEBBER -RED BULL 1’22.246
8. SUTIL -FORCE INDIA 1’22.452
9. NAKAJIMA -WILLIAMS 1’22.813
10. KOVALAINEN – MCLAREN 1’22.948

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More chatter from Jerez

Quick posting with some more chatter I’ve heard from Jerez.

First is following on from my point yesterday about the poor weather the teams have had for their pre-season tests, apparently it now looks as though none of the teams will manage to reach the 15,000 kilometres of testing agreed for this year, in fact none is likely to get beyond 10,000 kms. The testing ban comes into force with the first race and lasts until the end of the year.

Today in Jerez it was wet in the morning and dry in the afternoon, so quite a bit of productive work was done.

According to Robert Kubica, in an interview he did with an Italian colleague, this will be an advantage for BMW, as they presented early with a (largely) reliable car.
“The testing agreement represents an advantage for anyone who has prepared the car well and found reliability, ” he said. “They will be able to do well straight away and maintain their advantage. On the other hand, anyone whose car is slow or fragile will really struggle this season to recover.”

BMW has not set the world on fire with lap times over the winter, but those whose memories stretch back to last winter will recall that they didn’t seem all that fast then either. That was because they were sandbagging – carrying more fuel in the tests than is normal and more than their rivals.

Williams’ Patrick Head flagged this up last February, as I recall. He said that he thought BMW would be very strong because he was sure they were carrying extra fuel in tests and he was proved right in the opening races. BMW tend to follow set procedures, they have their own way of working and you see it in practice sessions, where they are often nowhere on a Friday and then top of the time sheets on Saturday morning. It could well be that they are at it again this winter.

Toyota continue to quietly impress. Fastest again today with Timo Glock, this car looks like it is close to the pace as well as reliable. It was genuinely only a tenth or two off the Ferrari around Bahrain. Today it did a race distance in the morning and set a quick lap in the afternoon in a qualifying simulation.

One final point on the tyre testing BMW and McLaren did for Bridgestone on the 2010 tyres. The days devoted to this work do not count towards their allowance for pre-2009 testing, they were allowable extras, but nevertheless, they have had precious little time to test for 2009.

PS – McLaren are having a bit of a mare with the rear wing. Apparently they ran both of the new 2009 rear wings and then took them off and put back the 2008 rear wing. Lots of measuring going on.. I’ll find out more on this.

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New F1 cars get up to speed

Today we had all but one of the current F1 teams in action on the race track and over the next few days the mists will start to clear and we will start to see who’s quick and also how much slower the 2009 cars are compared with last year’s cars.

Renault, Williams, McLaren, Toro Rosso and Red Bull were in action at Jerez in Spain, while Toyota, Ferrari and BMW were in Bahrain.

I’ve not seen the full set of timings for the test, only the headline laptimes and you have to be very careful reading too much into those. However if you look at the times from Bahrain and compare them to last year’s February test, you see that the lap times are about 1.6 seconds slower. Ferrari did a 1m 33.6 today on the first day of running, last year on day one of the test they did a 1m 32.0. The next day on low fuel Raikkonen did a 1m30. When the cars came to Bahrain for the Grand Prix in April, when it was hotter, they were lapping in 1m32.2 on the first day of practice and a quick low fuel lap was again 1m30.

So they do not appear to be that much slower than the 2008 models at the moment, despite the cut in aerodynamics.

One of the key areas for competition this year is going to be getting the tyres to perform. I’ve heard a fair bit of moaning about the new slicks, that they are very hard and that the performance drops off very quickly. Keeping them working, not taking too much out of them in the race is going to be critical to success and in the last two seasons that is something Ferrari has done better than McLaren.

However the flip side of that is that the McLaren got better performance out of the tyre in qualifying. It’ll be interesting to see whether that pattern emerges again this season.

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