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Eyes on Barcelona

Life moves on. The story changes. UK papers pulled out of their tailspin over the recession and banking crisis once Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, Barack Obama and John Sargent gave them something else to write about and this week’s test at Barcelona has moved the F1 agenda on from memories of the dramatic finale in Sao Paulo. F1 is reinventing itself again and focussed on 2009. Revolution is the air, with radically different looking cars and technologies and some amazing ideas for spicing up the show, which take F1 away from much it has held dear for some time (see other story.)

There have been a lot of talking points from this week’s test; ┬áthe Honda tests of Senna and di Grassi, the ugliness of the 2009 cars with their mismatched wings and the safety of KERS with mechanics all wearing heavy duty Marigolds to handle the cars. Sebastien Vettel managed only a few metres on his first run at his new team Red Bull before a brake problem caused a fire, while Pedro de la Rosa got tongues wagging by driving the Force India car. Twitchy-bum time for Giancarlo Fisichella..

Let’s start with that. Why did Pedro drive the car? Is he going to race for the team in 2009? Quite possibly, if you recall he was slated to drive for Prodrive if that McLaren B team project had come together and I know that he feels his has unfinished business as a racer, but I think another reason he drove the car now is because a) it still has a Ferrari engine in it, so it was a rare chance for a McLaren man to assess the Ferrari engine b) this is a technical collaboration and the two sides need to understand each other well, so it’s vital for McLaren to assess where the Force India package is at the outset. Of course the 2009 car will be totally different, but de la Rosa has given McLaren’s engineers an understanding of the baseline. Fisi admitted to some Italian colleagues that his key relationship there was with the now departed Colin Kolles. He has a contract for 2009 and was announced by Vijay Mallya in Shanghai as one of his 2009 drivers, but the feeling from the test is that McLaren wants del la Rosa in the car to push the programme on. Adrian Sutil seemed calm, pointing out that he was over a second faster than de la Rosa.

Over at Honda, Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi appeared in a shootout for the second seat alongside Jenson Button, who has publicly stated that he would prefer Rubens Barrichello as his team mate. Of the two di Grassi has a lot more F1 experience, having been a tester for Renault this year. The engineers there rated him highly for his technical ability, but they went a little quiet if you asked them whether he is fast enough for F1. Honda are assessing that now, likewise with Senna. It’s always dangerous to read too much into headline lap times from tests, you need to look at long runs and directly compare new tyre runs on similar fuel loads in similar conditions to see who’s faster.

There has been a lot of chat behind the scenes as the year went on about the safety of KERS, especially after the BMW mechanic was knocked off his feet at the first test, with an electric shock. This week the mechanics handling KERS cars are using thick rubber gloves, to prevent a repeat. They have to wait 3 seconds once the engine is switched off before touching the car. It is clear that there is a long way to go before the teams are up to speed on this new technology. As I’ve mentioned before, it will be at the race starts that the KERS system is most apparent early in 2009, with the power boost likely to give a couple or three car lengths advantage over a non KERS car, once the car reaches 100km/h.

As for the new look cars, they will certainly take some getting used to, as the saying goes, ‘that’s a face only a mother could love’. The generation of cars which culminated in the 2008 models were beautiful and their ugly sisters are just that. If they produce brilliant racing, will they become beautiful?

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