Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

I come away from the Barcelona test feeling that this is going to be a great season of racing, but in a very different way from the McLaren vs Ferrari battles of the last two years.

The testing performances we have seen so far suggest that McLaren has, if not a mountain, then certainly a big hill to climb, while Ferrari, BMW and Toyota look very strong, one might almost say equally strong.

If the performance we’ve seen here is carried over to the early part of the season, as it has been in recent years, then you could see Kubica, Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Massa, Trulli and Glock fighting for wins and podiums early on. I don’t think it will be too long before Alonso joins in either, as the Renault team made a big step forward this week thanks to a new front wing and underfloor parts. They started behind and are still a bit behind, but closing in fast.

Kimi Raikkonen said that the Ferrari team has not yet pushed for the ultimate lap times, implying that there is more to come, but from what I saw in Barcelona there is little to choose between the top three teams on pace. Certainly when the BMW does similar runs to the Ferrari, it sets similar lap times. When it comes to racing, Toyota may have a slight disadvantage from not running KERS at some tracks early on, but they are adamant that the decision, taken early, not to start the season with KERS was the right one. Their car is very driveable, predicatable and consistent. Jarno Trulli thinks he can do great work with it. The car is still not as comfortable as some of its rivals over the kerbs, but it’s a vast improvement on last year’s model.

The new rules have cut the maximum downforce level available on the cars to below the level they used to have on low downforce tracks. This has meant many things, but one of them is that braking stability is now harder to find, as downforce is an important part of getting the car slowed down. I stood at the heavy braking zone at Turn 10 for a few hours this morning and studied this closely. Everyone is more jittery than they were there last year, but if I had to pick a winner under braking I would say that it’s the Ferrari. The Brawn car is giving a little bit away there compared to the Toyotas and BMWs, and so is the Renault.

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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?


1. HEIDFELD -BMW 1’20.338
3. TRULLI -TOYOTA 1’20.937
4. BUTTON -BRAWN 1’21.140
5. PIQUET -RENAULT 1’21.662
7. WEBBER -RED BULL 1’22.246
8. SUTIL -FORCE INDIA 1’22.452

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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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The new Red Bull hit the track today, for all of 14 laps before being halted by a gearbox problem. Uh-oh. The gearbox was the Achilles Heel in 2007. Let’s hope that this is just a small teething problem.

The car looks pretty cool, I like the long think nose and the experts seem to think that there is a lot of tidy detail there, showing that the extra time in the wind-tunnel has been well spent.

56680652The fact that Adrian Newey has been pushed into the foreground on this launch is interesting and tells me two things; first that he thinks the car is a real winner and is happy to be strongly identified with its design and second that as (surely) Red Bull’s highest paid employee they are keen to get as much value out of him as possible.

Rumours have him being paid in the £8 million a year range. If the FIA gets it’s €50 million a year budget plan through, it’ll be very interesting to see how he and RBR deal with that!

It’s not uncommon for Newey cars to come out a little later that others, but with so little testing they have to hope that the reliability is there.

Mark Webber drives the car on Wednesday. I’m told that he is well ahead of schedule on his rehab because he’s very fit and because he’s done all the right things to get it to heal as well as possible. It’s the right leg, so not the load bearing leg for braking. If he was doing a load bearing sport, like soccer he’d be out for another three months.

Team principal Christian Horner mentioned in his Q&A that the team will slim down a little because there is no test team. The figure I hear is that there will be 70 redundancies.

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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;  the 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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