Barcelona testing – round up…

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Formula 1, Pre-season tests, Teams
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hello to everyone out there. I have to share my disappointment with you, today, as I was expecting to get some good full race simulations and, hopefully, some quali laps from the top teams, but we ended up with nothing of the sort. Instead, let’s see what we got:

Hamilton and McLaren continued on their usual testing regime of short stints in the morning, and they also did some back to back heavy-fuelled stints in the afternoon, none of which were really impressive or conclusive. His first 2 stints suffered from severe degradation, his next 2 were absolutely great in that respect. Ferrari didn’t attempt a race sim, and neither did Mercedes, apart from a few heavy fuel stints. Red Bull did very few laps due to a problem, and that prevented them from testing their new package properly (combined with Webber’s limited running yesterday as well). Lotus’ race simulation was nothing to write home about, being somewhat inconsistent and definitely slower than expected (at an estimated race time of 01:39:45.992 including 3 pitstops it’s 49 seconds slower than Grosjean’s race simulation from 02 March). As for the rest of the team, we haven’t seen anything today to change our perceptions or to better our understanding.

Therefore, I am not going to post any analysis today, because I think it would be cheating you, and you would spot it immediately. This post will be argumentative (rather than analytical and mathematical) and I apologize in advance, but there’s simply nothing more to be said, except to make a brief synopsis of the testing so far and, at the same time, present our (perceived) pecking order as follows:

No1 – McLaren

McLaren have been hiding their car’s true pace all testing long. They haven’t gone for any low fuel run and they haven’t even attempted any revealing race simulations. From the few bits and pieces that we have seen, it seems that they have a fast, reliable and very consistent racing car, with which they can challenge for victories from the very 1st race.

No2 – Red Bull

I place the Bulls 2nd in my pecking order, because they have had some reliability issues throughout testing and, especially during the last 2 days, when they failed to properly go out and test their Melbourne-spec configuration. The delay of this specification may well turn out to be a wrong decision, creating problems for the first fly-away races. However, like McLaren, they have been extra careful to reveal their car pace, which is a sign of confidence. I have a feeling though that McLaren may have stolen a small march on them this year. Vettel will be even stronger this year, so he may well be the deciding factor that tips the scale in Red Bull’s favour.

No3 – Mercedes

They have been the fastest team in race-simulation trim from all the other teams, bar McLaren and Red Bull who didn’t attempt any. They have been the fastest in heavy fuel loads, and Nico’s 01:22.9 yesterday on a 15 lap stints confirms that they should be bloody quick in qualifying too. It will be interesting to see if they can mix it with McLaren and Red Bull. Their tyre degradation issues, as we have explained, have been blown way out of proportion. It’s telling that they attempted a race simulation on the 24th of February, and then spent the 2nd Barcelona testing pretty much hiding from the top of the time sheets, just like McLaren and Red Bull.

No4 – Ferrari

I say Ferrari, but in reality I mean Alonso, because in the hands of Massa I see Ferrari behind Lotus, at this moment. They have a lot of work to do to recover, and their position is actually closer to the midfield than it is to Mercedes. If our predictions come true, expect a political shitstorm of epic proportions. Fernando will wrestle with the car and will keep motivating the squad to recover, but it will be tricky if heads start to roll in Maranello. Having said that, the first race in Melbourne is usually not a good indicator of a car’s performance and Ferrari may be able to get a lucky break, or even a podium. Ferrari fans should do well not to hope for much more, at this stage.

No5 – Lotus

As I said, I would be placing Lotus above Ferrari at this moment, if Alonso wasn’t part of the equation. At this moment, Lotus is more consistent, faster and kinder to the tyres, especially in the hands of Romain Grosjean. Kimi has been fast during pre-season testing but inconsistent, a sign of a talented driver that has been out of the game for quite some time. I expect Romain to have the upper hand at the beginning, and quite comfortably, with the odd flash of speed coming from Kimi’s side. They start the season in a good position, but their in-season development pace is what will determine the outcome of their campaign.

No6 and No7 - Sauber / Williams

Perez will shine for Sauber this year. The Swiss team have come up with a competitive, contemporary package, that has shown promising signs during pre-season testing. Williams are up there too, with a FW34 that is apparently very kind to its tyres. It may lack a bit in terms of raw pace compared to Force India, but should have the edge in the races.

No8 and No9 – Force India / Toro Rosso

Force India may have a bit more raw pace in comparison to either Sauber or Williams, but we have seen a worrying pattern of heavy tyre degradation during their longer stints. They may find themselves qualifying reasonably well but falling behind in the races. Toro Rosso has also shown some good speed during low-fuel quali laps, but their race pace isn’t 100% there at the moment. I have to say though that positions 6 to 9 are very difficult to decipher, and I expect the teams to drop from 6th to 9th in the pecking order on a race-by-race basis. It seems that everybody has been able to produce good, quick, reliable and sensible racing cars, and that shows in the time sheets; it’s very difficult to separate between these 4 teams.

No10 – Caterham

Caterham have definitely made a big step forward this year, as evidenced by the 01:22.6 lap time that they achieved on a low-fuel quali simulation. However, their long stints pace is behind the other midfield runners at the moment, and although they have closed the gap to them, they haven’t quite bridged it yet. They can, however, proudly claim that they are now part of what we call “midfield runners”, in dire contrast to HRT and Marussia who continue to disappoint in their 3rd year in the sport. HRT, in particular, are expected to not reach the 107% laptime from pole in Australia, and given that they have done no testing at all, I don’t see them racing down under.

So… That’s it on what has been a relatively short, but interesting nonetheless pre-season testing. I am thrilled that so many of you took the time to visit my site and post your comments. It’s needless to say that we will continue posting articles and analyzing the races, all season long, along with other articles and technical features, and we will also be doing our Fantasy League that has generated a lot of interest so far. I have to apologize again for not posting anything on today’s testing times, but it would feel like I’m cheating you guys, and that’s not what I want to do.

We will only be posting something when it makes sense to do so…

Stay tuned… :)

Comments
  1. Kev says:

    Since the fuel loads are a major mystery, why can’t have Ferrari put more fuel than required to try and mask its pace. They did a 1:22 on hard tires yesterday, I suppose. So they clearly got some more juice in the car. What if Renault have actually shown up their cards while the top three still have pace to boot?

    The degradation seems to be similar across all the team on short stints and if Ferrari can afford another pitstop and do some quick laps, they make things interesting.

    I am not saying they will beat RedBull, but I am not including them in Lotus/Merc category. I also haven’t seen much from McLaren to suggest they are any better than Ferrari. The very fact that Ferrari ‘seem’ to be struggling has taken attention off McLaren and others.

    Ferrari and Merc have been the focal point of the tests this winter for varied reasons and that has been kind to other teams who were able to carry out test without much of media attention barring RB obviously.

    Everything will be clear in Qualifying in Melbourne. Just can’t wait for it.

  2. Klaas says:

    Brawn and Schummi can brag as much as they want, I see Lotus and Ferrari in front of them.

  3. fiuo says:

    A very amateur analysis. to be proved entirely wrong in melbourne.

    • abu says:

      Yes, there’s always that possibility. I believe Melbourne will be inconclusive, because of the nature of the track, and we should wait until Sepang.

      Regarding the “amateur” comment, yes, today’s post wasn’t an “analysis”, it was an opinion, just that. Hope you enjoyed the previous ones! Take care.

  4. J says:

    Thank you very much for your hard work over testing! I really enjoy your detailed analysis, and your blog has been my port of call after every testing day to make sense of the times. As a huge fan of Nico’s, your assessment of Mercedes’ performance is especially comforting to me. ;) I’m a natural pessimist and have little faith in the team, especially considering their track record, but any sliver of hope Nico could have a slightly better year on the cards that your analysis could give me is immensely pleasurable, and I find your discussion about all the teams fascinating as well. I really appreciated it!

    • abu says:

      You are most welcome my friend. I am glad your enjoyed my posts over the last few days, and I hope you get to enjoy a great F1 season… :)

  5. Pop says:

    I do not agree at all about Lotus… Kimi was very consistent…

    • abu says:

      Actually, I think Kimi has done really well so far. Some inconsistency isn’t something to worry about, and it could be down to track conditions such as traffic or whatever. Grosjean however has been a bit more consistent and stable. His race simulation was much stronger too. Let’s wait and see – I’d love it if Kimi does well in his first season back to the sport.

  6. Zenti says:

    ~ about the 107%… ~

    hey ya,

    i like your blog and i hope you keep on going. i guess you will be right, HRT and Marussia are too slow for the 107% rule. the one thing that saved them last year was that there was such a big gap between soft and hard tyres, so they could use the soft tyres and the top qualifying time was set up with hard tyres.
    this way they were about 0,75 and 0,5 seconds faster as they really were.

    but now pirelli broght the different tyres closer together, let’s just hope the FIA keeps their own rules unlike last year…

    see you in two weeks :D

    best regards
    Zenti

  7. Talisman says:

    Abu, I’m not sure I agree with you about Sauber and Williams being ahead of the other two midfielders. Both those two cars have been observed as being quite lively at the back when the drivers are pushing. While I agree that the order in the midfield will vary track to track IMO its FI and STR that are the stronger two there.

    Only two weeks left to go though till we’re all proven right or wrong…. can’t wait!

    • abu says:

      Thanks mate… :) Well, I’m afraid I don’t have access to the track, so I have to rely on the time-sheets as I don’t trust people’s perceptions and “observations”. I mean, I have seen some pretty idiotic things being written by “authoritative” journalists before. Check Benson’s latest testing analysis, for instance, where he has taken ALL of the teams lap times (from all testing sessions, in both tracks Jerez and Barcelona), summed them up and then produced an average laptime which he used to compare cars… I mean… How dumb is that? So, all I do is rely on the arithmetics, and that tells me that Sauber and Williams look good. Don’t get me wrong, FI and STR look very quick too, however their race sims have not been very good in comparison to Sauber’s and Williams’. But I absolutely agree on 2 things that you mention: (a) the midfield is too tight to call it and (b) I can’t wait too!!!
      :D :D :D

      • Talisman says:

        BTW what do you think about the chances of Ferrari being overhauled not just by Mercedes and Lotus but by the established midfield pack? They really don’t look very good at the moment do they?

      • abu says:

        I am crunching the numbers as we speak – I am going through all Barcelona testing sessions trying to make sense of it, and looking for patterns in the chaos… That’s a very interesting question. My first, gut reaction, is that Ferrari will enjoy extremes. There will be times when their car is hooked up and times when they will be hopeless. Do you want to know where my greatest concern stems from? Not from the fact that they have not figured out why their car is slow and responds weirdly to setup changes, but from the fact that, when they have been quick, they couldn’t understand where that was coming from as well.

        Btw… isn’t it time you stick your neck out, Sir, and post your selections in the Fantasy League?

  8. James A says:

    Hi there, I think your analysis is excellent of the recent pre-season tests, especially with the timed stints!

    I do have a question. What analysis will you be doing for the practice sessions in melbourne in particular?

    Cheers man, I really appreciate your hard work.

    Keep it up and I’m sure you will have more and more people visiting your site!!

    James

    • abu says:

      Thanks James – it’s been a pleasure doing this testing analysis and sharing it with you guys. Thanks for your kind words as well… Friday practice sessions are a bit hard to decipher, especially in a track like Melbourne, where everybody is still eager to hide stuff in terms of raw pace, and the track is very, very green at the start, changing dramatically from day to day. In general, practice sessions are so close to qualifying and the race that we shouldn’t spend too many time analyzing them – there’s little point analyzing times on Sunday morning when you have qualifying in the afternoon and the race the next day. Remember how many times in 2011 Ferrari and Mercedes were at the top on Friday, only for Red Bull to dominate again? After a while we got the drill… But I do plan on doing something for Friday testing in Melbourne, however I will have to see the laptimes, the stints, and what everybody is doing to decide if I can make some sense out of it, or not. Also, we WILL be doing analysis and stuff, mainly after each race, and we will be posting technical articles and, of course, our opinion on anything F1 related.

      Thanks for visiting by the way, and keep in touch.. :)

  9. elf341 says:

    your analysis yesterday noted concern that mercedes pace seemed to be only reflected in rosberg’s, not msc’s times – but you said we should look to msc’s times today for a better indication.
    How in-line, or otherwise, where MSC’s degradation for day 4?

    • abu says:

      More or less exactly like Rosberg’s from yesterday. Also, his 01:22.9 laptime (identical to Rosberg from yesterday) must have been set in the same fuel load, even though Michael did less laps. Let’s hope Michael can recapture some of his old speed in qualifying – he’s going to need it this year…

      • elf341 says:

        thanks abu, I very much enjoyed your detailed analysis. I hope you will consider providing it for the 1st test session in Australia! I think we might see some desperate solutions tried by Ferrari, and RBR revert to their vanilla RB8 spec.

      • abu says:

        Since you ask for it Sir, I will do it… ;)

        …and thanks for your comments :)

  10. DanF says:

    Hi, great work over the tests…

    but isn’t “HRT, in particular, are expected to not reach the 107% laptime from pole in Australia” a bit unfounded? We haven’t seen anything remotely close to their 2012 challenger, yet. While I generally agree that HRT and Marussia/Virgin are disappointments due to lack of progress (in organizational terms most definitely), they did manage to get their cars on the grid in previous two seasons and break the 107% time in most GPs.

    Either way, Melbourne can’t come soon enough :-)

    • abu says:

      Thanks for your kind words Dan… Really appreciate it…

      With regards to HRT, well… Their boss (Luis Perez-Sala) has been on record saying “We’re not going to be at the same level as when we finished this past season, where the same team had been running for two years, but we’re aware of that. We’re taking a step back so that we can take two forward”. This tells me that HRT are not going to make the cut, just like they didn’t in 2011 (failed to reach the 107% and didn’t race). If they make the 107% it will a surprise of similar proportions to Lotus winning the championship, and I will have to eat my words… ;)

  11. Hassim says:

    Abu do you go to F1 race at Australia and Malaysia?

  12. patsevtsev says:

    Briliant. Thank you. Keep doing it :)

  13. Jeanrien says:

    Love your approach, this has much more sense to me than the Benson (what an idea to average all the lap times anyway). When you can’t putt a number, just don’t and this is why I like this analysis.
    I almost match my feelings but it has been nice you look after tyres degradation, and that has a big role to play … The most impressive development to me is the Caterham, I feel like they can battle for a place in the midfield.

    • abu says:

      Yeah, Caterham looks to be solid this year. But the other midfield teams have raised their game too….

      • Monad says:

        I have the impression that depending on the track Caterham are 3 to 5 tenths behind the midfield in terms of overall pace. In general i will say about 4tenths. How to you see it? Am i close?

      • abu says:

        Hmmm… I’d say a bit more than that… Check out the latest blog article…. ;)

  14. Gordon Stewart says:

    A great read. Burn the naysayers at the stake(unless their right). I like the way you say your no expert but have the facts and the understanding to explain them to a layman like myself. Very humble, Bravo!

  15. Monad says:

    I kind of disagree with the idea that Melbourne doesn’t tell us who is fast. In all the years i’ve been watching F1(and that includes all the Melbourne years) the cars that show speed in Melbourne are still fast. No matter the track a slow car is just slow. Actually only Monaco can hide some defaults of a car with bad aerodynamics but good mechanical grip.
    Wasn’t Red Bull fast last year in Melbourne? Wasn’t Mclaren second behind Red Bull? Didn’t we have a similar image in 2010 too? Didn’t Brawn win in 2009? So why do people still think that Melbourne won’t show who is faster and Malaysia will?

    As of you analysis i have to say although i haven’t analyzed any data and i just speak from general perception and feeling i have to say that i share similar opinion about the frontrunners(Hey at this time of year you get more by seeing the faces of the team personnel than by seeing the times of the cars). I think Mclaren have a good chance to be in the same foot with Red Bull from the start.

    Ferrari honestly look to be even worse that Mercedes and Lotus. As you said depending on drivers Alonso might muscle his Ferrari past Lotus. I don’t expect Kimi to be doing miracles ether but i don’t think Grosjean will destroy him even in the first races because the guy adapts fast. I see them close through the whole year. The French is a good driver and i was saying that the guy has speed during the Renault year too even if i got laughed at. I think a talented driver shows glimpses he has it even when he first gets behind the wheel and Grosjean did a good time in his first qualifying on his first GP in that 2009 Renault. I remember thinking that was quite good for a guy that just jumped in a car and that Piquet couldn’t have done better, so i immediately thought that he must have some speed in him.
    I mostly have my doubts about Williams doing any better than Force India. But you said that they are probably slower just better with their tyres. Sauber vs Force India is close for me. I guess FI may have slightly more speed while Sauber have better tyre management but i still wonder if they lost their tyre management ability by trying to fix the problem of putting heat on the tyres. Anyway, those two are close with Williams and Toro Rosso behind them. That’s how i see it at least.

    Closing i have to congratulate you cause your writing seems amazingly reasonable and logical.
    It’s from the times when i see simple people on a blog writing like this that i wonder why are the “experts” getting so much money to give us bullshit when some guy blogging seems ten times better and how unfair it is that they got the jobs they have.
    You say you are no expert. Well believe me as far as lapels go you are as much of an expert as anyone since the “experts” don’t seem to be more of an experts ether.

    • abu says:

      Well, first of all thanks for your comments and the time you spent to write them, I really, really appreciate it. I think the general consensus is that Melbourne is a very special track. Very green, takes long to rubberize, street circuit (of sorts), cool weather, etc… I think that Sepang will be more representative, NOT that we can’t draw any conclusions from Melbourne, that’s for sure… Again, thanks for your comments (I agree with most of what you say) and I hope you stick around… :)

      • juan mateo horrach torrens says:

        Abu, congratulations for your blog. Maybe you are not an expert, but your work seems pretty well done. As i have seen, you are a little younger than me (i started with Jackie stewart), but in any case, you have a long term vision of F1, and it’s fantastic your interest for all fans of F1.
        I have been in Montmeló, 1 and 2 of march, and looking for the information the rest of test days in Jerez and Barcelona. Your analysis about the situation seems to me pretty good, and i am agree with you that Mclaren seems minimum at the same level that Red Bull, but also i think that they dont show all they have. I was very impressed with Romain and Lotus. I coud’ent see Kimi, but in any case, i doubt that Alonso can make the difference, Ferrari not seems in good shape. No comments about Massa, which seems confused. I have not a clear picture of Mercedes. I did not see Senna, but Williams seems to me not at the same level that Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso. It will be very interesting in any case the middle class fight.
        I think that the differences this year will be very small in general, except HRT and Marussia.
        Next week we will see. Melbourne is not a typical track, i am agree with you, but sure that we can obtain valuable conclusios about the speed and race level of teams.
        Thank you very much for your work.

      • abu says:

        Hey, thank you for taking the time to visit and post.

        I enjoyed your comments about your visit to Montmelo and the teams that impressed you? How did the cars look on track? Was anybody particularly spectacular…?

        Just be going through the times, I have to say I am impressed with young Grosjean too, so far. Hope he keeps it up…
        :)

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