I have toyed with the idea of not posting anything regarding the tests that are ongoing in Barcelona, because most people tend to focus on the headline laptimes, which is a really funny way of understanding who’s fast and who’s not. If one had followed the headline laptimes from 2011 pre-season testing, for instance, one would have deducted that the 2011 championship would be a straight battle between Williams and Mercedes. And that McLaren would struggle to make it to Q2.
Having said that, I believe the following diagram paints a very interesting picture of today’s testing times. I have not included Ferrari, because they were focused on shorter runs and data acquisition, but we have some interesting “semi-conclusions” to draw anyway (click on the image to enlarge):
It’s clear that Red Bull and McLaren tried a few quali-style laps at the beginning of the session (with considerable fuel onboard though, at least 40-50kg) and then focused in long-runs, race simulations. We know that both teams are conservative during testing, so we can assume that they were carrying fuel worth at least 1 – 1.5 seconds / lap for their quali runs. Besides, last year’s benchmark from testing was Schumacher’s 1:21.2 laptime, and we are positive that this will be eclipsed during this winter pre-season tests, as was eclipsed the similar Jerez benchmark (set by Rubens Barrichello in 2011), and by quite a margin.
From the looks of it, it seems that Red Bull may have a slight edge on McLaren, both in terms of single-lap pace and race pace, but it’s very close to call either way. You can see that the Red Bull diagrams in their long runs are, on average, seated a bit lower than McLaren’s. Red Bull, however, were doing a race simulation today, and one can see that in the decreasing lap times of every stint; on the other hand McLaren seem to have been working with comparable fuel loads from stint to stint, and we can’t therefore draw a solid conclusion. Tomorrow’s and Friday’s test will help clear up the picture a bit more.
Mercedes’ pace is encouraging. They were able to post good laptimes at the start of their stints. Nico’s last stint, in particular, was quite good. He started with a 1:24.750, and did a total of 20 laps, averaging 1:26.769 (disregarding the peaks, which represent a driver taking it easy for a lap). Assuming that the car had at least 22 laps of fuel in it (a safe margin of 2 laps), then assuming a consumption of 2.65kg/lap and a time penalty of 0.35 sec/10 kgs, it’s easy to calculate that the car had at least 58kg of fuel onboard, i.e. it suffered a time penalty of minimum 0.35 x 58 / 10 = 2.03 seconds, i.e. an “empty” tanks run would be around the 1:22.7 mark. Since we expect the times to drop to 1:21.0 dead, then it’s reasonable to assume that Mercedes were actually carrying a lot more fuel than 58kgs for this stint. All in all, Mercedes’ first showing is encouraging and we hope they can get some more mileage tomorrow, so we can have a better picture.
As the testing days go by, we will be able to get a clearer picture, comparing the laptimes and also comparing the trends (for example, you can tell a lot of how quickly the tyres are degrading from the laptime deterioration slope). I do get the feeling that Mercedes are holding back a little bit at the moment, and they will continue to hold back this week. As I said, let’s not read anything into headline laptimes because they are completely misleading. Force India were fast today, but they were focusing on very short stints, and they were clearly doing setup optimization work…
Williams look to have fallen in the clutches of Caterham, by the by…