Those of us who were hoping to get a clearer picture, at least from today’s running in Barcelona, will be somewhat disappointed. The teams continued to keep their cards close to their chest; characteristically, not one of the teams involved in today’s running attempted either a race simulation (although most covered many laps above the race distance), or a low-fuel quali “banzai” lap. What we are left with is data that is difficult to decipher and, in any case, unwise to rely on to draw any meaningful conclusions.
I have been hearing / reading comments all over the blogosphere that “the McLaren looks good”, the “Red Bull looks fast”, “Williams is a handful”, etc, but no data seems to support any of the above. In any case, we will try to provide you with a synopsis (rather than an analysis) of today’s laptimes, in the hope that over the next days we will have more to talk about…
Let’s start with the four “big” teams, i.e. Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes. I include Mercedes in that bracket, because all data points to that direction. Mercedes, contrary to previous days, didn’t attempt any race simulation. Being, apparently, satisfied with the car’s reliability, they have been focusing on extracting performance from the car (today, for example, they introduced a new rear wing, that has a waved lower “lip” in comparison to the perfectly straight previous version). They therefore spent the entire morning doing four (4) short stints, each of which consisted of 1 out-lap, 8 timed laps, and 1 in-lap. We cam reasonably assume from the laptimes that the car was identically fueled for each of the runs. The 1st run (as always, excluding peak times) averaged 01:27.028, the 2nd run averaged 01:26.189, the 3rd averaged 01:26.335 and, finally, the 4th run averaged 01:26.302. Nico Rosberg was very happy afterwards, and claimed that the progress Mercedes has made is evident for everybody to see.
This is true. Let us examine what the other top teams were doing at the same time, starting off with Red Bull. The Bulls were focused on even shorter stints for the majority of the day, apparently working more on car setup and less on studying tyre degradation effects. You can see how their stints compare to those of Mercedes in the figure posted below. In general, their pace looks comparable, with the big unknowns of tyre selection and fuel loads threatening any meaningful comparison. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that the top teams would not approach testing dramatically differently, unless they want to hide something spectacular; we haven’t had any evidence so far that this is the case. We can therefore deduct from the graphs that the differences will be smaller this year. This is further corroborated by Ferrari’s and McLaren’s short stints, which are also presented in the figure. McLaren did surprisingly little running (64 laps, against 102 for Red Bull, 105 for Ferrari and 128 for Mercedes – almost twice the race distance of the Spanish GP). They focused on short runs – shorter than either Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull. Button’s average lap times for the 5 stints that are shown in the figure were 01:26.351, 01:26.766, 01:25.600 (the shorter one), 01:26.514 and 01:26.024. Ferrari also focused on short runs with Massa, with the following average lap times, per stint: 01:25.615, 01:25.235, 01:26.140, 01:25.216 and 01:25.952. Before celebrating Ferrari’s pace superiority, it’s worth remembering that Ferrari appear to follow a completely different testing philosophy to the rest of the teams. From the looks of it, however, it doesn’t seem as if Ferrari will start the season in such a bad condition as it was feared after the first Jerez test. Things should further clarify in the next tests.
With the exception of McLaren, the other top 3 teams also embarked on longer stints in the afternoon, in what appears to be definitely NOT a race simulation. The degradation patterns are a bit all over the place; it’s very pronounced in the first stint, and almost non-existent in the last (5th) stint, so no conclusions can be safely drawn. Nico’s 5 long stints averaged at 01:29.695, 01:29.942, 01:28.862, 01:28.789 and 01:29.291. Red Bull only attempted two “heavy-fueled” stints, which are also represented in the figure below, but it serves us well to focus on the 2nd one. Webber’s 1st stint averaged at 01:30.823 and the 2nd stint averaged 01:28.439. What’s impressive about the 2nd stint is the very small degradation that the Red Bull appears to suffer from. Nico Rosberg commented after today’s testing that both types of degradation (front tyres blistering and rear tyre wear) are very apparent this year too, but this may be an area where Red Bull already has the upper hand over their rivals.
To be more specific, Webber’s 2nd stint saw his tyres degrade by 1.048 seconds, over a period of 16 timed laps, which gives an average degradation of 0.066 seconds per lap… What’s more impressive is that the degradation seems to be smooth and almost linear in nature, with no sudden drop-off in performance (the dreaded cliff point that characterized the 2011 generation of Pirelli tyres). It all becomes even more impressive if we factor in Barcelona’s notoriety of being a “tyre eater” and the fact that Webber was, obviously, driving a very heavy fueled car. Ominous stuff…
Ferrari’s heavy fuel stints, on the other hand (3 in total), were less impressive, and similar to Mercedes’ runs. Massa’s 2 first stints suffered from severe degradation, but the situation was improved for his final stints, which was a 12 timed-laps stint, averaging at 01:29.152, with a degradation of 0.948 seconds (i.e. 0.079 seconds per lap). The other 2 stints averaged at 01:30.682 and 01:29.910. All indications point to the conclusion that Red Bull are sitting comfortably ahead of the pack, and the only thing that’s left to determine is by how much.
Since we can draw no further conclusions from today’s testing, at least with regards to the pecking order at the top of the pack, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how Nico Rosberg’s race simulation from the 24th of February compares to the actual races of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher from the 2011 Spanish GP. In the following figure I am presenting Rosberg’s laptimes compared to the actual laptimes that were recorded during the race. Please note that all Rosberg times have been increased by 1.5% (to give you an idea, for a laptime of 1:30.000 that gives an extra 1.350 seconds, so it’s a very big correction, to account for the difference between cool temperatures during testing and hot temperatures during the race (as we explained in our previous blog entry).
As we can see, Nico’s laptimes, even corrected by +1.5%, compare very well with those of Red Bull and McLaren’s top runners from that weekend, reinforcing our conclusion that Mercedes have taken a big step towards the front of the grid. What’s even more interesting is the significant difference in laptimes between Nico’s race simulation and Schumacher’s actual race pace, further indicating that the W03 is a much faster and more contemporary car than the W02 ever was. With this data, and assuming that Nico’s was a legitimate race simulation, he would have finished 1:30 minutes ahead of Schumacher’s Mercedes. It all bodes well for the upcoming season. Finally, I am posting the average laptimes for the stints, so you can draw your own conclusions.
Hopefully we will have more meaningful data to work with tomorrow – until then, thanks for visiting and stay tuned… 🙂