Posts Tagged ‘Ferrari’

Ferrari announced that Felipe Massa will be driving chassis number 294 in Sepang, as opposed to 293 that he used in Melbourne. This, by itself, is not major news. Teams do tend to go through a couple of chassis throughout the year. What’s interesting however is the wording that Ferrari used to justify this decision. They said: “This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park”.

This statement striked me, because there have been no suggestions whatsoever anywhere in the press (printed or online) that Massa’s Australian predicament was down to a defect chassis, there was therefore no need for Ferrari to go public with that. Ferrari’s decision to use the words “clear up any doubts” implies that, to them, it’s not an issue and that this has been an internal confrontation, apparently between Massa’s side and Ferrari management. Ferrari, though, go a step further and state that: “Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents – even at the cost of extra work in these few days that separate the Australian race from the one in Malaysia”.

To me, this reads like a disclaimer a lawyer would have written, and definitely not a simple team announcement. I read it like a direct message to Massa: we give you everything, we even respond to unreasonable demands at the cost of extra work, so it’s up to you to deliver. I am not used to Ferrari conducting (thinly veiled) dialogue with their drivers in public, so I am very concerned that the above statement is a prelude to the oncoming Massa’s replacement. It appears Ferrari have had enough, and are willing to go public just to make sure everybody understands it’s not the car’s fault, but Massa’s. If the situation inside the team was harmonious, then I would have expected a very simple and to-the-point statement, such as “Felipe Massa will be driving chassis No294 in Sepang”, and nothing more. The way the statement is written can be useful when terminating a contract, because it puts on records that: (a) the team have gone over and beyond their normal procedures to assist Massa, (b) they have done so at an extra cost in terms of man hours and shipping and (c) Felipe is aware of that.

All this additional seasoning makes me suspicious.

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… 🙂

Rain spoiled the party today at Barcelona (at around 15:40), with many teams forced to stop their race simulations before their completion. And if it’s hard to decipher dry running lap times, it’s practically impossible to make any sense of the wet laps, which is why we will be focusing on the lap times up until the rain started. A lot of talk has been generated about Mercedes’ tyre degrading issues – Autosport in particular have been quite vocal in suggesting that Mercedes are eating up their soft tyres. We argued yesterday that Mercedes don’t appear to be in any sort of special predicament, and Norbert Haug confirmed today during testing (talking to Autosport) that “every team can improve in every area, but I cannot see specific issues on the tyre front for us“. I continue to believe that Mercedes are not suffering from excessive degradation patterns, and here’s the data to back it up.

Let us begin with Rosberg’s shorter stints. As I have already argued, when a team is chasing performance (i.e. evaluating set-up changes and new components), the drivers usually push harder at the start of every stint, it is therefore normal to see increased degradation in comparison to race simulation scenarios. Let’s examine some of Rosberg’s such (short) stints, in comparison to other short stints performed today by Webber, Massa and Raikkonen:

Rosberg Vs Massa Vs Webber Vs Kimi - short stints

As we can see even from the slopes of the various lines, it’s clear that in such a scenario, the degradation for all teams is quite severe. There is nothing to suggest that Mercedes is suffering particularly from it, and that’s even more clear in the following table which gives an overview of the laptimes and the degradation figures. It’s interesting to note Webber’s 2nd stint, for instance, which started off much slower than his other stints, and, as was expected, suffered very little degradation.

Degradation high in all short stints

I did not include Rosberg’s last short(ish) stint in the above table, because I think it was so impressive it deserves its own analysis: Nico started the stint with a 01:22.932 (on the soft option tyres), which is comparable to the single quali laps that some other teams were doing at the same time, on the softs and super softs. However, he kept going for another 12 laps, ranking 15 laps in total (including in and out laps). His degradation within that stint was similar to the ones posted above (i.e. higher than what you would expect to see in a race simulation, or a real race, but expected taking into consideration how hard he was apparently pushing at the beginning). It’s therefore clear that in a qualifying situation Nico would be carrying at least 13 laps worth of fuel less than he did. If we accept an average fuel penalty of 0.150 seconds / lap (which is a somewhat conservative approach – it could be higher than that), then the calculated, theoretical quali lap would be 01:20.982. This falls nicely into our predictions that the top teams can go into the 1:20’s bracket on minimum fuel runs. I expect Mercedes were even running a bit more fuel than that (possibly 5-6 laps more), so all in all, again, I have to say that they are looking in very, very reasonable shape. There’s only one potential area of concern so far, though, and this is that most of the really exciting stuff that Mercedes has done during testing has taken place in the hands of Nico Rosberg and not Michael Schumacher. In fact, if I were to examine Mercedes’ performance simply on the basis of Michael’s lap times, I would not be so confident that Mercedes have taken a big step forwards. Let us hope that in tomorrow’s testing (and the remainder of the season) I am proven wrong.

Nico's rapid stint

The same picture is also apparent in the longer stints that the teams started to embark on until of course the rain started. Webber did one stint on what it appears to be (I believe) the beginning of a race simulation. Nico Rosberg did a series of long stints, all of which were apparently heavy fueled and definitely not part of a race simulation (more like back-to-back comparison using heavy fuel loads and long runs). Finally, Massa also did 3 stints on what appears to be a race simulation as well – judging by the short first 2 stints, he was probably going to follow Alonso’s 02/03 strategy of 4 pit-stops, but his 3rd stint was interrupted by the rain. I am presenting those stints in the figure below:

Long stints for Massa, Rosberg and Webber

Without even having to crunch any numbers, it’s already clear to see that the degradation of the tyres on the Mercedes is quite reasonable and comparable to Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s. In fact, if this was indeed the beginning of a race simulation by Ferrari, the tyre degradation looks much, much better than it looked in the hands of Alonso, yesterday. And, since we are on the subject, the average degradation for each stint was: (a) for Nico Rosberg 0.244 sec / 0.210 sec / 0.182 sec, (b) for Felipe Massa 0.186 sec / 0.300 sec / 0.250 sec and (c) for Mark Webber 0.264 sec. In heavy fuel, long stints therefore we don’t see anything to suggest that Mercedes are suffering from extreme tyre degradation.

Unfortunately, with the rain cutting short many of the race simulations, we cannot produce and meaningful comparisons in terms of overall race time. McLaren did very few laps (also due to a hydraulics failure in the morning), and their fastest lap time came in a single lap burst. Since Martin Whitmarsh has suggested that they would be attempting no quali simulations until Melbourne, it’s fair to assume that McLaren had decent fuel onboard, much like Mercedes did in their 15-laps stint that produced their fastest lap. It’s all too close for comfort, and I tend to believe that this year’s championship will be decided on two factors: (a) in-season development pace and (b) reliability and consistent points scoring throughout the season – I don’t think we are about to see another championship being decided in August.

Several of the midfield teams also embarked on long stints, heavily fueled, and these are the results:

Long runs by Williams, STR, FI and Sauber

What we are seeing is, I believe, a full race simulation by Force India, a race simulation by Williams that was cut short a few laps before its completion and long runs, heavy fueled for Sauber and Toro Rosso. Sauber’s runs could be a race simulation, only from the looks of it seemed that they skipped the 1st stint, and started from the 2nd (i.e. short-fuelled the car). Are all these assumptions solid and bulletproof? Far from it. What we are seeing in the graphs is a very tight battle going on in the midfield and it’s impossible to tell at this moment who will be the leaders of the pack. I presume, much like 2011, we will have a season of up and downs – remember last year Sauber starting strongly with their race pace and Lotus was mixing it with Mercedes, but come the end of the season, it was Force India (mainly) and Toro Rosso who came out on top. Lotus seem to be in a good position pace-wise, provided they sort out their reliability problems (Kimi was stranded in the morning with steering issues). With Caterham hauling themselves up to a 01:22.630 today (even if this was a minimum fuel, quali lap), the battle to get out of Q3 will be immense this year.

What’s a bit worrying is that Marussia and HRT will be starting the season so far off the pace. This will be their 3rd year in the sport, and the state that both teams are in is simply unacceptable. This will also be a challenging year for Force India, financially wise, with Vijay Mallya in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and Sahara unwilling to invest in an enterprise they are not interested in. Ah well, I am getting ahead of myself there. Tomorrow is the last day of testing and we expect two things to happen: (a) times will tumble to low 1:21’s (or even 1:20’s should any of the top runners decided to do a quali sim) and (b) all teams will attempt as many laps and race simulations as it is possible. Stay tuned for this, and our analysis, which will also feature a synopsis of what we have seen so far from all the teams…

A lot of talk has been going on today about Lotus’ performance, both in terms of their race simulation that they did today as well as their single lap pace, as evidenced by the day’s fastest lap, recorded by Romain Grosjean at 01:22.614 which was done on a 2 timed-laps burst, on the soft tyres. But was Lotus’ performance today as impressive as some respectable journalists would have as believe? Fernando Alonso also embarked on a full race simulation for Ferrari, and it’s interesting to compare the results. I have taken the liberty of adding the known quantity of Rosberg’s race simulation in the comparison, to get a benchmark. The results are listed in the figure below, and make for very interesting reading:

Race simulations comparison between Rosberg, Grosjean and Alonso

Let’s first begin with some simple observations. Alonso did a 5-stints race (with 4 pit stops) and he used the following tyres: medium – medium – soft – soft – medium. Grosjean, on the contrary, prefered a 4-stints (3 pit stops) strategy, with the following tyre selection: soft – soft – soft – hard. Finally, Rosberg also went for 3 pitstops (4 stints) but we don’t have solid / reliable information on the tyres he used. We believe that he primarily used the hard tyre and at some point switched to the soft option (please use a pinch of salt on that). In any case, Ferrari’s approach gives faster average lap times for each stint, as you understand, because the tyres are refreshed more often and have to go through less number of laps. When we are taking into consideration the full race time however, we will have to factor in the time that it takes to stop and get going again. As we now from my previous posts, this amounts to about 20 seconds / pitstop of lost time, and this time has to be added to the overall race time, to get an accurate final result. It follows, therefore, that Alonso’s final race time must be increased by 1 minute and 20 seconds, whereas we only have to add 1 minute to the times of Rosberg and of Grosjean. This is all quite clear in the table below.

Lap times comparison

What interests us here are two things: (a) the final race time and (b) the tyre degradation, because significant tyre degradation can leave you exposed to attacks during the race from, theoretically, slower car / driver combinations. As we can see, Rosberg’s race time is (by far) the quicker one. He completes the (theoretical) race distance in 01:37:59.288, which is approximately a whole minute faster than what either Grosjean or Alonso can do. At this point we have to stress that this is the first race simulation that we are seeing from either Lotus or Ferrari, so we expect them to improve further over the last 2 days. However, Mercedes will be improving too, so it’s hard to tell what the end differences will be. From the looks of it, though, over a race distance Mercedes seem to have the upper hand, and quite comfortably so.

A very positive sign for Lotus is the tyre degradation. Grosjean’s last stint, in particular, is very impressive, suffering from a drop off of merely 2 seconds over a massive 25 laps stint, which gives an average degradation of 0.081 seconds / lap. Grosjean’s other stints are very good in that respect as well, with the average degradation hovering around the one tenth and a half mark. At the other end of the spectrum is Alonso’s Ferrari, who suffered a 0.361 seconds / lap and 0.284 seconds / lap average degradation over the 2nd and 3rd stint respectively. This is also apparent in the figures where you can see the increased slope. Mercedes sit somewhere in the middle – not as good as Lotus but not as bad as Ferrari. The important thing however is the overall race distance time, and Mercedes, as we said, are ahead.

What about Grosjean’s over fastest lap time, I hear you ask. Well, a 01:22.614 is not something to write home about really. If you recall, the fastest time has been recorded by Kobayashi, so far, with a 01:22.3, i.e. 3 tenths faster. As I have already explained, the top 2012 F1 cars should be able to lap Barcelona in the low 1:20’s bracket, at this time of year. During last year’s testing, Michael Schumacher lapped the track in 1:21.2 and we know from Jerez that the cars can already go about 1 second faster than they did during last year’s testing. I therefore have to (boringly) repeat the known mantra: single lap times in testing mean absolutely nothing… In all fairness, it looks like Lotus is about where we expected them to be (respectable upper midfield performance), but Ferrari seem to have a long, long way to reach Red Bull and McLaren, or even Mercedes from the looks of things. They are a very strong team however, and no one can rule out a change of fortunes come Melbourne.

The rest

What about the other teams? Well, what we saw today confirms my suspicions that Red Bull and McLaren are playing a very cautious game, trying not to reveal too much. They have realized that they don’t have to fear Ferrari (not at this stage, in any way), so they have been focusing on doing short runs, with varying fuel loads, and few timed laps. Hamilton, for instance, did merely 65 laps – 12 laps less than Schumacher who had two red flags in his name today. Of those 65 laps, only 35 laps were timed ones… And although Red Bull did more laps (85), they hardly reached the mileage that would be expected at this time of year. Of those 85 laps, only 43 were timed ones… So there you have it: a game of cat and mouse that it’s impossible to decipher.

And, from the looks of things, Mercedes have also joined the “party”, preferring to do short stints, with reasonable fuel onboard, having apparently satisfied themselves with the reliability of their car. A lot of discussion has been going on with regards to the tyre degradation that Mercedes suffered today in those runs, but I don’t believe it’s a cause for concern. In a race simulation scenario (or a real race, for that matter) a driver never pushes 100% from the very first lap, because he knows his tyres will be gone after 3-4 laps. It appears that this is what Michael has been doing today, i.e. pushing very hard from the first lap, hence the extreme degradation patterns that we noticed. I haven’t seen anything in Mercedes’ race simulations to suggest they have a real issue with tyres falling apart, at this moment.

Finally, as a brief final remark, I want to add that Caterham look to be behind the established midfield runners at the moment; I presume further back than they hoped they would be. This is apparent not only in their fastest laps but also their heavy-fueled stints that are slow and somewhat inconsistent.

Please stay tuned for tomorrow’s testing results and analysis. It will be the final weekend of testing, and hopefully we will have a lot of data and time in our hands to analyze the results and produce a summary. I am even going to stick my neck out and make some predictions. After all, you have to put your money where your mouth is… 😉

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.

Short stints - Barcelona testing 01/03

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.

Heavy fueled stints - Barcelona 01/03

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).

Rosberg's 24/02 race simulation Vs the real thing

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… 🙂

Lap times comparison

Pre-season testing has commenced at Jerez with 11 teams in attendance (everybody bar Marussia). As always, these early tests are not about performance. The teams are trying to establish the baseline performance and set-up for their cars. This is a very important procedure in order to understand (a) how the wind tunnel and CFD data correlate to the real world and (b) if there is any fundamental flaw embedded in the basic design concept of the car. This is why this week we haven’t seen anything extremely interesting, technical-wise. Teams have been trying different exhaust outlets and positions; it turns out that the most difficult aspect to fine-tune is the airflow management of the exhausts and to understand how it interacts with the clean airflow working the rear wing, the beam wing and the diffuser. We have seen burnt bodywork in the Ferrari exhaust outlets on the first day and also reports of overheating suspension members in the Toro Rosso, again on the first day. Both teams appear to have corrected these issues; Ferrari, however, hasn’t been able to complete as many laps as other teams have. F1 fans, therefore, been treated to a vast selection of thermo-strips, sensors, vis-flow and periscope columns; all used to understand what’s going on with the car and how accurate the design office has been with the calculations.

Ferrari, in particular, seem to be in a bit of a situation. It appears that their concept is so radical that they have some initial problems in understanding it. Felipe Massa has confessed that the work required is more than anticipated. As we explained, these early tests are not about the pursuit of performance, but are meant to establish the baseline. Ferrari seem to have a problem doing that. They have so many parameters to play with (this being a completely new design philosophy) and apparently they are still far from where they want to be (or, from where they thought they were going to be). It remains to be seen if the reason is that they simply need more time to understand the design and find the sweet spot for their baseline setup, or that there is a fundamental flaw in their basic design concept. From what I understand, Ferrari are not ruling out any possibility. If it’s the former, then Ferrari should be in good condition, because apparently such a radical design offers more scope and opportunity for development. If they have managed to create a solid baseline design, then they can follow development paths that other teams will not be able to, because they don’t have them hard-coded in their original design.

If, however, it’s the latter (i.e. basic fundamental flaw), then Ferrari will have to introduce a B-version of their car by mid-season, which means that 2012 will be a write-off. It’s too early to even hypothesize at this moment. However, you know that things are bad and the atmosphere is “heavy” within the team when Pat Fry claims that the snow in Maranello prevented them from doing their installation runs and this hurt them and they are playing catch up ever since. They’ll have to come up with much better excuses than that, if things turn out to be as bad as feared.

It goes without saying that we can’t (and shouldn’t) read anything in laptimes. In any case, we can make a few early remarks: Red Bull have been running consistently heavy (half to full fuel loads) and they look good. The car has suffered a bit in terms of downforce loss (due to the regs) and is sliding about a bit more, but their pace looks very good and consistent and all signs are that they will be contenders in 2012 as well. McLaren have adopted a low-key approach to testing so far, but there are positive vibes coming from within their camp. They should definitely be in better shape than they were during the 2011 pre-season tests. Force India looks fast and consistent, but the most impressive package out there, at the moment, seems to be Toro Rosso. I wouldn’t read too much into Lotus’ headline grabbing times. Romain Grosjean has admitted that their pace was due to quali-style laps with low fuel loads (potential sponsors hanging around the Lotus motorhomes add another piece to the puzzle). More encouraging is the fact that both drivers liked the handling and found it predictable and easy to take to the limit. This means that the overall aero balance is good and there are no ugly surprises. Williams and Caterham have been focusing in long runs with heavy fuel loads, so there’s not much we can deduct at the moment. Sauber’s car also looks promising and they have been able to register a lot of laps so far, which is encouraging. Of course it’s needless to say that we shouldn’t read anything into the Mercedes’ times; they were all done using a fully 2011 spec car, with exhaust blown floors, to get a direct comparison between 2011 and 2012 tyres. A 2011 Red Bull would probably lap Jerez in the 1:15’s, in quali trim.

As I said, there’s no point in comparing lap times. In 2011, the fastest laptime in Jerez was recorded by none other than Rubens Barrichello, in his FW33 Williams, and we all know how accurate that turned out to be. We should get a better picture in the next test in Barcelona (21st of February), when the teams will start pushing for performance. Mercedes are expected to unveil their car there and go testing; we have already hypothesized here about their hydraulically interlinked front-to-rear suspension to prevent anti-dive, and it appears that Mercedes have taken their time to maximize development time. Michael Schumacher was quick to rule out the possibility of them producing a title-winning car, but they desperately need to take the next step and become regular podium visitors.

This could be the year that Mercedes slot into the top 3 and the year that Ferrari slide out of it….

Ferrari have clearly chosen to go their own way in 2012. Their design marks a departure from the 2012 “common wisdom”, as displayed in the cars that we have seen so far (CT01, MP4-27 and VJM05). It also marks a departure from previous years and design philosophies, adopting a more explorative and anti-conventional path. The Ferrari F2012 really is an interesting car, so let’s dig our technical teeth into it:

Ok, the most striking feature is the nose. This, by itself, is a strange decision. I can see what Ferrari are trying to do, i.e. maximize the airflow travelling underneath the tub and towards the rear of the car. This is why they have adopted a completely vertical underside (matched with a completely vertical upper side), pushing the nose dimension to the limits allowed by the rules. In my opinion, however, a flat underside is less effective than a curved one (which is the solution that Force India and Caterham have adopted). Furthermore, the gap at the upper part between the two “bulges” is now completely filled (and this was necessary because the upper contour follows the lower, which is also flat). I imagine that this surface that meets the air straight-on is not ideal either for drag or for the airflow trying to go to the back. A case of what were they thinking? Time will tell.

Ferrari F2012 - front view

Staying at the front, the major surprise is the pullrod arrangement. With the nose sitting so high, I was very surprised to see Ferrari adopt this (although rumours were going about) and I even went on record that such an arrangement would not be adopted. I was wrong. The question is, though: were Ferrari right? As you can see in the photo above, the pullrod is nearly parallel to the ground – I calculate the angle to no more than 10-12 degrees. It’s going to be a complete nightmare for Ferrari to restore the suspension dynamics of a pushrod arrangement at such angles (even normal pullrods at increased angles suffer a small disadvantage in that area in comparison to pushrod arrangements).

One of the advantages of a pullrod arrangement is a slightly better CoG, but frankly, in that case, I don’t see it, due to the parallel orientation of the pullrod. You can see that clearly in the picture below, where I have marked where a pushrod would have been. The pullrod definitely sits higher. The other advantage is that a pullrod allows for more and clearer air to travel from the front wing to the back. I have to say that I fail to see how this is necessary and I highly doubt it can balance out the negatives of the substantially altered suspension dynamic characteristics. It may be a strange car to drive.

Ferrari F2012 Pullrod Vs Pushrod

The last car to feature pullrod suspension at the front was the European Minardi PS01 (and PS01 B), which was driven in 2001 by none other than Fernando Alonso himself. It’s a bit ironic, and he will definitely be hoping that his Ferrari’s handling characteristics don’t match those of his old Minardi. Check out the picture below, and you can see for yourself how much more radical Ferrari’s solution is in comparison with a normal pullrod, due to the increased nose of the F2012.

European Minardi PS01 - pullrod suspension

Moving on, the sidepods are very slim and the inlets are small. Another prediction that we made was that Ferrari would be sporting crash structures separate from the sidepods in the shape of wings, in front of the sidepod inlets (rumours which were encouraged by the news that Ferrari had failed early side-impact crash tests). We were wrong too. The sidepods are highly sculpted and undercut, but conventional. The interesting bit comes if we move a bit further to the back…

…and examine the exhaust and cooling outlets. Apparently Ferrari are not adopting the central cooling outlet, a la Red Bull, that has been common in all 2012-spec cars so far. The cooling outlets are merged with the exhaust in the fairings shown in the photograph below. The exhaust outlets are positioned as low and as outboard as possible – Ferrari clearly intend to blow the rear brake ducts (we again have to thank ScarbsF1 for that, who was the first to suggest it a long while back). How the exhaust-flow will combine with the cooling outlet air-flow is a mystery at this point, but I presume both will be directed at the brake duct fins. This fact, combined with the very weird front suspension geometry, could give unwanted handling characteristics to the car. It has long been argued that downforce applied straight to the wheels is very effective, but sudden loss of it (in off-throttle mode) can cause severe unbalance. Have Ferrari, in their quest for ultimate downforce, forsaken mechanical grip and driveability?

Ferrari F2012 - exhaust and sidepod cooling outlets

At the back, the bodywork is very tight around the gearbox which has been redesigned. It is now narrower and sits lower – you can also see the driveshafts which are ever so slightly angled upwards, a la Williams FW33 but nowhere near that radical. Another feature that is different in Ferrari F2012 is the air intakes at the top and the roll hoop. Ferrari are the only team thus far to retain the mono-blade carbon-fibre construction, and they have added an additional cooling inlet, apparently dedicated for the gearbox and hydraulics.

Ferrari F2012 - Rear view

All in all, and with the benefit of hindsight (having seen the other 2012 cars so far), it seems that Ferrari were trying to do something radically different to all the rest in 2012, and have accomplished it. A check list would look like that:

Nose shape different? Check.

Cooling and exhaust different? Check.

Front suspension different? Check.

Roll hoop and air intakes different? Check.

Ferrari fans can only hope that Ferrari will be justified for going radical and against the grain. It’s a make-or-break year for several people within the Ferrari organization (from the technical to the management side) and the sheer amount of change from last year’s car to the F2012 could be an indication of a very slight panic building within the team, under the pressure for immediate results.

If you haven’t heard yet, Jules Bianchi is moving to Force India, to take up the 3rd driver role and participate in Friday free practice sessions. The Frenchman, who comes from a family with racing pedigree (his grandfather was 3x world champion in the GT category and his father’s brother was a winner of Le Mans and a F1 racer from 1959 – 1958) has an ongoing collaboration with Ferrari. He is managed by Nicholas Todt (also a manager of a certain Felipe Massa) and has climbed the motor sport ladder in convincing fashion. From karting, to French Formula Renault champion, to Masters of Formula 3 winner, to dominating the F3 Euroseries alongside team-mates Valtteri Bottas (2012 Williams’ 3rd driver) and Esteban Gutierrez (2012 Sauber’s 3rd driver).

His Ferrari association peaked when he participated in the 2011 Abu Dhabi Young Drivers test, where he displayed maturity and speed. However, his meteoric rise to the top seems to have stalled a bit, following two consecutive fruitless seasons in GP2 Asia and GP2 Series, which yielded few race wins or poles and no championships, against decent but not mouth-drooling competition.

Bianchi had the option to remain in GP2 for another year, but his move to Force India makes a hell of a lot more sense. To start with, another season in GP2 would not have guaranteed a championship, and in that case the perception of him by the F1 circus would suffer as a result.

Furthermore, Force India are known to test drivers who are seriously considering for a race seat. He is, hence, going to a team who will consider him for a driver if he delivers the kind of performance and maturity that they expect. His contract with FI allegedly assures at least 9 Fridays of running, which is a great opportunity for Bianchi to get some exposure and put his name out there, next to some decent laptimes.

Once cannot help but consider the possibility that Ferrari had a role in this deal and that they will be monitoring the young Frenchman’s performances very closely. In my opinion, it’s an indication that they have started to accept the fact that Massa will not continue in 2013 and are preparing all the alternative solutions. One is Sergio Perez, who has acquitted himself nicely in his rookie year. Mark Webber is the 2nd one, and now Jules Bianchi could be the third, but definitely not for 2013 (Ferrari won’t take a rookie) but for the years to come, provided Jules does well and lands a race seat in 2013.

Anyone else sees Perez moving up to Ferrari and Bianchi stepping in at Sauber? Kobayashi should be alarmed with the news of Bianchi signing for FI’s, for it’s his job on the line in 2012. Sauber will be happy to go with Gutierres and Bianchi if Kamui doesn’t show considerable steps of improvement, particularly in qualifying which remains his weak spot.

It appears Ferrari failed both the front-impact test of the nose cone as well as the side impact test of the sidepods. However, these tests occurred several weeks ago and Ferrari have been preparing ever since for the next test, which is due to take place within this week. If the test is successful, they should have no problem with attending the 1st test at Jerez. However, one has to wonder what kind of setback this was to their design progress. I would imagine that it would have a minimal effect.

As the dust settles on the 2011 championship and the teams are gearing up for the first February pre-season tests, the drivers are getting back into the rhythm of things, picking up their exercise regimes and preparing themselves psychologically for the next season. This, of course, includes the driver’s favourite pre-season game; the mind type. And, arguably, there are few better at it than Fernando Alonso.

During this year’s WROOOM!! event at Madonna di Campiglio, Fernando was asked if he knew anything about Robert Kubica’s recovery, and took the opportunity to suggest that Kubica is “the best driver” in F1. This little comment seems, at a first glance, to have been voiced for the ears of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Surely, however, such minor comments cannot unsettle drivers of Vettel’s or Hamilton’s calibre. And, in reality, Alonso’s much more cunning than that.

Alonso’s main concern, just like every other F1 driver’s on the grid, is first and foremost his team-mate; in that case, Felipe Massa. Alonso knows that his reputation and his chances of winning the championship begin from inside Ferrari, by having a psychologically beaten team-mate and ensuring that Ferrari is working for him, and him only. Which is why when he was (naturally) asked if he would like to be team-mates with Kubica, his reply was “I am happy with Felipe”.

Although at face value this sounds as a very politically correct answer, if I were Felipe I’d be devastated. A condescending answer like that, from a driver who has been dominating Felipe for the past 2 years, is a serious psychological blow. It shows to Felipe that he prefers him in the team, not because he is nicer or prettier or faster (he has already established that Kubica is the best), but apparently because he has the upper hand. If Alonso were to say “yeah, I want to see Kubica in Ferrari”, this could potentially motivate and anger Massa to prove himself in 2012. It would also be the “wrong” answer to give as it could reverberate badly within Ferrari. By being condescending, he was able to register a psychological blow against Felipe, without actually anyone picking up on it.

A master at work; on and off the track.