Translate this Blog

Monday, February 11, 2013

Has Jerez taught us anything?

4 days of testing over and apart from the thrill of seeing pictures of new cars on an old track we are getting updates on a daily basis from the F1 teams once again.

This is enough to keep us, the fans, happy.  We can now almost touch the new season and testing serves to sharpen our appetite and make us guys in Europe plan for a couple of early mornings in March and April. But can we take anything away from testing other than the anticipation factor?  We spend hours poring over the data made public, analyzing the comments of the Drivers, Team Principals, and various other experts, reading the Journalists perspective on what they hear and see and yet we still don't really know where anything stands.  Everything we hear and read has to be taken with a pinch of salt.  The teams are using new elements, differing fuel loads, various exhaust layouts, different floor elements.

It is all quite confusing and quite frustrating.

I have to admit that by day three I was beginning to suffer from an overdose of speculation and by Day Four all I was hoping was that some of the teams would put on the supersofts and try to put in a qualifying run.  None of them did.  The biggest news on Day Four, apart from Pedro de la Rosa in the Ferrari, was the appearance of a pothole at Turn 8 or 9 that halted running while a temporary fix was put on it.

A couple of interesting bits and bobs did come out amidst all of the vacillation and misinformation.  for instance the teams began to show the actual car, not the launch version which is just a stripped down basic idea of what you'll see on the Melbourne grid, but the actual cars, with all of the aero bits and chassis bits and exhaust layouts and wing elements get the picture.

And this is where my real interest in testing lies.  While the times can be informative, particularly in relation to the difference between the front and back, it is what the teams have found on an evolution of last years car that is really interesting.

Sauber, for instance, had lots of interesting little bits on it.  Apart from its very narrow sidepods you can see below that they have incorporated much large sidepod wing elements than the other teams.  Not being an expert on these matters (as I will probably keep saying) the purpose of these wings on the other cars would seem to be to channel the air spillage from the intakes as much as possible along the bodywork back to the rear of the car.  In all of the other cars the sidewing element is quite tight to the bodywork while, if there is an overwing on the sidepod it too is located millimetres above the top of the sidepod bodywork.

So the question is what is the purpose of the Sauber design? I'm wondering if the extra width allows the car to catch the dirty air from the front tyres and accelerate it around the sidepods towards the rear on the premise that the faster it travels around the car the greater the downforce created.
It is quite extreme in comparison to all of the other cars and, because the car itself is so neat and tidy looking I think they must improve the airflow over the car to provide some gain, no matter how small.  The same is true for the ridges running along the front nose of the car which serve to channel the air over the top rather than allowing it to spill over the sides and disrupt the flow at that point.  All little gains but every little gain is important in F1, particularly when the Regulations are relatively static year-on-year.

A lot of the people in Jerez seem to be wondering how they've made the sidepods so narrow but there seems to be an extra intake spot behind the driver alongside the engine intake which the experts speculate is providing cooling to whatever parts which have been relocated out of the sidepods.

large wings appeared on the test Sauber

Sauber incorporated lots of little changes to the car since the Launch
Copyright Sauber Motorsport AG

All of the reports from Jerez were massively positive about the Lotus car.  The Journalists were all impressed with its consistency and its handling over the entire four days. The consensus was that it was running well, doing good times, turned into corners well and was well balanced in all of the turns.  This culminated in Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest lap on the final day of the Jerez test. 

A consistent and well balanced car let Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on Day 4
Copyright Lotus F1/LAT Photographic
Nobody has pointed to any one thing on the Lotus which is making it such a tidy car to drive but they were all pretty impressed with it.  Over the four days I didn't see one bad word said about it.  There was one point of interest though; it was agreed by most of the observers that Romain Grosjean ran with very light fuel loads on Day 2 of the testing when he set his 1m18s laptime which makes me wonder if Kimi's 1m18s on Day 4 was set under similar circumstances.

The McLaren was another car which didn't attract too much criticism over the course of the Jerez test, neither did it attract too much comment other than the fact that they had added a few of the bits which they had deliberately left off the car at the launch.  Nobody was salivating over it the way they were the Lotus but the overall verdict was that the car looked good, all the bits added onto it were "effective" and the car was consistent over the course of the four days.  At the launch it was made clear that a lot of changes had been made and it was a completely new car "under the skin".

Jenson Button at Circuito de Jerez
While no one thing was highlighted the impression of the McLaren package was very positive
Copyright Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Ferrari have obviously produced a much more predictable car this season.  Felipe Massa was very positive about it in every press report over the course of testing while the tech experts were saying the saw a lot of bits on the car which amounted to a step forward.  It looked pretty good but one issue which appeared over the test was that it didn't seem as kind to its tyres as some of the others and it seemed that if it missed its turn in point the driver couldn't get it back.

In terms of its consistency the reports would have me believing that they may have cured the qualifying issues in that everyone seems to think the gap between Pole position and the Ferrari positions in and around 7th has contracted.

Visible tearing up of the front tyres of the Ferrari and graining of the rears in Jerez
Copyright Ferrari F1 Team
The Red Bull, as per their launch car, doesn't seem to have made many changes to last years car design wise, but, as I was positing after their launch, it's likely that Mr. Newey will only bring out the good stuff at the last test when other teams will have no time to copy and test it before Melbourne.  For example, the BBC were reporting last week that Red Bull were planning to bring a rear bodywork upgrade to the last test.  The purple sidepods are narrower and higher which seems to have left a large gap between the bottom of the sidepod and the floor of the new car.

Narrow purple "Infiniti" sidepods and a large area between the bottom of the sidepod and the floor make for the most interesting change between last year and the new season.
Copyright Infiniti Red Bull Racing/Getty Images
 The reports suggested that the Red Bull, like the Ferrari, was a car that, if it missed its line found it harder to recover the lost momentum.  REd Bull, like Sauber have incorporated ridges along the edge of the chassis to stop air spillage over the sides of the car and clean up the accelerated flow over the bodywork to improve downforce.

The Mercedes Team were under terrible scrutiny from the press at the Jerez test and they were not helped by problems encountered on the first two days of running which saw photographs of Nico Rosberg's car on fire and a video of Lewis Hamilton crashing into the tyre wall.  These two problems prevented running on the first two days of the test: Nico's car suffered an electrical fault, the flames coming from unburnt fuel in the exhaust; Lewis suffered from a rear brake failure; neither driver error but it certainly ramped the pressure up and all of the journalists were looking closely at the car over the final two days.

It's primary fault appears to be that it suffers from a lack of downforce far in excess of the cars in front of it on last years grid.  The knowledgeable guys out there reckoned it could be losing up to 0.8 seconds per lap if they don't fix it.  A new front wing was attached to the car on the final day of testing to address this problem but this was assessed as being overkill in that it was overprovided with wing elements inside the tyre area which would result in a loss of downforce through the corners.

The new front wing was thought to be overcompensation, but still an improvement.
Copyright Mercedes AMG Petronas
I have no idea why this is but the new wing was considered to be an improvement in downforce over the element used in the first three days of testing (even though the first two were abortive).

It was difficult to take anything from the Williams test as they have yet to reveal their 2013 car.  I'd say that there were some new elements on the 2012 car, but the primary focus of their first test might well have been all about trying to understand the new Pirelli tyres and to give Valtteri Bottas time in the car.  While I'm having problems getting to grips with the new Williams website which has impacted on my ability to download photographs other than from the first day of testing this is what Williams themselves said about their Jerez experience:
We have gone through a complete programme testing various parts that will be used on the FW35. This compliments our current philosophy of using rigs to pass off systems before running them on the car. The drivers have enjoyed themselves running through tyre comparisons and set-up changes that you would be reluctant to do at a race meeting due to time constraints
Pastor on track
The FW34 with 2013 parts.
Copyright (assumed from last year) Williams F1/LAT Photographic
Once again not a lot was said about the Force India but it lapped consistently and Jules Bianchi got time in the car, though, if rumours are true he may be out of the running and we may be looking at Narain Karthikeyan in the second driver's seat rather than any of the primary candidates, courtesy of increased sponsorship money from Tata and the desire to have an Indian F1 driver in an Indian F1 team to increase Indian interest in the Indian GP.

Courtesy of Sahara Force India Formula One Team
The rumour mill is saying that Narain was offered the position of test driver with the team but turned it down, and in their desperation for sponsorship not directly associated with VJ and Sahara, Tata are able to call the shots on this one.  Watch this space...well not THIS Space but rather the space forward of the engine and behind the nose of the second Force India VJM06.

Of the final three on the 2013 grid not a lot needs to be said really.  Toro Rosso feel they've made a step, but they still don't seem to have cured the nervousness of the rear under a fuel load, something which was evident at a lot of the circuits last year.

The Caterham team went about their merry way without too much fuss but, once again it looks like they'll be consigned to the back of the grid alongside, or just in front of the Marussia's, based on their best lap time of 1m 21.1 seconds.

I've spent a lot of energy discussing the future of the Marussia Team who have been very positive about the new car, but if, as they are saying, the biggest change has been their KERS then they might find themselves alone at the back, without the safety net of HRT F1 behind them.  Their times have remained stubbornly in the 1m21.2's whilst the other teams, apart from their nearest and dearest, have all tended to breach the 1m 20s barrier over the course of the 4 days.


As usual with testing no-one really knows under what conditions are the cars are running.  It has always been the case that some teams run their cars very light in order to make headlines in respect of their laptimes.  This is used to attract sponsors, to keep them happy if they appear for the tests, or simply to focus the attention of the pitlane reporters on their team.

Other teams run artificially high fuel loads in order to throw off attention from their rivals or deflect from the efficacy of their new aero elements.  Whatever the case it is likely that the teams themselves will have a good idea of who is doing what and, where something of interest is discovered on a rival car there you will see Adrian Newey with his notebook, the F1 photographers, pit spies, and rival team principals showing off their new sponsor's whilst also getting a quick shot of something they shouldn't!

Ross Brawn plugs his new Blackberry whilst (probably) sneaking off a photograph of a rival's car
Copyright Mercedes AMG Petronas