Albert Park, 15 March – That’s it, the first day of the 2013 Formula 1 season has now been and gone. At the end of the first three hours of free practice, despite track conditions that were very different to those encountered in the twelve days of testing in Spain, there were no major surprises on the Melbournian circuit.
For Scuderia Ferrari, it was a busy day, with a long job list to get through – the same for all the teams in fact. Friday in Australia provided the first opportunity to evaluate the Pirelli tyres in operating temperatures that are more or less the norm for the coming season. As expected, the degradation problems encountered in the cold in Barcelona were less of an issue in the warmer Australian autumn. Between them, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa completed a round century of laps; 51 for the Spaniard and 49 for the Brazilian, with the F138 running trouble-free throughout the day, apart from a minor KERS problem for Felipe this afternoon, which did not stop him getting through his programme.
The reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel, dominated proceedings, topping the morning time sheet in the Red Bull ahead of the Prancing Horse duo of Felipe and Fernando and the afternoon classification ahead of his own team-mate Mark Webber and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. In between the German and the Spanish Ferrari man were the Lotus duo of fifth placed Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean in sixth. As expected, as a period of great stability in the technical regulations comes to an end, the competition at the front is very close, which makes tomorrow’s first 2013 qualifying a tantalising prospect. However, the much awaited single-lap shoot-out might not produce all the answers as the weather forecast is for a chance of a shower on Saturday afternoon, with wind and cooler climes for the rest of the weekend.
The first day of the season is always a time to work out who is driving where after the winter transfers and among the five rookies on the grid, the most we have seen in a few seasons, is a graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy, as Jules Bianchi was at the wheel of a Marussia, posting the 19th fastest time this afternoon.
The 2013 Formula 1 World Championship got off to a busy first day of testing for Scuderia Ferrari and the ten other teams at Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa completed a total of 100 laps, 51 for the Spaniard and 49 for the Brazilian. Over the three hours of track action for the 22 drivers, the Ferrari men concentrated mainly on evaluating the Pirelli Medium and Supersoft tyres, as well as trying different set-ups aimed at getting the right balance on the F138.
Fernando Alonso: “Overall, this was a very productive Friday, as we did a lot of laps and got through an important initial analysis of the behaviour of the two types of Pirelli tyres available for this race. Our efforts were helped by particularly favourable weather with sunshine and summery temperatures. However, the weather is expected to change completely from tomorrow, with wind, rain and a significant drop in temperature, which could influence Sunday’s race. I’m not expecting any major surprises here, we already knew we were not the quickest and that was confirmed today. The car responds well, but we know there is still much to do if we want to fight with the very best”.
Felipe Massa: “All aspects of both sessions were positive, even if we are aware that much work still awaits us both this weekend and for the whole season ahead of us. In the second session, when I went out on the Supersofts, something did not work properly on the KERS and that cost me time, denying me the chance of doing a better lap. I am not surprised by the performance of our opponents and I expected Red Bull to be competitive right from the start”.
Pat Fry: “This morning we evaluated various aerodynamic configurations and worked on the set-up, while in the afternoon, we worked mainly on comparing the two compounds, which will be a key factor over the rest of the weekend. The degradation appeared to be particularly marked and in fact, it fell in line with our expectations and those of Pirelli. We got through today’s planned programme with both drivers, despite suffering a KERS failure on Felipe’s car during his run on the Supersofts, in the second free practice session. Now we need to analyse the data we have gathered very carefully, especially from the longer runs. We have much to do and a long evening ahead of us to be as well prepared as possible for tomorrow’s qualifying”.
Australian Grand Prix Preview
The stability when it comes to the technical regulations means that the majority of teams was able to get a car to run reliably during the very limited twelve days of pre-season testing, which is why everyone is being very cagey about making any predictions for the 2013 championship. While it’s true that it is very difficult to make any meaningful assessment of everyone’s relative performance, because of different fuel loads and test programmes, at Scuderia Ferrari, we are prepared to stick our collective neck out and make a bold prediction as to who will be the winner in 2013: the answer? The viewers, spectators and race fans, who look set to be treated to a vintage season of close racing, with more than a handful of teams looking like serious contenders for race wins and podium finishes. Felipe Massa reckons the season might not be as open as last year’s. “I expect the drivers from two or three teams to do most of the winning,” says the Brazilian. “As for ourselves, we start the season with a better car than we did last year, so I am happy and positive with the way testing went, when I felt the car evolved from the first day to the last, when I was happy with the balance of the F138 and felt comfortable at the wheel.”
One should not expect too many answers on Friday either: as a temporary street-type circuit, Albert Park is very green, with little running completed in FP1, so it will be on Saturday afternoon that teams will stop being coy about what they can do and deliver the year’s first fairly accurate litmus test of relative performance. However, the Melbourne track is good at hiding the truth. One factor that will no longer be a problem is the cold weather tyre degradation we saw in Barcelona in what was a colder than usual final two test sessions. But on the other side of the world, Melbourne is going to be much hotter than usual at this time of year. Currently, temperatures are in the mid 30s, although these should drop to mid 20s on Friday and Saturday and possibly get as low as 19 on race day. However, the experience gained at the Catalunya circuit regarding Pirelli rain tyres will not be useful this weekend. On the tyre front, the choices in Albert Park are aggressive. “We will have the Supersoft tyres and I like that as I always prefer the softer end of the range,” revealed Felipe. “In fact, managing the tyres, as well as making improvements to the aero side of the package through the year will be very important, but we really need to be perfect in every area, also on the mechanical side of the car. Personally, I plan to start the 2013 season the way I went during the second half of 2012 and then build on that.”
What can one expect of Alonso and Massa this weekend? Predictions serve no purpose except to turn round and bite you when you least expect it. Clearly, the F138 is better born than the F2012 and it would be disappointing if both drivers did not make it through to Q3 on Saturday evening in Albert Park and therefore secure top ten places on the grid. Anything else would be meaningless speculation. Nevertheless, one can risk an extrapolation based on the relative strengths down the pit lane at the final round last year, which means it is reasonable for the Scuderia to expect to be within the top three teams in Albert Park. “I don’t think we will see one team dominate, but also I don’t expect seven winners in the first races, like last year,” added Fernando. “It will be very close and from our point of view, a good result this weekend would remove some of the stress. I enjoy the Albert Park circuit, it is technical and difficult and the track, being a street circuit, evolves throughout the weekend.” Felipe is also looking forward to finally going racing. “I can’t say Albert Park is my favourite track, but I love coming to Australia, which is a great country with very nice people who really like their racing. The track here is demanding, but I expect the F138 will be well adapted to it and that we can have a good first weekend.”
The Australian GP has a habit of providing some surprises, but it would take a brave man to bet on Ferrari adding to its tally of seven wins Down Under, the last dating back to Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory. Fernando was victorious here in 2006, but not at the wheel of a red car, while Felipe’s best result is a third place trip to the podium in 2010.
Maranello, 6 March – Anticipation is growing ahead of the start of the 2013 World Championship – and expectations about Scuderia Ferrari’s performance are growing too. That is only natural after a month of encouraging tests and the calmness displayed by the two big players, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, who will return to action in the F138 at Melbourne’s Albert Park in little over a week. We will have to wait until March 16, the day of qualifying, to be able to make the first real evaluations of the performances of the cars. Given the stability of the technical regulations this year, predictions have rarely been such a futile and casual exercise.
But if you apply a certain logic, which goes beyond the excitement and the hopes generated by the start of every new season, it’s hard to imagine that the teams who were competitive last year won’t be up there this year too. Asked about the beginning of the season, Scuderia Ferrari’s Team Principal Stefano Domenicali said: “To think of drawing conclusions after the first qualifying session in Australia would be premature because it represents only the beginning of a long voyage that ends in November. For many reasons, however, it can be considered an important test bench to establish the state of play. I expect that the teams who finished in the top positions in Sao Paulo will repeat that in Melbourne, probably with a reduced advantage – that’s what we are all hoping for, anyway. What are the factors that have convinced me that Ferrari has made a step forward? The new business structure, the working methods, the modifications to the equipment that we have used to work on this car, the consistency of the results compared with our targets and what we saw in the recent tests – these all seem to tell us that we are on the right path at last compared to the past. So, to make an analysis that is purely centred on ourselves, unless someone else has done an exceptional job I’m convinced that Ferrari will be in the battle to the end. A podium in Australia would be a good base on which to build the kind of successes we need. What’s more, apart from the actual performance of the car, our work in the wind tunnel is an element that gives us faith in the area of aerodynamics, where 90% of the performance comes from, so we can work with a certain calmness. The stability of the rules is another guarantee that there won’t be surprises with any exceptional creative solutions that make a big difference, and I’m especially confident given the changes we made last year.”
As for the competition during the year, Domenicali added: “I’m sure that over the course of the season the competition will reduce because the demands on all the teams for the 2014 project cannot be underestimated. We are talking about a car that is completely different to what we’ve seen before and there’s a risk of missing the boat: the smaller the organisation, the greater and the earlier the resources they will have to invest in the new project. Meanwhile for the big teams, the exercise will be to balance the resources required to keep up the development to be competitive right to the end with the attention that needs to be dedicated to 2014 to avoid the risk of being left behind.”
Maranello, 6 March – Engineers have always based their impressions and evaluations on data alone and that’s something that Scuderia Ferrari’s Chief Designer, Nick Tombazis is well aware of. And when it comes to data, the Prancing Horse team acquired a lot of it over the twelve days of testing and its analysis leaves no room for illusion or false expectation.
“Compared to a year ago, the situation is very clear,” commented Tombazis. “It’s not hard to make a comparison, because back then we were in a really difficult situation, so making a better start this year was pretty much a given. We know that for various reasons, our development over the latter part of last season stalled and, because our rivals continued their development to a certain extent, the gap between us grew, especially after the summer break. A gap which we had closed down to three tenths, thus became around eight in Brazil. This year, we have a well defined development plan and we are reasonably sure that the new components tested on track have produced positive results. The Melbourne package worked as we had hoped, with no particular unexpected problems, but it’s still difficult to say where we are compared to our competitors, so it’s better not to speculate. It’s hardly surprising, but I think that apart from ourselves, the most competitive would appear to be Red Bull, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes, even if how the hierarchy stands between us is still uncertain. We hope to be able to fight at the front, but no one can be excluded: there are 19 races in the championship with half of them coming after the summer and, as we saw last year, even if a team does not start the season being on the pace, it can fight back and win. Everyone goes through a cycle and stages and therefore it will be a case of constant development throughout the year.”
Tombazis reckons the two key areas will be tyre useage and the development of the exhaust system. “With the exhaust exits we can reckon on updates during the season and while the differences might not be visible, they could offer a significant margin for improvement. Of course, we won’t be the only ones working on this area, the others will too. Bit by bit, as the regulations stay the same for longer, the room for invention decreases, but with the exhausts there is still much that can be done. Furthermore, as great improvements in simulation tools come along, this produces better correlation of data and of the methodology of the various configurations that are tested. This means that testing new parts and comparing developments over a race weekend will become more complicated, whereas during testing, this can be done more calmly and extensively. We need to find a way to do this without compromising other tasks such as set-up work and analysing the behaviour of the tyres. And when it comes to the tyres, keeping an eye on degradation will be very important, as being quick over a single lap will not be enough.”