The first pre-season test allows all who watch to envision how the grid may possibly look come the first race in Australia. However, a clear picture of the competitive order will never fully appear once we get to the grid in Australia. This is the trouble with F1.
Mercedes were arguably the star of the test as all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton. Everyone wanted to see how the 2008 World Champ got on in his new surroundings. The signs pointed to a car that was good, if not necessarily spectacular or impressive.
There were signs of teams that seems to be more competitive than most, Including the Red Bull, Mcalren, Lotus and, at points, the Ferrari. But the fact that these cars will be most likely fighting it out at the front of the grid, doesn’t mean that they were necessarily among the winners of the first test. Here are my choices.
This is one of the teams mentioned above that will most likely be one of the most competitive this season. The E21 is very consistent and the drivers are very pleased with the all-around versatility of the car. They E20 of 2012 was competitive at nearly every track and there are indications that it could be the same for this year. Lotus also topped the time sheets on two of the four days of testing, a trend we saw in testing last year as well. Technical director, James Allison was quick to point out the fuel levels that distort the validity of the laptimes set over the course of the four days of testing. what was described as a “fait bit of petrol” in the car during Raikkonen’s and Grosjean’s fast laps is sure to get the attention of the other big teams. While qualifying was seen as a weakness of the E20, it seems to be a strength of the E21. Apart from some clutch problems on Raikkonen’s first day in the car, there were no reliability issues at all with the E21.
Sauber proved to be the most reliable teams throughout the entire test, not experiencing any mechanical glitches for the four days of testing. With an all new lineup in the team, Sauber had more to do than the normal testing procedures. They had to make sure that they drivers were comfortable in the car while also making progress with the development. The most impressive aspect of their testing program was the amount of laps they did. For every test, the teams are allowed a certain number of tires. This means that, unlike a few years ago, the runs the teams do during testing are calculated precisely so that they don’t run out of tires before the end of the test. The fact that Sauber achieved the most laps, to the tune of 250 more kilometers more than the next team, was impressive given that all the teams are given the same allotment of tires. This is an ominous sign to all the other teams before a season where tire wear will be a critical factor in performance.
Red Bull was’t the fastest looking car and it didn’t complete the most number of laps at the test but it was very reliable and the fast laps that it did complete were known to be done with a large amount of fuel. All of these factors point to a car about which the teams should be very worried. This type of consistency matched with pace is a quality that will be very important this season.
For the losers, there are two teams I have selected along with one other which you might nor have suspected. These two teams had some rough goings in Jerez and their seasons hinge on consistency and reliability. Their futures hinge on it.
Two disastrous days at the beginning of the test led many to believe that the team was in the middle of a management crisis. Those two days couldn’t have made Lewis Hamilton’s decision to move to Mercedes look worse. Electrical problems and issues with the hydraulics of the rear brakes cut short two days of testing that could have been used to develop their car into something more competitive that it appears to be at the moment. The Mercedes has been criticized slightly for its lack of innovative design features and fairly conservative approach. On the last two days of the test, Nico and Lewis both did more than 140 laps of the Jerez circuit each. This may seem just as impressive as Esteban Gutierrez’s last day in the car, but Mercedes had the same amount of tires to work with over the last two days of the test. That’s not to say that the last two days of the test were not impressive, but it cast a slightly skewed impression of Mercedes’s performance and tire wear.
With Marussia having their first proper go at a pre season test, they needed to get things right in order to show their intentions for this season. Having two rookies in a struggling team may look like a mistake, but Max Chilton and Luiz Razia have proved to be reliable and consistent even though the car hasn’t proved to be the same. The MR02 hasn’t shown that it can challenge the midfield quite yet, and it seems that the team is set for another fruitless year at the back of the grid. Max and Luiz had a few mechanical issues in the first two days and, as a result, didn’t complete many laps over the course of the test.
The Jerez Circuit has been criticized for its characteristics, mostly the fact that the layout of the track isn’t similar to the conditions the F1 circus will be experiencing at the tracks they will race on. When Jerez was first built, the surface was smooth and easy to race on. These days, the surface is rough and not suitable for the long runs the teams try to do during testing. The drivers this year were worried when, after only a few laps into a run the tires were beyond their best, thus making tire assessment tricky. The long-term usability of the Jerez circuit is in doubt. Many think that testing on a circuit not used on the calendar is less than useful. When testing resumes in Barcelona, the teams will be much more productive given that the circuit is one the teams race on and the characteristics are representative of other tracks on the calendar. Another thing working against Jerez is the quality. On the final day of testing, the cement on the outside of turn 10 came loose, causing concern for many of the teams. The hole created in the cement took over an hour to fill, delaying testing. One wonders whether testing will even happen at Jerez next season.
When testing resumes in Barcelona on the 19th, we may see the competitive order appear more clearly. Full race simulations will be on the agenda, while low fuel qualifying runs may become more prominent. We’ll also see the teams bring actual development parts to their cars and the new Williams FW35 will also break cover. The 2013 season is shaping up to be even more exciting than last year.