Five Things to Watch in Barcelona

With four days of testing already completed, everyone is itching to decipher the competitive order.  While this will ultimately prove a fruitless endeavor, there’s no harm in a little speculation.  On Tuesday, the F1 circus will return to action for a second time at the Circuit de Catalunya and, if expectations are to be met, we may see that competitive order emerge ever so slightly. Here are five things to be on the look out for when the cars hit the track.

1. Glory Runs

Glory runs are an interesting way to show your speed, or lack of it.  Often, smaller midfield teams go on a short qualifying run to post a laptime that will hopefully catch the eye of potential sponsors. Last year in Barcelona Caterham finished a day of testing with the 5th fastest time.  Evidence of that being a glory run came with the start of the season when Caterham never came near that close to the top of any time sheet throughout the season.  Look out for these, though.  If a midfield team goes to the top of the time sheets by a large margin, there is a high probability that it was a glory run.

2. Upgrades

The Jerez test was mostly about getting used to the new cars and their quirks, about ironing out the niggles that could potentially be problematic later. Now, In Barcelona, upgrades are going to be bolted on, tested, unbolted, tweaked, bolted back on, tested again and thrown out in a bid to extract speed from the car. Look for fewer giant sensors and more new front wings and brake duct designs.

3. Passive DRS

This is an upgrade itself, but seeing as how it may just be the biggest source of development this season, it is important to separate it.  In 2012, Lotus and later Mercedes attempted to run passive DRS.  As double DRS is outlawed for 2013, the teams will be looking to find a way to reduce drag without the effort of the driver, thus rendering it passive.  The red inlets on the Lotus E21 in Jerez are the inlets for their passive DRS.  The team opted to not run the system in Jerez though, instead wanting to save the development work for Barcelona, a track at which F1 will race this year.

Lotus-Grosjean-Jerez

Mercedes and Sauber also have plans to run passive DRS and, while it isn’t confirmed, expect other teams to trial these systems as well.

4. Press Releases

Possibly more telling than the data from the track are the teams’ press releases each day about how the day of testing went. In the middle of Ferrari’s testing nightmare last year, the press releases were full of statements about how the car wasn’t exactly where they wanted it to be, but they were confident the problems would be sorted out eventually.  A lot of the time, the word “confident” doesn’t always mean the team is actually confident.  Look out for displays of overt disappointment or confidence.  Just a few weeks before the car launches this year, there were stories that the new RB9 would’t be ready on time due to the amount of development the team did to help Vettel win the championship the previous year.  We now know that the Red Bull was launched as planned and that they are looking one of the better cars out on track.  Not everything the team says is absolute truth.

5. Your Own Hopes

Yes, we are in Barcelona, a real representative track for the 2013 season and yes, the season opener is fast approaching. Please, though, don’t read much into the lap times quite yet.  This is a new track for all the 2013 cars and thus, they must get used to the new conditions.  The lap times will be more representative than the ones from Jerez, but they aren’t any guarantees of permanent speed.  Wait until the second Barcelona test to start making any concrete assumptions about the cars.  Even then, the true speed of each team won’t really be apparent until Saturday March, 16 when the cars set their qualifying times for the season opener.

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