Jerez Testing Analysis

By on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Photo credit: Red Bull GEPA

After the first four days of testing in Southern Spain, we take a look at the fortunes of each team

Red Bull

Both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber took to the RB8 like a proverbial duck to water when they received their first taste of action last week. Webber expressed his enthusiasm towards the new machine and exuded a confidence that was often lacking in 2011. Both drivers completed around 150 laps, despite Vettel suffering from technical problems on Friday morning. Vettel initially had an electric problem, before an issue with the engine left him on the side lines until lunchtime. Even at this early stage, it will raise mild concern in the young German. In Vettel’s hands, the car looks very strong – confident on the throttle and well balanced in slow, medium and high speed corners as well as under braking. There is little evidence to suggest that the great-grandson of the RB5 (from which Newey’s cars still evolve from) will be anything but the pacesetter.

Lewis Hamilton testing on Day 4 at Jerez

McLaren

Apart from possessing the best looking 2012 car, McLaren seem to be the team most capable of challenging Red Bull for the championship. After their woes in 2011, the team understands that a strong start will be crucial and it appears that this will be the case. Hamilton’s natural flamboyant style meant that he was attacking the kerbs with a healthy zest and the car seemed to accept his demands. Similarly, Button also appeared at ease in the MP4-27, even if his best lap time is way down the running order.

Alonso in the F2012 at Jerez

Ferrari

A radical car always requires a great deal of understanding and this certainly seems to be the case with the F2012. It isn’t a great car at the moment, but there is no need for major panic. As frequently documented, McLaren’s 2011 testing program was littered with mechanical problems and poor pace yet they left Melbourne with a trophy. In Massa’s hands, the F2012 appeared nervy, with the Brazilian reluctant to attack the kerbs heavily and struggling under braking. The car looked better with Alonso at the wheel, but a lack of running on Friday wouldn’t have inspired great confidence. On Friday morning, everyone expected a quick lap to appease the Italian press and Alonso duly delivered, frequently setting slower lap times after a hot lap. Pat Fry acknowledged that the F2012 isn’t up to standards yet, while Massa’s body language indicated worry early on in the week. The next two tests will be critical for Ferrari, but the situation isn’t as dire as some are making out.

Is Lotus about to challenge at the front?

Lotus

Disregarding lost time on Wednesday following Raikkonen’s throwback to his rallying days, Lotus had a productive test that left positive impressions on the paddock. Raikkonen himself wasn’t going to be drawn to times, but both he and Grosjean set competitive lap times very early on into the test which, if nothing else, will give the team confidence. Raikkonen commented that the car felt strong in 1st and 2nd gear, a trait that harks back to the mid-00s with Renault’s notoriously strong traction. Others have been impressed. Nico Hulkenberg, who was watching trackside, referred to the E20 as ‘a missile with an incredible amount of grip’. Upon learning that Romain Grosjean set his best time on the medium tyre compound, Mark Webber said it was a ‘very good lap’. At the moment, Lotus looks like the dark horse to challenge Red Bull.

Will Force India challenge higher up?

The midfield

One striking aspect of the week’s test appears to be the close nature of the midfield. In 2008 and 2009, the gap between the front and back of the grid was frequently little more than 1.5 seconds. Judging by the pace of several teams, there could be a congested midfield in 2012. Force India’s VJM05 looks stable and there is little evidence to suggest that they won’t continue to build on their impressive form at the end of 2011. Jules Bianchi shunted the car on Thursday, but that was his own error on cold tyres rather than any difficulties with the car. Paul di Resta in particular looked comfortable.

It's a big year for both Sauber drivers

The livery of the Sauber C31 may look as if it was designed by a three year old, but the car itself looks a bit uncomfortable. Kobayashi caused a few red flags courtesy of reliability issues, while the car looked nervy on the throttle, especially in the hands of Perez. The team has lost its talented technical director, James Key, which will be a massive blow for the Swiss squad. STR has a tidy looking car, with Vergne able to set an impressive lap time on Friday while Williams appear to be improving after their nadir last year. 2012 will be a rebuilding process for the Grove based squad, but already the package looks much improved and Senna completed significant running without any issues. Don’t expect miracles, but they should be back in a midfield fight from which they were missing in 2011. Joining them there should be Caterham, for whom there are no excuses in their third season. Kovalainen, Van der Garde and Trulli were all extremely positive regarding the CT01, with Trulli declaring it the best first day of testing he has done (and he’s happy with the power steering!) Kovalainen also ran 139 laps without any KERS problems; a seriously impressive feat considering they didn’t run with the appliance last season.

The next test will see the unveiling of the Mercedes and should also provide a few clues as to a running order. The nature of the Jerez circuit means it is difficult to read into times, yet the history of F1 in Barcelona means teams can have a greater understanding of what lies ahead for them.


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