By Phillip Horton on Saturday, February 9, 2013
So, 11 teams, 23 drivers, 4 days and 3700 laps. What has the first pre-season test of 2013 told us?
In reality, very little.
No-one’s ‘done a Brawn’, but in equal measure it’s highly unlikely that a team will arrive in Melbourne in a shambolic state (a la HRT). Rules stability means that you can guess a rough order, after all Red Bull isn’t suddenly going to be struggling to make Q2 while Caterham won’t be battling for podiums. But trying to work out whether Sauber or Force India has a better package? Good luck with that. History has taught us not to make predictions at this early stage; in 2011 McLaren was slow and unreliable yet rocked up and took a podium at the first race. Ferrari’s first day of 2012 testing concluded with a furious Felipe Massa making a phone call to Maranello but Fernando Alonso almost won the championship. Rather than make a misguided guess, here’s a look back at what each team did in Jerez. Until Barcelona, amigos.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull has had the fastest basic package since the middle of 2009, although it took a while to exploit that in the RB8, and the team hopes that the RB9 will deliver them a fourth successive title. Visually there’s very little between the Brazil spec-RB8 and the version of the RB9 that was unveiled in Milton Keynes prior to the start of testing, except for an awful lot more purple courtesy of title sponsor Infiniti. Red Bull will turn up in Melbourne there or thereabouts, with the current RB9 unlikely to resemble the one raced next month. What will please the team at this early stage is the reliability of the car. Red Bull completed four trouble free days, with Webber racking up 174 laps and Vettel adding a further 198 tours of Jerez. Both drivers feel better about the RB9 than they did at the corresponding point twelve months ago, which will act as an ominous sign to the opposition.
It was a little surprising to hear Fernando Alonso would skip the Jerez test, but the canny Spaniard realises that the next set of sessions in Barcelona will be far more important. Massa spent three days in the F138 and commented that his lap on soft tyres was ‘faster than I expected’, even though he wasn’t overly excited at setting the quickest time of the week. Inevitably, Ferrari’s press release delivered a positive vibe, especially compared to the same stage in 2012. Massa completed 227 laps with de la Rosa adding another 51. His gearbox issue on the final day was the only real negative point of the test.
Jenson Button may only have set the ninth fastest time of the week, but it was a lap that caught a few by surprise. After all, it was set on the first day on a comparatively green circuit. There were a couple of niggles for McLaren as a fuel pump failure curtailed their running on Tuesday and a loose wheel caused a red flag later on in the test. Sergio Perez made his debut on Wednesday, with the Mexican focusing on long runs.
It’s a little unfair to refer to Lotus as the dark horse because their 2012 season showed that they’re no longer the underdogs. Kimi Raikkonen’s time of the week was the second fastest, although the Finn was remaining typically laconic regarding his position on the leaderboard. What will please Lotus fans is Raikkonen’s acknowledgement that even after two days, the set-up of the E21 is already to his liking and refers to the car as ‘strong’. Romain Grosjean set the fastest time on Day 2; both drivers seem pleased with the progress made over the winter.
If any team had a test of two halves, it was Mercedes. The first couple of days were a write-off as an electrical fault side-lined Nico Rosberg on Tuesday and a mechanically induced accident ended Lewis Hamilton’s running on Wednesday. From then, the team had two problem free days, completed two race distances with both drivers. Rosberg sees the W04 as an improvement, although Hamilton recognises the deficiencies compared to the McLaren MP4-27 adding “I think we are probably at the level we would have hoped to be.” Perhaps a more important point is Hamilton’s contribution to the team, arriving early and remaining engaged with the operation of the team. “He has been very straightforward in telling us what he thinks,” says Ross Brawn “[He] is interested in everything about the car and has a very good eye for detail.” The team trialled a new more complex front wing on the final day as they seek to return to the front group in 2013.
Is this the season where Sauber can finally win a race as an independent team? The C32 is an evolution of the C31, a car that was supreme around high speed sectors but found lacking in the twisty stuff. For Nico Hulkenberg the first test was mainly about acclimatising himself to new surroundings, although he was upbeat having trialled three different Pirelli compounds. GP2 graduate Esteban Gutierrez added that he learnt a huge amount after running on heavy fuel on the final day of the test and the Mexican completed the most laps of any driver across the test.
The team may still be without a second driver, set to be announced shortly before the next test, but Jerez was still a positive week for the Silverstone based squad. Giving James Rossiter some track time should help the team develop their simulator; a crucial part in the team’s ambition to emerge as a strong midfield contender. Paul di Resta conducted the majority of the running although an exhaust failure curtailed running on Day 3. Jules Bianchi set the third fastest time of the week and if his day was an audition for a race seat, he fared better than in 2012 when he threw the car off the road.
Williams was the only team not to bring their 2013 car to Jerez but still conducted important work with a modified FW34. The vanity panel was tested intermittently, while tyre comparisons and set-up changes formed a large part of the week. There were no major issues, while the reshuffled technical team also worked together for the first time.
Team principal Franz Tost says that the STR8 has a lot of potential, while the reliability of the car was also pleasing. Both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo have a year’s worth of experience with the team and this will undeniably be of benefit. Vergne believes the STR8 is a step up compared to the STR7 and he was pleased with the broader operating range in terms of set-up.
Testing isn’t run to FIA regulations and Caterham’s vane inside the exhaust panel caused some controversy initially, with one rival engineer commenting that the part would be gone by Melbourne. That one could rumble on for a while. There were a couple of reliability issues, but Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde got some good mileage under their belts, with Pic satisfied after running KERS for the first time. Pic, as the only man to drive both for Caterham and Marussia, commented that Caterham’s Renault engine remains their main advantage. This suggests that aerodynamically, Marussia is closer to Caterham than many allow credit.
Like Caterham they also endured a few technical issues, but this remains their best starting point in the team’s four year history. Rookies Luiz Razia and Max Chilton undertook a substantial amount of running, with lap times hinting at gains if not overwhelming improvements. Expect Caterham and Marussia to be filling the back two rows of the grid, with a competitive intra-team battle between Chilton – better on Saturdays – and Razia – better on Sundays.
The stability of the regulations meant that the first pre-season test at Jerez was never going to be revolutionary. Perhaps most surprising was the comparative reliability and the amount of laps completed. This was, after all, the first test and aside from low fuel runs there were very few red flags. Another positive aspect – especially considering the criticism some teams have come under –was the ability of the drivers. There were excursions captured by fans on video as both Grosjean and Van der Garde had lurid gravelly moments, but no-one hit the barrier down to their own error. That’s an impressive feat as the twenty-three drivers – seven of them having never started a Grand Prix – completed 3700 laps between them.