Saturday, 11 February 2012

Final days at Jerez - What have we learned?

Another 2 days of testing has ended and what have we learned? And what can we trust? Well, the answer to both those questions is 'a little'. But here are some key pointers:

On Thursday Mecedes topped the timesheets again in old machinery, this time Rosberg was on duty setting a 1.17.613 which would be the fastest time of the week. So, likely that the 2011 Mercedes car they were running was some form of hybrid with 2012 systems (though not with the new mandatory exhaust exit) and with 2012 tyres, the time to us is still somewhat irrelevant. 

The fastest 2012 car of the day would also stand as the fastest time of the week, be it for 2012 machinery. It was set by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. My feelings are slightly mixed with Grosjean. It’s easy to see him as a Swiss driver from a rich privileged background that had his chance in F1 and failed to make waves. True his performances were below par but remember the 2009 crash-gate firestorm at Renault he walked into? Looking at his GP2 performances as well maybe we can let this guy off the hook. But if he wants to stay at the Enstone team he has come back to, be it in Lotus guise he’s going to have to prove himself. And from the 1.18.419 he set on Wednesday and Kimi's blistering times on Monday he may have a car capable of delivering solid results. It’s easy to lose yourself in the hype surrounding this Lotus based on the times being set. Let’s see how things develop week during the long Barcelona test. 

Next down the times on Wednesday were a pair more used to the top of the timesheets, Vettel and Hamilton taking the helm of their 2012 challengers for the first time. The Redbull has seemed spritely so far with Webbers performance the previous day. And as for McLaren, solid times but slightly worrying comments from Hamilton - also revealing that they were running an aggressive low fuel load. He went on to complain that the car was struggling with rear grip. Of course this is what we can expect from the ban on blown diffusers. But perhaps he is indicating the McLaren is struggling to get the balance dialed into the car so far. Let’s hope not.

Questions on the Ferrari's pace were further fueled by Alonso putting his Ferrari 7th fastest of the day, though he was running hard tyres. An interesting observation from the BBCs Andrew Benson:

                "The car, they said, was behaving inconsistently in the corners, and so far fixing its behaviour at one stage - the entry, say - messes it up at either the mid-corner or exit, or both. This is not an especially encouraging sign for a team whose 2011 season came off the rails at the final pre-season test, when new parts that they expected to bring a chunk of speed actually made the car worse."

This rings true with the times so far and the comments we picked up earlier in testing from Massa. 

Things were to brighten up for Ferrari on Friday, when Alonso went quickest with a 1.18.877 on soft tyres during a morning run. This would be the second quickest 2012 spec car time for the whole test week. Alonso was quick to play down any excitement by commenting on how misleading testing times are, though he did reveal the difference in how the car felt from before was 'night and day'. Has the hugely resourceful team managed to get on top of their design inaccuracies and set up? This time was set in the morning, and cold weather prevented further fast running late in the session. It is very likely that had conditions been the same we would see faster times. There is little doubt that at least initially the car has had a few issues.

Vettel suffered an engine based electrical problem that severely limited his running. As a precautionary measure the Renault engine was swapped over meaning the car could not run till late in the session. As much of a set back to valuable time out on track, such a failure has little to do with car design and can be put down to 'one of those things'. 

So, Ferrari iffy, Lotus look strong but a lot more question marks remain un-answered. I’m interested to see McLaren and Redbull put more of its hand down on the table. And of course, the new Mercedes. But as mentioned, don't get attracted to the misleading light that is pre-season testing. I remember years ago team Prost topping the timesheets, me raving about it to my friends and looking a complete moron when the car and team was pretty much a disaster. You have been warned!

Times courtesy of Autosport:

Pos  Driver         Team            Best time           Total laps
 1.  Rosberg        Mercedes        1m17.613s           174
 2.  Grosjean       Lotus           1m18.419s  +0.806   212
 3.  Schumacher     Mercedes        1m18.561s  +0.948   174
 4.  Alonso         Ferrari         1m18.877s  +1.264   106
 5.  Webber         Red Bull        1m19.184s  +1.571   151
 6.  Vettel         Red Bull        1m19.297s  +1.684   146
 7.  Hamilton       McLaren         1m19.464s  +1.851   166
 8.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso      1m19.587s  +1.974   157
 9.  Vergne         Toro Rosso      1m19.597s  +1.984   159
10.  Raikkonen      Lotus           1m19.670s  +2.057   192
11.  Perez          Sauber          1m19.770s  +2.157   116
12.  Di Resta       Force India     1m19.772s  +2.159   170
13.  Kobayashi      Sauber          1m19.834s  +2.221   182
14.  Hulkenberg     Force India     1m19.977s  +2.364   90
15.  Senna          Williams        1m20.132s  +2.519   250
16.  Bianchi        Force India     1m20.221s  +2.608   46
17.  Massa          Ferrari         1m20.454s  +2.841   164
18.  Button         McLaren         1m20.688s  +3.075   147
19.  Maldonado      Williams        1m21.197s  +3.584   122
20.  Kovalainen     Caterham        1m21.518s  +3.905   167
21.  De la Rosa     HRT             1m22.128s  +4.515   108
22.  Trulli         Caterham        1m22.198s  +4.585   117
23.  Van der Garde  Caterham        1m23.324s  +5.711   74

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