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:
COMBINED JEREZ TIMES 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