Monday, 7 March 2016

Observations And Predictions After Barcelona Testing

As pre-season testing came to its conclusion fans and media were debating the future direction of the sport. An unpopular quick fire qualifying format has been knocked up for the new season with little consultation. Cue an online backlash from fans. The old adage 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' springs to mind, especially after the sport missed an ample opportunity to increase overtaking with the 2017 rule changes. The new 'Halo' safety device bought about further debate, its striking shape and form debuting on the Ferrari this week. After a near unanimous agreement for further head protection in the sport after the tragic deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, the very different look of the cars in the flesh stirred emotions. Drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton were outspoken, with the current World Champion going even further to express his dismay with the new device. "This is the worst looking mod in Formula 1 history. I appreciate the quest for safety but this is Formula 1, and the way it is now is perfectly fine."
Normal Service Resumed

After clocking up significant trouble-free mileage in week one Mercedes continued their impressive form. The team has completed 3743 miles over the two weeks - enough mileage to drive from the Spanish circuit to Moscow! Lewis Hamilton's testing came to an end on Friday morning with transmission failure, the first chink in the W07's perfect reliability. Hamilton remained positive - "I'm kind of glad I broke the car at the end of my final run today because it's better to have found something now than [at the first race of the season] in Melbourne!"
More intricate turning vanes on the W07

The team's ability to prove reliability from the start allowed experimental parts to be bolted on from day two, with the visually striking 'shark nose' and serrated barge boards. Further revisions featured in the final days including new intricate turning vanes, a serrated edge rear wing and 'monkey seat'. As tech reporter @ScarbsF1 points out it seems all these complex arrangements will mean more downforce but also more drag. This is unlike the Ferrari for example which features long, smooth bodywork. The Mercedes W07's intricacies hint at the team sacrificing qualifying and straight line performance for more cornering speed. Red Bull took their car in a similar direction during their dominant days, and with last years Merc being so dominant in qualifying and straight line performance this is a wise decision.

How Close Are Ferrari?

Ferrari tested the new 'Halo' device
With Ferrari sitting at the top of the time sheets over the two weeks their is much hype around this year's 'SF-16H', seemingly named after a jet fighter. The car features some big revisions with to its power unit layout in a quest to beat those dominant silver cars. But with Mercedes yet to truly show its hand its difficult to say how much of the gap has been closed.

The closest indicator we got was Rosberg's Monday lap of 1.23.0 equalled by Kimi Raikonnen on Wednesday - both on soft tyres. With the track ''rubbered' in for the latter, it looks like a few tenths advantage for the Mercedes. But we haven't accounted for exact fuel loads or engine modes making this a very rough and inaccurate comparison. The Ferrari looks quick but is this enough to be competitive?

Best Of The Rest

Williams are eager to make up ground after their unconvincing third place last year, considering their excellent 2014 campaign. Struggling with low speed corners chief technical officer Pat Symonds declared the team made "subsequently making changes, which we hope will improve the situation."

According to Karun Chandhok's track side observations the FW38 has looked squirmish and unruly on long runs, only setting decent times on the soft tyres. On the contrary the Red Bull looks planted and controlled. Perhaps its engine's outright power is the hindering factor.

The gap underneath the tightly packed Toro Rosso Gearbox
Toro Rosso bought their 'B-Spec' car to the second week of testing. The new design features some very aggressive tight packaging, demonstrated by the void between the gearbox and the floor! With Ferrari power this year the team is in the running for some good results.

Force India grabbed the headlines on the third day with a decent 1.23.110 on the soft tyre. The teams fortunes have improved ever since the B Spec debuted in the second half of 2015 and will have 3rd place firmly in their sights.

McLaren Improve - But Is It Enough?

After an encouraging first few days of testing a hydraulic leak followed by a water leak hampered running at the end of week one. Thankfully for Honda their new engine has demonstrated it can actually deploy harvested energy down the length of a long straight. This wasn't the case last year, losing a whopping 150hp while the opposition sailed by with ease.

The MP4-31 adorned Rasta colours
The second week started with more frustration when Fernando Alonso's telemetry systems stopped working just before lunch. Once repaired the car completed 93 laps. Things began to run smoothly, bar a suspension issue on the Tuesday that was quickly repaired. Adorned with colourful high-vis paint the team could focus on important aerodynamic work. McLaren will use this data to bring out a revised aero package for the season opener at Australia. With 2,053 miles completed throughout the entire test, this is world's away from last years dismal 1088 (which featured 4 more days).

Admittedly still down on power the McLaren was found at the bottom of the speed trap times. Furthermore the engine looks like its lacks the driveability of its rivals - the car sometimes snapping and squirming when throttle was applied in medium speed corners. Hopefully all this can be ironed out in time for the season opener in Melbourne and the Woking squad sees its torrid luck change.

'Haas' Some Problems

Haas was bought back to earth in Week 2
Terrible headline pun aside, with its partnership with Ferrari and Dallara there are big hopes for the new American team Haas F1. With experience in running in the NASCAR Sprint Cup across the pond Gene Haas has purchased the old Marussia base in Banbury, Oxford. Their partnership with Ferrari has stirred controversy - with the Italian marque previously exploiting a loophole to use Haas' wind tunnel data. It can only be a good thing for the new team to have some access to the wealth of aerodynamic knowledge at Ferrari.

The new V-F16 had a near perfect debut week for a new team. Apart from a front wing failure on the first day the team had 281 laps of near trouble free running, setting respectable times in the process.

Unfortunately reality was about to bite hard in the second week. A fuel system issue stopped Esteban Gutierrez after only 23 laps of running on the opening day. After the turbocharger was replaced overnight the car was thought to be ready for the Wednesday morning. With just the installation lap complete the turbo was spinning too fast and the car immediately called back into the garage. Even with some technical assistance from Ferrari the car couldn't be fixed in time for more running.

Thursday would prove the most testing when Romain Grosjean bought out three course flags  with brake-by-wire issues. The resulting imbalance sent him to the gravel trap twice. To top it off the car hit a high kerb at the end of the day and shut itself down on track.  Gene Haas admitting he was "a little bit overwhelmed" with the complexity of F1 was perhaps and admission he should have kept to himself.

Looking at the positives the team can enjoy resources and support an outfit like Manor could only dream of. If these reliability woes can be tackled the new car could be a good base for the team to build on.

Gene Haas will be hoping for less trials in 2016

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