Merc and STR show new cars as winter testing begins
The Formula 1 winter testing season started today at the Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, and the most awaited news of the day were the first looks at the brand new cars by Mercedes GP and Scuderia Toro Rosso:
The reigning champion team’s Mercedes GP W01 car is distinguished by a lower nose than their competitors, and by some very weird shapes going around the airbox area! The livery now looks ace on natural lighting. Scuderia Toro Rosso appears to have gone with a conservative design – largely based on the 2009 Red Bull, of course.
Now, the fun about testing is that it starts being a bit less about looks and a little more about performance. It is particularly hard to conclude anything this year, though. Testing times are always a bit deceptive because nobody knows what the teams are running – high or low fuel; soft or hard tyres; worn or new tyres; testing setup, reliability or ultimate pace, etc. If they want they can even be running underweight or with illegal parts. So this means that, although the laptimes can point at something, there is a large margin of error. And well, this year that margin of error just got twice as big, as refuelling is banned and fuel tanks will be much larger to accommodate that. The performance difference between the quickest and the slowest F1 car on the grid has recently been as low as less than 2 seconds – now with the difference between full fuel tanks and empty ones meaning possibly 3 or 4 seconds of laptime, it means analysing testing will be even more useless than it used to be.
Nevertheless, some things to take note of today:
- Felipe Massa doesn’t seem to be having any big side-effects of last year’s huge crash that put him out for half a season, because he was quick all day and ended the timesheet first. This also serves to calm down the rumours that Ferrari’s car was about to be as much of a failure that they were already planning some sort of B-version! Though James Allen says they are planning an extra big diffuser update that could be worth a lot.
- Another man making a comeback was the 7x champion Michael Schumacher, after 3 years without racing F1 cars. He beat his team-mate’s Rosberg morning time as the track rubbered up in the afternoon. Still, that was very impressive, and the Merc car seemed among the front-runners.
- Peter Sauber’s car was surprisingly competitive as Pedro de la Rosa was top of the times for a long part of the day and ended up 2nd. Nobody knows whether that’s legitimate or a desperate call for sponsors to join his squad.
- Gary Paffett and the McLaren were among the front in the morning but did not improve in the afternoon. McLaren fans are worried because some flow-viz paint appeared in the car (as it did last year when McLaren were in deep trouble!), but they can relax as Rubens Barrichello said he was most impressed by the McLaren’s straight-line speed, from all of his competitors.
- Williams and Toro Rosso had reliability troubles, Barrichello bringing the only red flag of the day, and Buemi being troubled by gearbox issues all day.
- Robert Kubica and the Renault were slow all day, that being quickly explained by the polish driver saying he never had driven with such an heavy F1 car – there’s the fuel load variable I was talking about. He went as far as to say that the general feeling about the car is good, a weird thing for a pessimistic guy to say after being dead last!
The tests continue for the next 2 days and it remains to be seen whether any decent hint at a pecking order will come out of it. Also remember that 6 teams aren’t there in Valencia, and one of them is particularly important: Red Bull.
Monday’s times, from Autosport:
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Massa Ferrari (B) 1:12.574 102
2. de la Rosa BMW Sauber-Ferrari (B) 1:12.784 74
3. M.Schumacher Mercedes GP (B) 1:12.947 40
4. Rosberg Mercedes GP (B) 1:13.543 39
5. Paffett McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:13.846 86
6. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth (B) 1:14.449 75
7. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:14.762 18
8. Kubica Renault (B) 1:15.000 69
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