I don’t think winter testing in Formula One ever paints a true picture, in-fact let me re-phrase that, winter testing doesn’t paint any kind of picture of what we can expect during the season. Due to a number of reasons such as fuel loads, testing different parts, setups, tyres, track conditions, the list can go on.
However watching testing has led me to assess a couple of points that we can takeaway from the past 5-6 weeks.
- Pirelli Tyres (Tires For Our American readers) – I have to start at the tyres. Last year Sergio Perez was one of the most reliable drivers when it came to managing tyre degradation. This year he was quoted as saying “It’s extreme. The degradation is very difficult. It’s a big surprise. Normally in winter testing we see a lot of degradation, but never this much”. Then throw in Pirelli comments that they want to ensure each Grand Prix has “at least 2 pit stops” then you have a recipe for some insane action. Some of last years races were incredible and were always on a knife edge as you simply didn’t know as a viewer if any leading drivers tyres were suddenly going to fall of the cliff. This year I think it’s going to be more of the same possibly even more extreme than last year. The main question I have is what team is going to get to grips with it first? Sauber had it under control for nearly the whole of last season but they never had the raw speed during qualification or a consistent challenging race pace to ever compete up near the front on a consistent basis. That leads to the question, out of Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and even Lotus, which one is going to get to grips with the tyres first? Right now I feel puzzled, somewhere in me has this gut feeling leaning towards Mercedes to be amongst the big boys this year, the final 2 testing sessions of Rosberg and Hamilton kind of underlined their improvement, the McLaren seemed to struggle slightly and both Red Bull and Ferrari seem like they have a VERY strong package indeed. If I had to make a call right now it would probably be Ferrari but in saying that I think all the top teams will struggle for a while. I just cant wait for the Australian Grand Prix to help paint a clearer picture. (I’ll also be live tweeting throughout it so be sure to get on my twitter so we can share views during races)
- Upgrade Packages – Winter testing really is smoke and mirrors. Would any team have shown their full hand? Of course not! Especially when it comes to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. Personally Red Bull seem to have this funny habit of always timing the upgrades at the right moment every season. Last year they started of with a car that was far from the finished package then with perfect timing come the end of the season they easily had the best car on the grid. I wouldn’t say the fastest as the McLaren’s were exceptionally quick all year but reliability issues and a few unfortunate incidents really ended Hamilton’s title push.In terms of the best overall package it was certainly Red Bull.The question I have is how much of the R&D focus was switched to improving the car for 2012 whilst neglecting the 2013 development. None, some, a lot? Who knows but it leads me to believing they again won’t have the best best car on the grid when the Australia Grand Prix takes place. It won’t be far off, I’m 90% certain they will be contending a lot more in early part of the season than they were last year. Based of testing along I think the Red Bulls are looking very strong again. I just can’t decide on the best car for the opening Grand Prix. If some bas*ard were to ask me based on what you’ve seen what team do you think is going to get pole? I’d have to say its near impossible to predict, based on the great running of the Mercedes over the last 2 days in Barcelona, it sort of swayed me. I just think Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull are going to have a lot more to bring to the table come kick off on March 17th. The supposed fastest is the Mercedes if you base it off testing which I don’t. I’m going to say Ferrari, no Red Bull, no McLaren, no Lotus… Damm it! Ok I’ll lean towards Ferrari, that late blast by Alonso has led me to believe they have a wild, roaring and ready to unleash hell car this year. Ferrari to be on pole in Australia.
- Pit Stops – Anyone who watched last years season will know McLaren where utterly useless during the first half of the season, which most certainly cost Button and Hamilton points. They sorted it out in the latter half of the season. Pit stops are going to be another key area this year, especially with the potential of Pirelli tyre’s causing havoc with any pre-made plans that each team has conjured up. It won’t just be about how quick the stops will be. It will also be about predicting when the tyre’s are going to fall of the cliff, getting that prediction at a time when they can get their car back out in clean air. Sometimes it’s nearly better to stop a bit earlier, if it means getting out in clean air. Stopping later than desired has disaster written all over it considering the time loss that occurs once the tyres hit the point of no return. Not just about predicting when the tyre’s will reach their expiry date so to speak but about when it makes sense to bring your driver into the pit to ensure he loses as little time as possible. It’s all about time, the lowest overall race time is what wins races. The pit crews will have some huge calls to make this season and you can expect many of them to get it wrong over the course of the season.
- Championship Prediction – I’m going to discuss this in a later post in a couple of weeks time as I feel it deserves its own little space as there is so much to weigh up and discuss and many disagreements to be had. I also know when it comes to sticking my neck out I often will. Somewhere inside my left ear lobe is telling my to take the 12/1 odds for Hamilton to win the championship. The reality part is telling me Alonso or Vettel and the little kid inside me is saying Raikkonen (and the little kid is definitely wrong – please let that comment come back to haunt me). We will discuss this later.
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