- Second pre-season test
Time for more answers
The Formula One pre-season is about to step up a gear as the second test kicks off at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. The second test is the first of two at the track in Montmelo, with the second following six days after the first and ending just two weeks before the Australian Grand Prix.
Teams and drivers alike were keen to dismiss the significance of lap times at the first test in Jerez; the circuit itself is not one that is part of this season's calendar - and hasn't been since 1997 - while the track surface was much too abrasive to get a representative handle on the Pirelli tyres.
Barcelona, however, is the perfect testing venue. A circuit which will hold a race this year, a number of high-speed corners to really test aerodynamic performance and a smooth track surface for the tyres all add up to an ideal place to really get a relevant knowledge of the 2013 cars.
For the local fans, there's something more important than all of the above that will draw their attention: Fernando Alonso. The double world champion will make his first appearance in the F138 on Tuesday, and stays behind the wheel for the opening three days as he makes up for skipping the first test before Felipe Massa takes over on Friday.
Before Alonso takes to the track, however, the final new car of 2013 will be revealed in the pit lane on Tuesday. Williams' FW35 is the only car yet to be launched but will be unveiled by Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas. The team is more on the back foot than it anticipated after being surprised by the Jerez surface when trying to gather tyre data with the FW34 a fortnight ago, with technical director Mike Coughlan saying the results were "a little compromised by the very aggressive nature of the track surface".
While the first four days of pre-season may not have been about performance, the next four certainly start to lean more in that direction. Ferrari has announced that its schedule will include "more tyre testing, on a track surface that is more representative of what lies ahead in terms of degradation and pace, while aerodynamically, the engineers will continue gathering data, as well as already introducing some new elements and updates, as part of a relentless development programme that began even before the F138 turned a wheel."
The party line will remain that nobody knows the real pecking order until Melbourne, but attempts to work out the relative competitiveness of each car will be aided by more long runs and race simulations in Barcelona, weather permitting. Similarly, major reliability issues should have been ironed out at Jerez that will allow teams to start working on set-up changes this week.
Away from trying to decipher the lap times, the one unknown comes in the form of Force India's driver line-up. After the team fielded Jules Bianchi in the first test (as well as simulator driver James Rossiter alongside Paul di Resta), Adrian Sutil has since had a seat fit at the team's headquarters and is expected to appear for at least part of the test as it looks to be a two horse race for the final seat on the grid.
Many of the teams will be planning major upgrades for the final test, but this week will be used to understand just how good their respective launch cars currently are while any major problems that arise could really set them back ahead of the start of the season. For observers, the picture is about to get a bit clearer.