- Final pre-season test
Last chance saloon
Today marks the start of the final pre-season test of 2013 and leaves the teams with just four days of running to get their cars race-ready ahead of the start of the new season in Melbourne in a little over two weeks' time.
Testing has hardly been a stroll in the park this year, with an abrasive track surface at Jerez and very cold temperatures in Barcelona last week preventing the teams from doing anywhere near as much meaningful running as they would like. The Pirelli tyres just do not work in such conditions, and the challenge has been to learn as much as possible about the new cars in the few laps before the tyres lose performance.
Pirelli's Paul Hembery has issued some words of reassurance ahead of the test, insisting the tyres will react completely differently in race conditions.
"The last test at Barcelona was affected by bad weather, which meant that we experienced more degradation than usual due to the tyres not being able to operate within their intended working range," he said. "Hopefully this time we will find conditions that are slightly more representative, which will allow the teams to collect more relevant data.
"The fact that we're going back to Barcelona gives them all an excellent known baseline from which to operate. These 2013 tyres are quite different to their predecessors, both in terms of compound and construction, which makes the work that will be carried out over the next few days even more essential. At this stage of testing it is always difficult for the teams and drivers to know what to expect from the first race as conditions are not always representative. Past experience from the last two years shows a big reduction in tyre degradation over the course of the season: roughly half the degradation seen in winter testing."
Up and down the pit lane we've heard team members and drivers alike say "it's the same for everybody", but that doesn't make the situation any easier. Teams are still learning about their cars and for many they only have two days to do so before the Melbourne upgrades are bolted on and the focus is on extracting as much performance as they can.
But there's another problem. The poor weather from last week's test looks set to continue on the opening two days this week, meaning we're likely to see rain throughout Thursday and Friday. The weekend forecast is much better, but teams will struggle to complete their schedules before the updates arrive and dry running begins on Saturday.
As a result, Red Bull will alternate drivers throughout the week having split its running between Sebastian Vettel on days one and two and Mark Webber on days three and four during the second test. Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Sauber and Caterham will all do the same, with Kimi Raikkonen, Pastor Maldonado and Daniel Ricciardo the lucky men to drive on both Saturday and Sunday.
Force India has still yet to make a final decision on its driver line-up but appears set to re-employ Adrian Sutil as its second race driver alongside Paul di Resta, and Sutil will need to get up to speed very quickly this week having had only one day in the car so far. It's hardly the ideal preparation for Sutil's return, but first and foremost he'll just be pleased to get a second chance at the team which dropped him at the end of 2011.
Problems with Luiz Razia's funding appear to be rumbling on as Max Chilton starts the test for Marussia once again, making it five consecutive days for him in the MR02. It's reaching the stage where the best-case scenario for Razia now appears to be that he'll be on the back foot in Melbourne.
With the current weather forecast, he might not be the only one.