• Testing analysis

The guessing game

Laurence Edmondson February 27, 2012

ESPNF1 analyses the state of play at each of the teams after the second pre-season test at Barcelona

A tight package: Once again Red Bull looks like the team to beat © Sutton Images
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Red Bull

What we know
Red Bull completed three race simulations throughout the week, complete with full-on pit stops and Christian Horner and Adrian Newey on the pit wall. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber gave positive but slightly cautious feedback to the media and Vettel said the McLaren looked pretty quick. But the week wasn't completely drama free, Webber's morning preparation for his race simulation on Thursday was interrupted by a gearbox issue and the car stopped on track in the afternoon (although that could have been a routine fuel scavenge test).

Paddock guesswork
The RB8's pace looked consistently fast and when it went head-to-head with the McLaren on a similar race simulation it appeared to have the edge. But that could be misleading as Red Bull typically started its race simulations earlier in the day than McLaren and may have been on less fuel. Despite the odd niggle, reliability doesn't appear to be a big issue and the long periods in the garage could just be a sign that the team is experimenting with new parts - it was particularly keen to keep the rear under wraps. Overall, the car appears to be the quickest, the only question is by how much.

Fourth fastest time - Vettel 1:22.891
365 laps

McLaren

What we know
McLaren didn't bring any significant upgrades to this test as it opted to continue to get to grips with its 'launch' package before introducing another step in performance at the final test. Both drivers reported positive feedback, although Hamilton said the team needed to shift some downforce rearward and Button complained about the difficulties of getting decent mileage out of the softer tyres in cold conditions (a fairly common complaint up and down the pit lane). Both drivers completed race simulations and the car only stopped on track once right at the end of the final day (again, likely to be a fuel scavenge test).

Paddock guesswork
There is absolutely no doubt McLaren is a happier team this year than it was 12 months ago, but then again that isn't hard. Both drivers appeared confident and they reckon they will start the season closer to Red Bull than they did in 2011. There were no times to steal the headlines, but the car completed over 100 laps on each day with the majority coming in the afternoon after set-up work in the morning. The general feeling is that the team has a good baseline with its car but now needs to extract more performance with its update next week. McLaren is renowned for churning out new parts at a staggering rate, so even if it is slower than Red Bull in Melbourne it won't necessarily be game over.

Sixth fastest time - Button 1:23.200
463 laps

Ferrari is making progress, but is it too little, too late? © Sutton Images
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Ferrari

What we know
Ferrari had a tough first week of testing in Jerez with Fernando Alonso admitting the team knew just 20% about the new car by the final day. The Barcelona test was therefore crucial. Ferrari spent the first three days running comparison tests on various components and spraying its wings with countless litres of flo-vis paint. The exhausts moved inwards, making the rear look almost as messy as the front, but by the end of the week Felipe Massa finally racked up over 100 laps on one day.

Paddock guesswork
Ferrari cannot be happy with how the first two weeks of testing have gone, but there is a glimmer of hope. By the final day the car looked tidier on track and the mileage was closer to what the team needs. Massa said his engineers had found a "good direction", but it might be a too little too late as Red Bull and McLaren were at a similar point of progress after Jerez. Mileage will be crucial at the final test as the team has yet to complete a race simulation.

Fifth fastest time - Alonso 1:23.180
349 laps

Mercedes

What we know
The car was officially launched on the first day of the test, but by that time it had already completed over 300kms of private testing. By the third day Michael Schumacher clocked an impressive 127 laps and even found the time to set the second fastest lap of the day, albeit a second off Pastor Maldonado at the top of the timesheets. Nico Rosberg added another 139 laps to W03's odometer on Friday, giving the team a good baseline to approach the final test.

Paddock guesswork
Team principal Ross Brawn doesn't think the car is good enough yet to win a race, but the fact that victories are even a consideration should be considered progress. The missed week of testing in Jerez does not appear to have done the car any harm as it ran reliably and reasonably quickly over long runs. At its launch Brawn labelled the new car as being more "conventional" than the last, but that hasn't stopped speculation that the W03 is carrying a few unique and innovative features.

Seventh fastest time - Schumacher 1:23.384
399 laps

The Lotus completed seven laps before a major problem was diagnosed © Sutton Images
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Lotus

What we know
After seven laps the team withdrew from the test with a serious chassis problem. It soon became clear that it wasn't just a one-off issue on the new E20-02 chassis brought to Barcelona, but a problem that would also require correction on the E20-01used at Jerez. Although the team has not said what the issue is, it is confident it will be able to fix in time for the next test, where it is hoping to stay an extra day to make up for lost mileage.

Paddock guesswork
The chassis problem is clearly serious, but only became apparent when the car was put under the high-speed forces of the Circuit de Catalunya. Speculation has placed the blame on either the front suspension mountings or the engine mounts, but whatever the problem it is likely to be fixed in time for the final test. The bigger issue is the lost mileage and how much the chassis has to be tweaked to accommodate the fix. The only positive is that the car completed lots of laps at Jerez and appeared to be performing well.

11th fastest time - Grosjean 1:26.809
7 laps

Force India

What we know
It was a second positive week for Force India that was only really blighted by part of the engine cover coming off during the morning of the third day. The team racked up over 100 laps on both the second and fourth days and was only outside the top three times on the third day. Nico Hulkenberg set the VJM05's fastest time of the week (and the third fastest overall) on Wednesday with a 1:22.608.

Paddock guesswork
Force India could be a dark horse when it comes to the Australian Grand Prix next month after encouraging signs that the car is both quick and reliable. On track it looks tidy and its strong reliability allowed the team to focus on performance throughout the Barcelona test. The VJM05 responded positively to setup changes made over the week, suggesting there is a rich vein of performance to be tapped.

Third fastest time - Hulkenberg 1:22.608
393 laps

Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest time © Sutton Images
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Sauber

What we know
Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest time of the week with a 1:22.312, although he was the first to admit that it means next to nothing. His hot lap came on the soft tyres rather than the super-softs and would have been good enough for sixth on the grid at last year's Spanish Grand Prix. After a problem-riddled first day - in which a frustrated Sergio Perez completed just 66 laps - the team performed an impressive turnaround which saw Kobayashi set the highest lap count of the week with 144 on Friday. The only reoccurring problem was the exhaust, which made the car sound rather agricultural coming down the pit straight on a couple of occasions.

Paddock guesswork
Setting the fastest time of the week is better than setting the slowest time of the week, but as Kobayashi pointed out, it doesn't win you anything. It's also not the first time we've seen Sauber set a fast lap time during pre-season testing. A tangible positive to be drawn from Kobayashi's quick laps is that the team appears to have solved its tyre warm-up issues, which haunted it during qualifying sessions last year. However, it could be at the cost of tyre degradation over longer runs.

Fastest time - Kobayashi 1:22.312
395 laps

Toro Rosso

What we know
After a strong test in Jerez the team flew under the radar in Barcelona. The car's mileage wasn't as impressive as its immediate rivals, but chief engineer Laurent Mekies said that was due to the large number of test items that had to be bolted on and off the STR7 over the course of the week.

Paddock guesswork
The team dedicated a lot of time to pit stop practice towards the end of the week, which is always a good sign that it is happy with its car's development. However, it should also be noted that that Jean-Eric Vergne is a rookie and drilling pit stop and start procedures is quite important. Placing the car in the pecking order is nigh-on impossible at the moment as the midfield is incredibly tight.

Eighth fastest time - Ricciardo 1:23.618
296 laps

Pastor Maldonado proved the Williams' pace in Barcelona © Getty Images
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Williams

What we know
Pastor Maldonado set the second fastest time of the week on Thursday and came close to matching it again on Friday. After dwelling at the bottom of the timesheets for the previous six days of pre-season testing it was a welcome sight to see Williams set a competitive time, even if it's not a guarantee of success this season. The car was able to clock up decent mileage again with an average of 114 laps per day and 134 laps on the final day.

Paddock guesswork
The main weakness of the car towards the end of the Jerez test was in low-speed corners. The team appears to have remedied this, although it is still hoping to find more peformance at the final test. It also appears to be very satisfied with the Renault engine and its ability to mate its KERS and gearbox to the new powerplant. It's still early days, but Williams should be back in the cut and thrust of the midfield this year ... Maldonado even mentioned the word podium.

Second fastest time - Maldonado 1:22.391
454 laps

Caterham

What we know
It was tough week that started badly with a broken trackrod on Tuesday. Wednesday was then spent trying to get Vitaly Petrov comfortable in the car, but a front suspension problem on Thursday didn't help matters. Heikki Kovalainen returned for to the cockpit for the final day, analysing the various tyre compounds, but running was again cut short, this time by an electrical issue with the engine.

Paddock guesswork
Clearly it was a tough week for Caterham although all the problems were solved on the same day and there doesn't appear to be any fundamental problems with the car. Adapting it for Vitaly Petrov proved difficult, but that's no surprise as he is roughly 13cm taller than the two drivers the car was originally designed for. However, progress on that front appeared to be made towards the end of the week and the Russian is clearly enjoying life at his new team. A good final week of testing will be crucial if Caterham wants to achieve its goal of joining the rear of the midfield in Melbourne.

Ninth fastest time - Kovalainen 1:26.035
240 laps

The new HRT has passed its crash tests © Sutton Images
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HRT

What we know
The new car failed two crash tests ahead of the second test and therefore could not take part.

Paddock guesswork
The F112 has now passed its crash tests but it is still a race against time to get it on the track before Melbourne. It's competitiveness (or lack of it) when it finally turns a wheel is anyone's guess, but just making the final test will be a significant improvement over last year.

Marussia

What we know
The team completed three days of testing, most of which was aimed at giving Charles Pic some proper mileage ahead of his rookie season. Timo Glock was also on hand to drive the car on Thursday and used his experience to compare this year's Pirellis with last year's. Pic was then scheduled to test on the final day but a front suspension problem meant he never left the garage.

Paddock guesswork
The new car will be launched at the final test and needs to be reliable from the word go if Marussia wants to see any improvement on last season. Rumour has it that the car does not feature a stepped nose, which could be a result of Marussia's new technical tie-up with McLaren.

10th fastest time - Glock 1:26.173
337 laps

Laurence Edmondson is the deputy editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010