Testing now is notoriously hard to analyse. That may sound like an excuse, but there are good reasons why it is not. Firstly, in 2009 we still had refuelling. This meant fuel tanks were much smaller and significantly diminished the fuel effect (the variation in lap times due to high or low levels of fuel). It was because of this that I was able to tell that there was an off-chance the Brawn team might do ok.
Secondly, the tyres. These are highly variable and degrade swiftly, making a comparison tricky. (Incidentally, the tyres this time around, excepting the supersoft, are softer compared to last year’s. This may aid Vettel and Button and prove displeasing to Webber and Mercedes).
Thirdly, track conditions. Temperature, precipitation, and time of day all affect how things run.
Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, the teams deliberately try not to show their real pace. This was confirmed by Ferrari before testing even began.
So, what did we learn from testing?
Well, nothing definitive. The first practice sessions at Oz will provide more useful info, likewise qualifying and the race. However, we shouldn’t even take that as gospel, as each circuit is different and the drivers will be doing a race for real, for the first time, on the new tyres.
However, there are one or two interesting features. Firstly, the W-duct. This is a swanky front wing created by Mercedes, designed to maximise the advantage, aerodynamically, in both corners and on the straights. Whether it’ll work well we can’t be sure, and if it does it’ll certainly be copied.
Then we have the Red Bull letterbox, which is a little gap on the nose at the steeped bit. The team have said this is to help cool the driver, but many suspect it may (also) be there to channel air to aerodynamically handy bits at the rear, enhancing grip. As the letterbox seems to always be open, it wouldn’t, I think, fall foul of the regulations banning the driver-controlled F-duct.
A brief word on noses: McLaren reckon there’s not much different between its pretty nose and the kinked one used by everyone else, save Marussia. Nevertheless, it is striking that just two teams went for the prettier option.
There’s been a lot of musing about the state of play. For what it’s worth (and don’t take it too seriously) here are my impressions, guided by the odd inside line, keeping up to date with the news and gut instinct.
McLaren and Red Bull seem to be top dogs. It’s possible that McLaren will come out on top, which could prompt an intriguing Button-Hamilton-Vettel three way fight for the title.
Ferrari may be in deep trouble. According to their own technical director, Pat Fry, they won’t even be able to compete for a podium at the first Grand Prix (http://en.espnf1.com/ferrari/motorsport/story/72092.html). This suggests they believe they’re clearly third, or perhaps even worse. A Ferrari-Lotus-Mercedes battle for third spot seems possible.
However, a word of caution. McLaren had a dire pre-season test in 2011, but in-season their car was either fastest or second only to Red Bull.
Lotus and Mercedes seem to be pretty impressive. Whether they can leapfrog Ferrari is something we’ll find out in Oz. It appears that the Silver Arrows have resolved their serious rear tyre destroying problem, but we’ll only find out for sure over a race distance.
Further down the field, Sauber seems more or less solid and Force India seem to be in reasonable nick. Not sure about Williams. Caterham must look to score a point or two pretty regularly. HRT and Marussia (formerly Virgin) both failed to do any pre-season testing with their 2012 car, and it’s increasingly difficult to see the point of either team.
Unfortunately, there’s a new and very unwelcome challenge to betting on F1 this year, namely the Judas Iscariot approach to coverage adopted by the BBC. In practical terms, this means those without Sky will either have to find an alternative means of seeing the action or will miss half the qualifying sessions and half the races. (Excitingly you can watch highlights 14 hours or so later. Ooh).
I’m not sure if this is accurate, but I’ll post it anyway. On the comments responding to a blog written by one of the BBC’s condescending F1 editorial chumps one chap put up the details of the BBC’s coverage:
Australia - Highlights, Q 1pm/75minutes, Race 2pm/2 hours
Malaysia - Highlights Q 1pm/75 minutes, Race 2pm/2 hours
China - Live Q 6am/2.5 hours, Race 7am/3h15mins
Bahrain - Highlights Q 5.30pm/75 minutes, Race 5.30pm/90mins
Spain - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
Monaco - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h10mins
Canada - Highlights - 10.30pm/75 minutes, Race 11.30pm/2 hours
Europe - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
Britain - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
Germany - Highlights Q 6pm/75 minutes, Race 6pm/90mins
Hungary - Highlights Q 6pm/75 minutes, Race 5.30pm/90mins
Belgium - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
Italy - Highlights Q 5.30pm/75 minutes, Race 5.30pm/90mins
Singapore - Live Q 12.10pm/2h20m Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
Japan - Highlights, Q 1pm/75minutes, Race 2pm/2 hours
Korea - Live, Q 5am/2h15m, Race 6am/3h15m
India - Highlights, Q 1pm/75minutes, Race 5.30pm/90 minutes
Abu Dhabi - Live Q 12.10pm/2h05m, Race 12.10pm/3h05mins
USA - Highlights - 10.30pm/75 minutes, Race 10.30pm/2 hours
Brazil - Live, Q 3pm/2h15m, Race 3pm/3h15m
I’m hoping that listening to P3 on the radio will be as much use, effectively, as watching it online, and hopefully qualifying bets won’t be detrimentally affected. I’ll try the same for qualifying when it’s early and see if I can watch online if it’s on a bit later. I do intend to tip shortly after P3 for qualifying and a couple of hours after qualifying for the race, as per last year, but it’s impossible to say whether this’ll be adversely affected by the lack of coverage. If I do find a decent online option (I’m going to try RTL) then I’ll probably only watch the BBC for races that are live and early (China and Korea).
There was an interesting mini-interview with Vettel on the BBC's angry wasps website. The lack of rear grip, due to no blown diffuser, reduces speeds in the corners (which is obvious), but what I hadn't considered was that this also means that it takes a bit longer to get tyres up to temperature and probably decreases degradation (this'll probably be offset or mitigated somewhat by the decreased life expectancy tyres now have).
So, for qualifying this may well mean that it's flying lap 2 or 3 that the tyre is in best shape for, and for the race it may mean that an undercut strategy (pitting early to benefit from a better tyre to get faster times and leapfrog the person ahead when they stop) may not be so simple, as the person who does not pit first could be faster on the outlap (accounting for the pitstop), increasing the gap and giving them breathing room for an immediate riposte.
Instead of one big article per race weekend I’m going back to a pre-qualifying, pre-race and post-race analysis approach. For the first race, Australia, I’ll probably not bet on qualifying, as P3 takes place at an ungodly hour, and offer 1-2 tips for the race itself. Australia race day is the 18th.