The first Formula 1 test at Valencia in Spain this week has been followed with more interest than any other test session I can remember. Valencia officials reported that 59,100 people attended over the 3 days with 36,400 attending on the final day and a report of a 4km traffic queue trying to get into the track!
We must be very cautious about what we infer about what happened this week. Taking into account the below, we actually know very little indeed:
- We do not know the respective fuel loads each team/driver is carrying
- Even if we did know the fuel loads, we do not know the tyre wear rate of the different cars
- Even if we knew the fuel loads and tyre wear rates, we don’t know the fuel consumption of the different engines
- There is approximately 6 seconds difference between a fastest lap on low fuel and on maximum fuel
- A fast lap on low fuel means very little as teams will only be on low fuel for qualifying and at the very end of the race
- There are 3 more tests and a lot technical development still to come
- We haven’t seen the performance of all the teams, notably Red Bull
- The Valencia track is not a representative track of a lot of F1 circuits
So you get the point, we don’t really know much, but surely we can glean some information, trends and likelihoods? Yes, we can.
Here is the combined times from Valencia this week over the 3 days:
The only true conclusion we can make from the Valencia test is that Ferrari is quick. They may not actually be the quickest, but they are definitely quick. If the Bahrain Grand Prix was this weekend you would put your money on Ferrari and probably specifically on Alonso judging by his pace today. But it wouldn’t be a safe bet.
Here is a review of the teams and drivers and what we might take away from their performance at the Valencia Test:
They were quickest each day and the only team to get under the 1min 12secs barrier. Alonso’s time of 1min 11.470secs was 0.6secs quicker than the next quickest car (Sauber – also using Ferrari engines!). The completed over 350 laps during the 3 days, far more than any other team and proved to be reliable.
Alonso – He was quick straight away and will feel good that he was quicker than Massa. He was cautious in the interviews as he thought last year’s Renault felt good but was not quick.
Massa – He should be pleased that he has come back into F1 after a horrific accident and is right back on the pace and was fastest for the 2 days he drove.
They will be pleasantly pleased at their pace and rather glad they are using Ferrari engines. They were 2nd fastest each day and both experienced de la Rosa and new boy Kobayashi were able to put in consistently quick times.
Kobayashi – He seems very confident and was pleased he was able to get some testing time in to get used to the car.
De la Rosa – He will be satisfied that he is testing knowing he will actually be racing too. He and Kobayashi may be closely matched all season.
I think they will be a little disappointed that the car did not seem quicker straight out of the box. They were very confident at the launch and now know they have a lot of work to do. They seemed neither fast nor slow and their running times were very similar to that of Mercedes, Toro Rosso and Renault. The teams and drivers will not admit it publicly, but they will be worried by the pace of Ferrari.
Hamilton – He will be pleased that the car does not seem to perform as badly as last year’s car and will also be pleased he finished with a fastest time 0.7secs quicker than Button.
Button – He will be disappointed the McLaren and himself were not quicker, but will not read too much into this week’s test. If next week they don’t seem quick, then he will begin to worry.
They are difficult to read as Ross Brawn said today in an interview he thinks that they are “a little off on pace” and has said that they are having some handling problems. The car has not blitzed the field like last year, but then no one expected that. Schumacher is also playing down their chances and not expecting to win any GP’s in the opening races and that they need to “nail their reliability”. Brawn has also said they are yet to use its new front wing or double diffuser.
Schumacher – he will be pleased as he still has the pace and that he was 0.4secs quicker than his teammate, but maybe worried about the pace of the car compared to Ferrari.
Rosberg – He seems a tiny bit phased, although he acts confident in interviews and will want to be a match for Schumacher
The first couple of days did not go well and they had technical problems (gearbox) and reported downforce issues. Buemi was over 2 seconds off the pace on both days. However, on the final day with Alguersuari they seemed to have made some improvements as he was able to complete 97 laps and had a fastest time only just over a second behind Alonso.
Alguersuari – I think he will be pleased with his performance, but worried perhaps by the team’s reliability
Buemi – He will be worried by the technical problems and his lack of speed.
They seemed to struggle on the first day and then came good on the second day with Kubica putting in a fastest lap just under a second slower than Alonso. Considering the state of the team I think they will be pleased their times were comparable to McLaren and Mercedes, but know they have work to do.
Kubica – I don’t think he will be unduly worried and will be focused on developing the car over the next month
Petrov – I think he will be pleased his first test session went okay and he was only 0.6secs behind his teammate.
They were at the bottom of the timesheets around 2 seconds behind the fastest time of Alonso. However, they did not look particularly worried. Barrichello seemed very relaxed and stated that they were doing runs with very heavy fuel loads, much more than he ever did at Brawn. There were no low fuel runs he claimed. So they seem slow, but maybe they are not as slow as they appear.
Barrichello – He seems relaxed and positive and genuinely seems not to know, like the rest of us, what to make of the times produced this week.
Hulkenburg – He had a good session today getting used to the car and the team, completing 126 laps and even did a couple of race start practices. He was only 3 tenths of his vastly more experienced teammate and will be satisfied with that.
So, we do not know much. Next week’s test at Jerez will help us know a little more as we will have a more representative F1 track, more teams (Red Bull!), but we won’t get to know a lot. If Ferrari are quickest again each day then it will confirm their pace, but if another team is quicker, then we won’t know if this means we are clearer about who is quickest or more confused?
My expectation for the season is that it is going to be very close with a lot of teams with some tracks suiting certain teams and/or drivers. Jerez is a different track and so I am expecting different results. We shall see.