What we can learn from Jerez test 1

The first of 2 Jerez test sessions ended last Saturday, with the heavy rain having hugely affected the running for all the teams. Until the second test begins on Wednesday, there are many things we can learn from last week.

First of all, some teams who struggled in 2009 have certainly learned from their mistakes and improved hugely. Ferrari and Sauber are the two teams which spring to mind here. We all remember the fact that Alonso and Massa completely dominated the top of the timesheets in Valencia a few weeks ago. While we haven’t seen fastest laps from the team this time around, it must be noted that both drivers appeared to be running very heavy fuel load setups. The fact that they finished 4th and 7th (twice each) with this fuel load shows that they have serious pace this year. The news gets even better for the Scuderia, as we must remember that wet weather makes it even harder on a heavy fuel load, which adds to their achievements so far this year.

More consistent running from Ferrati in this test session

More consistent running from Ferrati in this test session

Sauber have topped only one session so far, but it is believed that they are running medium to heavy fuel setups as well. Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi have so far been impressive in all but one of the test days last week, when they were caught out by the wet weather. However, it must be noted that Kobayashi’s fastest lap on Tuesday was set on a low-fuel run.

Another team that I haven’t mentioned yet is Force India. The team that got so close to points on so many occasions, to the team that finally scored its maiden podium after Fisi’s heroics, to a team that is now showing very promising pace before the season even starts. It’s much different to last year, when the VJM02 was only fast on low-downforce circuits. Jerez requires a very good medium-high downforce setup, and the team have so far finshed 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th respectively. Adrian Sutil appears to be getting more out of the car than Liuzzi, but we’re not sure what fuel loads they were running. However, it is believed that they were using a medium fuel load for most of the time. One problem is, there seems to be a huge loss in performance when full fuel is applied. Sutil, on one occasion, had his lap times increased by 4 seconds per lap, after adding a 100kg (half race) fuel load. The team and Sutil have said that 5th place in the constructors championship is a realistic ambition this year, and I believe them. Hopefully, we won’t see a huge variant in performance in the car according to the circuit this year.

Sutil and Force India are aiming for 5th in the championship this year

Sutil and Force India are aiming for 5th in the championship this year

McLaren have been top of the timesheets once, when Lewis Hamilton set a low-fuel fastest lap of 1.19.583 (fastest of the 4 days) in the dying minutes of the final day. He was believed to be carrying 5 laps of fuel at the time. When he was filled up with fuel, he was languishing at the bottom of the timesheets most of the day. For example, at the start of a 25-lap stint, he was lapping in the 1.25’s. However, by the end of the stint, he was down to 1.23. It must be noted that this time was done on tyres that were 30 laps old, and in very cold temperatures, 6 degrees. (Hopefully) There will be no Grand Prix that will ever get near those sort of temperatures. We can therefore conclude that Lewis has solid pace in this year’s MP4-25. But what about Jenson? Unfortunately, no conclusions can be made about him, because of the conditions around his 2 days testing. On the first day, his fastest lap was 4 seconds off the pace, but that was a day of heavy rain, and he was running a heavy fuel load, so we can excuse him for that. The next day, he was much quicker, only .6 seconds off the fastest lap of the day. Even if it’s a bit inconclusive, I’d say that Jenson is doing fine in the car as well.

Jenson Button in the McLaren

Jenson Button in the McLaren

It’s been widely predicted that Mercedes will be on the pace this year. With the German line-up of Schumacher and Rosberg, it’s not hard to see why people are saying that. However, their pace isn’t convincing me yet. Sure, Rosberg topped the timesheets last Wednesday, but that was rain-soaked, and I don’t think he was running much fuel that day either. Since then, he and Schumacher have finished 6th, 7th and 5th respectively. Unfortunately, I can’t analyse their fuel loads, as I’m not sure on their figures. All I know is that they were not running very heavy fuel loads. Many people are saying that Schumacher set his fastest laps in the morning, when the track wasn’t rubbered in much, and this shows he has pace. I agree with this, but you have to note that it seemed like Schumacher was pushing like hell to get those times out. Spectators have noted that he was pushing the car too far slightly, which may add a pinch of salt. Even if I’m skeptical, Mercedes will definitely be in the top half  of the grid this year.

Michael Schumacher pushing it to the limit

Michael Schumacher pushing it to the limit

With teams like Renault and Williams, we can’t be sure. Both teams have all-new driver line-ups, so it may take time for them to get used to the cars, Petrov amd Hulkenberg especially. Unfortunately for Renault, Kubica’s fastest lap on Saturday was at the end of a 5-lap stint. The team were believed to have been running 6-lap stints all day long. The fact that they ended up 4th shows they don’t have the raw power to be at the top this year. Now, last December, the team said they wanted to be in contention for world championships by 2011, which is a bit of an ambitious target. However, if anyone will bring them up, it’ll be Kubica, so let’s see what happens there. Williams, on the other hand, are very hard to read this year. 10-lap stints are what Barrichello was doing all day, but we don’t know what Hulkenberg was running. The fact that he finished 3rd and 4th on the first 2 days is encouraging, though. Their engine, the Cosworth CA2010, seems to be good, with the speed traps showing good speed so far.

The team that finished on a high in Abu Dhabi knew they had to capitalise on their progress this year. Red Bull missed the first test in Valencia, and kept developing until Jerez. When their car was unveiled and first run, we saw very little pace. Mark Webber only finished 9th on both occasions, while Vettel was 5th and 6th. On the front, it would appear that they were struggling for pace. The good news is that Vettel’s fastest laps were set during a (at least) 20-lap stint. We’re not sure about Webber’s loads, but it seems he was running very heavy as well. Sebastian Vettel has spoke about these fuel loads already, saying:

“When you look at the lap times, you sometimes think it’s easy to say who is running on a lot of fuel or low fuel, but then people are playing around, so you might be three seconds off but still be quick when you are running with a full tank and others are not. It’s all a bit irritating – and very challenging. You might be seconds off the pace on Friday, but are really the fastest and you won’t know it until Saturday when you go to qualifying. We are heading into exciting times.”

Reliability has struck already, with a fuel pump problem sidelining them for 3 hours on Saturday, so they will need to control this before it hits hard, like in Valencia last year.

Three of the new teams, Campos, Lotus and USF1, have not even released their cars yet, so our attention is focused on Virgin. They were first out of the blocks with their VR-01, which was developed using only Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). Their testing in Jerez, however, could be described as a disaster. On the first day, Timo Glock got only 5 laps in, after the heavy rain caught them out. Then, things got even worse on Thursday, when a front wing failure stopped Glock’s running after only 11 laps, which was on a heavy fuel load. His fastest lap was 10 seconds off Kobayashi’s that day. The team worked into the next day trying to repair the cause of the problem, the front wing mounting. When they finally got the car out on Friday, Lucas di Grassi could only set 8 laps, all in the wet, because of unspecified reasons. Since these 8 laps were in the wet, he was 17 seconds off the pace that day. Into Saturday, the car was much better, with di Grassi managing 63 laps all day. They were running a very heavy fuel load, so it was expected that he only ended up 8th at the end of the day, 2.5 seconds behind the leaders. If their initial pace was their actual performance, then they would count themselves lucky that the 107% rule was dropped years ago. However, I think that the Virgin has promise (no jokes!) and could be one of the better new teams this year.

Finally, we have Toro Rosso. We knew they would struggle last year, when Vettel left, and they couldn’t use the year-before Red Bull because of the rule changes. A poor 2009 was expected. However, now that they are producing their own car, we will soon be expecting more from them. Sebastien Buemi and Jamie Alguersuari have been retained for 2010, so it will be expected that these new (ish) drivers will improve over the season. This means that a lot of focus will be on their car. The STR5 has been very surprising so far, in that, across the 4 days, they have finished on top, twice 2 times, and 10th. The final day slump was believed to be heavy fuel running and aerodynamic comparisons, so we can now focus on the other 3 days. On the first day, Buemi was second, only 1 tenth behind Nico Rosberg. This was a rain-soaked day, but it still shows pace in the car. On Thursday, he was again second, this time only 0.07 behind Kamui Kobayashi. To make things better, Kobayashi’s fastest lap was a low-fuel run, and the weather soon turned dry over the day, so the STR5 was showing more and more signs of pace. On Friday, Jaime Alguersuari got in one of the fastest laps of the entire 4-day test, a 1.19.919, which was set in the morning. Even though rain fell soon after, I don’t think many drivers would have beaten his time. So, the first signs are very encouraging for Toro Rosso, but let’s be careful. We don’t know about what fuel they were running on those 3 days. However, I think it’s safe to say that they will improve upon last year.

It’s not right to make full assumptions about all the teams before the testing finishes, so now let’s look forward to the second test in Jerez. Hopefully the predicted floods and heavy rain will refrain this time.

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