I intend to analyse the Circuit de Catalunya test (19/02/2013-22/02/2013) however my analysis is only going to cover the first three, rain unaffected, days. The varying conditions on the 22nd distort comparisons to other days so are less useful (plus none of the fastest times in the test were set on the day).
I've chosen to concentrate on two main performance indicators:
1) Fastest adjusted time
2) Tyre degradation/tyre performance.
Let's start with the analysis.
Fastest Adjusted Times
One of the best ways to judge potential lap times is to take each lap time and apply an adjustment based on various factors including: 1) the day the lap was posted (sources cite a 0.2 second improvement each day due to the track rubbering in) 2) the amount of laps left on the stint (each lap consumes approximately 2.4kg and 10kg of fuel is worth 0.4 seconds around Catalunya) 3) the compound the stint was set on (the Pirelli report states 0.5 seconds should be the difference between each compound therfore 1.5 seconds between the new super soft and hard). Times are assumed to be set on the super soft.
As we would expect most of the adjusted fastest times are on the harder compounds. No one has completed any qualifying simulations on the soft or super soft tyres. What this shows is that the Mercedes and Ferrari are actually quite quick over one lap although Red Bull are almost certainly holding back a lot. Track observers have praised the Red Bull's downforce levels and handling characteristics although this might not necessarily translate into lap time. Given everything the smart money is on the champions to be right up there.
What is striking is that all of the top 20 adjusted times belong to the top five cars from last year (Red Bull 4, Ferrari 4, McLaren 3, Mercedes 6, Lotus 3). The closest times for the other constructors are:
- Sauber 81.66
- Toro Rosso 81.73
- Force India 81.853
- Williams 82.23
Conclusions on speed
From the data collected over the first three days the Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all seem very fast with lesser fuel loads. The pecking order is particularly unclear at this stage; the fact that Mercedes posted six out of the top twenty and four of the first six fastest adjusted times is impressive however it's wise not to read too much into this. Hamilton and Rosberg have both been playing down expectations and whether this is the truth or a bit of a bluff is yet to be seen.
Other factors to consider are that McLaren and Red Bull are historically known to never run too light in testing. According to reports and trackside observers McLaren has at times looked like the best car while at other times they have struggled (Jenson Button has also said similar things). They need to do more work to understand the car but should they find a solution they should be very strong all the way through the year.
It's hard to judge the current speed across all of the constructors especially as the programmes are so different. Different cars seem to be stronger over shorter or longer runs. The numbers, and other factors, suggest the following order:
Red Bull > Lotus > Ferrari > Mercedes > McLaren > Sauber > Williams > Force India > Toro Rosso > Marussia > Caterham.
Red Bull and Lotus are leading the way, factoring in both short and long runs. Both have excelled and both are fairly confident in their prospects this year. The main question marks are over McLaren (and to a lesser extent Ferrari). I think McLaren have a potential rocketship but are struggling to understand it, next week's test will be crucial. I'm still tipping them to win at least 4-6 races this year although it will be important to hit the ground running from the very first race.
The Ferrari seems to be pretty poor over long runs although this is so radically different to last year that it's hard to accept this as the truth, I'll have to await further data before making a proper assessment (race simulations from Catalunya next week will be fascinating). Overall I think there are plenty of positive signs from the Mercedes data although fuel loads may have influenced this, four of the top six adjusted times is very positive regardless though. Both Williams and Sauber looked quick at points, Nico Hulkenberg set the 3rd fastest time of the entire test although Gutierrez was fairly off the pace. At the moment the pace of the Williams and the Toro Rosso is fairly hard to predict although the Toro Rosso seems to be the slowest of the first nine constructors. At the back Marussia seem to have got the better of Caterham.
Tyre Degradation Comparison
First off comparing tyre degradation between teams is very difficult because teams are running different programmes and are often running to specific deltas. I've taken out any stints where they've started too slowly and look to be running to a delta or where the last lap is quicker than the first. There are plenty of stints where information on tyre compounds is not known so I've analysed soft, medium and hard and then grouped all of the remaining runs into an unknown group and analysed that separately.
Due to the limited samples on each tyre it will be difficult to draw any concrete conclusions about a car and its characteristics however considering all of the factors may allow patterns to be highlighted.
The most striking characteristic of the short, fast runs (see criteria) is the large amount of drop-off on the Ferrari stints. Fernando Alonso completed five sets of two lap stints each with rapid degradation. The nearest direct comparison is the Force India of Sutil who posted a similar first lap time with a smaller degree of drop-off on average. There could be two major explanations for this; firstly the testing programme. Ferrari could be looking to gather data around aggressive stints, this may come in useful during race weekends especially where qualifying is concerned. Secondly there may be a change in car dynamics which mean Ferrari are chewing their tyres quicker than others. This all depends on how revolutionary Ferrari have been with their development. Last year's car the F2012 was easy on its tyres but lacked one-lap speed. Given the importance of qualifying and the dominance Red Bull were able to exhibit it is not unreasonable that Ferrari have targeted this as an area of improvement.
The Lotus and Williams looked particularly good on their only stints on the softs however it is hard to draw too many conclusions from this data despite a similar pattern being shown by both teams on the long, slower stints on the softs. The Red Bull and McLaren were substantially worse in drop-off on their stints.
On the medium tyre the Ferrari experienced further problems, the McLaren and Red Bull looked better than on the soft specifically (they were probably running higher fuel loads on the soft). McLaren once again had better degradation than the Red Bull (like on the softs). The Mercedes had mixed fortunes while the Lotus seemed reasonably strong again.
On the hard tyre the Lotus was the stand-out star, putting in very strong stints on the longer runs. The Mercedes handled the tyres well and do not seem to be experiencing as many problems as last year. Ferrari again were experiencing high tyre degradation - this repeating factor is definitely symptomatic of the programme or the general behaviour of the car which is worrying for Ferrari and a complete turnaround from last year. Red Bull posted fairly similar stats for both the medium and hard tyres.
All of the rest of the stints were split into four categories as runs seemed to fall into specific groupings (see criteria). It was only across the longer slow runs where Ferrari have broken their run of high degradation. Again Lotus are one of the better managers of tyre degradation (green on each of the groupings). They definitely cement their place as the most consistent runner although this may have something to do with their programme.
Sauber have carried on from last year with the tyre degradation. By and large it seems fairly low especially over shorter stints. What the Toro Rosso lacks in outright pace seems to be offset by the small amount of degradation. This will likely result in a fairly similar picture to last year with plenty of Q1 exits although some promising drives through the field.
Conclusions on tyre degradation
Overall it's very difficult to draw conclusions on tyre degradation however I would rate the teams in the following order (based on the data alone):
Lotus > Toro Rosso > Sauber > Mercedes > Williams > McLaren > Red Bull > Force India > Ferrari (Marussia and Caterham not included).
Only Ferrari seem to be really struggling. The easy standout performers are Lotus. It's strange that the top teams (with the exception of Lotus) seem to be experiencing fairly high levels of degradation. Could this be down to high fuel load runs? Only time will tell, hopefully we'll get more of an insight into both tyre degradation and speed at the next test.
Overall Conclusions (five key points)
- Lotus are very strong, long run pace and degradation look 'impressive'.
- Ferrari look quick but have some real issues with degradation
- Mercedes and Red Bull both look great in their own ways
- McLaren struggling and still have a lot of work to do before winning races
- None of the teams ranked 6th-9th look to have made enough progress to challenge on a regular basis although Sauber and Williams could surprise
At the moment it is really difficult to read too much into Red Bull's test. The sounds coming out of Red Bull are fairly positive at the moment, Mark Webber seems happy with how the team is working. The RB9 is an evolutionary design on last year's double championship winner. The loss of unlimited DRS will harm the Red Bull in qualifying so there could be problems ahead.
However given all the factors this car will be right at the front when the cars turn up in Australia. The only worrying sign seems to be some of the longer runs where the degradation on the car seemed to be marginally worse than other key rivals. This could be explained by fuel loads which will increase degradation so this is only a vague concern.
The speed on the Ferrari seems to be there. Alonso posted the fastest adjusted time of the test on hard tyres during day one, also posting the second fastest non-adjusted time after Sergio Perez. I'm wondering whether Ferrari have attempted to be more aggressive, pushing their car development towards greater one lap speed.
The overwhelming concerning factor on the Ferrari is the high levels of degradation. It's hard to ignore that they had the worse degradation in six of the eight categories they posted stints within (soft, short-fast etc.). This could have been down to the programme that Ferrari have decided to run but it seems to be too pervasive and will likely be down to the car and how it behaves.
Ferrari will be in a much better place this year than last year. Expect two Ferraris to qualify in the top six/eight come Melbourne.
McLaren have admitted they still need to understand various aspects of this car. The revolutionary MP4-28 will take some time to work out but when they do I think they have a real potential to be the fastest car on the grid. They have next week to develop the car and bring upgrades which may solve these issues.
Just based on this week however McLaren are probably fifth fastest taking short and long runs into account. Next week will answer a lot of questions about the MP4-28. They will be positive that the degradation seemed to be stronger than the Red Bull who will be the one competitor McLaren want to especially beat this year.
The long run pace and degradation of the Lotus was the class of the field over the three days. Lotus are going to be right at the sharp end come Melbourne. The race simulation of Grosjean compared favourably against Webber's and looked very consistent.
The only worries over the E21 are reliability (there were several problems experienced by Raikkonen over the first two days) and a lack of one-lap pace against some of the top teams. The signs are very positive so far and the team are right to be bullish about their chances for the coming season.
A very solid effort from the Mercedes team over the Catalunya test. Similarly to above, reliability issues throughout testing have caused a lot of lost time however Brawn and Rosberg seem optimistic (but cautious). Posting four of the quickest six adjusted times shows this car has a lot of pace, particularly when compared to the teams who were chasing them last year (Sauber, Williams etc.).
The degradation issues of last year look improved, the degradation appeared to be relatively controlled and in line with other teams such as Williams. This is a huge step forward and may be all the difference between points and podiums/wins so there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Currently Sauber look the best outside the top five Sauber has pace although it wasn't quite good enough for a top 20 adjusted time. They've steadily gone about their work completing a lot of aero runs. The third fastest time of the test by Hulkenberg shows that this car is relatively quick.
Overall the degradation was positive especially in shorter runs where the car was able to keep up a fast pace across multiple laps. This may give them an advantage come qualifying should conditions allow it. Overall Sauber should be fairly happy although they may be disappointed they have not shown any real evidence of catching the five teams ahead.
The Force India looks like a reasonable evolution of last years car. According to trackside spectators there is nothing spectacular about how this car attacks the corners and it looks 'solid'. Due to the stability in the regulations solid is unlikely to be good enough and the early signs are that Force India are going to struggle to fight for points finishes throughout the season. Degradation was fairly reasonable although there were signs that the car struggled over both long runs and intense shorter term runs too. Overall it's very tough to read into Force India's performance as it was so understated.
The Williams was unveiled at the start of the test so it took them a bit of time to get settled into consistent running. The signs so far are very mixed from Williams, there is certainly a great deal of optimism from the drivers and the team however the data hasn't yet showed anything spectacular.
Analysis of the long runs from the Williams drivers puts them (roughly) 90 seconds behind the Lotus and the Red Bull which is unlikely to be satisfactory for the team. I think there's plenty more to come from Williams and they may have something hidden up their sleeves.
The Toro Rosso once again seems like one of the worst cars on the grid so there may be further Q1 exits early in the season. Trackside observers say the car looks noticeably worse than some of their competitors and the teams at the top. However one of the huge positives is the degradation which seems to be second only to Lotus at the moment. This will mean Toro Rosso may need to be in the position to make rapid progress through the race to score points. It would be nice to see what pace the Toro Rosso can bring to the table, their own programme was fairly different to the other teams (no long runs) so it's hard to make meaningful comparisons.
Most have agreed that the Caterham is the worst car on the grid at the moment. This is unfortunate as both Caterham and Marussia were hoping to make that jump to the back of the midfield. This seems very unlikely now and it's hard to see how each team will continue to fight after a further potential deficit opening to the midfield. Hopefully for the sake of keeping eleven teams in F1 they start making good progress.
Yet there is still next weeks test so I hope by the end of pre-season testing Caterham and Marussia will be in a better position as it's sad to see the two teams struggling year-after-year.
Testing certainly isn't conclusive at the moment but there were a few small surprises (Ferrari and McLaren's issues and the potential improvement made by the Mercedes). Next week's test will be very interesting!
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