Sunday, 10 March 2013

Circuit de Catalunya (28/02/2013-03/03/2013) Test Analysis

With pre-season coming to a close we were hoping for some shocking headline times and plenty of long-runs, what we got was something a bit different. The general consensus is that the field is closing up but let's look at some of the data and assess how each team looks going into the new season.

I've chosen to concentrate primarily on day three as the dry conditions gave the most reliable data. Still to give a fair overview I've also looked at the afternoons of day one and two. Unfortunately the website I use which provides the raw data to calculate both fastest adjusted laps and tyre degradation wasn't working on the last crucial day. Apologies in advance but from the seven days of testing we have more than enough data to analyse. Some parts of day four will still be considered but accurate and detailed comparison can't be made. I'll finish my analysis by comparing the conclusions found in this post to the conclusions I reached in the first test.

Fastest Adjusted Times

Looking at the 20 fastest adjusted times for the first test gives a feeling of Mercedes and Ferrari dominance. Still does this mean they'll be right at the front in Australia? Perhaps not. As Pitpass explains the testing results are not that important. Testing isn't really about posting fast laps and other teams, especially Red Bull, have not attempted runs with 20-30kg of fuel in. Historically they have run 70kg as a baseline level which is worth about 3 seconds. 

These are the overall best adjusted times:

Note: There is a lack of clarity on Hamilton's time above (80.817), the compound has been listed as medium but the adjustment is only for the fuel adjustment (not the tyre difference between the soft and medium).

The adjusted times take into account the 0.5 second difference between each tyre compound (except between the soft and supersoft) and the fuel adjustment not including in or out laps. Unfortunately due to the problems on day four of the second test I've been unable to make the same fuel adjustment. However since all of the times in the table above would have been set on 1-2 lap stints fuel adjustment is not as relevant.

The majority of fastest times for the other teams were also set on the last day of testing (see below) so it's unfortunate that the data is not available as having access to stint lengths would aid comparison between them.

3 ButtonMcLaren 1m21.444s  +1.314
4 HulkenbergSauber 1m21.541s  +1.411
5 RaikkonenLotus 1m21.658s  +1.528
6 di RestaForce India 1m21.664s  +1.534

Overall what we've learnt is that the Mercedes appears to be a quicker car than the Ferrari. This takes into account both short and long stints performed throughout the two tests. Mercedes have often been quicker although the obvious factors, such as different programmes and different baseline fuel levels, cloud exact comparison. 

However it's difficult to read too much into this as Ferrari have not brought their final aerodynamic package to testing, instead choosing to wait until Australia where they bring the first part of an aggressive early development push. Ferrari remain confident on scoring strong results at the start of the season and have been encouraged by on-track performance and its correlation to their windtunnel.

"Our work in the windtunnel is an element that gives us faith in the area of aerodynamics, where 90 per cent of the performance comes from, so we can work with a certain calmness" - Stefan Domenicali, Ferrari Team Principal.

We've covered Mercedes and Ferrari but it's worth noting that Lotus, Red Bull and McLaren have not attempted low fuel stints. This makes comparison of the short runs more difficult. Red Bull and McLaren have historically tested with high fuel levels and this continues to hold true. What is striking that the 21st fastest fuel adjusted time was Vettel on the first day of the Catalunya test. Look at the circumstances of this run and you can easily envisage the Red Bull running a low 1:19. Lotus and McLaren have yet to show such promising pace. However some of the longer stints, particularly from Lotus, really stand-out. 

Long run pace is often decided by the degradation experienced so let's now analysis that.

Tyre Degradation

The reduced running time in dry conditions means the data sample is quite small so we need to isolate specific runs and identify patterns between teams. Another issue is that with unfinished packages and cooler temperatures than those that the teams will experience in Australia and Malaysia there's only so much we can read into these drop-offs over stints.

Like last week I've broken down down the stints into different categories:

2-5 laps, under 86 seconds first lap
2-5 laps, over 86 seconds last lap
6+, under 86 seconds first lap
6+, over 86 seconds last lap

Each of these will be analysed where possible to the different tyre compounds.

Most of the runs fall into the first two categories. There was quite a lot of tactic variation within the 2-5 laps as each team worked differently to extract performance; still some similarities could be seen. Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren each ran a fast lap followed by a slower lap before increasing the speed again. I've adjusted these stints to remove the slow lap, taking this into account provides some marked conclusions.


McLaren's stint starting with a 82.6 second lap was very strong giving up only 1.06 seconds per lap on the softer compound. Red Bull and Toro Rosso also did well but since their stints were long and less aggressive the result is almost to be expected.
One of the Lotus runs was arguably the best of all the stints as they only dropped 1.9 seconds over 2 laps (with a starting time in the mid 83s). This type of stint is very encouraging and shows some definite promise for Lotus.

Not every result was so positive and there are some worries from the second test for Mercedes. The large amount of degradation experienced in the shorter runs could show some troubles ahead for the team. The four stints that were run on the soft tyres all ranged between 1.88 and 2.3 seconds drop-off per lap across 3-4 lap stints. This data reflects a worryingly consistent level of degradation. However it's worth noting that, in each of these stints, Mercedes were significantly faster than the other teams which may go a long way to explaining the difference. The other mitigating factor is each of these runs was on day three so specific daily circumstances or driving styles may have affected the results. Nico Rosberg's runs on day four drew praise from other drivers.

"Nico had a great final day of testing in his Mercedes, which shows how dangerous he and Lewis will be in the future." - Sebastian Vettel, reigning F1 champion.

Some good news for Ferrari fans is that Ferrari posted equally fast times to Mercedes but experienced much better degradation. Though this could have been because they only ran for 2 laps. All-in-all Ferrari's degradation was consistently better in the second test when compared to the first test. This agrees with the 'cold tear' theory put forward here after the last analysis. The Ferrari certainly seemed more comfortable, especially on day three in the warmer conditions. It will be interesting to see how this carries over to very hot conditions but in all likelihood the Ferrari will look good. 


The Mercedes came alive on the medium runs between 8-10 laps where the starting laps were quicker, the average drop-off during these laps was 0.3 seconds per stint over the 4 stints - 3 of which started in the 1:24s. The only point of comparisons over these type of runs were the McLarens who also ran 3 stints, this time averaging a drop-off of 0.66 seconds. The Mercedes therefore seemed to be better on the mediums. 

However this trend seems to be reversed on the slower and long medium runs, where the McLaren was stronger. The runs from Toro Rosso and Force India can be discounted as they started off so slowly (in the 1:30s), these were clearly laps performed around a specific slow delta.

The runs from the other three teams were all below this mark, starting between 1:26.0 and 1:28.5 so are more comparable. Only Massa's run experienced gradual degradation. The McLaren and Mercedes attempted to slow down their runs after the initial fast laps and got faster as the stint went on. What this proves is that different teams are going about their testing programmes in subtly different ways. I think the Mercedes drop-off of 0.3 seconds is more representative so that certainly looks good.

Hard and Unknown

There were few runs on hard tyres or long runs. However there were plenty of short stints on unknown tyres (where I've been unable to find out compound information), obviously this isn't a perfect comparison as compounds vary so much but looking at general averages can sometimes be helpful.

Again this backs up the theory that Lotus are very good with tyre degradation. These unknown runs all began in the 1:23-1:24's so were quick from the offset. Similarly Force India's degradation looked strong in their one run which began in the 1:23's. 

Ferrari had several runs beginning in the 1:21-1:23's. In particular a 3-lap stint starting in the 1:22's only saw 0.26 seconds of drop-off per lap which is impressive. It's stints like this which give Ferrari genuine cause for optimism ahead of the new year. 

Ultimately teams like Red Bull and Williams looked a little underwhelming across all of these runs. Their degradation was generally higher, across all of the runs, than some of their competitors. The Toro Rosso stints were all longer stints (towards 4-5 laps) and appear to be on softs or supersofts when comparing to their previous stints so it would be best to ignore their lowly position on the table above.


In truth the picture is very cloudy; the lack of data, the changing conditions from day-to-day and the different programmes run by teams means any conclusions drawn on tyre degradation are slightly suspect at best. What we can say though is that Lotus are still probably looking best, especially on the longer stints. 

Pecking Order?

Despite eight days of testing there is still significant doubt over the pecking order. This is due to the weather and the different testing programmes, leading to one of the most inconclusive testing periods in recent F1 history. However analysing the data we have been able to gather some crucial insights.

Taking everything into account, short and long run pace plus tyre degradation I would give the following pecking order:

Red Bull > Lotus > Mercedes > Ferrari > McLaren > Sauber > Williams > Force India > Toro Rosso > Marussia > Caterham

This is actually fairly similar to my first analysis. I still feel that Red Bull are the best car and McLaren are outside of the top four (if only because of their lack of consistency). The Sauber looks the best of the rest although Williams have yet to show what they're capable of.

It's important to state how close the top teams are (within 0.5 seconds) and there is definitely uncertainty about which team will arrive to Australia in best shape. Each team also has its own strengths and weaknesses which are summarised below. 

Constructors Report

Red Bull
Pace: A
Degradation: B
Reliability: A

Red Bull have played their cards close to their chests. In terms of fuel adjusted times they were only 21st. What is clear from watching the car, and some of the times Webber was posting on day one in tricky conditions, is that this car has huge quantities of downforce. Also the balance on the car appears favourable to its nearest competitors, suffering from neither the snappiness in the rear of the Ferrari or the understeer of the McLaren. The reliability on the car is fantastic, issues were few and far between during testing so I expect another relatively blemish-free campaign from the RB9.

Overall you can expect the Red Bull to be right at the front of the first race. They're working from an existing (evolutionary base) like Ferrari and Lotus and it would be a monumental surprise not to see a Red Bull in the first two rows in Australia. 

Pace: A-
Degradation: B-
Reliability: A-

Ferrari set some impressive times during pre-season testing however they have struggled to match Mercedes in this category. This may be resolved by their early season development push. The long runs were pretty variable and there are still small issues that need to be resolved across the board e.g. the degradation again doesn't look as good as it needs to be, perhaps due to the colder conditions experienced in Catalunya. The Ferrari is clearly a quick car but I'll put my neck on the line to say that it won't be the pacesetter in Australia or on the front row of the grid.

Ferrari would be happy with a podium from Australia and they may have a reasonable chance with Alonso at the helm. Many people have touted Ferrari as a ready title contender but unless they can bring crucial performance to Melbourne and hold it throughout the season I feel a repeat of last season won't happen.

Pace: B+
Degradation: B+
Reliability: B

Fast one minute, slow the next. There's ample evidence to suggest the McLaren is behind the other four title contenders.The lack of dry weather running has caused issues for McLaren. Ideally when designing a revolutionary car (they've changed from a push-rod system to a pull-rod system) you'd get as much running as possible but this hasn't happened. With Button being notoriously unsuited to unpredictable cars and Perez recently arrived you'd expect the McLaren to struggle with this level of inconsistency and doubt.

I think it's unreasonable to expect anything too great from McLaren in Australia, qualifying on the third row of the grid and scoring double digits points is a reasonable expectation. The pace, degradation and reliability have all been good but far too inconsistent. 

Pace: A-
Degradation: A+
Reliability: C

The only real problem experienced by Lotus during the two tests is the multiple reliability issues experienced by Kimi Raikkonen. The other issue is whether Lotus have the ultimate one lap pace, they haven't attempted fast laps like the Mercedes and Ferrari so it's hard to ultimately conclude where they'll be on the grid. Despite this the longer runs have looked very positive. However this is down, in part, to the excellent tyre degradation seen on the Lotus. They are certainly the leaders of the field in this regard.

What does this mean for Melbourne? They will hope to emulate Grosjean's excellent third place qualifying position although this will be difficult. In the race they'll hope to be in contention for a podium position.

Pace: A
Degradation: B
Reliability: B

The Mercedes has easily been the most surprising car during pre-season testing. They've posted the quickest and most consistent laps throughout. Mercedes and Hamilton fans will be hoping that this isn't false optimism. Still the long runs on the Mercedes have looked pretty stable and the balance on the car has been nothing like last year. Nico Rosberg claimed that the overheating of the rear tyres is in the past which was one of the major issues for Mercedes last season. Things are definitely heading in the right direction and the one-lap pace of the Mercedes will put them in contention for the front row/second row come Australia.

The big concern going into this season is erasing the operational blemishes from last season and coping with tyre degradation in hotter conditions. These are still question marks and are the only reasons that I'm not predicting greater things for Mercedes.

Pace: B
Degradation: A-
Reliability:  B

Sauber have been relatively understated throughout testing. A lot of their focus has been on managing the tyres and running to a relatively slow and consistent delta to reduce tyre degradation. In the first four days of testing in the first Catalunya test over half of their stints ended up faster than they started. What does this tell us? They've probably learnt a lot about managing the tyres. This should make them stronger in the race and they'll hope to stop less than the rest of the field. This could be especially relevant if the Pirelli's degrade as quickly as the media have been predicting.

The Sauber has also showed glimpses of speed, finishing third fastest in the first week of testing at Catalunya and finishing fourth on the final day of testing.  Sauber will look to score points and may be in a tight battle with Force India and Williams throughout the season.

Force India
Pace: B-
Degradation: A-
Reliability: A

The one thing you can say about the Force India is that it's a very reliable car. The team have approached testing in a methodical style and the car looks solid. However the big question is whether or not it looks spectacular. Can the Force India challenge for big points? The answer is probably no, they don't look like they can do anything that will rival the top peformers and I can't see them rising to the heights of Hulkenberg's performance in Brazil or the Williams victory at Catalunya. I could be proven wrong but I believe that the Force India will be a semi-consistent points scorer and no more this season.

However big aerodynamic updates in Australia may solve their issue and the good base + increased speed may allow this team to achieve better things. First they need to focus on adding the raw performance before this team can outperform its previous seasons outings. 

Pace: B-
Degradation: C
Reliability: A-

Williams have been very positive about their latest challenger (claiming that they are not ruling out wins) but I still think it's too early to judge their efforts.This may be because of their testing approach, like the Red Bull's they have not attempted many short runs where the full pace is on show. Plus since they launched later than the other ten teams I think they have primarily been focusing on gathering data and understanding the car.

Overall the lack of evidence makes Williams a difficult one to judge but there's no reason why they can't do well this year. Although they've received a B- for pace this could easily have been higher had their programme been different. We shall have to wait and see.

Toro Rosso
Pace: C+
Degradation: A-
Reliability: A

Like the Force India, the Toro Rosso is a very solid car. Both its degradation and reliability have been consistently notable during testing. The major pitfall of the car is the lack of outright pace, it has also looked more unstable than the others. All this adds up to one of their two drivers at least suffering a Q1 exit in Australia. All of the midfield teams are looking to consistently fight for points. One of the midfield teams is going to miss out and it may be Toro Rosso, despite the improvements made from last year.

Pace: E+
Degradation: C-
Reliability: B

The Caterham appears to be the worst car in the field now, according to some track observers the car looks like a real handful especially in wet conditions. They've fared better in degradation than Marussia but have struggled for pace. Will Pic and Van der Garde be able to turn it around in Australia? It's going to be a close, season-long battle with Marussia but there can only be one winner.

Pace: D
Degradation: D
Reliability: C+

Marussia appear to have fallen further behind the midfield although they look like they've jumped Caterham which could be crucial for their future F1 participation. However the degradation on the Marussia looks particularly bad with over 2 seconds a lap drop-off on some of their fastest stints.

Overall the car has looked slow but solid. The introduction of KERS will help in its battle for 10th but the loss of Glock will hurt the team. Bianchi looks like a decent prospect though. It's hard to expect too much from Marussia; expecting anything more than a 10th place battle with Caterham would be too much.

Do you agree with this analysis? Please leave a comment below with your opinions.

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