BMW have had trouble getting their new F1.08 up to speed, and the car has sprouted some unusual extra wings on its nose.
On the other hand Williams’s new FW30 looked quick straight out of the box – an encouraging sign for the team.
Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were in the top three times on each of the three days at Valencia this week – although the fastest time of the test went to Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren.
Not only was the Ferrari quick over single laps, but the drivers seemed able to run longer stints with consistently rapid times as well.
Massa was fastest on Tuesday and Raikkonen quickest on Thursday. Between them they put 570 laps on the F2008. The team gave little information on what their testing programme consisted of beyond testing set-ups and improving reliability.
Last year [at this stage] things seemed better to me. Last year the balance was there quicker and we were more where we expected to be.
But I cannot yet say this car is worse, because I think we know what areas we have to work on. We are quite confident that by Melbourne we will be able to be where we scheduled ourselves to be.
Any hint of negativity at these stages on is pounced on as signs of major weaknesses, but that may not be the case. Heidfeld was quick to point out that he did not think the car had a fundamental balance problem: “In a car it’s never optimal. You always have understeer or oversteer, otherwise it would be perfect.”
It was Marko Asmer’s time in last year’s car on Tuesday that prompted these questions. Asmer’s 1’13.669 (ninth overall) edged Heidfeld’s 1’13.779 (11th). Heidfeld encountered a few technical problems, but still did 80 laps. He switched to the interim F1.07B for the next two days while Robert Kubica took over the F1.08.
It was only on the final day of the test that the 2008 car appeared above last year’s machine on the time sheets, Kubica setting a 1’12.095. The team will continue testing at the Circuit de Catalunya next week with some new parts on the car. One outward sign of the car’s development and the intricate work that goes into refining its aerodynamics were the innovative wings on the nose of the F1.08, aping the ‘Viking wings’ next to the airbox (see pictures).
Renault had its new R28 on-track – but its official launch will be next week. Hopefully Renault will address the fact that their livery is the most appalling eyesore on the grid.
Foggy weather held up the team’s progress on the first day but once that had cleared they got down to work. Technical director Bob Bell said: “the car ran pretty much trouble-free – that is about as good a first day as you can expect with a new car.”
Fernando Alonso had the use of the only Renault at the test from Monday (when only Williams and Renault were on-track) to Wednesday. Nelson Piquet Jnr took over on Thursday and was six-tenths down on Alonso’s fastest time of 1’12.360 after having a spin.
Back in the day, unscrupulous cash-strapped teams would run extra-light cars in testing in a bid to wow potential sponsors with their pre-season pace. It’s not the sort of thing that goes on any more, so when Nico Rosberg took their brand new Williams-Toyota FW30 and went third fastest on its first day, everyone sat up and took notice.
Predictably enough the team was keen not to get carried away. Patrick Head said: “The car is better and faster than last year’s. But we can still see there is a good gap between Ferrari and ourselves, so we have got a lot of work to do”
Kazuki Nakajima had to make do with a 2007-spec Williams for the first two days of the test and was two-tenths quicker than Rosberg on Wednesday. Nakajima was fourth quickest on Thursday when he got his first taste of the new car.
Nico Hülkenberg had shaken down the FW30 at the track on Monday. The car ran in the second of the team’s interim liveries.
The new car has a zero keel arrangement at the front with a three plane front wing and revised sidepods which include the new-for-2008 heightened cockpit sides. Technical director Sam Michael said:
Our focus has been on performance as well as refining our packaging and weight distribution. We are designing a tidier car with a higher standard of build quality. The FW30 should represent a good step forward when all of the many small areas of attention and improvement are brought together in the overall package.
In the past two seasons Mark Webber has suffered more unreliability than any other F1 driver. Perhaps he was being a little hasty when he climbed out of the cockpit of the new RB4 on Wednesday and said: “It seems to be a big step forward from last year in terms of reliability and speed, which is great.”
On Thursday, the inevitable happened. The team discovered kerb damage on the monocoque, and poor Webber was restricted to 15 laps’ running. The team completed fewer kilometres than anyone else at Valencia, except Super Aguri who were not present.
However that has been the only sign of car trouble so far for the team. David Coulthard did 70 laps in the car on Tuesday and was 13th overall, 1.8s slower than Massa who was fastest that day.
Webber did a 1’12.594 on Wednesday to put him eighth, 1.5s slower than fastest man Kovalainen. But he must have been hitting the kerbs hard when he did it…
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari
Toro Rosso completed a substantial amount of mileage in their 2007-spec car they will begin the season with. Sebastian Vettel ran into technical trouble on Wednesday but was able to complete his mileage allocation the following day, as the last session was extended by ten minutes due to the large number of red flags – two of which were caused by the Toro Rosso drivers.
Vettel’s 1’12.526 on that last day was the team’s best, putting them eighth.
Toyota were the only team apart from McLaren and Ferrari to have two examples of their 2008 car running on all three days of the test. Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock covered 500 laps in the new car and had similarly underwhelming sentiments about the car:
Trulli: “I am pretty happy with what we have achieved but we know there is still room for improvement.”
Glock: “We tried several different set-ups and we are pretty happy with the results.”
Chief engineer Dieter Gass was not worried about the team’s performance relative to the competition at this stage, saying:
As usual in testing, it is very difficult to assess comparative speed because we do not know what fuel levels the other teams were running but we are comfortable with our performance.
Only on the third day of the test did the team break into the top ten times, with Trulli seventh (1’12.109) and Glock tenth (1’12.705) after a mechanical problem.
Toyota will be testing at Bahrain next week, with Ferrari, while the other teams test at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Honda appeared at a test for the first time in 2008 and had the new RA.108 with them – a car that carries a substantial weight of expectation following their problems with last year’s car. It ran in a plain white livery with only Honda and Bridgestone logos.
The car differs outwardly in many ways from its predecessor – notably in the raised nose and substantially revised barge boards, side pods and engine covers. As with most teams the definitive aerodynamics specification will probably only appear shortly before the first race.
Rubens Barrichello shook the new car down on Wednesday, then Jenson Button took over to cover 80 laps on Thursday. The car’s times were consistently among the slowest, but Barrichello said:
I’m certain that this car is better than the 2007 one also because it’s difficult to do worse. You could quite easily say it is better than the other one. That is not so difficult as the other one was tremendously bad.
There are small issues like temperature here and there, the small bits we deal with in shaking down a new car. The initial feeling is okay, not bad. We will see what happens.
Meanwhile the team also ran its interim car with Alexander Wurz on board on Tuesday. He was slowest of all – his place in the car (and at the bottom of the time sheets) was then taken by Formula Dream driver Takashi Kogure for the next two days.
Force India F1 Team
Test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi was only faster than Wurz on Tuesday, with a 1’15.095. Adrian Sutil managed a 1’13.409 on Wednesday.
Giancarlo Fisichella was half a second faster than that on the final day, when he tested new set-ups, dampers, and the new standard engine control unit. He was unable to do a new tyre run at the end of the day due to a mechanical problem.
The 2008 car won’t be ready until February 25th, 18 days before the Australian Grand Prix weekend starts.
On the two days 2008 driver pairing Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton were in the cars, Kovalainen’s fastest times were substantially quicker than Hamiltons – by 1s on Wednesday and 0.8s on Thursday.
Whether this is indicative of a substantial gap in performance between the drivers is hard to tell at this stage. Hamilton’s test involved running an engine well beyond a two-race lifespan, and it stopped one hour before the end of the final test day.
Kovalainen set the fastest time of the weekend on Wednesday, stopping the clocks at exactly 1’11.000. The team’s cars were in the top five throughout the test and they seem close to Ferrari on pace – but perhaps not close enough.
Valencia testing mileage, 21-24 January 2008
=1 Williams-Toyota – 598 laps / 2394 kilometres
=1 McLaren-Mercedes – 598 laps / 2394 kilometres
3 Ferrari – 575 laps / 2302 kilometres
4 Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 557 laps / 2230 kilometres
5 Toyota – 518 laps / 2074 kilometres
6 BMW – 421 laps / 1686 kilometres
7 Renault – 332 laps / 1329 kilometres
8 Force India-Ferrari – 260 laps / 1041 kilometres
9 Honda – 230 laps / 921 kilometres
10 Red Bull-Renault – 184 laps / 736 kilometres
Some of the lap times published by teams may differ from those quoted above. I have relied on the independent lap times provided by Autosport.com.
Photos copyright: Williams / LAT | Ferrari S.p.A. | BMW | Williams / LAT | Toyota F1 Media | HondaF1Racing.com | Force India
More 2008 F1 testing reports