Trying to get a read on the performance of each of the teams from testing is fraught with problems. At this stage the top teams appear to be close on pace – perhaps even closer than last year.
And nobody appears to be going through the trauma that gripped Ferrari 12 months ago, when Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa discovered the F2012 was well off the pace.
As is always the way in F1 testing, no one will show their hand until they feel they have to. Keep an eye out for teams to start running their aerodynamic packages for the first race towards the end of the test.
“When you’ve got a new car you obviously aim for the last couple of days in Barcelona should be running Melbourne-spec,” said Williams technical director Mike Coughlan at the track last week.
In recent years we’ve become used to seeing Red Bull go to considerable lengths to cover up their car when they start running their new aero parts, ducking behind carefully-arranged screens.
This year they’ve had the screens in use since the first test at Jerez. Photographers who creep too close can expect a glowering glare from team manager Jonathan Wheatley, followed by a readjustment of screens and personnel to obscure their view.
But it’s not just the world champions who are under scrutiny from their rivals. McLaren mechanics were spotted shooing away a Lotus team member as he snapped pictures of the rear of their MP4-28.
McLaren produced the quickest time of last week’s test, Sergio Perez setting a 1’21.848. That was just 0.027s faster than Ferrari’s best effort.
Headline times like these can be misleading: The troublesome F2012 was the second-fastest car at last year’s Jerez test. Yet there is a sense of relief at Ferrari that the F138 is clearly a better base to build on than its predecessor, and an expectation that they can have a much better season.
Lotus, too, appear confident in their E21. Their testing has been hampered by a few technical and operational problems, but providing these are ironed out in the next few days they look set for a good start to the season.
Kimi Raikkonen has been disproportionately affected by this – he is the only driver to have covered less than 1,000km over four days, and team mate Romain Grosjean has managed almost 500km more. However Raikkonen is probably the last driver on the grid who would be concerned about missing a chance to go testing.
Mercedes have also had a few glitches with their W04. The car appears to be quite conservative but after their recent efforts that may well prove to be a benefit. They did little running on the soft tyres last week and so their performance is likely to be better than the lap times indicate.
Sauber are Toro Rosso are plugging away with cars which are much-changed from their predecessors. Caterham and Marussia still look to be a second or more off the midfield pace.
The teams’ attempts to perform long run tests have been frustrated by the cool conditions and the levels of degradation experienced with the new 2013-specification tyres. However that is expected to be less of a problem once the season begins.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery explained: “At this stage of testing it is always difficult for the teams and drivers to know what to expect from the first race as conditions are not always representative.
“Past experience from the last two years shows a big reduction in tyre degradation over the course of the season: roughly half the degradation seen in winter testing. This year, we think that degradation will be higher than it was in 2012, and we estimate a degradation rate of around 0.15 to 0.18 seconds per lap in race conditions for the hard compound in Barcelona.”
While most teams are concentrating on tyres and car development some are still trying to sort out their driver line-up. The late completion of the 2013 driver line-up, along with the disappearance of one team over the winter, is another sign of the sport’s poor financial health.
Whoever Force India choose to put in their car this year they will have spent at least two of their twelve pre-season test days running a non-race driver. Although some of that was given to simulator driver James Rossiter, it is still less than ideal.
The situation at Marussia is also uncertain. Luiz Razia was announced as Max Chilton’s team mate but didn’t turn a wheel last week amid rumours over his sponsorship package.
Final decisions on who will be driving for those two teams can’t be left much later. The final test begins in less than 24 hours.
2013 testing statistics
Barcelona test one fastest times by team
|5||Red Bull||Sebastian Vettel||1’22.197||0.349||Soft|
|8||Force India||Adrian Sutil||1’22.877||1.029||Soft|
|9||Toro Rosso||Jean-Eric Vergne||1’23.366||1.518||Soft|
|11||Caterham||Giedo van der Garde||1’26.177||4.329||Soft|
Barcelona test one fastest times by driver
|5||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1’22.197||0.349||Soft|
|12||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1’22.877||1.029||Soft|
|13||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1’23.024||1.176||Medium|
|14||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1’23.366||1.518||Soft|
|15||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1’23.718||1.870||Medium|
|16||Paul di Resta||Force India||1’23.971||2.123||Medium|
|19||Jules Bianchi||Force India||1’25.732||3.884||Medium|
|20||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1’26.177||4.329||Soft|
Distance completed by driver
|Driver||Total laps||Total distance (km)|
|Paul di Resta||384||1,733.040|
|Giedo van der Garde||295||1,338.721|
|Pedro de la Rosa||51||225.828|
Distance completed by team
|Team||Model||Total laps||Total distance (km)|
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Images ?é?® Lotus/LAT, Jamey Price/James Moy