Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Analysis of Barcelona test and Bahrain...

Well, it has been a week since my last post on here. Originally it was for no other reason than to see what would happen in a week, then write about it - and what a week it's been! Still with me on this?!...

So lets start with the most recent news - Bahrain and more specifically, the cancellation of it!
Since the inaugural Australian GP in 1985, the race has traditionally been the curtain faller - as in the original venue Adelaide,  or the curtain raiser since 1996 in Melbourne. Twice however, the year has started in Bahrain and I for one, never liked that.
There was always something in the process of getting up in the middle of  the night to watch events from the Southern Hemisphere and the Aussies have always known how to put on a show to remember. Can anyone recall the same around the deserts of Bahrain? Thought not.
Anyway, I'm not going to go into too much detail about this as this is to be the subject of my Full Throttle column this Thursday so instead I am going to focus on the  recent Barcelona test...

So, what can we deduce from the four days? Well, in my opinion, the teams assessment is thus:

Red Bull - the RB7 looks stable and fast on both heavy and light fuel loads and about 1.5s - 2s per lap quicker than anything other than Ferrari.

Ferrari - Alonso is playing the cautious approach but knows that the staggering amount of mileage the team is putting the F150th Italia through, and the pace of it generally, should stand him in good stead to claim a potential third world title.

McLaren - Had lunch with Jonathan Neale last Friday (again, see Full Throttle for more) and he was cautious about the teams initital performance at Jerez, was more confident of progression through the Barcelona test and hopeful new developments would prove a success.
Ultimately though,  the MP4-26 does seem around 1.5-2s off the pace and Button had this to say after his run in the new car at the end of day two in Barcelona:
"We are not doing as many laps as we would like. The most laps we've done I think it was yesterday with 77 laps. But we are testing a new car so we are a lot of mileage down on most teams." 
As an admirer of McLaren and an un-biased fan of the sport, one hopes they rectify the cars handling and reliability issues when the season gets underway in Melbourne on 27th March.

Renault - Enjoyed a successful test, confirming Nick Heidfeld as Kubica's replacement and concentrated on a varied programme but continued putting miles on the clock, and the car looks fast too. Perhaps a debut win for Heidfeld in 2011?...

Mercedes GP - I'll let Nico Rosberg talk for me:
"For sure we still have some problems, but it's going in the right direction. Today (Day 3 in Barcelona) we learned a lot and made some progress, so things are improving. It was expected that we would be struggling in the winter because the car is built mainly to test reliability and it's not there for performance. The performance is going to come in the next few weeks and then we have to wait and see where we are."
But really he's thinking: "Shit! What have they given me to drive this year?! The car has no performance and hasn't proved reliable - they better f***ing sort it soon !"
The team reamins confident that the upgrades it will fit on the car for the first time,  at the Australian GP will push it further up the grod and allow both Rosberg and Schumacher to fight for wins, others though, including myself, are not so sure...

Williams - Launching their new livery this Thursday, they have shrink-wrapped the rear end of the FW33 so tightly that they have generated envy from many rivals who find it hard to believe it possible. The car has endured reliability issues but in the hands of Barrichello, it certainly negotiates the corners a lot better than it's predecessor did so there is the chance of regular points for the Grove concern.

Sauber - Some excursions for both Kobayashi and Perez haven't helped and both have failed to register any attention-grabbing laptimes which suggests another mediocre car from the Swiss team this year...

Force India - Paul di Resta and  Adrian Sutil have both set competitive lap times against Williams and Sauber but it is hard to tell if they are quick enough to break out of the midfield yet...

Team Lotus - They have what seems to be the basis of a sound car but have been blighted by a lack of replacements when they are needed most. It appears that whenever the car has an excursion or mechanical failure, the damaged/faulty component is the one item they have but one of! Note to team: Carry spares...

Virgin - Car hasn't set the world alight and there is much to suggest the car has clawed some of the 3s gap to the more established teams but the jury is still out on how close it,  and Team Lotus are to the likes of Force India, Sauber and Williams.

HRT - Have been topping the timing sheets and look set to dominate this year a la McLaren in 1988 and will probably win practically every single race!
Sorry,  just woken up...
There's not much to say on the exploits of this joke of a so-called Formula 1 team, so I won't...

Anyway, Bahrain testing is cancelled so now we are to head back to Barcelona before heading out to Australia for the first race of the year, as it should be...

Till next time...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Analysis of Jerez test

Well, the Formula One circus has left Jerez and is set to decamp one last time in Spain on Friday at Barcelona. Many teams will be testing new components and trying to get in as much mileage as possible with the start of  the season but weeks away.

As ever, we can never judge testing times with a large degree of accuracy but a close look at the number of laps each driver completes in any single run, and the consistency of their laps times, then comparing those with others of similar programmes, does begin to show a blurred picture.

As they did in Valencia last week, Ferrari looked strong again in Jerez with both Alonso and Massa setting competitive fuel-laden times as the team continue to explore the capabilities of the F150th Italia. Alonso declared himself content with the progress being made and is confident the team can hit the ground running in Bahrain for the first race of the year.

Red Bull? Well, they haven't set the timing screens alight in either of the first two tests yet neither defending champion Vettel or Webber, appear to be concerned. The drivers have been very consistent with their lap times over medium and heavy fuel loads and general consensus is that they are there or thereabouts with Ferrari.

The concern at down at Maranello - and the F1 paddock for that matter, is that Christian Horner and Adrian Newey - team boss and chief designer respectively, have told their drivers to withhold the true performance of the car so far.

With that in mind, is it not unreasonable to imagine that come the Barcelona test on Friday - a circuit which historically highlights any aerodynamic deficiencies with a car, Red Bull are going to unleash the sleeping beast that is the RB7?

Unlikely to produce a similar performance from their latest offering, McLaren appear to be struggling with the MP4-26 with both Button and Hamilton complaining of a lack of balance with the car. reliability issues have stemmed the teams planned programmes and resulted in less track time and  thus a subsequent loss of valuable data. Updates are due for the car in Barcelona and the 2008 and 2009 champions will both be hoping the new additions will enable them to start setting competitive lap times - otherwise they could be playing catch up for most of the year...

Mercedes remain another under question as both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher experienced reliability issues at the first two tests. Although Michael was quickest on the first day of running at Jerez, team boss Ross Brawn appears unconcerned by the car's apparent lack of pace - confirming that the car being tested now will not be the one raced in Bahrain next month.
"We made a deliberate decision towards the end of last year to have a very 'plain' car for the first tests and a significant upgrade for the first race in Bahrain," he said on the team’s official website.

Renault were apparently pleased with Nick Heidfeld's audition on Saturday and it is expected he will  be announced officially as Robert Kubica's replacement imminently.

Williams have had KERS and other reliability issues but it was pleasing to see Barrichello topping the times on the final day in Jerez.

Team Lotus managed to get some serious running in with the T128 and the  car has been described by both Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalinen as being 'a massive improvement' over last years car so the team look likely to start nipping at the heels of the other midfield runners aside from Williams.

Which beings us onto Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso - all of whom experienced similar lap times and final positions over the four days in Jerez and especially with drivers having minor excursions into the gravel traps.

Virgin were confident they had closed the  gap to the more established teams but the jury is still out on that assumption and as for HRT, well what can one say? Nothing in fact, as they haven't done anything other than release pictures of their 2011 challenger. While the car is likely to be as fast as a bus, at least they have improved the car's livery somewhat but that won't count for anything when the racing starts.

So now we head to Barcelona and the penultimate test of the winter. Will it result in more questions than answers? Probably...

Whatever happens though, the picture will become a little clearer as to who has the basis of a race winning car - just pray that Red Bull doesn't let the RB7 out of its cage and allow it to rampage all over the opposition...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Heidfeld impresses Renault by ending Day 3 on top in Jerez

Make no mistake about it, Nick Heidfeld has impressed Renault and onlookers after his performance today.

Is the seat vacated by Robert Kubica's accident last Sunday now his? Surely.

Renault boss Eric Boullier has already said that the team is looking for an experienced driver and practically guaranteed the 33 year-old German the job if he impressed over the course of this test.

He declared afterwards that the day had in fact gone so well, that he was able to discuss further improvements of the R31's development with the team:

"We already started today to try and improve the car, find directions, where the problems are, where the strengths are," Heidfeld told reporters at Jerez. "I'm obviously trying to do the best job today so I can drive in the future, but I'm also just using it as a normal test and trying to develop the car.

"The car is already very different to how it was this morning, suiting my driving style a lot more. It is still not ideal - I hope there is more to come from the feeling I have – but it's a good base."

Much like an actor needing to audition for a role, Heidfeld added he was very happy with his own performance but admitted no discussions had taken place yet about the fast approaching season.

"I'm pleased with the job I did, very pleased," he said. "I don't think I could have done any better, and I didn't do any mistakes."

"I haven't discussed it yet," he said when questioned about expecting an answer from team boss Boullier. "My focus was just on today, this was what mattered. It doesn't help if you think about what they will tell you after the test. That takes the concentration away."

Bruno Senna is the teams reserve driver and is scheduled to drive tomorrow yet Boullier has already discounted the Brazilian from being experienced enough to take over from Kubica so one wonders if a press release will surface in the morning declaring Heidfeld's signature on a one year deal, and that he will be driving the car all day.

Watch this space... 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Update on morning session of Day 2 at Jerez

Morning session over with and so far, Michael Schumacher has been the surprise of the day setting a 1m20.352s lap.

Yesterday, Fillipe Massa took his Ferrari round in the low 1m20s so the Mercedes appears to have some untapped speed and though many teams are still running installation checks and not concentrating too much on low fuel run lap times, Michael's time would suggest the car has a stable foundation from which he and Rosberg can work from.

Perhaps they might be competitive after all.

Lets see what happens this afternoon - especially with Button being let loose in the McLaren...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Massa fastest on day one at Jerez

So, the first day is complete at Jerez and  what have we learned?
Not much really, is the answer.

Massa's lap today and Ferrari's all round pace from last week's test in Valencia would seem to indicate they will be strong while in their respective McLaren and Red Bull cars, Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber would appear to have untapped potential which could see them good come Bahrain next month.

Nick Heidfeld has now been given the clearest indication yet by Renault boss Eric Boullier that the drive is his to loose over the next few days as the team publicly admit they are seeking experience over youth.

Williams endured a torrid day as they encountered numerous problems with their adjustable rear wing system and Nico Rosberg looked frustrated as his Mercedes again failed to set any meaningful lap times in what was largely a frustrating day for the German marque.

Tomorrow brings with it Jenson Button in the McLaren and Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes in what look set to be the only driver alterations.

Roll on day two...

Here's the lap times from today:

Pos  Driver             Car                   Time       Gap
 1.  Felipe Massa       Ferrari               1m20.709s
 2.  Sergio Perez       Sauber-Ferrari        1m21.483s  + 0.774s
 3.  Mark Webber        Red Bull-Renault      1m21.522s  + 0.813s
 4.  Daniel Ricciardo   Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m21.755s  + 1.046s
 5.  Lewis Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes      1m21.914s  + 1.205s
 6.  Jaime Alguersuari  Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1m22.689s  + 1.980s
 7.  Adrian Sutil       Force India-Mercedes  1m23.472s  + 2.763s
 8.  Vitaly Petrov      Renault               1m23.504s  + 2.795s
 9.  Nico Rosberg       Mercedes              1m23.963s  + 3.254s
10.  Jarno Trulli       Lotus-Renault         1m24.458s  + 3.749s
11.  Timo Glock         Virgin-Cosworth       1m25.086s  + 4.377s
12.  Pastor Maldonado   Williams-Cosworth     1m34.968s  + 14.259s

All timing unofficial

Second pre-season test kicks off in Jerez, Spain

Well, now we reach Jerez in what should prove to be an exciting four days.
Robert Kubica is out of intensive care and seemingly on the road to recovery, though he still has to undergo some more operations. Fighting for the chance to fill his shoes for Renault, the team have elected to run Bruno Senna, Tonio Luizzi and Nick Heidfeld over the next few days.

Who will get the drive?

Well, Renault are seeking a driver who will develop the car so from that point of view, Heidfeld is the perfect choice. Senna, has but one year under his belt yet it must be remembered that last year's HRT was a dog of a car and so he also needs to prove his worth. Luizzi, while full with contemporary F1 experience, he was deemed not good enough to keep a seat with Force India so a suitable replacement for Kubica? Probably not...

The new McLaren looks to be decent enough after this morning's track time in Jerez with Lewis Hamilton setting competitive times but Mercedes haven' been that impressive - and that will be a concern for the German marque.

Stay tuned to www.motorsport.com for regular updates and testing reports on the day...

Monday, 7 February 2011

Update on condition of Robert Kubica

 Here's the latest on Robert's terrible accident early yesterday in Italy. Such a shame as he looked initially quite strong during the recent testing in Valencia. Looks like he's going to be out for most of 2011...

Robert Kubica underwent a seven-hour operation at the Santa Corona Hospital in Pietra Ligure this afternoon. The Lotus Renault GP driver had been diagnosed with multiple fractures to his right arm and leg following a high-speed accident at the Ronda de Andora rally this morning. He also suffered severe cuts to his forearm, which could have an impact on his right hand mobility.

Doctors are reasonably satisfied with the way the operation went. Tonight, Robert’s condition remains stable but serious. He has been placed into an induced coma and could be woken up in the morning.

Professor Mario Igor Rossello, Director for the Regional Centre of Hand Surgery at San Paolo Hospital in Savona: “It has been a very important and difficult operation. Robert Kubica’s right forearm was cut in two places, with significant lesions to the bones and the tendons. We did our best to rebuild the functions of the forearm. It took seven doctors, split into two teams and a total of seven hours to complete the operation. One team was the emergency task force from the hospital of San Paolo (Savona) that is normally appointed to treat this sort of injury, while the other team came from the orthopaedic department of the Santa Corona Hospital (Pietra Ligure). At the end of the operation, Robert’s hand was well vascularised and warm, which is encouraging. Following the surgery, Robert Kubica will remain under permanent monitoring overnight because his condition remains serious.”

Eric Boullier, Team Principal and Managing Director of Lotus Renault GP: “The news of Robert’s accident came as a real shock to the whole team. All of us, at Lotus Renault GP, wish him a quick recovery. We have been really impressed with the way the doctors looked after him today and we would like to thank the whole team of the Santa Corona Hospital for their professional approach and dedication. I will be traveling to Italy tomorrow, along with Vitaly Petrov, in order to see Robert and tell him that we are impatiently waiting for his return.”

Another update will be made tomorrow morning at 9h30, at the hospital, by Prof. Rossello and Daniel Morelli, Robert’s manager.

Here's to a safe and speedy recovery Robert.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Valencia test proves inconclusive

Well the first pre-season test is over.

The F1 circus rocked up in Spain and so began the unleashing of new cars and in the case of some team, new drivers and sponsors.

It all amounted to an interesting few days and gave us all the chance to see who looks like they have got a gem of a car and who brought the dog...

Looking forward to the next test at Jerez where the new McLaren will make it's much anticipated debut and this should, all being well, give us a clearer picture about who the likely contenders could be for this season.

Had a hectic day celebrating and organising my daughter's 6th birthday party bash at the house so not doing much today - just catching up before driving up to Leeds for the weekend. See you all on Monday with some news on the Virgin VR-02 launch hopefully, and of course the  McLaren unveiling in Berlin today - pity I couldn't go but there will be others.

Till next time...