Whenever the term testing comes up in Formula One circles the main sound heard is the moaning of the team principles that not enough time is allotted. That’s a fair assessment, as the difficulty in going from a computer simulation of the car to acceptable real track performance in such a short window must be unbearably intense. Consider that these multi-million dollar cars are like fighter aircraft that roll on the ground. How long does it take to get a new plane into service? It’s hard to imagine.
What’s even more of a challenge is to somehow read the tea leaves of performance from team to team as they watch, spy, shadow and God knows what else in order to discover where they stand with the competition. This is serious business.
Testing in groups has never really been a very accurate barometer of who has what going into a new season, however the 2012 testing has shown us, and the teams, a few things.
No matter what face Ferrari is trying to put out before the public on their performance, it’s obvious they have a complex car and it may not be a contender in the first few races. Alonso has been able to tear off a fast lap at both Jerez and at Barcelona, but even those in attendance have said this car is unstable on corner exit, mirroring some of the team’s comments. Could it be that the pull-rod suspension was a mistake? The advantage gained by using such a system is lost if you can’t balance the car’s weight. It’s a little late for a redesign.
Red Bull is still considered the favorite among the teams and pundits alike. This isn’t really based on their testing performance, but rather the last two seasons. Vettel is a very special driver, but reliability issues cropped up several times during the testing. Red Bull’s response is they’re not worried, but it’s something for everyone to think about.
McLaren has shown in full race runs that they may very well be the team that takes the Down Under Trophy. Hamilton has been able to string together a series of long runs that has put them on top where it counts- making it to the flag the quickest. It isn’t a sure thing but both Button and Hamilton have shown they’re capable of wringing the most out of the McLaren machine.
Mercedes hasn’t looked blindingly fast, but they have been steady. They apparently have a car that isn’t as finicky as last years offering. Being consistent is always a good thing in testing as it gives the engineer’s a baseline to work from and the driver’s a confident feeling. It remains to be seen if they can get the most out of their package given that updates will most certainly be added on in Australia.
Finally comes Lotus. This team has been through more evolutions than the Cambrian Explosion. Finally they may have regained the form of Renault, where this Lotus was born. The car showed speed straight out of the transporter which is a feeling every driver want’s. The new E20 doesn’t change driving characteristics in corners or on different tire compounds. It’s a good thing as Martha Stewart might say.
The one major problem was a design flaw in the mounting of the front suspension. This cost the team a week of testing but yet a driver who has limited F1 experience, Romain Grosjean, and Kimi Raikkonen, whose been out for several years, both set fastest times and were consistent. Lotus may be the sleeper.
The truth is, no one has a crystal ball, but the teams have some idea as to what to expect as a baseline heading into Australia. The one thing that everyone up and down pit lane and in every technical assessment written so far agrees on is that the cars that count are much more evenly matched than ever. With cars that close in performance, it could be processional or a slugfest at every single corner.
Who gives a damn, bring it on.