Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time(1:23.282) on Day 4 of Barcelona test but it was the man who replaced him at McLaren, Sergio Perez who set the fastest lap of the test session. Perez's laptime of 1:21.848 was just a tenth slower than Hamilton's pole lap in 2012. But in 2012 teams were allowed to use DRS as per their discretion in qualifying, while this year it is limited to the DRS zone. Also, teams deliberately didn't run on qualifying fuel load in order to prevent rivals from getting hint of their actual pace.
Moving away from lap times, Adrian Sutil's return to Formula 1 made headlines this week as the German driver tested the Force India VJM06 on Day 3 of Barcelona test. After a one year absence, his laptime of 1:22.877 was 1 second off Alonso's pace and 7th fastest of the day.
Teams reported high tyre degradation on the new Pirelli rubber and that they start to lose off pace after just one proper flying lap. However, this was mostly due to cold weather conditions at Barcelona. It is expected that this degradation will ease off during warmer conditions in the main season. Another major story was the controversy regarding Williams and Caterham exhaust designed which were banned by the FIA. More on that in our team by team review.
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Red Bull were just being Red Bull at the Barcelona test - they tried their best not to give their rivals a hint of their pace by focusing on race simulations over qualifying runs. Despite the approach, Vettel set the fourth fastest time of the session(1:22.197), only 3 tenths shy off Perez. From the Barcelona test, It seems that Red Bull will be the car to beat when F1 season starts in 3 weeks time in Australia. However, Mark Webber believes that the team needs to consistently develop their car throughout the season if they are to win a fourth consecutive title.
Red Bull also tried the traffic lights system(refer to the above picture) in pit stops, a system first used by McLaren.
At McLaren, Button believes that McLaren are yet to fully understand their 2013 car. McLaren took a 'revolutionary' approach this season, choosing to make fundamental changes to the car rather than 'evolutionising' the 2012 model. The reason for this approach was that McLaren believes that they've made most of their 2012 model and that there wasn't much to be extracted from that concept. Not being able to fully understand the car has meant inconsistent performance from the Woking based outfit. So while at times, McLaren seems the car to beat, at times its just not there.Talking about laptimes, Sergio Perez set the fastest time of the session(1:21.848). Button's time of 1:22.840 was around a second slower than his new teammate.
Lotus were surprisingly quick throughout the Barcelona test, particularly on long runs. They seem to have carried the characteristics of their 2012 cars - relatively low qualifying pace, much better race pace which matches the leaders and soft nature on tyres. On Day 3 of the test, Grosjean and Webber did race simulation at the same time and the French ended the simulation just two seconds behind Webber. So all Lotus needs to do is to improve their single lap pace.
The Ferrari we saw at Barcelona this week was pretty much the same Ferrari we saw at Jerez last week. The team will be bringing major updates next week but for now it's just not there with the likes of Red Bull and Lotus. Fernando Alonso was downbeat about Ferrari's chances despite setting the second fastest time of the session, only three hundredths of a second off Perez's lap time. But its clear that Ferrari is in a much better shape than they were last year at this moment. Where will the two Ferraris at the Melbourne grid? Well we'll have to wait for the third and the final test which starts on February, the 28th.
Mercedes have made major improvements to their 2012 car and Rosberg believes that the W04 is already a second quicker than its predecessors. Whether a second is enough - that is a big question. Lewis Hamilton who has been in headlines since his move to Mercedes said that his target is to score points consistently and not victories. However, the Barcelona test at least shows that the German team has the pace to win one or two races this season. Nico Rosberg set the 6th fastest time of the session on soft compounds while Hamilton's laptime 1:22.726of was particularly impressive as it was on the hard tyre.
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Williams decided to take their time in developing their car and they only launched it at the Barcelona test while all other teams had launched their cars by the Jerez test. The result was a more "refined" car with lots of interesting improvements on the technical side. They've got a very complicated front wing endplate and the design of their nose is similar to Ferrari. They also have an ultra-low gearbox which is evident from the massive drop in the rear bodywork of the car. But the major talking point was the design of their exhaust outlet. Caterham has a similar vain in the exhaust which was declared illegal by the FIA but Williams' Mike Coughlan is sure that their design is legal. Ultimately, Williams removed this exhaust outlet on the final day of Barcelona test. Team's fastest time was 1:22.675 set by Pastor Maldonado, 8 tenths shy of Perez's time.
The major talking point at Force India was obviously the return of Adrian Sutil who tested the VJM06 on the penultimate day of Barcelona test. He has been absent from Formula 1 for more than a year following his incident involving Renault owner Eric Lux. Considering the time gap, 12th fastest time of the session wasn't particularly bad for the German driver. Now its up to Force India's board of Directors headed by Vijay Mallya and Subarta Roy to decide who will be driving alongside Paul di Resta in 2013 - Sutil, who is known for his pace and has been with the team for years or Jules Bianchi who might help the team get a deal with Ferrari for 2014 engines. Talking about the Indian team's performance, Force India looked strong throughout the session but not quite there. Last year, they started the season with a rather poor car but developed the car throughout and at the last race, Nico Hulkenberg had enough pace to lead the Brazilian Grand Prix. Whether the pressure of simultaneously developing 2014 cars(where there are lots of changes including smaller engines) will allow the same strategy, that remains a question.
Toro Rosso has widen the setup window of their car in order to increase the number of optimizations to each track and as per each driver. It is a make or break year for drivers Jean Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo who are in their second season. If they fail to perform as per the requirements of Red Bull, they'll end up in Buemi and Alguersuari's fate. Talking about their performance in Barcelona test, Jean Eric Vergne set the fastest time for the team - 1:23.366, 1.5 seconds slower than the fastest time.
Caterham has an all new lineup for 2013 with Charles Pic moving in from Marussia and Giedo Van der Garde upgrading from GP2. After a positive outing at Jerez test, the Malaysian team took a major blow when FIA declared the vein on their exhaust outlet illegal. They also finished at the bottom of the timesheets as the team focused on giving their drivers a taste of KERS at different fuel loads - particularly high fuel loads. Neither of their drivers have driven a KERS equipped car before.
Marussia has introduced KERS system for the first time in their two year history. Max Chilton said that the team has gathered enough data which they'll be analysing back in their factory in Banbury to further improve their car. Interestingly, Chilton drove the car on all four days of Barcelona test while 2012 GP2 runner up Luiz Razia didn't get to do a single mile behind the Marussia MR02.
Right now it looks like Red Bull and Lotus are marginally ahead of their rivals with McLaren struggling to find consistency, Ferrari relying on updates schedules in third test and Mercedes hoping to be the dark horse of 2013. Midfield will be again close with Sauber, Williams and Force India fighting for the 6th spot while the performance of Toro Rosso is still unclear. At the bottom of the field, Caterham and Marussia will continue to fight for the 10 spot in the championship.
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