F1 2013: Winter Testing, Final Cut; Barcelona
The last of the three weeks of pre-season testing took place at the Circuit de Catalunya on Barcelona from 28thFebruary to 3rd March. These four day stints have always been keenly awaited as they serve to switch back on from the off-season (for the fans as well) and get the initial jitters out of the way as well as to formally test the entire working range of new cars. Though most of the efforts to gain any useful insight into race-fitness from whatever happened in Barcelona are obscured due to a myriad of variables behind the scenes, the idea is for teams to take plenty from these ventures and come into the season stronger.
Meanwhile, a few developments deserve a mention before we get on with the testing bit. While it was great news for Adrian Sutil getting back with Sahara Force India for the upcoming season, Razia had the shock of his life as Bianchi was drafted to partner Max Chilton at Marussia, adding fuel to the raging issue of pay-drivers plaguing the sport. For Williams, it was a case of too much optimism too early as the FIA ruled against their exhaust during the second testing, forcing them drop the controversial exhaust vane from the FW35.
Mark Webber topped the charts on day one of the final testing in his RB9, a day marred by rain giving us about an hour of dry running post-lunch. Webber set his fastest lap time on soft tyres, finishing 1.655 seconds clear of Hamilton on mediums, giving him about 0.5 seconds over the Brit. We had an interesting little battle to savour between Massa and Webber early in the morning for the top slot but the Brazilian finished eighth as Ferrari deliberately ran him out of fuel as others improved. Hamilton looked impressive (more importantly, so did Mercedes) especially up until lunch as he culminated the fastest time pre-lunch.
Conditions improved after lunch with lesser spraying off the tyres as lap times toppled in the last two hours of the day, particularly in the final 20 minutes with Hamilton, Gutierrez, Bottas and Eric-Vergne joining in the fun but Webber emerged ahead to finish the day at the top. There were no accidents per se despite the conditions, barring minor incidents involving Grosjean as he spun around turn 12 and Gutierrez in his Sauber C32 as he made contact with the barriers on turn 3. The third red flag came out when Massa beached his Ferrari at Campsa.
1. Webber (RedBull) 90 laps, 2. Hamilton (Mercedes) 113 laps, 3. Vergne (ToroRosso) 59 laps, 4. Bottas (Williams) 85 laps, 5. Perez (McLaren) 100 laps, 6. Gutierrez (Sauber) 92 laps, 7. Di Resta (ForceIndia) 57 laps, 8. Massa (Ferrari) 112 laps, 9. Chilton Marussia 78 laps, 10. Pic (Caterham) 83 laps, 11. Grosjean (Lotus) 52 laps
It was again a wet morning at Barcelona as heavy showers hung back from day one but the conditions eased gradually, giving teams a chance to run an hour of slicks before lunch and pretty much entire post-lunch session. While Webber scorched a damp tarmac on day one, his teammate Vettel was seen testing out the passive double DRS in the morning on his RB9, though his best came after it was taken off as he picked up the fourth fastest time of the day. Though it wasn’t particularly impressive, teams remain vary of their prowess, including the Lotus boss Eric Boullier who believes they are the team to beat even as Grosjean blitzed to the top with a late charge. He clocked his best time on super soft tyres, finishing four tenths of a second clear of 2009 champion Jenson Button who was running on mediums.
Though the two were on decisively different tyres, not much can be made of the time difference as fuel loads remain privy to the teams, apart from the fact that the E21 definitely has the pace on it. Mercedes continued on its marathon runs with Rosberg as he completed 120 laps including race simulation in the afternoon, finishing tenth. He finished one spot above Alonso who too clocked 100 plus laps, focusing primarily on race simulation and forsaking lower fuel loads and softs for hard tyres for most part of the day- though that does not cloak the fact that F138 lacks the pace slightly at this juncture.
1. Grosjean (Lotus) 88 laps, 2. Button (McLaren) 72 laps, 3. Maldonado (Williams) 74 laps, 4. Vettel (RedBull) 65 laps, 5. Hulkenberg (Sauber) 79 laps, 6. Sutil (ForceIndia) 62 laps, 7. Ricciardo (ToroRosso) 61 laps, 8. Chilton (Marussia) 75 laps, 9. Van der Garde (Caterham) 48 laps, 10. Rosberg (Mercedes) 120 laps, 11. Alonso (Ferrari) 102 laps
The day was succinctly put by BBC analyst Gary Anderson “… the joke might be on them now”, indicating that the loss is McLaren’s more than it ever will be of Hamilton. The reaction came after Hamilton gave us a teasing foretaste of what can be expected from him behind the wheels of a nippy Mercedes W04. On the welcome sunny penultimate day of winter testing, the Brit set the outright fastest time so far at Barcelona, which at one time was 1.6 seconds better than the rest of the field. He hit the 1 minute 20 second mark four times in his five timed-laps which up till now had been uncharted and also got good mileage under his belt, staying out for 117 laps. The gap was later squeezed to within one second, precisely to seven-tenths of a second by Massa running on theoretically faster super soft compounds but the gap must still be considered a whopping one. Massa’s day ended pre-maturely in a spectacular fashion as the front left wheel decided to go around for a lap without the rest of the machinery. Sutil finished third ahead of the Williams duo of Maldonado and Bottas who shared the testing responsibilities. Another addition to the lineup was Grosjean who had to be flown back in to fill in for an ill Raikkonen and shared the seat with Valsecchi.
1. Hamilton (Mercedes) 117 laps, 2. Massa (Ferrari) 94 laps, 3. Sutil (ForceIndia) 109 laps, 4. Maldonado (Williams) 34 laps, 5. Bottas (Williams) 31 laps, 6. Gutierrez (Sauber) 99 laps, 7. Webber (RedBull) 59 laps, 8. Perez (McLaren) 101 laps, 9. Vergne (ToroRosso) 114 laps, 10. Grosjean (Lotus) 46 laps, 11. Valsecchi (Lotus) 16 laps, 12. Bianchi (Marussia) 74 laps, 13. Van der Garde (Caterham) 126 laps
Hamilton had made sure that the benchmark was set rather high for Rosberg when he came in on the final day of the winter testing. Not just for Rosberg, it meant that the expectations from the Brackley outfit and the W04 were heightened ahead of the final stint before Albert Park. Fortunately for them, not only did Rosberg take the challenge head on, the German knocked off a few notches from Hamilton’s best to clock the fastest time hitherto in the winter testing. He managed to put himself clear of Alonso after an engrossing tussle for supremacy that saw first sign of pace from Ferrari as Alonso too bettered Hamilton’s time from day three. Jenson Button finished third ahead of Hulkenberg and Raikkonen, but far from Rosberg’s time with McLaren ending with a rather inconclusive time at Barcelona.
1. Rosberg (Mercedes) 131 laps, 2. Alonso (Ferrari) 120 laps, 3. Button (McLaren) 122 laps, 4. Hulkenberg (Sauber) 118 laps, 5. Raikkonen (Lotus) 50 laps, 6. Di Resta (ForceIndia) 112 laps, 7. Maldonado (Williams) 42 laps, 8. Vettel (RedBull) 100 laps, 9. Bottas (Williams) 31 laps, 10. Pic (Caterham) 116 laps, 11. Bianchi (Marussia) 62 laps, 12. Ricciardo (ToroRosso) 91 laps, 13. Chilton (Marussia) 49 laps
Raikkonen managed only half of the mileage of what the rest of the field garnered as the Enstone based Lotus outfit struggled all morning with gearbox issues. On the whole, they looked in good shape in each outing in terms of reliability and speed and Grosjean’s form is a welcome development over last year. But all said and done, the one team that every other outfit would have had their eyes on is Red Bull who have carefully chosen to keep their cards folded. Even on the final day, Vettel gave little away as he chose to focus on medium to longish stints on harder Pirellis and heavier fuel loads. But rest assured, this definitely will not be the case when we head to Albert Park for the season’s inaugural race when the reigning world champions lay their cards. Stay tuned!