Monday, 14 March 2011

Splash & Dash - What does 2011 testing tell us?

After more than 60,000 km of testing across 12 teams at 3 different tracks over 16 days, what can we divine from the 2011 pre-season Formula 1 tests?  Possibly more than you might expect.  The clear indications seem to be that Red Bull and Ferrari are at the pointy end, there are a large number of teams mid-pack and Hispania are going to be lucky to qualify.

Of all the teams, Ferrari completed more laps than any other team during pre-season testing with 1,563 laps covering  6,985km.  This is despite only running 5 laps on the final day of testing at Barcelona due to heavy rain.  Red Bull completed 1,355 laps (6,061km), Sauber completed 1,312 laps (5,898km) and Mercedes completed 1,278 laps (4,985km).  All 4 teams ran their 2011 cars throughout the entire test schedule, whereas McLaren, Force India and Virgin opted to run their 2010 cars throughout the first test in Valencia. At the other end of the spectrum, Hispania did not run their 2011 at all, revealing the new car on the second to last day of testing, but missing parts meant that the car could not hit the track.  Hispania did run their 2010 car for 2 of the 4 test weeks to evaluate their drivers and to some extent, the new Pirelli tyres, covering 445 laps (1,949km).

McLaren completed only 1,073 laps (4,754km) of which only 832 laps (3,788km) were completed in their 2011 car.  McLaren were plagued with problems during testing and were also ambitious in their workplan, changing floors in the middle of test days, being at least a 2 hour job when time is already limited.  Williams also suffered a number of reliability issues, however, as any team will say, it is better to have reliability issues in testing so that they can remedy the problem before going racing.

To complete the picture, total test laps and km for each of the teams were:

          Team           Laps      km
  1. Ferrari         1,563    6,984
  2. Red Bull        1,355    6,061
  3. Sauber         1,312   5,898
  4. Mercedes      1,278    5,746
  5. Force India   1,226    5,434
  6. Toro Rosso    1,157    5,188
  7. Renault         1,126    5,031
  8. Williams        1,119    4,984
  9. McLaren        1,073    4,754
  10. Virgin           1,027    4,589
  11. Lotus               817    3,722
  12. Hispania          445     1,949
Across the tests, 6 of the 12 teams topped the timing charts at least once (excluding the extremely wet final day of testing) - Red Bull (5), Ferrari (3), Mercedes (3), Renault (2), Williams (1), Sauber (1).  Interestingly, McLaren's best was a 2nd best time on a day when Ferrari, Mercedes and Williams were not testing.  This does not bode well for a team eager to recapture championship glory.  Force India and Toro Rosso also reached the 2nd best times, although each team managed to achieve this twice.  Lotus, Virgin and Hispania each managed to make it to 6th best time although Lotus achieved this thrice compared to Virgin twice and Hispania once.

Another interesting statistic is the percentage of time between each team and the top team in each test.  When taken as an average over all the tests (excluding the wet final day at Barcelona) it is, to an extent, a measure of how close each of the teams are to one another.  To make it more statistically relevant, the worst results for each team have been ignored.  Before you look at the table below, which team do you expect to have the lowest margin?  See if you are surprised, I was.  Although I was more surprised at the positioning of McLaren, Mercedes and Williams.

          Team             Ave % from best time
  1. Ferrari                   0.68%
  2. Red Bull                  0.84%
  3. Renault                  1.46%
  4. McLaren                 1.54%
  5. Sauber                   1.67%
  6. Mercedes               2.04%
  7. Torro Rosso           2.07%
  8. Force India            2.24%
  9. Williams                3.46%
  10. Lotus                     4.14%
  11. Hispania                4.25%
  12. Virgin                    4.98%
What does all this mean?  Well, this is what I think...

While I was expecting Red Bull to be on top of this list, I was only marginally surprised that Ferrari pipped the reigning world champions.  Ferrari have shown themselves to be consistently quick during the entire testing period with both Fernando Alonso and Filipe Massa topping the timing charts.  Ferrari need Massa to be back to speed this year after a disappointing 2010 performance from the Brazilian, so this is a promising start for the Scuderia.  Both Red Bull and Ferrari have been close throughout the pre-season tests and they have drafted away from the pack as they battle to be as quick as possible.  Importantly, both teams have had solid reliability throughout the testing period and this is encouraging for both teams gaining valuable points early in the year in their bids for the Championships.

Renault and McLaren have both been fairly aggressive in their aero packages for 2011 with Renault taking the blown floor concept to the extreme by having the exhaust exits at the front of the sidepods and blowing under a much larger area of the floor than any of the other teams.  McLaren appear to have been testing a couple of different exhaust layouts in testing and the resultant chopping and changing disrupted their program.  I suspect that Renault are reasonably happy with their position after testing, but McLaren won't be. 

Sauber, now a full year after the exit of BMW and their management, have seemingly put together a solid package with good reliability and podium challenging pace.  Developing their car during the year with a relatively inexperienced driver lineup will be a challenge for the Sauber team, but I for one would love to see Kobayashi throw his car on to the podium in 2011.

Mercedes, Toro Roso & Force India - this appears to be the solid mid-pack group, although Mercedes seem to have picked up performance in the final test week and may have actually moved further up than the numbers suggest.  If Toro Rosso and Force India can build on some of the pace from testing and implement a solid development plan throughout the season, both teams should be able to reach for a podium.

Williams are in no-man's land.  The statistics are reflecting a testing program that really did not provide the reliability that the team would have been hoping for.  The Williams' lack of running has had an impact on the times set, however other teams with less running managed to run more consistently quick times.  Having a rookie in one of the seats has an impact, but still, this is a another bad start for Williams.

Not surprisingly, Lotus, Virgin and Hispania bring up the tail end of these statisitcs.  No doubt the Lotus team, now that they have a Renault engine and Red Bull gearbox were hoping for more, however they suffered a number of reliability issues that impeded their ability to put in some better times.  Virgin are closer to the leading times than I expected.  Hispania, who will run their 2011 car for the first time in Friday practice in Melbourne are really behind the eight-ball.  Let's hope that Geoff Willis has not only put together a reliable package but has also applied some of what he has learned from Adrian Newey and found some downforce.  The team will struggle to get a decent set up in the very limited running they will have available to them in Melbourne.  Personally, I will be surprised if they can drag both cars below the 107% qualifying threshhold to start the race in Melbourne.  Liuzzi probably has a chance, but I really don't hold much hope for Karthikeyan until the Spanish Grand Prix, if he can hold his seat that long.

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