This week marks the beginning of the formula one season, as the first pre-season test gets underway at the Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona. The test, which lasts for four days, until Thursday 25th of February, is the first opportunity for teams to put their new hardware through its paces ahead of the season opening race in Melbourne on the 20th March. Under the current regulations, testing is heavily controlled, with teams limited on the amount of time they are allowed to spend using equipment such as wind tunnels and on track testing.
The first test acts as a crucial indicator of how the season will shape up, but it can also throw up some anomalies because of the nature of the four days and how different teams approach them. Teams like McLaren-Honda, who had a woeful season last year finishing 9th out of ten teams, will be desperate for any on track time that they can get, whilst teams like Mercedes, who have dominated the sport since 2014 will be much more selective about the sort of runs they will do, almost certainly favouring long sessions of about 50 laps at a time.
I’m writing this on Sunday before the first day of testing, so it’s anyone’s guess what has happened between now and when you’re reading this article, but what the different teams need to get out of this test period are quite interesting.
Having lead the rest of the field since the opening race of the 2014 season, Mercedes will be keen to get back to what they’ve proven they do best: winning. Both their drivers, three times world drivers champion Lewis Hamilton and his stable mate, Nico Rosberg will be hoping for more of the same of the previous years’ performance. Interestingly, when they unveiled their car, Mercedes were quick to point out that whilst the body work doesn’t look any different – having found a good aerodynamic package already – the new car includes many “mini revolutions” inside; a nice way of saying they’ve run out of things to improve.
Ferrari always head into pre-season testing with their game faces on, reluctant to admit even so much as the existence of their car. This year, such secrecy may be borne of a real feeling that they are the verge of launching their fight back for the championship, but we can only wait and see. This time last year, Red Bull launched their car out of the garage with a camouflage, zebra pattern livery in an attempt to hide the design of their body work. Whilst it worked surprisingly well, the Red Bull car certainly wasn’t worth copying; it never pays to be too sure of yourself in F1.
For mid-field teams like Force India, Renault and Toro Rosso the first test provides an opportunity to gauge the state of the pack, as most of them will be paying almost as much attention to their competitor’s behaviour as they will their own data. Last year, Sauber – who won’t be launching their car until the second test on 1st March – were entering the season short of cash, so they threw a very striking blue and yellow livery on their car, and focused on low fuel qualifying lap times in an attempt to attract sponsorship money.
Testing of course ignores the fact that teams upgrade their car throughout the season, but it’s about working out who has the best package to work from as the season starts which is what is of so much interest. Personally, I’m just looking forward to when it’s “Go, Go, Go!” once again in Australia.