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James Allen's testing analysis

James Allen's testing analysis - Feature - F1 | ITV Sport
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 00:00

I’ve just got back from the test at Barcelona, which was supposed to be the last European test before the start of the new season.

Instead, with the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix and the test preceding it, the teams will be back at Barcelona in two weeks’ time.

That will be a good and bad thing, depending on who you are.

If you are a team struggling to sort your car out it’s quite good, because you have more time to get it sorted and you can test it out on the most demanding test track there is – Barcelona.

Of course the benchmark teams also have more time to improve, but they are refining something whereas the strugglers are problem solving.

If you are Pirelli it’s bad; they have come in for some stick for the way the tyre performance is degrading and they badly wanted to go somewhere hot before the start of the season to test out their theory that cold track temperatures are to blame for what we are seeing at the moment.

With the hard and soft tyre specified for the first few races, the tests in Barcelona showed that if the race was held today the drivers would each be likely to need to make three pit stops just to get to the finish.

The soft tyre lasts no more than 12 laps and the hard tyre is doing about 20 before the performance drops right off.

One former world champion allegedly was screaming over the radio to be allowed to pit for new tyres as his pace had dropped off so much, but the team needed him to stay out so it could measure performance.

Pirelli say that this will all change once we get to warmer climates. The working range of their tyres is set to the mid-20 degrees and above.

But Melbourne can be quite chilly some years and that could make the season opener something of an eye-opener.

Currently the ambient temperatures there are in the low-20s, so Pirelli will be looking anxiously at the forecasts as we get closer to the event.

Of course what everyone wants to know is: Who’s on top?

One of the problems with reading the testing so far is that there are more variables than before – drivers could be using hard or soft tyres, they could have anything from 10kg to 150kg of fuel on board, but this year there is also the question of whether they were using KERS and/or the adjustable rear wing when they set a lap time.

Fortunately the engineers get the tyre information from Pirelli and have sophisticated data gathering systems which allow them to analyse speeds and engine notes, and crunch numbers on every lap turned – so they can work out where they think every one is.

But as if that wasn’t complicated enough, the teams are all at different stages of development – so Team A might be 0.2s faster than Team B this week, but an update kit for Team B might level that out next week.

From what I’ve seen so far the Red Bull is still ahead of the Ferrari and those two are out front ahead of the rest.

On long runs, simulating a race, there isn’t much of a gap between them, but it’s qualifying where the Red Bull had the advantage last season – and although we’ve not seen the Red Bull on a low-fuel run yet, the feeling from engineers is that they still have a margin.

It was half a second in Suzuka last year and four-tenths in Abu Dhabi. At the moment it’s probably a shade less than that, but both teams will have extensive update kits to come onto the cars at the next test prior to the season-opener.

McLaren appear to be struggling with reliability and pace.

The car did a fair bit of mileage on the final day, but Lewis Hamilton cut short a long run at one stage, when he still had seven laps to go on the pit board. He seemed to be hurting his tyres perhaps more than his rivals.

Mercedes are a bit behind as well, but the engineers are saying that they’re making progress and believe that they will make a big gain with the new bodywork kit they have planned for the final test.

The Renault looks and sounds stunning with its black and gold paint scheme and its forward facing exhausts, which make a shriller sound than we’ve heard from the V8 engines of late.

It was going round very nicely in Barcelona and should be in the scrap with McLaren and Mercedes at the start of the year.

The midfield looks more competitive than last year with Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso having made gains.

It seems like Force India might lose out a bit to start with, but they were the last to release their new car and were trying KERS for the first time on Monday.

Lotus have also improved with their new car, which has the Renault engine and Red Bull gearbox and is close to the pace of the midfield teams, although they have had some reliability problems this week.

Virgin have had better reliability, but aren’t on Lotus’ pace.

As for the Hispania, we wait with interest to see what their new car will be like.

The problem for them is that there is now a new rule for this year, saying that you have to be within 107% of the pole position lap time to qualify for the race.

At Melbourne that means being within 5.8s of the pole time. It sounds a lot – and it is – but with an unsorted car up against a very fast Red Bull, I wonder…
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