Pre-season testing for the 2013 Formula One World Championship is well and truly over and team personnel are currently back at headquarters stressing over hours of information gathered during the last three weeks. While the age-old adage that you cannot tell who is where during testing is still valid, it is possible to decipher the approximate whereabouts of each team. Below is an estimate of each team’s present situation and a rundown of their final days of testing.
Red Bull Racing
Though Mark Webber finished top of the timesheets on Thursday, Red Bull maintained their low-key schedule in Barcelona for the final week of testing.
The team has strenuously tried to hide the car from the curious eyes of onlookers, with both Vettel and Webber immediately hiding the car behind tall blue screens upon entering the pit lane. Christian Horner was reportedly a bit miffed when he discovered the team’s garage was situated next to the windows of the media centre, allowing curious onlookers a clear view of the garage. If the RB9 comes out in Melbourne as head-and-tails above the rest, the whole team has played a brilliant poker face.
The squad from Maranello unveiled a whole new sidepod package for the end of testing in an attempt to further manipulate the exhaust gasses around the car’s floor. Alonso was unable to make an impression and recorded the slowest time on Friday, though that was down to the team carrying out evaluation work throughout the day. On Saturday Massa showed improved performance and recorded the second-fastest time before suffering a wheel hub failure and losing a tyre down the back straight. Alonso has admitted the team may not have the fastest car, but believes he is capable of securing the World Championship should his car be within two tenths of the fastest. Revealing as it sounds, Fernando hasn’t said the car is two tenths short of fastest –he’s just more confident than ever in himself. Who can blame him? If he doesn’t secure the title in 2013, it’ll be 7 years since he won his last with Renault.
McLaren started the opening test confidently and appeared to be the team to beat. But progress has been slow for the Woking squad and degradation issues have plagued their pre-season. The team’s outright pace suggests the MP4-28 is a front-running car, but whether or not they can resolve their issues with the Pirellis come Melbourne is up in the air. If Perez can be as kind on his tyres as he was for Sauber, Martin Whitmarsh may look as if he’s played a master-stroke. If McLaren cannot resolve their problems, it appears Lewis Hamilton may have jumped ship at the perfect moment.
Lotus’s pre-season has been one of mixed emotions. On one hand we’ve seen brilliant pace by both drivers, but the other is weighed down by reliability issues plaguing the team’s preparation. Kimi Raikkonen has assured the media the team will sort out the issues by Melbourne and it’s important for the team that he’s correct. With a car that looks as quick as the E21 Lotus is aiming to go further than the single victory secured in 2012 and nobody can be sure how much disappointment the 33-year-old Raikkonen is willing to accept before he hangs up his helmet for good.
Grosjean displayed fantastic pace on the medium tyres during the first test, managing a consistent 20-lap stint that surprised many in the paddock. Kimi Raikkonen was forced to miss Saturday’s running in Jerez due to food poisoning, which gave Davide Valscecchi an important chance to test a Formula One car. With no running until Friday practice for the Melbourne Grand Prix, Raikkonen may have those extra hours preparation useful. But Kimi knows what he’s doing and is very capable of performing in almost all situations, so let’s not get concerned too quickly.
Mercedes Grand Prix
Mercedes’s pre-season started shakily and the squad managed only 29 laps in the first two days of the opening test. The Brackley team looks to have sorted out their reliability gremlins following that embarrassing display and appear to be in better form than ever. Rumours of tyre degradation issues seem to have dissipated and both Hamilton and Rosberg have been able to complete solid runs on all tyre compounds.
Mercedes’s new all-star management team will have few excuses if they fail to perform in 2013 and Ross Brawn is very aware that the executives in Stuttgart haven’t been happy with the team’s results since 2010 and 2013 could be a season that determines Mercedes’s commitment to the sport as a constructor. They look to have taken a step up for 2013, but we’ll have to wait and see how real Hamilton’s comments were about Mercedes being race winners this season.
Sauber’s radical sidepods look to have held Sauber steady in the midfield, though the team hasn’t shown anything to suggest they’ve made a jump forward. Sauber concentrated on longer runs in Barcelona in an attempt to understand the new Pirelli tyres and the team will no-doubt be hoping that Sergio Perez’s impressive tyre conservation efforts shown throughout 2012 were largely down to the chassis and not the driver. The team’s new drivers have already com
plained about the C32’s tendency struggle on intermediates and Sauber will need to improve quickly to hold onto the competitive field around them. Wet conditions provide midfield teams with their best opportunities to score surprise results and a failure to work around the changeable conditions may prove critical for the Swiss outfit. With a number of seats opening up in the top-order for 2014, Nico Hulkenberg will need to show more than just flashes of pace to secure a top drive for next year.
Force India’s delay in announcing a driver to partner di Resta was nothing short of a farce, but Sutil appeared to take to the VJM06 like a fish to water and immediately began setting times comparable to settled-in team-mate di Resta. Force India’s progress up the grid hit a wall from 2011 and the team failed to make many inroads in 2012. Sutil and di Resta’s times in Barcelona implied their 2013 car was very capable of delivering strong results and with their consistent proximity to the top-order in testing and the questions surrounding the workability of the Pirelli tyres, Force India and their drivers may well be looking to do a repeat of Williams’s performance at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.
It’s crunch time for both drivers: If Sutil is unable to beat di Resta, his chance of securing a contract past 2013 will be negligible; if di Resta fails to beat a 30-year-old returnee, don’t be too surprised if the Scottish driver is left looking for a new seat in 2014.
The team lost a week testing the FW35 when they decided to debut it at the second test. They introduced a new Red Bull-style sidepod setup for the end of the pre-season that helped Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas to 10th and 11th fastest times respectively over the three days. Williams have declared their intention to provide a rolling upgrade system that will see Maldonado and Bottas receive upgrades at every race. Lotus (then Renault) managed a similar project in 2010 which helped the team stay near the top order for the length of the season. Williams has historically prided itself on engineering prowess and Sir Frank will undoubtedly be pressing Mike Coughlan and his team to keep their word.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo heaped praise upon the STR8 during the first test. Vergne admitted that both he and Ricciardo underperformed in 2012 and will need to step up for 2013 and the more workable STR8 may provide them with the platform to achieve better things. STR’s management said they were happy with their rookie drivers’ performances in 2012, but with up-and-coming stars like Antonio Felix da Costa starting to look at Formula One post-2013, pressure will start to mount on the two. Marc Priestly observed that the car was well below the level of performance the Mercedes drivers were able to exploit in Barcelona, but few people were expecting a major jump up the field by the Faenza squad.
Once again, Caterham look to have fallen short with their ambition of making the jump into the midfield. Observers have described the CT03 as “a handful” and both drivers have struggled to both maintain speed in corners and apply power on the exit. Sporting an alarmingly low number of sponsors, you have to wonder why new team principal Cyril Abiteboul hasn’t sold space for cheap. Caterham announced the signing of Hari Roberts as the team’s new head of aerodynamics on Monday; it was seen as a move to strengthen the technical team, though it may also be a reaction to the squad’s disappointing start to 2013.
The squad came their closest ever to securing points in 2012 when Vitaly Petrov finished 11th in the final race of the season, snatching 10th in the Constructors’ Championship from Marussia. They’ve been promising points for a fair while now and a failure to do so would surely hurt the team’s chances of existing in the long-term.
Marussia brought slimmer bodywork along with a completely modified front-end for the end of the second Barcelona test. With the team hiring two rookies for 2013, it’s not going to be an easy start to the season. The squad’s technical agreement with McLaren has been a boost for the team and they look to be making the right moves towards creating a strong operation. The team will use KERS for the first time this year, meaning they are finally on a level playing field with their closest rival. Neither Chilton nor Bianchi have ever raced at Albert Park or the Sepang circuit, so the flyaway races will almost definitely be a learning period for the two, but once the European season begins there’ll be no excuses for underperforming. With HRT now gone, getting into Q2 will be substantially harder for Caterham and Marussia.