After a historic rule change and a lot of mysterious revelations, the curtain on the brand new F1 cars was really drawn in Barcelona. What lessons can we draw from 3 test days and hundreds of practice rounds?
1. Don’t get distracted by times
McLaren and Ferrari will compete for the world title in 2022, for Mercedes and Red Bull it will be tough in midfield. So much for the conclusion based on the lap times of the first two test days in Barcelona.
But with that conclusion, a tight corner – or even half a circuit – is cut off. Yes, Lando Norris (McLaren) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) set the fastest lap times on days 1 and 2. And yes, the 9th fastest time for Max Verstappen and 16th time for Lewis Hamilton looked strange.
But despite a completely new regulation, the old rule remains with the winter tests: the lap times don’t matter. You cannot draw any big conclusions from it, because the teams are testing different configurations.
A full tank or a half full tank? Hard tires or soft tires? With DRS or without? Too many variables to compare lap times.
Some teams look very fast: especially a red and an orange team are ahead.
And the teams are still only too happy to play hide-and-seek, so as not to get the stamp of top favourites.
Lando Norris would have “rather been last” and George Russell already knows how to get into the underdog role after a few weeks at Mercedes. “Some teams look very fast: especially a red and an orange team are ahead,” said the Briton.
When will we really get answers? Lessons can be learned from the lap times until qualifying for the Bahrain GP on March 19.
2. To measure is to know
The so-called shakedown in Barcelona was nevertheless no measure for nothing. It may not be about the fastest lap times, but it is about correlation.
Do all calculations and tests in the wind tunnel also result in a fast car in practice? The teams sought an answer to this question in particular at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Especially with the brand new designs – according to some engineers 98 percent of the parts have been changed – the teams sought confirmation that they were on the right track. With a surplus of sensors they tried to measure as much as possible in Barcelona. Because to measure is to know.
It was therefore a great relief for many racing stables that they could run smoothly in circles, without encountering many teething problems. On the first day of testing, 8 out of 10 teams were able to complete more than 100 laps.
Haas, Alfa Romeo, Alpine and Aston Martin in particular spent more time in the garages than they would have liked. They will still work hard on their car for the official test days in Bahrain (10-12 March).
But rest assured that all F1 cars will look different in Bahrain than in Barcelona.
3. Can the riders follow better now?
Back to why the International Automobile FIA has once again made its biggest rule change ever: it wants more exciting races where it is again possible to drive close to each other.
Due to an excess of flaps and wings, the F1 cars have created so much cloudy air in recent seasons that it was extremely difficult for a pursuer to stay in the track of the vehicle in front. That had to change with a revolution in the aerodynamics of the car.
I don’t expect to sit with my nose under the diffuser of the vehicle in front, but it seems a little more under control.
And according to the first sounds in Barcelona, the FIA has also succeeded in its aim. “I did drive behind a few cars and it seemed a bit easier to stay on track,” said Max Verstappen.
Charles Leclerc was also cautiously optimistic. “I don’t expect to sit with my nose under the diffuser of the vehicle in front, but it seems a bit more under control,” Ferrari’s Monegask said. “You will definitely see a difference,” added Pierre Gasly.
Footage also seems to support that feeling. To collect data for tire supplier Pirelli, the circuit was artificially flooded on Friday for testing in wet conditions. The splashing water confirmed that the airflow is being pushed higher, over a possible vehicle behind.
The vortices are clearly visible in the splashing water.
4. Hesitation about “porpoising”
The test days were not a big good news show either, because the aerodynamic upheaval has also saddled the teams with serious headaches. The term “porpoising” in particular will still be of interest to the engineers
chasing them in their dreams.
What is “porposing”? Some F1 drivers also heard thunder in Cologne. The phenomenon had already disappeared from the F1 circuits for 40 years … Until now.
It all has to do with the downforce of the cars. In recent seasons, the cars mainly generated downforce with the front and rear wing, but that has been replaced by the ground effect with the new regulations. A system of tunnels creates a vacuum under the F1 car, which sucks it against the asphalt.
But on the straights on the track, the air is pumped through the tunnels so quickly that the car comes closer and closer to the road, the downforce then disappears for a while and the car shoots up again.
The result: a bumpy car. At Haas and Alfa Romeo, the effect was so strong that their floors were even damaged.
The problem for the stables is that the simulations in the wind tunnels had not revealed the “porpoising” effect. There is therefore no ready-made answer. Who will find a solution for the start of the season in Bahrain?
5. Putin’s Shadow
Russia’s foray into Ukraine also overshadowed the testing days in Barcelona. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel did not hesitate to cancel the Russian GP. “A country led by a fool,” said the German.
Reigning champion Max Verstappen also quickly joined his colleague from Aston Martin. All eyes were therefore on the world federation FIA, which had little freedom of movement.
After an emergency meeting, a statement soon followed about the Sochi GP on September 25. “The conclusion is that it is impossible to organize the Russian GP in the current circumstances.”
“Fortunately, Formula 1 decided that quickly and we don’t have to make difficult choices.”
George Russell said, “Although I think most of us didn’t want to go.”
At Haas F1 in particular, they were in the thick of things: the racing stable may have an American stamp, but it mainly runs on the rubles of Dmitry Mazepin.
The Russian pays a lot of money with his company Uralkali to give his son Nikita a seat in Formula 1. But Uralkali has ties to the government of Russian President Putin, not exactly the advertising you currently want to tear around the track with.
On Thursday, all sponsor stickers were therefore scraped from the Haas cars, the colors of the Russian flag also disappeared. But with a completely white car, the core problem is not solved.
According to team boss Günther Steiner, Haas does not need the Russian millions to run this season. “There are more ways to get money,” the Italian kept secret.
Nikita Mazepin herself tweeted that “things are out of his control”, but it is very uncertain whether the Russian will still be in a Haas car in Bahrain. Pietro Fittipaldi and Antonio Giovinazzi are already mentioned as possible replacements.