What’s going on in the world of F1 this week? Well, with less than a month to go before the first race everyone’s flat out with preparation, preparation, preparation.
The week that was
Analysing the Jerez test is an activity fraught with danger. For a start the conditions were unlike anything the teams will experience during the season – but even if they were to have 20 grand prix in freezing temperatures on a circuit more abrasive than Simon Cowell, Jerez still wouldn’t offer that many clues because everyone is testing in their own way – and short of offering a $10million prize for fastest lap of the week it’s never going to be obvious who’s really got the quickest car.
And so possibly the best barometer of what teams think of their own performance is to be found in the level of expectation management that’s going on. The teams that were quick in Andalucía are all busy downplaying their speed, while those that looked sluggish are saying things aren’t as bad as they seem. Some are telling the truth, some are lying through their teeth and there’s no way of knowing which is which – though the next test in Barcelona might help.
Petrov joins Caterham
1970 was the last time an F1 season started without an Italian driver in the cockpit (if you don’t include Mario Andretti, which we don't). It looks like happening again this year though, with the news that Jarno Trulli has been replaced at Caterham by Vitaly Petrov. Despite signing an extension to his contract at the end of last season, the rumours that Jarno wouldn’t be driving in 2012 persisted all winter, and Petrov’s name has often been linked with his seat. Having fallen out with Lotus-Renault at the end of last season, the 'Vyborg Rocket' has been looking for a new home. Doubtless his ability to improve the balance-sheet of any prospective employer was a factor in his popularity, but during his two years at Enstone, driving a midfield car, he managed to set fastest lap in one grand prix and finish another on the podium – and you don’t do that unless you’ve got the chops.
After testing in Jerez with last year’s car, Mercedes will launch the W03 at Barcelona. The official argument has been that the extra ten days of pre-test development was a better use of time that putting the car on the track last week. Adrian Newey, however, is quoted in an interview with a German newspaper saying he thinks Ross Brawn’s team is hiding something they don’t want replicated by their rivals during the testing season.
The new Merc broke cover at Silverstone this week for a ‘filming day’. While teams can’t seriously run outside the official test, they’re allowed a number of media days where the car is allowed to complete 100km on demonstration (ie uncompetitive) tyres. It often doubles as a useful shakedown, and Mercedes gave Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg 50kms each. There’s even some alien-autopsy quality footage up on YouTube. And yes, like most of their rivals, Mercedes have gone platypus.
Meanwhile perennial backmarkers HRT seem to be struggling to get a new car on track at all. HRT’s launch date has slipped back several times. It chose to participate in Jerez with an old car, while its 2012 contender was undergoing homologation. It failed several of these crash tests – an unusual but not unknown event – and has now announced it will skip the first Barcelona test in order to be ready for the second and final test of the year. HRT’s usual approach to pre-season is to turn up at the first race with a bag of bits and a diagram sketched on the back of a napkin, so if it does any testing at all, this will represent progress. Better news for the team is that it has found a home and will set up at Complejo Deportivo Madrid Caja Mágica. The ‘magic box’ is better known as the home of the Madrid Masters tennis tournament. It’s got offices and factory space too – they’re not planning to build the cars in between sets.
Since the 2012 calendar was approved, the inclusion of a Bahrain Grand Prix scheduled for April 22 has been a talking point but in recent weeks the chatter has stepped up a notch. With unrest continuing in the Kingdom, one group of British politicians has called for the race to be abandoned, another for it to go ahead. With eight of the 12 teams based in the UK, there’s more significance to the proclamations made in London than perhaps would be the case for any other European capital, particularly as teams have to evaluate the issues around sending their workforce into a potential dangerous situation. Bernie Ecclestone told the Daily Telegraph this week that the teams have no worries about the race – though so far none of them have supported that view with any sort of public statement.
F1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli has announced its allocations for the first three grands prix. As was the case last year, hard and soft compounds will be used in Australia and China but to mix things up a little the hard and medium compounds will be used in Malaysia. This year the front tyres have a slightly different profile – a fact which gets aerodynamicists very excited but no one else. More interesting is the decision to move the tyres further apart on lap time and durability. Pirelli want to see a difference of up to 0.8 seconds between each compound. They’re also made each tyre softer – so this year’s hard compound will be very similar to last year’s medium, the medium like the soft and so on. Pirelli did an excellent job last year in their quest to keep people talking about tyres in a championship with no competition in that particular field. It looks like they’re keen on another game-changer to ensure that talk continues.
You can’t make an omlette without, y’know…
And finally, it’s often said that the devil makes work for idle hands, which is why teams try to keep a firm leash on drivers away from the track. Nevertheless, they still find time to risk life and limb mountain climbing, power boating and, in the case of Juan-Pablo Montoya, single-handedly inventing the sport of quad-bike tennis. Mark Webber’s the current standard-bearer for off-season excursions and has the scars, screws and metal rods to prove it – but this week he’s taken his most dangerous trip yet. Yeah, Mark’s appeared on a cookery show…
- Visit the official Formula 1 website
- Day 3 at the Jerez test
- Search for Formula 1 videos on YouTube
- The RB8 Revealed
- The STR7 Is Go!
- F1 New car launches for 2012
- More Red Bull Motor Sports