It is easy to get carried away with the results of a couple of days of testing, particularly now that interest and expectation are building in the run up to Melbourne. Pundits are all looking for ways to look clever using the numbers and those who prefer to talk about the way the cars handle cannot accurately gauge what that will mean on the clock. So the Red Bulls look very good on the track but that has not been seen on the clock, except if one analyses some of the longer runs that have been seen. People write of the importance of fuel loads, but one must also remember that teams have been known to confuse things in the past by using a line other than the start-finish line to ascertain lap times, with the “official” results thus not really reflecting the reality. The wiser engineers are concentrating on doing their own thing and not getting spooked by teams that might be showboating. There is no question that the fuel load is of key importance as every 10kg of fuel means around four-tenths of a second on the lap times. Add to this the question of tyre degradation, as there seems to be a pretty major drop off in performance after the tyres have done a few laps. Winning races is going to be about management this tyre wear as much as possible. Outright speed may be impressive, but consistency will also count when it comes to the races. The general feeling, however, is that this year the field is too close to call. The majority of the teams are all very closely matched and qualifying in Melbourne will likely come down to hundredths and thousandths of seconds.
Red Bull, Lotus, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren all look good, although McLaren has had some off days. Sauber looks pretty useful as well and Force India has had its moments as well. And the Williams too was quickly up to speed after the team chose to miss the first test.
On paper, however, the fastest time of the winter went to Nico Rosberg on Saturday, with a best lap of 1m20.130s. The German completed a total of 251 laps during the four days and his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest on the final day, ended up third overall, having done almost as many laps. What this showed was that the car has speed and is also very reliable. But these days all the cars are reliable ad the amount of running has been impressive. Overall, Mercedes has done more miles than anyone else in the three tests, clocking up 3,320 miles in total. To put that into perspective, it is 17 Grand Prix race distances. At the same time the team knows that it is dangerous to get too confident.
“We definitely haven’t seen the full potential of our competitors yet, so it’s difficult to predict where we might be,” Hamilton said.
The two Mercedes drivers were split in the final test by the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, with his team-mate Felipe Massa fourth. Overall Ferrari completed 3,050 miles in the various tests. Mercedes might have done the most mileage but the other team that had admirable reliability (which equates to the number of laps run) was Sauber, which did a total of 3,300. The best laps were not close to the speed of the Mercedes on the last two days of the testing, but Nico Hulkenberg was in the ballpark, depending on the fuel load. McLaren’s winter mileage ended up at 2,875 miles, while Red Bull completed 2,862 miles of running and is clearly not in any great panic. One can safely assume that the team has more speed up its sleeve.
Lotus showed well on several occasions, but the team did a lot fewer miles than most of other teams, with the total running the three tests amounting to only 2,190 miles. Williams, which missed the first test completely with its new car, managed to do 1,917 miles in the final two tests, which puts Lotus’s lack of mileage into perspective. Yet, there is no real panic at Lotus either.
Force India completed 2,783 miles of running and seemed to be fairly competitive, while the last test ended up with Scuderia Toro Rosso behind both Caterham and Marussia, which seems a rather unlikely outcome given the trends seen thus far. The Caterham-Marussia fight seems likely to continue with Charles Pic just fractions ahead of fellow countryman Jules Bianchi, now a Marussia driver, on the time sheets. Caterham did a very solid 2,778 miles of running, while Marussia looked stronger than last year but ran five hundred miles less. Whatever the case, these figures show just how reliable the cars are in the modern era. These remember are effectively prototypes, but they hit the ground running and running and running… That is a sign of great engineering.
So, it is fair to say that no-one really has any real idea about who is going to be where when the teams show up in Melbourne – which is exactly what the sport wants!