Only two weeks after the end of 2008 Formula One season all the F1 teams except Toyota returned to the track to begin preparations for 2009 season. Thanks to major rules and regulation changes this winter season promises to be exciting one. It will take a while before teams roll out anything that is close to the cars they will race next year. At the moment each team seems to be collecting different sorts of data and in different ways. This means that the times we see on the timesheets mean very much nothing. So let’s look at what the teams were up to in Barcelona this week:
McLaren worked with 2 cars. Both of them with simulated 2009 levels of downforce, one of them with KERS (the MP4-23K). Both cars also ran the slick tyres that will return to Formula 1 next year. Gary Paffet tested for all three days, Pedro de la Rosa on Monday only before moving to the Force India garage for the other 2 days of testing.
Ferrari also worked with 2 cars. One with same (or similar) set up as the car used in Brazil, the other car with 2009 downforce levels. The team worked with slick tyres but had to do without KERS. They used ballast only to simulate the extra weight that the Ferrari KERS is expected to add to the weight of the car. Ferrari test drivers Luca Badoer and Marc Gené were behind the wheel. Badoer was also testing the movable front wing that will be allowed next season. The other focus of the test for Ferrari was increasing the engine reliability to last 3 races (as required by rules for next year).
The biggest attention in Barcelona without any doubt attracted BMW Sauber with their 2009 look car. Massive front wing combined with narrow and high rear wing earned this car the title “the ugliest ever” . BMW also fitted one of the cars with KERS (and some mechanics with rubber gloves). The fact that BMW Sauber used both their race drivers as well as test driver Christian Klien in Barcelona says something about BMW’s 2009 ambitions … The drivers reported more mechanical grip thanks to slick tyres but thanks to lower aero grip also lower speeds in fast corners (compared with what the 2008 car could do). No surprises …
Renault worked with two R28 cars with 2009 downforce level and focused on the slick tyres. The team gave Giedo van der Garde opportunity to test F1 car as a reward for his victory in Formula Renault 3.5 series. Nelson Piquet tested the other machine.
Toro Rosso had dual agenda. Similar to Renault they focused on the slick tyres (on cars with simulated 2009 aero levels) but the main attention of F1 fans and media turned into the shootout for 2 available Toro Rosso seats between Bourdais, Buemi and Sato. It however emerged following the test that more important than on the track performances may be ability to bring some serious cash to the team. I smell advantage Sato here …
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull invited WRC champion Sebastien Loeb to test with them (see video here). And the Frenchman did not do too bad … Days 2 and 3 the belonged to Red Bull’s new race driver Sebastian Vettel. He experienced some problems with breaks on Tuesday but that did not stop him from being the fastest driver on the track on both his test days. The team worked on similar things as Toro Rosso – performance of the slick tyres combined with the 2009 aero.
Nico Hülkenberg and Nico Rosberg shared the Williams car featuring the narrow high rear wing. The combination of 2009 aero levels and slick tyres were the main focus of testing here as well.
Honda were the other team that used the test for drivers evaluation. Rubens Barrichello stayed home while Bruno Senna and Lucas de Grassi were trying to impress Ross Brawn. The Honda team boss was happy with both young Brazilians. He is not yet ready to tell whom they will pick but one thing can be said – it does not look too good for Rubens Barrichello. Besides di Grassi and Senna Honda worked also with Jenson Button and their regular test driver Alex Wurz.
Honda was also one of the 2 teams testing the new 2009 style front wing that Sergio M in his comment on this blog called a “lawnmover” . Honda team seems to be encouraged by the resuls of their first winter test.
Force India was another team with 4 drivers in action. Race drivers Adrian Sutil, Giancarlo Fisichella and the test driver Vitantonio Liuzzi were joined by McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa. This was the last time the Force India cars ran with Ferrari power. The team is not expected to test again till late February when the bew chassis built around Mercedes engine should be available. Who knows if the real purpose for de la Rosa’s drive was not to make use of the last chance to collect some info about the Ferrari engine for his McLaren bosses . The real reason for de la Rosa’s test with Force India probably was to give Force India some extra feedback by an experienced F1 tester as a part of the official McLaren Force India cooperation. Of course it also called future of Fisichella and Sutil into question … Both Sutil and Fisichella however insist they do not feel threatened and their seats are safe.
The winter testing will continue in Jerez on December 8.