The final pre-season Formula One test gets under way in Barcelona tomorrow, just fourteen days before we congregate in Melbourne for the first race of the 2013 season. With the test set to be broadcast in 3D in the UK via SkyF1 HD, it’ll certainly be one for the history books. What concerns the teams though, is the work that remains to be done in the next four days.
LOTUS – Probably the strongest of the teams so far in 2013? Aside from one or two reliability difficulties in the software of Kimi Raikkonen’s car the Enstone-based outfit have consistently logged competitive times in both qualifying and race trim. Degradation doesn’t seem as much of an issue for Lotus as it has done for some of the other top teams, so they are outside favourites for a world championship going by current form. This week will be about sorting out operational errors and fine-tuning the E21 ahead of Albert Park.
FERRARI – Fernando Alonso got some serious mileage under his belt last week and will be looking for more of the same this time around. The F138 is one of the most reliable cars so far and has yet to reveal a consistent chink in its armour. It may not be pretty, but it certainly looks an improvement on last year’s abomination. Considering he almost took that car to a title, you’d be insane to suggest Alonso might not put that error right this year. Barcelona test three will be geared toward making the F138 even quicker than it already is for Ferrari.
RED BULL – It would be foolish to suggest the World Champions are not as competitive as they were last year; after all, this team has had quiet pre-season programmes before, remember? 2012 wasn’t exactly perfect from the word ‘go’, and yet Red Bull once again walked away with two Championship cups come season’s end. The RB9 hasn’t set the timing screens alight, and this test will probably be no different. Red Bull will be concentrating on giving Adrian Newey and his backroom boffins the data they need to ensure that come Melbourne, we have a Red Bull on pole. No prizes for guessing which one though!
MERCEDES – Faster than many expected so far, but we saw this before in both 2011 and 2012; both of which turned out to be damp squibs. Hamilton and Rosberg have proven equally matched so far, so Mercedes certainly not fear for the strength of their driver line-up. What does remain a weakness however is the lack of downforce compared to the likes of the Red Bull. Merc have gone some way to rectifying this with a new front wing introduced in time to be tested late in the Jerez test, and this week will be more of the same considering that reliability and race distance have already been tackled.
MCLAREN – Paddy Lowe’s defection to Mercedes won’t have helped the British team, but Jenson Button doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem anyway. Drawing criticism from some jaded souls after he claimed there was ‘still work to do’ Button in particularly will be eager for more time in the MP4-28. Sergio Perez is currently ahead of the 2009 World Champion on mileage, but Button will be aiming to change that this week. Mclaren must seek to eliminate the gaps in their understanding of the car in Barcelona, otherwise Australia could spring some unwanted surprises on them.
TORO ROSSO – Their speed may have been ‘glory-runs’, or it may have been genuine; I think the latter is more true given the nature of the tests so far and tyres the STR8 has been using. It seems the Italian minnows have taken a considerable step forward and they will seek to underline that suspicion in the final test.
FORCE INDIA – Still doing themselves no favours by failing to name a second driver, Force India have only the regular input of one man, Paul Di Resta, in their evaluation of the VJM06. If they announce who will fill the long-vacant tomorrow, that man will need most of this test to get up to speed and further harm the teams chances of reaching Australia on an even keel. With the failure of his airline, Kingfisher, fresh in his mind, team boss Dr Vijay Mallya will not want the same thing to happen to his Formula One team. Force India must get their act together in the next few days.
SAUBER – Slower than they were in 2012, of that there is no doubt. Hulkenberg is an asset, but Gutierrez has yet to impress and the C32 is certainly no looker ranked alongside its 2013 counterparts. ‘Revolutionary’ has often equally meant ‘failure’ in Formula One terms, and it seems radical sidepods may not do the job for the Swiss team this year. Sauber need speed, and they need it quick. That is what they will be seeking during this test.
WILLIAMS – The FW35 is a difficult one to judge having appeared at only the one test, but hopefully this week will go some way to furthering our understanding of the car.
MARUSSIA – Possibly even further off the midfield than they have ever been (if possible), yet seemingly quicker than their back-of-the-grid rivals Caterham. It’s a step in the right direction for Marussia, who til now have been firmly behind the green cars. Barcelona will be about consolidating that advantage.
CATERHAM – Not as strong as before. Put simply, the CT03 just isn’t quick enough and that will be a major concern for team owner Tony Fernandes. Once seen as the strongest of the new teams, Caterham are now firmly the slowest on the grid. Serious work is needed to recover a waning reputation.
Driving schedules have yet to be published.