Saturday, 23 February 2013

Red Bull’s Secrecy in Testing: Concealing new developments or creating an illusion?

Formula One pre season testing is something of an enigma.  Not televised live, with after the event coverage being limited to half an hour, it is surrounded by a veil of secrecy.  Providing the opportunity to test new ideas and developments prior to the upcoming season, the teams are keen to shield the cars as much as possible, in order to prevent any new innovations being poached by rivals.  The swirling air of the clandestine that encases testing means it is the ideal time for teams to test how close to the regulation boundaries they can sail.  Two teams unable to disguise their evolution's were Caterham and Williams with the CT03 and FW35 both breaching the regulations with their exhaust layouts.  Although now deemed legal, the innovative new brake ducts on the Williams were scrutinised and the idea will no doubt soon be being adapted to suit the other cars on the grid. 

All teams surround their garages by secrecy shields during testing, but some create a more extensive mask.  So which team has the most to hide?  Red Bull were, without doubt, the most furtive in Barcelona.  While the other teams pull the cars back into the garage in full view of photographers and fans following a run, Red Bull pull their screen out to totally eclipse the RB9 on its return. 

Their attempts at concealment didn’t stop there.  A silver shrouding blanket was evident, thrown over the top of the car to further hide it from onlookers. 

In contrast to their current nemesis, Ferrari were very open on day one of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya.  There was no attempt to cloak the F138 as Fernando Alonso was wheeled in and out of the garage for all to see and almost as a spectacle for anyone watching, the nose was changed in the pit lane. 

Day two saw Ferrari behaving a little more secretively as they sheltered their car by ensuring the garage door was pulled down to meet the secrecy screen, perhaps due to the problems suffered with their exhaust pipe.  Likewise, Mercedes adopted the same method of obscuring their car from view, particularly on Tuesday when they didn’t manage as much running as they would have liked due to a gearbox issue.  Also suffering gearbox issues, the Lotus garage was highly shielded for the majority of the day. 

With Red Bull leading the development race for the last three years at the hands of aero wizard, Adrian Newey, it is understandable that they should want to hide any evolutions for fear of rivals emulating what they see.  However, their extraordinary attempts at concealment are laced with arrogance.  Their belief that they are superior and therefore will be the main focus for rival’s interest is far from endearing.  They are not the most adored team in the paddock, a badge that often comes hand in hand with continued success, especially when the team lacks the history that Ferrari, Williams and McLaren possess. 

Like the driving of Michael Schumacher, Red Bull are synonymous with pushing the boundaries, taking things to the limit.  In 2012 numerous developments made by the team were deemed questionable under technical regulations.   The holes in the floor ahead of the rear wheels on the RB8 were questioned before the Monaco Grand Prix.  Although not resulting in a protest, they were told to remove this design feature before the next race in Canada.  Prior to the German Grand Prix at Hockenhiem, the FIA were alerted to the fact that Red Bull were running a questionable torque map by their technical delegate Jo Bauer.  It was decided that it didn’t breach regulations, but the removal of it was ordered in time for the next race in Hungary.  This was followed by the ‘rideheight’ issue that emerged at the Hungaroring, when it was reported that a request had been made for the team to abolish the function to change the rideheight manually.    Red Bull are well renowned for taking development to the edge and are especially skilled at it. 

So what are Red Bull hiding?  Do they have a revolutionary, on the edge development under wraps or are they creating smoke and mirrors because they don’t?  With other teams such as Williams revealing interesting changes to their car for the 2013 season, Red Bull may be feeling the pressure, possibly fuelling mind games.  Their overzealous approach to creating mystery around testing could just be an illusion.  One that will be shattered in Melbourne. 

Barcelona Testing in Pictures: Day 2

              Perez leaving garage on medium tyres.  He recorded the fastest time of the day.

                                                  Instructions for Lewis from the pitwall.

                        Charles Pic is bought back into the garage after a run on hard tyres.

                                      Daniel Ricciardo practices a start at the pit lane exit.

                                            As does Valtteri Bottas, but on the soft tyres.

                                          Williams run  the step nose for a while on day 2.

                                           Lewis Hamilton practices a start on hard tyres.

                                         Nico Rosberg does a photoshoot in the pitlane.

                                                      Followed by Esteban Guttierez

              After suffering a gearbox issue, Kimi Raikkonen finally emerged from the garage.

                                                                   Flags at the ready

                                                          Alonso sweeps round Turn 16

                                                                      As does Vettel

Barcelona Testing in Pictures: Day 1

Pastor Maldonado showcases the FW35

Sergio Perez on track

Alonso leaves the garage for an early run

Kimi Raikkonen  leaves the garage on medium tyres.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Slow and Steady Wins The Race: Williams Tardy Launch of FW35

Compared with their nadir season in 2011, 2012 delivered more success for Williams as they enjoyed a masterful victory in Barcelona courtesy of Pastor Maldonado, and finished one place higher in the Constructors Championship in eighth.  However, it was still not a season that is synonymous of the Historic Grand Prix team.  Suffering setbacks in relation to the loss of influential figures Toto Wolff and Mark Gillan, a realistic aim for 2013 will be ascendancy up the midfield with Toro Rosso, Sauber, and Force India in their sights.  These are teams who, at this point in time, appear to be ahead in the development race.  Hare like, they sprinted away launching their 2013 challengers prior to the first winter test in Jerez.  In contrast, Williams have taken a more leisured, tortoise like approach to the launch of the FW35. 

Williams FW34  Photo:

2012’s FW34 benefited from a return to a Renault engine, replacing the Cosworth featured on the FW33 in 2011. The different engine facilitated the use of a svelter engine cover resulting in more possibilities aerodynamically.  The car sported a relatively small gearbox and a complex front wing.  Attempts during the year to introduce a Coanda style exhaust system proved fruitless as no more efficiency was recorded.  Therefore the Non Coanda system stayed in place providing the team with a chance to develop the rear brake ducts. 

At the first winter test in Jerez, Williams used the 2012 spec car as a vehicle for the testing of new parts for the FW35.  A Coanda exhaust layout was present, an indication of another attempt at making it work more effectively in terms of performance gain.  Cosmetically, some changes were visually apparent including rhinoplasty by way of a vanity panel and slight modifications in livery. 

Already looking sleeker, the FW34 with 'new bits' Photo:

Suffering a clutch installation problem on Day Two of the first test, the resulting loss of time pencilled in for aero evaluations meant that only tyre analysis was achieved.  A far from ideal situation considering the abrasive nature of the track at Jerez prevents a true picture of tyre behaviour being obtained. 

Day three proved to be more productive as Valtteri Bottas completed 86 laps, some of which were higher fuel runs.  Tyre work was forfeited in favour of aero analysis due to the lack of reliable data caused by the inclement track surface.   At the close of day four, Mike Coughlan reported on the Williams website, 

“We have gone through a complete programme testing various parts that will be used on the FW35.  This compliments our current philosophy of using rigs to pass off systems before running them on the car.” 

When asked whether he thought the teams relatively slow rate of development in comparison with the other teams had impacted negatively during testing Bottas replied,

“We got some positive results and the whole test was basically positive for us.”  He also explained that one of these positives was the chance to test new parts on the old car. 
There was certainly no indication from anyone at the team that their steady tortoise avenue into the 2013 season put them at a disadvantage, however combined times after the four days reveal both drivers to be around two seconds of the pace, set by Felipe Massa, with only Caterham and Marussia drivers lying below them.  

Unveiled in the pit lane prior to the start of day one of testing in Barcelona, the FW35 was greeted with heightened interest due to its tardy birth.  With livery and nose as flaunted on the FW34 at Jerez on first glance your eyes are drawn to the rapacious undercut of the sidepods.  Mike Coughlan explained that there are 80% of the parts are new.
"Use of the DRS is more restricted this year, so we'll take some resource away from that and focus on other areas."

These other areas include:  new rear suspension, new radiators, new floor, new bodywork, a new nose, with perhaps the most significant change being their choice to switch to a Coanda exhaust layout after dabbling with it on the FW34.

Having a car sporting 80% new parts means that Williams have undergone a higher level of evolution than the other teams, it seems the extra time engineered for themselves by running the 2012 car at Jerez has been used efficiently.  Maybe slow and steady will win the race.

FW35.  Photo: Briony Dixon

There was nothing slow and steady about the 2013 challenger as the honour of giving the FW35 it’s highly awaited track debut was bestowed on experienced Williams driver, Pastor Maldonado.  In his hands he swept it speedily around the track for 86 laps and achieved the fifth fastest time of the day.

FW35 on track at Barcelona.  Photo: Briony Dixon

So who will win the race, the tortoise or the hare?  Will those who attacked the development race with impatient vigour triumph, or will the more dilatory approach prevail?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Can Sebastian Vettel Prove His Worth While Still at Red Bull?

Despite winning three consecutive driver’s titles, there is still a shroud of mystery surrounding how good a driver Sebastian Vettel really is.  Achieving something only previously attained by Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher should have set him apart as one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport.  However, out of all the current drivers, it is Fernando Alonso who holds this accreditation.  The enigma behind Vettel’s success needs to be unravelled to reveal the true picture.

Spending his three victorious years driving the most superior car on the grid, and one designed by aerodynamic virtuoso, Adrian Newey, throws up the conundrum about whether his talents stretch further than being able to deliver in an outstanding car.  

Vettel celebrates with Adrian Newey after his car delivers another victory. Planet

In 2010 there was no doubt that the RB6 was the best car.  Sebastian clinched the title closely run between himself, team mate Mark Webber, and Fernando Alonso in the final race in Abu Dhabi.  It was the first time he had led the championship race all year. Luck had certainly been smiling on the young German as Vitaly Petrov held Alonso and Webber up, allowing Robert Kubica to rejoin in front of them following his pit stop, gifting Vettel the victory and putting him four points clear of Alonso in the Championship.

Vettel wins in Brazil 2010.  F1Fanatic.

2011 was a year completely dominated by Vettel; an easy victory sparking talk about whether his abilities were limited to leading from the front.    In a more closely fought championship however, 2012 affirmed his talent in overtaking.  Starting in the pit lane in Abu Dhabi due to a breach of the rules regarding the amount of fuel left in the car after qualifying, he incised his way through the field finishing third.  His unfortunate incident on the opening lap in Brazil that left him nursing a damaged car for the entirety of the race, gave him another opportunity to prove his worth as he made up eighteen places to finish in sixth.   Despite showing that he does possess skill in overtaking, he did so in the best car on the grid, meaning that the cloud of enigma hasn’t entirely dissipated. 

An attempt frequently made to solve the mystery of Sebastian Vettel is the comparison between himself and team mate Mark Webber.  Webber hasn’t been able to match his young counterparts success, however the notion of Mark being a number two driver at Red Bull is one that, although unsaid, continues to make itself apparent.   His comment, “Not bad for a number two driver” comment following his win at Silverstone in 2010 is now infamous.  This was a win he achieved despite being impeded by the team’s decision to remove his front wing in favour of Vettel, and the comment confirmed his number two status.  More recently, Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicalli has cast doubt over whether the team mates are given identical machinery.   No one is denying Sebastian Vettel has a remarkable talent, perhaps of a higher class than that of Mark Webber,  but when given superior machinery is it clear to tell how much higher?

Often talked about as the best ever to have driven an F1 car, Juan Manuel Fangio won five championships with four different constructors; a feat achieved by seeking out the teams with the best cars.  Fangio is described as exuding style and grace in his driving and there must be no disputing he must have been heavily laden with talent in order to secure a drive with the team fielding the most superior car each season.  However, following the teams that can provide a car guaranteed to win a World Championship, or staying with a team who can deliver the same promise, reveals an unease about their own talent. 

Fangio achieved his five titles by moving to the best team each season.  F1Fanatic

At the time of his tragic death at Hockenheim in 1968, Jim Clark was the most decorated driver of all time, having clocked up the most wins and pole positions.  He experienced times when the car was far from competitive, particularly in 1966 due to regulation changes, a season in which he still took a victory and finished sixth in the Championship.  He was renowned for being able to drive and take victories in all sorts of cars and series, showing an innate ability to metamorphasise his talents to the needs of each car, but he also showed that he was able to achieve success in a car that was far from the best.  Such traits are not possessed by Sebastian Vettel.  At the beginning of the 2012 season, Mark Webber was outperforming his team mate because it took the German longer to get used to the RB8. 

Jim Clark:  The most talented driver ever?

It takes talent, and strength of mind, to go to a team with a car still requiring development.  Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso both proved expertise in their craft by moving to Ferrari at a time when the car wasn’t competitive.  Lewis Hamilton has taken the first steps to affirming his flair and skill with a move to Mercedes.  Recently, Adrian Newey made a comment about the lack of input Sebastian Vettel have on the car.  Clearly there with the sole purpose of driving the car, will he ever be able to move to a team to support development as Schumacher did at Ferrari, or as Hamilton hopes to do at Mercedes?

With the most authentic example of his actual talent arguably being his win at Monza in 2008 in an uncompetitive Toro Rosso, it would seem that no matter how many titles he wins, an air of ambiguity surrounding his real talent will continue to follow Sebastian Vettel all the while he remains within the comfort of Red Bull. Although yet to prove whether he has made the right move, Lewis Hamilton has shown he has the confidence to move to a team not leading the pack.  If the mist of mystery surrounding Vettel is to evaporate, maybe he should follow Lewis’ example, demonstrating faith in his own talent.  After all, if he doesn’t, why should anyone else?  

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Will Ferrari’s Holistic Changes Help Match Red Bull?

Characterised by the fact that the phrase ‘Evolution, not revolution.’ is rapidly becoming the most uttered and rather hackneyed term to describe development of the cars, the stable regulations for the 2013 season should result in a more evenly matched grid.  Teams unable to achieve a suitably accelerated pace of development in 2012 now have the chance to fire up those cylinders and make haste to catch those leading the way.

At the launch of the RB9, Adrian Newey described how the lack of major changes led to this more evolutionary approach,

“It’s really been a case of refining the RB8.  There are no huge changes.  It’s very much an evolutionary car.  All the principles the same as last year.”

He then went on to explain that development continues throughout the year and that the winter break has been no different to breaks between races,

“It just so happens that we have had three months between races rather than two weeks.”

There are differences between last year’s Championship winning car and the RB9, but they are small and would be more suited to the heading ‘improvements’.  The slit across the front of the nose to increase airflow sported by Sauber last year, is now in evidence on the Red Bull, replacing the letterbox style hole used on the RB8.  The Coanda  exhaust system has been perfected and a monkey seat has been introduced to the rear of the car; a change adopted by most teams for 2013.  

The RB9 on track at Jerez.  Picture courtesy of
With a relatively sideways step in terms of development by Red Bull, 2013 could be the season that Ferrari, runners up in the Championship race last year, are able to reach the same level of performance.  However, the launch of the new Prancing Horse, the F138, didn’t reveal a considerable amount of changes either.   Providing some aerodynamic benefit, the innovative front pull rod suspension used on the 2012 Ferrari, has been retained on the new challenger.  The floor is more tightly encased so more air can charge through on its way to the diffuser, an improvement to the largely ineffective coke bottle area on the F2012. New for this year though are the slots on the rear wing end plate.  As with the front pull rod suspension, this is another old Minardi innovation, dusted off and rekindled.

The F138.  Image courtesy of

While we wait to see the definitive aerodynamic developments at the second winter test in Barcelona, both of the teams seem to have taken the evolutionary approach.  However, Ferrari have been more revolutionary in other aspects of the team.   Identifying the need to strengthen the aerodynamics department, Loic Bigois was hired from Mercedes in 2012, a move that has been bolstered by the subsequent arrival of Briton Martin Bester from his position as aerodynamics team leader at Williams, in January this year.    Having worked together previously at Williams, they should form a strong team. 

Dramatically restructuring their design team, personnel are now split between development on the 2013 car and designing the challenger for the 2014 season, which will see drastic regulation changes.  Whilst it is the role of Chief Designer Nikolas Tombazis to chaperon both projects, Simone Resta is responsible for the F138, with Fabio Montecchi leading the way in design for 2014.  In contrast, Red Bull have confirmed they are not in the position to take the same stance.  When talking to the official Formula One website, Team Principal Christian Horner said,

“No we don’t have that big amount of resource.  It is a matter of balancing your resource between 2013 and the challenge of 2014.  That is one of the major challenges of this season, to juggle both developments.”

Adrian Newey has a strong aero team around him, but it is he who is the design genius.  It is imperative that he look forward to next year, to give the 2014 car a significant amount of his time, leaving a possible lull in development for the RB9 this season.  This could be a potential frailty Ferrari could exploit. 

In 2012, the Maranello based team suffered from wind tunnel issues.  In need of updating and improvement, their own wind tunnel was closed in 2012, resulting in a switch to the Toyota wind tunnel in Cologne.  Having to correlate results between the two tunnels had a negative impact on the performance of the car last year; an issue that won’t be apparent in 2013 as outlined by Stefano Domenicalli,

“I certainly expect to see greater efficiency than last year because we will no longer to carry out comparisons of data with the Maranello wind tunnel.”

Another addition comes in the form of former driver Pedro de la Rosa, who joins the team as development driver; there to ensure the simulator programme reaches its full potential.   In his test driver role for McLaren between 2003 and 2009, the Spaniard became very familiar with simulator work, thus making him an important component in Ferrari’s revolution, providing them with invaluable experience and knowledge. 

Photo of Pedro de la Rosa courtesy of

Having a very moderate start to the development race in 2012, it is vital this languid dawn isn’t repeated, a sentiment voiced by Domenicalli,

“We have to make sure we avoid the start of the season as last year and even the year before.  Because then it puts us in a situation where we spend a lot of resources and effort to catch up.”

Testing in Jerez would so far suggest this isn’t the case.  Although testing times are fairly meaningless due to variances in tyres and fuel load, Felipe Massa did top the time sheets on day three, but perhaps more importantly, revealed that there seems to be a huge difference in this year’s car, compared with the F2012 in terms of development at the beginning of the season. 

With a reinforced aerodynamics team, improvements to the simulator programme, and without the issue of tunnel correlation, it is not inconceivable that Ferrari could be a match for Red Bull in the war for the Constructor’s crown this season.   While neither team has been particularly revolutionary in terms of design, changes in other areas mean Ferrari are holistically revolutionised for the 2013 season. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

STR8: Toro Rosso Uncloak Their 2013 challenger

A rainy Sunday at Monza in 2008 was the setting for Toro Rosso’s finest hour at the hands of now triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel.   Following his promotion to Red Bull for the 2009 season, sister team Toro Rosso have spent the time since, building castles in the air in a bid to recapture those heady heights. 

The 2012 season saw Toro Rosso trailing peers in the development fight, displaying performance figures superior only to the ‘new’ teams; a story reflected in their race pace as their updates were not sizeable enough to match competitors.  Suffering from the restriction on exhaust blown diffusers for the 2012 season, technology that Toro Rosso had mastered successfully, the STR7 spent the season on the tails of the majority of the opposition.  The only car to feature extensively undercut sidepods, the STR7 struggled to produce adequate downforce for effective racing at most circuits.

2012 car:  STR7

The pace of the drivers mirrored that of the performance and pace of the car.  In 2013, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne will be looking to prove their worth.  Having been given a grace period due to their relative lack of experience, this season will be the year they will be expected to make a significant impact, and will need to deliver results for fear of attracting the wrath of Helmut Marko.  The faith of both immersed in what lay beneath the shroud, as they stepped up to unveil the STR8 on the eve of the first test in Jerez. 

Team mates under pressure.  Can the STR8 deliver?

The hopes and aspirations for a successful 2013 and ascension up the Championship table lay beneath a car shaped vision representing cloaked dreams.  On removal of the cloak, eyes were initially drawn to the use of a full vanity panel giving the Toro Rosso 2013 challenger an instantly beautiful line from the nose up to the cockpit.  Moving across to the sidepods, which have a gently sloping gradient giving more of a curve than was evident on the STR7.  The heavily undercut feature of the sidepods on last year’s car is maintained, as is the push rod front suspension and the Semi Coanda exhaust system. 

Will the appointment of James Key, who led the design team responsible for the successful Sauber C31 in 2012, have proved to have fortified the aero department at Toro Rosso guiding them back on the quest for technical stability?  Considering they were significantly behind most competitors in terms of development last year, are there enough changes on the STR8 to catch the rest of the field.  Will this be the year they stop chasing rainbows and reach the pot of gold? 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Williams' Late Launch: A Halt in their Revival?

Close of the 2012 Formula One season.   Williams are celebrating a year adorned with a plethora of accomplishments in comparison with the basal amount that decorated their substandard 2011. Claiming 76 points and securing eighth in the Constructors championship, compared with ninth place and only 5 points, hints that Williams are obtaining new life from the ashes of their season spent languishing in the abyss of under performance.   

On the up:  The team celebrate Maldonado's win.

Having replaced Adam Parr as Executive Director of the team, Toto Wolff, with his visionary leadership style, has administered an injection of vitality, and together with a rapidly gelling new technical team in the form of Chief Operations Engineer, Mark Gillan, and Technical director Mike Coughlan, the revival is on.  Victory in Barcelona at the hands of Pastor Maldonado demonstrated their potential and stands as the hallmark of their resurgence. The promotion of the next flying Finn, Valtteri Bottas, from reserve driver to a race seat alongside the Venezuelan, creates a driver pairing oozing speed and fireworks. 

Bottas and Maldonado:  A pairing to be revered?

F1 Racing’s January edition sports a front cover devoted to ‘Williams Reloaded’ with the respective article telling the story of their current optimism.  Riding high and looking forward to another season to consolidate and build on their 2012, a phoenix in the shape of the Williams F1Team is beginning to stretch its wings. 

2013:  A Different Picture

February 2013.  A month that opens with the shroud of secrecy  surrounding the new challengers for the new season being removed, as the teams unveil their new cars and put them through their paces during winter testing at Jerez.  Having already announced that they will not be revealing the Renault powered FW35 until the second test in Barcelona, Williams head to the first test with the 2012 FW34 in tow.  While the other ten teams on the grid start gathering priceless data and information about the performance of their latest offerings, the extent of Williams’ learning will be about the behaviour of the new Pirelli tyres.  Talking to Finland’s Turan Sanomat newspaper, Valterri Bottas said,

“We will be experimenting with a lot of parts for the new car, but of course the main focus is to get a feel for this year’s Pirelli tyres.”

The limitation of only being able to try out components that may or may not make their way onto the finished machine, while the other teams and drivers gain a fundamental  feel for the whole car enabling tweaks to extract more speed to be made, sees the Williams phoenix dissolving slowly into the shape of an albatross. 

Playing catch up in terms of development is not the only obstacle Williams are faced with.  Tempted by the lure of the three pointed star, Toto Wolff took his passion and vision to Mercedes, appointed as Norbert Haug’s successor.  Prior to this, leader of the restored technical team, Mark Gillan announced his departure from the team for family reasons. Having been central to their 2012 revival, the departure of these key figures has delivered a significant sting to the Williams tail. 

Mark Gillan on the pit wall.

Although gifting Williams their first win since 2004, Pastor Maldonado’s erratic driving style cost the team a lot of points in 2012.  To the detriment of the team, last year’s most penalised driver has admitted he has no desire to modify the way he drives. Speaking to Spain’s Marca Sports newspaper, Maldonado revealed,

“Every time I walk down a hallway in my house and see everything I’ve got with this style, I think I should continue on this path.  Yes I’ve had run ins with other drivers, not only now, but in the past,”  “That gives me strength to keep going because you can always improve.” 

The arrogance exuded by Pastor is another battle Williams have to fight.  Another season ruing loss of points due to careless and often erratic racing will not support Williams’ wish to end the season further up the table.    Imagine what they could look forward to if their most experienced driver toned and refined his approach. 

Maldonado loses points as a result of the clash with Lewis Hamilton in Valencia.

Whilst hotly tipped to be a star of the future, Valtteri Bottas is a rookie and may take a longer to get a handle on the car.  Mirroring his inexperience, Bottas’ new race engineer, Jonathan Eddolls is also new to the position. 

Two months on from the climax of the season in Brazil, the situation at Williams paints a very different picture.  We look forward to our first glimpse of the FW35 at the second test in Barcelona and only then will we see if this once consistently triumphant team can revive their revival.  For now at least, it would seem that the wings of the majestic Williams phoenix have been clipped, leaving it to languish in the ashes awaiting resurrection once more.