Pre-season testing is an exciting time in the Formula One calendar. It is the first chance for fans to see the new cars in action, the first chance to see some drivers at their new teams, but more importantly it is the first time a wheel has been turned in anger since the chequered flag fell at Interlagos two months ago and the realisation that the new season is just over the horizon.
With just nine days until the first test gets underway, here are some of the things to look out for over the coming weeks.
Times aren’t everything
While the teams will be pushing to see how good their new cars are, it is a very dangerous thing to take the timesheets as gospel at this stage. Teams will be running all sorts of different fuel loads, tyre compounds and aero packages as they look to test every component of their new challengers.
For example, some teams in the midfield might deliberately run with low fuel in an attempt to appear more competitive than they actually are. This was a ploy notably tried by Sauber in 2010 in an attempt to gain sponsorship. On the other hand, some of the bigger teams may run with heavy fuel loads and hide their true pace.
The best way to gauge how fast the new cars are is to look at a team’s long-run pace compared to its rivals. This generally gives a more accurate reading of a team’s performance than looking at the times. While looking at this won’t give a clear-cut picture of how each outfit stands, it can definitely give an indication of what to expect before Melbourne.
Varying track conditions
Unlike a Grand Prix weekend, where 90-minute sessions are the norm, a test session lasts all day. With temperatures rising and then falling again as the day goes on you could end up with lap times being much faster at the beginning of the day than the end, or vice versa. Therefore the running order can easily be distorted if a team stays in the garage when the track is at its best, so it’s worth looking out for when the best times were set and who was on track at that time.
In addition, if rain hits the track during the day the lap charts could give some indication as to how each team is looking in the wet, and could give an idea as to what could happen when the weather inevitably affects the running at some point during the season.
Barcelona a better indicator than Jerez
The Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona is widely accepted as one of the best indicators of a car’s performance. As a track that incorporates a mix of fast, medium and slow corners as well as a couple of long straights, it is a true all-rounder.
Therefore, if a team is off the pace at Barcelona, it is more likely to be a sign of a poor car than at Jerez, which isn’t as good a barometer of overall performance as its Spanish counterpart.
Watch out for interviews
Interviews can give a great indication of how good a team is looking ahead of the first race. While drivers and team principals will be hesitant to give too much away to their rivals, if they are refusing to talk to the media or stating that are still trying understand the car, as was the case with Ferrari last year, it could be a sign that a team is struggling.
On the flip side, if an outfit that isn’t troubling the timesheets but is subtly talking up their prospects, such as saying they are happy with the progress of their car and publicly stating they are where they wanted to be, it is generally a sign that they are sandbagging and will be right in the mix when the season begins.
Look out for the drivers
With each team allowed to run only one car per day during testing, you generally won’t see teammates run on the same day. Therefore it is best to check the times of both race drivers in a team to see how they are shaping up.
This will be particularly interesting in the cases of Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton, as it will give fans a chance to see how well they are adapting to their new teams. It also applies in the case of rookies such as Esteban Gutierrez and Valtteri Bottas as it will be the first chance to see how they stack up against more experienced teammates.
Looking at all these different factors can help give a much better idea of who’s hot and who’s not. And with just nine days to go until the cars fire up in Jerez, there is not long to go until we get the first indications about who stands where.