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Notes from the trackside at final Barcelona test

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Notes from the trackside at final Barcelona test
Feb 27, 2015, 7:43 PM

There are two more days of testing left before the start of a new F1 season.

There are two more days of testing left before the start of a new F1 season. An ideal time to get close to the action and look for indications and clues as to the season ahead.

Along with JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, we've been trackside in Barcelona checking out the new cars and speaking to teams, drivers and engineers.

Mercedes F1

Today Nico Rosberg let the Mercedes stretch its legs and set a time of 1m 22.792, some 1.2 seconds faster than Valtteri Bottas had managed in the Williams on soft tyres and 0.8s faster than Felipe Massa's time yesterday. This broadly aligns with what figures from the top teams are saying, that the Mercedes is 0.8s to 1 sec per lap ahead of Williams and Ferrari in underlying pace, which are very close indeed to each other.

Ferrari has struggled for a number of years for qualifying pace, whereas Williams last year had a series of front row and second row starts. It will be interesting to see whether Ferrari has managed to rectify that problem in addition to all the work they have done on chassis and power unit.

Rosberg did another lap shortly afterwards that was barely a tenth slower. The Mercedes seemed to be using more revs in certain parts of the circuit. Mercedes certainly look set to control the championship again from the start with pace and consistency and they have plenty of development steps through the season on chassis and engine.

Ferrari F1

However behind them is a very close battle; Ferrari and Williams both look very purposeful and the cars work well and the feeling is that there is not much to choose between them. The Ferrari, driven by Vettel today, is very responsive at the front end and turns in very precisely and consistently, which should suit Kimi Raikkonen well. It has clearly improved enormously in the power unit department, as shown by the improvement in the customer Sauber team's performance as well.

The straight line speeds are much more competitive and the power delivery is clearly much better; it's a car that Vettel and Raikkonen should be able to rack up plenty of points and some podiums with this year. Reliability looks good for Ferrari in particular, they've done a high mileage, as they did again today.

Williams are bolting on performance parts this week, like a new front wing and starting to stretch the car a bit. It looks nimble and responsive, perhaps a bit more understeer today than the Ferrari; Bottas' quick lap on softs looked imperfect from our position at Turn 5, where he locked the inside front wheel.

The Red Bull team was working on aerodynamic measurements today, carrying a double kiel probe device on Daniil Kvyat's car for measuring aerodynamic performance first thing this morning. To run one of these on both sides is quite an ambitious thing to do, in engineering terms, because it requires a great deal of time and effort to plumb it in and derig and to process the data.

Red Bull

There is no doubt that the Red Bull is losing time on the straights compared to the other front runners, especially now that Ferrari has raised its game in that area. Rosberg was the slowest Mercedes engined car on the straight today, meaning that they have a lot of downforce. He was half a second faster in both Sector 2 and Sector 3, which are the ones that indicate downforce levels. So they are in a luxurious position, while Williams is still a little skinny on downforce in low to medium speed corners.

For Sauber, Felipe Nasr set a relatively fast looking time, a fraction off the Williams, but there is clearly more time to come from the driver, who looked quite untidy today.

There is some work to do there for Nasr, although to be fair to them it did look as though they were pushing for performance today and he just needs to find more consistency. The straight line speeds are among the fastest. Looking at the difference in pace between his hot lap time and his long run times (in the 1m 31s) it is very clear that he was running low fuel when he set that 1m 24s lap. In contrast Bottas' long runs were in the 1m 29s.

McLaren F1

The good news for McLaren is that they managed over 100 laps today for the first time. The longer runs are in the 1m 31s and Jenson Button did a performance run later to achieve a 1m 25.5, so there is a lot of work to do. The straight line speed is down on the leading cars, with a non DRS top speed of around 290km/h, compared to 310km/h for the front runners.

Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen did 139 laps, as well plenty of pit stop practice. His long runs in the morning in particular were impressive; fast and consistent. The widespread feeling up and down the teams in the pit lane is that the Dutchman looks very promising. He will not be error free, but he is obviously exceptional. He does seem very at home in F1 already and hits a strong consistent pace. The car struggled on the hard Pirelli tyres to warm them up, but they weren't alone on that.

The tyres look quite durable this year, which will mean that they could be tough to warm up in some places, but not as bad as last year. The compounds stay the same but the constructions are different. It is something the big teams wanted as it suits them and, as is not uncommon in F1, they have got their way.

Lotus has certainly addressed the problems in the chassis from last year. The car looks more drivable and the Mercedes power unit has made them one of the fastest cars on the straight. Maldonado was his usual aggressive self, but despite his forceful turn-ins to corners the Lotus took its time to warm up the medium tyres on a cool day in Barcelona. Until they go for a performance run it's hard to say where they'll be in the midfield mix, but the long runs were not particularly fast.

Force India had a good day today, managing to get some meaningful running in, despite their own predictions that the new 2015 car may not be built up until Saturday. There will be a mad dash at the factory to get a second car built up to freight out to Australia next week and I doubt that the spares section in the garage at Melbourne will be overly full.

The car looks pretty good, although it's early days. The second chassis is likely to roll out for the first time in Melbourne, so it will be interesting to see which driver is given the more sorted one.

Force India 2015
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Daniil Kvyat’s pre-season testing programme drew to a close today in Barcelona

Daniil Kvyat’s pre-season testing programme drew to a close today in Barcelona
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