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Part 2 of our at-a-glance analysis of the new F1 cars testing in Spain

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Part 2 of our at-a-glance analysis of the new F1 cars testing in Spain
Feb 23, 2016, 10:11 AM

Continuing our look at the new F1 cars testing at Barcelona for the first time, with the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, formerl...

Continuing our look at the new F1 cars testing at Barcelona for the first time, with the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, formerly chief operations engineer at Force India.

With the hybrid power units now entering their third season in F1, they are fairly stable, which means that teams are able to expect to do a high mileage from the outset of testing. This is important as there are only eight days of testing until March 4th and then a tight turnaround with the cars before they fly off on the weekend of March 12th to Melbourne.

As well as bedding in the cars, teams will be using the eight days to get the drivers up to speed on managing key areas in the cockpit alone, as radio communication has been drastically reduced. "We can't tell the drivers anything, basically," complained one of the team technical directors. Drivers will have to work alone on some important areas like fuel use, brake balance and tyre wear with little data or help from engineers.

This change has been coming for some time, but drivers will take take to familiarise themselves with new ways to pass the data to the drivers via screens on the steering wheel and such like.

We already covered Force India, Red Bull and Manor in Part 1. Here are our thoughts on some of the other new cars running today in Barcelona.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso Ferrari

No pageantry from Toro Rosso as the first anyone saw of their new car was when it drove out of the garage and went for its first lap.

The big change for this season is clearly the switch from the unreliable and underpowered Renault to 2015 specification Ferrari engines. This should give them around 0.8seconds straight off plus what ever they have been able to gain from the chassis. The downside of the switch, particularly how late the confirmation of the deal came through, is that the technical team had to re-engineer the car away from the Renault is was designed around, to the Ferrari.

The result will be some inherent compromises and carry-over problems that they will not be able to sort out completely this season.

The car looked lovely in its plain blue test livery; with sister team Red Bull having gone for a new livery very similar to what Toro Rosso has run in recent years, the team is clearly having to evolve away from that and we will see the results in due course.

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz remain as the driver line-up, one of the most exciting new pairings to emerge in recent years and both should be able to show what they can do this year in a more reliable package and with knowledge of all the circuits and of how an F1 race weekend works.

Our View : A solid technical team under James Key builds on its 2015 package and adds another 40-50 horsepower in the engine. Toro Rosso has some nice details on it; it has deeply undercut side pods, leading to tight bodywork at the rear and should be able to race at Force India's level or above at the outset.

They have to stockpile points early in the season, as their midfield rivals will get a series of power boosts as the season goes on and the manufacturers use up their development tokens.

XPB.cc

Renault

The team used to be Lotus and has become Renault, but it was a late decision and the team has had to change the layout from one designed around the Mercedes engine, to one designed around the Renault.

Nor surprisingly, given that the Lotus was a reasonable car last year, capable of top ten qualifying slots and even a podium in Spa, the team has evolved the car for this year. Also there is a limited amount Renault could achieve in 2016 as it rebuilds the team, so the new management has clearly decided to focus efforts on 2017.

That said, the 2017 regulations have not yet been set in stone and there are more discussion on these over the coming days. There has been talk in the last few days that this may not lead to a desirable outcome, so the rule changes could be pushed back to 2018, in which case the teams that have gone for a more revolutionary design may well get more payback.

Time will tell.

Renault technical director Nick Chester confirmed the modest change from 2015 to 2016, "The R.S.16 builds on Enstone’s previous cars, but naturally we have had to significantly change aspects of the car to house the Renault power unit, the R.E.16. The major changes are at the back of the chassis, particularly how we have laid out the cooling system. The rest of the car is more of an evolution."

Our View : A move backwards from the final part of last season is likely, given that they've dropped around 60 horsepower with the engine change, which equates to a second per lap. They might make up some of that with chassis improvements, but it's still a net loss.

Haas F1

Haas F1

The first car from the new Haas F1 team managed 31 laps on its first outing; it would have been more, but the car was held in the garage in the late morning as the team sought to understand why the front wing had broken off on the straight. It is likely to have been a manufacturing problem, which is not uncommon on new cars, especially with a new team.

Considering that it was designed and built in collaboration with Ferrari the car has some family resemblances, but not as many as may have been imagined.

Looked at in detail some of the manufacturing is not class leading, but it's early days for the team and their main focus will be getting as much reliable running as possible.

Haas' 31 laps on day one compares with a similar distance covered on day one last year by Red Bull, while the troubled 2015 McLaren Honda managed just six laps of Jerez, so Haas is off to a more promising start!

Our View : They have come in at a higher level than the Caterham, Marussia new teams in 2010. But it's way too early to judge Haas' potential based on one day. High mileage this week and some short runs next week will give a better picture.

Lewis Hamilton

Early thoughts on the front runners

Ferrari went fastest on day one with Mercedes racking up the mileage, but both cars look strong and there is every reason to anticipate a more competitive season this year.

Mercedes has refined its car, but Lewis Hamilton said after the first day that it is a very similar car to last year's. The Ferrari is much more of a step change and the detailing of the aerodynamics shows the level of care and attention that has gone into closing the gap.

Much has been made of the decision to switch from pull rod to push rod suspension after four years, with theories about this suiting Kimi Raikkonen better, among others.

XPB.cc

The reality is that 99% of the decision to switch will have been made for aerodynamic reasons, as the gains which Ferrari believed it was deriving in the past from pullrod have gone. It had some advantages in getting componentry out of the way of vital air flows from the front wing. But the way that front wings have evolved, that is no longer an attractive option.

Push rod allows the team to run more roll stiffness at the front and that can be an advantage.

Our View : It's early days and the real picture of how close Mercedes and Ferrari are on qualifying pace and race pace will not really emerge until the season starts. It's the last couple of tenths in the final run of Q3 that is the key to this season. On race pace Ferrari was close to Mercedes by the end of last season.

To make the difference, to win races and challenge for the championship they need an aggressive engine mode equal to the Mercedes for qualifying and we'll only see whether they have that in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.
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