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Crofty Blog – 2017 Winter Testing

Testing, testing, one-two, one-two, as they say. Well they do if they’re my mate Baggy for instance. He’s a sound engineer and probably says that quite a bit, but you might not have uttered that phrase ever, I really don’t know.

Either way, it’s all been about testing in the last couple of weeks in the world of F1. Eight days where the new cars were put through their paces and where the teams battled to find the sweet spot and try to put their car in a window of performance in time for the first Grand Prix.

In truth, most will have come back from Barcelona thinking that they’re sat on the ledge outside their required window of performance, whilst some will have gone back to base believing the window was still firmly shut. From what I could gather from the various conversations I had over the course of the four days I spent in Barcelona, nobody was completely happy.

Winter Testing - FerrariNot even Ferrari who, for the second year running, posted the fastest two times. And, unlike last year, preferred to let their car do most of the talking, rather than make bold predictions. Information was scarce from the Scuderia, but the reliability was good and the times, at first glance, impressive.

Beware, though, of reading too much into the times. Some teams were definitely hiding their true pace, Ferrari may not have been hiding as much as some.

Mercedes and Red Bull for instance, the other pre-season favourites, could well have been hiding their pace, according to one source, by as much as 0.6 sec per lap, consistently, over the course of the 8 days.

And Sebastian Vettel with his fastest lap of the winter, lifted off in the final sector so obviously that one eminent journalist could be heard in the paddock asking if “they think we’re bloody stupid?!!” rather loudly.

The inference being that if everybody knows you’re sandbagging, then what’s the point? Because the teams will work it all out anyway.

Winter Testing - CafeI had a great chat with the Force India Technical Director, Andy Green, on the Wednesday. If you didn’t see it, you still can, it’s On Demand and on the Sky Sports website too. He explained that in testing you don’t spend much time going flat out in qualifying trim, you try and replicate the conditions that the car will spend most of its time in, race trim. You test the parts that you hope will make your car faster during the race and try to understand how it interacts with the tyres and what you need to do to get the best performance out of them. It’s a bit like going to the driving range before a round of golf.

You’re mad if you spend all your time hitting your driver as you’re not going to use that club for the majority of your round. You test out your form with the clubs you’re going to be using the most. No use hitting the ball 300 yards off the tee, if you then shank your irons into the rough. Just as it’s no use qualifying well, if you’re going to go backwards during the race.

As it was lunch time we made a car out of sweets to try and explain where the important areas of development will be. Because what you see now or in Melbourne, will develop at a rate of knots over the course of the 20 races. If you don’t like the Shark Fins or T-Wings, I’m sad to say that they’re here to stay.

And if you think that overtaking is going to be easy, then think again. Not impossible, but as Williams’ driver Lance Stroll told me a day later, “these cars are so wide when you get behind them. You think to yourself, how the hell am I going to get past” I’m sure the drivers will find a way.

Meanwhile down at McLaren, it’s been a traumatic time in Barcelona. Quite how Racing Director Eric Boullier managed to smile on the final day is beyond me, given that they completed less than 2000km over the 8 days. Sounds like a lot, it’s half of what Ferrari achieved. Nowhere near enough for the team to go to Melbourne in a good shape. You may have read about the problems with the Honda engine and possibly as a McLaren fan you might be a little alarmed at what you’ve read. To be honest, you’re right to be worried, I know the team are.

In what is the third year on track of their relationship with Honda, the word “crisis” has been banded around and I don’t think it’s too strong. Whatever Honda did to design and build this engine, in the hope that it would be an improvement on the previous two years, it clearly hasn’t worked and I wonder, I really do, whether it’s getting to the stage where the two parties might need to go their separate ways?

What they had in Barcelona wasn’t reliable enough to go racing with. And the problem with the engine is serious enough I’m lead to believe, that there is no quick fix. Even if there was, it takes two weeks to properly test an F1 Power Unit on the dyno, so the team and engine supplier would still be going to Melbourne with no certainty that the solution was going to work on the track.

Honda are spending a huge amount of money and it doesn’t seem to be making the car go any quicker. McLaren need sponsors and you assume they will only come with an improvement in performance. As it stands, an improvement in performance would be to actually get to the chequered flag in Melbourne, and that’s hardly an achievement either party would care to celebrate. The regulations say that an engine supplier can’t refuse a request by a team to supply engines, so McLaren wouldn’t be left high and dry. It would take until at least halfway through the season for the team to incorporate a new power unit, but the alternative is to stay with Honda and either hope against hope that eventually they will find improvements, or run the risk that the way their engine program is currently set up is exasperating the problem to an extent that a solution will never be found.

Winter Testing - MercedesIn layman’s terms, either Honda need outside help here, or McLaren need to go elsewhere for their engine. Because it looks from the outside that if nothing changes, the current situation could bring both parties down.

Which we don’t want. A strong McLaren, like a strong Ferrari, is good for F1. Each team wants to be the champions, but they want to beat the rest at their best as well, and that’s where I’ll leave the blog for now because as we head to Australia we don’t know who’s at their best, we really don’t.

Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, that could be the top three with the midfield about a second a lap off the pace and that midfield could be headed by Williams, followed by Toro Rosso, Force India, Renault, Haas, Sauber and McLaren.

It’s the best I could work out, let’s see if it’s anything like the pecking order by the end of the first race. Testing one-two, over and out.

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