What we learned from Valencia as F1 heads to Jerez

Tomorrow the Jerez circuit in Southern Spain will play host to the second four day test of the 2011 Formula 1 season.

Testing has always been a “phoney war” with teams able to disguise their deficiencies with lower fuels and fresh tyres in a bid to top the timesheets and get noticed by potential sponsors. Even so when the dust settled from last week’s Valencia test certain elements of 2011 have become clearly. The most notable of these was the performance characteristics of the new control tyres offered by Pirelli.

Pirelli will once more be the focus of much attention at Jerez

Last season, the main complaint in relation to tyres was Bridgestone had developed a tyre that was too durable. Drivers were easily able to complete races with just the single mandated pitstop; in fact at Monza Sebastian Vettel left his tyre change until the penultimate lap. With such efficient tyres a critical variable was taken out of the drivers hands. The Valencia test showed that the Pirelli tyre is much less durable than the Bridgestone and as a result drivers’ will need to conserve their tyres during this year’s races should they wish to single stop.

The test showed that there is a large drop off in performance after an initial hop lap; the test showed a drop off of 0.2s on the supersoft and 0.1s on the medium tyres. If these tyres were used in a race at the Valencia track this would see a performance drop off of five seconds over the course of each stint for the supersoft tyre, this figure does not take into account the fuel load lowering during the course of the stint. While Pirelli has repeatedly said that they are looking to create a tyre more “on the edge” this is too much wear to be effectively used in a Grand Prix.

It is also quite understandable that Pirelli has made such a mistake; it is twenty years since their last involvement in Formula 1. Going forward it is likely therefore that Pirelli will adapt their tyres and try and balance the tyre wear for the supersoft rubber at somewhere between 0.05 and 0.1s per lap degradation. The reason that I believe that Pirelli will change the design of their tyres is that if we such excessive wear on the tyres it would be quite easy to see a situation where drivers run out of their allocated amount of tyres before the end of the race. As a result, it is very easy to see why tyre management will be a key to a successful 2011.

The tests also suggested that Ferrari have designed a car that is particularly kind on its tyres. During long stints Fernando Alonso was able to post consistent fast times as he conserved the tyres. Any opening test of the year can be misleading in relation to determining the performance characteristics of cars, drivers and tyres because the sample size is just too small. They do however give clues as to what to look out for in subsequent tests. At Jerez it will be interesting to compare the relative performance drop off of the Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren during their longer stints.

This will also be the on-track debut of the new McLaren. The team spent as long as possible working on development of their striking MP4-26. At Valencia the team focused on understanding the new tyres, and comparing the results with their simulator models. By all accounts from team insiders the results correlated well and as a result their new car should be expected to be very fast when it finally hits the racetrack.

Teams adapt to using new technologies

Valencia also gave each team the opportunity to focus on the various new technologies on the grid this year. KERS has been reintroduced and will be used by the majority of the teams. When it was last used in 2009 it was clear that Mercedes had, by some distance, the most effective system. It will be interesting to see whether the opposition has caught up. Also on show at Valencia was the movable rear wing. The device will be used to aid overtaking and teams reported no issues with its use.

On-track action will conclude on Sunday.

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