Excitement as F1 season draws near

2013-02-17 10:00

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The excitement in the build-up towards the first race of the season – the Australian Grand Prix on March 15-17 in Melbourne – is palpable.

This week F1 visited the track of Jerez in Spain for the first session of testing.

The sport of Formula One has become ever more technically demanding, so testing F1 cars has become increasingly important at the beginning of each season.

These days, every major component and structure before and after the car is fully built must be tested, first for operational purposes and then to ensure it meets the safety regulations.

Much of this testing work happens behind the scenes within the constructors’ factories and wind tunnel facilities (open spaces through which strong winds are channelled by surrounding tall buildings, used in aerodynamic research to study the effects of air moving past solid objects).

Once cars are assembled, the more conspicuous type of testing begins out on race tracks with real drivers behind the wheels.

This is where a car’s fundamental abilities can be properly assessed for the first time.

History will show that many cars that looked great on paper performed poorly on the track.

The first test session will probably raise more questions than it will provide answers.

The big talking point, or rather question, this week was about Lewis Hamilton and how he will gel with his new Mercedes team.

After the controversial move from McLaren to Mercedes last year, Hamilton’s first day in the car was meant to be all about getting his head down and just driving the car to get used to it.

And, just like that, the new Mercedes F1 car W04 had a serious issue to address.

Any new car will have problems to work out but Hamilton smashing and crashing into the wheel barriers was evidence that Mercedes might have serious reliability problems this year.

On the first day of testing, Hamilton’s team-mate Nico Rosberg managed only 11 laps before his running was ended by an electrical problem in the wiring loom (a bundle of cables that are normally stashed at the rear of the car and are pre-assembled to save time on site).

In the end, though, this is what testing is about.

It is about getting through those development phases and errors so they don’t happen during the race in Melbourne.

Sergio Perez, who replaced Hamilton at McLaren, will be like Giancarlo Fisichella when he left Force India to join Ferrari – very much out of his depth.

And some say Jenson Button just is not quick enough to lead at McLaren as he recorded slow times after leading on the first day of testing.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel has steadily improved his lap times and looks comfortable on the track.

On the other hand, Ferrari’s team principal stated that they won’t be recording lap times but will rather be making sure of the aerodynamics of their car so they won’t encounter last year’s problem – starting with an unreliable car, which cost Fernando Alonso the title.

It’s still too early to panic about the performance of cars during testing, even though putting in a lot of laps helps with acquiring data for analysis before restrictions can come into effect.

F1 racing’s governing body, the FIA, began to impose testing restrictions in 2008.

The regulations were amended to limit each team to 30 000km of testing per season at the FIA’s approved racetracks around Europe, where any team could elect to pay a portion of the costs and to bring its cars.

In addition, teams also operated closed sessions where they could try future innovations on cars.

The testing allowance was slashed to 15 000km in 2009, with testing during the season banned, in effect limiting teams to just a few preseason tests in February and March.

This has turned the three hours of practice on grand prix Fridays into highly valuable track time, as it is now the teams’ only real chance to track test in-season developments.

» Follow me on Twitter @zwelethunondumo

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