Skip to content

Lotus and Ferrari among those already brimming with confidence

Feb 27, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT

lotusGETTY Getty Images

We were greeted on day one by the sight of an almost full F1 paddock. Nearly 100 mammoth transporter and hospitality trucks, representing all of the 2013 teams and practically all of the drivers.

Everyone we spoke to from teams were pumped and ready to have a very serious four-day test, in preparation for the first race roughly three weeks away. They put in hundreds of miles of data collection, aero, drive train, drivability, reliability and most important of all, learning all they could about the new Pirelli tires, which this year have different construction and compounds, designed to degrade quicker, and they did. Leigh and I were talking to Mark Webber in the Red Bull hospitality center and he was not a huge fan. He had great difficulty in reading the tire wear and performance and thought there was a very narrow window of usability. Jenson Button on the other hand said he thought they were easier to come to grips with, no pun intended, and would be easier to understand. Unlike his MP428, which he had great reservations about, in spite of the fact that his new teammate Mexican Sergio Perez set the fastest time of the four days, Button wound up 11th.

The only new car at this the second test was the Williams, unveiled on the Monday. It was supposed to be just an evolution of last year’s car, but according to Dickie Stanford (the team manager who spent a long time with Leigh and I) it is really all new. He told us both drivers, Pastor Maldonado and newcomer Valtteri Bottas said the car was markedly better than the 2012 model. The Williams team ended up with the most laps 367, finishing 8th and 10th on the time sheet, but both less than a second off the fastest. The last day was cold and damp and between them the two did 36 laps with no time, just pit stop practice.

Ferrari, compared to this time last year, looked really good. Fernando Alonso pounded around for three days ,with 110, 76 and 97 laps. I’m sure he slept very well. He topped the time sheets on day three, with a time that kept him second over the four days. He did a lot of drive through laps which must tell them something, though Leigh and I couldn’t figure it out. Alonso also did a tremendous amount of practice starts at the exit of pit lane, as did most of the drivers. Felipe Massa drew the short straw, only running on day four, which was cold and damp, even so he managed 80 laps. The team must be headed to the next test on Thursday with so much confidence compared to last year.

The Lotus team too must be very confident going forward. Romain Grosjean ended up 4th overall and Kimi Raikkonen was 7th. Kimi took the first two days, on day one he was parked for hours with data logging problems. Lotus press officer Andy Stobart told us that they have reverted to last year’s system, temporarily. The second day Kimi had Gear box troubles, again in the garage for some time. Romain had pretty trouble free days doing 160 fast laps. We spoke to the team principal Eric Boullier and he seemed very confidant and pleased with his boys. He said that Kimi is Kimi and needs treating in a way that is a bit special, he is also satisfied that Grosjean will have a much less troubled year than last.

Leigh and I were lucky enough to spend some time with Christian Horner, who I have known since he was a schoolboy. He is a very smart guy and plays his cards extremely close to his vest. Neither of his drivers were particularly fast, but no one seemed concerned. We also spoke to John Wheatley, the team manager, and Kenny Handkammer, the chief mechanic, all of whom seemed very upbeat even though Sebastian Vettel ended up 5th and Mark Webber was 13th. They covered two hundred miles less than Williams or Ferrari. However on the last day when most teams were practicing pit stops, Red Bull reeled off a number of wheel changes in 2.1 seconds, staggeringly fast. The fastest race stop last year was Jenson Button with a 2.31 second. Kenny Handkammer was pretty pleased with that. He wanted a picture of himself with Leigh and I which he then tweeted, saying he was with his friends from NBC and racing legend David Hobbs, very flattering coming from someone like that.

The big change for this year is of course Lewis Hamilton moving to Mercedes and what it will do for him and them. On the first day, Nico Rosberg did the driving and they had a lot of unspecified troubles, spending some time in the garage. Despite that, Rosberg did the fastest lap of day one. Hamilton took over on day two and had essentially a trouble-free day turning 121 laps winding up 4th. He was having gear box troubles out on the track and we could hear him struggling. On day four Hamilton took the fast time in cold and damp conditions. They were never able to match the best times of the test but nevertheless look competitive.

The Sauber, particularly in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg looked very promising ending up third overall only three-tenths off. His old team Force India looked strong too Adrian Sutil looked very good but is not yet confirmed for the team; only Paul Di Resta is. They also tried Jules Bianchi but he did not drive until day 4 when conditions were at their worst. The Marussia machine only driven by Max Chilton was consistently faster than the new Caterham in the hands of Giedo Van de Garde and Charles Pic, both new to the team, always, in my opinion, a bad move with a new car no one is able to tell whether it’s the car or the driver.

Now testing is just that, testing. Impossible at this stage to really tell the relative strengths of the teams.

We can tell that Ferrari is ahead of where they were this time last year and Williams seems ahead. Red Bull … who knows? On time they are not there, however I’m sure they are very well aware that they are going to be strong, McLaren also looks good, but Jenson struggled badly last year mid-season and looks a bit as if he’s headed that way now. Mercedes? Hamilton has got to be worth half a second over Nico and that might put them in the ball park. We’ll know more next Sunday when the final test ends, but the real test will be P1 at Melbourne in March. See you there.

David Hobbs is the F1 analyst for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MrDavidHobbs.

Latest Posts
  1. Hakkinen: Vettel a danger to Mercedes in title fight

    Jul 31, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Getty Images

    With victory in Hungary, Vettel closed the gap at the top to 42 points – but can he catch Lewis Hamilton and challenge for a fifth world title?

  2. Bourdais quickest in opening practice at Mid-Ohio

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    First blood to Bourdais in practice at Mid-Ohio ahead of Power and Newgarden.

  3. Hinchcliffe undergoes final surgery, now “can’t wait to be strapping back in”

    Jul 31, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hinchcliffe’s recovery continues following his accident in practice for the Indy 500 back in May.

  4. Gutierrez working hard to get back on F1 grid in 2016 as Haas speculation continues

    Jul 31, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 24:  Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Ferrari looks on in the garage during a team filming day at Circuit de Catalunya on February 24, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Gutierrez claims his work in a reserve role at Ferrari is helping to open up some new opportunities for 2016.

  5. With 2016 plans undetermined, Newgarden focused on finishing 2015 strong

    Jul 31, 2015, 8:42 AM EDT

    NewgyTORwin Getty Images

    Josef Newgarden’s future will become a talking point at some stage, but it appears it will be after the season.

  6. Tickets for German GP at Hockenheim to go on sale

    Jul 30, 2015, 5:11 PM EDT

    Mercedes-AMG's German driver and race winner Nico Rosberg (C) celebrates next to second placed Williams' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas (L) and Mercedes-AMG's British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) after the German Formula One Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring racing circuit in Hockenheim, southern Germany, on July 20, 2014.     AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE        (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Discounted tickets set to go on sale this Friday in a bid to improve attendance figures.

  7. Exploring what’s next for Derrick Walker as he announces he’s leaving IndyCar

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:48 PM EDT

    Photo: © INDYCAR Photo: © INDYCAR

    Derrick Walker on the prowl for whatever’s next in his long racing career.

  8. Power refusing to give up in IndyCar title defence

    Jul 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Despite running fifth in the standings with three races to go, Power hasn’t given up on retaining the no. 1 for 2016.

  9. Drivers unfazed by longer F1 calendar in 2016

    Jul 30, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT

    xxxx during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Getty Images

    The 2016 F1 season is set to swell to a record 21 races.

  10. Ericsson pleased with first ten races at Sauber, but regrets missed opportunities

    Jul 30, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 drives ahead of Felipe Nasr of Brazil and Sauber F1 during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 26, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ericsson reflects on his first half-season with Sauber that has brought his first points in F1, but also presented some missed opportunities.

  11. MRTI: Seven races on tap for Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000 in critical weekend

    Jul 30, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    MazdaRoadToIndy

    With seven races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, it’s an important one for the entire Mazda Road to Indy.

  12. Castroneves confident of challenging for win at Mid-Ohio

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:42 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    His recent record may suggest otherwise, but Castroneves believes he can gun for the race win this weekend.

  13. Bahrain to host additional GP2/GP3 round in November

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Both series will support the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Bahrain International Circuit in November.

  14. Rahal donning the helmet of The Ohio State University this weekend at Mid-Ohio (PHOTOS)

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:16 AM EDT

    GRpreMidOhelmet Getty Images

    From Columbus, Ohio, No. 15, it’s the Ohio State University helmet of Graham Rahal…

  15. Preview: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio critical in IndyCar title chase

    Jul 30, 2015, 8:56 AM EDT

    WhoCouldWin Getty Images

    The third-to-last race of the IndyCar season is an important one for the championship battle.

  16. IndyCar issues manufacturer points penalites following Iowa race

    Jul 29, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    indycar logo2

    IndyCar penalizes Honda for five engines that did not “attain their life cycle.”

  17. It’s “never-say-die” for Graham Rahal with three races left

    Jul 29, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT

    California Speedway Getty Images

    Rahal is second in the points and takes his career best season to his home track of Mid-Ohio.