Feb 27, 2013, 11:40 AM EDT
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.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The Fontana race replay and championship celebration air tonight on NBCSN from 8 p.m. ET through 11:30 p.m. ET.
Sep 2, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman have their ideas on who can beat out NASCAR’s two strongest teams for a championship.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
The newest Chase-bound driver chats with NBCSN’s Marty Snider about his win on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Sep 2, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
400 miles. 2 Chase Grid spots. It all comes down to Saturday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Coming up today: Beating the Hendrick/Penske bloc; Atlanta edition of “Scan All 43″; Kyle Busch’s continued struggles; the career of crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Sep 2, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Daly confirms the tough news on his Twitter page, citing a “lack of funding” as the cause for his dropping.
Sep 2, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Ron Hornaday Jr. is out of a ride and 18 employees are out of a job.
Sep 2, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
Alonso to Britain’s Sky Sports: “I want to win here and finish the job that we started some years ago, and we will see what the future [holds]“
Sep 2, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Mazda Road to Indy regulars Scott Hargrove and Daniel Burkett secure titles in Porsche GT3 Canada and Atlantic, respectively.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Pierre Gasly, a Red Bull Junior, will join Caterham’s GP2 team for the rest of 2014.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Ryan Newman is the only Chase hopeful that controls his destiny going into Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Sep 2, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin updates his social media pages for first time since scary Fontana accident on Friday night.
Sep 2, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT
What was Haas Formula is now Haas F1 Team as part of a new brand rollout.
Sep 2, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
United Fiber & Data looks set to return to IndyCar for 2015 and the foreseeable future.
Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.
Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”
Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.
Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.
Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT
Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.
Video from NASCAR America
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