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. Raikkonen encouraged by Ferrari’s early season pace

    Mar 26, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT

    © AP © AP

    Finnish driver believes that the team has made a big step forward over the winter.

  2. Mazda Road to Indy: Driver-by-driver preview in Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000

    Mar 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    MazdaRoadToIndy

    A quick look through the runners in Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 for 2015.

  3. Nasr: Early races present golden opportunities for Sauber

    Mar 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    © Getty Images Getty Images

    Difficulties faced by a number of teams give Sauber an early chance to rack up some points.

  4. Hamilton bemused by Red Bull’s call for equalization in F1

    Mar 26, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1

    “I find it quite funny and interesting that the opinion is coming from individuals who have had so much success.”

  5. Now IndyCar’s champion, Will Power’s mindset hasn’t changed heading into 2015

    Mar 26, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    PowerbreakoutSTPpre AP

    He’s finally the champion, but Will Power enters 2015 still with more to prove.

  6. F1 Paddock Pass: Malaysian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

    Mar 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews Getty Images

    NBCSN’s Will Buxton brings you the latest insight and interviews ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  7. Alonso moves to clear up testing crash conspiracy theories

    Mar 26, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Fernando Alons Fernando Alons

    Spaniard rejects claim that he thought he was in 1995 following his accident in pre-season.

  8. MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Malaysian GP

    Mar 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia - Previews Getty Images

    Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno give their verdict on this weekend’s Malaysian GP as Fernando returns, Manor hopes to fire up, and Red Bull prepares to declare war on Renault.

  9. 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

    Mar 26, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-MAS-F1 Getty Images

    Formula 1 heads to Malaysia for the second round of the 2015 season, but will Lewis Hamilton be able to double up and maintain his winning streak?

  10. IndyCar 2015 team preview: Dale Coyne Racing

    Mar 26, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    IndyCar Detroit Auto Racing AP

    Coyne heads into the season with two lesser experienced drivers, but looks to play spoiler.

  11. Can IndyCar’s next generation take it to the established veterans?

    Mar 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    IndyCar has a wave of younger talent in the series, who need to start winning sooner rather than later.

  12. Alonso and Bottas cleared by FIA to race in Malaysia

    Mar 26, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix Getty Images

    Both drivers failed to race in Australia due to injury, but will return this weekend.

  13. Adrian Sutil joins Williams as reserve driver

    Mar 26, 2015, 6:38 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-PRESSER-SUTIL Getty Images

    Ex-Force India and Sauber man moves to Williams for 2015.

  14. Fernando Alonso talks return in Malaysian GP

    Mar 25, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Three Getty Images

    Fernando Alonso will start his 2015 F1 season in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  15. Nowhere to go but up for Lotus at Malaysia GP

    Mar 25, 2015, 3:57 PM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix Getty Images

    After both of its cars failed to finish a lap in the season opener, Lotus looks toward the Malaysian Grand Prix.

  16. Malaysian Grand Prix highlights NBCSN’s weekend of motors coverage

    Mar 25, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Malaysia F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Your Malaysian GP TV times for this weekend on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

  17. Malaysian Grand Prix means a lot for Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat

    Mar 25, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia Getty Images

    Daniil Kyvat putting Melbourne mishap behind him going into Malaysia Grand Prix.

  18. Video: IndyCar’s new ‘Rivals’ national TV commercial

    Mar 25, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT

    verizon indycar series logo 2014

    Watch the new TV commercial for IndyCar’s 2015 season.