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Is there a ‘right way’ to go about car development?

Mar 9, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT

McLaren's F1 driver Button of Britain sits in his car as mechanics push him during a training session at Circuit de Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo Reuters

Winter testing has left us with more questions than answers. Mercedes were strong during the final test in Barcelona, but the team maintain that they are not favorites for the opening round in Melbourne. Closest challengers Ferrari have set their sights on a podium, as have Red Bull despite the latter failing to repeat their championship winning form during the pre-season, whilst McLaren have said they merely want points. Jenson Button believes that by sacrificing the first few races to focus on car development, the team will be stronger come the end of the season. This yields the question: is there are ‘right way’ to go about car development?

The ideal path is to prepare, be quick initially, and to sustain this pace throughout the season, although this is nigh-on impossible to achieve. Red Bull came close in 2011 as Vettel coasted to a second title, but they did struggle mid way through the season as Ferrari and McLaren caught up. It was already too late though, and Button’s 2009 championship victory was a similar story. He won six of the first seven races after Brawn’s preparation (two years in the making) paid off, and although he failed to win after the Turkish GP, it proved to be enough.

Mercedes (who emerged from Brawn GP) appear to be taking this route for 2013. Their late-2012 form suggests that the 2013 car has been their primary focus for a while now, and if the Silver Arrows can get the jump on their rivals in the early rounds, it could be a fruitful season for the team.

However, Red Bull’s 2012 success also shows how the “slow and steady” approach can work. It wasn’t until the end of the European season that Vettel really found championship winning form, but by having the quickest car, he always had the upper hand over Fernando Alonso. McLaren appear to be taking this route in 2013, and it could work in their favor should Mercedes’ pace not continue.

With the new Pirelli tires providing a fresh challenge for the teams, the ‘long term’ approach could be the better option. The opening few races always throw up surprises, and McLaren could use this to their advantage by snatching a win or two even with a ‘slower’ car. There is also a large amount of risk behind this method though, and they could find their championship hopes in tatters by the beginning of the European season in Spain. Whichever approach the teams choose to take, it does add a fascinating dynamic to the 2013 season.

  1. apexassassin - Mar 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    So glad to see several different F1 stories on here, I just wish users could find them easier!

    NBC NEEDS TO SHOW ALL F1 SESSIONS LIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    NBC and F1 will never be a success without tons of media saturation and so far NBC isn’t even planning on doing more than their predecessors. PLEASE NBC, get it together!!! All practices, qualis, and races shown LIVE, in total!!!! And if you need to run commercials, do it with a split screen!

    • jdmcphee02 - Mar 9, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      I created this account in order to support this comment. I don’t know if anyone at NBC reads these posts and takes them into consideration. If so (and I realize this may not be the venue), I hope your organization is planning a MASSIVE surprise and reveal regarding your coverage of motorsports and Formula 1. I only found this page by reading Keith Collantine’s F1Fanatic site and his short announcement of your collaboration.

      As a lifelong F1 fan, as soon as the announcement was made that NBC was covering F1, I’ve been searching your sites. But your current coverage is abysmal. You know F1 is global, you paid huge money for it to Bernie. There are easily 10s of thouands of us here in the US who are waiting. When you get 1 comment per post, minimal traffic, it isn’t because the articles are bad (they are not), it’s because no one knows they’re here!! David Hobbs commenting. Will Buxton? Keith Collantine? There should be HUNDREDS of comments! We are thrilled and waiting. Change the design, marketing and “front page” coverage.

      Sorry. But lastly, having to sign up for a blog account on wordpress to simply participate in a short article forum is entirely unnecessary and likely to ward off otherwise interested parties.

      I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks the main sports site is starting to show coverage. You’ve done a great job with the NHL even when they shot themselves in the foot. Formula1 is global and you can reach them all.

      That really is TL;DR. Sorry. Good post apexassassin.

  2. somersf1 - Mar 9, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Nice piece Luke, as an aside Mercedes made some necessary changes to their Wind Tunnel and associated tooling during 2012 which stifled their 2012 campaign (Changed from 50 to 60% Wind Tunnel) the net result is that the team will now get better correlation whilst also gaining the ability to test items that just aren’t possible at 50%.
    The change and negative 2012 season for Mercedes was a necessary evil for the team to produce a better car in 2014, as for the W04 I’ll admit it is a drastic improvement on the W03 but I don’t believe it has made the quantum leap some are expecting. The other teams simply didn’t show their hand as most expected during the past test as the tyres simply weren’t working as they should (incorrect temps give misleading information) . Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren have been managing expectations as they know only too well how much they have advanced theirselves but the teams on the fringes (Lotus, Sauber & Williams) have advanced. I suspect Red Bull still lead the pack but the rest are very close with Lotus’ great use of the Pirellis put them in the best position to challenge the triple champions.

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