Preparation for the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship is going to gear up tomorrow when teams commence the second and final week of pre-season testing at Barcelona.
Remedy for reliability issues
Pre-season testing began in almost perfect fashion after teams did not encounter any major reliability issues during the first day and on the majority of the second day. However, smaller technical woes have hindered the teams on Friday when the first week of pre-season testing concluded.
Honda had to make a precautionary engine change in Red Bull’s new contender, the RB16 on the first test day, but the original unit was back in the car on Friday. Despite to an almost perfect showing last week, Mercedes has also been hampered by an ERS-related issue at the end of Valtteri Bottas’s race simulation, forcing the Anglo-German team to build a fresh power unit in the car for Friday.
Ferrari also had its own problems with its new machine, the SF1000. On Thursday, an issue on Charles Leclerc’s car caused a small delay while a power unit problem forced Sebastian Vettel to sit out the last two hours of the morning session on Friday. The team had to replace the power unit to ensure that the works continued in the final afternoon. The engine has been sent back to Ferrari’s headquarter at Maranello where the cause of the problem has been found.
"The engine where the problem was discovered was completely checked in Maranello. The problem is a small problem with the oil system. It is not a cause for concern and work is already underway to resolve the problem," the team said in a statement about the car.
The ten teams have covered 3941 laps in total over the three days of the first week of testing. After completing various checks and experimenting with different set-ups last week, teams are expected to focus more on the performance of their new cars by doing qualifying simulations and race simulations. With only three days left from the pre-season testing, it remains to be seen whether teams can retain their initial impressive reliability.
DAS in the centre of attention
The Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team has been centre stage since it introduced its controversial Dual-Axis Streeting last week. The innovative solution that helps control the toe of the front wheels has raised eyebrows in the entire paddock. Mercedes Technical Director James Allison said that the DAS system „just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year," but he declined to go into details about the exact effect of the device on the car behaviour.
Despite being in the centre of attention during the first week of testing, Sebastian Vettel thinks that the DAS system is not a game-changer which would eventually decide over the outcome of the forthcoming championship.
"Maybe I'm underestimating but I don't think this is the ticket to win. I think there's a lot more elements to building a competitive car, but for sure it's an innovation and we will see whether it's something that everyone has to pick up on or not," the German said.
Mercedes and Red Bull at the front
Based on the headline times and the long run simulations, Mercedes has presented itself in dominant form. The Brackley-based team was the only one to complete a race simulation with both its drivers while their main rival Ferrari could not even attempt to cover a complete grand prix distance.
Targeting to challenge for the titles this year, Red Bull seemed to be the second force after the first three days of on-track action. However, even the Milton Keynes-based outfit appeared to be a long way off the field-leading Mercedes. The team’s driver advisor dr Helmut Marko acknowledged that the RB16 might be slower than the W11, claiming that their car is currently lagging behind mainly in the tight bends.
„They win the time against us because they have no understeer when cornering in tight corners," the Austrian explained. "They achieve that with DAS," the Austrian said.
In contrast to the impressive pace showed by Mercedes and Red Bull, their arch rival Ferrari has been off the pace throughout the entire first week of testing. The Scuderia’s performance was surprising after they dominated the pre-season action last year only to fall flat on their face at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Even if the Scuderia has changed their approach to testing for this year, Team Principal Mattia Binotto conceded that things might not look good for the scarlet red outfit.
“I am not as optimistic as last year. Some of the others are faster than us at the moment," he added. "Looking at the picture at the front comparing it to ourselves, I think we are not as fast."
The second week of testing should provide with a better picture over the actual pecking order. If Ferrari has the speed to compete with Mercedes and Red Bull, it should show its cards at least during race simulations.
Split schedule at many teams
Due to the extremely short pre-season testing, teams had to adopt a unqiue approach to their on-track preparation for the forthcoming season. All ten teams will split their work between their drivers at least on one day with Mercedes and Red Bull being the only teams to share the driver duties on all three days of the second week of pre-season testing.
Alfa Romeo will be again the only team to give its reserve driver a chance to drive its new car. Sharing the driver duties with Kimi Räikkönen, Robert Kubica will once again get the new C39 on the track on Wednesday morning.