Skip to main content

You are here

TopGear.com at F1 testing in Jerez

  1. At the beginning of the week, the nomadic pack that is the travelling circus of F1 sets off for southern Spain. Engineers, drivers, team bosses, chef - even the man who gives out the watches at the end - all grabbed brand new lunch boxes and pencil cases and returned to school for another year. And alongside them was TopGear.com.

    The plan? To see what happens at testing, see how the drivers analyse a brand new car, and catch up on all the latest gossip from the paddock to set all you readers up for a new season…

    Words: Rowan Horncastle
    Photos: Rowan Horncastle/teams

  2. The first thing that surprised us was the closeness of the paddock. Within the normally competitive and highly political confines of the teams trucks and pitlane we were expecting an anxious mood, but there really was a playground atmosphere: everyone meeting competitors and wishing them a happy New Year (despite the fact we’re now in February).

    And after last week’s flurry of bed sheet pulling, Caterham, Mercedes and Marussia unveiled their cars in the Jerez pitlane. Marussia has added KERS to their car for 2013, Mercedes has added Blackberry as a sponsor (so Lewis can tweet sepia-toned telemetry data with ease?) and Caterham’s big news was its car didn’t have a vanity panel.

  3. Last year, the safety men changed the regulations for the height of a car’s nose, resulting in the rather unsightly ‘stepped nose’. This year, a small piece of laminate - known as a ‘vanity’ panel - is allowed to smooth the nose section, making them a bit less Owen Wilson and a bit more Kate Beckinsale. But Caterham have decided to stick with the stepped nose, deeming the panel as unnecessary weight. And Red Bull’s Adrian Newey agrees. “There is a small vanity panel [on his new baby, RB9]” the ace aerodynamicist told us, “but it doesn’t extend a huge way forwards, otherwise it becomes unjustifiable in weight.”

    In fact, the rumour around the paddock is that these vanity panels could be ditched by teams at the first race. Aesthetics will always come second place to outright pace.

    The only 2013 car that we’re yet to see is the Williams. Because regulations have barely moved from last season, like a lot of cars in the field, we’re guessing it’ll look a lot like last year’s. But there are some changes this season. Active double-DRS systems have been outlawed, stricter crash tests apply, DRS zones are now active during practice and qualifying, and the minimum car weight has gone up 2kg. This isn’t the FIA compensating for driver-overeating in the off-season, but to offset the new, heavier Pirelli tyre compound.

  4. The actual act of testing is split over four days at Jerez, and is the first opportunity for teams to get to grips with their new cars.

    The first day is straightforward: a case of getting the car out and checking they haven’t put the rear wing on the front, the front on the rear and connected the driver’s water bottle into the radio jack instead of their helmet. Once those boxes are ticked, events rapidly progress to get mechanics and drivers dialled into the new car.

    Only one car is used, and drivers alternate over days (unless you’re Fernando Alonso, who skipped this session entirely). Then it’s about putting the first miles on the cars and gathering data. On a good day, teams want to do 65 to 100 laps, testing various bodywork, mechanical and tyre options to see what works, and what doesn’t.

  5. One thing that stood out from what you’ll normally see on your Sunday sofa: many of the cars were running an Excalibur-esque antenna that sat above the airbox, rather like a sword in a stone.

    Confused, we sought out Mark Smith, Technical Director of Caterham F1. He told us that teams attach a range of different instruments, designed to measure anything from airspeed to temperatures and airflow. They provide extra data, helping engineers and designers back at the factory make subtle tweaks to the car’s aerodynamics and exhausts that can win, or lose, crucial tenths on track. There’s such a limited time to actually get the cars on track, they need as much info as possible before fine tuning in simulators back home.

  6. But, of course, F1 isn’t just about going fast. One of the biggest deals going into this year was Inifiniti’s decision to become title partner of Red Bull Racing. What does this mean? First and foremost, the car, garage and drivers’ overalls now have an added shade of Ribena-berry purple in line with the Infiniti branding. Andreas Sigl, Global Director of Infiniti Red Bull, explained his thinking.

    The big Infiniti logo on the side of the car (being driven by some pretty handy drivers with a lot of screentime) is aimed at getting the Japanese luxury car brand more recognizable to a global audience. More so, for example, than sponsoring a football team. But the relationship with RBR is also a technical partnership. Infiniti thinks it can utilise Red Bull’s nous, getting the likes of Sebastian Vettel to improve their road cars (something they’re currently doing with the Q50).

    And what do Red Bull Racing get out of it? It’ll be handy for them when the new, radical regulations come in next year. Unlike Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull aren’t a manufacturer-led team, they just make sugary water and let people jump from space. Infiniti’s partnership allows them to utilise some of the manufacturer’s technology and facilities in Japan and at their European technical center in Cranfield - which is just up the road from Red Bull Racing’s HQ in Milton Keynes.

  7. But even before the first lights have gone out at Albert Park, there’s a worry that 2013 could just be known just as ‘the season that came before the one where they changed all the rules’, something that’s already on the mind of Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

    “2014 is going to be a risk for everyone. The thing at the moment is that nobody knows where anyone is with their respective engines,” he told us. “It’s a big regulation change, but then the regulation changes from 2008/2009 were the biggest in 25 years, and we coped with that one alright. It’s a challenge for all the engineers and an exciting one. As you can see this year, the development has reached the top of the curve now and the cars - if they’re not looking similar - they’re evolutions of their successors. Whereas 2014 is a clean sheet of paper both with the drivetrain and chassis.

    “I think that’s exciting for all the engineers involved. Of course it’s going to be a matter of balance: balancing your resources between 2013 and 2014. Hopefully we’ll be competing for championships this year, and looking forward to 2014 as well. Some teams may switch all their resources to 2014 quite early on. Hopefully we won’t be in that situation.”

  8. To avoid that situation, everyone, in every team, is putting in the hours. Literally all of them. Testing is a 24 hour operation with teams running day and night shifts. Day shifters start at 9am, setting up the car, running it and collecting data that they hand over to the night crew at 8pm. They then work through the night to set up the car and analyse data so the it’s ready for the next day’s running.

    And, of course, everyone is trying to get to grip with (pun intended) the tyres - especially since we had a go at building them. Gianluca Pisanello, Chief Engineer for Caterham, is well aware of their importance in the coming months, but right now there’s not a lot of intelligence to go on.

    “Honestly? It’s too early for us to know too much about the tyres. The drivers are reporting that they do feel different to last year, they come up to their performance range earlier and they have more pace, but it’s too early to say for sure how they will perform.”

  9. One thing was abundantly clear: they’ll be as critical to performance as last year. “I’m not sure that we’ll see so many different winners from different teams,” he said “but it’s entirely possible and that’s good for the fans.”

    Before we left Jerez we popped into Mark Webber’s garage after he’d taken his new company car for a spin. Over the team radio we heard him giving feedback to his engineers on the steering rack and turn in feel around Jerez’s corners. It “wasn’t right”, apparently.

    Still, it’s day one. And it’s going to be a great season…

    Click on for more pictures from Jerez

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.

Promoted content