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Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Where do the Formula 1 teams stand after testing?

Ted Kravitz
By Ted Kravitz
BBC F1 pit-lane reporter

Formula 1 teams finished their pre-season testing on Sunday and are now packing their cars away to send them to Bahrain for the first race of the season in less than two weeks' time.

After four days pounding around the Circuit de Catalunya, a picture has emerged about the relative competitiveness of the cars.

Leaving Barcelona, the top four teams look closely matched, although Red Bull and Ferrari are probably slightly ahead of Mercedes and McLaren. Either way, F1 looks poised for an intensely competitive season.

We analyse the teams in pit-lane order.


There's a walkway on the first floor of the Barcelona pit building where one can see straight into the Mercedes GP engineering office. Security guards move people on during the day, but as evening falls they go home, allowing a perfect view of Michael Schumacher at work.

He sits on the edge of a chair, leaning forward on the desk, engaging an engineer in an intense discussion about some minute detail of the car's performance. He's as focused and business-like as he always was, and he needs to be: the Mercedes has not been the quickest car in testing.

Michael Schumacher
Schumacher gave mixed messages about his car's pace in Spain

It's impossible to know precisely who is fastest, not only because they are running differing fuel loads, but because they are doing that on different tyres (medium, soft and super-soft were all being used in Barcelona) at different times of the day in different track and weather conditions.

But the teams have engineers who analyse their rivals' lap times, working backwards from known fuel quantities (at the start of a race simulation, for example), so that's how we have a general picture of how fast the cars are. The Mercedes seems to be tied with the McLaren as third quickest car behind Red Bull and Ferrari.

Schumacher has seen that analysis and says he isn't too worried about Mercedes' shortcomings, but he won't see the true pace of the car until Friday in Bahrain, when the team run with their new wings and diffuser.

As the single largest generator of downforce on the car, the diffuser is a big thing to bring to a track for the first time, bolt on and make work, so the team face a challenge to balance out the car in practice at the first race of the season.

This promised development puts Schumacher's recent statements about Mercedes not being in a position to win races straight away into context.


Mark Webber

Webber positive ahead of first race

Confident in their car's speed, Red Bull pack up for Bahrain looking to be at the front straight away.

Team boss Christian Horner believes the RB6 will be "up there with Ferrari" and is happy with the new front wing, bargeboards and rear wing brought to the last two days of the Barcelona test.

The Red Bull's diffuser is a beautifully intricate bit of kit, similar in appearance to the one on last year's Brawn, with a big lemon-shaped hole in the middle section and Toyota-style vanes either side.

Chief technical officer Adrian Newey has also proved innovator with his treatment of the exhaust pipes.

Red Bull's innovative exhaust exit is centre frame, with decoy sticker above
Red Bull's innovative exhaust exit, with decoy sticker above

As this picture shows (right), the exhaust vents to the outer side of the gearbox below the bottom suspension wishbone, channelling the hot air around the rear suspension and out the top side of the floor.

The disadvantage is that the suspension will get quite hot from the exhaust gases, so the team placed blue temperature sensors on the wishbones and the floor during testing to find out if it's too marginal to use.

In a comical and ultimately futile attempt to mislead rival teams and the watching media, the picture also shows that Red Bull placed a sticker of an exhaust pipe on the upper bodywork below the upper wishbone, where one would expect to see it!

As well as that clever chassis, a fuel efficient Renault engine and good tyre performance in qualifying trim mean that the Red Bull is many people's tip for the championship.

One downside: reliability. Precautionary changes to gearboxes and oil pumps interrupted Red Bull's Saturday programme in Barcelona, leading to Mark Webber having to surrender half his allotted time in the car on Sunday to Sebastian Vettel, much to the Australian's annoyance.


McLaren had their Bahrain aerodynamic package on for the last two days of the test and the car enjoyed a significant improvement.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton happy with McLaren progress

The updates delivered what the wind tunnel suggested they would, which is always a relief for any team with a new car.

Jenson Button ran a race simulation with the new package on Saturday but did not have the set-up he wanted on the car, so his times didn't compare too well with Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who was also doing a race run at the same time, or his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who did a race simulation on Sunday.

McLaren engineers have been investing a lot of time in tyre management - a key component this year as most races will be done on a one-stop strategy following the banning of in-race refuelling.

Success in the first few races will come from being easy on the tyres and keeping them in good shape. In short, McLaren are not where they want to be yet, but they're close and they believe they'll get there.


It's simple to explain why Ferrari have a good car. They've been working on it full-time since June last year while everyone else was still bringing performance to their 2009 cars.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso

Alonso optimistic over title chances

Crucially, this year the design has not been compromised by having to integrate last year's Kers power-boost system on the car. They have also exploited the double-diffuser concept to the full.

The result is a driveable car that was quick out of the box, has good reliability (although there were small niggles throughout the Barcelona test) and is consistently easy on its tyres.

Ferrari fly to the first race perhaps the best prepared of anyone. Among the first to launch their car, they made good use of the sunny weather at the first test and have managed to complete their job list in preparation for Bahrain. Both drivers have completed race simulations successfully.

The only surprise might come in the improvements other teams bring to the first race. Ferrari have shown their hand: The package they had on the last two days in Barcelona is pretty much how the car will race in Bahrain. Will the rest catch up?


The dark horse of the midfield is Force India. Adrian Sutil described this winter as "the best pre-season test programme we've ever had".

In retrospect they lost out by missing the first test as the recent poor weather hasn't allowed as much meaningful practice as they'd like, but the car is predictable, driveable and consistent on high and low fuel.

Nico Hulkenberg's Williams at the Barcelona test
Hulkenberg has impressed with his pace in the Williams

Williams are also happy with their package, with reports of good power and fuel efficiency from their Cosworth engine.

Veteran Rubens Barrichello has integrated seamlessly into the team following his move from Brawn and looks like he's been there for years.

Rookie Nico Hulkenberg has impressed technical director Sam Michael with his speed in testing.

"We want Nico to show a clear rate of progression and to push Rubens while making as few mistakes as possible", says Michael, which is what they wanted - but never got - from Kazuki Nakajima over the last two years alongside Nico Rosberg.

Sauber continue to impress with their qualifying pace.

Kamui Kobayashi was equal to the Williams and Force India on lower fuel, but he admitted that the team need to work on tyre management on heavy fuel loads. Money may also be a factor later in the season - at present the car boasts very few sponsor logos.


In many ways, Renault have the most nervous wait to see where they are in the pecking order. Robert Kubica says the car lacks grip and the lap times back him up.

The team have a package of aerodynamic and mechanical improvements coming for the first race. The wind tunnel suggests they will be a big step, while Kubica is keen to see if they translate to improved lap time.

Mike Gascoyne

Gascoyne aiming for Lotus reliability

Rookie Vitaly Petrov faces a tough start to the season, but is lucky to have a new, experienced engineer to look after him: Mark Slade, who won races and championships with Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen, has moved from McLaren to Renault.

The Toro Rosso STR5 looks very similar to the Red Bull RB6 even though Toro Rosso have had to design and make the car themselves in Faenza. The team say the car is sound enough, but Sebastian Buemi spent most of the test trying different set-ups in an attempt to unlock some more speed from the Ferrari-engined car.


Lotus ended the Barcelona test five seconds slower than the pace-setting McLaren. This is the margin they will have to live with for the first few races.

The car is more reliable than that of fellow new boys Virgin, although not entirely bulletproof. The team have a significant aero package coming onto the car at the Spanish GP in May, so we can begin to judge their long-term potential then.

Virgin Racing principle John Booth

Reliability holding Virgin back - Booth

The Virgin seems to be faster than the Lotus over one lap but the car is fragile.

Technical director Nick Wirth admits that there has been a design error on some parts of the hydraulic system. As pretty much everything that makes you stop or go in an F1 car is hydraulically-driven (throttle, gearbox, brakes), it's important to have it indestructible.

Wirth says there will be a fix in place for the first four races while a re-design continues back in the UK. There's an improved aero package that will add performance to the car in Bahrain.

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see also
Top teams closely matched - Brawn
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Sunday testing as it happened
28 Feb 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari team to beat - Schumacher
27 Feb 10 |  Formula 1

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