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Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Saturday, 19 February 2011

Behind the scenes at the Barcelona test - days one & two

By Ted Kravitz
BBC F1 pit-lane reporter in Barcelona

Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull
Vettel has looked ominously fast in the Red Bull in Barcelona

While there is an element of business as usual with Red Bull topping the timesheets on the first day of the Barcelona test, events in Bahrain are overshadowing anything that happens on track.

Drivers and teams are practising for the first race, but they do not know where the first race will be.

Before that, the expectation is that the test which was due to be held in Bahrain from the 3-6 March - a week before the grand prix there - will be cancelled, and contingency plans are being made to hold that test in Europe instead.

The options are to stay in Barcelona and run again at the Circuit de Catalunya or to head south for Valencia, Jerez or into Portugal's Algarve to the Portimao circuit.

That way, the teams would still be able to achieve some warm-weather running. The decision will have to be made by Monday, as the teams need to know where to send their trucks.

So with the next test venue unconfirmed, these four days in Barcelona are growing in importance.

Red Bull and Ferrari have topped the timesheets so far, and from watching the cars on track, look the class of the field. The Red Bull RB7 is using its moveable rear wing in places no other car can, for example in the middle of the fast corner heading onto the main straight.

Mercedes are clearly lacking some pace compared to the front-runners Red Bull and Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel confirmed that the car is a clear step forward from the RB6 that carried him to last year's world championship.

McLaren's running has been compromised by a lack of reliability and the car has not looked particularly quick when it is out on the track.

On the face of it, that does not bode well for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's title hopes.

However, it has to be said that the car is still running with a 2010-spec front wing and McLaren do still have time to add performance to the car before the start of the season.

Exhausts have been a major topic this winter because using the gases to increase downforce has become such a major factor in gaining performance since the return of the blown-floor concept last season.

There has been a lot of speculation about where McLaren's exhaust exits, and the exact design remains a mystery for now.

What we do know is that their exhaust pipes bend round from the back of the car, to be vented somewhere further forward.

Nick Heidfeld in the Renault
Renault's exhaust exits beside the driver and creates a unique sound

Ferrari are trying different exhaust geometries here, blowing the exhaust more centrally across the top of the diffuser.

The Italian team have covered the sides of their rear crash structure with temperature sensors to monitor how the hot exhaust gas is affecting that area of the car.

In this area of development, the Renault is the most radical car so far, with its exhaust exiting at the front of the sidepods, so the gases can be channelled under three-quarters of the length of the car.

Whether this has a huge impact on performance remains to be seen, but it certainly affects the engine note, which sounds more like a kazoo than a high-pitched shriek.

Mercedes were the first of the big teams to stage a race simulation at this test.

Michael Schumacher did a three-stop race, with four stints ranging from 16 to 18 laps.

Tyre wear looked low, but his lap times in the first stint were strangely off the pace - lap times in the 1:32 and 1:33 bracket whereas other teams have been doing 1:31s on full fuel with hard tyres.

Mercedes are clearly lacking some pace compared to the front-runners Red Bull and Ferrari, but with a difference of a second per lap or more between consecutive tyre compounds, it is too early to make a judgement on how they will perform in the first race.

One final point of interest at Mercedes: Michael Schumacher is being engineered by Mark Slade this season, who has moved to the team after looking after Vitaly Petrov at Renault in 2010.

Slade engineered Mika Hakkinen at McLaren at the peak of their rivalry with Schumacher's Ferrari squad.

Once enemies fighting for the championship in opposing teams, Slade and Schumacher now pair up to form what they hope will be a potent force at Mercedes.

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see also
Barcelona F1 test photos
20 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
F1 test - day two as it happened
19 Feb 11 |  Formula 1
Vettel beats Alonso to set pace
18 Feb 11 |  Formula 1

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