MARCH 11, 2011
Analysis: Schumacher goes quickest in Barcelona
On the first day with the full upgrade package on the new MGP W02, Mercedes and Michael Schumacher recorded the fastest lap (1:21.268) seen thus far in F1 winter testing at Barcelona.
Schumacher's time compares with a 1:21.614 on the day from Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, with Nico Rosberg, who also drove the Mercedes, doing 1:21.788. Schumacher, however, did his best time on a qualifying simulation run, something not undertaken by Ferrari or Red Bull, for whom Sebastian Vettel lapped in 1:22.933.
Mercedes did not do a longer simulation run from which it would have been possible to get a better idea of its ultimate pace and with rain forecast for the final day in Barcelona tomorrow, it is unlikely we will see that before the cars are freighted to Australia.
Earlier in the week Mercedes brought a new floor and exhaust system to the car but only today did it fit a new front wing, which tends to be crucial to the aero performance of the whole car.
"We have been developing the car step by step," Schumacher said. "The main issue we had was trying to find the right balance and optimising the car performance. It has worked pretty well, so we are looking forward to going to Melbourne and being in a reasonably strong position. I'm not sure that everyone has revealed their cards completely -- that is something to be seen in Australia."
Team principal Ross Brawn said earlier this week: "I think Red Bull clearly goes into this year in quite a strong position. I anticipate they will be the reference point in the early part of the season, the team to beat to win races, but I don't think it's unachievable and things change quite quickly in F1."
Brawn added that managing tyre drop-off is going to be crucial to the early season races and it may not simply be the quickest car that finds itself in a winning position. "It's going to be a very fine balance and I think it's going to take a few races to settle down. We also have to understand how the tyres are going to work in hot conditions, which we've not had so far. It's certainly going to be a lot more lively on the pit wall."
Nico Rosberg was also upbeat after his first experience of the team's definitive chassis. "It's super that I was able to do some laps today given the forecast for tomorrow," he said. "Now that we have most of the developments for the car it was handling much better and I had a good feeling. I'm pretty pleased with the situation. We've made good progress over the winter."
Behind Rosberg, just over half a second covered what is shaping up to be a tighter pack than ever. Nick Heidfeld lapped the Lotus Renault GP in 1:22.073, Rubens Barrichello did 1:22.233 aboard the Williams FW33 without KERS, Kamui Kobayashi took the Sauber round in 1:22.315 and Jaime Alguersuari lapped the promising Toro Rosso in 1:22.675.
As ever with winter testing though, it is foolish to read too much into headline lap times. The only thing to be said with any certainty is that Mercedes performed much more strongly than thus far which, for those who listened to and believed the team's approach to pre-season testing, was to be expected. As Schumacher admitted though, there's always the suspicion that the others - Red Bull and Ferrari in particular - will only reveal their hands in Melbourne, tyres permitting of course...