F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Ex­pert opin­ion and anal­y­sis

Mercedes vs Fer­rari vs Red Bull – is that the shape of For­mula 1 2018? It looked rather like it af­ter the ini­tial stages of pre-sea­son test­ing in Barcelona.

Of course, it is dif­fi­cult to glean too much pre­cise in­for­ma­tion about com­pet­i­tive­ness from run­ning at an ex­cep­tion­ally cold (and re­cently resur­faced) Cir­cuit de Catalunya – too many vari­ables ap­ply.

But it did not es­cape any­one’s no­tice that when the teams were go­ing through the home­work of prov­ing their cars, fo­cus­ing on lit­tle other than mak­ing sure Un­usu­ally cold con­di­tions brought test­ing to a tem­po­rary halt they worked over the ini­tial stages of test­ing, be­fore the com­pli­ca­tions of true per­for­mance runs, the big three oc­cu­pied the top of the timesheets.

The usual pro­vi­sos ap­ply: the cars’ spec­i­fi­ca­tion was un­known. The weather was un­ex­pect­edly cold – there was even snow. All will have ma­jor up­grade pack­ages for the first race. But Red Bull-mercedes-fer­rari on day one of test­ing and Fer­rari-mercedes-red Bull on the sec­ond, each sep­a­rated by frac­tions and well clear of the rest of the field, then Lewis Hamil­ton end­ing the test fastest by 0.3secs from Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, tells its own story.

If so, this would not be a sur­prise. They are, in essence, the only teams with the re­sources to mount a ti­tle cam­paign. Mclaren, the only other team close, are work­ing through the grow­ing pains of start­ing with a new engine man­u­fac­turer. More of which in a mo­ment.

So there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve the big three will take up in Mel­bourne some­where close to where they left off 2017 in Abu Dhabi.

Each has con­tin­ued their own devel­op­ment path with their 2018 car. Mercedes have re­fined their low-rake, long-wheel­base phi­los­o­phy, while hop­ing to ad­dress their nar­row set-up win­dow and is­sues that af­fected the car on slow-speed tracks; Fer­rari have length­ened the car a lit­tle to boost aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency but stuck true to their high-rake, high-side­pods phi­los­o­phy which gave them such pace and flex­i­bil­ity. And Red Bull have learned the lessons of their slow start to 2017.

Rel­a­tive com­pet­i­tive­ness may hang on engine per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity.

Mercedes – al­ready the stan­dard-set­ters on both pace and re­li­a­bil­ity – are duck­ing ques­tions as to whether they have hit 1,000bhp on their test beds in the fac­tory, which rather sug­gests they have.

Fer­rari, as is their wont th­ese days, are say­ing very lit­tle. And Red Bull team boss Chris­tian Horner is al­ready ex­press­ing “con­cern” over part­ner Re­nault’s plan to fo­cus on re­li­a­bil­ity first and only in­tro­duce per­for­mance up­grades when teams take their sec­ond en­gines.

Horner said: “Our ex­pec­ta­tion and goal is to try to re­duce the gap to the cars ahead of us. Mercedes are the bench­mark, the favourite. If ru­mours of 1,000bhp are cor­rect, that is go­ing to put them in a mighty po­si­tion. But we have made good progress and we hope to be a chal­lenger team par­tic­u­larly at cir­cuits that play to our strengths.

“Re­li­a­bil­ity has been a big pri­or­ity for Re­nault so they are com­ing into the year bet­ter pre­pared. Hope­fully that will al­low their fo­cus to start to cen­tre on per­for­mance.”

Re­nault Sport boss Cyril Abite­boul, how­ever, points out that a fo­cus on re­li­a­bil­ity does not nec­es­sar­ily mean per­for­mance will not im­prove.

“Re­li­a­bil­ity and per­for­mance and com­pet­i­tive­ness go hand in hand,” he said. “Last year we had to re­duce the per­for­mance po­ten­tial of the engine be­cause of re­li­a­bil­ity. So the tar­get is to start the sea­son re­li­ably so we can use the engine to its full po­ten­tial, which we were not able to do last year. So from a per­for­mance per­spec­tive the engine should be per­form­ing bet­ter.

“When they are re­li­able, com­po­nents open up more op­tions in terms of per­for­mance. When you work on re­li­a­bil­ity, you work on per­for­mance also.”

Abite­boul says the Re­nault per­for­mance at the start of the sea­son “will be com­pa­ra­ble to the end of last year when we were us­ing the engine at its max­i­mum po­ten­tial, which has not hap­pened on many oc­ca­sions, ex­cept maybe in Abu Dhabi. Look at Mex­ico, In­ter­la­gos and Abu Dhabi, you will see a huge spread of per­for­mance and Abu Dhabi was the best com­pro­mise.”

Even so, Re­nault do have other con­cerns. Mercedes engine boss Andy Cow­ell is stick­ing res­o­lutely to the


de­sire to use only three en­gines all sea­son. He says: “We think over­all it is bet­ter to cre­ate a power unit that does have the re­quired dura­bil­ity and doesn’t lose sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance through that life. If you work on the as­sump­tion that you are not go­ing to win one race then you are po­ten­tially throw­ing the cham­pi­onship away.”

But Re­nault are al­ready talk­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of strate­gic penal­ties. Abite­boul says: “I’m ac­cept­ing you need to op­ti­mise your po­ten­tial. If it is bet­ter for ev­ery­one to use four en­gines rather than three, in which case we make that de­ci­sion, but it is too early.

“First I want to see where we are sit­ting in the peck­ing or­der, in terms of mileage, re­li­a­bil­ity, per­for­mance against what we have mea­sured on the dyno and pri­or­i­ties set for the Re­nault team, which is what mat­ters the most.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.