The second day of Formula 1 testing at Valencia concluded today, with seven drivers taking to the track. The drivers’ roster changed a bit, with Michael Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett taking a breather, and Lewis Hamilton and Kamui Kobayashi joining the fray. Today’s times were generally quicker than yesterday’s, as drivers made longer runs, and the track rubbered in. (See table below.)
Once again, Felipe Massa topped the time sheets, today setting a quick lap in the high 1:11’s. Also for the second day running, a Sauber took second slot. Yesterday, it was de la Rosa who was only 0.21 behind Massa’s Ferrari, and today it was Kobayashi who trailed the Brazilian by a mere 0.33.
Does this signal a rebound for the BMW Sauber squad, who toiled at the rear of the grid for much of last season? Perhaps they’re benefitting from a switch from BMW to Ferrari power this year. On the other hand, perhaps they’re running low fuel to gain attention from potential sponsors. The car is conspicuously devoid of any sponsorship branding.
And with larger fuel capacities on board the cars this year, the ability to manipulate lap times with varying fuel loads is more extreme. As reported on ESPN, Rubens Barrichello commented yesterday on the difficulty of deciphering Valencia lap times. “You cannot predict much nowadays,” he said. “If you take 10 kilos of fuel, or full tanks, you are talking about almost four seconds difference. So it is going to be dead easy for someone to get a sponsor and say that the car is faster in a way.”
Robert Kubica showed significant improvement from yesterday. Today he slotted in fourth on the final time sheet, only 0.17 behind Lewis Hamilton. Both drivers were in the mid 1:12’s.
Nico Rosberg managed to run a lap in the high 1:12’s, posting a marginally quicker lap than Schumacher’s best lap of yesterday; today’s lap times were generally quicker than Monday’s however, and Rosberg’s time was only fifth quickest on the day.
Barrichello and Buemi rounded out the field, separated by a time gap that more or less equaled what they posted yesterday.
What conclusions should we draw from these times? As Barrichello pointed out, fuel load choices leave much room for creating deceptive results. That said, it’s probably only the lower-tier teams who would be motivated to make themselves look better than they truly are.
Both Sauber and Renault, for example, will be in the hunt for sponsorship funding during the coming months, and now is the best time to convince potential commercial partners that they’re worth the risk. In 40 days, once the racing begins in earnest, they won’t be able to fool anyone.
And what of Massa’s times? It’s not very likely that the Scuderia would be running light just to post quick times. In fact, word in the paddock is that the first-tier teams, i.e. Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren, will probably run most test sessions this month with about 80 kilos of fuel on board (full capacity is 160 kilos). This means that, while the lap times might not be significant in relation to the entire field, they’re probably meaningful for making comparisons within that select group.
Of last year’s Big Four, only Red Bull have yet to make an appearance. They were the class of the field by last year’s finale in Abu Dhabi. Adrian Newey has elected to miss early testing in favor of additional preparation at the factory. One shouldn’t read into this that the team is behind schedule, however. Red Bull missed the early tests last year, as well, and they still managed to be the primary threat to the Brawns during the first half of the season, when the Brackley-based squad seemed to be bullet-proof.