The G-forces involved in driving an F1 car are far beyond anything an average person will ever experience. Under braking, drivers can be subjected to as much as 5G. Lateral forces in high-speed corners commonly exceed 3G. As a way of translating these numbers, the maximum braking force of a road car is around 1G. So if you’ve been braking as hard as possible on a good surface on a warm day with tyres in good shape and ABS fitted to your car, you might have felt about a fifth (at most) of the braking force of a Formula One car. If you brake as hard as possible in an F1 car, your lungs will be pressed up against your ribs by the G-forces, and the tears will be pulled out of your eyes.
If an average person were to drive a Formula One car – assuming the necessary skill, which is unlikely – the G-forces involved would probably overcome the body’s ability to cope within no more than a few laps. The toll on neck, shoulders, arms, etc. would make turning the steering wheel impossible. The forces involved in accelerating and braking would literally hinder breathing. It doesn’t look physically taxing on TV, but it’s just about the most demanding exercise possible, short of flying a fighter jet or a space-craft.
So Formula One drivers keep fit. And not just reasonably fit. They all spend a good part of each day in the gym, doing exercises that make it possible to withstand enormous G-forces for extended periods of time. Grand prix regulations specify a maximum race time of 2 hours. A practice session is no more than 90 minutes. So you might expect drivers to train to be able to drive for up to 2 hours, which really does sound long enough.
Today, Kamui Kobayashi drove his Sauber C31 for 145 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain during testing for the 2012 season. Each lap of the track is 4.655km. That’s a total of approximately 675km. If he had driven that far from Barcelona on the road, instead of the race track, he could have ended up in Lausanne, Switzerland. Starting in Cape Town, South Africa, he could have made it to within 100km of the Namibian border. In a Formula One car. A grand prix distance is approximately 305km. Kobayashi did that twice, and another 65km, in one day. The fitness required to do such a thing is almost beyond imagination.
Kobayashi is not the only driver able to cover such distances. Nico Rosberg of Mercedes covered 139 laps today. Pastor Maldonado of Williams drove for 134 laps. Three other drivers were on track for more than 100 laps. At the age of 43, Michael Schumacher drove his Mercedes yesterday for 127 laps. Any one of the 24 drivers contracted to race in 2012 would do the same mileage again tomorrow if required.
It often looks on television like driving an F1 car is easy, boring even. The casual viewer sees speed, glamour, wealth and fame, but often misses the gruelling and constant physical assault a Formula One car unleashes on a racing driver. They may seem like rich playboys who like to mess around on a race track on Sunday afternoons, but F1 drivers are probably the fittest sportsmen on Earth.
Nico Rosberg led the way in testing today, beating team-mate Michael Schumacher’s fastest time of yesterday by almost a full second. Rosberg clocked up 118 laps in the Mercedes W02 with a fastest time of 1m17.613. It is worth noting, though, that Rosberg and Schumacher’s lap times cannot be compared with the rest of the drivers, as Mercedes are running their 2011-spec car, which features the exhaust blown diffuser that is banned for 2012.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean was second with a 1m18.419s fastest lap, which is the quickest lap by a 2012-spec car seen so far. With team-mate Raikkonen fastest on Tuesday, the Lotus E20 is looking promising.
The Red Bull RB8 featured near the front for the third successive day with Sebastian Vettel third on a 1m19.297s lap, and the team seem quietly confident in their new machine. With Adrian Newey designing the car, that is hardly a surprise.
A Senna drove a Williams Renault for the first time in almost 19 years today, as Bruno Senna took over the FW34 from Pastor Maldonado. Senna completed the most mileage of the day with 125 laps, and was pleased with the new car, saying: “I feel that there is a lot of potential in the FW34 and also in myself driving the car. The team has done a great job and I’m happy we have had a trouble-free day. I’m now looking forward to continuing our test programme tomorrow to learn more about the car.”
Ferrari are reportedly not happy with the progress of the F2012. Espnf1.com quoted technical director Pat Fry as saying “I’m not happy with where we are at the moment, there’s a lot of space for us to improve from where we are. Reliability wise it’s good, performance wise we’re OK. We can play around with the performance and improve some corners and some particular parts of the corner, but I wouldn’t say I’m happy yet until we get the whole thing working.” Ferrari have only 9 days of pre-season testing left to get their car up to speed before the first race in Melbourne.
Force India’s day was over almost as soon as it began as reserve driver Jules Bianchi became the first driver to crash a 2012 Formula 1 car. Bianchi left the track at the Sito Pons corner on his third lap of the day and hit the tyre wall with the right rear of the car. As it turned out, Force India did not have all of the parts required to repair the car, and so were unable to get back out on track. With only 12 days of pre-season testing in total, the loss of an entire day of running is a big blow to the team.
The second red flag of the day came out when Caterham reserve driver Giedo van der Garde spun into the gravel at Turn 10 with about an hour and a half to go in the day. Luckily for Caterham, there was no damage to car or driver, and van der Garde was able to return to the track for a few more laps after the car was recovered to the pits.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the day, Romain Grosjean caused the third red flag when his Lotus came to a halt between Turns 3 and 4 in what was presumably a fuel consumption test.
HRT were not present today, having only been at the test for the first 2 days. Their 2012 car will feature for the first time at the next test in Barcelona on 21 February, and so they had only planned to use the first two days of the Jerez test in order to evaluate the new Pirelli tyres. Mercedes likewise have used this test purely for tyre evaluation, and after 3 days are packing up and heading home, as planned.
Times and laps completed as follows:
|1||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes W02||1m17.613s||118|
|2||Romain Grosjean||Lotus E20||1m18.419s||117|
|3||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull RB8||1m19.297s||96|
|4||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren MP4-27||1m19.464s||80|
|5||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso STR7||1m19.734s||79|
|6||Sergio Perez||Sauber C31||1m19.770s||48|
|7||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari F2012||1m20.412s||67|
|8||Bruno Senna||Williams FW34||1m21.293s||125|
|9||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham CT01||1m23.324s||74|
|10||Jules Bianchi||Force India VJM05||No time|
The German dream team was created for the 2010 season. Mercedes returned to Formula 1, Michael Schumacher returned to Formula 1, and up-and-coming star Nico Rosberg joined the team. Mercedes had bought Brawn, the team that won both championships in 2009. Who could compete with them?
As it turned out, everyone could compete with Mercedes. They finished only 4th in the 2010 Constructors’ Championship and didn’t ever look like challenging for a win. Rosberg stood on the podium 3 times and qualified on the front row of the grid once, but never really challenged for a race win. Schumacher looked a shadow of his former dominant self, and didn’t trouble the podium all season.
The 2010 season was a big let-down, but perhaps that was understandable. Any Formula 1 team needs time to develop, and Mercedes had not yet had that time. In addition, Schumacher had been out of Formula 1 for 3 years. He was visibly rusty, and only more track time could solve that problem. The positive that came out of 2010 was that Nico Rosberg looked every bit a future race winner. He easily outperformed Schumacher and raced hard on the track for his 3 podiums and 7th place in the championship.
Pre-season testing for 2011 looked promising. The new Mercedes seemed fast, although it’s always difficult to compare testing times. There was hope that 2011 could be a year of podiums and perhaps a win or two. Sadly, it was not to be. The expected competitiveness did not materialise. Once again, Mercedes were the 4th fastest team, and once again they were nowhere near winning a race.
In 2011, Mercedes did not win a race, did not appear on the podium and did not qualify on the front row of the grid. If anything, the team has fallen even further behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari than it was in 2010. What is particularly concerning is that Mercedes seem to be operating conservatively. No big technical developments have come from Mercedes this season. Red Bull pioneered the blown diffuser, McLaren started the season with very interesting looking side-pods. What are Mercedes doing differently? They have no shortage of resources, so where is the innovation? If it is happening, it’s not visible.
On the positive side, 2011 saw a resurgent Schumacher. He still lacks a bit of qualifying performance, but his race-pace is no longer questionable. His race starts have been impressive, and as a result he has frequently been fighting with the top teams early on in the races. The car has let him down, however, and he has not been able to translate those good starts into big points. Schumacher put in a fantastic performance in Canada in changing conditions to finish 4th, after running second close to the end. Jenson Button and Mark Webber managed to pass him only with the benefit of DRS. If he can carry this form into 2012 and Mercedes can give him a front-running car, Schumacher should have a strong 2012. His contract finishes at the end of 2012, and while he can extend his contract (the team have already stated that they are open to an extension), Mercedes will have to give him a reason to stay.
Nico Rosberg had a quiet but strong season. He finished 7th in the championship again, ahead of Schumacher, and outqualified his team-mate 16 times out of 19 races. Among his performances, Rosberg led in the opening laps of the Belgian Grand Prix after storming to the front on lap 1 from 5th on the grid. Alas, it was not to last as Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull eventually proved simply too quick for the Mercedes. Rosberg has shown his pace. He has already proven that all he needs is a competitive car to be able to fight for race wins. But there is an impression of frustration developing. 2 years in to his contract with Mercedes, he is not at the front, and it is obviously the car that is lacking. If the 2012 car is not capable of winning, Rosberg’s patience will be severely tested.
Mercedes have now been back in Formula 1 for 2 difficult years. 2012 must surely be a significant year for them. Either they will return to the front of the grid, or the dream will begin to fade. Pre-season testing will give some indication of what is to come, but ultimately, Mercedes have to deliver in the races. Thus far, they have not done so.
It’s always difficult to interpret lap times from free practise. Only the teams know what fuel loads are in the cars, what the drivers are doing and why, and what the engineers are working on, so the order on Friday can mean nothing at all.
In Brazil, the Friday times mean even less. The track is very short, so the cars will appear closer together than they are in reality. There is also always the possibility of rain, which has the potential to upset the order. Rain is predicted on Saturday and Sunday.
Judging from the Friday times, McLaren and Red Bull seem to have the edge on everyone else. Ferrari are a little off the pace, and Mercedes appear to be reasonably close to Ferrari.
The track is an interesting one for set-up work. The first and third sectors are very fast, with quite a tight, twisty middle sector. The middle sector is generally not conducive to overtaking. The major overtaking places on the track are at the end of the start/finish straight into turn 1, and at the end of the next straight into turn 4.
The Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Schumacher were quickest in the third sector in FP2. This suggests that they are running a set-up that is more in favour of top speed than cornering speed. If either Schumacher or Rosberg were to get among the front-runners at the start, they would be very difficult to pass with such a set-up. This is a set-up that Schumacher has used very effectively earlier in the season, at Monza in particular.
Another team to watch for a similar strategy is Force India. They have historically been strong at high-speed tracks such as Spa and Monza, so expect them to be competitive in Sectors 1 and 3.
The back of the field will also be interesting to watch. Team Lotus have a new rear wing, which is designed for more efficient DRS. This should help them significantly in qualifying, where they can use DRS as much as they like. The practice times suggest that they have quite a margin over Virgin and HRT (about 1.7 seconds), and that they are reasonably close to the mid-field (about 0.6s slower than the fastest Williams). They could possibly make it into Q3 this afternoon.
It’s shaping up for a very interesting qualifying session. The close times at the front, improvements at the back, and possibility of rain all promise to yield some surprises.