Why you shouldn’t pay attention to pre-season times

pre-season

We have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by the interest in our blog and twitter account from Rio Haryanto fans in Indonesia. Last week we asked around and it seems the vast majority of our new followers are also new to the sport. Any sort of new interest in F1 is welcome in an period of declining TV ratings in the traditional F1 strongholds.   We hope that a successful season for Rio Haryanto with Manor Racing Team leads to the opening up of a new market for the sport and importantly, leads to much needed sponsorship for the team.

Between and now and the start of the season we plan to post a few blogs that help explain some of the inner quirks of the sport that may not be so obvious to newcomers.   The aim is not only to help bring our new fans up to speed but also water-down some of the unrealistic expectations some of our new followers have expressed in recent days.  So lets start with pre-season testing and the non stop analysis on social media, effectively, about nothing.

We do get the interest in the first morning of pre-season testing, it has been three long months since we saw any sort F1 action.   Who doesn’t like seeing the new cars being unwrapped only to see they are all grey and dull.  Fans are full of joy and excitement today and that is a great thing.  We noted that #F1testing trended all day on Twitter and in a sport that seems allergic to self promotion it is great that the fans generate a feel good factor around the sport. However, the lap by lap updates of who has set what time is purely white noise which in turn led to our twitter feed being inundated with concerned fans fretting about the lack of running the new MRT05 had completed this morning. Of course, when it finally completed a few laps, panic set in among our followers that it was 8 seconds off the pace.

Firstly, can we just remind you that last seasons car didn’t complete a single lap until the second race of the season.   Whatever laps were put in this morning were a big improvement on that. This season we are properly funded and prepared to take part in this seasons testing.  That in itself is something to cheer about.

Secondly, the first test of the season is not about setting times.  It is about ensuring that all the data from simulations back at HQ match what actually happens on the track.  It’s about gathering track data to send back home and then ironing out any problems so that they can be hopefully fixed before the second test.  For Manor, it is about making sure the car will be able to finish the first few fly away races of the season.  To finishing tenth, first you must finish. It is also about about integrating a very sophisticated new engine into the car.  This will take time. These engines are a thing of technological wonder and take time to understand their complexity.   There is also the small matter of integrating two F1 rookies in the team.   If there was a serious reason for the lacking of running this morning, it is better these issue arose today and not in Melbourne next month.  You don’t get any points for pre-season testing.

Finally, try not to pay too much attention to pre-season times full stop.  Over the years they have proven to be an unhelpful guide as to guessing who is hot and who is not.  We recall back in the 90’s it seemed almost a tradition that teams like Arrows or Tyrrell to put 2 laps of fuel into the tank and aim for a glory lap that would put them there or thereabouts at the end of the testing.  The difference in the same car with two laps of fuel and full tank can be as much as 4 seconds. The purpose of these glory runs were to generate a few positive headlines, create a bit of buzz about the team and hope to capture a few gullible sponsors.  Come the first round of the season, they were always typically 3-4 seconds off the pace. 

Today Sebastian Vettel was the fastest driver, we doubt that Mercedes are crying into their schnitzel tonight thinking the season is already lost.  It is also worth remembering it does not matter if Team X ran 100 laps today if the car is fundamentally slow out of the box.  It works the other way too.   We recall in 2009, the Brawn car piloted by Jenson Button turned up at testing on the last day of the last test, drove a few laps and blew teams who had several days of testing behind them away.

The third and final test is the only day we may give the times more than a glance, the only time sheet that truly matters to us will arrive at the end of qualifying in Melbourne. For those who are truly interested – what is normally a good indicator of a decent car is consistently good laps and not just a few quick laps.  Sometimes you will find them half way down the official timing lap times that do the rounds of social media. Sadly the sort of data charts that detect genuine consistent don’t tend get thousands of re-tweets.  Anyone who posts articles about who is looking good and who is in for a terrible season at this stage is just seeking attention.

The only people who truly know what went on today is the teams and they are certainly not going to show their hand this early.

So if anything, did we learn today? 

NEW CAR

Well we certainly have the best looking car on the grid that is for sure.  The MRT05 is a thing of beauty.

Haas had the initial teething problems that we suggested they would have yesterday.  A front rear wing flying off the car lost them most of the afternoons track time.  They still managed a decent amount of laps which is impressive for a new team.   HRT this is not!

McLaren completed X laps.  It took them till July last year to string a similar amount of laps out of the last car.  We can’t comment on the pace (although Alonso’s face on Wednesday will be a clue) but it seems the rumors of reliability issues with the new Honda engine were just that.

Ferrari and Mercedes look in decent shape.  Who would have guessed.

That is it really.  Fascinating right?