Pit Stop – Pre-season Testing – By Lewis Brearley

The shrill, bone-shaking, violent roar of a pack of V8 engines splits the peaceful air around the Jerez race circuit. It’s a tradition that signifies one thing: the start of Formula One pre-season testing.

As much as it would be exciting to say otherwise, the first three days of 2013 testing haven’t really given much of an indication of the teams’ performance. A different team topped the timesheets on each of the days and most of the laps were spent testing their new car’s reliability and checking data correlation.

However, by analysing the teams’ new cars and using insight from trackside observers it is already possible to draw a sketchy picture of which teams have started with the strongest foundations.

McLaren set the pace on day one while Romain Grosjean recorded the fastest time on day two for Lotus, and observers noted that these two teams seemed to be the starring performers of the test, just ahead of Ferrari and Red Bull – the usual contenders then.

No midfield teams surprised and caught the attention so the headlines were left all for Mercedes, who suffered the ignominy of completing less than 30 laps in the first two days, after a wiring-loom problem on day one, and a brake related failure the day after both caused the loss of the rest of the day’s running.

Determined to make up for this the team ran Rosberg for a mega 148 lap day behind the wheel. This certainly allowed the team to catch up to the four teams they hope they will be competing for wins with in 2013.

For the answer to that though, we’ll have to wait until Lewis Hamilton steps in the W03. This is the big benchmark for Mercedes as Hamilton is used to a McLaren and will soon be able to tell how far his new team are behind.

This wouldn’t be Formula One without a hint of controversy involving liberal rule interpretations and indeed pre-season was not one day old before teams raised concerns about something. Strangely, it is a back of the grid team which has caused all the fuss.

Teams complained that the Caterham team were running an illegal exhaust system. Rules stipulate that no bodywork may lie within an imaginary cone from the exhaust exits to the centre of the rear wheels; however the CT03 does indeed have a turning vane within that specified area.

James Allison, the Lotus technical director, is one adamant about the legality of the vane. When asked for his comments on rival machinery, he said: “…I saw a detail on the Caterham’s exhaust that I am not sure will survive until Melbourne…”

All this while Fernando Alonso continues physical preparations in the Canary Islands, firm in the knowledge that he has made the right decision to prioritise this over figuring out the dull correlation work that his team are doing.

With only a quarter of pre-season testing completed, there are still many pieces of the puzzle waiting to slot into place.

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