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Surprises in Testing

With little else to focus on, the spotlight moves to Bahrain and the first day’s testing for the nine teams that made the trip. Ferrari are fastest and Massa quicker than Raikkonen, confirming both the team’s position as pre-season favorites and the increasing expectation that the Brazilian will beat the Finn. But what’s this – Button next up? Have Honda been “doing a Red Bull” to impress some visiting dignitary?

Apparently not, for there in fifth spot lurks Barrichello. It must be that Honda are making progress with the new car and we are beginning to see its true potential. With McLaren and BMW still right up there, we could be in for a real dogfight of a season – a fine way to celebrate Michael Schumacher’s retirement.

Super Aguri

Davidson and Super Aguri

Renault and Red Bull must be worried, however. They may claim that the times mean nothing because they’re still learning the characteristics of the cars and getting them set up right, but the same is true for the other teams. With everyone getting to grips with their new cars, they are all going to go faster, leaving the Renault-powered teams that much more to do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the speed of Davidson in the interim Super Aguri. I begin to wonder if this team’s real talent is in taking old machinery and making it more competitive than it ever was in its heyday. And, if that is true, they might get the Honda 2006 chassis to perform wonders – reason indeed for Spyker and Williams to be concerned. In fact, if SA can continue to beat Renault and Red Bull, there might be a long line of legal writs awaiting the Japanese team at the Australian GP.

It is to be hoped that the threatened litigation fizzles out when it comes to practice in Melbourne, however. Lawsuits do nothing for the image of the sport and only make lawyers richer. Given the lateness of the launch of the SA and Toro Rosso cars for 2007 and their lack of testing therefore, it is unlikely that they will do better than make up the tail end of the grid – in which case, it hardly seems worth anyone making a fuss over the legality of their cars.

Never mind the hype and speculation – let the races begin!

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Red Bull and Honda

Well, there ya go – what did I tell ya? No sooner do I mention that the teams seem to be taking it in turns to go fastest in testing than Red Bull hit the front. Okay, it may have been a stunt for the visiting Dietrich Mateschitz, owner of the team, but at least it proves that the RB3 can go quickly when it’s light on fuel and has new tires. And it must have been pleasant for David Coulthard to grab the best time – it’s been a while since he did that.

Joking aside, Red Bull have got to be a little worried about the pace of the RB3. They know what had to be done to give DC the chance for top spot and that it has no relevance for the actual races at all. Much more telling is the car’s consistency in being a low midfield runner in testing, just as the BMW has been consistently near the front. If there is a pointer to race performance in testing, it is consistency, not single lap times.

RA107

Honda RA107

What worries me, however, is Honda’s apparent lack of pace. So far their testing times have been nowhere near the front and my prediction of Button for champion begins to look very optimistic indeed. I console myself with the thought that in previous seasons they have looked good in testing, only to disappoint once the races started. Maybe this time they are getting things the right way around.

It is also true that the early races can give a false impression of what is to follow. Time and again we have seen a team do well at first and then fade away once the circus gets to Europe. My hope has to be that Honda are concentrating on quiet development and will come good once the season gets into its stride.

That might be the case for Red Bull as well, of course. But I have my doubts on that score. The team is hungry for success and has two drivers who are starved of good publicity – if they could put in a few good times, I feel sure that they would. Honda, however, have been there, done that, and know that it counts for nothing in the long run. If anyone is sandbagging, they are.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

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News Round-Up

The big news today is Formula 1 Latest‘s new look, of course. Well, with all the teams unveiling new cars and colors, it was time for this site to do a bit of showing off too. All comments will be gratefully accepted.

There is a not-so-subtle hint as to my preference this season in the header. Last year I went with Renault (and guess who was right), this time it’s Honda’s turn. The fact that a black car goes so well with the design had a lot to do with it as well, I admit!

Honda

Honda RA107

Otherwise, the main news is of the first day of testing in Jerez. McLaren continue their recent form with Pedro de la Rosa setting the best time but, perhaps significantly, the new Williams was next up in the hands of Alex Wurz. That is pretty impressive for a car on its first test run and brings to mind other years when Williams were the dominant team.

It is unlikely that we are headed into a similar year, however; the times are so close that the coming season looks to be the closest in years. Just about everyone seems to be on the pace, only the much-vaunted Red Bull RB3 lagging behind somewhat. If that continues, it would seem hardly worth Spyker’s time and money to take Toro Rosso to court over their use of the RB3 chassis, especially as Gerhard Berger says he’s more than ready to fight.

As you would expect, it’s the teams most likely to be affected by Toro Rosso’s and Super Aguri’s customer cars that are protesting loudest: Spyker and Williams. The others are not happy but make no mention of litigation. So it could be time for the four teams most involved to settle this like gentlemen. Patrick Head, Colin Kolles, Gerhard Berger and Aguri Suzuki, behind the bike sheds at noon – be there or be square!

Spyker stayed at home to let the new F8-VII out for its first run at a cold Silverstone. Albers expressed himself delighted with the car’s performance after putting over 100 miles on it. Which means that it’s looking good for reliability at least – if the car is as fast as it looks, there will be yet another team getting into the battle for honors in 2007.

Everyone keeps saying it but I can’t help repeating – this looks like being the best season in years.

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Testing Times and BMW Sauber

These periods in between Grand Prix are always filled with news of rumors of driver changes for next year and bullish press releases from the teams. Apart from these, there’s nothing much to do except watch the cars test at various circuits. And, in the latest round of tests, the team to watch has been BMW Sauber.

It’s all about wings, it seems. Apart from the flexi wing saga (which is over, now that the FIA have told them to stiffen the rear wing), BMW Sauber have been doing some pretty weird things with wings. On their first day of testing, the car appeared with two vertical wings sprouting from the bodywork above the front suspension.

BMW Sauber wings

The BMW Sauber wings

Naturally, everyone wanted to know what they do but the team were being pretty cagy about the whole thing. “Just testing a theory” was the general answer. Robert Kubica, the BMW Sauber test driver said, “I do not really know what they do. I have not noticed a great difference and I do not believe that we are going to use them in a race.”

The wings disappeared on the second day of testing and, from then on, the test went pretty much as normal with Schumacher fastest in the Ferrari and the BMW Saubers next up. So what is the idea behind these odd new wings? Well, I have a theory about that…

I think BMW have found an aerodynamic tweak with real potential to improve the performance of the cars. But it’s not the silly vertical wings. I can’t see how they would have any effect on downforce and would only make it a fraction more difficult to turn into corners. No, I think they’re camouflage for what is really going on.

Being so noticeable, everyone was going to wonder at the function of the wings and the result would be that the rest of the car gets hardly any attention at all. Bingo! BMW Sauber sneak their latest tweak past the press and the other teams and can go to Magny-Cours with a secret in their pocket.

Of course, it’s only a theory. But nothing else makes any sense to me – those crazy upright wings can’t do anything useful, can they?

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