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Testing, testing... (Updated)

NEWS STORY
11/03/2021

With pre-season testing reduced to just three days, on the same track and in similar conditions to the season opener, we can expect a busy and hopefully revealing few days.

Wednesday saw the last of the 'reveals', and with that nonsense out of the way F1 can get down to the serious business.

We say nonsense because the cars revealed at the launches usually bear little similarity to those that hit the track for testing just a few days later, and even less compared to the versions that line up on the grid for the season opener.

This year, courtesy of the COVID restrictions, which left us all relying on the teams for images, which, as ever, meant a few shots in a dark and moody studio, the launches were even less significant on the whole, though, to its credit, Aston Martin put on a show.

With the cars mainly carried over from last season, the differences, such as they are, are mainly the result of the aero regulations, which means revised noses, barge boards, side pods etc.

Then there are engines, which, even with the forthcoming freeze in mind were likely to be a step forward on last season, particularly in Ferrari’s case. And let’s not forget that McLaren now has the all-conquering Mercedes in the back.

When the cars take to the track tomorrow, the main point of interest will surely be the Red Bull, for the Austrian team has been less than forthcoming about its 2021 contender.

Other than a couple of renders the car hasn't been seen, leading to speculation that the Milton Keynes outfit has a surprise in store for us.

While Helmut Marko insists there are no such surprises, one only has to think back to last season's testing when Mercedes casually introduced DAS (dual axis steering), to realise that the canny Austrian could be trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Usually, pre-season testing has its own pace, much like a race weekend, a slow start just to get a feel of things, a few days looking at upgrades and reliability, finishing off with a final flourish as outright pace becomes the focus.

Mercedes rarely plays its hand, and the fact that the season opener takes place at the same track in similar conditions in just two weeks means the German outfit it unlikely to give any more away than it needs to. That said, a shot across the psychological bow of Red Bull might put the Austrian team in its place.

As was the case last year, the midfield is where the real fight is likely to be and what a line-up, with (Mercedes-powered) McLaren seeking to hold off Aston Martin, Alpine, Ferrari and AlphaTauri.

While Sergio Perez is set to allow Red Bull to give Mercedes a run for its money, certainly in the constructor standings, the midfield is the battle that truly excites.

Fernando Alonso is back, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have Mercedes power, Carlos Sainz is in a Ferrari, not to mention Japanese hot-shot, Yuki Tsunoda.

Ferrari had much to prove, and - that dreadful bilious green Mission Winnow logo aside - it is going to be fascinating to see if the Italian team can put the problems of 2020 (and 2019) behind it... legally.

As for Vettel, it’s a do-or-die season in which the four-time world champion can either prove his critics (and Ferrari) wrong or give them further ammunition.

Of course, as George Russell points out, if Ferrari has improved its power unit, this will aid Alfa Romeo and Haas in their battle, which, if nothing else, will give Mick Schumacher something to smile about.

The youngster comes into F1 with a team that has clearly lost its way, and has already basically written-off the coming season. Making his debut thirty years after his legendary Father, the Haas is no Jordan, and it is highly unlikely - no matter how good his debut race - Mick is going to be in a front running car by the time the 'circus' arrives at Imola next month.

Doing our best not to get drawn into the hype that some perpetuate, even though it is widely felt that the season is a forgone conclusion, there is still much to be excited about, for other than that thrilling midfield line-up, we have Max Verstappen seeking to close down Lewis Hamilton again.

With testing reduced to three days we can expect the teams to run busy programmes from the outset. Furthermore, the fact that it is just three days means that most will adopt Mercedes long-standing habit of having both their drivers on duty each day... though a far cry when teams would run two cars.

Tomorrow will be about systems checks and basically getting a feel of the car before switching to reliability which will mean long runs aplenty.

This will continue on Saturday when the new components should start appearing, while on Sunday, certainly in the afternoon we can expect to see the hot laps normally reserved for FP3.

Ignoring the inevitable "what we have learned" headlines that will be appearing in the coming days, the fact is that the next three days are not going to answer all our questions, but should answer most, and with attention soon switching to 2022, those teams that don't show promise over the course of the test could be in for a long, difficult season.

Bottom line; it doesn't matter how fast your car is if it won't go the distance, consequently, certainly over the next few days, mileage is king.

Current Driver Line-Ups

This will be updated as teams announce further details.

Team Fri 12 Sat 13 Sun 14
Mercedes Bottas/Ham Ham/Bottas Bottas/Ham
Red Bull Verstappen Perez Perez/Verst
McLaren Ricc/Norris TBC TBC
Aston Martin Vettel/Stroll Vettel/Stroll Stroll/Vettel
Alpine Ocon Alonso Ocon/Alonso
Ferrari Leclerc/Sainz TBC TBC
AlphaTauri Gasly/Tsunoda Tsunoda/Gasly Gasly/Tsunoda
Alfa Romeo Raikk/Giovin Giovinazzi Raikkonen
Haas Schu/Mazepin Mazepin/Schu Schu/Mazepin
Williams Nissany Latifi Russell

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by kenji, 12/03/2021 9:51

"If Ricciardo even so much as sniffs a win he'll be all over it and in there like the proverbial rodent and the downpipe!!!"

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2. Posted by Kkiirmki, 11/03/2021 20:54

"McLaren could be the dark horse here. I wouldn't be surprised to see them winning a couple of races this season. "

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