It's finally time, Formula 1 has started its testing sessions and the first race of the 2012 F1 season is just about a month away. The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne is happening March 18, followed by the Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur the next weekend.
The first F1 on-track test of the season has been taking place on the course at Jerez, Spain. After months of planning and testing in simulators, the Jerez test is the first chance for the teams to actually run their cars at full speed on a real track. Formula 1's rules prevent on-track testing except during these official test sessions. These rules are part of the sport's efforts to create an even playing field financially for different teams. The leadership of Formula 1 correctly thinks the richer teams could afford so much track testing that poorer teams could never compete. So they have rules that only allow teams to test cars during official sessions. I agree with the theory but think it's a delicate balance as you want and need teams to develop new technology, and limiting their testing can hinder that.
World champion Sebastian Vettel participated in the tests in Red Bull's new car for 2012, the RB8. After completing almost 100 laps, his opinion is the car has less grip, both due to new restrictions and rules and due to the cold track. The temperature of a track (and tires) has an effect on the grip of tires. Vettel specifically cited the double diffuser (rear spoiler) and the blown exhaust, both of which were outlawed for 2012. A double diffuser helps push the car down and give it more grip and a blown diffuser continues the airflow from the engine to the rear diffuser even when the engine isn't producing exhaust gases, like when the driver isn't pushing the throttle.
Vettel did an interview with Formula 1 and said although he needs more time to really get a feel for the car, but that he " feel(s) comfortable and the gut feeling seems to signal green." He was asked whether he thinks he has the car he wants and needs, now that he has tested it both on the track and via computer simulator and he responded: "Yes, I think we are where we thought we would be - and for the moment we can be satisfied."
In one of his more interesting answers, Vettel was asked which he felt was a more important quality for a new car - speed or reliability? Vettel answered: " Definitely speed! You can work on the reliability, but a reliable car without speed will very likely never be a winner." I agree. From what I saw at the tests, I think we will see Vettel win the championship again.
A lifetime auto racing fan, Freddy Sherman collects vintage muscle cars and attends races and rally events in the U.S. and around the world. You can follow him on twitter - @thefredsherman.
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