Invaluable lessons learned from F1 Barcelona testing


Pre-season Formula 1 testing is an impossible language to translate. Trying to figure out which team is genuinely quick is about as tricky as it must have been for intellectuals of bygone years to ascertain the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs before the discovery of the Rosetta stone.

You see, there is no solid reference. It changes each lap. Everyone runs new cars with new aerodynamic configurations beyond a daily basis, an hourly basis … or even with each run. Such is the manner in which testing is conducted and such is the exact science of data collection, that wing levels and car set-up are often changed on a lap by lap basis. Fuel levels are kept secret. A new generation of tires are reacting in unusual ways to the different track surfaces at the various testing venues in Spain, their characteristics being further altered by a single degree drop in temperature.

So what can we learn from the timing screens at the end of the day? Not a lot.

But we can learn something from being on site, and that is why NBC Sports’ visit to Barcelona last week was so useful. Because, at this time of year, there are only really two ways to learn who might turn up in Melbourne with a winning car. The first is to watch the cars out on track. Don’t look at the times, look at the way the car drives the circuit, attacks the corners … listen to how the drivers apply the throttle on corner exit, listen to the engine pitch and hear how well planted a driver can keep his right foot in the fast stuff. You will learn pretty quickly who has a responsive car, who has a dependable car and who has a fast car.

The second is to watch the drivers themselves, watch their body language, the way they relate their findings to their engineers. Watch the way they walk around the paddock, read their actions from the way they greet an old friend to the way they drink their tea. And if you can, talk to them.

Last week, as part of NBC’s “staggering” (in the words of paddock colleagues) pre-season filming shoot in Spain, I got to do just that. One on one. And the results were fascinating.

I’m not going to give away all that was said, that would sort of ruin the whole point of sending out all the Hollywood cameras and crew and I don’t think my new NBC bosses would be terribly impressed with that.

The one thing that was clear was that this season is going to be tight. Nobody was giving much away, but the theme seemed to be that with minimal changes to the regulations, almost everyone thinks they have a better car underneath them than they did at this point 12 months ago.

This is even true at McLaren. Jenson Button admitted the team was feeling somewhat confused by its new challenger, and that they were behind the curve compared to their rivals, but that the potential of his 2013 car was far greater than his 2012 ride.

Ferrari have a night and day difference from last season. The car isn’t a dog, and that has given both Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso the boost they needed after the wretched pre-season testing they endured in 2012. If Alonso could fight for the title with an awful car, imagine what he can do with a half decent one.

Red Bull’s boys were giving little away, too, but Mark Webber has an assured confidence about him. It’s going to take something massive to get one up on his now three-time world champion teammate, but he’s clearly viewed as the best choice to partner the man who is rewriting the record books.

Mercedes has much to prove with its new superstar driver Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion is playing down expectations, as much to manage his own hunger for champagne as that of his fans and new bosses. There is an underlying confidence about him and Nico Rosberg. I don’t think it is a championship confidence for 2013, but perhaps the feeling that they are embarking on something special together for the long term.

The one team that really seems pumped up right now is Lotus. Both drivers were totally at ease, confident and jovial. There wasn’t a hint of pressure, nor of frustration… not even when we sat Kimi Raikkonen down for a 15-minute interview. He even cracked a smile and a few jokes. Right now, the read I get off the Lotus boys is by far the most positive of all the top challengers.

There’s an air of confidence around the Williams and Sauber teams too, and if the assured calm of their drivers is replicated with the speed of their cars, they could be ones to watch.

At the back end of the grid, I’m sorry to say that Caterham’s boys, while excited about the challenge, could not hide a tremendous challenge ahead. Marussia meanwhile may actually start the season with a slight advantage over its next-door neighbors  I was worried to see Luiz Razia not given any test mileage in Barcelona, and one can only imagine that sponsor issues would have been behind a reason to keep a rookie away from much needed cockpit time. He was my stand-out driver in last season’s F1 feeder category GP2, and I hope for his sake that things are resolved in a positive fashion. His teammate Max Chilton, meanwhile, gave some of the most mature and introspective answers I heard all week in interview. I’ve known Max a while, but my word he’s grown up fast over the last few months.

But if one interview stood out for me from the week, it was the one with a driver who may not even have a race seat in 2013. Adrian Sutil stepped into an F1 car for the first time in over a year on the third day of the test and impressed everyone. Force India has a spare race seat this season, and their former driver is favorite to land it. A year out of the sport has not dulled his hunger nor his senses, but from speaking to him I learned that it has given him that rarest of gifts: perspective. He is relaxed, rested, and has come to appreciate that there is more to life than racing. He sees the wider picture, he sees the world and all it has to offer. But still he wants to race.

I’d like to see Adrian back in a race seat. With his raw pace, combined with a new maturity and worldliness, he could be a hugely potent force in 2013.

But these are just my impressions. How good were the boys’ poker faces? We have just over two weeks left until the flag drops. I can’t wait.

Will Buxton is the F1 pit reporter for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @WillBuxton.

Made it: Haas F1 at ‘home’ at US Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gene Haas heard the snickers, shook off the doubters and ignored the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Looking up at his name in bold letters above the Haas F1 team tent in the paddock this week at the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s easy to allow him a few moments of self-congratulation heading into his team’s “home” race this weekend.

“Everybody made it sound like we were clueless getting into Formula One, that we’d be bumbling idiots. The Europeans were going to teach us a lesson,” Haas said. “I think when we showed up and were prepared with a competitive car that scored points, it set a very high bar … People didn’t think we could do it.”

The Formula One season has been dominated by Mercedes and the duel between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But the American rookie outfit has been one of the surprise stories from the rest of the grid.

An industrialist with roots in NASCAR and North Carolina, Haas jumped into Formula One with a flourish. His team has 28 points in its maiden season, all of them scored by veteran French driver Romain Grosjean. While far from the top, it’s also well above the bottom with a chance to climb over the final four races of the season.

Sunday’s race will be a chance for Haas F1 to wave the flag in front of American fans, too, during F1’s only U.S. stop.

“There is some pride for having and American flag on this car,” Grosjean said.

Haas F1 is the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years and the road getting here wasn’t easy. It actually crosses two continents, as the team is split between a design base in North Carolina and racing operations in England.

Haas was first granted his F1 team license in April 2014. The initial goal was to be racing in 2015. That proved to be too ambitious, so Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner took aim at 2016. Powered by a Ferrari engine, Haas debuted with an impressive first testing session, then took a step back with engine problems that kept them off the track.

“A lot of people lost sleep over that. That was not easy having to sit off the track and watching the other teams go round and round,” said Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.

“We broke a lot of stuff,” Haas said.

The problems were fixed by the first race when Grosjean finished sixth in Australia and took two more top-10 finishes over the next three races. The success proved hard to maintain and Haas has only one other top 10 finish all season, none since the British Grand Prix in July.

Haas F1 got a boost two weeks ago when both cars qualified in the top 10 for the first time in Japan. But that came with a rookie mistake: teams that make stage three of qualifying have to start the race on their qualifying tires, forcing a change in pit strategy from one stop to two, and they finished out of the points.

Still, the qualifying performance raised hopes for more points over the final four races.

“We finished seven times in 11th,” Steiner said. “It’s about time we finish four times 10th.”

Grosjean left the former Lotus team to join the Americans, and Haas credits him with being a steady hand in the car all season.

“He didn’t know what we had and we could have been a complete and utter disaster,” Haas said. “He took a big risk.”

Haas won’t commit to a driver lineup for 2017. Gutierrez was a test driver for Ferrari when he signed with Haas, but he hasn’t scored a point this season, finishing 11th five times. Haas understands American fans want an American driver but suggested that’s not an option anytime soon.

Some fans had hoped Haas would sign Alexander Rossi, who finished 2015 driving for Manor. Rossi instead landed in IndyCar and stunned nearly everyone by winning the Indianapolis 500 in May as a rookie. Haas does have an American development driver, 18-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

“That sounds like simple equation: American team, American driver, American race track. It’s all American. The reality is there’s not that many American (Formula One) drivers,” Haas said. “Not exactly a good idea at this time. We really wanted experienced drivers.

“We don’t need to have everything perfect this year or the year after,” Haas said. “American drivers or American sponsors, those events will happen. It will be up to us to put it together.”

Related Haas F1 Team posts:


Q&A: Haas’ Santino Ferrucci chats with Will Buxton

Santino Ferrucci at HQ-903
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He may have a European sounding name, but Santino Ferrucci is all-American.

And the Woodbury, Connecticut native hopes to one day bring his American heritage and talent to Formula 1.

He’s certainly in the right place: The 18-year-old development driver for the Haas F1 team based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, has had a whirlwind year thus far.

Not only has he had one podium in GP3 competition, he still has one last race (Abu Dhabi) to finish the season in the top 10 (he’s currently 12th).

Ferrucci visited with NBCSN’s Will Buxton during Friday afternoon’s second F1 practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Here are some excerpts of that interview:


“It was fantastic. That car, under breaking, is insane, just pulling 5 gs down there and going from 210 to 60 mph in less than 60 feet is pretty radical.”


“Right now, I’m just taking it slow. I’m still 18, enjoying GP3, looking to go back there for another year, learning, still have a lot to do working with Haas on a day-to-day basis with Haas as a development driver. I’m learning a lot about the car and learning a lot with Romain (Grosjean) and Esteban (Gutierrez). I’m very honored to have an opportunity to drive for an American team.”


“Yeah, I’m there in a lot of the sessions. I’m actually standing most of the time next to Esteban’s race engineer, and I’m there in the intercoms listening to the chief engineer make decisions on tire strategy and what they’re going to do throughout the session. As soon as we finish the session, I get to hear the driver’s feedback and what they’re thinking about the car and see the changes they want to do for the next session. Since I drove the car at Silverstone back in July, I can relate to that a little bit of what they’re feeling most of the time. Certain tracks are a different feeling.”


“After you’re on top of the hill on (turn) one – it’s actually a cool view from the cockpit – and go down the hill and go to enter (turn) three and make that left, it’s completely blind and flat. So, when you turn in, you don’t really have a great reference. You also have to hit the apex curve as well. When you get that just right, it’s the greatest feeling in the world because you know you can keep it flat that much more into turn five and that little lift. When you look at it from TV point of view, there’s a hill there, but you just can’t see it.”


“I think with water, it’s going under the asphalt a little bit so it’s creating some bumps. I like that. It adds a of character and with those bumps you have to tune the suspension a bit more. In talking to the drivers at Haas, with those grooves, since they’re lined up in the direction of the track, there’s a little bit more locking up going on than normal. So it’s making a difficult to pass and you’ll see a lot more locking up going into turn 11 and 12 area. Obviously, with the grooved pavement, it’s not super flat, either, so it’s going to make for some fun racing.”


“Yeah, this track is brilliant. Sector one with the esses and then my favorite sector, sector three (turns 16-18). Take it flat, when you’re in there flat, it’s just how long do you want to keep it flat until you laugh. That’s always a little bit of a ballsy turn. So the second you pump the gas a little bit, you wish you would have kept it in just a little bit more.”


“Obviously, we’ve had some ups and downs. We’re a brand new team and learning everything about GP3. We’ve been on the back foot but we have great teammates and collected a ton of data. I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the calendar, some very long straights, some passing zones. To be honest, I like it.”

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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the Pitlane during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The first two practice sessions are in the books for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix from Austin. As could be expected, it was a Mercedes-dominated afternoon, with Lewis Hamilton (FP1) and Nico Rosberg (FP2) splitting the two sessions atop the timesheets.

Red Bull made a late charge in the afternoon, while in its first day at its home track, Haas F1 Team had a forgettable afternoon.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:



There are a couple additional posts which will go live later tonight that will be included in Saturday’s Paddock Notebook.


Split decision at the top

Practice being practice, there’s not a huge ton of info to take away from today. But it was interesting to note that with both Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates leading a session, there wasn’t the immediate vibe either Rosberg or Hamilton has the clear edge heading into qualifying.

On background, Rosberg has the last two COTA poles, but as he somewhat astutely noted on Thursday, the past means nothing, and thinking about his prior form here won’t help him now. Call it cold, call it robotic, but also call it “working” for Rosberg.

And Hamilton’s got the last two COTA wins – and three from four years at the track – without having ever scored a pole here. So would he get down even if he doesn’t get the pole? Judging on history, the answer is no. But again, to quote Mark McGwire, we’re not here to talk about the past…

Vettel gets a reprimand

There’s a first time for everything, including Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel getting a reprimand in 2016.

The German went into the pit lane in second practice on the wrong side of the bollard (did not stay to the left), which triggered his first reprimand this year from the FIA.

Not ideal certainly for him, but not the end of the world.

Ricciardo’s new lid

Daniel Ricciardo has a special helmet this weekend, and the Australian has done a tribute to Evel Knievel. See it below.

A less than ideal #Haastin track debut

Between both cars being brought in a few minutes before the checkered flag in FP1 and then Esteban Gutierrez causing debris in FP2 (see Jamey Price photos below), plus neither car being that high up on the timesheets, it was not an ideal first day on track for the Haas F1 Team.

It wasn’t an easy day for us,” Gutierrez admitted in the team’s post-practice release. “Unfortunately, I had an issue with some aerodynamic parts. It disrupted our program as you get a shift on the car balance, which is obviously not ideal to get a reference and work on the setup. We’re investigating this, but we believe it’s down to vibrations.”

But there were still highlights. Romain Grosjean’s wife was spotted within the cockpit of his Haas VF-16 chassis, with a good spot by the @F1 official account:

Additionally, there was a great team banner in the crowd, and Stewart Haas Racing’s competition director Greg Zipadelli was on site.

The usual IndyCar folk-at-COTA vibe 

While we gained an American team racing at Circuit of The Americas this year in Haas F1 Team, sadly we’ve lost an American driver in Alexander Rossi.

But things are still good in Rossi’s world and it’s a relief for him that he’s already confirmed and all set with Andretti-Herta Autosport for next season in IndyCar. Both he and his father Pieter Rossi are here this weekend.

This dovetails nicely to the fact Conor Daly and Luca Filippi, who were teammates part of this year at Dale Coyne Racing, are also here – Filippi with his F1 TV commitments for Sky Sports and Daly making the rounds with Rossi as well. Daly was here through today before leaving.

Daly and Filippi are among the marquee free agents left in the IndyCar pool and while it’s always good to see them, it’s better when they’re in firesuits rather than street clothes. Daly spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton about his IndyCar prospects while I had a catch-up with Filippi this morning. The Italian is keen to have a more concrete 2017 season in terms of his actual driving commitments, since his early-season IndyCar opportunity with Coyne was a race-to-race only program.

The sign-off sign

Piiiiiiistop? Yes.

Congratulations, you guys. You’ve won the unofficial MST Paddock Notebook “Sign of the Day Screen Capture Award” for Friday, October 21.

More tomorrow after qualifying.

Barcelona to host 2017 F1 pre-season tests, Bahrain gets in-season running

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during day two of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 23, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain will host two tests ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season as originally planned despite a push to move part of the running to Bahrain.

Barcelona has traditionally hosted F1’s pre-season running, with two tests provisionally scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March before the start of the season in Australia.

However, with Pirelli set to introduce a radically different tire specification for next season, a number of F1 team bosses believed it would be better to hold the running in Bahrain where conditions would be stable and warmer.

Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe said in Japan that F1 risked a repeat of the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if caution was not taken with the new tires.

However, the counter-argument was that holding testing outside of Europe would significantly bump up costs for all teams, having a particular impact on the grid’s smaller operations.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met with officials from all 11 teams on Friday in Austin ahead of this weekend’s race to make a decision on pre-season testing.

Despite over half the grid wishing to have at least one test in Bahrain, the lack of unanimity means that both pre-season tests will remain in Barcelona.

Bahrain will however now host one of the in-season tests, as confirmed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner on Friday.

“We have had numerous debates about this and we had a meeting earlier today with Bernie about this,” Horner said.

“There was even a vote with the FIA earlier this week and with the way the regulations are currently written, to test outside of Europe, we would require the unanimous consent of all the teams and that doesn’t exist.

“It has been agreed that we will test in Barcelona pre-season and in order to find a compromise for assisting Pirelli after the Bahrain race, the first of the in-season tests will be in Bahrain.”

Possible 2017 Formula 1 Test Calendar


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2 2017
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluny – March 7-10 2017


1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19 2017
2. Silverstone – July 11-12 2017