Pre-season testing is the first chance for F1 fans to see the new cars in action, but more importantly it’s the first chance for the engineers to see whether or not their ideas are the right ones. And this year that was even truer than it has been for four decades, due to the vastly different rules.
It’s never wise to read too much into testing lap times, as teams will test various configurations and fuel loads and push more or less than their rivals – or even ‘sandbag’ to hide their pace. The best insight you can really get is by watching and listening to the drivers, engineers and race crew – which I did in the Alpine garage in Barcelona a few weeks ago.
“I’d say the new cars all follow very similar themes, they’re just different interpretations,” said technical director Matt Harman, who started work on the A522 in late 2018. “We’ve investigated an awful lot of options. We’ve done in excess of 2000 wind-tunnel runs, and inside each one is a multitude of options. But we don’t know where the other teams are. This is one of the biggest car changes I’ve seen in my career, and it’s interesting that everybody is very protective of their information; this past six months have probably been the quietest I’ve ever known in F1.”
Developing a car to entirely new rules has been a fascinating journey. “It has been quite unprecedented how we’ve gone through the cycle,” said Harman. “The steps in aerodynamic points – the way we measure the load on the car – have come in big chunks. That’s good for a number of reasons. One reason is because measurement is more straightforward. You can see the flow structures with the systems we have on the wind tunnel. That gives you some confidence and allows you to really get into that correlation with CFD.”