February 27th, 2013 (F1plus/Briony Dixon).- Formula One pre - season testing is something of an enigma. Not televised live (at least in the UK), with after the event coverage being limited to half an hour, it is surrounded by a veil of secrecy.
Providing the opportunity to test new ideas and developments prior to the upcoming season, the teams are keen to shield the cars as much as possible, in order to prevent any new innovations being poached by rivals. The swirling air of the clandestine that encases testing means it is the ideal time for teams to test how close to the regulation boundaries they can sail.
Two teams unable to disguise their evolutions were Caterham and Williams with the CT03 and FW35 both breaching the regulations with their exhaust layouts. Although now deemed legal, the innovative new brake ducts on the Williams were scrutinised and the idea will no doubt soon be being adapted to suit the other cars on the grid.
All teams surround their garages by secrecy shields during testing, but some create a more extensive mask. So which team has the most to hide? Red Bull was, without doubt, the most furtive in Barcelona. While the other teams pull the cars back into the garage in full view of photographers and fans following a run, Red Bull pull their screen out to totally eclipse the RB9 on its return.
Their attempts at concealment didn’t stop there. A silver-shrouding blanket was evident, thrown over the top of the car to further hide it from onlookers.
In contrast to their current nemesis, Ferrari were very open on day one of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. There was no attempt to cloak the F138 as Fernando Alonso was wheeled in and out of the garage for all to see and almost as a spectacle for anyone watching, the nose was changed in the pit lane.
With Red Bull leading the development race for the last three years at the hands of aero wizard, Adrian Newey, it is understandable that they should want to hide any evolutions for fear of rivals emulating what they see. However, their extraordinary attempts at concealment are laced with arrogance. Their belief that they are superior and therefore will be the main focus for rival’s interest is far from endearing.
Red Bull garage view blocked.
Lotus also decided to hide while working.
They are not the most adored team, a badge that often comes hand in hand with continued success, especially when lacking the history that Ferrari, Williams and McLaren possess. Day two saw Ferrari behaving a little more secretively as they sheltered their car by ensuring the garage door was pulled down to meet the secrecy screen, perhaps due to the problems suffered with their exhaust pipe.
Likewise, Mercedes adopted the same method of obscuring their car from view, particularly on Tuesday last week when they didn’t manage as much running as they would have liked due to a gearbox issue. Also suffering gearbox issues, the Lotus garage was highly shielded for the majority of the day.
Like the driving of Michael Schumacher, Red Bull is synonymous with pushing the boundaries, taking things to the limit. In 2012 numerous developments made by the team were deemed questionable under technical regulations.
The holes in the floor ahead of the rear wheels on the RB8 were questioned before the Monaco Grand Prix. Although not resulting in a protest, they were told to remove this design feature before the next race in Canada. Prior to the German Grand Prix at Hockenhiem, the FIA was alerted to the fact that Red Bull was running a questionable torque map by their technical delegate Jo Bauer. It was decided that it didn’t breach regulations, but the removal of it was ordered in time for the next race in Hungary. This was followed by the ‘rideheight’ issue that emerged at Hungaroring, when it was reported that a request had been made to the team so the rideheight could be changed only manually.
Red Bull is well renowned for taking development to the edge and is especially skilled at it. A couple of days ago, it was reported by Germany’s Auto Motor Und Sport that Renault, believing engine mapping for the 2013 season does not have to follow the same regulations as 2012, has developed new maps designed to achieve the optimum performance from the exhaust. Referring to whether there are changes to the regulations set in 2012, Luca Marmorini from Ferrari was quoted as saying “everything remains the same.”
So what is Red Bull hiding? Is it another questionable engine map? Do they have a revolutionary, on the edge development under wraps or are they creating smoke and mirrors because they don’t? With other teams such as Williams revealing interesting changes to their car for the 2013 season, Red Bull may be feeling the pressure, possibly fuelling mind games. Their overzealous approach to creating mystery around testing could just be an illusion. One that could be shattered in Melbourne.