4 Things We Learned from Paul Ricard Wet-Weather Formula 1 Tyre Test

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2016

4 Things We Learned from Paul Ricard Wet-Weather Formula 1 Tyre Test

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    The first on-track Formula One action of 2016 took place at the Paul Ricard Circuit in southern France, as three of the teams tested Pirelli's new wet-weather tyres.

    Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull put the rubber through its paces on January 25 and 26, completing a total of 2,326 kilometres. The weather was cool but fine, so Paul Ricard's advanced sprinkler system was used to simulate a variety of wet track conditions for the five drivers taking part.

    A number of different experimental compounds were used, with the aim of the test being to help Pirelli develop an improved full-wet tyre for 2016 and beyond.

    Sebastian Vettel was quickest for Ferrari with a time of one minute, 6.750 seconds, a little under a 10th of a second faster than Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat. McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen were the other drivers in attendance.

    The times themselves don't really matter; it was too cold to be representative of normal racing conditions, no one was trying to be especially competitive and all the running, including stint lengths, was done under the instruction of Pirelli.

    Furthermore, the cars were all 2015-specso the times give absolutely no indication of who will be quick in 2016and any data Pirelli acquired is still being analysed, so we don't even know for sure whether the new tyres were better or worse than the old ones.

    But it was still possible to glean a few bits of information. Here's what we learned.

McLaren Have Total Confidence in Stoffel Vandoorne

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    The cars may have been 2015-spec, Pirelli controlled the test and the tyres were all unmarked, so there was no visual clue as to which compound was being used.

    But with the regulations remaining stable, any sort of running would be of at least some use to the teams taking part. F1 teams are not known for being charitablethey wouldn't have been there if there was no advantage to be taken and nothing to be learned.

    Ferrari sent their two world champions, Vettel and Raikkonen, while Red Bull also ran both their race driversRicciardo and Kvyat. McLaren, the third team taking part, could have fielded the two most experienced racers on the grid had they wished—Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

    But they instead opted to send reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Though the Belgian is the reigning GP2 champion and regarded as a potential star of the future, he has never started a grand prixor even taken part in an F1 race weekend.

    In the wake of the 2013 Mercedes tyre test row, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner spoke to Reuters' Alan Baldwin about pre-season testing. He said, "You have a limited amount of test mileage with your cars and you choose to put your race drivers in because they give you the most relevant feedback."

    McLaren clearly have sufficient faith in Vandoorne's ability to give quality feedback to let their regular drivers enjoy a slightly longer winter break.

A New Wet Tyre for 2016 Is Probably on Its Way

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    It's not certain, but we're probably going to see a new full-wet compound tyre introduced at some point during the 2016 season.

    Pirelli have a lot of data to get through, and they will consider feedback from the teams present at the test, but early signs appear to be good. Pirelli racing manager Mario Isola told press at the circuit (h/t James Allen):

    It’s almost impossible now to give you a final evaluation of the result of the test because we need to analyse the data. We were crossing different specifications on different cars, so it’s not easy to give you a final result now, but it will be more or less in one week.

    The first impression is we have a good compound for extreme wet and also some modifications of the tread pattern are working well. This is the first feeling. I don’t want to sell this as a final result of the test, but we are confident there is something positive in the different prototypes we tested.

    Of course, if we have a new product from this test then we will introduce it during the season, as soon as possible.

    Conditions at Paul Ricard were not perfect; temperatures peaked at around 11 degrees Celsius, lower than we'd expect at any grand prix, and no sprinkler system could perfectly reproduce natural rainfall.

    But over 2,300 kilometres of real testingregardless of the conditionscombined with their own simulation work and data from wet running last season, should give Pirelli enough information to decide whether any of the experimental tyres used will work better than the 2015-spec rubber.

    And, despite Raikkonen indicating, per Autosport, that he wasn't a huge fan of the new tyres, Isola's comments suggest the supplier has found a positive new direction.

Red Bull Are Going Back to Their Blue Roots

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    In recent years, Red Bulls have taken on an increasingly purple hue thanks to the presence of former title sponsor Infiniti. The RB9 featured a prominent splash of it on the sidepods, nose and wings, while the whole RB10's colour scheme leaned closer to purple than the team's traditional blue.

    The RB11 was similarvery much using purple as its main colour.

    But Renault-linked Infiniti have now departed, and the Red Bull livery looks like it's going to see a substantial change. The RB11 used at the Pirelli tyre test had a colour scheme more akin to a Toro Rosso than recent Red Bullan aesthetically pleasing dark shade of blue with the usual reds and yellows as decoration.

    The team will unveil their new livery at a special launch event on February 17. Expect it to be quite a departure from their more recent designssomething more akin to the 2010 design, perhaps.

    Or maybe they could go really old-school and bring back the blue and silver "drinks can" look of the earliest Red Bulls?

The Offseason Is Starting to Drag

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    Claude Paris/Associated Press

    In most sports that have seasons, the downtime still provides fans with a host of interesting and exciting news. For example, fans of the popular team sports can follow countless transfer rumours, and there are usually a number of pre-season games to pay attention to.

    Sometimes, there are even big international competitions to get into.

    But in F1, driver "transfers" tend to be sorted out many months before the end of the previous year, and the only sort of proper pre-season action we'll get to see in 2016or not see, because they're not televisedare two short, four-day tests that don't start until the end of February.

    Unless something unusual happens, such as Pastor Maldonado's ongoing sponsorship issues recently reported by Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, everything just goes deathly quiet—so quiet that a largely irrelevant tyre test, with three obsolete cars setting meaningless times on experimental tyres, becomes a multiday headline generator. And like starving seagulls, we all flock to read about it, desperate for even the smallest bit of news.

    F1 is set up in a different way to other sports, so dull offseasons are pretty much a necessary evil, but wouldn't it be nice if someone could find a way to keep our interest up between November and March?


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