2016 winter testing @ BCN is not too far away – Diego Merino shares his memories of this year’s BCN test…
Second Test Session of the year begins with 04.30am wake-up call to catch first morning AVE bullet train in Atocha station bound for Barcelona. I board the 06.10am AVE, as usual packed with businessmen heading for the Catalan capital. While having a much needed coffee, I read on the newspaper how critical this week testing will be for Fernando Alonso and his McLaren Honda team, after troubles hit and barely having track time in Jerez. You are so right about that, I barely got to see that McLaren garage door open, let alone hear deep growling Honda engine run around consistently. Having said this, in Jerez for the first time in decades I recognized each 2015 power unit sounded different from each other. Finally a positive side on having these new generation power units.
Since 2006, when regulations for 2, 4 liter V8s were introduced, engine notes coming from exhausts echoed the same. These days, with the so-called Power Units, we can clearly distinguish a Mercedes from a Ferrari, with Honda being so different from the rest. Does Honda sound so different from the rest or was it a sick echo coming from exhaust two weeks ago in Jerez?
Last year, because wet/cold/snow and affecting 2013 testing time, teams decided not to carry winter testing in Catalunya in favor of Sakhir in Bahrain. Sunnier and dry Bahrain testing turned to be, but it was still a brave decision as these testing costs included air freight and the possibility, like Ferrari, Sauber BMW and Toyota had in 2009, cutting sessions short consequence of sand storms.
Once I collect my press credential in the accreditations center, I drive into circuit through the main road gate which drives under a tunnel on the back straight of the circuit. I still miss going into a circuit and encountering the old roar the V8s used to make. Anxious Fans walking into the circuit today cannot hide their disappointment as I can barely hear the turbo engines growl flat out above us.
Leaving this aside, it is very exciting to be back to cover Barcelona winter testing for a third year. Without question, the now 24 year old Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, has become a classic within the ever expanding list of Tilke-dromes we have on the F1 Calendar. Every year since Catalunya hosted its first Grand Prix back in 1991, the circuit has also hosted countless number of test days of every kind, and since testing became so restricted a few years back, it’s now imperative for all teams to make the most of the valuable testing track time in Barcelona.
Walking into Pit Lane the first car spotted is the Red Bull Renault RB11, as in Jerez this year’s challenger is still disguised under this brilliant zebra-like camouflage. A confident looking Adrian Newey, standing next to mechanics outside the Red Bull garage, inspects the front end of his new baby. Immediately after coming into the Pit Lane, the car is pushed into garage and its doors shut covered. Confident or not, teams are ever more reluctant, working behind closed doors and effectively disguising their cars under cameo, hiding any secrets tested before Melbourne. In any case, being this zebra design so original, it is grabbing everybody’s attention and making photographic headlines around the world.
The ironic part of this hiding paranoia is the fact that once doors open, and the cars are released back to the track, teams instruct drivers to stop at the far end of Pit Lane Exit in order to simulate standing starts. Ironic indeed, now leaving exposed cars in the naked eye for all, photographers and rival team members, all present there awaiting on the same stopping spot. Teams are testing their launch systems, and some hit troubles even make embarrassment of stalling during the procedure. Mechanics then have to rush here to push car all the way back to garage, thus allowing photographers even more time to capture the car in detail.
With Barcelona having a longer exit road, an astute Sebastian Vettel, always decides to simulate his standing starts a further 50 meters from the stop light. I am certain Seb is laughing inside his newly designed Arai helmet, making everybody look silly, rushing back and forth…