“The Silverstone Arrows”, by Massimo BURBI

Updated: July 1, 2013

So Mercedes is on a roll. In Silverstone the Silver Arrows not only confirmed their by now customary qualifying dominance but took home the
second GP win in the last three events. But Mercedes is the same team than less than two months ago was struggling to score points in Barcelona (Rosberg 6th more than a minute away from the winner and Hamilton 12th, more than a lap down) displaying one of the worst tyre management seen by anyone this season.

So what happened? the “private”(or should we say “secret”?) test that took place right after the disastrous Spanish GP must have made a hell of a
difference in changing the picture, that’s for sure where the “click” in Rosberg and Hamilton performance came from. Take a random Italian newspaper the Monday after last British GP and that is what you’re likely going to read. Such a theory is popular even outside the Ferrari court and at first glance it makes sense, but is it really?

A 1000 kilometres in three days is quite a run but let’s not forget that the majority of the tyres that Pirelli was testing in Barcelona wasn’t even meant for this season and they’re not been used in qualifying or race so far anyway. During those three days Mercedes wasn’t even told exactly what tyres they were using. It’s beyond doubt that a race team is capable to get some useful data even in such conditions and it would be naïve to think otherwise, but it’s hard to see how could Mercedes have fixed all their tyre management issues in such a test after having failed to do it before.

There are not in-season testing in Formula 1, that’s true, but free practices during race weekends are the closest thing to a test there can be. Only on friday and saturday morning free practices, before the “secret test”, Mercedes covered 588 Km in Melbourne, 792 Km in Sepang, 790 in Shanghai, 768 in Sakhir and 791 in Barcelona. A total of nearly 4000 km of “testing” (and they made another 2000 in the following three weekends) in the very tracks where  they were about to race, with the very same tyres they were about to use and that they were going to use again in the following events. All to no avail. And after all this a 1000 km session, with unknown tyres which haven’t even be used afterwards so far, fixed it all? Unlikely.

Barcelona and Silverstone are both fast tracks but that’s not enough to necessarily expect similar outcomes. Ask Alonso for details: in Spain he cruised to victory with the closest Red Bull out of the top three, 40secs down and never really a factor during the race. In Silverstone, without safety cars, Vettel could easily have afforded a stop and go penalty and still be comfortably ahead of the nr.3 Ferrari. And Red Bull made no secret test in the last two months.

Things can change fast in Formula 1: two tracks are never really the same and even the very same track can turn out to be two quite different places if you go there in different days, with different temperatures. The Spanish GP in Barcelona started with nearly 40°C of track temperature, while they were little more than 30°C when the lights went out in Silverstone, the same that was in Sepang, earlier this year, when the Mercedes couple was nearly in a position to challenge Vettel and Webber for the lead. And Sepang is not renown to be particularly easy on tyres, quite the contrary.

So yes, that test wasn’t legal, let alone fair. Yes, they did it to get some kind of advantage and yes, the young test ban penalty was too lenient, but to think that Mercedes recent run of success is entirely thank to that is an oversimplification to say the least, regardless of how “fashionable” it can be. Maybe Mercedes will be able to establish itself as a consistent front runner and a title challenger  this season as well as in the ones to follow. And maybe in two or three years someone will still be saying that “yeah, that bloody test they did a couple of years ago really put ‘em back on track”. In the meantime, who knows, someone could even find the way to run an F1 race without tyres explosions…

Crédit Photo © P-H CAHIER/The Cahier Archive

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