3 May 2014
Lowe keen to see how upgrades affect F1 power struggle
Mercedes' Paddy Lowe expects to see shifts in the F1 landscape as teams bring new developments to the first European round of F1 2014.
While Mercedes will be bringing another raft of new developments aimed at keeping Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the head of the F1 field in Barcelona next weekend, executive director Paddy Lowe is under no illusions that its rivals will be doing the same.
The Circuit de Catalunya traditionally plays host to the first major performance upgrade events of the season as the opening 'flyaway' races make ferrying bulky packages such as floors, bodywork sets and wings both difficult and expensive.
Although teams want to be as competitive as possible at all times, there is a balance to find in terms of cost versus performance, and Barcelona, as the first European round of the year, usually sees teams bringing fundamental re-workings of their cars as opposed to just individual development parts. Lowe is experienced enough to recognise that, while some cars were quite closely matched in performance prior to this race, the Spanish Grand Prix is likely to see small shifts in performance, moving some teams slightly ahead of others where they perhaps would not have been previously.
Furthermore, with four races of the season now complete, teams will have had sufficient time to evaluate and attempt to replicate clever design features seen on other cars, be they aerodynamic or mechanical, making Barcelona a significant landmark on the calendar.
“Barcelona follows the first three-week gap of the season after a near constant testing and racing itinerary since late January,” Lowe, executive director of technical matter at Mercedes, explained, “For our trackside personnel in particular, it's offered some respite and a chance to recharge the batteries for what is going to be a long year with the in-season tests also now on the calendar.
“The break in on-track action also presents an opportunity to work on the cars and to bring more new parts to the next event than you would see during back-to-back race weekends. Aside from being the first European race of the season, Barcelona is classically seen as the first big milestone for upgrades from the teams and we can expect to see quite a range of developments throughout the pit-lane.”
The Circuit de Catalunya is revered as a testing venue as teams consider it to provide an ideal cross-section of challenges that they are likely to face throughout the season. Although there was no pre-season test there this season – the build-up to Melbourne instead went through Jerez and Bahrain – Lowe is looking forward to see where Mercedes stacks up against its rivals after the chance to regroup.
Turn three, in similar fashion to turn eight at Istanbul, allows the base performance of an F1 car to shine through. The long, sweeping, high-speed corner is rated by drivers as one of the more exhilarating of the year, and good balance, a strong aerodynamic package and manageable levels of tyre degradation are all required to be quick through there.
With no particular mechanical properties differentiating cars down the straight or through turns one and two, turn three dominates the opening sector of the lap, and combines with the seventh, eighth and ninth corners to provide a stern examination of tyres.
Barcelona is one of the tougher circuits of the year in terms of tyre degradation, hence Pirelli's allocation of its hard and medium compounds for the event to combat both the load through corners and the abrasive tarmac which tears the surface of the tyres a little bit more than normal. With the relatively short straights, there is limited time for the energy and temperature within the tyres to be dissipated and, particularly through the tighter sequence of corners towards the end of the lap, the drivers will feel the effect of the tyres overheating.
“The circuit itself is highly demanding on the cars, arguably requiring the best combination of power, handling and aerodynamics seen during the entire season,” Lowe confirmed, “It's often said that a car which performs well in Barcelona will be a great car for the season, so we're looking forward to seeing where we stand relative to the competition.
“There has been no sense of complacency or backing off just because our car has shown strong performance in the opening few races. The objective is to not only match, but to better the development rate of our rivals and to build on our lead in both championships.”
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