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What can we learn from Vettel's success in Jerez?

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Andrew Benson | 13:47 UK time, Monday, 2 March 2009

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time on the first day of the major Formula One test at Jerez in Spain - a fact that in the normal run of events would be pretty meaningless.

But not this time - an informed source tells me that Vettel's 1.3-second gap to the next fastest car (Felipe Massa's Ferrari) on Sunday cannot be fully explained by the fuel load he was on. In fact, only about half of it can.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Jerez

In theory, that means that, at least on Sunday, Vettel's car was something like 0.6secs faster than a Ferrari.

OK, a direct comparison with McLaren (whose test driver Pedro de la Rosa was seventh fastest, nearly three seconds off Vettel) is not possible as McLaren were running tests with 2010-spec tyres.

And, yes, lap times in winter testing are notoriously inaccurate guides to form. It's impossible to know what specification the various teams are running in - and a lower fuel load, new tyres, and even the time of day can all make a huge different to a car's speed.

But this information about Vettel is in the context of a pretty reasonable knowledge of what the other teams were doing.

And that means Vettel's performance confirms the increasingly prevalent feeling that Red Bull could really make an impression this season.

An insider at the team tells me that a secret test at Valencia last week went very well and that the car is "looking good" - and that is not just a reference to the fact that it is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the 2009 cars.

That, the insider says, does not mean they expect to be challenging McLaren and Ferrari for regular wins - just that they might have a chance of being best of the rest.

Looking at Sunday in isolation, though, you wonder whether that might be an understatement.


  • Comment number 1.

    Lets just hope that Mclaren will come up trumps over the next few days with Heikki and Lewis and top some of the timesheets. I just hope they've got a competent car.

    Undisputable, the Red Bull looks awesome on looks. Think the Williams looks pretty cool too. Renault looks disgusting with shades of orange red and yellow. blaergh!

    While i do hope that Lewis retains this year it would be fantastic to see multiple different winners this year. Hopefully Vettel will win again, or Webber, it'd be nice to see a Toyota win or a (Honda) driver snatch one. I just hope they get to the grid. Force India could be interesting this year. Mallya is pretty positive about the complete overhaul in drivetrain thanks to Mclaren & Mercedes...

  • Comment number 2.

    I won't be surprised to see Red Bull up there - we seen a lot of spark last year from Toro Rosso at the hands of Vettel, for me, the most intriguing thing for me will be who is faster out of Vettel and Webber... it's going to tough for the Australian to outshine Vettel after a good year last year.

    I do think Red Bull will do well.... but can they challenge for the title? I don't think so. Every team at testing runs different set-ups different tactics, surely insiders would want to send out a bullish message about the forthcoming season... it'd look stupid if insiders said "Well, we don't have much hope this year unfortunately guys".

    It's going to be interesting heading into the first round in Melbourne, but I still expect to see McLaren and Ferrari there or there abouts. The only questionmark for me is Renault's pace, they haven't done as well as I expected in the Winter.

    Anyway, nice to see one of the BBC F1 guys blogging for us! ;)

  • Comment number 3.

    It'd be great to see the money Red Bull paid out to secure Newey's services start to pay off this season. There's been a lot of talk that the changes in regulations for this year have meant we could have the most intriguing season for years.

    Hopefully all the talk will turn out to be true and we have a few teams such as Red Bull, BMW and Renault really mounting a challenge for the top honours this season. Another two-horse race between Ferrarri and McLaren would start to get a bit dull I feel. You need other teams and drivers up there in the mix to shake things up a bit and give the others more of a challenge.

    As everyone is saying its hard to judge much in pre-season testing but with the season fast approaching good runs such as Vettel's can only be encouraging for a team.

  • Comment number 4.

    As always, its ill advised to draw any kind of a conclusion from a pre-season test session. In early 2006 Super Aguri were topping the time boards a lot. Meaning? Nothing.

    We won't get a true vision of the cars performances till Saturday morning in Melbourne at the end of the month. We can only hope for the wheel to wheel racing we've been promised for the past year.

  • Comment number 5.

    As an aside, it's great to see an F1 blog on the BBC's website in time for the new season. Hopefully this is the first of many from Andrew and the team.

  • Comment number 6.

    DC's experience added we have an amazing driver line-up this Year. Even if Honda do make the grid they'll spend a Season at the back so they mayswell not bother.

    After all his previous bad luck in 06 & 08 perhaps 09 will be Massas Year but who knows.

    Don't rule out Renault.

    However, the Team that I'm putting my money on this Year is BMW, they finished 3rd in the WCC last Year and Kubica was mighty close in winning the WDC. They started work on the 09 car as early as after Canada after reaching their personal Season target and I think they'll be a huge force next Year.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your responses. Those of you who pointed out that it is unwise to read to much into all of this are, well, wise. Nevertheless, that Red Bull looks pretty handy right now.

    Of course, it's not yet clear who will make the biggest - and most effective - changes to their cars between now and Melbourne. Practically all the teams say they are planning major developments, although I see in the latest F1 Racing magazine that Red Bull's chief technical officer, Adrian Newey, says that is not the way they have approached the season - they put most of their ideas on their launch car, rather than launching earlier and feeding developments in through the pre-season test period.

    Knowing Adrian, that could just be him downplaying what they are planning, of course.

    Anyway, thanks for your kind words about a BBC F1 blog appearing. There will be more this year than just mine - and some of what we are planning will be revealed on Thursday this week.

    Hopefully you'll come back to the site then to see at least some of what we've been up to all winter.

  • Comment number 8.

    Vettel is the next F1 superstar.

    F1 drivers have always been ranked by how well they have done in the wet because it levels the playing field. Monza 2008...

    Vettel is on his way through the ranks to a top car. Maybe the Red Bull is it, but maybe they just got the jump on the really big teams by signing him to their junior team (which no one else could have done).

    The question really is whether the Red Bull is as good as Sebastien Vettel or whether he will make another step up at the end of 2009.

    He will be world champion. If I was Ron or Stefano he would already be my driver - whatever the price.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm delighted all these rule changes has us all guessing about just who is going to be doing what this season. It makes things really interesting - at least until after the first race!

    And as well as the usual suspects chasing the title, it's going to be intriguing to see how well Vettel does at Red Bull.

  • Comment number 10.

    To 3. i dont mind if its another two horse race. Which i think is unfair on Kubica to claim that as you do. Last seasons Championship was one of the most exciting rollercoaster rides of a title for years (probably in ANY sport), I mean for god sake man, how much more excitement do you need than the title being won on the last corner of the last lap??? No pleasing some people.

    On another note, although this season may give the chance for "smaller" teams to get up with the big guns due to the rule changes the gap will almost certainly grow over the next few seasons to being back as it was as McLaren and Ferrari will be able to get to grips with the new regs (which teams like Red Bull were basically focusing their development on for ALL of last year) and we make get 1 or 2 seasons with Red Bull etc in the mix but ultimately I fear it may be fruitless.

    I am not convinced Red Bull will be there come the final shakeup and I think the story will be much the same as normal.

    And I dont know how Ferrari will survive now that this whole overtaking thing has been encouraged, probably just run people off the road I guess!

  • Comment number 11.

    Nurse, Mr Benson needs his medication.

    Er, yes - there are a whole plethora of technical tests teams do during these testing sessions.

    Generally teams who are unsure of their capabilities go for outright speed testing to validate the overall design.

    Teams a little more secure in their designs go for component / reliability / durability / balance testing .. which generally results in lower speeds.

    Whilst Red Bull have a good looking car (albeit still no 'Audrey Hepburn') so do the other teams (well apart from Renault - who probably have a good[ish] car but it looks like a smacked duck).

    So let us not pontificate, palter and prevaricate upon the relative pace of the cars in testing - let us do it after the 1st race.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry Mr Benson:

    "...not just a reference to the fact that it is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the 2009 cars."


    I would have to disagree. The Williams is - for me - the best looking. The lower, wider nose seems the difference (although I did prefer the testing Williams in all-over dark blue, reminded me of the Shadow F1). The new blue/white livery isn't quite as nice but I still believe it to be the looker of the pack. Admittedly, Newey has done a good job aerodynamically and Red Bull look strong at this early stage.

    Anyway, aside from this rather superficial issue, glad to see F1 back on the BBC and I look forward to the online offerings (especially the split screen footage which I hope is as clear as the online stream of MOTD, if so I will be running this simultaneously with my tv!) and more blogs in future.

  • Comment number 13.

    So, another few days of testing... and now Toyota are on top for two days running ( Toyota and Red Bull seem to be getting the upper hand, but as mentioned, Williams did this last year in testing, they were there in Melbourne then disappeared. I see podiums/wins possible for Toyota and Red Bull; but a championship? No chance.

  • Comment number 14.

    We hear time after time Red Bull can make a difference. Sadly it will again be a two horse race between McClaren and Ferrari, end of.

  • Comment number 15.

    Although I would like to see Lewis come out on top as World Champion once again it would be a refreshing change to see the likes of Red Bull, BMW and others challenging for the podium and taking the fight to the big guns for a change.

    Can only hope that this coming seasons rule changes will help with getting them up there into the the mix and actually able to overtake. If that turns out to be the case then maybe the the FIA should run courses for certain drivers in how to be overtaken without causing an accident or investigation.

    Lets hope for a good season anyway... and Come On Lewis!!

  • Comment number 16.

    When does the new season start anyone? Realy looking forward to it!

  • Comment number 17.

    IMO, it wouldn't be that hard to be the most beautiful car in 2009. They all seem to look like a kid went crazy with his Meccano set, especially with that nose that looks as if it's propped up on a couple of sticks. Also I can see a lot of pitstops to replace those front wings, that seem to have almost got caught up there by accident.

  • Comment number 18.

    On a different note, the most fascinating thing so far, about this new season is the Honda story.
    It's like a whodunnit. No one knows what's really going on, no one knows who now, owns the team, or what it's called and (assuming it does run, which seems now almost certain) no one knows what it will do or even a real idea of what it looks like.
    It's a completely unkown factor, and that is interesting, not all this idle speculating about test times.

  • Comment number 19.

    BBC forgot to mention and include today's times... Alonso fastest (on a long stint the time was recorded) and Hamilton second last...

    Anyway, just got back from the Jerez circuit....
    Faily entertaining stuff, Hamilton with an accidental doughnut and with a 2008 rear wing to try and improve his time in the afternoon after working with the 2009 rear ring to no success.

    Unless Mcl have something special for Melbourne, which I highly doubt, I don't see a good season for the Mcl drivers. Their car sounds aweful, the engine broke and Ferrari and Renault are looking too stong for them.

    Hamilton run 8 lap stints with considerable less fuel load when he posted his best lap while Ferrari and Renault run 18 lap stints when they posted their best times... Very similar times between Ferrari and Renault in long and short stints. Alonso for the world championship and they seem to have the speed this year and no need to mention reliability as they are the most reliable cars every year. With having slightly less speed but with such a clever driver and reliable car, it should be enough. Nothing positive to mention about Piquet though, what a joke of a guy.

  • Comment number 20.

    i think the top 3 will still be BMW,Mcclaren and Ferrari but im pretty sure they will beat Renault into 4th because unlike renault Red Bull have two amazing drivers where Renault have one.

    What Red Bull can do this season is challenge BMW for 3rd but will probably finish 4th, it really depends on crashes from the front guys as to how well Red Bull will do this year because there engine is a real problem.

  • Comment number 21.

    Since you do the Mark Webber column with him, could you ask him what his opinion on Roy Keane's leaving was and whether he's still supporting Sunderland, or has he left? Speaking of Webber, his recent testing times are not looking impressive.

  • Comment number 22.

    Of course these tests mean absolutely nothing in reality.

    Traditionally McLaren and Ferrari do nt top the test times yet are a level above come race 1. Instead they spend their time testing particular components using a deliberatly slower setup. Not to disguise their pace as some would suggest but because a simpler and slower setup allows for more obvious effets from one or two changes than a faster one does. They also spend time testing setups for other tracks that they will encounter during the season, this year especially, which has the effect of raising lap times here.

    I do see a close season ahead, I think that BMW, Renault, Toyota and Red Bull all have realistic chances of getting a race win or two, Williams and STR could also nick a podium or two. However I fully expect the second half of the season to see McLaren and Ferrari pull away again, in some ways the lack of testing will even help them as the teams with the better engineers will cope with that better. In the final analysis the best result would see Kimi returning to form and Heikki pulling his finger out to make it a decent race at the top. Kubica, Vettel and Alonso will have highs this season but in the end should be fighting for fifth (or fourth with Heikki), especially if half the teams dont get their KERS right.

  • Comment number 23.

    OK he is fast and most likely the best young talent on the grid. What about the radical vehicle design from Adrian Newey? Radical is what he does best and has done for quite some time. This new set of 09 regulations has given the opportunity to all designers to approach the season with a variety of distinctive aero creations. The proof is in the sweeping variations from one end of the paddock to the other. The RBR5 is in my consideration the most unique aero engineering approach fielded this season with front and rear lay-outs that are clearly controversial. It will be interesting to see which of the technical gurus has got it right. This is part of the appeal of Formula1 in my consideration.

    Vettel's times are impressive and he has talent. Given that Newey could be pulling one of his trend setting designs out of the hat. Will they have a contender for the title? They will need a season or two. Innovative but fragile has also been the norm with Newey. Weber has yet to prove. Can they get the feedback to move the package forward through the season is another question mark on Weber's overall ability as a complete driver.

    Melbourne will answer some but not all and we will wait for the first Euro GP to see the first true generation of steps forward. RBR are the best looking in a field of very ugly Formula cars. Good looks has never been a sure thing for speed. Time will tell and I for one will be watching (early mornings here in MST).

  • Comment number 24.

    Red Bull has a very powerful package. It seems that the aerodynamic design effort was concentrated in the central part of the car, the area less affected by the new restrictions. I liked the way the engineers had channeled and cleaned the air flow to the rear wings. They created a channel on the top of the nose, lowered the top of the body at the rear and removed the rear wing's central pillars. The driver's position inside the cockpit is very interesting also, because the driver is placed forward improving the mechanical grip of the front wheels. This combination may prove to be very efficient to extract the maximum from the new slicks. The most important part of the man's work is complete (the concept of the car) soon we will see what the kid can do. I believe that we are going to see Vettel smiling more often this year, if reliability does not become a problem.

  • Comment number 25.

    The limited testing now mean that very little can be taken from the off season. This combined with the amount of testing affected by weather means that there is very little that can be learnt. Any aerodynamic advantages Red Bull have other teams will develop before the next few months, we saw that occur through last year as well. The first time we'll know any real confirmation is in the first race weekend.

  • Comment number 26.

    We have followed F1 through the years, and it gets more exciting by the race! Watching the newcomers, and not forgetting the more experienced drivers - look out for Vettel, he may have a baby-face, but there's a most determined young man on his way up!

  • Comment number 27.

    bow4fowler,on 4th, keep up, 26th.March

  • Comment number 28.

    True that pre-season testing is unreliable for the form book, but as far as Red Bull goes, you have to remember they've got Adrian Newey designing the car.

    For most teams, 2009 was a case of starting with a blank canvas and see what comes out. I reckon Adrian would have designed a stonker of a car for this year and, while they may not be challenging the top dogs, Red Bull will certainly not be far behind them. You have to also remember that Adrian was at his best in the days before all the fancy aero packages started to make an appearance. And now that F1 has made a return to simpler aero designs, the car he's put together for Red Bull could do great things.

    This year is going to be soo much of an unknown quantity with all the changes that anything could happen.


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