Many people asked me before the test about race drivers assessing upgrades and although it would appear the newest draft of the Sporting Regulations make no mention of it many corners of the media insist race drivers should not be testing new parts.
The reason for me bringing this up will come later as many are now suggesting that one team could be in hot water (although I strongly disagree)
The first day of the YDT consisted of teams up and down the paddock using pitot tube arrays to assess how their 2013 exhaust packages reacted to the change back to a 2012 tyre construction as I talked about here:
How much can changing the construction of the tyres make?
As we already know times achieved during testing are not indicative of real world performance, the application of new or old parts on a car does not indicate that one team will suddenly run away with the Championship either. It does however lay down markers, indicating who may benefit most from the change in tyre construction and the additional running from this test. I've already been fairly vocal in regard to the change in tyres causing a shake up, up and down the grid, but it will be the midfield where this is noticed the most. Red Bull will of course be very happy with the change and we will likely see them pull slightly clear in terms of peak performance. Ferrari already made retrospective changes to the F138 in Nurburgring, ditching parts they had already used in the preceeding races. This of course as we know could have been down to them giving no performance advantage at that circuit but as they weren't used at the YDT when they had been previously at the British GP the signs point toward those parts being development parts for the early 2013 tyres. All is not lost though, the data and knowledge gained for those parts may still bear fruit further into the season as the team look to gain more performance.
The problem not just for Ferrari though is the development path they have been on this season has been about maximising the aerodynamic performance around the organic nature of the 2013 tyres, with these now abandoned teams will not only have to reset their programmes but will have a plethora of updates, parts and data coming through that won't be of any advantage. The second half of the season will simply be a race to see who can adjust and react the quickest.
Lotus completed 2012 with a Semi-Coanda exhaust layout but made the switch to the Red Bull-esque downwash ramp layout for 2013, with the same engine partner as Red Bull their approach will likely stay the same. Changes that the team made around the rear of the car including the floor, diffuser and brake ducts may revert backwards to further balance the change back to 2012 construction tyres but I don't expect wide sweeping changes from Lotus. Their overall package has been great on tyres both this and the preceeding season so I see no reason for that to change and will likely keep them in contention going forward.
Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus are really on the cusp, looking for tiny margins to enable more performance and sometimes the track and conditions turn out to be the differentiator. This is why I feel Lotus may have continued their assessment of DRD. The performance due to it's passive nature may not be huge but when the margins are now so tight it could prove to give them that small edge they want to challenge the others.
Mercedes weren't at the YDT for obvious reasons but it's worth mentioning them here as part of the look ahead. Also looking at DRD the team have perhaps concluded that they too are chasing smaller margins and with their tyre issues still eating away at them they need something to give them that step in performance.
Force India have perhaps shocked many this season with some great results, however they may rue missed opportunities at some GP's early in the season, as the season progresses and their closest rivals may play catch up. The VJM06 from the outset looked very similar to last years car and it's true that the concept remained roughly the same but the car itself is a well thought example of taking elements that weren't fully integrated and going one step further from the outset. Lest we forget that the nose/chassis height of the VJM05 were slightly lower and that car didn't start the season with the Semi-Coanda exhaust.
McLaren have been a little off colour since the start of this season and whilst they have been making efforts to rectify issues that car inherently had from birth it's like sticking a 2" plaster on a 8" cut. The change of tyre construction from Pirelli however will have been music to their ears with the team having made some errors in the design of the car based on the shaping and deformation of this years tyres. As I've already mentioned the team have taken the car back to a specification similar to the launch car which I'm quite sure will bear fruit going forward. The problem now faced by McLaren though is, if in Hungary they suddenly find themselves much closer to the likes of Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari do they still abandon 2013? The team have already said they will continue to bring updates but their focus now rests on 2014 this admission of failure could prove costly with half the season still to run and the opportunity to rescue at least 4th place in the constructors championship.
Toro Rosso have this season really mixed it with some of the more midfield teams and broken away from the depths they usually circulate in. Whether this is driven by Ricciardo and JEV wanting impress themselves upon the powers that be, and put them in the frame for the Red Bull 2014 drive I don't know. I however think it has much more to do with the technicality of the STR8 over it's predecessors. The Toro Rosso lineage of cars since 09 have always been fairly impressive in the wet which you can attribute to a decent mechanical setup. This season however they seem to have caught up on the aero side with several larger design decisions. James Key joining the Faenza fold as Technical Director will likely attribute in some way to this with him acting on some of the key upgrade decisions. The original intention of the Toro Rosso team may come to fruition over the next few seasons especially as the team are now allied with the same engine partner as IRBR. Their intention of course was to have a team capable of running in close proximity to the Red Bull team, not only acting as a 'wing man' and helping to take points off their close rivals but to give the feeder drivers a genuine chance of driving an audition car. Red Bull may not be the force they have been over the last few years in 2014 but I have a feeling under Keys guidance Toro Rosso could be much closer.
Sauber like McLaren have struggled immensely with the C32 but arrived at the YDT with fresh vigor and the new and old parts to test. I suspect like McLaren they will find the car now has a better balance and will allow them to score better results going forward.
Williams however still don't seem overly impressed with the FW35 and will now surely switch almost all their focus to 2014 especially as they will once again change engine partners to Mercedes. Interestingly just ahead of the YDT, Williams announced that they were parting company with Technical Director Mike Coughlan but had wooed Pat Symonds into the fold to fulfill the role but will not be called a Technical Director due to his Spygate ban.
Marussia have now put pen to paper on a deal that will see them run a Ferrari rear end, that's not only their engine, ERS and gearbox but suspension too. That partnership will see the team enjoy a similar level of support Caterham have been afforded by Renault / Red Bull over the last few seasons and so it will be interesting to see if they can make a step forward. For the YDT the team took the opportunity to assess two young drivers and their race lineup, Bianchi is a shoe in for one of the seats next season due to his Ferrari connections I'd imagine but Chilton could only be considered as good as his last race. Money is very much a differentiator for a team like Marussia and so unfortunately money could always win out over talent. With a budget and facilities like Marussia's I'd almost suggest the team will now (if not already) move development to 2014. The loss of Symonds will also likely be a blow for the small team who had seemed to turn a corner under his guidance.
Caterham have been running their 2013 developments for a little while now on the CT-03 but like Marussia they may well be looking to turn their attention to 2014. The team interestgly did the most mileage of any team during the YDT clocking over 1700KM's. An interesting comment from Alexander Rossi came through too, insinuating that they had tested with a FRIC style system in advance of their plans for the 2014 challenger with him heaping praise on it.
Going forward then I expect that the midfield battle will become more intense as Force India and Toro Rosso try to sustain the challenge they have already mounted whilst McLaren and Sauber use the good fortune of a change back to 2012 tyres as a savior to their campaign. Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus will continue to battle at the top with the quickest to re-develop their challenger gaining early ground. Tyres will continue to be a topic of conversation, centred around the development curve they will now generate but as a known quantity they shouldn't represent a huge challenge for the teams here on in. The battle for 10th place between Marussia and Caterham will likely once again go to the wire with both teams vying for the car injection it rewards.