Daniel Ricciardo impressed for RBR

Testing is always a tricky science. It is very difficult to ever read much into times as you’re never 100% aware of who is running what on their cars, what type of programme a certain driver is running to, and what the exact purpose of each run is supposed to be.

So, with that in mind, here’s what will probably be an absolutely useless look at the young driver test days. Hoorah!

All in all it was a very interesting two days of running in Abu Dhabi, which saw no fewer than 21 different F1 hopefuls setting times. Top of the list on both days was Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Riccciardo. No shock there – the kid’s fast and the RB6 even faster.

Many people have commented on how impressive the testing times were. Afterall, Ricciardo’s Day 2 pace setting lap of 1:38.102 was 1.2 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel’s pole lap set just three days earlier. But it is important to remember how the Yas Marina circuit tends to continually evolve over a race weekend as more and more rubber is laid down on track. This continues throughout the race, meaning that when testing began on Tuesday, the circuit would have already been in a better condition than it was for qualifying. Come yesterday afternoon, with two more days of testing rubber laid down on the racing line, the increased grip levels would have made the track a completely different animal to that on which the 2010 F1 season finale was played out upon.

What I’m going to look at, though, is the difference between the two days of testing times in the Young Driver test.

Between Day 1 and Day 2 we could expect a natural drop in times of between 1 and 1.5 seconds due to an improvement in track conditions (ie rubber laid down) combined with a driver’s comfort and experience in the car.

Of those who spent two days testing with the same team, Ricciardo hit the mark almost perfectly with a 1.514 improvement from Day 1 to Day 2. Over at Toro Rosso, Jean Eric Vergne had an almost identical improvement of 1.515, which is possibly even more impressive when one realises that he missed out on the final few hours of testing on Day 2 as he had to fly to Macau for the F3 Grand Prix this weekend. At Force India, Paul di Resta improved by 1.835 despite only running for the first 90 minutes on both days.

The most impressive improvements however came from 2010 GP2 ART team-mates Sam Bird and Jules Bianchi. Bird, at Mercedes, improved by 3.765 and Bianchi at Ferrari improved by 3.978. The least impressive improvement went to their fellow GP2 racer Rodolfo Gonzales who upped his pace by just 0.612, although he did only spend the first half of the final day at the wheel of the Lotus before handing it over to Vlado Arabadziev.

McLaren, Sauber, Williams, Renault, Virgin and HRT all changed drivers for the second day so a direct comparison isn’t easy. But, if we take the 1.5 second mark to be an acceptable delta, then we’d be looking at the following Day 2 times for each team.

McLaren 1:39.2
Sauber 1:39.9
Williams 1:40.0
Renault 1:40.5
Virgin 1:42.0
HRT 1:42.2

From each of these teams, only at one did we see the delta of expectation exceeded. Jerome d’Ambrosio beat the 1:40.5 by 1.7 seconds to set a lap of 1:38.802. Now this could mean one of three things. Firstly that Aleshin wasn’t too hot on Day 1. Second, that d’Ambrosio was brilliant on Day 2. Or third, that none of this means anything BECAUSE ITS TESTING!

Sergio Perez was 0.6 off the expected delta time set by Esteban Gutierrez at Sauber with a 1:40.543, but it was the first day in an F1 car for Perez, while Gutierrez has already tested F1 machinery in the past and Perez will have been using the day predominantly to settle into the team for whom he will race next season. There’s no reason to finish your first day at your new employer in the wall.

Most interestingly is that Pastor Maldonado, who ran so well with HRT on Day 1, was about 0.9 seconds off where one might have imagined Dean Stoneman to have finished, had Stoneman taken the 1.5 second performance increase which many of the other two day drivers managed. Maldonado’s 1:40.944 was only 0.6 faster than Stoneman managed on Day 1, although the Venezuelan was not able to get a run at the end of the day on soft rubber. Plus, as we all know, Maldonado is looking to sign a deal with Williams. I can foresee him holding back a touch and that the team will have had him on the type of programme that would have stretched his limits and shown them how he handles pressure and what kind of feedback they could expect from him.

Davide Valsecchi in the HRT wound up 0.8 off the improvement one might have expected from Maldonado, but for a first time in an F1 car his performance was not half bad. Neither one of them will have felt too far away from home, as the HRT isn’t that much more advanced than the Dallara GP2 car they’ve been driving all year.

At the end of the day, though, nobody know who was running to what programme. I can’t tell you at what time of day, on which tyres, on what fuel loads and with which wing settings the times were set. Which makes it all a bit pointless.

And this, my friends, is what you must endure for the next three months. We will all pour over the data, discuss at length the tactics and the testing programmes and reach conclusions which, when we arrive at the first race, will prove to have been completely off the mark and thus meaningless.

But that’s the joy of winter testing. Isn’t it?