After the first day of testing kicked off the 2014 F1F Virtual Grand Prix Championship, we have seen the first indications as to the pace of the different cars, as well as seeing some drivers making their first laps in their new teams. As a part of joining the technical team, GARY ANDERSON will be looking at the new cars, looking underneath the timesheets to see how the cars are doing.
We start with a look at the 2013 World Champions, Franklin F1. As is the case with every car in the series, this has been an evolution of the previous years' car, and with good reason. It proved to be the best car last year, and there is no reason to doubt it's credentials this time around. The front wing is relatively simple, with a single plane on each side, but this will make the airflow very predictable and stable, and of course there is a lot of scope for development as the season goes on in this area. The nose is relatively thin, which means plenty of airflow gets around and beneath it, making the underbody work very nicely indeed. Looking at the back end, the diffuser is one of the more complex, with turning vanes controlling the airflow well. It has shown promise on this first day, with the Honda engine proving reliable, taking 3rd on the timesheets. This team is one to watch for the championship, even after the loss of champ Nathaniel Powers.
Team 23 have been working hard over the winter, that much is clear. The Dutch outfit look to have developed the nose and front wing extensively, with complex planes and endplates, while there is a winglet crossing the path of the nose to steady airflow. The nose follows the philosophy of the champions, albeit even more aggressively, with a fine point allowing the airflow to get through to the underfloor area. Another big area for this car is the rear wing, the curved main and secondary planes getting the most out of the airflow in this area. A talking point has been the performance of the Downton engine, and it seems to be performing very well, giving good top speed and acceleration, even if there needs to be a little more in the way of driveability - but that will come, we mustn't forget this is the first run for Downton's engines. Wagner took 6th fastest in the session, but that will be improved upon quickly as Team 23 continue their quest to go one better this year.
Liverpool Grand Prix
There has been a lot of talk of change around the Liverpool Grand Prix team, with nearly everything on the surface changed: new name, striking new livery, and under the skin, a new engine. But the technical team is exactly the same, and Mathershaw is still in control, so when you look beyond all of the new things, it is plain to see the car is very similar outwardly to last season. It is widely thought that there was no development done at all last season, with all the focus for this year, so the car will take advantage of being a fundamental concept that has not hit the heights of it's development curve. The front area is a totally different concept, with a wide nose being favoured, meaning this team may have missed a trick. But, as I said earlier, the main change is in the engine department, with the new Vauxhall engine. Originally developed as a Chevrolet unit by GM, the work was passed on to Vauxhall as the announcement was made that Liverpool were to be the GM works team. Test driver Kip Maxwell was the fastest driver in the session today, so the potential is there, but there is fierce competition, and I think that this team won't be the fastest team come Australia.
Lucas Grand Prix
This team are probably one of the fan's favourites. The flamboyant style of the owner, along with a great car and driver pairing mean many people back them. This year's car looks to be a solid evolution of the last year's car, with nice detail on the front wing and rear end around the diffuser, but the main talking point comes from the engine. The under powered Yamaha powerplant has been discontinued, and the team now run a stunning W12 Volkswagen engine. This is by far the most outrageous engine used in Grand Prix racing in the modern era, producing staggering amounts of power, but at the expensive of added weight and higher centre of gravity, along with extra demands for packaging this huge motor. The team were strong at the end of last year, getting race wins, and if they can manage the demands of their hugely powerful engine and keep their aerodynamic efficiency, I believe their 9th fastest time will just be a blip.
After a solid campaign last time out, there has been much talk of progress within Scuderia Rossi. Their car is a good design, with many unique areas such as the 'shark fin' as pioneered by cars in other series, which obviously provide a benefit, although it may be an issue if there are crosswinds on an open circuit such as Silverstone. However, the car has been the talk of the paddock as Manni Costello took it to second in the timesheets, only a tenth off of the fastest time. This bodes very well for the season ahead, and with the partnership with Ferrari still going strong, things look very bright for this passionate Italian team.
2014 marks the first year for Meteor Motorsport as the Peugeot works team, and as such will be eager to improve on their good season one, progressing to the podium and even race wins. The car is a good design, it is a tidy and efficient concept, and it seems to be working well. The partnership means the Renault engines are replaced with new Peugeot power units, specially developed for this team. This means they have been instrumental in the design and build, so this engine will be easier to package for the team, while taking advantage of the cars strengths. Lewis Ellington took the car to 5th, so there is optimism in the French camp.
Westwood was a solid midfield team last year, so the aim will be to fight for constant points and podium finishes, which this car should be capable of. The front takes design cues from the successful Team 23 car, with the winglet connecting the two front wing planes across the nosecone. There are a lot of people saying the new Westwood engine is a power advantage as well, so it is going to be exciting to follow the progress of this team. Douglas Bacon was in fine form, showing the car is a good one by getting 4th place, which will give the team back in Southampton a lot of encouragement.
The Finnish team manages some good points finishes this year, and they have carried over the successful car over to this year. The front end is one of the cleaner ones out there, neither very thin or very wide, giving the best (and worst) of both worlds. It will be interesting how that performs, as it could be the best solution to a problem that people are solving many ways. The team have taken on Yamaha as engine supplier, and they have worked hard to give the unit more power, so the Fun team will be hoping the 8th in testing will be improved upon, something very possible when they improve the understanding of a brand new car.
I think team principal Bradley Downton would be the first to admit that last season was tough. However, this year provides fresh hope, and with what is in my opinion the best looking car and one of the most advanced, there is every chance this year will be very different. The front end looks great, the wing curving nicely with a drooping nose cone. The rear end is nice as well, but I can't help but think a lot of the problem stems from the sidepods. As the air accelerates around the top of the sidepod, the pressure decreases, actually causing lift which means for a net gain, other components must work harder. They could do with winglets to break this airflow up, and I think that would improve the performance massively. Nathaniel Powers only got 10th, but there is a lot of potential in this Downton, as long as they can afford to upgrade the car, which I hope they can, as there is a lot of potential in this car.
Ingram GP earned a reputation as a plucky backmarker last year, but they were much better than that. They got a brilliant 6th in the USA, and that gave them the momentum to develop the car very successfully for this year. There is some nice detailing around the sidepods and diffuser, and the front end looks very clean. They now share Honda engines with Franklin F1, which really helps them, as they weren't backed by BMW after events following the Spanish Grand Prix. This has given the team the basis to get a fantastic 7th place in the first day of testing, so let's see how they get on in the rest of testing. I see big progress for Will Ingram and his team.
The fastest of the new teams was Warrior Racing. They were only a second off of the fastest lap time, which is extremely impressive, especially bearing in mind they haven't had the time to build the cars compared to their competition.
The fundamental concept is strong, and their cause is helped by a Mercedes engine that is regarded as very good, powering 2 victories last year.
Kubat is a rookie, but he immediately got on the pace, so I am looking forward to seeing what comes out of this fledgling Greek outfit.
The second of the new teams, Force Australia also look strong. They were slightly slower than Warrior, but the fact that both teams are getting close to the established runners suggest they have done their homework, and in the long run, the greater length of time for development will bode well for this team.
They managed to get BMW back, but there is slight concern that they will have stopped development after initially pulling out, although those concerns have been allayed by both the team and the engine manufacturer themselves. This is shaping up to be a good season for this rookie team.
There is very little to separate the teams early on, and there will be even less between by the time we are in Australia. Liverpool looked good, but Franklin and Team 23 will be right up there, and Scuderia Rossi will be looking to have their say in the 2014 championship. Further back, the midfield is tighter than I've ever seen, and the new teams are right on the pace and looking competitive. At the end of testing, I will give my impressions of the rankings of the teams, and periodically I will analyse the development each team makes throughout the year. Thanks for reading.