The reduction in pre-season testing days to only a few days spread over two weeks, and all on the same track, has allowed to reduce costs and make the press focus more on the preparation of each F1 season. Being hopless romantics from other times, this bothered us at the beginning, because we long for the testing sessions of the English teams in Silverstone or Paul Ricard, those of Ferrari in Maranello, or even those summer tests in the south of Ecuador, with extremely warm months of January in Buenos Aires or Jacarepagúa, or even in Kyalami. For sure in a globalized world connected by social networks, it is much more effective to add an event that basically embodies the essence and the features of a Grand Prix, to launch the season, to show the cars for the first time, and to compare each other on track.
That said, the consequences of this method surface. Some might be curious, others might make you chuckle. Thermal cameras, spies, the panels to cover the cars arrived when working in the garages, then came the prohibition of the panels and the immediate reaction of replacing them with a barrier of mechanics, similar to soccer players before a free-kick. Uninhibitable and amusing.
But there are also technical lashes. Before, many teams played in these tests with "marked cards", taking advantage that there are no technical inspections or penalties, they went to the track with less weight, or with tricks that could not be used in the Grand Prix, only to show themselves competitive and perhaps push certain pending sponsorship agreements or “hook” new ones. But that became a boomerang, because that “momentary illegality” was quickly revealed and the effect ended up being more harmful than beneficial when they didn't show much performance in the races.
The problem is that later other teams appeared that began testing with “upside-down-marked cards”, without entirely showing what they really had prepared to ship to Melbourne. And this began to leave even further the "wise men" that had to be put into regulation and retreated at the time of running. In other words, if a half-grid team was 1'' behind the leaders (who were sanbagging in the tests), when they reached the first race of the championship, the gap would have increased to 2" or more.
If Formula 1 teaches you something, it is to be a good surfer. If you do not succeed, you will drown in the worst of the seas. Anyone who wants to survive in the paddock, must permanently adapt to the changes of this sea, which unexpectedly throws waves of different intensity, size, speed and extension. And you will always have to stand on the surfboard.
The waves of this European winter were different, once again. Against the expectations, Mercedes did not hide its potential. Instead, it showed it from the first day of testing, surprising not only by its high performance, but by the infamous DAS, a device that optimizes the alignment of the front wheels in straight lines and returns it put in ideal position in curves with the single movement of the steering wheel backwards or forwards. And the most effective part of that movement is that it also has an effect on people, because with the DAS, Mercedes managed to change their eyes, taking them off the track to put them on the desks. The rushed legal declaration for 2020, but illegal for 2021, only confirmed that those of Toto Wolff still have the ability to dominate the scene. With the passing of the test days, the assertion emerged that the true plus of Mercedes for this year is in the rear suspensions, but few can see it, and not many found out much about the DAS during this time.
Another storm rose with the car Carlos Sainz Jr baptized as the 'Pink Mercedes'. And that was also a strategic move shared by Wolff because midfielders, Renault and McLaren especially, believe that they will have Racing Point in front of them constantly, and that drives away the squires of Ferrari and Red Bull, from helping your mother teams. The fact that Checo Pérez can win a Grand Prix is for now more an illusion than a real chance, but the seed was planted, and in Maranello and Milton Keynes, they hope to see its germination.
But the cherry on top, to continue comparisons with other things in people's daily lives, is the FIA's statement regarding the extensive and thorough investigation into the 2019 Ferrari engine. Without saying anything in particular, the agency that regulates international motorsport, simply covered the entire episode that put Ferrari in the eye of the storm from Spa to Austin, when they won and faced Mercedes, and that could not be seen in Brazil and Abu Dhabi They agreed not to disclose details of the agreement with the Scuderia and period.
What aggravated the situation was that Ferrari did not match up to everyone's expectations in Barcelona, and that after proving that there were no results despite changing the car from the first to the second week, Mattia Binotto acknowledged that the team does not have enough speed. Last year it was pointed out that the SF90 didn't have enough downforce, and that's why it was fast in the straights. When the 'Super Engine' debuted, they could put more wing load on it, just that, then it went faster without losing speed. At 12 o' clock the spell was over, Cinderella became poor again and the carriage disappeared. We can go on with the metaphors - it is fun indeed - then Ferrari was turned out to be what it truly was until Hungary 2019.
Knowing since then what the road was going to be like in 2020, but betting on the engine they would put on track after the summer break before Belgium, Ferrari seems to have designed the SF1000 in that direction. And here begins the presumption of the journalists. To veto or not to veto the 2021 regulation, to make it possible or not, as Mereces and Red Bull want, was perhaps the negotiation. And there comes another actor, who had nothing to do with the legality of the Ferrari engine. It used to be Bernie, now it's called Liberty Media.
They are F1's business owners. They are those who want to bring change to F1, who want the 2021 regulation. But those who also want Ferrari to win because it is good for everyone. The issue is legality.
And basically, the FIA must take care of total legality. That is why, the DAS is legal in 2020 and not in 2021. Because once a regulation is written, it cannot be changed, and if someone finds something and can use it in view of everyone, which is legal, they cannot do more than accept it, and in any case, write different future rules if you want to ban it. And if what Ferrari did in the 2019 engine was not legal, it simply isn't legal. The "negotiations" of the three parties may have been those that led to several races, then, once decided that it was illegal and could not be used more, the scandal of a massive exclusion was not convenient for anyone.
That is why, now the FIA announces that the investigation is over and that the details of the agreement with Ferrari are private. And that's why, Binotto says they don't hide anything, they just don't have enough engine for the load that this year's car brings. And that is why, he warns that if they are not fast enough, they will think in 2021. As if they had learned that the engine they planned to put the SF1000 could not use.
It seems simple to understand. It seems strange that everything that was narrated has happened. It really costs that this Ferrari, lives up to its history, if everything that was written becomes true.
But it can also be a lie. Perhaps the agreement between Ferrari and the FIA now allows them to use a certain part of that engine development, that is what is kept as a secret, and Ferrari plans to put it when the championship begins. And maybe they didn't put it in Montmeló to show how much they needed it, as a pressure tool, or simply because they didn't have the legality permit. It is always said that the track speaks, but perhaps we have to wait until May. Not only because of the threat of Coronavirus.
Melbourne is an atypical track, it does not represent what will be seen in the year when it is run in conventional racetracks. There is no longer China, which was the track where everyone could really confirm their potential. If there are no more cancellations of races, perhaps there is some idea in Vietnam, because Bahrain is also not a normal parameter by floor and by temperature (it runs at night). And if not, we will have to wait for the season to touch European lands so that Zandvoort and Barcelona give us a real idea of the situation.
In the meantime, you have to keep surfing, try to stay on top of the board...
AUTHOR: DIEGO ZORRERO
TRANSLATION BY BEATRICE ZAMUNER