Barcelona beckons as testing gets serious 18 Feb 2013
The Formula One paddock heads back to Spain this week for the second of 2013s three pre-season tests. The venue is Barcelonas Circuit de Catalunya, a popular testing location due to its mild temperatures and technical layout that challenges every aspect of car and tyre performance.
The theory goes that if a car can be quick here, it can be quick almost anywhere and this is what all the teams will be trying hard to establish over the next four days. In the spotlight will be Fernando Alonso, driving the Ferrari F138 for the first time, and the new Williams FW35, which will make its debut on Tuesday.
The Spanish fans will no doubt be out in force for Alonso, who saw team mate Felipe Massa post the fastest time of the recent opening Jerez test. The former champion sat out that session to concentrate on physical preparations for his 2013 campaign, but this week will spend three days in the car before handing over to Massa for the final day.
Williams were the only team not to launch their 2013 car ahead of the first test, and this week should give some indication of whether that extra off-track development effort was time well spent. 2012 Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonado will debut the FW35 on Tuesday, before new team mate Valtteri Bottas gets his first drive on Wednesday.
Force India are also likely to find themselves the subject of intense media scrutiny in Spain - they are the only squad yet to finalise their 2013 line-up. Following a seat fitting for former driver Adrian Sutil last week, the German will make his F1 return as he takes to the track alongside Paul di Resta and team tester Jules Bianchi.
Most pundits agreed it was all but impossible to draw any firm conclusions from the Jerez test, especially as the low temperatures and abrasive track surface meant it was hard to get the best from Pirellis 2013 tyres, though it was McLarens MP4-28 that many tipped as arguably the strongest of the new machines.
Tyres will again be a primary focus in Barcelona this week - the minimal rule changes for 2013 mean most teams have come up with evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) car designs, so all are eager to get a handle on Pirellis revised rubber and the huge performance gains that it could bring them.
Barcelona is a circuit that the teams have plenty of data on already, which is useful for comparison purposes, says Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery. So it should be possible for them to carry out plenty of productive work to help understand how their new cars interact with our latest generation of tyres, which are generally softer and faster than last year with deliberately increased degradation.
The limiting factor at the opening test in Jerez earlier this month was the abrasiveness of the track, so hopefully conditions will be more representative this time. There is always the potential for low ambient temperatures though: last year, we actually saw some ice on the track in the morning
And while the teams themselves also agreed that the time spent in Jerez was useful, they too expect the Circuit de Catalunya to provide a more realistic test of how their new cars perform, with aerodynamics - the key to modern F1 performance - playing a more important role here.
It all means that by the end of this week, we might - just might - have a clearer idea of who will head to Australia next month as pre-season favourites for the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship.
As usual, Formula1.com will be bringing you images and reports from every day of the Barcelona test, so check back throughout the week for the latest news.
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