After the first 4 fly away races, many people up and down the paddock are stil left scratching their heads over the true pecking order up and down the grid. This is partly down to the recent controversial tyre compounds that Pirelli have engineered for the 2012 season, but also because after the banning of the EBD's, the field is extremely evenly matched and close.
After 3 years of in season testing being banned, 2012 saw the FIA tweak the rules to allow one test session, to be held early on in the season. So how important is the up coming Mugello test this week for all the teams, and what effect can it have for the European leg of the season?
Well as mentioned above, the first 4 races have seen 4 drivers, from 4 different teams win a race. This feat has only been eclipsed twice before in recent history, once in 2003 where Michael Schumacher had his strongest challenge for the title with both Kimi Raikonnen and Juan Pablo Montoya took it right down to the wire in Suzuka. The other was in 1983 where Nelson Piquet took his 2nd World Title, pipping Alain Prost in the Renault thanks to poor reliability from the french team and Rene Arnoux in the Ferrari. This intense competition this year that has eclipsed the two season's above, has meant the slightest improvements in each car could mean the difference between a top 6 finish or victory.
The next race in Catalunya has always been renoun for teams to release their first major upgrades to their cars, but with the free 3 day test at Mugello before the Spainsh Grand Prix, all the teams bar HRT have stated their intention to run full programmes during the event. Another factor the teams are looking to take advantage of is the ability to put their test driver's through intensive programmes. While in season testing was banned, test drivers have had to keep a passive role in teams to wait for Winter testing or stand in's to really run the car. But the Mugello test will allow test driver's to show their ability of developing a car through the quality of the feedback they can give back to the team.
The full list of driver line-ups that have been confirmed include:
Caterham: Rodolfo Gonzalez, May 1; Vitaly Petrov, May 2; Heikki Kovalainen, May 3.
Ferrari: Fernando Alonso May 1 and 2; Felipe Massa, May 3.
HRT: The team have announced they will miss the test.
Lotus: Jerome D'Ambrosio, May 1; Kimi Raikkonen, May 2; Romain Grosjean May 3.
Sauber: Kamui Kobayashi, May 1 and 2; Sergio Perez, May 3.
Force India: Jules Bianchi, May 1; Paul di Resta, May 2; Nico Hulkenberg, May 3.
Williams: Valtteri Bottas, May 1; Bruno Senna, May 2; Pastor Maldonado, May 3.
McLaren: Oliver Turvey (AM), Gary Paffett (PM), May 1; Gary Paffett, May 2; Oliver Turvey, May 3.
Toro Rosso: Jean Eric-Vergne, May 1 and 2 (AM); Daniel Ricciardo, May 2 (PM), and 3.
There are many interesting points to assess from the current line up that will be testing, but the biggest suprise was the announcement of HRT stating they will not take part at all at Mugello. It is no secret HRT have been really struggling during the early part of the season. Having failed numerous crash tests with their new car, they missed all pre season testing and failed to qualify at Melbourne. So what detremental effect will missing Mugello have on the team?
The team have released a statement earlier in the week saying they were to miss the test to solely focus on the complete relocation of the team to Madrid. But does this mean the team not only misses out on extremely important track time, but also will fail to implement and test any new parts they have for the car to optimise it's performance? Obviously testing is vital for any team to fully understand their car, and due to HRT struggling with raw pace at the back of the field, are they shooting themselves in the foot by futher not trying to fulfill the car's potential?
The other major story to break from the testing line up, was the absence of both Lewis and Jenson for McLaren during the whole 3 day duration. After a magnificent start to the season in Melbourne, both cars have suffered extreme bad luck in the preceeding 3 race weekends, not only through mechanical failures with Jenson, but very poor standard pitstops which have been highly documented. But it has been the very sub standard race pace the MP4-27 has been capable of during the races that has worried the British duo the most. This led to speculation that both driver's would change their decision and take over testing duties to fully understand the car's shortfalls. But McLaren are extremely confident in their two driver's Oliver Turvey and Gary Paffett. Paffett a DTM champion is hugely experienced and Turvey has been part of the McLaren Young drivers programme for a number of years and has looked mighty impressive. The main question will be, how much information can Lewis and Jenson learn from not being in the car?
Ferrari, essentially on their home track, will be looking for the guidance and huge experience of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, to fully get to grips with the Ferrari car. Having been damage limitation for the first part of the season, are there any answers they can find for the lack of pace?
A couple of driver's will be looking at the Mugello test for the first opportunity to really shine, and grab the chance with both hands to impress their team bosses. Jules Bianchi having shown incredible promise in Formula 3 and the GP2 Asia Series will be looking to show why Ferrari have him on their young driver programme. A big surprise however was the announcement Rookie Rodolfo Gonzalez would complete a day for Caterham. Having shown no real promise in the Gp2 series for the past 4 years, and having a best finish of 21st place, many were suprised Caterham elected him to do a whole day's testing. However this is the best chance to show everyone why Caterham should have confidence in handing him this opportunity.
All the pieces are there for a fascinating test, it will be hugely interesting to see exactly how the team's cope with fully getting to grips with the problems they have been faced with in the early season including optimising the cars for the Pirelli tyres. Can McLaren really explore the problems of the car without having their lead driver's attending? What of RedBull, can they build on the Bahrain victory and really unlock the true potential of the RB8?
These are all question's which will be answered come the weekend, Bring it on!