Will Gray

Tech Talk: Reliability slows new teams’ focus

Will Gray

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Two of Formula One's four new teams hit the track in pre-season testing last week - and it quickly became clear that reliability is right on the limit as they race against time ahead of their debut seasons.

Neither Virgin nor Lotus are on the pace (not that they were expected to be) but the bigger issue is reliability - and with testing glitches sapping vital laps from their early testing schedules, they have been forced to increasingly focus not on pace but on reaching the finish.

In recent years the established outfits have hit the ground running in pre-season testing thanks to well scheduled production schedules and tight quality control - but time has been tight for the newcomers, who have had around eight months to create a car and a team from scratch, and although they have done an impressive job (and beaten the other two newcomers) just to make these pre-season tests, it is clear the last-minute issues are hampering progress.

Williams completed the most mileage of all the teams in the eight days of Jerez testing, clocking a total of 849 laps over the eight days with their two drivers. Ferrari was next, on 798, and Toro Rosso third with 741, with the other established teams managing between 600-700 laps each over the full eight days.

Lotus was only able to make the second four-day test and clocked 315 laps, not bad given just four days of running, but they had issues that delayed them and they had hoped for more. Virgin, on the other hand, only completed 257 laps, despite hitting the track on February 10 and having the full eight days of running.

So both face major challenges to be fully ready on time.

Technical chief Mike Gascoigne has admitted Lotus has some issues with a lack of spare parts - and in this period, a new team needs plenty.

When Lotus shook the car down in the UK they had some teething problems and they had to run the early sessions in Jerez without power steering due to a delay receiving parts from a supplier, making the car virtually un-driveable. A crash also halted running on one day, while another saw Kovalainen lose most of the morning with hydraulics and clutch problems.

Virgin, meanwhile, completed just five laps on their first day of running and lost most of the next two days after a front wing fell off and they had to wait for a spare, with rapidly added safety modifications, before they could continue. Then there were persistent hydraulic problems, which could not be solved due to another lack of available parts, and plans for a new aerodynamics package for this week's test in Barcelona have been scrapped to focus on reliability.

It's all about fault-fixing, Virgin technical chief Nick Wirth has admitted, and that just takes time.

Unfortunately for the new teams, all this has a knock-on effect on the ability to perform. With a focus on reliability, their testing sessions become completely different to those of their more established rivals. Where the leading teams, and more importantly those further down the grid, can start to focus on set-up, doing low-fuel and high-fuel runs to improve qualifying and race performance, in these final tests, if the new teams continue having to focus on reliability they will be left standing.

So if the issues persist, it is almost certain the newcomers will be at the back - and the more relevant question for now will be who can keep going the longest...

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