Nico’s notes from Barcelona - Day 6: Dirty air & the fantastically close midfield

28-02-2020 22:52
by Nicolás Quarles van Ufford
F1 News
Nico’s notes from Barcelona - Day 6: Dirty air & the fantastically close midfield

It was the final Friday of testing, the day where teams finally opt to open it up and chase lap times. After speaking to a lot of people around the grid, two other themes arose; dirty air, and how “fantastically close” the midfield is this year.

“It is pretty dirty,” Daniel Ricciardo told me with his characteristic smile when I asked him about the dirty air behind the 2020 cars. He admitted it’s gotten worse since last year, which was echoed by Sebastian Vettel on Thursday and Max Verstappen on Wednesday. These aren’t just any drivers saying this, these are stars who pride themselves in their overtaking ability. Them all saying independently following cars has become even more difficult is slightly worrying - if you’re a fan of wheel-to-wheel racing, that is.

Fans will take comfort in the fact 2021 regulations have made sure dirty air gets significantly reduced. The new cars will mainly use the ground effect to generate downforce rather than thousands of aero devices that disrupt airflow. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it does sound promising.

We still have a full season until that happens, however, and 22 Grands Prix (barring any canceled races) to be driven. As close as the midfield might be, and as well-matched Mercedes and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing might be, if the racing itself isn’t exciting, the product will still be bad in 2020. 2019 produced some fantastic races, but you forget just how many horrible GP’s there have been past season. For me, it’s simple: if the drivers tell me dirty air has become worse, it equates to a worse season. Great. Looking forward to it.

A six-team midfield

If you listen to the noises coming out of the Williams garage you’d think they’re on to win the title, but I’m going to leave them out of the midfield discussion – at least for now, until they catch up further. George Russell admitted they still have the slowest, it’s not just me, okay.

Anyway. The midfield was already close in 2019, especially in the first half of the season before Haas and Alfa Romeo’s pace fell off a cliff and before McLaren pulled away from the pack.

All the signs are pointing to it being even closer this year. Haas look solid. Alfa Romeo look good. AlphaTauri look great. Renault look to be better than last season McLaren look like they’re stronger than they were in 2019. As for Racing Point… that thing is a rocket. AlphaTauri’s technical director Jody Eddington said the midfield is “fantastically close”, a phrase which really stuck with me as it strikes exactly the right tone.

Even more so than in the title race, the midfield battle will probably be decided by whoever pulls the plug on the 2020 car’s development first. Most midfield teams don’t have the budget to run a 2020 and 2021 program simultaneously so they’ll have to decide when to jump ship, leaving the 2020 car as it is. Racing Point will do so around the summer break, technical director Andrew Green told me, and AlphaTauri already have almost half of their staff working on next year’s challenger. Whoever blinks last in midfield might just win it this year.

Yesterday's notes

Yesterday, I talked about Mercedes’ engines looking unreliable. I followed up on this today with several people around the paddock, with mixed responses.

Russell at Williams didn’t sound overly optimistic as the power unit once again acted up, preventing him from completing his program, but both Green at Racing Point and Lewis Hamilton didn’t seem concerned. The former insisted Mercedes were already aware of the issues before testing and fixes should be made in time – “teething problems”, as he called them.

As the most technically savvy person of the three, I tend to trust Green’s judgment on this one most, although I’ll still be keeping a close eye on any faltering Mercedes engines in Melbourne in two weeks’ time.

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