Variable testing

Man, but next year’s F1 cars are ugly. I’ve been itching to see one up close since the regulation changes were announced earlier this year, and yesterday, at the first full test of the winter ‘off season’, I got my chance as the new breed broke cover for the first time.

What can I say? That they make a bulldog chewing a wasp look like Kate Moss, that’s what.

These tests are notoriously hard to read at the best of times, and I’ve never attended one in which there were more variables: old cars, new tyres (slicks: they looked bloody marvellous), hybrid aero set ups, some bloke called Nico Hulkenberg in a Williams… But there was no mistaking the ’09 BMW as it rumbled up the pit-lane.

Rather than the usual aero geniuses, they’ve clearly opted for the designers from Fisher Price this time round. The out-sized front wing looks like a fat lip, while the one at the back has all the visual grace of a Hackney high rise. I honestly can’t recall an uglier racing car.

There used to be a truism in motorsport that if a car looked good it usually was good. God knows where that leaves next year’s grid. Of course, pretty soon we’ll get used to the changes, and we’ll forget all about this year’s model which, while no raving beauty itself, at least represents the peak of the aerodynamicist’s art.

But the era of the beautiful F1 car is definitely over, with at least one technical director warning me that there’s no guarantee that next year’s mutants will be any easier to overtake, or overtake in. In its desperation to improve the show, the FIA has scored another own goal. I only hope I’m proved wrong come next March.

Luckily, happier things were happening in Barcelona, too. One was the return of the name Senna to an F1 timing sheet, the other was the appearance of a familiar motorsport name in an unfamiliar setting.

Sebastien Loeb, five times world rally champion, was testing a Red Bull, and he didn’t disappoint. As I say, you can’t read that much into an F1 winter test. But I know a fast racing driver when I see one, and there was no doubting Loeb’s sheer pace. Or application: he didn’t make a single mistake in 82 laps.

Read the full story in the next issue of Top Gear magazine. In the meantime, somebody please say something kind about next year’s cars…

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