Alpine were the last to unveil their 2022 challenger prior to the first pre-season test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. In fact, the car was reportedly finished the day before running got underway, and so partly the reason why the car in the launch was a show car.
Despite this the team got off to a good start on Day 1, with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A522, and putting in 146 laps – the third highest team tally of the first day, and second highest for a single driver.
The car however stayed right at the bottom of the speed trap figures for the entirety of the test, and the cause of this soon became abundantly clear.
On Wednesday morning, Alpine instructed both of their drivers to not use the Drag Reduction System (DRS) under any circumstances due to what Sporting Director Alan Permane describes as a “load thing” at high speeds.
During testing, practice sessions and qualifying, drivers can open the DRS flap in pre-determined DRS zones without the need to be within 1 second of a car in front. However Alpine kept theirs firmly closed for the entire three days of track time in Barcelona.
The characteristics of the DRS mechanism has changed profusely for 2022 with the all-new spoon shaped rear wings requiring a completely different approach to not only packaging the actuator, but to the position and size of the opening in the main plane.
There is a huge amount of aerodynamic pressure and significant load changes going on in this area, especially when the hydraulic actuator has to work against the huge force of the airflow rushing through the gap in the wing at the car’s terminal velocity at the end of a long straight.
Due to the majority percentage shift in downforce produced by the rear wing alone towards the underside of the car and the venturi tunnels solution, the DRS is expected to be less effective in races however. Nevertheless you would still lose a large chunk of your lap time if the ‘letterbox’ is kept tightly shut in contrast to your rivals. The longer the straight and the higher the percentage of the lap taken up by DRS zones, the more lap time will be lost.
“We have been hampered quite significantly by not being able to run DRS for a couple of reasons,” explained Permane. “Nothing major, nothing serious, nothing we won’t have fixed for Bahrain. And honestly, we probably could have run it yesterday and today but we chose not to, we know what the difference is by running it.
“But that does hamper things, it’s not only just that fixed lap time you lose each lap. It also affects things like tyre warm-up, and there’s a little bit of a snowball effect because of that… We kind of thought ‘let’s just leave it there and just plod round’.
“And it’s not that we can’t do it, or we’re scared or we’re worried about anything, or we think something’s going to break, we’re just being cautious.”
Alpine also admitted that the team concentrated on high fuel running, therefore race pace simulations. However, Permane states that they got “stuck there” – most likely hinting at the existence of key gaps in understanding and knowledge of the car’s comprehensive characteristics, at least at first.
The often conservative power unit side of the outfit (still under the Renault name but acting as a works supplier to the Alpine team) is thought to have thrown caution to the wind somewhat and prioritised performance over reliability in anticipation for the engine freeze. The French manufacturer was thought to be lagging behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda (Red Bull Powertrains) on the performance side, but wasn’t totally immune to reliability issues either.
In a sense this factor came to a head on the final morning of the Barcelona test when Alonso stopped the car out on track with a hydraulic issue which quickly set the car on fire, ending the day early for the team.
Alonso had completed only 12 laps that morning, and team mate Esteban Ocon wouldn’t even get a chance to sample the artificially soaked circuit in the afternoon session.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses. I’m not saying we’re going to go out and beat Mercedes and Red Bull,” assures Permane. “But I think we are in a reasonable or in a decent position.
“The lap Fernando did [on Friday] morning, although it was only one lap, if you look at the same time he did it it’s very comparable to what Max Verstappen did, albeit Verstappen’s using DRS.
“So if you overlay the GPS, which we can do with the systems we have from the FIA, the traces are almost identical apart from the straights where we lose a huge amount of time.
“I don’t want to sit here and say everything’s fine, and we’re completely chilled. Of course, we’re concerned.
“But in no way are we going to be at the bottom of the timesheets, that’s for sure.”
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