Michael Bailey: The tough hours that go into an F1 challenger

The schedule sounds ridiculous – probably because it is. Hingham's Team Lotus currently spend 16 hours a day, six days a week in their wind tunnel facilities – primarily focused at the Aerolab centre in Cologne.

That leaves roughly 2,208 wind tunnel hours between now and the start of next season, which comes along in Melbourne on March 18.

Presumably the remaining 1,104 hours between this weekend and the Australian curtain raiser – or eight hours per day, if you like – will be used for sleeping.

If that is the case, the sleep-rationing is going to have to tighten. Use of the Williams wind tunnel at Grove will see Team Lotus up their development time – although even then, they are still likely to come up short compared to the hours the likes of McLaren and Ferrari get through.

But these are the things you need to do to develop your car – one that in its debut season was well off the pace, and evolved into the T128 in 2011 that hasn't quite made the hoped-for jump.


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'We often have a get-together with all the guys in the office and bat around a lot of ideas,' said Team Lotus' head of aerodynamics Marianne Hinson, with development of next year's car well under way – perhaps the major question now being how long it will be developed in Norfolk?

'And of course we do spend a lot of time looking at pictures of other cars as well. Whenever anybody brings a new package to a race we all spend time poring over the TV footage and the pictures.'

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The T127 that took on the world in 2010 is lovingly referred to as 'the tank' at Hingham – and the difference in that car and this year's is clear.

But what about coming up with a new challenger? It seems imitation is F1's own form of flattery.

'Anyone who wouldn't admit that is probably not telling you the truth,' said design chief Lewis Bolton.

'For sure you look around at what everyone else is doing all the time and from the place where we are towards the back end of the grid, we certainly do that. Even the teams at the very front do it and look out for what other teams are doing. I used to work at Red Bull and we certainly did that.'

Team principal Tony Fernandes has openly put the pressure on his team to deliver serious midfield competition for Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber next season – and this winter's developments will be key to that.

Whether use of Williams' wind tunnel will be enough for Team Lotus' future, or they eventually go ahead with plans for a facility of their own at Hingham, it's a proven piece of kit in turning also-rans into genuine competitors.

'To have our own wind tunnel is massively important,' added Hinson. 'The amount of performance you put on the car is very often directly related to the number of wind tunnel hours you do.

'So the fact we're able to expand in that area, to use two different facilities – we are recruiting a lot of people as well – it's brilliant. More resource in that area will directly lead to more performance on the car.'

And therefore, you would assume, even less sleep.

• With us all now waiting for the drivers' title formalities and Sebastian Vettel to be crowned, what happens to Mark Webber?

Vettel needs just one more point, or Jenson Button to do anything other than win all the remaining five races – done. So that leaves his team-mate looking to second place, as well as sealing the constructors' championship.

Webber is on 182 points, three behind Button and two behind Fernando Alonso's Ferrari in third. Last season he finished with 242 after 19 races – a career-high third in the standings with four races wins and four second places, including Japan and Brazil.

Yet with Vettel owning almost exclusive rights to pole and the chequered flag, Webber is yet to win a race in 2011.

What would be great to see from Red Bull is some serious investment in Webber's season – even if it is a little late.

Make Vettel work for Webber, let the Aussie sort out his starts and then Red Bull can close out the top two and Webber can look back at his best ever campaign.

• It seems safe to say Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton won't be exchanging Christmas cards in the off-season.

Having clashed on the track again in Singapore, and then off it afterwards, there clearly isn't much love lost. Then the emergence of a radio message from Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley – 'Hold Hamilton as much as we can; destroy his race; come on, boy…' – stoked up more conspiracy theories than are realistic or reasonable.

There have been suggestions some drivers have arranged a meeting in Japan to discuss Lewis' driving.

No doubt Hamilton will sit that one out – probably enjoying some golf with good friend Heikki Kovalainen at the time.

Calm down dears…

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