By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Photographers will be out in force when Formula One's new cars start testing on Monday with team boffins looking closely at the pictures to try and answer a key concern: Have they missed a trick?
The Circuit de Catalunya provides the first proper live action of the year, with those cars seen so far either glimpsed online or in blurred images captured from afar during private filming sessions.
The moment the garage doors are opened, and the cars rolled out in front of the assembled media, observers will get a chance to scrutinize the models even if much remains hidden under the skin.
"One of the games that we are all playing behind the scenes is waiting for those launch photos," Paddy Lowe, technical head of world champions Mercedes, told Sky Sports television.
"Our particular aerodynamicists will pore over those and see whether there's something interesting there that we hadn't thought of or whatever. So it's a great time of year to look out for that stuff.
Mercedes, the dominant team for the past two years, will be keeping a close eye on the new Ferrari as the car most likely to pose a threat but the new 'Silver Arrow' will be the one everyone wants a look at.
The regulations have not changed significantly but there are always details that can be improved, new ways of packaging the whole. And teams will want to know who has done something different.
"With all teams testing openly together and being forced to keep garage doors open in the pitlane, it's easy to think that the days of espionage and public misdirection are long behind us," wrote former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley on the Sky website.
"At this time of the year, more than any other, that couldn't be further from the truth... photographers on each team's payroll will be commissioned to snap a list of 'wanted' pictures of the most intriguing opposition's cars.
"Literally hundreds of images are uploaded immediately to team servers, shared with the design offices back at factories and analyzed in the level of attention to detail F1 teams are famed for."
Last year, Red Bull tested their new car in a special camouflage livery. The car they 'revealed' last week at a livery launch was an old one, repainted with new colors and branding.
That same team has also used mechanics in the past to stand around and shield sensitive aerodynamic details -- although that could also be posturing to distract attention from other areas.
Even lap times cannot be trusted once the cars get going, with those teams who know they have a fast car seeking to disguise the true extent by running on heavy fuel loads while others go light to set quick times and mask problems that might alarm potential sponsors.
The practice is known as 'sandbagging' and it will only be in Australia on March 20 that the moment of truth is faced.
With just eight days of testing before the cars go to Melbourne, teams will leave it as late as possible to finalize details like front wings.
As Force India's chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer explained, their as-yet unseen car will be "mostly" new: "It’s just the parts you need to develop further in the windtunnel that you hold off on," he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)