A visit to Formula 1 testing wouldn't be complete without spending some time at the side of the track, observing what's really going on with the cars and drivers, away from the limited view afforded by the Barcelona media centre.
Enlisting the help of AUTOSPORT technical correspondent Gary Anderson, a man who has designed grand prix machinery for Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar during his career, I was treated to a completely different perspective of how events were unfolding in front of my very eyes.
Wandering out of the paddock, we end up on a small patch of tarmac with; to the left, the La Caixa and Sabadell hairpins; head on, the Europcar turn that drops away on exit, and to the right, the unpopular chicane installed in time for the 2007 grand prix here with the aim of improving overtaking opportunities down the start/finish straight.
It seems a popular spot for paddock dwellers; Mercedes technology director Geoff Willis and Red Bull motorsport guru Helmut Marko are already in situ when we arrive (the latter taking a brief break from watching to sign a fan's model of the Austrian's 1971 Le Mans-winning Porsche 917) and Williams driver Pastor Maldonado plus a small army of Ferrari personnel will rock up later on.
Conveniently, the first car that appears is the one everybody's trying to beat; the Red Bull RB8 driven by world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The body language of the car is benign; going exactly where its driver wants it to, when he wants it to. In a nine-lap run on mediums while we watch, Vettel's pace remains constant; eight consecutive laps between 1m28.8s and 1m29.0s, before he drops half a second on the following lap and promptly pits.
"That car is very heavy," Anderson comments. "To have that consistent level of pace, and look so good through the turns, and still be that slow in comparison to the 23s he was running earlier, that car is heavy. It's about a five-second a lap penalty here for running 100kg of fuel, and I'd be pretty sure that's even heavier than that."
Even more significant than the pace - Gary times the cars on a stopwatch he's had since 1985 (although this one has developed a crack recently, so he's considering an upgrade or a drop of superglue) - is the noise coming from the RB8.
The Red Bull looked very comfortable on a big fuel load © LAT
It's obvious from the tractor-like sounds coming intermittently from Vettel's car that the team's electronics boffins have been hard at work mapping the engine in an aggressive way to ensure controlled misfires during the braking and downshifting process.
"Do you hear that?" Gary asks. "It sounds like the old traction control used to out of corners. Except it's earlier on. Red Bull has clearly worked very hard on that. It's part of what was done last year with the exhaust blowing.
"The blown diffusers are gone this year, but you can't unlearn things, and the ability to make the engine misfire at that point will still help the driver not lock-up the rear wheels, which can help reduce the rear tyre wear. The Red Bull definitely seems to be doing this best, because the car is just so stable.
"It's the same engine in the Lotus and the Williams, and listen to them... They sound basic by comparison. I think the most basic system of all is in the Force India - it sounds like they've not done anything to it; a very conventional-sounding system."
While Vettel's car looks sublime, the world champion using barely any steering input to negotiate his way around the bends, Fernando Alonso's Ferrari seems anything but.
During our spell trackside, Alonso tries soft, medium and hard Pirellis, but despite resisting the urge to fight against his F2012 - unlike his team-mate Felipe Massa the previous day - the Spaniard just doesn't look to have all the tools he needs at his disposal.
Right on cue, a 4x4 pulls up and out climb Massa, his engineer Rob Smedley and Force India reserve pilot Jules Bianchi, all keen to pick up some tidbits of technical information from watching not only Alonso, but the rest ply their trade through the slow-speed turns.
Ferrari still has work to do © LAT
"So what does our car look like through here?" Smedley asks Anderson. Did he really want to know?
In truth, Alonso never looked particularly comfortable through the section until switching to medium tyres late in the day, the disappearance of the oversteer-understeer-oversteer characteristic during corner entry-apex-exit indicating a fresh set of the white-marked Pirellis.
Gone was the inconsistency on entry, the brief moments of hovering off the throttle - at which point the car becomes subservient to the track's bumps and undulations. This was replaced by attack, with acceleration out of the chicane in particular looking as impressive as the Red Bull.
"There doesn't look to be too much wrong with the peak performance of that car," Anderson says. "But the operating window of that performance is tiny. Fernando may be able to get a lap out of it on a Saturday afternoon, but over a race stint, he's just destroying his rear tyres. They're going to have to work pretty hard to fix that for Melbourne."
Lewis Hamilton, on McLaren driving duties, is unspectacular as the Woking squad concentrates on short runs. Heavy fuel loads on board, the MP4-27 looks slow; but appearances are - in this case - deceptive. It's quicker than the Red Bull by and large, but in the context of testing, what does that actually mean? One thing that is for certain, to Anderson at least, is the overnight progress made by the Mercedes-engined car.
"The McLaren looks better than on Thursday, when Jenson [Button] was driving. They're misfiring the engine far more aggressively, which could just be the way Lewis wants it to deal with his driving style. Look at the car mid-corner though, the car just looks more responsive; less lazy."
Of course, this is just one section of corners at one circuit, one day before the likes of Red Bull and McLaren introduce a catalogue of upgrades to their machines. But it's a fascinating insight nonetheless.
To continue reading this feature, join Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.