After eight days of testing scenes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, we are not pretty sure about how the pecking order would be when the circus begins in Melbourne. The uncertainly prevails just like every time a pre-season testing programme completes. However, with what we have seen and observed at Catalunya, which threw everything at the teams like heavy rain and freezing weather, the ten things have been compiled:
Despite the harsh conditions for consistent running in the opening test, the second test did allow F1 teams to put the much-needed miles on the clock as the track was sunny and favorable. Totally, the teams managed to do a distance of 37,138 km out of the eight grueling test days.
1. Almost All The Engines Are Reliable:
Mercedes were so reliable right from the get go and they clocked 1,040 laps at a total of 4,841 km despite the hampered running in the first test. Ferrari and Renault were constantly putting in laps as well and to everyone’s surprise Honda ran almost without any gremlins in partnership with their new team, Toro Rosso.
Toro Rosso were not the only major surprise as Haas machines looked reliable all the way, but the familiar reliability problems popped up once again for McLaren despite switching to a brand new engine partner. With Renault engine showing good mileage with other teams, the team appeared to be the one to blame for.
2. Sebastian Vettel Set Fastest Time:
Pure lap times would not be relevant in testing days, but it is a factor that can be considered to some extent. Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel topped the timing sheet on hyper soft tyres with a time of 1:17.182 and shattered the track record in the process. Then came Alonso, Ricciardo and Sainz ahead of Magnussen, Gasly and Hamilton – all of them separated by almost 1.3 seconds compared to Vettel’s time.
The official Pirelli tyre offset times can be considered at this point but fuel loads and other track factors would make it impossible to get to a conclusive order. With Magnussen setting time in super softs and Hamilton in ultra softs, when other five out top seven used hyper softs, the certainty further grows.
3. Mercedes Appears To Be Sandbagging:
Mercedes appeared to have the pace advantage ahead of their main rivals and many thought they indeed did not display their full one-lap potential. Neither Hamilton nor Bottas were even in the top six on pure lap timings as both drivers concentrated on getting the maximum learning out of the tests for probably race scenarios more often than not.
Mercedes did not run the hyper soft tyres, the fastest of the lot and their best times on the ultra- and super-softs were a bit off compared to the Ferraris. The race simulations were strong for Mercedes as they laid down the medium rubber, when other teams used different compounds as well.
4. Ferrari Seems To Very Close In The Fight:
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier said It’s difficult to understand who has the upper hand because of the tyre situation, the temperatures, engine mode and fuel load and none can argue against it. When some teams progressed, the battle up front will likely be among the top three – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Ferrari’s pace was nothing short of promising as both drivers did their best to get the maximum out of the testing duration and we get a feeling that the gap to Mercedes will be closer than it was last year.
5. So Are Red Bull:
Just as Ferrari, Red Bull were not far behind either even though we cannot be absolutely certain of the correct order right now. Even Daniel Ricciardo acknowledged by saying his team will be close enough to be in the hunt and the pace on track looked positive. The Australian even clocked an unofficial circuit record of 1:18.047 on final Wednesday of testing.
6. McLaren Have Loads To Improve:
It was a tough couple of testing weeks for the team from Woking as reliability issues hit them too hard. Loosened wheel, melted exhaust eating the rear end, turbo problems and hydraulic failures made viewers wonder if McLaren were the one to blame for in the bitter partnership that ended last year with Honda.
With the team being back to their traditional papaya orange livery, nostalgia kicked in but seeing Honda’s new associate Toro Rosso hammering the miles was not a pretty sight for them. However, when Alonso got his car going, he felt good with it for majority of his running and in the last testing day he did put some much-needed miles on the clock and even went second fastest – just 0.5 seconds slower than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Which is much more like what McLaren were hoping for when they switched from Honda engines to Renault over the winter.
Boullier defended the understandable “minor issues” and said the swift to new engine supplier only happened late. A big upgrade is expected to land in Australia, but McLaren have to make sure trouble-free running before fancying a berth in Q3.
7. Haas Pulled A Surprise:
On the penultimate testing day, Kevin Magnussen exceeded expectations and put on a stunning lap which did act as a pre-cursor to what we could be seeing at the opening race weekend. He was only 1.2 seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari despite being on super softs – that are a second or so slower than the hyper soft tyres.
His team-mate Romain Grosjean came very close to matching Magnussen’s time on the final day as well. Haas’ pace did surprise majority of the paddock and they could be gunning for double points finish or even better Down Under. If the American outfit’s amazing run continues, will their Ferrari link be questioned?
8. Toro Rosso Nothing Short Of Impressive:
Pierre Gasly was another impressive driver at the concluded pre-season testing. His team managed to do runs with ease without having any major issues with the engine. Toro Rosso seemed to be a strong midfield contender that could sometimes upset the biggies by entering into Q3 phase.
9. Mysterious Force India:
Force India, especially known for being a resilient independent team over the years, were a bit off the expected level and the same can be said for Williams as well. Sauber’s ties with Alfa Romeo did pay dividends though as the team looked far better than how they were last year. As for Force India, with the arrival of the possible new owner, things could return back to normal as the season moves along.
10. Success Of The Halo:
The halo head-protection device was hated by many because it was hideous but at the end of winter testing quite a few people had got used to it. With some drivers appreciating its presence despite the change in car aesthetics, it is now far off the limelight for being a negative talk ahead of the season.
It also makes stepping in and getting out of the cars harder while drivers are difficult to identify because of the obtrusion for fans and spectator on track. However, as the season begins, all we care about is just racing, don’t we?