The first winter test in in the books, what did it tell us about the potential for this season?
Mercedes Are Still Dominant…
Mercedes logged an incredible 558 laps across the four days of this test, despite the fact that they lost the morning of the last test to an electrical issue. The sheer amount of data they collected from doing almost a 100 laps more than any other team gives them a massive edge going toward the first race. The Silver Arrows got through every tyre compound, pounded out race simulation after race simulation and put in fastest laps.
The first three days were ominous signs that the dominance of 2014-16 could well be continued into this season, and given the pace of both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas we should still be worried that come Melbourne the Mercedes will dominate.
… But Ferrari Look Strong
12 months ago Ferrari set the pace in winter testing and then failed to deliver for the whole season. So we should take their times from this week with several large pinches of salt, but the early performance is promising for a competitive season.
Ferrari put in 468 laps, second most, and pushed Mercedes on the timesheets every day, despite not running anything quicker than the soft tyre. The fact that they can get within a tenth of a second when the Mercedes were running the ultrasoft is very promising, however we have to say that fuel-loads, engine mapping and setups are very closely guarded secrets, so we have no idea if that is Ferrari at their fastest and Mercedes at 70% or not. Still, it is definitely a good thing that the Scuderia look strong coming into this season, the world of Formula 1 is better when Ferrari are challenging for the top step on the podium.
Red Bull Aren’t Showing Anything. Yet
It was a quiet week for Red Bull, who were not doing any pace testing across the four days in Barcelona but instead were working on aero setups, and making sure all their new fancy tricks were working properly.
The “nostril” on the front wing, perhaps the most intriguing development from the new rules, was a closely guarded secret, with Red Bull shutting the garage up any time they made adjustments or changes to the nose of the car. Still, all indications are that with a better Renault power unit and their own aerodynamic and chassis prowess that Red Bull should be close to the front again.
Terrible Week For McLaren
Oil problems on day one, an engine change on day two… It was a disastrous week for McLaren, demonstrating just how far the F1 giant has fallen. The hope was that the Woking team could hand their talented driver pairing a car that could compete for podiums, but at this moment it looks like they won’t be competing for points.
Honda are worried about the lack of mileage and data collected, as well as the mysterious nature of the failure on day two that could seriously impact what they are able to run come the first race in Melbourne.
When the new orange-and-black McLaren was running it was well off the pace set not just by the front runners but also of Renault and Williams, teams that McLaren would have been hopeful of comfortably beating in 2017.
Williams Have A Rookie Problem
Everyone expected these new cars to be a handful, and plenty of drivers had moments around the Barcelona circuit, including Bottas who tagged the wall after losing it in turn nine, but no one had a worse test that teenage rookie Lance Stroll, who cost Williams almost all of day two by beaching the car and causing enough damage to require new parts being flown in, and then cost them the whole of day four following a spin and crash on day three that required an entirely new monocoque and front end rebuild.
As a result Stroll got just 110 laps in, and Massa only had one day of testing. The experience serves as a warning to all teams though, cold tyres are still a danger, and the limits of the new cars are very fine.
Renault Taking Step Forward
The Renault team didn’t have the smoothest of weeks, but they seem to be pushing their way up the pack this winter. With solid running in the first two days it was day three that Renault began to move up the timesheets and really getting strong work in.
The new power unit looks good and Jolyon Palmer seems more confident in his second year with the team while Nico Hulkenberg is settling in well. Don’t be surprised to see the black & yellow cars up in the points on a regular basis this year.
Toro Rosso Look Spectacular
F1 is about speed, not looks, but good lord does the Toro Rosso look amazing this year. The livery change to a vibrant blue and a silver bull is wonderful, and the fact that they included the sharkfin in the paint design is great.