It might be summer break for Formula 1 right now, but despite that the teams have been busy with a two day in-season test at the Hungaroring. Many of the future stars of Formula 1 have taken part in the test, as well as the return of an old face.
On Day One of the test it was current F2 championship leader and rising sensation Charles Leclerc who set the pace, as the youngster made his debuted in the 2017 Ferrari. Leclerc, who is a Ferrari academy young driver set the quickest time of the day just before the chequered flag fell at the end of the day. The time, a 1:17.746, was less than a tenth of a second quicker than the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne in second. However, Vandoorne’s fastest time was set on the ultrasoft tyres, while Leclerc’s fastest lap was set on the soft tyre. A compound that is two stages harder than the ultrasoft tyre Vandoorne set his lap on. If Leclerc had been competing in Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix last Saturday, his time would have secured him ninth spot on the grid, just a second and a half off of Vettel’s pole position time.
“I love the car,” said Leclerc. “I feel ready, it’s quite a big step but I don’t think there are any more steps l need to do before coming to Formula 1.”
Following his impressive testing debut for Ferrari, and the fact he is currently leading the F2 championship, many pundits widely expect Leclerc to get a drive at Sauber next season. The swiss team announced over the weekend they are carrying on their deal with Ferrari, after pulling out of plans to join forces with Honda. Many suspect this deal is for a 2018 Ferrari engine, rather than the year old power units they currently run. But that in exchange for such a deal they must effectively become a Ferrari “B-Team,” running in a similar way as the current Toro Rosso team do for Red Bull. In exchange for engines and possible financial support, the team would be acting as the development team for Ferrari, helping their academy drivers hone their racing skills before they will be sent onto Ferrari.
Vandoorne finished just behind Leclerc after finishing in the points during the Hungarian Grand Prix. Though after a rathe fairy tale weekend for McLaren reality soon settled back in again for them as Vandoorne’s car broke down on track just before the lunch break.
Mercedes fielded two cars during the first day of testing with Valtteri Bottas conducting a 2018 tyre test for Pirelli in his Mercedes. The Finn finished the day with the third fastest time of the day, though it was unknown which tyre compound he was racing with from the 2018 Pirelli tyres. The other Mercedes was in the hands of the GP3 championship leader George Russell. The Brit completed over one hundred laps and finished the day in fourth, just behind Bottas.
Despite temperatures reaching a blistering 35 degrees, the Mercedes young driver seemed to be in fine spirits after his test session. “The heat today has been tough. It was pretty tough towards the end. My body was taking a bit of a bruising as I’m quite tall with quite wide hips. It was a bit difficult to fit in the car but it was a great job today. The team found it productive. Some things were not so great, some things were quite positive, so from that sense it’s been a good day.”
When asked a little more about what it was like to drive the W08 compared to the simulator, Russel said the biggest difference was the G-forces he was put under. “The guys in Brackley have got a really great simulator model and I really felt that today. Obviously in the sim you cannot feel the G-Forces and the braking forces throughout the circuit, so that’s the biggest different. Also in the simulator you don’t have the scare factor – you go into a high-speed corner and if you spin off you just reset and go again. But whereas in this you have a few million pounds worth of damage!”
Lance Stroll was testing in the Williams, replacing the sick Felipe Massa who was supposed to run in the first day of testing. Williams said coming to the test they had a raft of updates they wished to try out on the car in the hopes to improve their car in time for the second half of the season.
Force India, Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas, and Sauber were all fielding young drivers in their cars for the first day of testing. Including DTM driver Lucas Auer at Force India who finished with the ninth fastest time of the day, F2 driver Sean Gelael at Toro Rosso who set the eighth fastest time of the day, and fellow F2 driver Nicholas Latifi at Renault who set the seventh fastest time of the day.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen joined Bottas, Vandoorne, and Stroll as the only other drivers with full time drives in F1 to take part in the first day of testing, though like Vandoorne at McLaren the Dutchman’s run was cut short. His car was hit with engine trouble and he was restricted to just 51 laps throughout the day and only the eleventh fastest time. Despite the fault on his car, Verstabbep remained in high spirits as he jetted off to enjoy his summer break.
“You always try to do your best and the car is constantly improving so hopefully in Spa, after a good break, we can start again and see where we are,” said Verstappen.
Day Two of testing saw the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time of the session. Vettel, the winner of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and his team mate Kimi Raikkonen shared driving duties at Ferrari for the second day of testing. And like Charles Leclerc on Day One, Vettel topped the timesheets, setting a best time of 1:17.124. Raikkonen finished the day third in another positive time testing for the Italian team. Ferrari didn’t have it all their own way though, as Vettel suffered an off track excursion during his morning session.
When asked about the teams sudden U-turn to send their full time drivers out testing, Vettel was quick to defend Ferrari’s decision. “We tried some things. You cannot turn the world upside down but in testing you’re a bit more brave in what you want to try, so it was important to get a feel for the car. The feeling was very good.”
Asked if the reason why they had used Vettel and Raikkonen was because they were testing parts for the next races after the summer break, he replied:”Next race [Spa], Monza not really because it’s very different, and for the future of the car and where we want to go. Small things in the background, nothing you can see.”
It was down to the British rookie of Lando Norris to split the two Ferrari drivers for McLaren, as the youngster made an instant impression on his debut. The seventeen year old is currently racing in the European Formula 3 championship and is impressing many with his driving. The young driver enjoyed a noteworthy first official day in an F1 car as he produced a lap of 1:17.384. While the lap may have been set on the ultrasoft compound, a tyre that was not available for use during the Hungarian Grand Prix, it was still the fastest time by any McLaren driver over the entire time at the Hungaroring.
“Lando has impressed us all with his maturity, professionalism and speed, and has got to grips very quickly with the car,” said McLaren team boss Eric Boullier. “He’s certainly an asset to our test driver line-up – not to mention a potential star of the future.”
However if there was one driver all eyes were on, it was Robert Kubica at Renault who made a much anticipated return to Formula 1 following a private test earlier on in the year for the team.
Kubica took to the track in this year’s Renault car for the first official F1 engagement in six and a half years following a horrific rally crash that resulted in him nearly losing his right hand. The Polish driver impressed many, finishing the day with the fourth fastest time for Renault and completing 142 laps during the day.
His fastest time of the day, a 1:18.572 was set on the ultrasoft tyre in the afternoon session, and was only a tenth of a second faster than the fastest time in Qualifying for current Renault driver Jolyon Palmer. Many people feel Kubica’s effort and performance during the test are a sign that he is looking to make a full time return to Formula 1 for the 2018 season. With suggestions being he could replace struggling Renault Driver Palmer for the 2018 season.
The Toro Rosso drivers of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat joined Vettel and Raikkonen as the only full time F1 drivers to take part in day two of testing fishing fifth and sixth on the timing sheets, with Sainz ahead of Kvyat respectively.
Lucas Auer, George Russell, Nikita Mazepin, and Santino Ferrucci all enjoyed second days of testing with their respective teams. With many of the youngsters setting out to impress not just their team, but other potential teams throughout the paddock. While a more familiar face stepped in a Red Bull for the second day of testing. GP2 champion and current Superformula driver Pierre Gasly was in the Red Bull for the day, but only set the tenth fastest time of the session. The young driver will once again be looking for a seat at Toro Rosso for the 2018 season, hoping the replace the struggling Daniil Kvyat. Gasly looked to be on the way to a full time seat with the junior Red Bull team for the 2017 season, but he spoke out of turn when he suggested at Monza that he would be replacing Kvyat at Toro Rosso as soon as the next race. Head of the Red Bull Young Driver program Dr Helmut Marko came down hard on Gasly as a result of the comment, and as a result many feel he was punished for his outburst by being denied a drive for the current 2017 Formula 1 season.
Overall it is hard to say how many of these young drivers will make it into Formula 1 in the coming seasons. With limited spaces and a competitive field all vying for seats, as well as older drivers staying in the sport longer, the chances are many of these young drivers may not get the opportunity to show off their talent in Formula 1. What is for certain though is that some of these drivers will make it in, and if the two days of testing are anything to go by, some of them may have glittering F1 careers. And maybe even a potential future world championship waiting for them.
Hungary In-season testing, Day One timesheet
1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari: 1:17.746
2) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: 1:17.834
3) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 1:18.732
4) George Russell, Mercedes: 1:19.231
5) Lance Stroll, Williams: 1:19.866
6) Nikita Mazepin, Force India: 1:19.910
7) Nicholas Latifi, Renault: 1:20.302
8) Sean Gelael, Toro Rosso: 1:20.341
9) Lucas Auer, Force India: 1:20.563
10) Santino Ferrucci, Haas: 1:21.185
11) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: 1:21.228
12) Gustav Malja, Sauber: 1:21.503
Hungary In-season testing, Day Two timesheet
1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: 1:17.124
2) Lando Norris, McLaren: 1:17.385
3) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:17.842
4) Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:18.572
5) Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso: 1:18.850
6) Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: 1:19.116
7) Lucas Auer, Force India: 1:19.242
8) George Russell, Mercedes: 1:19.391
9) Nikita Mazepin, Force India: 1:19.692
10) Pierre Gasly, Red Bull: 1:20.337
11) Luca Ghiotto, Williams: 1:20.414
12) Santino Ferrucci, Haas: 1:20.994
13) Nobuharu Matsushita, Sauber: 1:21.998
Feature Image Credit: Renault Sport Formula One Team Press Release.