The sound of V6 engines are once again in the air, signalling the end of winter break for many fans, as F1 teams take part in the first of the pre-season tests at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The first day of the test saw Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo set the pace on what was a difficult day for many teams thanks to the unseasonably cold weather. Ricciardo was the only driver to manage a century of laps on the first day on his way to the top of the time sheet. He edged out Mercedes competitor Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen with a lap of 1:20.179 just before the lunch break. Both Ricciardo’s and Bottas’ fastest times wer set on the medium compound tyre, while Raikkonen recorded his best time on the soft tyre.
There’s proof already that the 2018 cars are potentially even faster than their 2017 counterparts by a suggested two seconds. Though as always it’s hard to tell what exactly is happening during pre season testing as we do not fully know what exactly teams are doing to their cars to potentially hide speed, also known as sandbagging.
Ricciardo’s fastest time on the medium tyre however was 1.6 seconds faster than the best time set on the opening of testing in 2017, which was set by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton on the soft tyre. The time is also 1.5 seconds faster than the best time registered on the mediums over the eight days of pre-season testing twelve months ago.
“It’s nice to see yourself at the top of the timesheets but in two-degree temperatures you really can’t learn anything,” said Ricciardo. “It was still a good day and we got over 100 laps done and, I think, one run of 35 laps. So reliability was solid and hats off to everyone for that.”
The Renault of Nico Hulkenberg was fourth in the timesheets after setting his time in the morning when conditions were at their best. The result will definitely be seen as a positive result by Renault though who were quick to talk about the importance of performance in regards to their championship plans when announcing the RS18 earlier this month.
Following Hulkenberg’s morning session his team mate Carlos Sainz was placed in the car for the afternoon session, clocking up 26 laps and the fifth fastest time of the day. Importantly for Renault, their two drivers finished close to Alonso in the timesheets, which could be an early indicator the team are on for a close fight between themselves and the teams they supply to in 2018.
One of their customer teams, McLaren did not fair as well as them during the first day of testing. Fernando Alonso holds the coveted award of causing the first red flag of the season within minutes of leaving the garage. The orange McLaren span out into the gravel trap, with the crash attributed to a broken wheel nut. The good news for Alonso was that he completed some decent mileage on his return to the track following a three-hour delay to fix the car. However his fastest time of the day that would have put him fifth in the timesheet, was later disqualified for cutting the chicane
Had Alonso’s time stood, it would have been a quicker lap than the Woking based team managed during the entirety of winter testing a year ago when their partnership with Honda began to unravel.
Alonso’s early spin into the gravel immediately seemed to spark memories of the horror of 2017 winter testing for McLaren, though the team were glad there were no further for them as they bedded in their new Renault power unit.
“Everything’s going very well,” said team chief Zak Brown. “We’re enjoying working with them and they’re enjoying working with us. So far everything is very good.”
Alonso added: “There is huge potential in the McLaren-Renault team.”
Meanwhile, their previous engine supplier Honda, enjoyed a positive first day of their own with new partners Toro Rosso as Brendon Hartley completed 93 trouble-free laps.
“The driveability of the engine is one of the best I’ve driven in a Formula 1 car, so it was really positive in all aspects,” said Hartley.
Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton replaced team mate Bottas in the Mercedes for the afternoon session, but he was only able to complete 25 laps, as plummeting temperatures and persistent rain restricted the opportunity for the meaningful running.
“It’s hard for me to say a whole lot about the car because I did not drive it for a long time, but the initial feeling is good,” said Hamilton.
He was not the only driver to comment on the conditions making thigs difficult for teams, as the cold and wet conditions offered little scope for meaningful evaluation.
“My first impressions with the new car were OK, but it’s still too early to make any judgement, especially given today’s conditions,” said Raikkonen. “These tyres aren’t designed to work at 8 degrees and it was difficult for everyone.”
Day two of F1 testing saw the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel outpace the Mercedes to take the honours of the fastest lap of the day, as winter testing lived up to it’s name literally when running in the afternoon was curtailed by snow.
The second day of testing was the first official outing for Vettel in the SF71-H that he hopes will take him to a second world championship. After a quiet start to the session, the Ferrari driver took advantage of the best of the track conditions and set some fast laps. Using the soft tyre, Vettel became the first driver to lap below 1:20 and then on his next flying lap clocked a 1:19.673, half a second faster than Ricciardo’s Day One pace.
“We did nearly 100 laps, considering it was snowing also it was ok,” he told reporters after the session ended. “But it’s very difficult to get tyres to work. Everyone is struggling. It’s only three or four degrees and asphalt is 10. You look at the others, you compare a bit, but we should not get into detail too much because it’s pointless. The next two days aren’t going to be much better, next week we should know more.”
Mercedes did respond to the gauntlet laid down by Ferrari by sending Bottas out, albeit on the slower medium compound tyre. Despite this he was also able to join Vettel in breaking into the 1:19s. Th Finn had only been due to run the W09 for the morning session before handing it over to Hamilton in the afternoon. But Mercedes then opted to keep Bottas in the car all day so they didn’t lose time making a driver change while weather conditions were at their best.
Hamilton, who only completed 25 laps in drizzly conditions on Monday, is expected to be back in the car on Wednesday.
“We would have lost about an hour of running time with the driver switch,” said Hamilton. “With no real understanding of whether good weather was coming or not, I took the decision to sacrifice that time in order for the team to gain better understanding of the car.”
McLaren finished the day a promising third with Stoffel Vandoorne, despite their session being cut short in the afternoon due to a “small exhaust clip break.” However the team was flattered by the fact they set the time on the softest compound of tyre available, the brand new for 2018 hypersoft tyre. That meant Vandoorne, who was 0.6s behind Vettel, used a compound three steps softer than the Ferrari team to get that lap time.
Red Bull slipped to fourth in the standings after topping the session on day one as they ran into their first reliability problems with their car. The RB14 was out of action for the opening three hours of the session thanks to a fuel leak. Luckily the team could get it fixed and Max Verstappen had a trouble-free afternoon, meaning the team were able to complete a lot of their testing program for the day. Verstappen finished within a thousandth of a second of the similarly Renault powered McLaren on harder tyres.
“Warming-up the tyres was difficult, because it was very cold. But the first impression of the RB14 is good,” Verstappen said.
All eyes were on Williams though when their new reserve driver Robert Kubica headed out on track. This was the Poles first appearance at a pre-season test since 2011, while during his 39-lap afternoon run, he clocked a faster time than the man who beat him to a race seat at the team Sergey Sirotkin. It worth noting fuel and car settings are unknown during pre-season testing, which could have contributed to the deficit from Sirotkin.
“Difficult conditions and difficult afternoon but we’ve done most of what we could,” Kubica said. “It’s good to be in the car and good to have feeling and it gives me a better idea and our engineering team what to address. Some very positive things in this car but also things we have to get on top of, which is normal. It’s quite a difficult approach to last year.”
Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc got a taste of what it is like to make your way back to the pits from trackside, after the F2 champion span into the gravel at Turn Four. But the youngster recovered later on to complete 81 laps and set the team’s best time of the test so far.
Barcelona Test One, Day One Timesheet
1) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: 1:20.179, Medium tyre: 105 laps
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 1:20.349, Medium tyre: 58 laps
3) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:20.506, Soft tyre: 80 laps
4) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: 1:20.547, Medium tyre: 73 laps
5) Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso: 1:22.168, Soft tyre: 26 laps
6) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: 1.22.327, Medium tyre: 25 laps
7) Fernando Alonso, McLaren: 1:22.354, Supersoft tyre: 51 laps
8) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: 1:22.371, Soft tyre: 93 laps
9) Lance Stroll, Williams: 1:22.452, Soft tyre: 46 laps
10) Romain Grosjean, Haas: 1:22.578, Soft tyre: 55 laps
11) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: 1:23.408, Soft tyre: 63 laps
12) Nikita Mazepin, Force India: 1:25.628, Medium tyre: 22 laps
13) Sergey Sirotkin, Williams: 1:44.148, Soft tyre: 28 laps
Barcelona Test One, Day Two Timesheet
1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: 1:19.673, Soft tyre: 98 laps
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 1:19.976, Medium tyre: 94 laps
3) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: 1:20.325 Hypersoft tyre: 37 laps
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull: 1:20.326, Medium Tyre: 67 laps
5) Carlos Sainz, Renault:1:21.212, Soft tyre: 65 laps
6) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso: 1:21.318, Soft tyre: 82 laps
7) Robert Kubica, Williams: 1:21.495, Soft tyre: 48 laps
8) Sergey Sirotkin, Williams: 1:21.822, Soft tyre: 52 laps
9) Esteban Ocon, Force India: 1:21.841, Soft tyre: 79 laps
10) Charles Leclerc, Sauber: 1:22.721, Soft tyre: 81 laps
11) Kevin Magnussen, Haas: 1:22.727, Soft tyre: 36 laps
The most laps completed per team after Day Two
Ferrari: 178 laps
Mercedes: 177 laps
Toro Rosso: 175 laps
Williams: 174 laps
Red Bull: 172 laps
Renault: 164 laps
Sauber: 144 laps
Force India: 101 laps
Haas: 91 laps
McLaren: 88 laps