With the start of the new Formula 1™ season just days away, fans and teams level of expectancy remain high ahead of the first race of the season in the Australian Grand Prix on March 26th.
In a sport which will take in 20 races cross five continents over eight months, teams are now in the final stages of preparation following eight days of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Here, we recap on each teams’ look and what testing in Spain told us to expect from each team.
Are they really title contenders? On the back of testing in Barcelona, that is the inescapable conclusion. Though it is very hard to pre-determine an exact order from testing, Ferrari look like they have everything in order for what they hope will be a fruitful year. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time of the off-season on the final day of testing (1:18.634). While many variables should be considered, including engines modes and fuel loads, the signal of competitive action will tell us if they are for real.
Even with defending world champion Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement, Mercedes remain the team in everyone else’s sights. Though Mercedes best lap of testing was 0.676 seconds slower than Ferrari’s, many experts will point to consistency with new upgrades on the car. In pre-season testing last season, Ferrari were 0.3 seconds slower than Mercedes, but Lewis Hamilton proved that to be a false dawn when going 0.8 seconds quicker in qualifying at the first race.
Take Red Bull’s pre-season form with a pinch of salt, that is usually a given. Throughout testing, Red Bull appeared to be on pace with Ferrari and Mercedes before Daniel Ricciardo went a full second slower than Sebastien Vettel. Questions remain about the reliability of their Renault engine, but the team remain at the head of the pack.
Many foresee the 2017 F1 season becoming a two-tiered, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull fighting it out for the top six placing and the remaining teams scrapping away for back-end points. It appears Williams are at the top of that totem pole. Felipe Massa posted the fifth fastest lap in 1:19.420, and the car showed reliability by covering 800 laps over eight days, the third most of all teams.
Sauber were reliable in Barcelona (788 laps completed), but consistently slow. Despite reassurances from driver Marcus Ericsson claiming “the car has more potential which we haven’t unlocked yet,” the team are running on a year-old Ferrari engine. Realistically speaking, the team are ninth out of ten in team rankings, with a long season on the horizon for Ericsson and his teammate Pascal Wehrlein.
In terms of pace, the team finished testing in Barcelona as strong as they could have hoped for, with Carlos Sainz’s lap of 1:19.837 the fifth fastest on the final day. Prospects, it seems, will rely heavily on the reliability of their upgraded engine in Australia, with team boss Franz Tost citing the STR12 as a “fast, competitive car” with the Renault-powered team’s ability to last the pace a “weak point.”
In week one of testing, Force India appeared to have everything in order. By week two, the team had fallen down the charts. While the subject of engine reliability does not seem to be an issue, and two drivers in Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez even matched – they were separated by less than a tenth on their individual fastest laps, Paddock talk suggest weighting issue suggest the team have a lot still to do.
All signs point to Haas having a consistently midfield running car for the second year in a row. Kevin Magnussen’s best lap time of 1:20.504 was good enough for the 15th fastest lap during off-season testing, with the team completing 715 laps, proving the Ferrari engine they are carrying to be reliable. Low-speed corners and braking are issues which need to be solved before progression can be made.
Perhaps occupying the lower echelons of the perceiving middle pack, both Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer enjoyed some fast lap times during testing (8th and 12th fastest overall respectively). Issues with their power units and energy recovery systems remain concerns ahead of Melbourne. Progress has been made in their second year back, but plenty of ground remains between them and the leading teams.
Simply put, anything that could have went wrong for McLaren in testing went wrong. Posting a meagre best time of 1:21.348 by Kevin Magnussen, the team completed 159 laps lesser than any other. To put that into context, their longest stint of testing was a shambolic 11 laps, which equates to roughly one-sixth of the Australian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso placed the blame on Honda’s power unit, with the team coming to a halt on four separate occasions over the final two days of testing. McLaren are in the midst of a crisis, and 2017 looks certain to be an uphill battle.
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