Analysis: Red Bull the great unknown as F1 teams head for decisive final test
Red Bull F1
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Mar 2017   |  6:50 am GMT  |  159 comments

Today sees the start of the second and final test in Barcelona before the start of the new season of F1.

And after a first week in which a picture began to emerge of which teams are looking competitive and which are not, this test should provide some clearer indications as the teams bring more advanced aerodynamics and other developments to their cars and push them harder for performance.

While it was clear enough that Mercedes remains the team to beat and that Ferrari has done a remarkable job to find speed in its car from last year to this with the regulation change, the great unknown in terms of potential race winners and title contenders is Red Bull.

Max Verstappen

That team will be under the closest scrutiny this week in Barcelona, as technical observers scrutinise the new bodywork for signs that Adrian Newey and his team have come up with something special to launch them into the title hunt.

Because last week they didn’t look that exciting. There were some real positives, like the clear sign that the Renault engine has made some progress, with straight line speeds improved in relative terms. But the lap times did not catch the eye and Ferrari looked the main challenger, with a car that it clearly fast and gentle on its tyres.

So this has led to speculation that Red Bull was simply clocking up mileage last week to prove the reliabiity and holding back its true aerodynamic package until this week, when it will find another second a lap.

Mercedes F1

Of course they will not be the only team with significant updates this week. The rate of development at this stage under a new set of regulations is very high and will continue to be so for most of the season, especially if we have a title fight between two or more teams, as everyone hopes. With the resources available to the top teams and the sophistication of the simulation tools the teams have these days, this season could see the highest rate of development.

It’s unlikely we will see a completely clear picture of outright qualifying pace this week and we know that Mercedes always has an extreme engine mode available for the decisive qualifying laps, something Ferrari has not been able to come up with in the hybrid turbo era. We will only see the true picture emerge in qualifying in Melbourne, China and Bahrain.

However, as a snapshot of where things ended up last week in the testing, looking at the comparable long run pace of the cars, this plot (click to enlarge) gives an idea. The lap time in seconds is on the vertical axis and the lap number on the horizontal. Basically, the lower down on the plot the lap times are, the faster the car. The difference between running at 80kg and 105kg is over a second, (which would lower the grouping down by a block.)

Hamilton’s pace advantage over Bottas is clear as is the consistency of the Ferrari runs.

There were not many race simulations last week. The decision to run Day 4 as a wet test caught a few teams out in that sense, not leaving sufficient time from initial runs on Day 1 and the unfolding programmes, to get around to a race simulation by Day 3. Both Mercedes drivers did one, with signs that they were working the tyres harder than Ferrari. Ericsson did a race simulation in the Sauber. Haas almost completed one.

Ferrari tended to do what looked like lots of medium-high fuel running in the afternoon but only one or two runs at really high fuel right at the end of each day – when they wouldn’t have had time to complete a race length anyway – so there is a question mark about whether they were running at the maximum fuel load 105kg or more like a baseline 80kg. (The same is also true of Red Bull)

If it was the full 105kg, then Ferrari are right there with Mercedes. We will find out for sure this week when they complete a genuine race distance run. But even if it was the lower figure, Ferrari is clearly looking pretty good.

Ferrari F1

Another key watch point this week will be the performance of Valtteri Bottas to his new team mate Lewis Hamilton. Last week in the longer runs Hamilton was clearly faster, while Bottas picked up his short run pace through the week so he will be looking to have a really strong couple of days in the car to boost his confidence ahead of the transfer to Melbourne.

Ferrari was second fastest and then there was a slightly bigger gap last week to Red Bull. These are the three teams that carried out all the Pirelli development test work last season on the 2017 tyres, so they also have that advantage over the others, even if the data from the tests was shared with all teams.

Sebastian Vettel

In midfield it looked quite close between Haas, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso, with Renault in the mix as well. Williams had a difficult week with Lance Stroll’s accidents costing track time, while Toro Rosso also didn’t get much representative running and most of that was on the medium tyre, which is a lot slower than the soft.

Renault improved steadily as the week went on and will look to consolidate that this week.

Then at the back is McLaren and Sauber. All eyes will be on the McLaren garage and Fernando Alonso for signs of his intentions given the dire state of affairs with the Honda engine. Not only is it not at the level that had been predicted, it doesn’t appear yet to be at the level of the end of last season, while the other manufacturers have gained around 25-35hp over the winter.

McLaren F1

Meanwhile after making a positive impression as a substitute last week Antonio Giovinazzi now drops back to the bench at Sauber as Pascal Wehrlein gets his first test for his new team. He missed last week as a legacy of an accident in the Race of Champions.

As for the look of these new cars, F1’s new MD of motorsports Ross Brawn gave the clearest hint yet, in an interview on, that he will be making moves to ban the ugly shark fins. He said they are “the unintended conseqences of new regulations. So over time we need to iron out the unintended consequences and get the things looking more pure.

What are you most curious to find out about at this week’s F1 test? Leave your comment below

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All I can say is I’m looking forward to Australia, let’s race.


The Austrian Red Bull team look solid, but not spectacular.


what a disaster for McLaren, Alonso and F1 if things are going to be as bad as last year. There is something seriously wrong with the sport when things are so complicated that big budget teams like this can’t compete. This is auto-racing, not rocket science although they have turned it into rocket science with these insanely complicated engines. I have always said the hybrid may be good public policy but it doesn’t do anything for the spectacle of F1.


Mercedes really made an uninspiring choice for Rosberg’s replacement…the difference between Hamilton and Rosberg used to be less than a tenth I doubt bottas will be within that margin. Also Its kind of a tough situation for him, he really doesn’t have much time to dial in and beat hamilton who will be outright favorite this season. Pretty thankless situation. I wish Merc had signed up Alonso then we all would be gearing up for a blockbuster season now we have a possibility of hamilton getting 15 win a season, its pretty bad for the sport.


Agree, just how cool would the upcoming F1 season be if it was Lewis v Fernando head to head. It wouldn’t matter whether the Merc was yet again farcically dominant.

Merc could have given us a legendary season instead of a sandbagging single driver whitewash worse than the past dire three years.

To assume it would go the same way as 2007 is to assume wrong. For a start there is no Ron or mistakes that would mean the entire corporation would be against one of the drivers in the 2nd half of the season, both drivers now have equal respect for each other, and most importantly both have matured and learned a lot in the 10 years since 07.



Off topic, James, can you please verify this information found on another F-1 website yesterday morning? Given that they finished eighth in the Constructor’s ranking, it really puts a bad rap on the “distribution” of F-1 team funding. Here, in part, is what was written:

“The Haas team is set for its second year in Formula One, having joined the grid in 2016. Haas had to put down a $20 million bond to enter the sport and his team received no FOM money for its first season. . .”

To cut a team out which spent the money, met the requirements and performed above their weight while scoring the points – it is unjustifiable. This is disturbing ‘new’ information and certainly adds to the heap of what other teams have been publicly concerned about.


As harsh as it seems, no entrant earns anything from the first year. These are the few contractual bits that we do know.

I am sure Haas were well aware of this prior to entry.

I agree with you however, it’s unpleasant but has been the case for a long time.


Thanks, ‘D,’ appreciate the confirmation – it goes without saying that Haas would have known. Perhaps RB will eventually help address the issue.


How much input did James Allison have to the Ferrari design?


At the outset of the concept design yes and development up to July.


My money is on Button driving the Tango van by Bahrain 🙂


I think you’re on to something…and Tango Van makes it sound like a food truck!


I love the article; thank you!
At the time of my reading/writing, the morning of the first day, second test is completed.
I have only the minimum reservation that RB will be there, and/or have a very durable path to getting to competitiveness by the Spanish GP.
All indications suggest that Renault HAS made that step, but are wisely being brutally disciplined in bring the engine in, strictly according to there in-season introduction testing; that engine will be turned down for the first phase of the season, then presumably turned up, at its first increment, at Spain (probably).
In the meantime, it forces RB to be completely on it for their aero, so they can keep it close across the first fly-aways.
With Ferrari pounding out the miles, using a conceptual design that would be difficult to get to in-season, very, very nicely on the tires.
Will Ferrari be able to get on the tires quickly enough in qualifying to challenge over a single lap?
That is the question, for it looks as if track position will be even more important than last year!
But Merc just keeps bringing the very significant aero revisions!

I look at the leading edge of the floor, and a see a second wing.
Development pace was expected to be intense, but this area is like a much more stable second wing element, behind the front wing, a mid-wing, with all of the advantages of structural stability that is impossible for the front wing.
How far along in Merc in this development?!

I have to say that I was really hoping to se McLaren get in on the action this year; but at this stage, it seems so unlikely that they will amount to anything this year; aweful! (to indicate “awefully sad).

Racing driver 1

Mclarens a flipping joke. If I was one of their drivers I would be looking for the door, even to to go to Sauber. Sauber’s prospects look better on a much smaller budget.
I suppose it’s not really Mclarens fault, it’s that engine provider they have who are stuck in a loop. Pull your thumb out Honda. When the turbo hybrid era started, Renault and Honda where in a similar boat. And for some reason Renault have been able to improve somewhat, whereas Honda can’t. Honda need to take some action to get this sorted.


I urge FiG to find a way to release the in car cameras bcs the midfield batle will be fantastic among Haas, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso.
Unfortunatelly there are limitations to TV cameras captions.
NASCAR already releases complete YouTube broadcasts one week later the race.
What’s the problem to release in-car cameras [front/rear] for every car?
Sometimes the best driver of the day is not the one cruising for victory in a dominant car.


Apologies, I take it back:
as you suggested they are doing, NASCAR have managed to put the Atlanta races up on YouTube on the weekend following, an improvement of two-or-three days on the last two seasons, but it’s still too late to wait for.

Excuse the double-negative, but, I can’t not read Jenna Fryer all week consecutively for 9 months every year just to avoid catching race results in advance of seeing the race replay!


More like a week-and-a-half with Nascar, [way too long when it’s easy to find any number of “unauthorized” editions within a day-or-few] which is rather poor considering when they began putting up races whole, in the second half of 2014, it was typically on the Tuesday after the race!

…which has nearly-nothing to do with putting up race-long car-cam editions meantime, so, yeah, if it doesn’t somehow conflict with prior broadcast contracts, don’t see why FOM, the teams, or whoever couldn’t put up commentaryless car-cam editions of F1 races within hours, as soon as they dared if they were so inclined… but for how many drivers’ car-cams might there truly be such a demand worth meeting anyway?


@ james…where are we on the subject of ‘ tricky suspensions’ since the end of testing last week and now? I have also read that Red Bull have requested further clarification on ‘oil in fuels’ pre melbourne. Obviously something has happened for them to do that? Is it just running interference or is there a basic claim that needs to be followed up? Would appreciate a few notes….


Kenny, it’s harder to notice the blue smoke when the car is silver, allegedly…


@ LKFE…very true, However if they, mercedes, are doing this then it was very very clever and they got away with it last season. I do recall at times though seeing rosbergs car alway puff a little blue smoke when getting underway! That was put down to idling seepage…as if? Hahahaha


The other great unknown is when will Mclaren Honda go a full day of testing without an engine change?

Given they are doing another engine change this morning, my abacus calculations suggest they will go through 5465 engines this season.

*Sarcasm hat off* it’s still a discgrace for this team who no longer has any exucses left in their excuses hat.


The excuse hat is white, on the side, written in red, it says HONDA

FA today said there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the car and everything wrong with the PU from Honda


Stoffel is going for Fernando’s grid penalties record this year 😉

It is an utter disgrace. Looking at the intricate aero design on the McLaren with the air slots and front wing, it makes you wonder if there is any point or where the chassis team’s motivation goes when their Honda engine is slower at the end of the Kemmel straight than the Merc is through Eau Rouge, that is when it isn’t detonating itself 😉


That would be a no by the looks of this morning’s testing..


Here’s hoping for 1m 17 this test. Let the beasts off the leash


The Renault whining has started – again. Toro Rosso want Mercedes engine development to be stopped, so their rubbish engineers can catch up. How many times have they got away with this in the past? Both Mercedes and Renault are major car manufacturers, so why does Renault need to catch up because they can’t be bothered to put in the effort required to make a good racing engine. Instead they prefer to hang back until they can copy the work of other engine makers.


Oh come on, Renault ain’t that bad. Imagine how Honda feels.


The shark fins really don’t offend me that much – how obtrusive they look depends on how good the livery design is. Overall I like the look of the cars this year. Much rather they look like this, than the awful step-nose designs we had a few years back.


I just hope Maclaren Honda have another terrible week even worse than week 1.

That is all i wish


Fernando will walk if that happens – and rightly so


Come on, Ron, you can’t fool us. Welcome to the forum!


Nice one Scott!
But there would be more mods if it were Ron…


Hopefully this year Ferrari have a genuine speed to win few races. The run of DR on day 3 seems very good. I expect a closer battle this year between Mercedes and RBR and the question is will Ferrari be there as well?


If Ferrari are there, then surely Vettel will sign a contract extension. Then the question will be who joins him … I think this is Kimi’s last year, but I’ve thought that before, so who really knows?

If McLaren is as bad as they look now, then will Alonso see out the season? He has 40m reasons to, but then again he already has enough millions in the bank.


Here’s the thing… If Ferrari are there this year, who get’s the credit? Because I would imagine a certain James Allison had a part to play in this. James (Allen) pointed out in the comments last week that he probably had a significant role to play in the development of this car.

I think it truly depends on the development going forward. Do Ferrari actually have the talent in-house to continue any success they might find? Or is this car going to be a one-hit wonder that owes its success to a yet another ex-Ferrari genius.

Personally, I hope the performance is real, I hope the development is successful, I hope Seb wins a title, and I hope he stays on an repeats in in 2018. I will say that I am impressed with the test program they have been running this year. Seems almost Mercedes-esque. Maybe they finally have a house in harmony over in Maranello.

TL;DR: I think there is way more to the “will Seb stay at Ferrari” question than just “does it win this year”. But we knew that.


You know the easiest way to make $100k?

Bet $1 million on Lewis for WDC.


But what if Hamilton crashes and gets injured? Then Mr. Wehrlein gets a chance with Mercedes and with great succes he wins he title. You’d get your money back x750. So betting 1000€ for Wehrlein could make you 750k!


Hi James,

I get notifications of replies but it takes a while for me to be able to view the comment. Is there a way I can respond faster?


Not that I’m aware of. We keep across Mod as much and as often as we can.


Could you guys modify your app such that notifications are sent only when you approve the replies? I’d be happy to help!


Hello! James has been Moded. Should that be in brackets….


Thanks James.

When I get an email notification about a reply, I’m not able to view it till hours later. Hence sometimes I don’t respond.


james, any chance that the comment window can be enlarged say to twice the size as a minimum?


If you want to leave a big reply like that you could write what you want in notepad (or something similar) and then copy-paste into the comment box.

Doable? Yes.
Practical? Let me know 🙂


You can also use a browser that gives you resizable textboxes or even apply custom css with tampermonkey.


What’s the easiest way to make the Million?


With the current bookies odds you would make an $800k profit from a $1m stake on Lewis. However, not sure how many bookies accept $1m in single bets!!


Huh? It’s not that bad yet. He’s 4/5 currently, so you’d make $800k.


Yeah I didn’t really check the odds tbh. I just wanted to point out Lewis WILL win the WDC this year, so easy money for some billionaires who has pocket change.


“so easy money for some billionaires who has pocket change”

For a billionaire to bet 100k and win a million is like you or me having a grand, betting ten cents, and winning a dollar – If we already had a grand would we care about winning a dollar?

Of course if there are any billionaires reading this who feel that I’m wrong, feel free to let me know 🙂


Mclaren Honda…….I’m a true believer that they can turn it around,however it’s difficult not to read too much into Eric Boulliers comments and the termination of Giles Simons contract.
I’ll always support Mclaren but it’s hard to find anything to cheer right now.


When you say that the Honda is not at the level it was at last year, this means that they have the new unit turned down for reliability, not that it produces less BHP when “all is well”


Certainly looking on the brighter side there, fluffy..

They’ve had another dire start to the 2nd test.


It’s an all new layout. So it’s feasible they actually are down on HP from last year…


Are you ready to ruuuuummble!!


I really dislike the T-wing.


Yeah, I hate them. All of them look horrible.


Mercedes has the worst looking one! They duped all of us with the beautiful car they showed us on release day.


“So over time we need to iron out the unintended consequences and get the things looking more pure.”

Best news of the day.


Will the cars still look ‘pure’ next season when the cockpit head protection is introduced, I don’t think so.


I try not to judge, but I don’t think that wearing a thong will make them look anything close to “pure”, even if it is for protection 😉


maybe newey will adopt ferrari’s 1970’s tactic of being quick on the straights and them hold ’em up in the corners. the red bull looks a bit underdone in the aero.
it certainly lacks a lot of aero parphenalia – which i quite like.

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