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Analysis: Thoughts from trackside at the Barcelona F1 test
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Mar 2018   |  6:39 pm GMT  |  164 comments

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton set to win the world title at a canter? McLaren in the deep stuff just like last year?

These are some of the views emanating from the pre-season testing at Barcelona which is why there is no substitute for going to the track yourself, taking a look and having a few quiet chats.

And then Daniel Ricciardo does the fastest ever lap of this configuration of the Catalunya track..

It was a lovely day today here; sunny, the temperature was up around 16 degrees and with this very black asphalt that has been laid on the surface, that meant that the track temperatures were up around 24 degrees. So the teams could do some meaningful running on the various compounds.

The picture seems to be that the tyres are a step softer while retaining the same construction and the cars are around 1.5 seconds faster, although some teams will quote 3/10ths less for the effect of the new halo head protection device.

One thing you notice immediately from trackside is that you can’t tell which driver is in the car. Unless they have completely different helmet colours, you have to go by the number on the nose or the (reduced) tail fin. For the lay spectator this could be a bit of an issue and I suspect the teams have some work to do to differentiate the drivers.

I was always concerned that the halo would separate the fans from the drivers and that certainly seems to be the case.

Another thing that strikes me about the halo is that it will be challenging at the starts when everyone is moving about to have a clear view of what’s around.

Anyway, the halo is what it is so let’s consider the competitive picture as we reach the final days of F1 testing.

Who’s hot and who’s not?
does look like it has a margin over the Red Bull and Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo did a 1m 18.0 lap today on the hypersoft tyre, which is over a second inside last year’s pole position time. This was the second attack lap, having done a 1m18.5 lap and a cool down. It wasn’t a qualifying run; the Australian set the time on the third lap of a 12 lap run.

But the overall picture from the long runs, the various sessions run so far is that Mercedes is quickest. Ferrari has some work to do, but it does have a power advantage over Red Bull and the feeling is that once they get into competition for real the Ferrari and Red Bull will be very close.

Both these cars look great out on circuit; very drivable and with responsive turn-in to corners. The Red Bull also has a different look about the sidepods as they sweep backwards to the rear of the car and it seems that they have really gone for it this time, with Adrian Newey engaged and pushing hard (he was here today). Red Bull are investing to win back the world title.

Ferrari will have to be flawless to win this year; they need the right development, the right decision making in the cockpit and on the pit wall. But it is a long season and as we saw last year it can take many twists and turns. Vettel had to step in this morning because Raikkonen wasn’t feeling well. But the Finn went out in the afternoon and did 49 laps in various runs and a lot of practice starts.

Interestingly Bottas was 4/10ths faster than Ricciardo in sector 1, which comprises the first three turns here at Barcelona, but Ricciardo was fastest in the second and third sectors. There is a theoretical 1m 17.6s lap with the fastest three sectors put together.

Depending on who you listen to, the gap between the top three teams and the rest has either grown or stayed the same. The top teams say the latter, the chasing pack stress that it is the former. The stability of rules should have closed the field up, but maybe money talks here.

Renaulthas continued its progress curve from last season. They ended 2017 as the fourth fastest car and they are certainly that now. McLaren is a bit hard to tell as there is a lot of amazing detail in the aerodynamics and the team insist that the car is fast, equal to the Renault. But you don’t see it because it keeps breaking down. Alonso covered just 57 laps today due to various issues including oil leaks.

Essentially McLaren has done what it did with the size zero Honda car, which is to be very aggressive on the packaging and they’ve yet to stabilise and cool the car sufficiently.

Their main competitor, Renault, in contrast did 190 laps.

Of the rest, Williams stayed under the radar, Force India doesn’t have it’s full new car here and isn’t going to start the season where it finished 2018, but will follow its usual development path. The Sauber, as expected, hasn’t yet fully benefitted from the investment and technical support from Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, but with fresh technicians arriving and a big development programme, they should improve as the season goes on.

Toro Rosso again did plenty of laps and the Honda powered car was the third fastest through the speed trap at the end of the pit straight. Toro Rosso cars tended to be quite draggy in the past, so they have obviously made this one quite slippery, knowing that they would have the Honda. That said the feeling is that it’s not far behind the Renault engine now and there is a development unit running this week here. It still lacks drivability, but it’s reliable and developing.

Again the three Renault engined cars are in the bottom four through the speed trap.

1. Ricciardo (Red Bull) – 1m18.047s (hypersoft) – 165 laps
2. Hamilton (Mercedes) – 1m18.400s (ultrasoft) – 90 laps
3. Bottas (Mercedes) – 1m18.560s (ultrasoft) – 85 laps
4. Vettel (Ferrari) – 1m19.541s (soft) – 66 laps
5. Hartley (Toro Rosso) – 1m19.823s (hypersoft) – 119 laps
6. Alonso (McLaren) – 1m19.856s (hypersoft) – 57 laps
7. Sainz (Renault) – 1m20.042s (medium) – 88 laps
8. Grosjean (Haas) – 1m20.237s (soft) – 78 laps
9. Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 1m20.242s (soft) – 49 laps
10. Stroll (Williams) – 1m20.349s (soft) – 63 laps
11. Hulkenberg (Renault) – 1m20.758s (supersoft) – 102 laps
12. Ocon (Force India) – 1m20.805s (soft) – 130 laps
13. Leclerc (Sauber) – 1m20.918s (supersoft) – 160 laps
14. Sirotkin (Williams) – 1m22.350s (soft) – 80 laps

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Week 2 Day 4. McLaren: Boulier in front of the McLaren Motorhome for Sky interview. Notice the duct tape holding the McLaren motorhome glass in place.. Its going to be a long season for McLaren and a short one for Boulier..


After studying the times of the various race simulations, and using a bit of logic, it would seem we will be back into fuel saving races for the upcoming season.

Times are roughly 2 seconds faster than last year, obtained through more down force and stickier tires and more aerodynamic drag. And thanks to the halo, the cars are also heavier. To overcome this, the “power units”, specifically the ICE must produce more power, and this comes at a cost of using extra fuel.

With the 105kg fuel limit, we are going to see lots of lift and coast racing. BOO!


So, the engineers & drivers won’t find new ways to circumvent the added ‘disadvantages’? Oh no! What shall we do? (Wringing hands).


Wow, the Halo really interferes a lot with the view from onboard camera footage. 🙁


Onboards are ruined, which is a shame because I really love onboards.

Trackside is ruined because the cars look hideous and you can’t see the driver.

The sound is underwhelming because of some weird compulsion to have Prius tech in F1.

No real meaningful racing due to massive performance disparity of Prius tech.

Costs of running cars is massive due to Prius tech.

No free to air coverage, so you have to pay but have no incentive to pay due the aforementioned issues.


Whine moan bitch complain etc. Looks fine to me…Some of you people are clearly not fans of F1.


So basically Marvin, we’re all doomed?


They should have whacky inflatable flailing arm tube persons tide to the halo, with a characature of each driver on the face. Would be super easy to tell them apart


They should paint the helos different colors for each driver. Or have the helo be painted an extension of the helmet design. Would make it far easier to differentiate drivers.


Nothing can make the so called “halo” look good. It’s either a jet fighter-like canopy or it’s nothing.

They wanted to introduce a canopy but Vettel did 2 Laps with it, said was dizzy and that was that. End of test, end of story. Thong it is.


We haven’t seen anything yet.

Merc is obviously sandbagging, big time!

We haven’t seen anything of this awesome machine yet.

Of course, they have to play the long game to keep as many F1 fans from leaving, as possible, to safeguard, as much as possible, the ROI on their F1 investment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see some real competition, and somebody else win the championship.


Merc hums along, not necessarily winning every race preceding Barcelona, but definitely keeping the lead challenger in range; when they feel like it, they’ll make very definitive statements by winning and annihilating the field. Maybe they’ll foster the perception that they are staggeringly good at some tracks, but not so good at others, where RB and Ferr can divvy up the spoils.

Don’t be fooled!

This could be the best Merc yet!

Mark my words,

Monza 2018, Merc will flatten the field and win by a lap over the next car!

They have yet to run that car in anger, and may not run it thus until the start of the European season.

Unfortunately, (for competition) they’ve done another fantastic job, incorporating James Allison’s particular superlative expertise into the car, on top of all the other fantastic design features it has.

Love him or despise him, Lewis is one of the best drivers of all time, and he is at the peak of his career.

Make no mistake, we could be watching the best race car driver of all time!

(so, at least we have that to see.)


I don’t think Mercedes are sandbagging, but I do think they’re struggling to get the hypersoft tyre switched on. It sounds like the new compounds are a bit tricksy, particularly the soft.


So Deano, when Merc wins Monza by a lap with Lewis in front and Valteri 10 seconds behind, surely the fact that Valteri got within 10 seconds of the greatest driver of all time makes him the second greatest driver of all time?

….it’s the car Loise!

Even James Alison says so!


Of course not (Bottas second best driver?), and you know it.

My contentions are two:

1. The Merc may have even a greater comparative advantage over the next best machinery, than we’ve seen already in this hybrid era

2. Lewis is demonstrably one of the best drivers of all time.

The combination will be tough to beat in 2018

btw: Bottas is a solid driver, and would likely, as you have indicated, without another driver competing in an other Merc, win the driver championship in the Merc.


Not in those instances LKFE, but when he qualifies over a second ahead of everyone in the rain at Monza; or keeps back Vettel during the restart in Spa, even when Seb has quicker tires on; when he makes zero mistakes in the rain in Brazil, the only driver to do so; when he battles with Rosberg on better tires in Bahrain, yet emerges victorious, that’s when you know his place in F1’s pantheon of greats.


Thank you.

I don’t like to beat the drum about it, but the evidence is irrefutable, Lewis IS in the top five of drivers of all time.

The only question is, where on that list does he fit in?

Ricciardo Aficionado

Care to list the five? (in no particular order)


This could be the best Merc yet!

Haha! If Toto Wolff ever had an alter Ego dying to get out and stop being politically correct and humble.. perhaps it would manifest in the form of Deancassady! 😀

Maybe Bottas will shape up, or he wont, but for sure Max and Ricci are going to harry Seb and that should be awesome to watch. I look forward to 2018!



Full disclosure: I am NOT a fan of the Merc operation; their success is destroying the spectacle.

Still, it is the kind of devious manipulations that would be in total alignment with their method; so I can’t fault you there for your suspicions.

But I can say, as possible (for it is NOT to easy with the current forum set up) to review my scathing, (I mean as scathing as you can get on here) criticisms of Tonto and the gang.

I don;t want Lewis-Merc to win again!

But look at what they’ve got?!

Have you seen the side-by-side comparison between the 2017 and the new 2018 car; it astounding how much they skinnied it out (from already quite skinny).

As I mentioned, forlornly, before, with Ross at the strategic helm, they built up their operation and technical direction for the hybrid era, starting years before. They were way, way ahead of everybody else with the engine development, so by the time the F1 circus got to discussing the direction, they were already way ahead, and nudged the discussions in the directions that were optimal for them.

Thus, they were clearly ahead with the first season of the hybrid power, and could afford more latitude for innovation, capitalized on it, and thus INCREASED their advantage over the field.

And they are still increasing their advantage over the field.

The trend over the past three years is very, very strong; Merc has a bag-load of upgrades ready to go, any time the next closest ‘chump’ makes their boardroom directors a little nervous.

their biggest challenge is managing the perception of competition and their board members neurotic risk-aversion to eek out some ROI an their massive F1 project investment.

No sir, I am NOT a fan of the corporatization of F1; it has made it boring.

So I am just ‘calling them, as I see them’, and right now, the Merc looks very, very confident, especially in Lewis’ hands.

The only longshot hope is that Renault have … used ‘creative methods’ to drastically improve their PU, and they have been testing with it tuned down to 75%.

But even then, I think it would be likely Merc could still win!

But at least we see a little sweat.



Are you sure you like F1 and are a fan? Your comment/rant was one long complaint after another. If you don’t like the way the sport is, why watch it. There have always been serial winners (most teams have their turn winning, with the right budget and rules) and the biggest budgets have almost always won. Even with the halo I and many of will still watch these incredible machines, with their super fit drivers in wheel to wheel combat. Melbourne, over to you.


James! Great article for content. Good feedback and all .. but what happened! It’s like mixed up … talking about Bottas and Rici under the Ferrari title .. talking about RBR and Ferrari under the Merc title … ? I’m confused man 😉 Someone shuffled the papers before printing to the site ? Sorry don’t take it too hard or personal .. don’t want to criticize, just thought it was off character for you… no?


I’m confused


I fully expect Verstappen to test Vettel’s new unofficial record before close of business today, Someone will run a sub seventeen surely? If Verstappen doesn’t doesn’t then it will be a Mercedes run tomorrow that will clinch the testing crown.


Somebody dipped into the 16’s, was Spanish and twirled his beard a lot. Problem was, he cut the chicane and was disallowed. Now, call me a cynic, but the bearded one doesn’t make mistakes like that, unless (shock, horror) he meant it and hoped no-one would notice haha..nice try.👍😉


Merc’s have no hypersofts at this test, so I doubt they’ll do a headline time. No one cares about being winter champion.


@kenneth, unlikely. Merc didn’t bring any Hypersofts to the test.


It was a lovely day today here; sunny, the temperature was up around 16 degrees and with this very black asphalt that has been laid on the surface, that meant that the track temperatures were up around 24 degrees.

Dude you are living the dream!!


Also, this is the first time Torro Rosso have had a World Champion driving for them.

Brendan Hartley, go my bro from across the ditch.


Sabastian Bourdais was a 5 time champ car champion


Sebastien, is that you? Guess you woulda got your own name right, so guess not.


Thanks for the update James. I’m in the middle of 27 days without a break, so having time to trawl the net for info is a bit rare ATM.

MERCEDES are not fixing what aint broke. They are probably just doing tyre testing. The only thing for them to do is rip of the 44 stickers, & put a big number 1 where it belongs.

FERRARI are pure Italian. They look good, walk tall, & will still drop the ball on occasion, thereby letting MB sneek ahead as the year progresses, but will still have their big moments. Ferrari’s biggest issue will still be the nut that holds the steering wheel was made in Germany.

RED BULL could win the WCC this year, & I hope Danny Ric wins the WDC, but there are too many horse power tracks to make this a certainty, but, underestimate Adrian Newey at your peril. When I saw the first pics of DR in the wet at Shinyrock (Silverstone), I posted how slim the RB was, & how it would let more air onto the rear wing. This means they can take some wing off, as DR did many times last year, & make up for some of the Renault loss, so I think RB will beat Ferrari.

RENAULT are following their previous path. Start, get better,get really good, win. All while totally ignoring everybody. Good luck to them, but I hope this lets Carlos really shine & I’d love to see Hulk win one before he gets to Jean Alesi’s figures.

WILLIAMS will, I think, surprise a few people. Lance Stroll is gaining confidence but I think he has given up a lot of seat time so that Sergey Sirotkin can get up to F1 speed before Melbourne. They may sneak a podium or 2, but should get a head start on FORCE INDIA before the Pinkies bring their full 2018 spec into play.

HAASE seem to have all the right bits, but Gunther Steiner hasn’t found the right combination yet. This is probably complicated by having 1 hot & cold driver, & 1 that has qualifying issues.

I think Marcus Ericsson in a Mercedes would run 9th, so the Sauber Romeo flag waving exercise is just for Le Clerc to get some miles under his belt.

TORRO ROSSO HONDA. No suffocating McLarenizing there. I truly hope they come 3rd in the WCC. I don’t want to jinx them, so I will just say good luck.

Muck Laren. It’s the MP4-18 all over again. I do feel sorry for Vandoorne.

McLaren have over thought & out witted themselves again with their stupid ‘Size Zero’ concept. Woking does not have a room big enough to fit everybody around a table, so there is no way each department knows the influence on the car of another department.

Zac Brown, sack 599 workers & 1 over paid Spaniard, sit whomever is left around 1 table, & your car will be 3 seconds a lap faster.

Everybody usually gets what they deserve, & McLaren deserve to be beaten by Sauber.

Roll on Melbourne, & go Danny Ric.


That would really be funny if it wasn’t so darned possible…


I can only laugh at such responses 🙂


you forgot to sack Brown himself; he’s way out of his capability comfort zone


So you ‘re saying he is ‘Incapability Brown’! Nice landscape gardening reference there!


@ Random 79

Cheers mate


The halo…

My wife used to drive a BMW C1 for some time. Many of the pro and contra halo arguments were already said two decades ago.


Weather protection


frame parts visible for the driver

Looking ugly

What to say my wife: liked it a lot and only the second kid made her change to a car.

The C1 vanished after 3 years of production because of not much acceptance. How long for the halo?


James, any idea of Adrian Newest IQ?


Think of a number and double it?


McLaren completely lost focus… They are all over the place just like Zak Brown’s


Kimi said somewhere that he wouldn’t mind if he could compete anonymously in F1. Halo contraption that obscures drivers beyond recognition seems to take him step closer to that idea.


I must echo what others have already said: the Halo is absolutely terrible. For me it is hard to overstate.

Very much hoping the top three are closer together. Last year took us in the right direction, but Mercedes was still a step ahead.

Craig in Manila

Williams did 25% (ish) more laps than Ferrari on Day 2 yet they somehow “stayed under the radar” ?

Stealth Mode perhaps ?


And what about Haas? 78 laps and 8th fastest time and not even mentioned once in the article?


@James Allen,

While I don’t doubt your expertise, I hope that you will be proved wrong with regard to Ferrari and that we will be given a season of competition with 3 teams involve for the top step.

I don’t know if the Renault engine was still detuned yesterday, to the extend that it was said to have been last week, but in the Red Bulls, it seems fairly competitive. I understand the Red Bull chassis might help making it look better but it has to be a good improvement from last year no?

Look I have nothing against Mercedes in particular but I truly hope that we don’t get another season of them dominating too much. Looking forward to the last 2 days of testing, and what you might conclude at the end of it. Thank you for keeping us better informed as always. Marc


From what I read on the Leo Turrini blog – he has good connections within the Ferrari GS, and is usually quite reliable – they are very impressed with the Mercedes, and believe it to be (slightly) ahead. He also speculates that RB is at their same level. Overall quite consistent with what JA said on this site.

The development curve will be crucial this year, and as pointed out by James, Ferrari will have to be perfect on all fronts as such as in-car decisions, race strategy and reliability to capitalize on opportunities that arise during the ebb and flow of the season. It would be important to be quick out of the blocks, like last year. If Ferrari are chasing from the beginning, I think it will be very tough. RB may be the only team able to out-develop Merc, but can that compensate for a power-deficit? And its hard to see how the intra-team mate rivalry will not cost them points.

An unknown will obviously be engine reliability. I’m fearful that it could play a significant role – either through having to de-tune to meet the target engine life, or having to take penalties. And unfortunately that’s more likely to affect Renault and Ferrari, rather than Mercedes.

Early days, but lets hope we get a three-way fight to the end of the season. Its what the sport needs to distract from ugly halo’s, missing grid girls, the Mercedes hegemony, and Liberty’s dithering. At the end of this season, I suspect a lot of the long-term fans will know if they still love F1, or if we can have an extra couple of hours free on the weekends to pursue other interests…


All great, but really, you can’t tell us a thing about Haas? Not the first time you have totally ignored them in a testing review. Same for some others sites. Whats up? Why is Haas getting ignored? U.S. fans like me are getting screwed on coverage this year. Having lost the NBC TV contract (thus virtually zero coverage on there motorsport web page) and ESPN using a Brit TV feed this year (but no additional coverage on ESPN or ESPN-F1 websites), feels like no one is covering the team. Strange way to grow the sport here, supposedly an object of F1 and its teams. And F1 is thinking of a 2nd race here? Doesn’t make sense…


I find Haas an interesting team with an equally interesting driver line-up but from entirely my own perspective, I don’t consider Haas to be a true ‘Constructor’ within the spirit of the F1 rules, and so to me, they remain an outlier. I have no idea how others view it but as and when they produce their own chassis and components as the other 9 teams have to, I will equally root for them. By his own admission, Haas entered F1 ‘on the cheap’ and he’s gotten away with it thus far. His quest for the ‘standardisation’ of F1 parts is the antithesis of the F1 engineering spirit and I am very much against it. His current operating model is also flawed in that Dallara have never produced a winning F1 chassis after many attempts and in-season development is both uneconomical & inefficient. I do believe Gene Haas has yet to reveal his true ambitions..


Thanks for the report James.

Pursuant to some of your comments:

“Mercedes does look like it has a margin over the Red Bull and Ferrari.”

Just underlines what a marvellous/dominant car Mercedes introduced for the new hybrid era in 2014 and everyone else has been playing catch up ever since.

“Ferrari will have to be flawless to win this year; they need the right development, the right decision making in the cockpit and on the pit wall.”

Pretty much as it was last year. “right decision making in the cockpit” – enough said!

“Daniel Ricciardo did a 1m 18.0 lap today on the hypersoft tyre [which indicates that] Ferrari and Red Bull will be very close.”

Let’s hope so. Be great to see four drivers consistently going at it for podium places.

“Toro Rosso again did plenty of laps and the Honda powered car was the third fastest through the speed trap at the end of the pit straight.”

Toro Rosso reaping the benefits of switching to Honda Power. Well done to Honda! The Japanese would have been too proud to have left F1 with their tails between their legs. And it looks like a good decision by Marko to give Hartley a second chance in F1.


So far so good. James more of less confirms what I’ve previously surmise.

Mclaren’s woe did not start or end with honda. It remains an inherent stubbornness, unseen since Adrian Newey, preventing then from progressing. Size zero, insufficient cooling, a radical rear suspension are but symptoms of a sinking ship. Thank Holy heavens, the king got out in the nick of time.

Speaking of the king and his merry men. Mercedes are looking formidable, in both long and short runs. It’s consistent, fast and appears to be responsive. Scarily lewis was in the mid to high 18’s on MEDIUMs… Then went purple in s1 and s2 but pitted before completion. Ominous.

Not sure what’s happening at ferrari. Usually they’d be setting fast times. Methinks something’s amiss.

The midfield is tight, lead by renault. Williams/Force India/Haas are indistinguishable. TRonda are looking promising and most of all reliable as per expectation. Sauber seems to be propping up the field.


IMO the problem at McLaren is one of overall management culture.

It cannot be said they lack resources or depth of capability. But they have a habit of directing their efforts to achieve an optimal theoretical solution rather than an optimal real world solution. Of course, all woes are therefore someone else’s issues, etc., etc.

It is more than possible that the inherent culture within a ‘changing’ McLaren organisation is legacy from it’s great but outdated former leader. Changing legacy cultures within an organisation is just about as hard as it gets for senior management.

Good luck!


I didn’t see the stint in the 1:18’s from Hamilton on mediums. Where did you see this? His best times were set on ultrasofts, which I read today could be upwards of a second off the hypersoft.

If anyone has a link that show times, tires, and stint length I’d appreciate it.


This feed is showing stint lengths & times:


@ Oblah,

Looking forward to seeing you eat crow pie about McLaren. A few testing issues are not indicative of a poor chassis. Did you note that James Allen has reserved his judgement on performance for 2018.?

McLaren have not been standing still with innovation to improve their chassis for the battle of best Renault powered team.


@W Johnson. Only time will tell. What I can say, from observation over the last 5 or so years; is mclaren hasn’t made a world class chassis since 2012.


it’s normal to collect information, analyse it before drawing a conclusion before evaluating your process of information gathering with the aim of improving it.

the process of drawing conclusions before enough information is gathered, only sets you up for disappointments.

i am waiting for racing to start to have a clearer understanding of their forms.

as for hamilton, he’d guided mclaren to design and build a good enough a car for him to win with had he stayed at mclaren. i know this because he did it in the past and ever since he left mclaren they haven’t had a car good enough to win with.


the process of drawing conclusions before enough information is gathered, only sets you up for disappointments.

As you experienced last year when you predicted McLaren would be up there.


i didn’t say mclaren would be up there. i said ferrari better lookout for mclaren rather than talk of challenging mercedes.


Nice assessment about halo why not halo to be painted similar to drivers colour helmet.


Could make them the same Neon Orange or Yellow/Green that the Aerial cameras are

Tornillo Amarillo

What a progress, nobody has detracted Stroll yet today!! 🙂

Go Lance!!

Tornillo Amarillo

Should Williams be worried about Sirotkin’s lap times?


Should Williams be worried about Sirotkin’s lap times?

Well, it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? Of the three Williams drivers to have tested in Barcelona it looks like it’s Kubica then Stroll then Sirotkin on pace. Claire and Paddy are probably crying all the way to the bank.

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