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?
Mercedes 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.
BARCELONA TEST 2, DAY 2
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