Formula 1’s pre-season testing for the 2017 World Championship has now finished, but what – if anything – can be concluded from the eight days of pounding around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya when it comes to determining a form guide for the Australian Grand Prix in less than two weeks’ time?
The stopwatches and timesheets will record that Kimi Räikkönen was the quickest driver in pre-season testing, setting the fastest overall time on the final day of running. The Finn’s 1:18.634 came on the Super Soft Pirelli tyres, while teammate Sebastian Vettel posted a 1:19.024 time the day before. The German, however, was clearly backing off on the approach to the finish line in an attempt to disguise the SF70H’s true pace – it is estimated that he would have all but matched his teammate’s time if he was on full power for the entire lap.
With a total of 957 laps of the Spanish circuit (amounting to some 4,454 kilometres of running), the SF70H ran well and appeared quick to observers, but the true question of just how quick the car is will only be answered in Melbourne.
Perhaps the key question is not how fast Ferrari was, but how much Mercedes was sandbagging in the final days of testing. The F1W08 managed a staggering 1,098 laps all up (5,111 kilometres) – easily the highest mileage tally of any team – and was a near constant presence on the track.
The car appeared almost bulletproof from a reliability perspective, with its only major loss of track mileage happening on the allocated wet/dry test day last week. An electrical issue kept Lewis Hamilton in the pit lane during his half-day allocation. While the loss of overall mileage won’t hamper the Englishman in the slightest, it is important to note that he was robbed of any running on the new Intermediate and Wet tyres in damp conditions.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas wound up third-fastest overall with his quickest time, a 1:19.310, coming on Super Soft tyres in the opening week of testing. Hamilton was ultimately just four-hundredths of a second slower, with his time of 1:19.352 happening on Ultra Soft tyres on the penultimate day of testing.
Williams’ pre-season has been a tale of two halves. Its first week started encouragingly when Felipe Massa clocked over a century of laps on the first day of testing, but that tally could barely be doubled over the remainder of the week thanks to a succession of spins and crashes by his rookie teammate Lance Stroll. The Canadian’s accidents, and a lack of available spare parts, limited the FW40’s running and ensured they wouldn’t be on-track at all on the crucial wet-weather test day.
By the end of the second week, matters seemed to have turned around remarkably. The Mercedes-powered car – and its drivers – ran almost faultlessly and pushed the team’s total lap count to an even 800 – 3,724 kilometres – to put it third overall in terms of total mileage.
The Red Bull Racing RB13s never truly set the timing screens alight, although the general opinion among the sport’s insiders is that the team was not really showing its hand. Daniel Ricciardo’s fastest time came on Ultra Soft tyres during the first day of the second week of testing, while teammate Max Verstappen put in his best effort later in the week on Super Soft tyres when track conditions were considerably better.
What is worrying for the Milton Keynes squad was that its total lap count – 684 laps, or 3,184 kilometres – is less than two-thirds of what Mercedes managed to achieve in the same time. With a range of reliability problems – including the battery, the exhaust, electrical systems – it suggests the team may be vulnerable in the opening championship rounds when its components and cars are finally pushed.
An unexpected seventh-quickest overall was Carlos Sainz Jr in the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12, with the Spanish youngster’s 1:19.837 coming on the final day of testing with the assistance of Ultra Soft tyres. Teammate Daniil Kvyat was six-tenths of a second slower in the final reckoning, although the Russian never ran the Ultra Softs in testing.
The STR12 attracted plenty of praise for its sleek lines and slick paint job, however a succession of reliability issues have restricted it to a total of 584 laps (2,718 kilometres). Among the issues encountered included drivetrain, electrical and power unit problems that meant it had the lowest mileage of all at the end of the first week of testing. Eventually it managed to get its tally above McLaren, but that is itself a low bar to clear.
The car with the third-lowest mileage of all was Renault’s RS17. Force India refugee Nico Hülkenberg was eighth-fastest and appeared to have adapted well to his new surroundings with his fastest time coming on Ultra Soft rubber.
Teammate Jolyon Palmer bore the brunt of the car’s reliability problems and lost valuable track time as a result. The Englishman’s fastest lap, a 1:20.205 also set on Ultra Softs, was on a different day to his German teammate’s.
All up, with 607 laps (2,825 kilometres), the car is reportedly a marked improvement to its predecessor, but reliability remains questionable over the first few Grands Prix at least.
Smack in the middle of the aggregated timesheets were Force India’s Sergio Pérez and his new teammate Esteban Ocon. Barely five-hundredths of a second separated the pair’s fastest Ultra Soft lap times, and while the team is looking to break into the top-three in the Constructors’ Championship standings this year, its pre-season form suggests that it a long way from reality.
The VJM10 managed a solid 785 laps (3,654 kilometres) in the end, however its early running was limited thanks to an exhaust problem that took two days to solve. The car was then handed over to wealthy test driver Alfonso Célis Jr and while the young Mexican kept it on the island, he has neither the pace nor experience to add any real value beyond what he brought in cash.
All up, the fortnight suggests the car will be reliable, but not particularly quick. It looks doubtful that the team’s P3 ambitions will be realised, unless the team was holding its best cards close to its chest.
The Haas F1 Team, in its sophomore season, will be hoping to improve on its eighth place it achieved in last year’s Constructors’ Championship standings. The VF-17 chassis has proven tidy – if unspectacular – and it was little surprise to see the new car strike the typical gremlins one sees in a young team: electrical and sensor glitches were apparent in the early days of testing.
What was not expected was a return of the braking issues that plagued the team in 2016. Kevin Magnussen locked his brakes and smacked the wall at Turn 10 in the first week of testing, while Romain Grosjean spun into the kitty litter at Turn 5 on the final day of running.
With 716 laps (3,333 kilometres) under its belt, however, the car has proven generally reliable – but not particularly quick.
McLaren Honda’s pre-season looks rather too similar to the first year of the current partnership in 2015. Too often, the striking MCL32 was confined to the garages or seen touring slowly on its way back to the pits with a problem.
The new livery scheme could not mask the apparent problems with the all-new Honda powerplant, which was struck by countless gremlins that necessitated too many power unit changes to mention.
After eight days, the car was barely capable of reaching 50 laps by day’s end. The final tally of 425 laps (1,983 kilometres) is simply disastrous, and while both parties are denying speculation that an ugly divorce is on the cards, McLaren and Honda are once again on the back foot.
At the bottom of the timesheets is Sauber, where its main drivers Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein brought up the rear. The first week of testing took place without Wehrlein, and in the German’s place was drafted Ferrari reserve Antonio Giovinazzi.
The Italian acquitted himself tremendously, keeping his car in one piece and gathering critical mileage for the Swiss squad. Ericsson, meanwhile, continued to rack up the laps in his usually dependable fashion, without ever really setting the timing screens alight.
Fitted with last year’s Ferrari power units, the C36 chassis has a proven power plant under the skin, but that didn’t stop one of them from failing in the first week of testing. From there on, the car has ran all but faultlessly, giving the squad a healthy 787 laps (3,663 kilometres) to its credit. The car isn’t particularly quick, but it has a greater chance of holding together than a number of rival outfits, which could yield a few points’ finishes in the early races of the season.
|2017 FORMULA 1 PRE-SEASON TEST – COMBINED UNOFFICIAL TIMES|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Tyre|
|1.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:18.634|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:19.024||+ 0.390|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:19.310||+ 0.676|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:19.352||+ 0.718|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:19.420||+ 0.786|
|6.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:19.438||+ 0.804|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR12||1:19.837||+ 1.203|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:19.885||+ 1.251|
|9.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:19.900||+ 1.266|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:20.116||+ 1.482|
|11.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:20.161||+ 1.527|
|12.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:20.205||+ 1.571|
|13.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:20.335||+ 1.701|
|14.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR12||1:20.416||+ 1.782|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:20.504||+ 1.870|
|16.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:21.110||+ 2.476|
|17.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MP4-31||1:21.348||+ 2.714|
|18.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MP4-31||1:21.389||+ 2.755|
|19.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:21.670||+ 3.036|
|20.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:22.347||+ 3.713|
|21.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:22.401||+ 3.767|
|22.||Alfonso Célis Jr||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:23.568||+ 4.934|
Image via McLaren Honda, Mercedes AMG F1 Petronas, Red Bull Content Pool, Renault Sport F1, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari, Williams Martini Racing (LAT), XPB Images