The new generation of Formula 1 cars received universal acclaim from fans when they took to the Circuit de Catalunya for the first pre-season test of 2017. Aimed at making drivers gladiators again, the 2017 cars are faster, wider and harder to drive.
Like any regulation change, 2017 has the potential to shake up the pecking order and knock Mercedes off its perch. However, early signs suggest that the status quo may be retained in Formula 1, with the Silver Arrows getting off to a strong start to the year . Having said that, more changes are expected lower down the pecking order.
However, one should wait till Australia - perhaps, Malaysia, before making any firm judgements.
Crucially, 2017 will be the first season under Liberty Media’s ownership of F1. The American conglomerate has taken over the sport from previous owners CVC and has installed a three-member leadership team to take the sport forward.
Unlike the previous regime, new sporting boss Ross Brawn is expected to introduce more well-thought changes in the future, putting an end to knee-jerk reactions. However, that hasn’t stopped people from predicting how the cars might change come the next set of regulations.
Mercedes ominous in testing
Mercedes enjoyed a largely trouble-free outing in the first pre-season test, with electrical problems on the final day being the only anomaly.
Mercedes racked up more laps than any other outfit, and was always close to the top of the timesheets.
The Brackley-based outfit tends to keep a lid on their pace, and is expected to turn up its engine when the season gets underway in Australia later this month.
Mercedes appears to be in a relaxed state of mind, having the confidence in its ability to retain its position as F1’s benchmark.
It will, however, have to make sure that Valtteri Bottas is up to pace by Melbourne - something that shouldn’t be a concern given the Finn’s high credentials.
Could Ferrari be the surprise package?
After a year of over-promising and under-delivering, Ferrari has kept quiet on its expectations from the SF70H.
Instead, the Scuderia has focused all its effort on track, ensuring they get enough mileage to extract the most out of its package.
Like Mercedes, Ferrari was largely free of reliability issues, racking up 468 laps over the course of four days.
The SF70H looked stable through corners, while a power boost on the engine front should also benefit the Italian team.
However, Ferrari’s tendency to run on low fuel means their testing pace might not be a true indicator of their true form.
Don’t discount Red Bull
Red Bull has had a quiet pre-season test in Barcelona, with the Austrian outfit not chasing performance.
The RB13, too, doesn’t have any bells and whistles, with the Adrian Newey-led design office producing a simple car to keep drag as low as possible.
However, it would be wrong to underestimate Red Bull at this moment of time. More updates on the car are expected in the second test next week, with even more scheduled for the first race in Australia.
Renault has also revamped its engine, and if it delivers the performance step it is expected to, Red Bull should be there or thereabouts with Mercedes and Ferrari.
Continued troubles for McLaren-Honda
McLaren endured another difficult start to pre-season testing, having to change two separate Honda engines on successive days.
The first change was due to an issue with the fuel tank, which will have to be redesigned before the start of the season. Tuesday’s engine change, however, was due to mechanical reasons, with Honda yet to find the exact cause for the same.
McLaren will now be relying on the second pre-season test - where Honda will be introducing its Melbourne-spec power unit - to gain necessary mileage before the start of the season.
It only completed 208 laps during the test, the lowest count for any team that took part on all four days.
Stroll’s difficult debut
It would be wrong to criticise 18-year-old Lance Stroll after two major crashes that severely compromised Williams’ pre-season testing.
Accidents are expected from rookies, particularly in a season when cars are so hard to drive. Although the Canadian has racked up countless laps in an old Williams, it is no match to the strains posed by 2017 cars on drivers.
Wet tyre fiasco
F1 received heavy criticism for artificially soaking the Circuit de Catalunya through water-dispensing trucks, when circuits like Paul Ricard have built-in facility for wet-weather testing.
The water quickly evaporated in sunny conditions, leaving teams with little time to test Pirelli’s wet and intermediate compounds.
Teams themselves weren’t keen on venturing out on a wet track, with all of them low on spare parts.
The end result was that very few cars conducted significant running, with teams also losing out on time to test in dry conditions.
One of the objectives behind the new introduction of the new rules was to increase the pace of the cars, with the rulemakers targeting lap times that were five seconds quicker on a typical race track.
Indeed, cars were particularly quicker through the corners, which, in turn, increased the G-force loads on the drivers.
Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time of the pre-season test on a set of ultrasoft compound, clocking a 1:19.705 around Circuit de Catalunya. This was three seconds quicker than last year’s quickest pre-season time, with more lap time gains expected before Melbourne.
Teams mileage (in laps)
Red Bull 294
Force India 278
Toro Rosso 182
Combined lap times
by Rachit Thukral