Testing is always a peculiar time in F1. While it gives us a chance to see the new cars and drivers on the grid next season, it is often hard to reach conclusions about the performance and relative speed of a team compared to its rivals. Here at Rach F1 we’ve run the numbers and tried to reach some possible conclusions for you all following the first four days of the new season.
Honda in F1 - The Power of Reality
Entering their fourth season now, Honda as an engine supplier have had a torrid time with McLaren. but for all their previous troubles, the first test with Toro Rosso looked promising. After completing the fewest laps per power unit last year, Toro Rosso topped the laps-completed chart this season with no major engine issues. While it is unlikely Toro Rosso pushed the engine to the maximum, it is certainly a welcome boost to Toro Rosso who were perhaps dreading the run of engine failures from 2017 would carry over to the new season.
Renault to challenge for fourth?
After cementing themselves as the fourth fastest team the last few seasons. Force India could face their biggest test via the financial clout of Renault. After making good progress between 2016 and 2017 the French outfit looks set to continue the forward momentum heading into the new year. Completing more miles than Force India, McLaren and only three less than Williams, the double constructors' champions may find themselves more prepared for this year than their rivals.
With a driver pairing considered to be the best in the midfield and the two drivers finishing ahead of all their rivals on the timesheet despite being on harder compounds, Renault could well outperform expectations this year. We do say however that the last point is far from concrete as fuel loads are still unknown and sandbagging - the idea of deliberately driving slower as not to show off your true lap time - being a key feature of testing, we can’t say for sure where they and their rivals lie.
2018 - A Second a Lap Quicker?
As widely documented, the new season sees cars that are quicker than their 2017 counterparts. Taking into account the best laps from each team the average this season was a huge 0.934 seconds faster than the times on display 12 months ago. While tyre compounds, track resurfacing, track temperatures and a range of other factors being involved too, the difference may not be purely CSR related and the true gap may yet be smaller or greater than shown at Barcelona this week.
In 2017 McLaren had finished the opening test slowest of the lot and with the fewest miles per power unit of the entire grid. This year however, with Stoffel Vandoorne setting the third fastest time across the four days with Alonso also in the top 10, it would seem McLaren are serious contenders this year.
Think again. While yes, Vandoorne is one of the only four drivers to go faster than 1:20.000, he did this on the new hypersoft tyre, the only driver who set his fastest time on this compound. While Alonso was on the supersoft tyre, he was still some six tenths off of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, the only other driver running the supesoft for his fast lap.
But take nothing away from McLaren, they found almost three seconds on last year's best time and still did more laps than three other teams, despite a morning wasted down to a loose wheel. However to say that they are suddenly top 10 runners after switching to Renault is perhaps foolish, and remember Hamilton was half a second faster than the top McLaren on a tyre four compounds harder than the McLaren ran.
Force India underprepared?
The lack of laps for Force India may look alarming and given that all three of their drivers found their fastest laps in the bottom seven of the leaderboard you may be seriously concerned. In fact they were all slower than Robert Kubica who hasn’t completed a full pre-season for eight years! Despite this, they languished in the exact same places last year and ended up dominating the best of the rest competition. Before we start judging the lap times though, remember that last year Jolyon Palmer was sixth fastest and look how that one turned out...
Sirotkin - Value for Money?
It’s fair to say Sergey Sirotkin has received a lot of negative press saying he has merely being given the Williams seat for financial reasons, especially given the fact that Wehrlein was overlooked despite Mercedes backing and scoring points in the two worst cars on the grid the last two seasons.
This theory was given more ammunition as the Russian was four tenths slower than Kubica and given they both set their fastest times on the same day on the same tyre compound, there’s little Sirotkin’s supporters can say to defend him. While yes, we understand that we don’t know the fuel, the track conditions change morning to afternoon and no two tyre sets are identical, none of this will silence the critics who merely see the cheque that the Russian brings to Williams rather than his talent. Worse still for Sirotkin his money will be seen as even more influential after the news broke out that the Martini partnership will end as of the end of this season.
While a new partnership with Ferrari saw the Swiss minnow team given fresh up-to-date Ferrari engines and a hot young prospect in Charles Leclerc, the now rebranded Alfa Romeo Sauber team were almost 0.900 seconds slower than their best time from last season, the only team to lose time over the year.
While this could easily be explained by sandbagging, the fact they were on a compound softer for their fast lap last year and that the test was merely a chance to bring Leclerc up to speed in F1 rather than focusing on their out and out pace, it will no doubt alarm the fans of the team and its drivers who would have expected progress over a year, especially given the delta between the soft and supersoft compounds is not a full second.
What is impressive for Alfa Romeo is that they set the fourth-most laps of any team despite each driver having a visit to the gravel trap over the course of the test, even more so was the fact that they did all this without any mechanical issues. While they do likely look the backmarker team again this year, they could cause some surprises if they can have as stronger chassis as last year and keep the consistency up.
So that’s everything we feel you need to know after the first test, as always we love to hear your thoughts so let us know anything you think we’ve missed or if you expect something different for the new year.
by Matthew Gannon