Formula One’s annual pre-season testing commenced last week, with the eagerly anticipated 2017 machines hitting the track for the first time in Barcelona.
Having undergone one of the most significant regulation changes in the sport’s modern history for this season, the order that emerged from the conclusion of the first four days of running was hardly radical.
Reigning world champions Mercedes AMG were still the team to beat, having gone the fastest and the furthest with these infant cars.
New recruit for the Silver Arrows in Valtteri Bottas set a benchmark lap-time for the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with a 1:19.705 as well as completing a staggering 558 combined laps between he and teammate Lewis Hamilton.
It was almost 100 laps more than the next best outfit in Ferrari had managed, though it was encouraging to see their fastest overall time closer to the world beating Mercedes squad. 0.2 seconds separated Bottas from Sebastian Vettel, who set the red car’s best time on the slower supersoft tyres to the Finn’s ultrasofts.
A more optimistic start to the year however from Ferrari, compared to the previous season where they vigorously inflated the position they stood in contrast to Mercedes AMG. Creeping up on their rivals may be the way to go, instead of being facetious.
However, both the Brackley and Maranello stables have demonstrated pace and reliability, something which their hopeful title rivals at Milton Keynes are yet to show.
Red Bull with their superstitious RB13 have kept their cards close to the chest across the duration of the first Test. This was despite some issues that befell Daniel Ricciardo, curtailing his track time.
Their sister team in Toro Rosso by comparison completed the fewest laps of the field, despite their elegant chassis design – mirroring many elements of the class leading W08 EQ Power +.
Remarrying the car with a Renault motor after a year’s affair with Ferrari in 2016, perhaps is the source of Toro Rosso’s drawbacks, however they remain optimistic as do many regarding their challenge to the higher end of the mid-field.
Worse off has been McLaren, who enter 2017 with high aspirations following two difficult seasons following their renewed engine partnership with Honda.
The team failed to crack even 1000km of distance in the first Test, let alone boast any kind of respectable lap time. Both Fernando Alonso and his new teammate Stoffel Vandoorne were 2.8 seconds adrift of the fastest lap times by the end of the test, highlighting that McLaren have not only lost speed – but reliability also.
While the new cars may not look as appealing as first thought, with the revival of the ‘shark fins’ and retention (by the majority) of the ‘thumb’ noses, they have still achieved two things that the regulation overhaul had intended.
Lap times are drastically faster than 2016, with the pole position time of 1:22.000 set by Hamilton having been smashed by Bottas’ 1:19.705. Even Kimi Räikkönen’s 2008 lap record of 1:21.670 looks set to be usurped come the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
In tandem with the more durable and much wider Pirelli tyres, all circuit records look to be in danger this season – as the cars will only get faster as the year progresses.
The other facet of the overhaul addressed in the first test was how the cars have indeed become a tad more difficult to drive. This was realised by newcomer Lance Stroll, who had an incident ridden baptism to his first full-time campaign in Formula One.
Driver’s social media accounts have been aplomb with updates regarding the increased intensity of their training over the off-season.
The extra demand from the aerodynamically enhanced machines, surely will bring out the ‘gladiators’ within the combatants come the season proper. Something fans will surely be salivating over the prospect of.