Conclusions from the first Formula One pre-season test

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

By Jawad Yaqub, Jawad Yaqub is a Roar Guru

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    Red Bull are slowly making their departure from the Formula One scene. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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    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.

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    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.

    Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing prepares in his car

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (9)

    • Roar Guru

      March 8th 2017 @ 3:32pm
      Bayden Westerweller said | March 8th 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

      There’s a lot to like about what to expect this season, though understandably very little has manifested itself to date. The reality of the situation is that until Saturday at Melbourne, nothing is definitive, as much as narratives are already being written. At this stage, with each passing day, optimism concerning Ferrari’s fortunes, and… the other word regarding McLaren and Honda, seems to be increasing.

      The most pleasing aspect of the initial test – carrying into this week’s final outing, has been the upswing in media output, with live streaming via Facebook a belatedly huge step in the right direction. Between the new cars and potentially fresh pecking order, coupled with sustained media presence into the season proper, fan immersion levels could be unprecedented.

      • Roar Guru

        March 8th 2017 @ 7:31pm
        Jawad Yaqub said | March 8th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

        Until that first top-ten shootout session of the year, I guess we won’t have a proper read on where everyone is at! Though from the way the established contenders have hit the ground in testing, we do look like we may see the status quo maintained. At least for those concerned about Mercedes-Benz’s PU advantage, have the luxury of free development across the season – as long as it works within the confines of the four PU limit.

        As far as the media sides of things are concerned, it would be great to see in 2018 the introduction of live broadcasts for the pre-season tests a la MotoGP. Not at all dictated by pay-TV networks, but FOM/Liberty themselves. Paying for an online subscription with incentives and perks would be very palatable for any fan itching to get into the action early.

    • March 8th 2017 @ 4:15pm
      steve said | March 8th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

      Purely looking at the numbers put up over the 4 days, its a little concerning to see the Red Bull consistently 1.2 – 1.5 seconds slower than Mercedes. I understand Max Verstappen said that they weren’t focusing on outright pace, but it is a little concerning all the same. Hopefully we will get a better gauge of where they are really at in the next testing period. It would be disappointing if they are still that margin behind.

      • Roar Guru

        March 8th 2017 @ 6:22pm
        Bayden Westerweller said | March 8th 2017 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

        Ricciardo stated there’s no upgrade set to deliver two seconds, whether to believe him is another matter. Red Bull might be reluctant to reveal their hand until the final day of testing, though it could be that it isn’t until European season that they really hit their stride with incremental development in the interim.

        • March 8th 2017 @ 7:20pm
          steve said | March 8th 2017 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

          I’m still wondering if Red Bull are foxing a little and not showing their hand, but after looking at times for the first day of the second test session just now, Daniel finished with the second fastest time, behind Massa. That looked ok until you realise Daniel put in that time on the supposedly quicker ultra soft tyre, while Massa set his on the super soft. I’m really hoping Red Bull are foxing, but it appears they just aren’t as quick as Mercedes or Ferrari at this point.

          • Roar Guru

            March 8th 2017 @ 7:32pm
            Bayden Westerweller said | March 8th 2017 @ 7:32pm | ! Report

            The bigger surprise than Red Bull not being the outfit taking the fight to Mercedes, let alone being the team to beat as many had forecast, would be if Williams surfaces as a genuinely competitive force once again. It’d fly in the face of the ‘transitional campaign’ notion since Bottas’ departure, coupled with customer PU status unlike Red Bull’s quasi-works relationship with Renault.

            That Williams went fastest does make me a little sceptical about any pecking order until further notice, must see balance of test before knowing the state of play.

          • Roar Guru

            March 8th 2017 @ 7:33pm
            Jawad Yaqub said | March 8th 2017 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

            And that speed difference will be down to the Renault (TAG-Heuer) donkey that they’re running. I’m sure come Albert Park and Q3, we shall see the might of what Red Bull have in that RB13. But as I said above to Bayden, with open house on PU development, we could see Renault catch up.

    • March 9th 2017 @ 12:03am
      SonOfLordy said | March 9th 2017 @ 12:03am | ! Report

      I really like the fact that the cars will be difficult to handle and will be significantly quicker in corners meaning a drivers will be punished more harshly for a mistake. F1 should be dangerous to drivers, even lethal when they make a mistake. If a driver thinks F1 is too dangerous, then don’t compete in the series. It should be as much about courage and “balls” as pure driving skill.

      However, I fear Mercedes is sandbagging again and they’ll have 0.5-1 second on their rivals come Albert Park. Whether it’s 0.5 or 2 seconds it doesn’t matter. It means they’re untouchable either way.

      I should be excited by these new regulations, but I’m feeling discouraged seeing that Mercedes are basically bulletproof. It’s going to be more of the same and an easy championship for Hamilton.

      • Roar Guru

        March 9th 2017 @ 8:55pm
        Jawad Yaqub said | March 9th 2017 @ 8:55pm | ! Report

        If only Fernando Alonso had a car capable of being in the mix with the front-runners, because he seems to be one of those drivers who would really succeed in a car with high cornering speeds and an overall difficulty in driving them.

        As much as it would be a drag for fans to have to experience the Mercedes juggernaut again in 2017, it would be actually something quite fascinating in that they’ve been able to transcend their dominance across two different sets of regulations. Something you seldom see in F1. Though as does everyone, I’d like to see great racing between the top teams and a championship that can hopefully mirror the events of 2010, but of course in its own way.

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