7 things we learned from F1's first pre-season test
It's looking promising for a competitive 2018 season.
The first pre-season test at Circuit de Catalunya ended on Thursday, with Lewis Hamilton topping the times at the Spanish track.
It's been a weird week, with running restricted by weather conditions that would seem more at home in Siberia.
But the temperatures began to climb on Thursday, leading to a flurry of activity as teams and drivers sought to make up for lost time. Here's what we've learned about the upcoming season so far.
LEWIS IS BACK (NOT THAT HE EVER WENT AWAY)
Testing did not begin brilliantly for the reigning world champion.
He completed just 25 laps on Monday, sat out Tuesday to allow the team to maximise Valtteri Bottas’ time in the car, then spent Wednesday indoors keeping warm.
While his teammate was clocking up laps, Lewis seemed oddly absent. Was there something amiss?
Lewis was rapid on the final day of running. Pic: Sutton Images
No. On Thursday he jumped in the car for the afternoon, completed 69 laps and set the fastest time of the week on medium tyres.
It was typical of how Hamilton has gone about things in recent years – show up, minimise distractions, drive very fast. Make no mistake, he remains favourite to add a fifth world title this year.
MCLAREN ARE ALSO BACK… SORT OF
The switch to Renault engines looks likely to drag McLaren forward this year, which judging by the lack of sponsors on their new MCL33 is just in the nick of time.
Did someone forget the stickers? Pic: Sutton Images
Their pace is decent and the drivers seem genuinely enthusiastic about the season ahead. And not the fake enthusiasm of the Honda years – actual, genuine enthusiasm.
Still, losing significant running to small problems on Monday and Tuesday was not what they needed. McLaren managed around half the laps completed by their rivals during the first three days, with only Haas recording fewer.
An errant wheel deposited Alonso in the gravel on Monday. Pic: Sutton Images
They made up for that on Thursday when Stoffel Vandoorne put in a mighty 110-lap shift, while Fernando Alonso completed a further 51.
It looks as though McLaren will drop into the gap between the top three and a very congested midfield this year. Good enough to keep the Spaniard happy? That will probably depend on how he fares at Le Mans.
RENAULT ARE RISING, BUT ARE FORCE INDIA FLAGGING?
If McLaren are set to be fourth in the pecking order – which, we should emphasise, is merely a guess at this stage – then the works Renault team may well be their closest competitors (also a guess).
Hulkenberg ran well for Renault. Pic: Sutton Images
Renault have been building nicely since their full-blown return to the sport in 2016 and look to have made another important step this term.
They have managed plenty of laps over the past few days (273) and their drivers haven’t been far off the front-runners.
The progress of these two teams could hurt Force India. They have finished the past two seasons in fourth, but something seems a little off about the Silverstone team this year.
They began the week by handing a full day of running to their development driver Nikita Mazepin, who definitely isn’t the man to handle a vital pre-season test.
With all due respect, Mazepin is not the man to handle pre-season testing. Pic: Sutton Images
They have ended up with fewer laps on the board than any other team (166) and aren't showing much in the way of pace.
It’s only testing and the times aren’t worth much, but there’s a real possibility that Force India will fall behind both McLaren and Renault this term.
LUCKILY, FORCE INDIA STILL HAVE THEIR SENSE OF HUMOUR
THERE IS STILL HOPE OF A THREE-WAY TITLE TUSSLE
There’s no doubt that Mercedes and Ferrari remain the pace-setters for 2018. The Italian squad seemed to have edged in front of the reigning champions, but Hamilton’s medium tyre pace on Thursday suggests otherwise.
But it’s definitely close. Both teams have racked up the laps and shown pace, so there’s reason to believe they’ll be back at the front this year.
Seb seems happy and should be in the mix again this year. Pic: Sutton Images
There’s definite optimism at Red Bull, too. The team had managed plenty of running until a setback on Thursday and the car is clearly very good. The Renault engine continues to be their main worry, but this is also progressing (albeit not as quickly as they might like).
At the very least, Red Bull could be able to get amongst Mercedes and Ferrari more consistently this year and perhaps win races early in the season. That would add a new dynamic to the title battle.
What we really want, of course, is for Daniel and Max to be in the fight. It’s not impossible.
NO ONE WILL BE HAPPIER THAN TORO ROSSO AND HONDA
Toro Rosso and Honda probably couldn’t have hoped for this week to go any better.
Their lap count has been sensational. Okay, calling the amount of mileage completed in testing “sensational” sounds excessive, but after the what happened to Honda last year it’s the right word.
Honda and Toro Rosso – might this actually work out?! Pic: Sutton Images
Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly managed a total of 324 laps over the four days, more than any other team. Let's repeat that: the Honda managed more miles this week than the works Mercedes team.
They’re not especially rapid, but reliability was always going to be the most important factor at this stage. The team can now build on this and hope to exceed the expectations most people had for them in 2018 – namely, qualifying on the back row and breaking down early in the race.
After what they've been through with McLaren, it’s good to see Honda finding their feet.
YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED, BUT IT SNOWED
The arrival of snow on Wednesday brought the test to a near standstill.
There was a three-hour delay, followed by very little track action. Fernando Alonso eventually completed 11 laps and set the only time of the day.
Four others ventured out for reconnaissance laps, while half of the teams didn’t bother at all. We don't blame them.
Snow in Spain – who'd have thought it? Pic: Sutton Images
There was far more happening off-track, with everyone trying to keep themselves entertained throughout the boredom.
Mercedes went for far as to build a snowman, then ran with the idea...
And ran with it...
And ran with it...