After a what seemed like an eternal winter break, F1 fans have been on the edge of their seats today after being desperate to see the class of 2019 in action for the first time. In a somewhat different post to what is usually posted on this tribe, I'll talk through the major events of the first day of pre-season testing, and try and see what we can learn.
Here's the timesheet for today:
1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1:18.161, 169 laps
2) Carlos Sainz, McLaren, 1:18.558, 119 laps
3) Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:19:159, 65 laps
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:19.426, 128 laps
5) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, 1:19.462, 114 laps
6) Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:19.635, 77 laps
7) Sergio Perez, Racing Point, 1:19.944, 30 laps
8) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 1:20.127, 69 laps
9) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:20.135, 81 laps
10) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, 1:20.980, 65 laps
11) Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, 1:20.983, 44 laps
Firstly, lets run through the teams and sum up how they each got on.
I think it is fair to say, without even looking at the times that they set, that Ferrari had a storming start to pre-season testing. This is because Sebastian Vettel managed to not only set the fastest time of the day on a blistering 1:18.161 (this is really good for testing, nevermind the first day), he also managed to complete a whopping 169 laps in what he described as a day that was "very close to perfection".
As pointed out in the tweet below, what is impressive about the Scuderia's showing today is the fact that they were able to come out of the garage this morning and be right on the pace. This is amplified by the troubles that some teams have had just getting their cars to testing, with Renault only just making their shakedown and Williams being forced to miss the first two days of testing.
One thing that must be taken with a pinch of salt however is the prediction that Ferrari are 0.5s ahead of Mercedes, as times at testing can misrepresent where teams are in the pecking order. It is also known that Mercedes much prefer to run with high fuel on hard tyres and just bang out the laps, which is exactly what they did today.
This is what Vettel had to say about his first day to Motorsport:
"I couldn't have hoped for a better first day. Unbelievable. If we can maintain the level of enjoyment and fun that I found on the track today and saw in people's faces the last couple of months then I'm positive and hopeful for the future."
Some were optimistic that Ferrari had made a step forward:
However, most could only focus on a different aspect of the car:
McLaren. One year ago, they had only completed 51 laps and had spent most of the morning in the garage after a broken wheel nut led led to Alonso putting the car in the gravel. This year however, they have lost the services of the double world champion, and have employed Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.
Sainz, at the wheel of his MCL34, managed to complete an impressive (for McLaren) 119 laps and set the second fastest time, 0.4s slower than Vettel. This time was set on the faster C4 tyres (the supersofts), but nevertheless it was an impressive showing from McLaren. As I have said previously, it is too early to draw conclusions but if this kind of pace and reliability continues, there might finally be a light at the end of the tunnel from what has been a horrible few years for the Woking based outfit.
It is worth noting that they had a minor stoppage after lunch at the end of the pitlane, but it was resolved quickly and didn't really disrupt their running.
Karun Chandhok told Sky Sports that:
"I sense a very different McLaren these days. During the Honda era, there was a lot of 'we have one of the best chassis and it's all down to Honda'.
"I think there was a degree of humility that got set in last year and when you listen to people like Zak Brown and Jonathan Neale, once we got to Silverstone onwards, there was a humility of 'we haven't done a good enough job, we need to do better'.
Carlos Sainz had this to say to Motorsport:
“I think everyone in the team has to be proud, has to be happy. The hard work over the winter, the plan we put together to have the car early for the presentation and to be out on track at nine o'clock [has paid off].
“This afternoon we completed some long runs, we finished the day with the red flags at six o'clock. So it was definitely a good way to start, and definitely people here at the track are happy. But we must not forget all the people back at Woking who are the main ones who put together this car.”
Haas officially presented their VF-19 this morning in Barcelona, equipped with their new colour scheme thanks to title sponsor, Rich Energy.
The American outfit had a tough start to the day, where they suffered from fuel problems. This led to Romain Grosjean grinding to a halt at the entry to the final chicane, but the team recovered the car and went on to have a strong afternoon. Grosjean finished third in the timesheets, and completed 65 laps with a time of 1:19.159.
I really get the sense now that nobody is underestimating Haas and what they can bring to the table. I say this because last year, they were impressive all through winter testing but people were doubting whether the pace was real, or whether they were just on low fuel/turned the engine up. As we know, this pace continued into Australia where they were on for P4 and P5 until the famous pit stop cock ups.
Romain Grosjean had this to say:
“I think we can be happy enough with our day, in terms of the car’s feeling. We didn’t have a smooth run in the morning, but saying that, the afternoon went better. We had lost a fair bit of track time, but we recovered to put in some good runs. The team’s done a good job again to produce a car that’s very nice to drive. There’s more work to do obviously, we need to understand the car, but at the minute I’m very happy with what we’ve got.”
Team boss Guenther Steiner added:
“Not the best day today. In the morning we had an issue with the control of the fuel pumps, which forced us to stop out on the track. That lost us some time. We made some of that back up in the afternoon and got some running in. We can start to understand the car, but it’s much too early to see how good we are.”
It has to be said that Red Bull have had a pretty flawless first day with Honda - a stark contrast to McLaren's first day with the Japanese manufacturer. Max Verstappen was in the driving seat, and he managed to complete 128 laps and put himself fourth in the timesheets with a 1:19.426.
What is more interesting is what Red Bull had to say about their new Honda engine, as they described it as "a thing of beauty", with the team also claiming that it provided the best installation that the team had ever had.
"Power is a dominating factor, but I have to say that the installation of this engine into the chassis is probably the best one we have ever had," said Horner.
"When you look how neatly integrated it is into the chassis, it really is a thing of beauty. The whole engineering team collectively with Honda have done a great job in terms of installing what looks like a Swiss clock into the back of our chassis."
If the team can maintain this level of reliability, we already know as long as they aren't having to take grid penalties all the time, the Honda engine can deliver a decent amount of power, certainly being able to match Renault at some circuits last year.
Verstappen told Sky F1 that:
"So far so good," said the Dutchman. "Everything was working quite well, we did quite a lot of laps. I'm happy about that but it's still the first day. We're happy and we'll keep improving. Like everyone else we still need to learn the car, still need to learn the engine."
Someone made a very bold prediction:
Kimi Raikkonen had a strong start to his stint at Alfa Romeo (Sauber), clocking 114 laps and setting the fifth fastest time of a 1:19.462.
The car looked to be capable, and the Finn described it as a "big step" up from the Sauber he drove at the end of last season. However, the day was not without its problems for the Swiss-based team, as Raikkonen had a spin early on in the morning session which required the car to be recovered by the marshals and sent back to the garage.
The car was not damaged and he was quickly back onto the track where the team ran on and off for the rest of the day, until Raikkonen came to a stop at the end of the pit exit, leading the stewards to call the session to a halt a few seconds early.
Personally, I would love to see Kimi succeed at his new team, and I think that if their progress last year is anything to go by then we could be in for a few surprise results for the Finn as we go racing in 2019.
Kimi had this to say:
“The guys did the very good job over the winter. We have a package that we can work [with]. Everything feels normal and I’m sure like what I tried at the end of last year – the old car from Sauber, this is a Alfa car – it’s a big step for sure. The lap time comes easily, I’m very happy.”
“Obviously last winter with the weather conditions was complete different picture than this year. Everything ran smoothly on the car side so. We give it up and then we’ll do even more laps every day and that’s a key for learning and doing things and then getting to be ready for Melbourne.”
Some, like myself were getting a bit confused with the new name:
Toro Rosso had a rather quiet but relatively successful day with their new STR14, as they managed to complete 77 laps that were error free. Daniil Kvyat also made his return to Formula 1, a year and a bit after he was kicked off the Red Bull programme.
Kvyat set a lap time of a 1:19.635, albeit on the faster C4 (supersoft - this naming system for testing is ridiculous) tyres. During the afternoon session, Kvyat was running very close to Lewis Hamilton on the track, not letting the Brit past easily. This data however would be useful for Mercedes and Toro Rosso, as they can see what effects running close to another car has - something which the simpler aero was meant to fix.
I think it will be interesting to see how Kvyat gets on against his rookie teammate Alexander Albon, as I am sure I'm not the only one in suspecting that this is his last chance to prove himself in Formula 1.
Kvyat had this to say:
"It was a productive day today and it's good to be back behind the wheel. We managed to do quite a few laps, which is important on the first day of testing to get some mileage under your belt so you can see how the car behaves. It's too early to draw conclusions, but I think we have a good baseline for now and we need to keep working on that. Every time we were on track it was smooth running, and everyone was operating at a high level. I have another three days in the car which gives us the chance to improve on the things we worked on today, so we will look over the data to see which direction we will take on Wednesday. I worked with my new engineers and we all understood each other well straight away. It was certainly a good start."
There really isn't much to say about Racing Point today, as Sergio Perez only managed to complete 30 laps, with a 1:19.944 to put his pink panther in seventh place on the timesheet.
The team took quite a while to get out onto the track this morning, at a time where other teams where already putting in plenty of laps. The Mexican driver was disappointed that he was unable to cover more distance in his new car, but was encouraged by the pace that was available to him.
With a boost in funding coming from the consortium that took over what was Force India after the summer break in 2018, many people are expecting great things from Racing Point as they have managed to produce very competitive cars with a tiny budget in the past. They also have a solid driver in Perez, and this will be interesting to see how he gets on against Lance Stroll in the inter-team battle.
Perez said after the session that:
“It was a typical first day of testing, with a lot of checks and not a lot of running.” he said afterwards.
“Even though the day was a bit shorter than expected, I felt quite happy with the car straight away. The mileage wasn’t great but I think it was still a promising start. I am happy with the performance we managed to get out of the car and with its balance.”
"The conditions weren’t great: the track was quite cold and green to begin with, but I end the first day feeling positive. It was important to start understanding the car as much as we could and for me to make myself comfortable with it as a driver.”
Mercedes finished in eighth and ninth in the timesheets, as they decided to run Valtteri Bottas in the morning and Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon session. Bottas slightly edged Hamilton with a 1:20.127, with Hamilton coming close behind with a 1:20.135.
As expected they managed to rack up a lot of laps, with Bottas completing 69 in the morning, and Hamilton 81 in the afternoon.
Like last year, it is hard to judge how competitive the Silver Arrows are as they did not set any times of the softer compounds of tyre, instead opting to run with high fuel on long runs. Their reliability was impeccable, something which we have come to expect in the hybrid era.
I think it will be a crucial for Valtteri Bottas to perform well and maybe even beat Hamilton this year, as otherwise he has the likes of Esteban Ocon and George Russell hot on his heels for the drive at Mercedes. I am sure that Toto has the balls to make the change, so it is really up to Bottas to prove himself to the team after having an unlucky, but winless season in 2018.
Hamilton had this to say:
“It’s good to be back in the car and it's great to see the car is running as smoothly at it is. It feels quite a bit different compared to last year and we're now getting to know it, trying to understand the balance and trying to understand the characteristics we're working with.
“It’s been a positive first day, we got through our running plan and there's lots for us to learn about the new car which we will be working on.”
“I quite enjoyed this morning, it’s good to be back at the track. I did 69 laps and there were no major issues with the car, so it was a relatively successful run. Since the car is brand new, we immediately found ways to improve the balance and the behaviour and we will continue to work on that in the next days. It’s good to see the car running well and it proves that the entire team is doing a great job, both in Brackley and Brixworth, but also here at the track.
“I’m looking forward to a more time in the car tomorrow afternoon.”
Renault were another team that decided to run both drivers, with Nico Hulkenberg driving in the morning session, and new recruit Daniel Ricciardo completing the afternoon session.
The French team had a strong day in terms of distance covered, with Hulkenberg completing 65 laps, and Ricciardo managing 44. However, they did finish bottom of the timesheets, but I feel this is an example of the misrepresentation of the pecking order like I spoke about earlier. Hulkenberg's best lap was a 1:20.980, with Ricciardo just shy of that with a 1:20.983.
The honey badger described his day today as an "acclimatisation" day, and this is understandable given that he was unable to complete the end of season test in Abu Dhabi last year due to his Red Bull contract.
I think that it is important for Renault to keep progressing, as they returned to Formula 1 in 2016, and it did so with a six-year plan with the end goal being to put the team back at the front of the grid. They have now completed the first three years of this plan, which was to rebuild the factory in Enstone that had been suffering from a lack of funding for many years.
Now that they are in the second half of this plan, the goal is to make a return to the top end of the grid. The team managed to finish in fourth place last season, which is 'best of the rest' behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. If they can continue their progress and Red Bull struggle with the Honda engine, Daniel Ricciardo may have made the right decision.
“It was fun and very enjoyable to be back driving a Formula 1 car. You forget how fast these cars are, especially Turns 3 and 9 around here, so it’s great to be back driving again. My first impressions are promising, we didn’t have too many problems this morning and that meant we were able to get a decent amount of laps in. We were looking to start on the right foot today so it’s good to get 65 laps on the board and ease ourselves back in. We have things to assess and I’m looking forward to continuing the work over the next couple of days.”
“It’s a good feeling to be behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car again after a long winter waiting. Today was about bedding ourselves back into it and, for me, continuing to learn about a new car and a new team. It was a decent afternoon and it’s important we keep increasing our mileage. We have plenty to analyse but it’s been a promising first official day. I’m excited to hit the track again and develop this new relationship.”
What can I say.
The team missed the first day of testing because the car wasn't ready, and they have confirmed that they will also miss the second.
I'll probably expand on this tomorrow, but please Williams, get your shit together. Everybody wants to see you do well.
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