(Photo credit: Renzopaso)
The second test in Barcelona has definitely been kinder than the first, with track temperatures above the pitifully low single-figures last week saw. Teams naturally wanted to make up for lost time and prove that their cars are reliable in conditions closer to a typical race weekend. All teams clocked over 100 laps today, a marker that a few years ago would be seen as impressive in any team. The question on everyone's lips was whether any of the expected front-runners (Mercedes or Ferrari) would challenge Red Bull's record lap time from yesterday. One team did, proving that these cars have indeed gained a lot of pace over last year.
The day started on time at 9am CET, with teams finalising their driver lineup. As the penultimate day of testing, this could be the last chance drivers get in their cars before Melbourne. Ericsson, Kubica and Vandoorne were among the early runners, with the McLaren jumping on the hypersoft tyres (the softest of the 7 compounds available) to set a 1:19. Respectable, but over a second off Red Bull's pace yesterday with the same Renault engine. Hulkenberg, in the works Renault, moved into the 1:18s before being blown out of the water by Sebastian Vettel, who took the unofficial lap record down to 1:17.6, then knocked another half-second off before the end of the morning session (for the stat geeks amongst you, that's a 1:17.182, nearly 2 seconds faster than Lewis Hamilton's pole time from 2017!). Mercedes weren't tempted to test their ultimate pace in the morning, driving on Medium tyres (5th softest of the 7 compounds) to a 1:19.3, which would put their pace roughly similar once adjusted for tyres. Valterri Bottas also completed the most laps of anyone this morning, crossing the start-finish line 96 times before he handed the car to champion Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon.
The afternoon session didn't see any further records being smashed, teams focussing on race simulation meaning high fuel loads and lots of laps. The race is 66 laps long, so a fuel simulation will add a significant chunk of laps to the tallies. In fact, there wasn't much excitement in the afternoon session, the only noteworthy incident being a spin from Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber, which brought out the only red flag of the day. The car was cleared quickly, and the teams were able to go out for a final hour.
One would struggle to look past Ferrari as today's biggest winner. Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo was clearly happy yesterday and expressed doubts about exactly in what order the top 3 teams stood. Ferrari sent the message, by going almost a whole second faster, that they were definitely in the hunt, and put themselves back as the team most likely to fight Mercedes in 2018.Honourable mention to McLaren aswell, who finally got the car working and set over 150 laps during the sessions today (their most successful testing day in the V6 turbo era!). Let's hope the team can carry this momentum forward throughout tomorrow and into Melbourne.
It's difficult to pick a loser today as all the teams did so well, but Red Bull must be a bit red-faced after their lap record lasted a single day. Crowd favourite Max Verstappen didn't do much ultimate pace testing today (his fastest being a 1:19 on Softs) but he did complete 187 laps, just a single lap shy of Vettel's tally.
Also, anyone who wanted to see Mercedes' true pace surely lost out today, as the champion team stubbornly refused to use anything other than Medium tyres, which distorted their pace and gives an unclear picture of the front of the grid. We can expect the silver cars to be running at the front, but will they run away with it like they did for 2014, 2015 and 2016? Who can tell?