(Photo source: Max Artes)
Ferrari may have set the fastest times across F1 winter testing but it is world champions Mercedes who appear to be in best shape ahead of the new Formula 1 season. A slightly odd conclusion given Ferrari’s lightning fast pace – especially on the hypersoft tyres.
Whilst the longer runs appear to show Mercedes still on top, the gap between the teams remains a topic of hot debate. As does the pace of the Red Bull package who appear to have closed the gap, potentially giving the strong pairing of Ricciardo and Verstappen a chance at a maiden title. This presents its own set of challenges as multi-team battles result in one driver being favoured over another. So, if Red Bull plan on mounting a serious challenge for the driver’s championship, the career of either Max or Daniel may take a drastic turn, especially given the latter’s contract is a hot topic in the paddock.
Behind them, the battle in the midfield also looks close, but hopes of a sudden leap forward by McLaren following their switch to Renault power have floundered after a trouble-filled two weeks, marked by five separate on-track breakdowns.
As the chequered flag fell in Barcelona on Friday night, it was Ferrari who topped the timesheets courtesy of Sebastian Vettel’s 1:17.182 lap on Day 7. Set on the new-for-2018 hypersoft tyres, Vettel achieved his benchmark on a five-lap run which also included times of 1:17.913 and 1:17.664. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen was second-fastest, less than a tenth behind Vettel with a lap of 1:17.221 on the final day. Indications were that the fuel loads were at a race level, inferring that the Ferrari could go even quicker.
Red Bull’s best time on the hypersofts – Daniel Ricciardo’s lap of 1:18.047 – was nearly a second shy of Ferrari’s, but Thursday’s cooler temperatures were more conducive to fast times.
Mercedes opted not to use the hypersofts at all. As a result, their world champions’ best time of the winter was Lewis Hamilton’s lap of 1.18.400 on ultrasofts, 1.2 seconds adrift of Vettel’s benchmark. The reason for this could be the lack of a hypersoft option for the first three rounds of the championship.
Mercedes were only quicker on the medium tyres, the hardest to be run by any of the teams during testing (wet weather excluded). All the talk in the paddock appears to be centred around whether Red Bull, not Ferrari were close to Mercedes.
Haas showed up well in the timesheets and look likely to be running as best of the rest after Renault. Force India struggled all week and their lack of budget seems to have finally caught up with them. Toro Rosso look quick, and reliable with their new Honda power units, fueling speculation that Red Bull may look to switch engine provider if Toro Rosso can make them work. The Williams looked plain slow, and will struggle to get out of Q1 for most of this year. Equally, the newly-forged partnership between Alfa Romeo and Sauber has yet to show the rewards they may have expected. However new Ferrari power units will surely see them closer to the pack, giving rookie Charles Le Clerc a shot at a decent first season in F1.
As always testing has given us a rough idea of what the grid will look like, but testing is never always accurate and any of the top three teams could conceivably win in Australia – something we haven’t seen for a fair few years. This will give optimism too many and hopefully provide a level of competition on a level with 2012 – the last season we saw a good level of variation.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments, but bring on Australia!
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