The second week of pre-season testing in Barcelona is over and it’s been another fascinating week and a busy one for McLaren engineers.
In days gone by I owned a video recorder that just kept on breaking down. I’d go out expecting to come home and watch the programmes I’d set it to record, only to find it had broken down again and it seemed to be a different problem every time. Fast forward to 2018 and McLaren have the same problems with Stoffel Vandoorne seeing his car break down three times, twice due to a battery problem and then a loss of hydraulic pressure. All of that led to the McLaren completing just 38 laps, fewer than any of the 13 participating drivers and only one car set a slower time.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier says the team isn’t “overly concerned” and the problems encountered were the “types of niggles that we almost hope and expect to face during testing” and they will learn from their experiences. But only last week he spoke about the importance of doing a race distance after the problems encountered in week one of pre-season testing. He had to watch Ferrari and Mercedes both complete more than 160 laps, while his mechanics were busy at work trying to repair the McLaren.
They weren’t the only team having problems. Toro Rosso failed to get their car on the track in the afternoon session and Max Verstappen also had problems with his Red Bull stopping on the track.
Sebastian Vettel finished fastest on day one with a time set on the medium tyre. His Ferrari was 0.2 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas who was using the supposedly faster soft tyre. Max Verstappen was 0.53 seconds slower than Bottas on medium tyres with Lewis Hamilton fourth fastest 0.159 seconds behind the Red Bull.
The second day of pre-season testing proved to be a good one for Red Bull with Daniel Ricciardo setting the fastest time with Lewis Hamilton in second. Lewis Hamilton will have been pleased about his time in the Mercedes as he was a lot faster than Red Bull when both teams were using the same kind of tyres with a lead of 0.8 seconds on the medium tyre. Even Ricciardo admits it’s advantage Mercedes at present with the opposing team likely to have a bit more to come out. However, he believes Red Bull are in a better position than they were this time last year.
Valtteri Bottas was third fastest nearly a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel in fourth. The McLaren of Fernando Alonso set the fifth fastest time on a hyper-soft tyre but was 1.8 seconds adrift of the time set by Ricciardo. Despite finishing fifth, it was another stop-start day for the McLaren team.
Alonso had a good morning before his car eventually stopped on the track. However, he spent just eight minutes on the track during the afternoon session. Not the fault of his car this time but the session ended early due to the Sauber of Charles Leclerc going off the track.
The number of laps completed by McLaren was less than a third of that manage by Red Bull, Mercedes and Renault. Alonso believes McLaren are “more or less OK,” but they just keep “discovering small things every day” but at least their engineers are getting plenty of practice.
A good day for Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel setting the fastest lap ever recorded around the Circuit de Catalunya. He was over a second faster than the other drivers with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen a surprising second fastest with Pierre Gasly in his Toro Rosso third, hardly a 1-2-3 that could have been predicted at the start of the day. Nico Hulkenberg was fourth fastest in his Renault with team mate Carolos Sainz in fifth.
Thankfully it was a much quieter day for the McLaren engineers as their car completed 151 laps and Stoffel Vandoorne finished sixth fastest. Just seeing that car going around and around must have been a massive confidence booster for the team.
Mercedes had other ideas today as they concentrated on longer runs with heavy fuel loads, explaining why Hamilton could only finish eighth fastest two seconds slower than Vettel’s time.
It was another impressive day of sorts for McLaren on the final day of pre-season testing. Fernando Alonso finished second-fastest 0.563 seconds behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso may have set a good time, but he had plenty of time to think about it as his McLaren spent five hours in the pits due to a turbo failure. At least he eventually completed 83 laps, but reliability has to be sorted out before the first race of the season.
Again, Mercedes had their mind on longer runs with heavier fuel loads with Bottas finishing sixth fastest and Hamilton back in 11th. But their work in the first two days will have pleased them and shown their rivals just where they stand with the defending champions this season.
I’ll be back with another blog next weekend, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield