With Storm Emma and the Beast from the East hitting the UK, driving cars at great speed hasn’t quite been on the agenda. This week saw pre-season testing begin and it proved to be three days of speed, spills and even snow.
The past few seasons haven’t been great for McLaren but there’s new hope for the 2018 season. The first day of testing at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya didn’t quite go their way though and poor Fernando Alonso must be wondering just what will happen this season. His car had only managed six laps before it lost control at the final corner and off went the right rear wheel. The Spaniard returned to the pits holding the wheel nut that had come loose.
It wasn’t all bad news though as Alonso eventually set what was initially thought to be the seventh fastest time of the day. Then it was revealed he’d cut the chicane in an attempt to prevent being delayed by Brendon Hartley in his Toro Rosso, so he was relegated to seventh place.
It’d have been interesting to hear what Alonso thought of the fact that Hartley was able to complete 93 laps – 42 more than he managed – using the Honda engine that caused McLaren so many problems.
It was Red Bull who came out on top on day one with Daniel Ricciardo setting the fastest time. He finished 0.17 seconds ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas with both setting their times on the medium tyres. It was a busy day for Ricciardo as his Red Bull was the only to complete more than 100 laps.
Third fastest was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen who was 0.157 seconds behind Bottas on the faster soft tyre. Renault’s Nico Hulkenburg was fourth fastest followed by team-mate Carlos Sainz. Defending champion Lewis Hamilton was sixth fastest, setting his time in the afternoon when it was cold and rainy, conditions that eventually ended the session half an hour early.
It was 2017 all over again on day two as Ferrari did battle with Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel finished fastest ahead of Valtteri Bottas with the gap between the two cars 0.303 seconds with the Mercedes using the slower tyres.
Bottas had a long day driving for Mercedes as his team bosses opted against Hamilton getting some time on the track due to the time it’d take to adjust the car. With the weather not great, time was of the essence.
Third fastest was Stoffel Vandoorne in his McLaren but it wasn’t a problem free day with just 37 laps completed due to a problem with the exhaust causing overheating.
Red Bull had another good day with Max Verstappen finishing fourth fastest, 0.35 seconds behind Bottas. He was pleased with the way the handling and balance of his car and believes the Red Bull is in a much better position than this time last year.
There were a few spins on day two with Vettel, the Sauber of Charles Leclerc and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen all having a few problems. Vettel blamed his spin on the cold weather making it difficult “to get the tyres to work.”
The weather had been cold for the first couple of days with a few flakes of snow towards the end of day two. Conditions deteriorated overnight and there was a three-hour delay the following morning as the medical helicopter was unable to fly in the poor conditions.
When racing did begin, only five cars ventured out onto the track with the only time set by Fernando Alonso who joked that the “car is performing well in the snow so far”. He only managed 11 laps with times at least a minute off the times that would have been set under normal conditions.
Daniel Ricciardo also ventured out but the Australian probably wished he hadn’t after his trip through the gravel. The afternoon saw the snow turn into heavy rain and teams just weren’t prepared to send their flashy new cars out in fear of getting them damaged.
Temperatures rose for the final day of the testing in Barcelona and it was Lewis Hamilton who set the fastest time. He was 0.5 seconds faster than and 0.9 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel even though he was on a harder tyre than the Ferrari.
Hamilton isn’t the greatest fan of testing but believed everything was positive with the Mercedes but the new track surface at Barcelona was making it difficult to judge just how good his car it, though it is looking rather promising for the upcoming season.
It was a better day for McLaren with Vandoorne managing over 100 laps before giving Alonso a go. He finished second behind Hamilton but was using the faster hyper-soft tyre, the only driver to do so.
Third fastest was Sebastian Vettel with Kevin Magnusson in fourth. Fernando Alonso was fifth fastest, 1.6 seconds behind Hamilton on the super-soft tyre. Between them, Alonso and Vandoorne completed 161 laps.
The second and final pre-season testing runs from 6-9 March as the countdown to the Australian Grand Prix on March 25 continues.
By Steve Ashfield