The new F1 season is nearly upon us and last week saw the first four days of pre-season testing held in Barcelona. It proved to be a good few days for Ferrari but a nightmare time for the Williams team, once they finally turned up.
The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was fastest on day one. Vettel put in 169 laps, more than any other car. He was 0.4 seconds faster than Carlos Sainz in his first day on the track with McLaren. Third fastest was the Haas of Romain Grosjean with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fourth. Times seemed to compare well with those recorded in 2018 despite new rules re front wings.
Mercedes are concentrating more on testing than pace. Valtteri Bottas drove in the morning and Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon. Hamilton was ninth fastest after spending the afternoon on long runs. Their boss was impressed with the Ferrari performance describing it as “ultra-strong.”
Williams had a disappointing 2018 and word is their new car is even slower. To find that out we’d have to actually see it and their new car wasn’t even in the country let alone on the track on day one of pre-season testing.
Ferrari were fastest again on day two but this time it was new driver Charles Leclerc who finished first. He finished ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris with the Haas of Kevin Magnusson in third and Alexander Albon fourth in his Toro Rosso despite a couple of spins.
Lewis Hamilton was back in tenth with again emphasis on long runs. As the day neared its end, Pierre Gasly crashed his Red Bull going into Turn 12 and spun into the gravel. For the second day running there was no sign of the new Williams car.
Ferrari’s dominance ended on Wednesday and with just 15 minutes to go, the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat put in the fastest time of the day. He was just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in his Alfa Romeo with the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo 0.4 seconds back in third. Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel with Max Verstappen fifth.
Williams finally began pre-season testing but they were well off the pace of the other cars. Being behind with their testing, they concentrated on system checks, while the others could start pushing their vehicles more. George Russell managed 23 laps with a best time of 1m 25.625 seconds, eight seconds off the pace.
It wasn’t a great day for Haas with their cars causing three red flags. A problem with their ignition coil was making life difficult.
The first week of pre-season testing ended with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg setting the fastest time. It was another good day for Alexander Albon as he finished second fastest, ahead of the other Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.
The final day of the first week, or as Williams call it ‘day two’ saw them again posting the slowest times. The second set of testing between February 26 and March 1 will hopefully be more informative for them.
Speaking after testing, Valtteri Bottas, who finished fourth fastest on soft tyres on Thursday said he felt Ferrari are “a bit ahead” of Mercedes. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari are “very strong” and that they have “a better package than last year.” In response, Charles Leclerc felt Mercedes were “sandbagging” during the first week. Hopefully the second set of testing will see a better view of the true pace of the Mercedes.
By Steve Ashfield