The F1 circus reconvened in Barcelona today, as 2017 testing fired back into life. The first week of pre-season testing offered a few clues with regards to the pecking order, yet this week promises to reveal far more as teams begin to show their hands by testing the true performance of their package.
Today was a tale of winners a losers. Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull all enjoyed excellent outings, while McLaren and Honda’s relationship has taken another sour turn, with the partnership now under “maximum” strain.
Here’s FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED on day five of pre-season testing…
Williams like a glory run
Felipe Massa stole some early season headlines today, with a performance to put a smile on faces at Grove. They certainly had little to celebrate in week one. Massa’s 1:19.726 was set on the supersoft tyres in what looked like a qualifying simulation run; outlap, followed by a hotlap and straight back into the pits.
It appears as though Williams have shown their hand. Today’s blistering pace came out of the blue and Massa was quick to highlight that despite his rapid lap times, he does not anticipate that the FW40 has suddenly become a Mercedes-beater.
“I don’t think we are on the same level as Mercedes,” he stated. “Mercedes have already shown incredible speed. But if we can fight podiums then that will be a great job. We will see where we are in Australia.”
Are 2017 cars really as physical as they’ve been billed?
168 laps from the Brazilian has served to recuperate some of the mileage Williams lost as a result of Lance Stroll’s struggles last week, where three excursions cost the team some valuable track time. Massa’s experience already proving invaluable and we have not even reached Australia yet.
However, with Sebastian Vettel also managing a herculean 168 laps today, eyebrows are being raised as to the physicality of this season’s machinery. Mercedes have so far split driving duties between their drivers each and every day in order to avoid fatigue but on this evidence, it seems unnecessary.
Certainly, a Grand Prix distance will not trouble the likes of Massa and Vettel who have managed to complete two and a half times the distance in one day of testing.
Ferrari continue to build expectations
When Sebastian Vettel outperformed both Mercedes and became the first man to beat Mercedes in a straight fight during the hybrid era at Malaysia in 2015, belief in a Ferrari resurgence was at fever pitch. In reality, it was simply one of many false dawns.
Is their pre-season pace following the trend, or are Ferrari actually a force to be reckoned with this year?
According to Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari’s performance is genuine and makes them the favourites heading into the season. “I think Ferrari must be the favourites. I think we can’t take our eyes off them because they have been doing such a great job at the moment.”
Of course, Hamilton could be looking to distract attention away from his own team and their package. After all, this is a sport where teams have been known to turn up at testing with camouflage liveries. You simply do not want to give the opposition a reason or an opportunity to study your car.
Honda continue to face serious powerunit woes
McLaren have had a dire pre-season. It’s not quite as dreadful as their 2015 winter, which was quite frankly a non-event, yet given that this is the third year of the partnership, tensions seem to be just as palpable.
Potentially even worse than in 2015.
Another powerunit change kept McLaren and Stoffel Vandoorne marooned in the garage for a large portion of the day. He recovered to an extent, completing 80 laps for McLaren, yet compared with the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes’ mileage, they are rapidly falling adrift in the mileage stakes.
The planned programme will have been thrown out of the window during last week’s shambles, but today’s debacle is particularly painful. Honda in week two have picked up from where they left off and appear to be testing McLaren’s patience.
When Motorsport.com asked Eric Boullier to describe the amount of strain Honda’s predicament is placing on their relationship, the Racing Director replied, “maximum.” It’s a line that is almost as powerful as Fernando Alonso’s “GP2 engine” rant.
Strong words and a marriage that keeps appearing to be on the brink of collapse.
Horner hates the “shark fins”
Christian Horner has today declared that F1 must act to ban “shark fins” that have proved to be an unpopular consequence of the 2017 technical regulations.
Shark fins essentially help to control airflow towards the rear wing, therefore increasing rear end stability. Teams were aware of the fact that 2017’s radical rethink of the regulations could see shark fins developed and as a result, some teams reportedly lobbied the F1 Commission to enforce a ban on the design. When the suggestion was put to the Commission, it was thrown out.
“The cars on track look great, they’re giving the drivers a harder time,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “The only disappointment for me is that it would have been nice to get rid of these shark fins and moustache-like wings!”
Considering these regulations were introduced in part, to repair the aesthetics of F1, the addition of these shark fins is counter-intuitive. I’m certainly with Horner on this one, but with the F1 Commission having already voted against a ban, it seems unlikely that anything will change.