F1 pre-season testing: Drawing conclusions from the inconclusive

Some things don’t seem set to change. Despite Ferrari topping the timing boards in pre-season testing, Mercedes reportedly still have a lot more to give and between their two drivers they racked up a very healthy number of laps indeed. Honda almost seemed to go backwards with the McLaren getting through countless power units and losing a lot of running which they could ill-afford to lose. But going beyond the headlines, what have we actually learnt from testing and what can we cautiously expect when the F1 circus hits Melbourne in less than two weeks time?

As predicted, the cars are faster than their direct predecessors with the quickest lap four seconds quicker than this time last year.  But the experts think that there could be more yet to come from the cars.  Kimi Raikkonen was the only driver to reach the 1m 18s mark that Pirelli had estimated the new cars would achieve. They’ve not yet reached the lap record for the Barcelona track and expectations were that the cars would be up to five seconds a lap quicker so there is a very good chance that that the best is yet to come.

The drivers are confirming that the 2017 cars are much harder to drive even after the extra preparation over the winter to get themselves ready. This may have negatively impacted 18 year old rookie Lance Stroll in the first week who, after two trips into the gravel, encountered a wall which resulted in Williams having to miss the final day of the first test. Although Stroll will now begin his F1 career under quite intense scrutiny and appears to have taken over from Pastor Maldonado as a byword for crashing, Felipe Massa seemed to really get to grips with the car in the second test and he managed to set the fifth fastest time of testing.

When it seemed that the only way was up for McLaren, Honda have contrived to produce an engine that has as many issues as ever. Engine vibrations have caused damage to the rest of the car, including an electrical systems failure, and neither driver has managed to put more than a handful of laps together in one go. If the engine continues to have this many malfunctions then McLaren’s relationship with Honda might just fail with it.

Honda isn’t the only engine manufacturer running into trouble however. The Renault engine has suffered from MGU-K issues which has hindered the running of all the teams they supply and has prevented them showing their full potential. Their prospects will be better when reliability fixes can be brought in but the loss of running time will be damaging to the teams. It is widely considered that Red Bull will bring in some pretty major changes before Melbourne, so don’t assume that their testing pace is indicative of how their 2017 is going to be.

In contrast, 2017 looks very bright for Ferrari. They’ve looked very consistent, and consistently quick at that. Fastest man on track Raikkonen claimed that he could have gone quicker still. On paper Ferrari are the team to beat but whether they will be able to take the fight to Mercedes is another question entirely, and not one that can be answered by looking at testing alone. Mercedes proved they aren’t totally infallible when suffering from the odd reliability issue but Lewis Hamilton’s predictions that the Ferrari will be the best car in 2017 might not be totally true. Mercedes almost certainly have a lot more to give  and it might take more than a little regulation shake up to knock them from their position as the team to beat.

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Posted in F1

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