Max Chilton and Marussia top Day 1 of Barcelona test

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Let’s get started off the bat with this. That headline above? Not a misprint.

“Mighty” Max Chilton and little ol’ Marussia indeed led a somewhat rainy first day of Formula One testing today at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The British driver finished 19th last weekend on the same track in last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, but threw down a lap of 1 minute, 26.434 seconds that gave him top honors today.

That time was an improvement of more than three seconds from the qualifying time he set on Saturday going into the race.

It may have just been a test session, but driver and team were still delighted by their performance.

Also turning in a strong performance was Lotus reserve Charles Pic, who went second-fastest with a time of 1 minute, 26.661 seconds. The Frenchman is backing up Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado this year after racing with Caterham in 2013.

Lewis Hamilton, who won his fourth Grand Prix in a row last weekend at Barcelona and took over the World Championship lead as a result, was third-fastest in his Mercedes at 1 minute, 26.674 seconds.

Kimi Raikkonen was fourth-fastest but he and Ferrari had a tough afternoon. Shortly after he had begun his work for the day, he was forced to stop his car on course as smoke billowed from it.

He would come back in the afternoon, but a later spin into the gravel forced Ferrari to end his day early.

Jean-Eric Vergne overcame two stoppages early on to round out the Top 5 for Scuderia Toro Rosso. His team and Sauber were charged with tire development this afternoon for Pirelli. Tomorrow, those duties will shift to McLaren and Force India.

Multiple red flags marked the day’s events. In addition to Raikkonen and Vergne’s issues, Red Bull reserve Sebastien Buemi brought one out when he stopped with gearbox problems. Ditto for Kamui Kobayashi of Caterham, who crashed at Turn 3 late.

FORMULA ONE TESTING – DAY ONE, CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA
UNOFFICIAL TIMES
1. Max Chilton, Marussia-Ferrari, 1:26.434, 60 laps
2. Charles Pic, Lotus-Renault, 1:26.661, 70 laps
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:26.674, 79 laps
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:26.965, 21 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1:27.724, 52 laps
6. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes, 1:27.727, 53 laps
7. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1:27.756, 55 laps
8. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1:28.333, 74 laps
9. Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham-Renault, 1:30.101, 72 laps
10. Sebastien Buemi, Red Bull-Renault, 1:31.440, 54 laps
11. Giedo van der Garde, Sauber-Ferrari, 1:31.783, 86 laps

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.