News out of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship from this past week revolves exclusively around pre-season testing, which wrapped up on Friday. The next time Formula 1’s drivers and teams will get together as a group, it will be for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix (March 23-25).
A look at single-lap speeds from this past week saw Scuderia Ferrari lead the way most often, with Sebastian Vettel quickest on Tuesday and Thursday, while Kimi Raikkonen was quickest on Friday. Red Bull Racing also spent some time at the top of the time sheets, with Daniel Ricciardo setting the quick time on Wednesday.
Conspicuous in their absence at the very top of the speed charts was Mercedes AMG Petronas, with neither Lewis Hamilton nor Valtteri Bottas turning the quick lap of any day from the past week.
However, that may have been by design. A look at the time charts indicates that neither driver turned his best lap of any day this week on the new hyper soft Pirelli tires. With those now the softest tire compound available, they would be the tires used to set the quickest lap times.
However, while others used the new “hypers” to set an ultimate lap time, that did not seem to fit into the Mercedes game plan. In particular, Thursday and Friday saw them focus on long-run pace almost exclusively. This is also reflected in the total laps they turned, as the team crossed the 1,000-lap mark on Friday.
The overall feeling is that Mercedes remains the team to beat, with both Ferrari and Red Bull vying for next in line in the pecking order. Sahara Force India and Renault Sport F1 Team have also looked strong at various points, and may do battle for “best of the rest” behind Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull. Haas F1 Team also showed speed at various times during the week, again putting them squarely in the mid-field mix.
The team that seemed to generate the most intrigue is McLaren F1 Team. While they made a power unit change in switching to Renault from Honda – after three problematic seasons plagued by reliability and power issues – the team struggled with reliability for much of the week, with both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne suffering a range of mechanical problems.
While the McLaren-Renault package seems to have speed, reliability remains a question mark.
Alfa Romeo Sauber and Williams Martini Racing were the teams that seemed to languish near the bottom in terms of outright speed – a Williams driver turned in the slowest lap each day during Week 2 of testing, with Sauber not far ahead of them.
As a result, Williams and Sauber might be the bottom two teams in the pecking order, and may need to rely on problems from other teams in order to contend for finishes in the points.