Ferrari shows good pace, reliability in first week of F1 tests

Sebastian Vettel
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MONTMELO, Spain — The first week of Formula testing ended with Ferrari looking to be a step ahead of Mercedes.

Ferrari showed good pace and reliability throughout the first four days of testing in Spain, while Mercedes didn’t look up to full speed.

Although teams often avoid showing their full potential in testing, Mercedes has usually fared better at this point in previous seasons.

“They do seem very strong, no matter which kind of fuel load or engine mode they’re running,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said of Ferrari. “Whatever you try to correct that for, in any case, they are quick, on short runs and long runs. I think we feel, at this point, that they’re going to be a bit ahead, but obviously it’s impossible to make a detailed calculation.”

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time of the week on Thursday with a time of 1 minute, 17.393 seconds at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon. Hulkenberg teammate Daniel Ricciardo was third, ahead of Bottas and his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Charles Leclerc, who led the timesheets on Tuesday, ended sixth with Ferrari on a slower tire compound.

Hamilton and Bottas totaled only 115 laps with both cars on Thursday, while Leclerc ran 138 with his Ferrari.

“I think there is a lot of potential, but it’s not yet quite there,” Bottas said. “But I feel a sense in the team of a bit of an excitement to discover more about the car and to improve it, because at this point, it looks like we are not miles ahead of everyone. It seems like . Ferrari are in a better place.”

Hamilton on Wednesday predicted a stronger challenge from Ferrari this year. The five-time world champion beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel the last two seasons in the drivers’ championship. Mercedes has won the constructors’ title for five straight years.

Hamilton and Bottas had faster overall times than Vettel and Leclerc, although their laps came on faster tires. Mercedes also ran 12 more laps than Ferrari during the four days of testing.

Vettel was the fastest driver on Monday.

McLaren had a promising first week, being able to run more laps than in both test sessions combined last year. Williams, which started testing later than the other teams because of delays with its 2019 car, ran only 88 laps in total, the fewest among all teams. Alfa Romeo, formerly known as Sauber, had a promising week, racking up a high lap count and setting fast times.

Testing will continue Tuesday-Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The season-opening Australian Grand Prix is on March 17.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.