Bob McMurray: Taking test results to the track
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We are in the short period between the Formula 1 teams being back at base after the pre-season testing days at the Spanish Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the year’s first Grand Prix at Melbourne.
Some team technical directors will be sitting at the head of their design office staff meeting wondering why they’re not as quick as they thought they would be.
Others will be thinking everything that the hundreds of laps their cars and drivers completed, over eight days of testing, went much to plan.
In the latter camp, Mercedes seems to be the dominant force with more than 1000 relatively trouble-free laps completed in a car that the team says is a development of the 2017 version.
No staggering new innovations, no mind-boggling, showboating fastest lap — only seventh fastest overall — but giving the impression of a thoroughbred racehorse being held in check while training for an endurance event.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have to be the favourites, again, for the new season.
The Ferrari, in the hands of Sebastian Vettel, won the fastest overall lap battle and also, with 900 laps completed, second in the endurance stakes, but that fastest lap at this track, set on the new hypersoft Pirelli tyres, was not indicative of the general performance of the car in speed terms during the test.
The Scuderia will be competition for Mercedes but just how close is debatable.
Less debatable is the improvement of the Red Bull-Renault team with Daniel Ricciardo saying the team “are there or thereabouts, I think we will be in the hunt” after 783 laps completed and consistent times.
The raging bull with Ricciardo and the speedy — and speedily maturing — Max Verstappen could easily be the dark horses to regularly beat Scuderia Ferrari’s prancing horse and maybe even blunt the Mercedes star.
Another team sitting down with some afterglow from the testing was Toro Rosso.
After a disastrous three years with McLaren, the performance and reliability of the latest Honda RA618H power unit — 822 laps completed — was spectacular and perhaps surprising in the extreme.
A pleasant surprise for not only team boss Franz Tost but encouraging for drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley.
Surely Hartley will be in with a good chance of claiming the first F1 championship points, as a Kiwi, for more than a generation.
On the other side of the coin sits McLaren, a team that seems to be constantly, for yet another year, in a state of unreliability.
With, so it is said, one of the best chassis on the grid and a Renault power unit that is serving the Red Bull team so well, it must have been disappointing and frustrating for the team to have completed only 619 laps.
Fernando Alonso did manage to set the second quickest time of the test period but I think there is an uncomfortable feeling about how the whole chassis / engine package will ‘gel’ as quickly as the team would like.
Of the rest, the Renault squad had a “solid” test with 800-plus laps completed and consistent lap times but not yet in line to threaten the likely race winners.
Williams’ two inexperienced drivers, in Lance Stroll and newcomer Sergey Sirotkin, backed up by the returning Robert Kubica, struggled to find any performance.
The Haas team, nearly 700 laps under its belt, has made gains from 2017.
On the other hand, Force India with just over 700 laps, and looking so promising in 2017, had a bad couple of weeks with a car that did not respond as it should have. .
Sauber Alfa Romeo (read Ferrari “B” team) completed nearly 800, mostly unspectacular, laps. Apart from being a regular visitor to the gravel traps that is.
Yet again, this perennially underfunded team seem destined to be the regular grid tail-end Charlies but at least, this year, it has the most up-to-date Ferrari engine to help spur it on. And, with the Alfa Romeo commercial tie-up, more funding.
So, what does it mean? Nothing really, until the race next Sunday when more will be revealed.