Over 4,200 laps and almost 20,000km of running have been completed over the first four days of on-track F1 action in 2019. While not much can be read into the competitive order for the coming season at this early stage, here are five of the headlines from the first week of winter testing!
Not too much can be read into lap times at this early stage. If that were the case, we’d be looking forward to a title fight between Renault and Toro Rosso, who topped the timesheets on the final two days of the test. The general feeling after the first week, however, is that Ferrari have an advantage at the front of the pack over Mercedes. The Ferrari looked well-balanced on track from the start of the week, with both Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc able to put in rapid lap times at ease. Vettel hailed the SF90 as being “very close to perfection” after his first day in the car, in which he completed a mammoth 169 laps – the most for any single driver on any of the four days.
While Mercedes completed a handful more laps than Ferrari, even Lewis Hamilton admitted that the Italian team look “very, very strong right now”. Experts predict that Ferrari’s advantage over their rivals is between 0.3-0.5 seconds, though we may be able to get a clearer idea of this over the four days of the second test, where the teams are likely to work on performance and set faster lap times.
A good start for Red Bull and Honda
Red Bull had plenty of positives as they settled into their new relationship with Honda over the first week of testing. Honda power units completed the second-most laps of any power unit this week, behind only Ferrari. The Honda engine proved to not only be able to set relatively speedy lap times – with Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon being the pacesetters for most of the final two days – but also proved to be reliable, with no obvious issues or stoppages. Rumours in the paddock suggest Red Bull had troubles with vibrations and oscillations from the power unit, but this is something which Team Principal Christian Horner has since denied.
Insiders say that the Red Bull is almost on par with Mercedes as the second-best team at this stage. Horner also backed the team’s decision to switch to Honda power, saying it is “clearly better” than last year’s Renault power unit. It will be interesting to see if the Honda engine remains as reliable as the team shift their focus to faster lap times with higher engine settings next week.
Williams in trouble
Williams missed the first two days of testing due to their FW42 not being ready in time. Media speculation called into question Paddy Lowe’s future with the team as a result, but Claire Williams remained reluctant to discuss the exact cause of the team’s issues when the car eventually arrived on Wednesday.
Though the team completed less than 100 laps, George Russell was optimistic after being out in the car, saying it at least felt “stable” to drive. The team have moved their previously cancelled filming day to between the two tests in order to boost their mileage.
Alfa Romeo: a surprise in waiting?
Alfa Romeo’s bold front wing design had plenty of people talking ahead of the first test – and it seems to have been an ingenious design. New driver Kimi Raikkonen spoke of the “big step” made by the team over the winter, who many expect to be ‘best of the rest’ behind the top three teams in Melbourne.
Alfa Romeo completed the third-most laps of any team this week, with Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi each putting in the most laps of any driver on each of the last two days. The team ran relatively trouble free, aside from a trip into the gravel for Raikkonen during the first ten minutes on the first day, and two consecutive stoppages for Giovinazzi in the last ten minutes of running on the final day.
Lots of mileage
It was a busy week for the teams, collectively completing 65% more laps than over the first week of testing last year. There are a number of reasons for this, with 2019’s better weather conditions being a predominant factor.
The better reliability experienced by the teams this week is another factor, with only a handful of red flags caused by on-track stoppages. Haas was responsible for most of the most red flags, with their car coming to a halt multiple times during the first three days. Gunther Steiner described the issues as “little gremlins”, though the team is pleased with the “good potential” of the car overall.
All signs so far point to an intriguing season ahead, with a close battle at the top and an even tighter midfield. Furthermore, predictions that this year’s lap times will be 1.5 seconds off the pace of 2019 appear to be wide of the mark, with the three best sector times from the week giving a lap time which is only a second off the track record set in 2018. How far the lap time tumbles next week will be enticing to watch.