With the final test all wrapped up it is time to predict what we can expect in two weeks time. For me Australia can’t come soon enough. So is it possible to draw a conclusion from the tests? Lets try.
First things first: Speed!
The fastest lap of these wintertests was set by Kimi Räikkönen with a time of 1:18.634. Compared to last years time (Also set by Räikkönen in his Ferrari) of 1:22.765, that’s an improvement of 4.131 seconds. Not the, by the FIA, promised 5 seconds, but then again I am fairly certain we haven’t seen any team give it their all, sandbagging is part of the game. And times in testing are almost completely useless. As Craig put it earlier this week: “Ferrari might have only had a teacup of Shell in their tank.”
The overall impression, for me (yes, I am a Vettel fan), was good. Perhaps even the best I’ve had in 10 years. And I am a very pessimistic person, so that says a lot! Not only have they been lapping quick times, throughout all test days. But what’s even more, they’ve had a very reliable test session. Last year they used three engines during testing. This year they sticked to one. I wouldn’t say they hadn’t had any problems at all, because that would be a lie. There was an electrical problem, a hydraulic leak and a small crash for Räikkönen. Nevertheless they were 98 laps up from their total of last year, bringing it to 952 in total.
Many of the trackside connaisseurs went on record to say that it looked like the Ferrari had the best handling of all the cars. Gary Anderson felt like the car was painted on the road. Martin Brundle hailed their traction in corners. And Ben Anderson said he clearly could hear Vettel sandbagging through the last corner. Predicting that Ferrari had some extra performance left but didn’t want to show their hand already. GPS data suggests that Ferrari made a clear difference towards Mercedes in the fast turns 3 and 9.
Ferrari was the only one breaking through the laptimes of 1:19. And thus Mercedes saw a chance to pass the title of favorites towards Ferrari. Perhaps a way of relieving themselves of extra pressure? Both Lewis Hamilton and Niki Lauda stated that Ferrari could be two to three tenths in front of them. But are they really?
Mercedes went on to do what they did last year. Drive great distances. However, where they got 1294 laps under their belt last year, they have “only” managed 1096 this year. All of their laps were driven with a good amount of fuel in their tank, according to Mercedes engineers. Because “You learn nothing from fast laps with no fuel on-board”. Their words, not mine. All this resulted in a fastest lap of 1:19.310.
Where the engineers of Mercedes predicted that a 1:18.6 was possible, during the first week of testing, they lowered it to a 1:18, or perhaps even slightly under it, during the second week. This sounds about the same as Pirelli engineers predicted. Of course everything had to come together for that. During these tests their fuel load was too much, their engine was running conservative and Hamilton stated that he hadn’t been able to find the right set up.
All points to the fact that there is nothing to panic about at Mercedes. There were no real big problems to report. Even when, like earlier mentioned, some Mercedes folk tried go get the pressure off by saying Ferrari was quicker than them. Most problems they had were bits and pieces breaking off of their floor, introduced in week 2. This worried Aldo Costa, Mercedes Chief Designer, but not enough to abandon floor model 2. “We have lost two days with the floor, because the pieces that broke off interfered with our test results. This, of course, doesn’t gives us 100% certainty about the floor. We’ll have to see in Melbourne what will happen next.”
Red Bull’s impressions.
At the end of last season the same connaisseurs predicted RBR to be the main challengers for the 2017 title. Unlike their main rivals, Ferrari and Mercedes, RBR came with a very smooth aerodynamic car. And to continue on the same page as previous years, it wasn’t that smooth shape that gave them troubles. All problems were related to Renault’s V6 in the back of the car. Whether it was MGU-K related or “just” a turbo failure.
This all resulted in RBR driving around with conservative engine modes, bringing their total of laps on a much smaller number of 634. Toto Wolff believes that RBR can get 7 tenths off their times, once they turn up in Melbourne, when they are able to turn off the conservative setting of their Renault engine.
On the penultimate day RBR seemed to have a total black out with a car that was 2 seconds of its pace. Unfortunately for them, it was that day that Mr. Red Bull himself was at the track to see the progress his team made. Ricciardo blamed it on a wrong set-up. The last day Verstappen was back on track, but this time round the lap times were good. Young Max conducted tests with two different front wings, as RBR is expected to show their real car come Melbourne.
Unlike Mercedes, both Red Bull and Ferrari drove the two test weeks with the first design of their car, with minor adjustments. Mercedes brought big aero changes for the second week, and is expected to bring even more to Australia. Ferrari isn’t expected to bring any big adjustments for the first race, since they hardly ever did that.
Williams seems, once more, to become the best of the rest. The much bespoken rookie Lance Stroll and the even more bespoken come-back kid are driving a car that seems to follow the RBR philosophy. Clean and smooth lines. But the bad news is that the number four team of the field seems to be 1 to 1.5 seconds behind the top three, according to calculations. However, the good news (this is me trying to be positive) is that young Lance got his crashes out of the way in week one. He actually did pretty good, for a rookie, in week two.
So far it was quite easy to make up a top 3. Little doubt who will be no. 1, Ferrari or Merc? At this moment RBR clear 3rd. And the top 4, you can all agree, was made by putting Sir Frank’s team up there. But after that it becomes harder to tell. Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas and Force India all had their problems. Just like all of them also had some positive moments.
Renault has engine troubles. I’ve mentioned it before. This will be their main concern, since it doesn’t only affect them! Biggest asset of the team is that their staff is bigger than their rivals. And with rivals I mean those outside of my top 4, in this article. Second asset is their no.1 driver. Hülkenberg, for me, is one of the best of the field. I have never hid my love for him and I won’t do so now. I believe, once Renault gets back on top (and they will, they know how) they can finally give the Hulk a fighting chance for the title. 2017 will be to early for that, but perhaps 2018.
Toro Rosso’s impressions.
My God, I love that car. Since day one of the tests I had different pictures of their car as my phone wallpaper. This is, by far, the sexiest car of the field! Besides Mercedes, the only one with a good looking nose, and a livery for the ages. Unfortunately it wasn’t a trouble free two weeks for them. Biggest problem? I hate to say this again, but yes, it was the Renault engine. All the other problems occurring this week had to do with the stability of the car, according to Franz Tost. He did believe it were rather small, solvable problems. I hope so, for Carlos Sainz sake. A driver with great promise, if you ask me. I know you didn’t but I’ll tell you anyway. Ideal scenario would be a car for him to show his talents in and Ferrari buying him for 2018. Sorry Räikkönen fans, but he has to retire someday. Neither Ricciardo nor Verstappen is stupid enough to leave the RBR team, so this might be Sainz his only option for a top team.
I haven’t seen Haas do a single low fuel load lap. Not that that is a bad thing, on the contrary. They nearly doubled their amount of laps during this test, compared to last years. Always a positive sign. Any real problems occurred during the last day. Grosjean went off track, there was a faulty sensor and a water leakage. Still, feelings are positive at Haas, that they will be able to fight for a high place, inside the midfield.
Force India’s impressions.
Their biggest problems seemed to be with the exhaust. But they still managed a reasonable number of laps, in what must be the ugliest car of the field. I’m sorry, but it is. However, they feel they have made big steps in their set up. And compared to last year they think they have a better understanding of how the tires work. Their main improvement goal is to get the car on a diet. 10kg lighter in Melbourne is the target. How many of us haven’t made that New Years resolution?
So far the midfield. Since we have lost Manor the first impression for ‘the team to be last, each race’ would have been Sauber. But behold! There’s a new kid in town.
The Swiss based team said they only concentrated on long runs with maximum fuel load. Because of that they feel that the gap of 1.5 seconds to the midfield isn’t a real representation. But their main goal is to strike in Melbourne, when others might struggle with reliability. Sauber has proven to have a reliable car, during this test at least. 788 laps puts them in the top 3 of most laps driven!
The team with the worst season ahead can only be the Woking based one. Four (!) engines in eight days? And four times they could fix the one that was in the back of the car. While the new rule states 20 races will have to be done with four engines. That’s 60 days. Will they have used 30 engines at the end of the year? Japanese engineers looked for days what the problem might be. First it was a bad designed oil tank. Then it was an electronic problem (to which McLaren switched all electronics over night). Then suddenly they couldn’t explain why the engine failed.
Now the latest version is that the engine vibrates so much that, over time, all the electronics get disconnected. The engine shakes itself in to breaking down. That’s like a kid, rolling down a hill, for fun. Just to throw up once it he gets at the bottom. All it brought to the team was the least amount of laps and lap times three (!) seconds slower than the one of Räikkönen. Remember how I said times are unimportant during tests? Well, this is the exception that proves the rule. Conclusion? This will be Alonso’s worst season and a very hard first season for, my fellow countryman, Vandoorne. Only real spark of hope for you, Mclaren fans? The token system is gone. Perhaps Honda can change just enough until the last race of the year, in order to get, at least, one point.