With the season-opening Australian Grand Prix just over a week away, which teams look ready to hit the ground running, and who is playing catch up? Rob Watts analyses the F1 testing pre-season form of each to find out.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18:400
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.310
Perhaps the team with the most to lose over the winter, Mercedes appears to have maintained its position at the front of the F1 grid, for the time being at least. There was no headline-grabbing time from the four-time world champion team this year, but the car looked very strong on long run pace and Lewis Hamilton spoke confidently of how he feels the W09 is a step up from its predecessor – dubbed ‘the diva’ for its inconsistency.
“We are just getting to know each other so I can’t really call [the W09] a diva,” he said. “But l am enjoying driving the car. It is an improvement. Last year’s car was great, but this car feels better.”
The W09 appeared to be very strong through the slower corners, with Hamilton able to rotate the rear of the car on turn-in and get the power down early; a characteristic which plays to his style.
On paper, Mercedes was only eighth quickest of the ten teams during pre-season testing in Barcelona; however, that’s largely due to many of the teams doing their quickest times on the last day while running the ultrasoft or hypersoft tyre. Mercedes, in comparison, opted to do most of its running on the soft or medium tyre; concentrating on long run pace rather than short qualifying sims.
We’ll have to wait until Saturday evening in Melbourne to know for sure whether Mercedes one lap pace advantage is intact, but for now, Mercedes still appears to have the car to beat over a race distance.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:17.182
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:18.634
Ferrari launched its 2018 challenger with an aggressive new design and a change of philosophy from recent years; moving toward a longer wheelbase (as seen on the Mercedes) and a higher rake (as seen on the Red Bull).
In testing, Sebastian Vettel set the unofficial lap record with a 1:17.182; over one second faster than the previous best set by Felipe Massa, also in a Ferrari, back in 2008. To prove that was no fluke, Kimi Raikkonen followed up a time less than one-tenth slower as the team set the two quickest times overall.
Don’t be fooled by this though, as both times were set on the final two days (when track conditions were much better) and on the quickest hypersoft tyre that Mercedes avoided completely during the second week of testing.
Vettel was quick to play down the times, saying: “It always depends what you do. It’s the wrong conclusion to look at the timesheet; there’s a lot more than one lap. I think [on Thursday] the track was also quite fast, but we were running a slightly different programme to others.”
On track, the Ferrari did not appear as responsive as the Red Bull through some of the fast corners and lacked some of the grip evident in the Mercedes. It’s shown its hand already on one lap pace, but the numbers suggest it still has work to do match Mercedes over a race distance.
Vettel’s 188 lap haul on the final day demonstrates that it has no concerns over reliability heading to Melbourne, but in terms of pace, it may be concentrating more on the threat from Red Bull behind than in catching Mercedes out front.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18.047
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.438
Having not won any of the early season flyaway races since 2013, Red Bull launched its car two weeks earlier than usual this year and is aiming to hit the ground running as it attempts to close down Mercedes’ advantage at the front.
Daniel Ricciardo set the third quickest time during testing – a 1:18.047 on the hypersofts – and was enthusiastic about his team’s preparation heading to the first race in Melbourne: “I don’t think we’re yet the quickest, so I think we do still have some lap time to find, but I do believe we’re in the ballpark.”
The team endured a few mechanical issues during testing and completed only the seventh highest mileage out of ten teams. This will be a cause for concern, especially with Ferrari and Mercedes showing near bulletproof reliability over the two weeks, but Ricciardo downplayed this: “We are certainly more ready than we were last year, and probably every year before that since I’ve been with the team.”
The RB14 appeared strong in the medium and high-speed corners and has continued with its high-rake design that has become a feature of recent Red Bull cars. The car looks very driveable, and both drivers spoke of having the confidence to push the car to its limit.
On long run pace, Red Bull appears to be on a par with Ferrari, but just a little behind Mercedes. The limiting factor in its performance, however, is that Renault is running its power unit down on horsepower for the time being as it looks to iron out any issues during testing. Some suggest this could be as much as 40-50 bhp, so if Renault can push through an early season upgrade it could yet still be Mercedes’ main challenger.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18.092
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.885
Renault has invested heavily in the team since returning as a works outfit in 2016 and has made several key hires during that period with a view to moving quickly up the grid. 2018 is perhaps the first year where those changes can now be judged, and the early signs are that it has a very solid car to take the fight to its rivals in the upper midfield.
Renault looked quick and consistent throughout both weeks of testing, and set its personal best during the last half hour of the final day – a 1:18.092 from Carlos Sainz – to finish fourth quickest out of ten teams.
The car appeared balanced through the medium and high-speed corners, if a little clumsy over the kerbs, and despite a few reliability hiccups, the team appear in much stronger shape going into the first race than in previous years.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:21.348
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:17.784
After three turbulent years with Honda power, McLaren had reached the end of its tether and negotiated a deal to run with Renault engines for 2018. Surely that would signal the end of its issues? Well, you would have thought so…
McLaren managed the least mileage of any of the ten teams, just 58% of the distance Mercedes managed, with various oil leaks, hydraulic problems, cooling issues, and a flying wheel nut all halting the team’s progress at one point or another.
When the car was running though, it looked decent. Fernando Alonso’s 1m 17.784s in the closing stages of the final day suggests this McLaren does have genuine pace to unlock, but there’s no doubting that the team are heading to Melbourne once again playing catch up with its rivals.
Nevertheless, the feeling of positivity pouring out of the team is at its highest at any point in recent years, and there’s already a feeling that the relationship with Renault is better than it ever was with McLaren. A close battle for fourth with power unit supplier Renault could be one of the highlights of the season.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18.360
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:20.504
Haas’s biggest challenge for 2018 was to improve upon its solid but inconsistent 2017 car, but after two weeks of testing, Haas appears to have made a significant step forward and could be the surprise package during the early season flyaway races.
With Kevin Magnussen at the wheel, it produced the sixth quickest time overall (the quickest of anyone on the supersoft tyre) and despite finishing second lowest of the ten teams on total mileage, it seemed by the final day to have got on top of those issues with Romain Grosjean putting in a staggering 181 laps – one of the highest ever single day totals.
If the car is reliable, Haas has a big opportunity to bag some solid points in the early races before the better-funded teams bring major updates for the European leg of the season. Haas has started well in its previous two seasons, so don’t bet against it doing so again this year.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18.967
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:20.116
After finishing fourth in both the previous two seasons, Force India’s chances of completing the hat-trick look a little lower after a slightly underwhelming performance during testing.
The team were only eighth quickest of ten teams during the two-week test, and managed less mileage than all but two teams – struggling Williams and last season’s bottom team Sauber. On this form, podiums seem an unlikely bet in the early races, but the team say it has a big update planned for Melbourne which Sergio Perez says will improve the car “massively”.
But a massive improvement is required at this stage, as the team failed to finish any of the seven full days of running higher than eighth. “Hopefully we don’t have this car in Melbourne,” was the most optimistic message that Sergio Perez could deliver.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:18.363
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.837
Toro Rosso took the brave step of switching to Honda engines for 2018, and so far it looks to have paid off. The team put in 822 laps during two weeks of testing – the third highest of any team – which was comfortably more than McLaren had managed in each of its previous three seasons running with Honda power.
French rookie Pierre Gasly managed the seventh quickest time overall on the penultimate day, and his teammate Brendon Hartley was quoted as saying it would be “crazy” not to target points at the opening race in Melbourne.
A solid midfield position looks likely for Toro Rosso, and that represents progress given that the team had dropped to the back of the grid during the latter part of 2017. If Honda can build on this promising start, 2018 could be a very decent year for the Red Bull junior team.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:19.189
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.420
After gradually sliding down the order in recent seasons, Williams went for a bold new car design for 2018 as it targets stealing fourth place back from Force India in the constructors’ championship.
The early signs suggest that is unlikely, and Williams decline may continue further into 2018. The FW41 appears a handful to drive, and it struggled to generate tyre temperature on the softer compounds and finished bottom of the times on each of the final four days of testing.
Already behind on long-distance running, the team head to Melbourne underprepared and facing a battle to make it through to Q2.
Quickest time during 2018 testing: 1:21.670
Quickest time during 2017 testing: 1:19.118
There was much positivity surrounding Sauber’s car launch this year with a lucrative title-sponsorship deal with Alfa Romeo, a supply of current spec Ferrari engines, and a new driver in the shape of highly rated GP2 champion Charles Leclerc.
On paper, there’s every reason to believe that Sauber can be competitive amongst the midfield teams this year, and score points on a more regular basis than it has done in recent seasons.
Its performance during testing, however, hasn’t backed that theory up. It was a tricky test for Sauber, and despite Marcus Ericsson talking positively of the Ferrari power unit bolted to the back of the C37, the reality appears to be that the car is a handful to drive.
Sauber could only manage the 15th quickest time over the two weeks and was the slowest of all the teams to have run on the commonly used ultrasoft tyre. The team has a lot to do before Melbourne to understand this new car, and how to unlock its potential.