Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is not picked for winter testing solely because it is the closest F1-spec track with the most reliably predictable weather at this time of year. It is also because its combination of long-duration corners tests every facet of a car’s ability, so gives the teams an unusually good insight into the performance of their machinery.
Nearly all the teams have done what are known as “filming days” – basically tests limited to 100km – in the last week, but this first day of official testing has been, as usual, about proving the reliability of cars before set-up work is embarked upon later this week, and true performance work in the second test next week.
Scuderia Ferrari Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen began the morning session with a series of aerodynamic tests and later on managed several quick laps to post a 1:20.970 and go fastest by nearly three tenths in the Ferrari SF71H car. For most of the time Kimi used the medium-tyre compound, just as most of the front runners. At the end of the morning session, the Finnish driver returned to the track with soft tyres and went back to the top of the timesheet with a 1:20.506, four hundredths faster than Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault, before eventually Valtteri Bottas managed to set a fastest time with a 1:20.349 and Daniel Ricciardo lead the way on the stopwatch (1:20.179).
To put that lap of Kimi in context, a year ago Lewis Hamilton topped the times with a lap of 1:21.765 on Day One. However, it is worth remembering that Pirelli‘s compounds have all effectively moved down one this year – this year’s medium is like last year’s soft, due to the improvements the Italian company has made with its tyres, which has reflected in the headline times we saw next to every driver’s name.
Scuderia Ferrari have done very much what Mercedes have done with their new car in terms of continuing down the development path they were already on. One difference, though, is that the Italian team have headed a little down the Mercedes route in lengthening the car. Like Mercedes, they want to keep their strengths of the previous year – in Ferrari’s case, a very good high-downforce package and low-speed performance – but the longer wheelbase gives them a better chance of higher aero efficiency when they need it. The cars were evenly matched at the Spanish Grand Prix last year so testing will probably not be a place to judge the successes of these approaches.
Scuderia Ferrari – Kimi Raikkonen
Mercedes – Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull – Daniel Ricciardo
Force India – Nikita Mazepin
Williams – Lance Stroll (Morning) & Sergey Sirotkin (Afternoon)
Renault – Nico Hulkenberg (Morning) and Carlos Sainz (Afternoon)
Toro Rosso – Brendon Hartley
Haas – Romain Grosjean
McLaren – Fernando Alonso
Sauber – Marcus Ericsson