Although there are no winners in pre-season testing, a clear competitive order started to emerge during the second week at the Circuit de Catalunya. It was no surprise to see Formula One’s top three teams — Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull — unchanged for 2018, and some estimates put the gap between “the big three” and the midfield at over a second. But with just one team able to win the opening race in Melbourne, who is in the best position after a fortnight of testing in Spain?
The Italian team was not shy about stretching its legs in the second week of testing and took to the track on both Thursday and Friday to focus on a series of performance runs on Pirelli’s three fastest tyres — the super-soft, ultra-soft and finally the hyper-soft. There’s little doubt that these were low-fuel runs, typically sticking to five or six laps and alternating between push laps and cool-down laps. In terms of outright pace, Vettel’s fastest lap left Ferrari 0.6s quicker than its nearest rival, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, 0.9s faster than Ricciardo’s best effort in the Red Bull and 1.2s faster than Mercedes’ quickest time.
GPS data indicates that despite the 0.9s difference between Vettel’s lap and Ricciardo’s, the Red Bull was the quicker car in all of the Circuit de Catalunya’s 16 corners. That’s impressive given that Ricciardo’s time was set with a day’s less rubber on the track and also indicates that Ferrari had its engine turned up in order to make up the difference on the straights.
All the data suggests Mercedes has an advantage in both short-run and long-run pace ahead of Melbourne. A question remains over the depth of that advantage on Pirelli’s softer compounds, especially in hotter conditions, but for now the four-time world champions are the favourites as the paddock packs its bags to go down under. Ferrari and Red Bull appear to be more closely matched, with GPS data suggesting the Red Bull could put its nose ahead if Renault can provide its promised Q3 qualifying mode in time for the start of the season.
This scenario was also partially confirmed by the famous Italian blogger and journalist Leo Turrini on his quotidiano.net blog. In a recent post he explained that Scuderia Ferrari Chief Technical Officer Mattia Binotto and team principal Maurizio Arrivabene were expecting more performance from the SF71H car during the testing sessions which took place in Barcelona. The Italian journalist adds that as far as the race pace is concerned, for the moment the Maranello team cannot challenge Mercedes and most likely will be fighting Red Bull for podiums during the first part of the season. However, Scuderia Ferrari is confident it can win the development race during the season and can gradually improve.
The general impression may not be as good as last year, but Ferrari will definitely not give up without a fight.