Eight days of 2017 Formula 1 testing has passed, and Ferrari has emerged at the top of the pile, setting the only lap time below a 1:19.
Smart money might initially be put on the Scuderia, but being quickest in pre-season testing does not imply that the championships have been decided. What was evident was that Mercedes might not have the outright stability of the Ferrari, but are still very much in touch. What was not quite so evident was the whereabouts of Red Bull, who teased different styles of aerodynamic parts throughout the testing days. However, they also set some incredibly competitive lap times.
Arguably the biggest surprise of these tests were Williams. Running a different-than-intended line-up this year to the one expected and with regulations which arguably do not suit them that well, they were the only team behind what is expected to be the ‘Big Three’ to go sub-79.5 seconds around the Catalunya circuit. Was that perhaps a bit of a ‘glory run’?
Behind these teams is where the Toro Rosso and Renault teams lingered for much of the two weeks. Both suffered from a few reliability niggles, but appeared to have a clear advantage over Force India and Haas, the latter continuing to struggle with brake problems.
At the back, are Sauber, the only team running a 2016 power unit and the struggling McLaren team. McLaren covered less than 2,000 kilometres in the eight days compared to Mercedes who surpassed the 5,000km mark. The lack of mileage gathered by the Honda power unit, which has “no power” and “no reliability” according to Fernando Alonso, is clear to see in the cumulative power unit chart. Mercedes power units accumulated well over six times what the Honda could manage.
Renault also appear to have inherent ERS issues, which were amplified over these tests. Such issues must be fixed otherwise a Red Bull title challenge could be derailed very early on. There did not appear to be as many issues with the Mercedes or Ferrari units, although electrical issues did hit the works Mercedes on the fourth day of running.
All in all it was once again a very impressive showing in terms of consistent speed and reliability by Mercedes. Ferrari were not too far behind in mileage terms and look to have a slight advantage in outright speed at this stage with the impressive SF70H. Red Bull tend to have quiet winters before impressing seemingly from nowhere at the first round. Interestingly, Ferrari looked very quick regardless of which tyre they were running at the time.
Of the drivers, Mercedes new-boy Valtteri Bottas and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel had the most productive fortnights, clocking up over 2,500km each. Lewis Hamilton and Marcus Ericsson also spent a lot of time on the circuit. Returning veteran Felipe Massa also showed that he is ready for this new generation of cars. The increased physicality of these cars seemed to not trouble the drivers one bit.
So come Melbourne, expect all eyes to be on Ferrari. Mercedes and Red Bull could both spring surprises, but we really will not know until qualifying on the Saturday. Williams look to be solid in fourth in the pecking order right now, with Toro Rosso and Renault not far behind when their packages are in harmony. Force India and Haas have a lot of work to do to get to where they want to be, but look to have strong areas of improvement with their machines. Sauber must try something different to fight for points when the opportunities arise. As for McLaren and Honda? If the Japanese manufacturer does not sort these massive issues out and fast, then it will be an incredibly long season.