Formula One is back. New cars, new drivers, and some very lovely new liveries all took to the sunny Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona for the first test ahead of the 2019 season.
I enjoyed having my Instagram flooded for a week with ‘new car releases’, yet racing cars stationary on a spotlit plinth always appear a rather sorry sight in my opinion. Once out on track the new creatures can stretch their legs. Much better.
Lets sift through all the memes, tweets, and timesheets to tell the fundamental story of the opening week.
Close Season Ahead
We are always told to never read too much into winter testing. Some teams lay it all out on track, others prefer to run heavy fuel loads and secure mileage at sacrifice of lap time.
However, last weeks test proved one thing, that the relative performances suggest a very close season ahead.
The current ‘Big Three’ were all jostling for the fastest lap, with a few exceptions taking the helm. Ferrari, Mercedes, and RedBull were regularly separated by only a few tenths of a second on similar tyre runs.
RedBull believed they had “never had a better test,” and indeed the RB15 did look very competitive.
The Ferrari SF90 is being backed as the strongest car on the grid, with RedBull and the sandbagging Mercedes not far behind.
With the 2019 specification cars aimed at producing closer racing, we can definitely expect to see an even more intense midfield battle. Mercedes believe that the improved midfield pace could allow the teams to cause a “surprise” at race weekends.
The newly named Alfa Romeo Racing look to top the midfield, and are set for a titanic battle with Renault, and Toro Rosso.
These three midfield teams actually clocked the five fastest times of the week, Nico Hulkenberg setting a 1:17.393 on the softest C5 tyre.
STR’s Daniil Kyvat fastest overall on day three, whilst Alexander Albon ended his debut test happy, topping the morning of the final day.
Kimi Raikkonen appeared rejuvenated by his new start at Alfa Romeo, and even went fastest on the third morning.
McLaren focused on gathering mileage to help develop Renault engine reliability, and help acclimatise rookie Lando Norris, whilst Haas are keen to stomp out the “little gremlins” that hampered running.
The battle at the front might be closer than ever, but it is the midfield that will once again produce some fantastic competition.
Williams are in for struggles
Everyone wants Williams to do well. The iconic British team have found themselves stuck in a scary spiral since 2016, and last week proved that there is little hope going forwards.
The car was delayed in getting to Barcelona, missing two and a half days of vital on track running.
Car parts were late, final builds set back, and the car only made it to Spain at 4am on Wednesday.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams said the situation was “embarrassing” but remained confident the team can catch up.
Pirelli’s adjusted times give an interesting look into the situation at Williams, suggesting the Grove-based team are one second off the back of the grid.
The first week of testing has certainly set the scene for the storylines of 2019. The front of the field looks to be a three-way fight between Ferrari, RedBull, and Mercedes, with the Scuderia’s SF90 bookies favourite as the strongest car. The midfield appears more fantastic than ever with the building potential that they may cause upsets. Whilst at the back of the pack Williams are doing everything they can to terminate a silly game of catch up.
The second week of testing gets underway on Tuesday.