“I don’t remember how it was last year, but this felt like a good couple of weeks.”
So says Lewis Hamilton, who wrapped up two weeks of testing for Mercedes, alongside teammate Valtteri Bottas. The pair of them completed over 1000 laps between them, and saw barely any reliability problems, which should give them both confidence for the season ahead. New boy Bottas did admit there was a learning curve at his new team, but as Hamilton added: “We’re working together better than ever as a team and Valtteri has done great to blend in and do a solid job.”
With eight days of testing complete, I thought it would be worth a quick round up of teams and how they’re feeling with just two short weeks until the first race. Not everyone had as smooth a ride as Mercedes did, and with this selection of quotes from after the final day in Barcelona, we can see just how much work is still to be done.
Fastest laps for Ferrari
The Italian team were almost a permanent fixture at the top of the timesheets, inevitably setting the fastest lap each day or thereabouts. They didn’t quite have the bulletproof reliability of rivals Mercedes but even so, there was plenty to be thankful for after eight days of successful running.
Kimi Räikkönen shared duties with Sebastian Vettel, and both seemed satisfied with their work. Kimi said on the final day: “We have been reliable for almost all of these days of testing and that is another good sign of the great work the team has done over the winter. We are starting from a stronger base than last year, but it’s really too early to say how fast the car is compared to others.”
We are starting from a stronger base than last year
Williams also managed to get to the top of the timesheets, with many people impressed by Felipe Massa’s speed and lap count. The Brazilian was, of course, supposed to have been retired at this point, but his return couldn’t have been more useful when contrasted with rookie Lance Stroll. The Canadian youngster had trouble getting used to the new car, most notably suffering three incidents in two days, but he gradually got himself together.
Chief test and support engineer at Williams, Rod Nelson, was satisfied they got to the end of their programme despite the slow start. “Overall, we have got a lot of good data from this week. We’ve completed 600 laps this week, with the team doing a very good job to make up for the time we lost last week.”
The other team that appeared to have some pace, but perhaps weren’t as strong as we’d imagined initially, was Red Bull. Always improving when there’s a change to the aero regulations, we’d perhaps expected them to best Ferrari but you can’t read too much into testing times.
Gillaume Rocquelin said after the final day: “In terms of the tests as a whole, broadly speaking we've achieved what we wanted to do. There were a few niggles but that's always the case with a new car and we knew how to manage those situations.”
Force India’s fight
During the launches, something of a war of words was started between Renault and Force India, with Vijay Mallya considering his car to be a real racing car, ready to start testing long before Renault’s would be. Well, in some ways, he was right. Renault did find themselves suffering a few more issues than they would have liked, and Jolyon Palmer was particularly frustrated by how limited his running was.
However, boss Cyril Abiteboul isn’t panicking: “The R.S.17 looks beautiful and we think it is a good platform to build the performance that will allow to achieve our aims for 2017. We know the areas we need to address. We think we already have a good step forward with performance thanks to this car and the new power unit as shown by our lap times today despite adverse circumstances in the previous days that prevented optimising the package. We have to focus on reliability with special attention on the ERS, which is already well underway.”
Force India didn’t appear to have quite so many issues as their new main rival, and it’s noticeable that chief race engineer Tom McCullough doesn’t mention how much work is ahead, but just how well they have done so far: “To design a completely new car and run it as successfully as we did in these two weeks with just some minor teething problems is a big achievement for our team and we’re confident we are ready for the season.”
They weren’t the only ones forging new fights, either. McLaren struggled horribly during the past two weeks and found themselves doing battle for pace and reliability with Sauber. At one point, the re-energised Monisha Kaltenborn was happy to let the team keep thinking they were going to beat Sauber, saying “let’s not take away their last hope.”
We’re confident we are ready for the season
In terms of testing, Sauber’s main focus was on getting new driver Pascal Wehrlein bedded in, after the German had to miss his first week on the job. After his final day, he said: “We changed the programme and continued our extensive analysis of the Sauber C36-Ferrari by continuing with aero tests on soft and medium tyres. Nonetheless I was able once again to take the next step forward to get more familiar with the new car. I can’t wait for my first race for the Sauber F1 Team.”
Over at Toro Rosso, the team lived up to the saying that time flies when you’re having fun. James Key certainly seems to have enjoyed himself: “I have to say that these eight days of pre-season testing have gone incredibly quickly! After last week's low level of running, we've learned an awful lot this week, something which we needed. Although we had a few stops and starts, overall it's been a much more positive test.”
McLaren were the key talking point throughout all eight days of testing. The team initially struggled to get their car running, and went through many power unit changes until they could get some laps on the board. Even when things appeared to be underway, they were still responsible for many red flags across the course of the two weeks.
The ever-patient Fernando Alonso finally flipped and said the team were ready to win races but the power unit supplied by Honda was letting them down, and that just raised questions about his commitment and his future in the sport.
Team manager Éric Boullier is trying to keep a lid on the hysterics though, encouraging the team and the fans to keep calm and carry on: “Although we’ve suffered a number of issues over the course of two weeks of testing, we’ve certainly learned a lot about the car, and we know the problems that need to be addressed. Plainly speaking, they aren’t overnight fixes, but we’re hopeful both McLaren and Honda will be able to make progress on them ahead of Australia in two short weeks.”
It feels as though two weeks will not be anywhere near long enough for them to rectify some of the problems they’ve had, particularly with the knowledge that the Honda boss flew back to Japan to oversee the problem-solving firsthand. That sounds very much like going back to the drawing board, and it’s very late in the day to be doing that.
Nevertheless, let’s leave the testing behind us with these wise words from Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who had a mixed fortnight of running but is, just like the rest of us, superbly excited for the coming season. “Yes, the big teams are ready, but for us there are still a few unknowns going to Melbourne. That’s the charm of Formula One.”