By Ollie BarstowFollow @OllieBarstowF1 on Twitter

It has been mentioned many a time before but F1 testing is by definition tricky to read.... Different fuel levels, different approaches, different simulations ensure it is notoriously difficult to get like-for-like comparisons of the teams and drivers.

However, for every flattering Prost deception there is a shimmering Brawn revelation ( as noted in our 'Testing Tales' feature here) so a read between the lines does has allow us to draw some notable conclusions that - if you whisper it - could add up to make F1 2017 a memorable year.

Ferrari is undoubtedly quick, but while it is na?ve to assume Mercedes - or even Red Bull - don't have more to come the competition looks to be much closer than recent years
Are Mercedes and Red Bull running scared of Ferrari?

We have already concluded the Ferrari SF70H is a quick machine ( Read our analysis here ) so the flipside of this question directs attention to whether Mercedes and Red Bull are on a similar level. It is perhaps no great surprise Ferrari put some focus towards headline-grabbing times since single lap pace was a weakness in 2016 and with overtaking expected to be more difficult this year, qualifying could become increasingly critical. It is fair to assume Mercedes and - especially - Red Bull weren't chasing the same objectives during testing but they both have some ground to make up regardless.

Red Bull seems unlikely to be on a par with its rivals come Australia, though the team has a reputation for waiting until it matters to deliver the goods. As such it is not implausible for Red Bull to have recovered most, if not all, ground to the front runners, suspicions that are only heightened by the surprisingly relaxed attitude of the team and drivers throughout the test despite the sizeable margin to the teams it was tipped to be beating from the off.

Mercedes, meanwhile, didn't get such a clean shot at fast lap times amidst its typically extraordinary lap count and tested far more aerodynamic solutions so it is na?ve to think it hasn't got more to come. The Silver Arrows have played down their own pace and talked up Ferrari's but having watched Mercedes 'turn it up' at the last moment many a time before, some feel - to turn Lewis Hamilton's phrasing around - Mercedes is the team that is in fact 'bluffing'

That said, even if Mercedes does emerge top again in Australia after all, it surely won't be by nearly as much as it has been the last three years.

The fact Red Bull isn't upset with Renault's niggling reliability problems appears to speak volumes about its otherwise competitiveness
Relaxed over Renault
Though somewhat overshadowed by the dramas over at McLaren-Honda, Renault-powered cars also revived some unwelcome memories by enduring enough niggles that it consigned Toro Rosso to bottom of the lap count charts behind McLaren after the first week.

Given Renault's initial struggles to attain acceptable reliability as the sport switched to V6 Hybrid power and its apparent breakthrough in 2016, the various issues experienced by Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Renault itself had the potential to be perceived as a disaster in itself.

And yet, there is no panic. In fact, Red Bull and Toro Rosso are pleased with the engine. Whilst gremlins have been frustrating, the customer outfits have given a big thumbs up to the engine's power and drivability - two big criticisms of previous units -, with Red Bull seemingly content it has the (TAG Heuer) engine it needs to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for wins.

Have F1 drivers spent longer in the gym (and telling Twitter) than they needed to?
Different... but the same
It's been a while since there was such anticipation covers being ripped off cars and for the most part the 'sexier, more aggressive' F1 has received a thumbs up from fans. Looking more beastly is one thing, however... what about from behind the wheel?

Drivers were sold cars that would push them to the limit, which goes some way to explaining the frequency of 'gym selfie' tweets over the winter, but the reality seems a little less challenging than anticipated. First things first, drivers do say the cars are more draining and you feel the pinch thanks to the higher cornering speeds. But with most drivers reaching triple figures per day, it was perversely disappointing not to see them looking more embattled at the end of the day. Then again, Monaco, Baku, Singapore and Sepang may not be relished quite so readily this year...

Several drivers are worried F1 will become a procession in 2017 thanks to the regulation tweaks
Overtaking will be possible - but will it be remembered?
One of the big talking points to come from testing was the assertion overtaking won't be possible with this generation of F1 car, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa offering some cynical feedback to fans ahead of the new year. Naturally it will be disappointing to find after all this build up the racing turns out to be fairly dull but there are others that hold out more hope.

Whilst some point out it will be tougher to follow the car in front, it will be negated by the strength of the DRS - which has been accused of making overtaking too easy. So overtaking is possible... just possibly at the end of a long straight. On the plus side, Max Verstappen doesn't buy into this difficulty assumption, so we expect some big moves in Australia!

Remember when Felipe Massa retired? No, we can't either...
New blood and new motivations
The car may look familiar but Williams Martini Racing proved something of an unexpected revelation during the latter half of pre-season testing. Things certainly didn't start well when newcomer Lance Stroll's three offs damaged the car enough to force Williams to miss an entire day, but by the end of testing it was - remarkably - up to third on the lap count charts.

Going a long way to vindicating the controversial decision to re-hire experienced hand Felipe Massa as he recovered the laps haemorrhaged (initially) by Stroll, he was quick too. In his hands the car appeared to be a cut above the midfield pack - if not quite in the top three - and even Stroll won over some cynics with solid bounce back during the second week. Consider this without Paddy Lowe's involvement and Williams - which admitted starting early on the 2017 specification cars - finds itself better prepared for the new season than it could have imagined after four days of testing.

The quickest slowest car F1 has seen for many years?
Midfield fight or...
...a battle to stay off the back of the grid? Whilst it was clear which teams filled out the top three (or four if you include Williams) at the end of testing, the remainder of the field remains remarkably close so it perhaps a good job there are only 10 teams fighting it out for prize money this year. Force India, Renault, Haas and - towards the end of the test - Toro Rosso were all lapping within tenths or thousandths of each other, indicating the battle for Q2 and Q3 could be entertaining this year.

Arguably, Renault potentially has the most to gain if - as Cyril Abiteboul predicted - it turns into something of an 'arms race' in which the team with the deepest pockets prevails. With this in mind, Sauber has the most to lose with its decision to stick with a year-old Ferrari power unit.

Even so, these early days may work in its favour having allowed itself more time to really focus on the chassis instead of wait power unit delivery. McLaren-Honda, however...

Panic stations? Not yet but we aren't far off...

McLaren-Honda: A team in crisis?
Crisis is a strong word... we'll wait until the opening round before concluding that but 'in trouble' certainly seems fitting. In fact, McLaren (well, Honda's) issues were probably the firmest conclusion to take away from the eight days of testing with neither Fernando Alonso or Stoffel Vandoorne able to complete a race distance. With some commentators suggesting the power unit is vibrating itself into submission - hence the persistent electrical shutdowns - Honda is under immense pressure to not just show improvement, but to turn things around rapidly. After all, though it has become something of a trend to make jokes at McLaren's expense, which F1 fan wouldn't want to see a Ferrari - Red Bull - Mercedes - McLaren battle for the title right now?

Click here for full combined results and lap counts from two weeks (8 days) of F1 testing at the Circuit de Catalunya - Barcelona

Full lap and mileage counts for the 10 teams after 2 weeks (8 days) of F1 testing

1. Mercedes AMG Petronas - 1096 laps
2. Scuderia Ferrari - 956
3. Williams Martini Racing - 800
4. Sauber F1 Team - 788
5. Sahara Force India - 785
6. Haas F1 Team - 715
7. Red Bull Racing - 684
8. Renault Sport F1 - 597
9. Scuderia Toro Rosso - 584
10. McLaren-Honda - 425

 

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