The first Formula 1 pre-season test is over and we have been provided a first impression of how the 10 teams are faring. 

With 24 hours of testing under the teams’ and drivers’ belts throughout the opening three days of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, attention will now turn to next week’s second test at the Spanish Grand Prix venue. 

While testing timesheets have to be taken with a pinch of salt due to the high number of unknown variables to consider including what fuel loads each team is running at any given time, some early indications can be formed of how each team is looking at the half-way mark of their winter programmes. 

Strong starters

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mercedes were quick out of the blocks right from the off in Barcelona as the Silver Arrows dominated the opening day of running with Lewis Hamilton leading a 1-2 at the end of day one ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas

The reigning world champions made headlines once again on Thursday, although not because it was setting any fast times. In fact, much like recent years, both Hamilton and Bottas focused on long-run programmes and stayed relatively low in the timesheets. Attentions were instead drawn to a new dual-axis steering system innovation that debuted on Hamilton’s W11 on the morning of the second day. 

A near-perfect start to testing was dampened slightly by the first signs of some reliability gremlins when Bottas’ afternoon run plan was prematurely ended after he suffered an electrical issue on his car with more than an hour left on the clock, but the problem was quickly fixed and the Finn returned to action on Friday morning and blitzed to a new fastest lap of testing

As well as setting the benchmark in terms of lap times, Mercedes had also led the way in the mileage charts, racking up an impressive 494 laps in total so far.

Red Bull also enjoyed a strong first test, with little sign of any major reliability setbacks aside from some minor niggles including a seat-fit issue for Alexander Albon

While neither Albon nor Max Verstappen have ventured too close to the top of the timesheets with Red Bull appearing to be keeping its cards close to its chest, both drivers seem extremely happy with the early signs coming from its RB16 package. 

Verstappen described Red Bull’s latest challenger as “fast everywhere”, while Honda appears to have met expectations in terms of power. All the vibes coming out of the Red Bull camp have been overwhelmingly positive, with the Milton Keynes squad completing the second-most laps, just shy of Mercedes.

Racing Point raised some eyebrows at its pre-season launch event when team principal and CEO Otmar Szafnauer stated the team was targeting fourth place and podiums in 2020, but its performance across the first three days of running in Barcelona has been impressive. 

For its latest car concept, the team has taken a “risky” attempt to replicate the aerodynamic philosophy pioneered by Mercedes last year, with its RP20 closely resembling the design of the reigning world champion’s 2019 W10 car when it broke cover on Wednesday. Both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll have posted some eye-catching times throughout the opening test and backed it up with a strong reliable showing. 

After its disastrous 2019 campaign which began by missing the opening two-and-a-half days of testing, Williams has made a very encouraging start to its 2020 campaign, leaving deputy team principal Claire Williams with a smile on her face. 

The picture compared with 12 months ago could not be more different for the British squad, which logged 136 laps on the first day of running alone. It continued a solid haul of running throughout the remainder of the first test, with an engine issue on Nicholas Latifi’s car on the final afternoon proving the only real negative. The team’s best laptime, a 1m18.168s set by George Russell on day one, was over a second faster than his qualifying effort for the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix. 

On the back foot? 

One team in need of a strong pre-season after a frustrating 2019 campaign was Haas, but the American squad has shown little signs of big improvements so far, at least. 

Its 2020 VF-20 challenger looks a stable, if not spectacular car, though it will hopefully prove to be more consistent than its predecessor. Haas’ first test was somewhat underwhelming as both drivers remained towards the bottom end of the timesheets, while some reliability niggles and driver mistakes proved frustrating. 

The team was forced to end its running early on Friday afternoon after Kevin Magnussen spun into the barriers on his fourth lap after suffering a puncture caused by a wheel issue. Improvements are needed heading into week two. 

Midfield rivals Alfa Romeo have been equally hard to judge, particularly when its low-key start to testing was muddied by a late glory run by Kimi Raikkonen that put him to the top of the timings on Thursday, before his C39 conked out having run out of fuel. Antonio Giovinazzi turned in a strong triple-figure lap haul on the final day to significantly boost its mileage but the Swiss outfit seems to be in a similar position to last year. 

Renault is aiming to improve on a disappointing 2019 season as it looks to reclaim fourth spot in the constructors’ championship. Despite setting some relatively fast times on paper, the French manufacturer had lagged behind its rivals in the mileage charts until the final day, which was hampered by a stoppage for Daniel Ricciardo in the afternoon.

It made some curiously slow starts to its sessions on Thursday and missed around 45 minutes on each occasion, but the team insisted it was all part of its run plan. Unlike the positive noises coming out of Enstone at the start of 2019, the French manufacturer has taken a much more grounded approach to 2020 - is that a sign of Renault being quietly confident or concerned? 

Unknown quantities 

Ferrari remains the biggest question mark heading into the second pre-season test at Barcelona after being yet to show its hand. The Scuderia has taken a different approach to its 2020 programme after dominating the timesheets in recent years, with correlation between the factory and on-track data and full understanding of its new SF1000 challenger proving the key focus. 

It is understood that Ferrari has been running in low power modes and high fuel throughout the opening test, highlighting why its drivers have languished towards the bottom of the order each day. 

Its mileage count has not been particularly impressive and Sebastian Vettel suffered a blow to his already disrupted pre-season on Friday when his engine packed in and cost him all-important track time in the morning session. 

Team principal Mattia Binotto has already downplayed Ferrari’s chances at the start of the season, admitting it is currently lagging behind Mercedes after the first test.

Another team yet to provide a glimpse of its one-lap potential is McLaren, with the Woking team quietly going about its business so far and logging plenty of laps in the process as it looks to build on its best season of the V6 hybrid era to date last year. 

Similarly, the rebranded AlphaTauri outfit has not grabbed any headlines but teased some fast laps and stands in the middle of the pack in terms of mileage after some very bold pre-season talk from team principal Franz Tost. 

Pre-season Test 1 - Most laps completed:

Mercedes: 494
Red Bull: 471
Alfa Romeo: 424
McLaren: 423
AlphaTauri: 384
Renault: 380
Racing Point: 371
Ferrari: 354
Williams: 324
Haas: 316

Pre-season Test 1 - Fastest laps set by each team:

Mercedes 1m15.732 (C5)
Alfa Romeo 1m17.091 (C5)
Renault 1m17.102 (C4)
Racing Point 1m17.338 (C4)
AlphaTauri 1m17.427 (C4)
Red Bull 1m17.516 (C3)
McLaren 1m17.842 (C3)
Ferrari 1m18.154 (C4)
Williams 1m18.168 (C3)
Haas 1m18.380 (C3)

 

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