What we learned from the first test (part one)

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Teams turned up in Barcelona a week ago to prepare themselves for the first of the two test sessions before the field gathers together in Melbourne, Australia for the opening round of the 2018 Formula One Championship.

The work started on Monday and ended on Thursday. Teams were restricted and hindered in their work by the unexpected bad weather which is usually much nicer at the this time of the year in the Barcelona region.

Wednesday was the low point in terms of weather conditions. The extraordinary snowstorm confined the raving squads to their respective garages, prompting them to change plans and adjust programmes for the final day of the opening pre-season test. Things still weren't particularly straightforward, though. Because the track was saturated in water for most of the morning, full Wet tyres were needed before the eventual switch across to Intermediates. Dry tyres made an appearance for the first time at around 13:00.

Power units

The number of power unit manufacturers are unchanged for 2018, but two teams swapped their previous supplier. McLaren ditched Honda to Renault while Toro Rosso started a collaboration with the Japanese engine maker. Ferrari continue to supply Haas and Sauber while Force India and Williams remain to be customers of Mercedes. Red Bull stays with Renault for at least one more year. Every customer team uses a fresh version of the respective power unit unlike last year when Sauber ran with a one-year-old Ferrari engine.

Over the course of the four days, the Ferrari engine completed the most laps with a total of 768. The Mercedes-driven cars notched up 748 laps while Renault was only 6 laps behind that number. The sole Honda-driven Toro Rosso completed a total of 324 laps.

Teams Ferrari

Ferrari’s new challenger, the SF71H did not fail to impress. The car clocked up a total of 298 laps, the third highest number among the teams. The car ran reliably and smoothly, some smaller glitches occurred only on the final afternoon. The new car proved to be stable in the first high-speed corner complex of the Barcelona track which requires a very stable aerodynamic behavior due to the quick changes of directions.

Kimi Räikkönen started the work with the car on Monday, but he was sidelined on his second working day due to the poor weather conditions following heavy snowfall. The Finn declared the first impressions with the car as “OK”, he praised the relability of the SF71H, but did not dare to speak of its competitveness.

Sebastian Vettel ended the last day with a lap time of 1:20.241 which he set on softs while completing long runs. The German seemed to be dubious whether his new race office can enable him to take on the fight with field-leading Mercedes.

“I’d have liked to have driven more, but we can do that next week, when we will start to get a clearer picture”.

The SF71H is an evolution of last year’s car, the continuation of a masterwork which led to multiple race victories in 2017. The new car follows the footsteps of its predecessor in aerodynamic terms. The sidepods are even more aggressive, they are terrifyingly small, sit further back, behind the crash structure line and feature a double air intake.

To channel the air towards the back, Ferrari uses colossal vertical elements. The bargeboards are more serrated, more sophisticated, but not on the level of Mercedes because the Italians use another concept of channeling the air with the sidepods and the giant vertical vanes. The new car has an innovative mirror housing featuring a hollow which turn the airflow downwards.


Mercedes was labelled the favourite by Red Bull and Ferrari. Over the winter, Mercedes was vocal about its possible engine gains measured on the dyno. The rumour had it that the Andy Cowell-governed engine department managed to break the 1000 bhp level with the 2018 power unit.

The team which has been dominating the sport since 2014 did not fail to impress. Lewis Hamilton set the best time of the whole test with a 1:19.333 on mediums while working on longer runs. That was an ominous sign of the performance of the W09 after a less impressive start. The new car was rather unstable at the back, especially in the hands of Hamilton on the first day of testing.

Hamilton said after the last day that he was keen to venture out with the car despite being a hater of testing. The quadruple champion was very positive about the new car.

"I got to see what she's like and stretch her legs a little bit. Driving a new car is like trying to crack a new code: you have to figure out which different techniques you need to get the most out of it. But the W09 feels like last year's big sister. Of course we've got things to learn and things to improve on balance-wise but overall my feeling is positive. I'm really looking forward to next week and to getting back in and learning more."

The car follows the aerodynamic concepts of its predecessor. The slim nosecone and the very highly placed wishbones of front suspension enable to get a huge airflow towards the back end of the car. This airflow is managed by the complex, heavily serrated bargeboards. The W09 features one of the smallest, tightest engine cover area in the whole field.

Red Bull

Red Bull unveiled its car challenger via on online launch a week before it broke cover in public on the first day of winter testing. The new car was revealed in striking new black and blue camouflage livery, but that was only for hiding the aerodynamic details from the naked eye.

The new car is an evolution of its predecessor which won two race in the last six GPs of 2017. The changes involve the introduction of the halo head protection system, the new exclusion zones on the back of the car which effectively removed the shark fins, monkey seats and T-wings. The RB14 features a remodeled nose, high, sculpted sidepods and largely different, Ferrari-style huge vertical vanes on the outer edge of the floor, next to the sidepods.

The latter caused for instability in terms of which effect it has on the back of the car, hence the team constantly put that off and on the car.

Daniel Ricciardo brought the car to the track for its first laps in Silverstone. The Australian had an off-track moment on the wet track, damaging parts of the car which did, however, hinder the team’s work in Barcelona.

The Perth-born topped the time sheet on the opening day with a 1:20.179, completing also the highest number of laps. Things turned to worse after that which involved spins for Max Verstappen and minor technical woes with the new challenger.

Red Bull’s head of Race Engineering Guillaume Rocquelin said that the new car confirmed more or less what the tem hoped for, but the technical group has to sort out a few smaller gremlins which hindered the work throughout the first test outing of the RB14.

“The real difficulty this week was in not being able to maximise the time available and that was a bit frustrating. However, we are reasonably happy with what the RB14 delivered in its first outing and we now have a bit of time back at base to work on next week’s test, when hopefully the weather conditions will be a bit kinder.”


The Grove-based squad slipped back a position in the Constructors’ Championship to fifth place last year, but the team is confident that its new FW41 challenger can be a step change in performance over its 2017 chassis.

The new car features an all-new aerodynamic direction after the team adopted a new aerodynamic design philosophy. The FW41 is the first machine to be designed under the eye of former Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe and ex-Ferrari aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer.

As every other 2018 car, the FW41 is an evolution of its predecessor after last year’s vast technical revamp, but it also showed a number of departures from the direction pursued on Williams’ last cars. The most notable differences are the Mercedes-style fin underneath the nose cone to better manage the air flying towards the sidepods, and the Ferrari-inspired high, sculpted sidepods.

The team founded in 1977 completed 276 laps with its three drivers. The team’s chief technical officer Paddy Lowe disclosed that the FW41 was running reliably without any failure throughout the four-day-long test session.

Robert Kubica confirmed his programme with Williams for this year, which involve the Pole driving in three free practice sessions. The one-time GP winner was in Barcelona to serve testing duties. The Pole drove on Tuesday and on the icy Wednesday. When asked about his mood after losing out to Sergey Sirotkin in the hunt for the second race seat, he sounded disappointed.

“I don’t care about my feeling, I have different job and I will never… the times are really irrelevant I would say, especially in my position. I’m here to help and try things. Actually driving in different conditions puts me in a difficult situation because I will not be racing. I have limited time in the car, so have to get confidence in the car very quickly, but conditions were difficult, so I have no time to take it easy.”

“Fridays are… honestly I’ve not spoken to the team about them but the idea is to give me an opportunity to drive the car to see its development rate and how the car is moving forward. With developments [it’s about] how we can influence balance and what is changing,” Kubica said to formula1.com.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso ditched Renault and teamed up with Honda which was ousted by McLaren. The Faenza-based team seems to have integrated the Japanese power unit well into its new car. The team’s French driver Pierry Gasly completed an impressive number of 147 laps on the closing day of the first test week.

This showing was in stark contrast to Honda's performance with previous partner McLaren on the first test day last year, when the manufacturer discovered a major problem with its engine after just a single installation lap.

“With 147 laps today I think that’s a record for the power unit era for Honda – we have been testing for effectively only three days so this is an outstanding achievement,” said Toro Rosso’s technical director James Key.

Their 2018 challenger, which features the same distinctive blue and red livery of last season, was presented ahead of the first winter test getting underway in Barcelona. The STR13 has a thumb style nose and appears to be a neat package, especially considering the extra stress on the design team that results from an engine supplier change.