F1 Testing: Whispers after the final day

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F1 Test, Barcelona, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Formula One teams have completed a mammoth first week of testing over the past four days. F1Technical.net’ Balázs Szabó is back with his test analysis of day four of the pre-season testing.

Mercedes and Red Bull in sandbagging mode

That is the view of Ferrari’s new talent Charles Leclerc. Having completed two long and successful days behind the wheel of the SF90, the Monegasque thinks that Ferrari’s rivals have not showed their true potential yet.

Mercedes and Red Bull did not threaten the top of the timesheets during the first week of winter testing while Ferrari managed to set the pace over the first two days, prompting many to believe that Ferrari finds itself in a slightly better shape at this very early stage of the preparation for the new season.

"The performance has no sense for now because it's testing, they are not pushing and we are not either. We don't know how much the others are sandbagging. So, we'll see at the first race. The main importance for this test is to do the programme of the day and that's what we're doing, so we're happy. We need to keep pushing. The other teams are sandbagging. We need to see how much they are, but we are pretty happy with the car at the moment,” Leclerc commented on the actual pecking order.

Red Bull with a huge relief

The Red Bull camp is relieved after the first week of running. The energy drink-owned team ditched the Renault power units and joined forced with Honda for the 2019 season. The Japanese manufacturer will supply two teams for the first time since it rejoined the sport in 2015.

Red Bull were reluctant to set an eye-catching lap time during the first four days of pre-season testing, and focused on longer runs instead. Both Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly were able to complete an extensive evaluation programme with good mileage throughout the four days. Red Bull's motorsport advisor Helmut Marko praised the reliability of his team’s new power unit and confessed he could have a huge sigh of relief after seeing the RB15 circulation around the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit without major technical gremlins.

"I would say we never had such good preparation for the season. For both teams. It's a new period. We don't look back. We look forward. It's a very good relationship.”

"The concern was of course reliability and so far that's not a problem at all. It's a new culture as well. But it fits well with our people," said the Austrian.

Renault on the right path with its PU

Ahead of his third season with the works team of Renault, Nico Hülkenberg is confident that the Enstone-based squad could make further inroads with its power unit. The German thinks that the new engine provides “significantly more power. However, it is really difficult to feel more power because, with these huge rear wings, it feels like carrying a parachute.”

Renault was using only the first specification of its 2019 power unit this week before the final elements arrive for the second week of pre-season testing. According to Hülkenberg, the team has to work on its MGU-K which shuts down too early down the straights.

When it comes to the car behaviour, Hülkenberg thinks that the Renault engineers used the “copy & paste button. The instability around the rear is still there. It still lies in the car. Despite to all the efforts to gain downforce, we could not solve this issue. We still have to work on that.”

Pirelli’s guess-work

Formula One’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli has introduces modified tyres for the 2019 Championship. Its range consists of five different compounds instead of seven. A further sporting modification is that the various compounds bear codes instead of names as over the past years. That is because of complains from fans that the names could be misleading and difficult to read.

As a result, Pirelli decided to use only three words for distinguishing its compounds: soft, medium and hard. However, as there are five compounds, the tyre manufacturer baptized its hardest compound as C1 and its softest as C5. Basically, the higher the number is the softer the compound is. The C1 is more or less equivalent to last year’s hard, the C2 to medium, the C3 to soft, the C4 to supersoft and C5 to hypersoft.

The Milan-based manufacturer also intended to establish a significant performance gap between different compounds to open up various strategies during races. After the first week of winter testing Pirelli issues a statement in which it estimates the performance gap between the five different compounds. The company’s racing manager Mario Isola said that the relatively big difference between the C1 and C2 compound should decrease later on because the current cold temperatures hinder the warm-up process for the hardest compound of all.

Pirelli’s estimation:
C1 to C2: 0.8-1.0 seconds
C2 to C3: 0.7 seconds
C3 to C4: 0.6 seconds
C4 to C5: 0.6 seconds

Solid reliability

Mercedes continued racking up high mileages on the fourth and final day of the first test week. On the last day of the first week of pre-season testing, both Lewis and Valtteri set their fastest laps yet in the Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+.

After running on very high fuel levels over the first three days, the team started exploring the performance of its brand-new car. The team’s focus revolved around building its understanding of the 2019 tyres, looking at grip and balance differences between the softer compounds. Reading the words of Mercedes’ two drivers and looking at the W10’s on-track behaviour, the team clearly still has to find the sweet spot with the new configuration. However, Lewis Hamilton was delighted at the end of the fourth day as his new race office is steadily progressing with every mileage.

“In general, the car was feeling better today and is coming together. However, we still have to keep on digging deep, analysing the data and the changes that we are making. The reliability has been really solid which is a great showing of all the hard work that everyone in the factory has done. But we have to keep on pushing, the competition looks very strong,” said the reigning champion.

Williams still playing catching up

ROKiT Williams Racing started the winter testing with two and half a day of delay. On the final day of testing, the team was still playing catching up compared to its rival which were way ahead with their programmes. Robert Kubica completed 48 laps in the morning with the fastest in 1.21.542. George Russell took over the driving duties from the Polish driver, but he only racked up 17 laps.

The one-lap GP-winner has been in Barcelona since last Friday, but he only got a taste for his new racing machine yesterday. He claimed that the car is still missing some parts which should arrive for the second week of pre-season testing.

"I think there's still something to put on the car, probably not a lot, but for sure there are things that were compromised. It's not right that I talk about them, as I said before I'm here for driving, so I have to concentrate on this. Finally I have a car, so hopefully next week we can concentrate on preparing better for the first race, because it's close," he said.

The Grove-based team deputy team principal Claire Williams fears that the real impact of the delayed start will only be visible later on.
“It’s early days,” she said. “We’ve missed two days of testing, that’s not ideal, it’s a lot of potential kilometres. But I don’t think we will actually know the full impact of missing those two days until probably a bit later on.

“Clearly we’re doing everything we can to condense the programme we had to maximise the time available. We will really focus our efforts and attention on the most important and critical areas to make sure the car is in the best shape possible for Australia.”

Still work ahead

Despite topping its first official test day with Scuderia Ferrari, Charles Leclerc said that testing times and performances are meaningless, especially at this very early stage.

The Monegasque notched up a total of 138 laps on his second day of testing and set his fastest lap time of 1m18.046s towards the end of the morning session. After the installation lap, Leclerc dedicated the first part of the day to set-up work before switching to tyre testing in the afternoon.

“For now, I don’t want to say too much, because this is just testing” he said. “But the feeling from the car is very good. We did many laps, the reliability was good and every day we managed to complete our programme.”

“I feel quite at ease in the car, even if there are still a few things I need to get used to, including how the team operates. But this is quite an easy car to drive. As Seb said, this doesn’t feel like a new car, but more like one that is quite well developed. Driveability is very good, which shows that the team has done an amazing job over the winter to bring a very solid car here. The results? I’m not really focusing on that side of things. I’m focusing on myself, trying to do my best and to improve with every lap,” he said.