F1 Testing: Whispers after the last day

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F1 Test, Barcelona, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ended the day with the fastest laptime of the entire pre-season testing, but the Italians’ SF90 endured another reliability glitch, causing a red flag period. Focusing on the one-lap performance of the car, Mercedes also started setting alarming times at the dying moments of winter testing.

Eight days, one track, ten teams, twenty-two drivers. Over the course of the last two weeks, the field was pushing hard to prepare itself for the 2019 Formula One Championship, which is set to start in Melbourne, Australia on the 17th of March.

While the first week of winter testing saw the teams achieving truly amazing reliability, the second week was definitely more trying for a few teams, including two of the top squads, Ferrari and Red Bull. Nevertheless, all teams managed to collect a wealth of data, including Williams, which will help them to fix reliability issues and unlock the best from their 2019 contenders before they gather together and flex their muscles.

Huge speed paired with vulnerability

The star of the last two weeks, Ferrari endured a rather complicated second week of testing despite to its promising one-lap and long run performance. The Italian outfit’s days were curtailed by problems of different natures, including issues with the gearbox, electronics, exhaust and wheel rim, all of them leading to loss of valuable track time.

On the last day of testing, Sebastian Vettel took over the wheel from Charles Leclerc. The German focused on setup work in the morning before simulating qualifying on Pirelli’s C3, C4 and C5 compounds. At 12:34, the German recorded the fastest time of the entire pre-season testing with a 1:16.221 on the softest C5 compound. The German went on to carry out a qualifying simulation on the more durable C3 compound and set the eyebrow-raising laptime of 1:16.720, losing only 0.499 seconds despite to the relatively big gap in grip between the C3 and C5 compounds.

After the lunch break, Ferrari immediately kicked off its race simulation just as it did yesterday with Leclerc behind the wheel. Vettel completed his first stint on Pirelli’s C3 compound before changing it to the C4. Both his stints were characterized by very strong times, in fact by the best long stint times of the whole pre-season testing. However, as soon as the quadruple world champion exited the pit lane after his second visit to the pit, his SF90 developed electrical issues which forced him to park it to the run-off zone around Turn 2. With the flatbed truck, the car was brought back to the garage and it was decided to call a halt to testing.

Ferrari’s new team principal Mattia Binotto admitted that his team has lots of pieces of the puzzle to put in place despite to its strong performance.

“We are still focusing on our car to understand its limits in terms of performance and reliability. There are still many issues to be addressed and we must push forward on the performance front. The fact that our car is running properly is a good starting point, but we are still not ready for Melbourne and I’d say it’s a case of a work in progress,” said the Swiss-Italian.

Red Bull once again hit by reliability issues

Following a productive start to the second week of winter testing, Red Bull rounded its on-track preparation for the 2019 Formula One Championship off in a less productive form.

Yesterday, Pierre Gasly lost control over his RB15, sending it into the barriers around Turn 9. The crash left Red Bull with lots of work to do overnight to bring the car into a useable state. Max Verstappen was behind the wheel of the 15th car of the Red Bull team. The Dutchman logged 29 laps around the 4.665km-long Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, of which his fastest was a 1m17.709. The reason for the very limited mileage was a gearbox issue which brought Verstappen’s final test day to a premature end.

Despite to the troublesome last day, the three-time race winner took a positive summary after the pre-season testing, indicating that the new collaboration between Red Bull and the Japanese engine manufacturer Honda looks quite promising.

“If you look at the longer runs it looks pretty promising. I think we have a good package and the engine works really well, so I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to just going racing now." he said.

Red Bull’ Head of Engineering, Guillaume Rocquelin also praised Honda for its work.

“We came here with a new car, a new engine partner and a new driver, and we leave Barcelona with all of those elements working extremely well together. Problems such as today’s inevitably arise during testing and it’s a shame that it disrupted our final day. Honda have been outstanding throughout, we have had great reliability and the rapport with the Team is exceptional. It’s also a big task for Pierre coming into a new team and he’s learned a huge amount – about the car and procedurally. As for the car, the balance is good, the performance is there and we’re ready to go racing.”

Mercedes awakens as testing ends

After starting testing with handling issues and fluctuating performances, Mercedes presented itself in a much stronger fashion as the field rounded the pre-season testing off.

Last week, both Mercedes drivers complained about the handling of the team’s brand-new W10. Especially Valtteri Bottas was vocal, claiming that the front end of the car is not predictable enough and the car behaves very differently in various circumstances.
However, come the second week of testing, Mercedes found the golden remedy for the setup issues. Bottas was happy to claim that “learning a lot and improving our performance over the past two weeks”, while his team-mate Hamilton was delighted with the fact that his team found which directions to follow.

„It felt like the changes we were making helped us progress and gave us clear feedback of when we were moving in the right or the wrong direction,” he said.

On the last day of the 2019 pre-season test, Mercedes continued to work on the set-up of the W10 and ticked off the last test items of the two-week programme. The team also collected more aerodynamic data before the focus shifted to single-lap performance. Both drivers set their fastest lap times of winter testing today.

Valtteri was behind the wheel in the morning, gathering aero data and working on qualifying performance. Lewis took over for the afternoon, also working on qualifying simulations on different compounds running a similar programme to Valtteri.

"It was a nice final day. We’ve waited for a number of days to run on the softer rubber and have a look at the car in its Melbourne spec. We’re reasonably pleased because we had a good balance with both drivers and both set competitive lap times. But we’ve got plenty of work ahead of us before Melbourne. We can look back on eight days of testing where the car has been very reliable, where we’ve made steady progress throughout those two weeks with the performance and the set-up, we’ve run through a huge range of the procedures and tests that we need to complete in order to be ready for the first race of the season. All in all, it’s been a very long, very tiring but successful test."

Alfa Romeo with an extremely productive day

Alfa Romeo Racing has concluded winter testing with Kimi Räikkönen completing a total of 132 laps behind the wheel of their 2019 contender today. That amount was equivalent to 616.460km around the 4.655km-long Spanish circuit. The Finn driver’s best lap of 1m17.239 was recorded on Pirelli’s softest C5 compound.

Over the past two weeks, the team tried out various set-ups, tested different tyre compounds as well as aerodynamic configurations and got a first impression of the Alfa Romeo Racing C38 with which they will head into the 2019 Formula One World Championship, eager to fight for ambitious results.

The team’s returning driver Kimi Räikkönen remained taciturn while assessing the pre-season testing of Alfa Romeo.

“Today was our last day of testing. We got to know the car over the past two weeks and know where our strengths lie. We will see where we really are when we arrive in Melbourne. I look forward to our first race together there,” he said.

Huge mountain to climb

That is what the ROKiT Williams Team is faced with. Robert Kubica racked up a total of 90 laps today, ending the day in the last position. His best laptime of 1m18.993 was a 1.202 slower than the one of the second slowest driver.

Out of the runs that we did, we managed to learn some things, but it hasn’t given me the level of confidence that I would have liked ahead of Australia. It wasn’t the day that I was hoping for after the delay to the start of testing, but you have to take the positives out of these difficult situations,“ concluded the 34-year-old.

The team’s chief technical officer Paddy Lowe disclosed that the today’s work was curtailed because a number of critical bodywork parts had reached a stage of degradation which meant that the team could not collect meaningful information,

“Having arrived late to the testing, our reliability during the running itself has been incredibly high. Up until today we were on track to complete our originally intended mileage and to consume all available tyre sets. But today this car has become ultimately too tired to continue. In the interest of saving our resources for the important racing in Australia we felt it was right to change the plan. In general, the car is not as its best and this has affected our performance most particularly this morning with Robert in the qualifying simulation and to some extent with George yesterday,” said the Briton.

104 laps? Surprising!

SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team brought pre-season testing to an end with a productive day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Sergio Perez completed 104 laps in the final session before the team heads to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix.

The reborn team has been running surprisingly little despite having no real issues with the reliability of the RP19. At the end of last week, Sergio Perez disclosed that the team was limited on spare parts, which forced it to heavily limit its mileage. However, the Racing Point relaxed its limitation for the final day of testing, letting the Mexican driver notching up a total of 104 laps before the field heads towards Australia in a fortnight’s time.

Racing Point’s Performance Engineer Director said that the team could round its on-track activities off with collecting plenty of data despite to the limited mileage.

“We were able to get a good understanding of the RP19 launch car and also of the five tyre compounds we will be using throughout the season. Today was a useful day: the car ran reliably again, as it has done all week, which is encouraging. Our race runs were slightly hampered by the timing of the red flag, but we still finish the day having learnt a lot about our car. We have plenty of work to be done between now and Melbourne, but we can look forward to the start of the season,” McCullough concluded.