Sebastian Vettel set the pace in terms of lap time and distance on the opening day of the first test at the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya. The Ferrari driver managed one hundred and sixty nine laps setting a 1:18.1 during the morning to edge out Carlos Sainz’s McLaren by over a second.
Vettel set his fastest time before lunch and the time looked set to remain the quickest until Sainz put in some quick laps towards the end of the afternoon bringing his McLaren to within half a second. Although this is early on it will be seen as step forward for the team after four very difficult seasons.
Vettel’s time was two seconds faster than he managed on the first day of testing last year. Ferrari’s customers Haas and Sauber also had a strong showing with Romain Grosjean third and Kimi Raikkonen fifth. The Finn had gone fourth fastest, before being pushed down by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Raikkonen, causing the first and final red flags of the day, but managed to complete over 100 laps. Verstappen will be hoping that Honda can remain solid, although he was over a second off the outright pace.
The Dutchman told Sky Sports “Everything was working quite well, we did quite a lot of laps. I’m happy about that but it’s still the first day. We’re happy and we’ll keep improving. Like everyone else we still need to learn the car, still, need to learn the engine.”
However, Williams hopes of a fresh start to the year was in tatters from the very start of the day. The team accepted they wouldn’t run today but hopes of running on Tuesday are in doubt as its understood that the team’s car will not leave there Oxfordshire base until tomorrow.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams described the delay as “extremely disappointing”. She added: “It is looking more likely than not that we will now not be in a position to run on track until Wednesday at the earliest.
If the word from inside the team is accurate, Williams could be facing a season adrift of the rest of the field. But that remains a subject of speculation until at least it runs, and more likely until the race in Melbourne next month.
As expected Mercedes had a low key day with the focus being on mileage and reliability. Between them, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton managed one hundred and fifty laps, historically approaches testing on heavy fuel and harder compound tyres than its rivals.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff believes that Ferrari looked ultra strong. Telling BBC News, “We are all looking at lap times but it’s not the purpose of these tests – it’s about going through the data and testing the parts.”
“Sebastian Vettel’s time was very quick. The time was quicker than everyone else and definitely, the Ferrari has been going strong this morning.”
On his return to the sport, Daniil Kvyat went sixth fastest, ahead of Racing Points Sergio Perez. The Mexican was three tenths off the pace of the Toro Rosso.
Renault finished the day at the bottom of the timesheets after splitting its session between Nico Hulkenberg in the morning and Daniel Ricciardo in the afternoon. The duo completed 109 laps to gather a decent amount of data for the team.
Raikkonen spun the Alfa Romeo into the gravel at Turn Five on his first flying lap of the day but there were no crashes. And Vettel had a spin, but stayed on track, at the chicane early in the day.
Testing always has been a very difficult one to read, as setup, fuel loads and engine modes all make a significant difference to performance. Unlike in practice sessions, there is no clear definition between long runs and performance over a single lap.