Ferrari may have had things go all their own way in the first test last week, but there’s still enough time for Mercedes & Red Bull to respond to the Scuderia’s pace.
If you spoke to anyone last week in Barcelona, there was near unanimous agreement: Ferrari had the quickest car at the first test. Both Charles Leclerc & Sebastian Vettel topped the times on the opening first two days before settling into a quieter second half of the test. While the likes of Toro Rosso & Renault went balls to the wall early with quick times on the C5 tyre, it was Ferrari’s Day 4 time with Charles Leclerc that really caught the eye.
While that time was ‘only’ a 1:18.0 and enough for P6 on that day’s timing screens, Leclerc’s time was set on the yellow-marked C3 tyre. Once you take Pirelli’s tyre delta information into consideration, this revises the time to a theoretical 1:16.8. Vettel’s best time, set on the very first day on the same tyre, was a 1:16.9. The next nearest time, again tyre delta adjusted, would have been Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. His 1:17.9 on Day 4 would have been around 1:17.2 or 1:17.3 – around the same pace that Nico Hulkenberg unlocked from his Renault.
It’s clear Mercedes were rattled by Ferrari’s pace last week. While they did their best to keep a lid on that worry, all the conversation from the drivers and team boss Toto Wolff was about how they need to ‘understand’ and ‘learn‘ about their W10. Valtteri Bottas was clear that he felt Ferrari were ahead, and that the performance envelope of their new car is ‘on a knife edge’.
Similarly, Red Bull seem to be yet to figure out their RB15. Much has been made of the rumours that they struggled with engine vibrations last week, and thus needed to run slightly off the pace that they would have liked. These rumours were refuted by anyone at Red Bull who was asked about it, while Toro Rosso’s Jody Eggington made it clear that there were no issues with Honda on their side. While it’s entirely possible that the notoriously uncompromising Adrian Newey may have designed a car that might be bringing forth issues that Toro Rosso aren’t having, it’s more likely that it’s just a rumour. While Red Bull certainly didn’t feature strongly on the timesheets last week, with theoretical best laps of 1:17.5 for both Verstappen & Gasly, it was the team’s first four days with an entirely new power unit – this week will give a better indication of where the team might stand.
If you were to hold a race around Catalunya using the cars from last week’s testing, there’s little doubt that Ferrari would probably run away with it. Their front wing design, as with Alfa Romeo & Toro Rosso, seems to have caught Mercedes & Red Bull by surprise and the suggestions are that it’s not possible for cars not running that design philosophy to quickly rectify the situation.
The good news is that there are another four days of pre-season testing to come that allows Mercedes & Red Bull to try out different things. Red Bull have already rolled out a new rear wing and they say more upgrades are coming for the second week. Mercedes, too, aren’t sitting still and are also expected to have a raft of new upgrades. Eyes will be firmly on the front wings – will either team bring a concept more in line with Ferrari’s to see if they can make a solution work?