Formula One Testing, Week 1: Renault on top, contenders hiding their cards

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Formula One’s new season kicked off this week near Barcelona, Spain, with the teams finally back on track with their new machinery and drivers.

The first week of Formula 1’s preseason ended this Thursday at Circuit of Catalunya with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg leading the way with the fastest time over the four days of action. While the title contenders focused on long runs, the underdogs took advantage to steal the headlines with flying laps. Even though laptimes at this time of the year can be misleading, with some context it’s possible to extract decent information about what’s going on.

Impressive performance and reliability

Maybe the most conclusive info we can gather through testing is reliability, and it is suprising how good it’s been so far. It’s the first time these cars have been on track and, except Haas and their electrical gremlins, all of the teams ran a lot without serious issues. Even the teams running Renault and Honda engines, whom struggled with reliability ever since the hybrid powertrains were introduced back in 2014, logged a lot of miles without any major breakdowns.

Laps completed by each team. Contenders on top, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso suprising

This year’s regulation clamped down on aerodinamic development on the front wing and bargeboard sections hoping to improve Racing and slow down the cars that a year ago broke almost every laptime record. Considering this the pace shown by all teams was surprising, even beating last year’s times from the same period. Even more impressive, the nine fastest drivers during the week would be quick enough to be in Q3 at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2018. The work done by the engineers to recover the lost downforce is remarkable.

Ferrari ahead, close battle in the midfield

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90 – Pictures from Xavi Bonilla

Between the big teams Ferrrari punched first, pilling on the miles and being fast even without the softer tyres available. The performance shown by them impressed everyone at the circuit, even their closest rivals Mercedes and Red Bull, whom already recognize they may be behind the Italian squad at this early stages. But the Red Bull-Honda partnership seems promising and the five time World Champions at Mercedes will always be a force to be reckoned. The title fight should be close.

The dogfight in the midfield is looking as intense as it’s ever been with everyone closely matched. Renault, with their Works team money, looks to be ahead of this pack, showing clever solutions and good pace through different runs and tyres. They ended the week on top of the timesheet thanks to Hulkenberg’s 1m17.393. Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso build up the miles while being very fast with their new drivers, always close to the top, while the American Haas looked very quick but had some stoppages due to electrical issues. Racing Point, who bought Force India, as usual wasn’t flashy, but their mileage was disappointing.

Once F1 greats Mclaren and Williams also left to be desired. The first was close to the top on the first couple of days thanks to softer tyres, but the impression by those at the track was of a very nervous car. In such a close midfield battle, starting on the wrong foot can be disastrous. Williams on the other hand couldn’t finish the build of their car on time, arriving late and only running the last two days with a “compromised” car, as Williams’ driver Robert Kubica described.

Nico Hulkenberg, Renault R.S.19 – Picture from Xavi Bonilla

The first week of testing is usually the time to check the reliability of the new engines, make sure the simulation data correlate with what the real world car sensors are showing and start to fine tune the cars. The picture can, and probably will change until we get to Melbourne for the first race. New aero packages will be installed, better setups will be found and drivers will get used to their new envyroment. Next week’s tests, also in Barcelona, should give us stronger indications of where’s everyone in the packing order, but the 2019 season in Formula One is already building up to be a great one.

Combined laptimes from Week 1 of Formula One Testing

Driver Team Day Tyre Time
Nico Hulkenberg Renault Day 4 C5 1:17.393
Alex Albon Toro Rosso Day 4 C5 1:17.637
Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Day 3 C5 1:17.704
Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Day 3 C5 1:17.762
Daniel Ricciardo Renault Day 4 C5 1:17.785
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Day 4 C5 1:17.857
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Day 4 C4 1:17.977
Charles Leclerc Ferrari Day 4 C3 1:18.046
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Day 1 C3 1:18.161
Lando Norris McLaren Day 2 C4 1:18.431
Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Day 4 C3 1:18.511
Romain Grosjean Haas Day 4 C3 1:18.563
Carlos Sainz McLaren Day 1 C4 1:18.558
Kevin Magnussen Haas Day 4 C3 1:18.720
Pierre Gasly Red Bull Day 4 C3 1:18.780
Max Verstappen Red Bull Day 3 C3 1:18.787
Pietro Fittipaldi Haas Day 3 C4 1:19.249
Sergio Perez Racing Point Day 1 C3 1:19.944
Lance Stroll Racing Point Day 4 C2 1:19.664
George Russell Williams Day 4 C3 1:20.997
Robert Kubica Williams Day 4 C2 1:21.542

Tyres range from C1 (Hardest) to C5 (Softest)

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