Just like that, the first Formula 1 test in Barcelona is over. And it’s safe to say that most of the bold claims made by teams prior to the opening day have gone unfounded, so far. Force India look quick, but not that quick. Sauber are likely to maintain their position as the undisputed slowest team. McLaren, who I had seen as potential race winners in 2017, succumbed to the same struggles that ruined their last two seasons. Unless they can come back next week with a fully operational power unit, Formula 1’s orange team (well, half orange) could be facing another painful year.
The cars delivered on their promises at least. The increased aerodynamics worked a treat, and they were visibly quicker on track. The tyres were also encouraging. The consistency of lap times over some of the long runs was incredible. At one stage Valtteri Bottas lapped within the 1:25’s for 10 consecutive laps. In recent years, ten laps would have been the absolute limit of tyre life. It looks like the drivers are going to be able to push themselves hard.
The competition could get intense.
Competitive racing is the key though. I feel like the Formula One world had lost sight of what makes sport exciting. It’s not about the number of goals scored. If you watch a football match and the score is 5-0 after half an hour, that is not exciting. If the score is 1-1 going into the final 10 minutes of a closely contested game, that is where the excitement is. I look at overtaking in the same way. Just because we saw 161 overtakes in China last year, was the race more exciting? Nico Rosberg won that race by almost 40 seconds. Sure, it was spectacular and action packed, but no one’s getting excited by Kevin Magnussen taking 17th place.
At least the drivers now seem to have the equipment necessary to drive the car at its absolute limit. The possibility of driver error could return to the equation. At the very edge of physical and mental effort, mistakes will definitely be made during these long, gruelling races. That in itself will make the race more exciting.
But there’s more to it than that, even if we don’t see the ridiculous amount of synthetically aided overtaking. There is an opportunity for the teams to compete with each other. Mercedes are strong, of course, there is no hiding from the sizable advantage they have had over the last three years. Next to them however, we have Ferrari, who have been matching the pace of their German rivals.
No conclusions, yet.
It would be naive to draw conclusions just yet. But, should Red Bull begin to show their true potential, we could have three teams at the top, all able to compete. Its that kind of competition that we need. If the cars are close enough, there will be chances to overtake. Lewis Hamilton has said that following another car was difficult, but the tyres are not self-destructing this year, which removes the problem of having to protect them. So, it may be difficult, but at least there is the possibility of mounting a sustained attack. Not to mention drivers like Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo, who have the capacity to pull off spectacular overtaking moves.
Reading into the lap times week is a tricky business. The variations of fuel loads and engine modes are infinite. But things like lap time consistency, tyre performance and car performance are looking to be extremely promising. Next week will no doubt offer a clearer picture over what we can expect. I just hope Mercedes weren’t hiding too much.
(Featured image: emperornie CC BY-SA 2.0)