F1 2017 Winter Testing Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

I never understood why they called this “winter testing” when it’s March but oh well…

Winter testing is over! The next time we’ll see F1 cars on the track is when the season kicks off in Albert Park in Australia. We’re close…so close.

With F1’s 2017 regulation changes, we had no idea who would set the pace in testing, as the regulation changes gave everyone a chance to change their fortunes. Now that testing is over, we have a clearer idea who’s performing as they should, who isn’t and who’s exceededing expectations. Which leads me to today’s topic: Who were the winners and losers of F1’s winter tests?

Winners

(Honourable mention: Williams for looking like the best of the rest. Valterri Bottas for not completely being outclassed by Lewis Hamilton)

Ferrari

The SF-70H looks like an incredible machine but Ferrari have been very intentional as to not get carried away nor state their expectations. They’ve been top of the timing sheets in winter testing in the past and their car didn’t deliver when it came time to go racing.  But it’s not just Ferrari, but Sebastian Vettel too.

Having been the pace setters throughout the two tests, Ferrari may have shown us a sneak-peak of what is to come on the final day as Kimi Raikkonen set an incredible lap time of 1:18.634 on supersoft tyres, not even the softest of the tyre compounds. A time too quick to ignore, even if it is testing.

No other team even came close to a sub 1:19 lap time, the closest coming in the form of Mercedes and Valterri Bottas, who set a time of 1:19.310 on day six of testing. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton believe that Ferrari haven’t even shown their true pace as of yet:

“I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing.”

“They’re very close to us. It’s difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker. But they are very close, if not faster.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mind games or genuine concern from Mercedes? Time will tell how Ferrari stack up against Mercedes on race-weekend but, make no mistake, this car could be something special…

Mercedes

Normally when there’s a regulations change, the top teams from the previous era (as such) have been known to struggle but there doesn’t seem to be any such concern with Mercedes who are still the team to beat, despite Ferrari’s pace.

Mercedes have focused on a lot of long runs and reliability, reliability was what dogged them — more so Lewis Hamilton — last season. Mercedes completed the most laps of any team: 1,096. That’s 140 more than Ferrari (who completed the second most testing laps) and 296 more than Williams (who completed the third most testing laps). But make no mistake, the Silver Arrows are still very quick, posting the second team quickest time behind Ferrari.

In light if Ferrari’s testing pace, Mercedes have been cautious and have said that they cannot be confident that they are still the fastest team:

“We are definitely not confident that we are in front. We are not relaxing, we are not in a comfortable situation at all. We do feel that the other teams have made good progress over the winter.”

“Ferrari are looking very strong, Red Bull can always surprise, and other teams can be strong. But Ferrari look solid, strong and fast – and who knows what people will bring to Melbourne.

“We should not underestimate them at all. We’re not saying we’re number one, we’re just working flat-out.”

— Valterri Bottas

Teammate Lewis Hamilton has not only praised Ferrari’s car but is also thinking of Red Bull, who he is expecting to show an improved outing in Australia:

“I don’t know if Red Bull have brought their upgrade package here but normally they bring it to the first race. I expect us to be having a real serious battle with both these teams.”

— Lewis Hamilton

To be fair, all of this talk from teams and drivers is probably 90% crap. It’s all mind games/teams not wanting to say that they’re the favourite and teams not — obviously — wanting to show their full hand at winter testing. The general feeling is that Mercedes have been running heavier than other teams throughout testing.

Mercedes are still the team to beat and show no signs of drifting away in their quest for a fourth straight title. They appear mightily quick…once again.

Losers

(Honourable mention: Lance Stroll for seeming like your standard pay driver)

McLaren Honda…but mostly Honda

What an absolute mess, what an absolute joke. So many people, including myself, were so excited for McLaren this year. We know they can produce a great chassis and people were expecting engine supplier Honda to, in year 3, finally show signs of producing a solid power unit that could possibly hang with Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes (oh, how foolish we were…). Added to that the unique opportunity given to McLaren to change their fortunes with the new regulation changes. A new lick of paint to boot…it seemed like this was the year McLaren could bounce back. But it has been all show and very, very little — if not, no — go.

It’s been failure after failure after failure for McLaren and Honda. Electrical issues, engine issues, fuel tank issues which Fernando Alonso described as “amateur problems”… And after all these problems the on-track product was just as bad. On a set of ultrasofts, McLaren could only post the ninth fastest lap out of the 10 teams with a 1:21.348. Only Sauber recorded a slower time, and only by three tenths of a second on supersofts…

This lack of progress, regression if anything, has obviously frustrated Fernando Alonso, who has pinned the blame to Honda.

“I don’t think we are too far back with the chassis, we have only one problem which is the power unit”

“There is no reliability and there is no power. We are 30kph down on the straight.”

— Fernando Alonso

Alonso expected a result “immediately”. What was McLaren’s response the next day?

Yep. Another problem, leading to a breakdown on the track.

McLaren’s “long-run” stints also don’t inspire much confidence — 11 laps… That was McLaren’s longest run. 11 flipping laps. They completed the least amount of total testing laps by far, 425. That’s 159 laps less than the team who ran the next fewest laps, Toro Rosso, 531 less than Ferrari and 671 less than Mercedes… Not good.

McLaren executive director, Zak Brown, has denied that the team are in a crisis:

“We have problems, clearly we have problems…but ‘crisis’ is a bit strong.”

— Zak Brown

If this isn’t a crisis…what is?? Regulation changes like this are supposed to help a team like McLaren go forward but, if winter testing has given any indication, McLaren have gone backwards… That sounds like a crisis to me.

Force India 

When the VJM10 was launched, owner Vijay Mallya described it as a “cracker of a car” and even targeted third place in the constructors standings, which would mean ousting one of Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes. Well…it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Force India at Barcelona.

Things seemed to just fine after week one of testing but Force India seem to have slipped a little bit as Test Two wound down. By the end of testing, Force India had set the 7th fastest team time, trailing Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso, as well as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. There appear to be a few issues with the car, the following little passages from Sky Sports eludes to a weight problem:

But is all entirely well with the car? Perhaps not: the talk in the paddock was of a car that was overweight and overly sensitive. Plenty of work still to do.

Targeting third was a huge goal to set to begin with but Force India — who took the title of “best of the rest” in 2016 with their fourth placed finish in the constructors — if their pace in winter testing to be believed, are set to be slugging it out with the midfield unless they can sort their issues out or unleash anything they may have been holding back.

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