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Thoughts and Observations From F1’s First 2017 Test

Looking back on the week that was testing, it’s possible to draw conclusions – but that’s ultimately pointless. The teams are going through things at their own paces, including any problems that present themselves, and the public doesn’t get to know the actual reflection of that for now.

More guesses can be made in Australia, and more comments will undoubtedly come flowing through from PR officers. Until then, you can look too much of a fool by predicting how a Formula 1 season will pan out from such a short amount of running and knowledge.

Even with this in mind, here are some takeaways from Barcelona.

Mercedes Still fast

Despite some fans potentially hoping for a slight downfall, F1’s reigning Drivers’ and Constructors’ champion is still looking like the fastest team despite the changes in regulations. 

Ferrari has led some of the final classifications, with Kimi Raikkonen on top twice. The Italian team has topped sessions before and will do in the future; it doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. The other two days have been led by both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton as they quietly go about their business.

Apart from an apparent electronic problem on day four, the team seems to continue to have a competently reliable car and the possibility of being towards the sharp end of the grid. Its W08 machine completed 558 laps during the four days, and only 68 on the final day, the highest total of any team on the grid.

McLaren Still Seemingly Struggling

The team is still having unreliability problems as they prepare for a third season with Honda. You would be forgiven for thinking it was Groundhog Day at times during the test.

The first two days were tough for the team, including an oil systems issue and a necessary power unit change as they completed just 69 laps (Fernando Alonso 29, Stoffel Vandoorne 40), the least amount of any team.

A final total of 208 laps came from the test, the second-lowest amount of any team, just slightly better than Toro Rosso.

Racing Director Eric Boullier was unsurprisingly cautious about the problems after the first day of running.

“Of course, it’s disappointing to have encountered issues so early in the running, but this situation is not too unusual with a brand-new car,” he said, “It’s better to have these issues here than in Australia.

“Honda is investigating the problem carefully in order to find the proper solutions, so we need to let them do that before drawing any premature conclusions.”

If, and that is a big if, these problems continue, it will surely be frustrating for Fernando Alonso as he comes to the end of his career. Someone being 35-years-old, as barbaric as it is, is effectively nearing retirement age and he might not have many races left to have many opportunities to shine near the front of the grid.

This is also potentially harmful to Stoffel Vandoorne. He is effectively the next possibly special driver that McLaren has found and if he cannot get results it may affect parts of his driving while he is still in a learning stage towards the sport.

Time will tell whether McLaren can return to the top-five in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 2014.

Stroll-ing into the gravel

F1’s newest arrival, Lance Stroll, has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – using testing to find the limits of his Williams car and damaging his car in some accidents.

As a result, allegations have already surfaced about Stroll not being up to F1 and a line of questioning over whether a jump from European Formula 3, skipping two series in GP2 and GP3, and competing in the new era of F1 is a wise move. However, recall the same type of overreactions surfaced surrounding Max Verstappen possibly being too young for F1. We all know how that ended up.

The team failed to run on day four due to safety concerns over previous damage, despite this day being a day designated for learning about Pirelli’s new wet tire range and the team being one of the worst teams on the grid for racing when rain hits a track.

Many will surely be concerned about their potential standing on the grid and whether they can remain in the top five of the Constructors’ Championship with so many competitors, like Renault and Toro Rosso, aiming for new heights in 2017.

Other issues

Stroll was a target of criticism, but some of the other members of the F1 grid also explored the run-off areas, including Bottas (Mercedes) and Jolyon Palmer (Renault). It wouldn’t be too surprising, due to the longer span of an F1 car in 2017 and wider front wing if the first Grands Prix sees many stupid crashes as drivers find their feet with the new dimensions. An Australian Grand Prix featuring just the points finishers completing the race has happened before and could always happen again.

One other minor problem with testing was the final day being put aside for wet tire testing, something that the teams didn’t do a lot of and the track had to be specifically dampened artificially which didn’t actually work. With thoughts that Pirelli is still developing a new set of wet tires, rain-filled sessions at the first race may be interesting.

Although a lot of focus was put on McLaren, another team which ran into high-profile technical issues was Toro Rosso. Its car completed just 183 laps over the four days after some problems including engine and drivetrain issues, which is just under three complete distances of the 66-lap race.

 

The final test sessions take place at the Barcelona track on March 7-10 before cars get packaged away again ahead of the first round of 2017 at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24-26.

EMAIL CAMERON AT cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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By Cameron Paterson

Cameron Paterson has been a watcher of Formula 1 since 2007, a casual television watch evolved to watching and reading anything related to something with wheels and an engine. A fan of writing, it was a no-brainer about what to do to try and get into motorsport, consistently discussing things about this great sport since 2016.