This week, we got to see the 2019 cars on the track for the first time (yes, even the Williams…eventually!) as the first of two pre-season tests took place at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The test gives teams a chance to find any problems, see if the car actually works out of the simulator, and let the drivers get a feel for the cars they’ll be racing in this year.
For some, it was a fairly straight-forward four days of testing, while others appear to have work to do before next month’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
3Legs4Wheels looks back at each team’s testing programme:
It was a predictably boring four days of testing for the reigning constructors champions. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas split the driving duties on the opening two days, with the team focussing on gathering aerodynamic data and gaining an understanding of the new 2019 Pirelli compounds on day one, before turning to race setup on the second day. Both driver managed a full race distance on Wednesday as the team continued to look at setup before finishing the week with more work on the tyres, specifically the balance differences between the softer compounds.
At the end of the test, Hamilton said: “The reliability has been really solid which is a great showing of all the hard work that everyone in the factory has done. But we have to keep on pushing, the competition looks very strong. The weather has been good all week so we could get through our programme and it was great to see the fans out there. I’m looking forward to coming back next week.”
Bottas added: “The first week of testing was really good for us in terms of reliability, we got a lot of mileage in with the new car and didn’t experience any major issues. Today we did some shorter runs, seeing how the W10 works when you try to extract a little bit more performance out of it. We’ve been making progress throughout the entire week, the car felt better every single day. We’re now looking forward to next week when we will hopefully make even more progress. Many thanks to the entire team, it was a good first test. Now we’re all hungry to improve even more in the second test.”
With their focus mainly on longer runs and understanding the tyres, Mercedes didn’t put in the fastest times of the test, but both drivers put in strong runs on Thursday to finish the day fourth and fifth respectively, while Hamilton’s 307-lap outing meant he completed more distance than any other driver over the four days, while Bottas tied for second with Vettel, as both completed 303 laps.
Summing up the week, Chief Race Engineer Andrew Shovlin said: “We’ve had a very productive few days and the car has run very reliably which has helped us get through the programme. It’s clear from this week that we’re going to have strong competition this year with Ferrari and Red Bull but hopefully we’ll have another good test next week which will help us with our final preparations for Melbourne.”
Unlike Mercedes, Ferrari gave each driver two full days in the car rather than splitting the workload on both days. It was Sebastian Vettel who was first to get behind the wheel of the SF90, completing 169 laps as the team checked the car systems and different configurations. New signing Charles Leclerc was in action on day two, helping the team evaluate different race trims as well as generally getting to grips with his new car. Vettel returned on Wednesday with tyre work the aim of the day, before Leclerc completed the running on Thursday, setting what would be the team’s fastest lap of the test. His lap of 1:18.046 was the sixth fastest of the day, and eighth quickest over the entire test.
At the end of the test, Leclerc said: “I feel quite at ease in the car, even if there are still a few things I need to get used to, including how the team operates. But this is quite an easy car to drive. As Seb said, this doesn’t feel like a new car, but more like one that is quite well developed. Driveability is very good, which shows that the team has done an amazing job over the winter to bring a very solid car here.”
Vettel said: “It was good to be back in the car [Wednesday] and put some more mileage under my belt. Again, we had a busy day and managed to complete our programme, which included a few new items, compared to Monday. We tried a few things around also focusing on set-up and I can only confirm the positive impression I had on day one. Having now put 303 laps in the bag I feel comfortable to say we are satisfied with how the car is progressing.”
The RB15 is the first Red Bull car to be powered by a Honda engine, and it was an inauspicious start for the Red Bull Honda partnership as the car was late taking to the track with what the team has described as “a frustrating little niggle”. However, Max Verstappen soon hit his stride, completing 128 laps on the opening day, as well as posting the fourth quickest time on Monday. Verstappen’s new teammate, Pierre Gasly, saw his first action on Tuesday, but wasn’t able to match the Dutchman’s workload as a spin early in the afternoon session cut short his running. Verstappen returning on Wednesday with aero tests the aim of the morning, before working on long run pace after lunch after two days of the team just looking at mileage with the new engine. Gasly made up for his shorter effort on Tuesday with 146 laps on Thursday, also working on long runs before turning his attention to the evaluation of development items.
Head of Race Engineering Guillaume Rocquelin said: “We had a very smooth, tidy finish to the first test and Pierre got through a big workload today. We spent much of the day on the C3 tyre and focused on longer runs but it wasn’t just about piling on the miles. There was plenty going on in the background that will aid development of the car. Overall we’ve had a very successful first test. We’ve been able to tick off all the items on the run plans and this test has thrown up a few interesting things that we can factor into development. We’ve had great support from the factory too, as shown with the rear wing we ran yesterday, so it’s been a very consistent and productive week. We got to where wanted to be and beyond.”
Gasly added: “The overall feeling with the car is really good. It doesn’t show on the lap times today, but it is testing and we know what we’re doing, so I’m pretty happy. This week has gone well. I managed to do a lot of laps, which was important for me, and I was able to get used to the car and my new engineer. We’ve done some good work in that regard this week and there’s a lot more to come next week as we get ready for Melbourne.”
Speaking after Wednesday’s running, Verstappen said: “I’m happy with the way we’re working together with Honda so far, it’s very focused and everybody knows their job. What’s most important is that we have completed a lot of laps and investigated many set-up changes. With different regulations, you have to understand what direction to go in and that’s exactly what we’re doing. So far, it’s difficult to judge where we are compared to the other teams – we’ll find that out in Melbourne – but at the moment the car feels good.”
With the focus mainly on understanding the new power unit and looking at long run pace, Red Bull didn’t post the strongest lap times over the whole test. Gasly’s best time on Thursday left him 15th over the four days, one spot higher than his teammate.
Much of the focus was on Daniel Ricciardo’s arrival at Renault ahead of the first test, but it was Nico Hulkenberg who set the fastest time of the entire test, with a lap of 1:17.393 on the final day. Ricciardo’s best time was 0.4s slower than the German, but left him fifth overall after the four days, ahead of both Mercedes drivers. Like Red Bull, Renault’s programme initially focussed on building mileage and validating parts, as well as allowing the drivers to develop set-up preferences.
At the end of the test, Hulkenberg said: “It’s been a good week overall with no real surprises or big dramas; only small things that the team have worked hard to rectify. The car is an evolution from last year and so far, it’s gone well. We’ve worked through our programme largely as planned with a lot of positive work done. We’ve been through a lot of different set-up work to see how the car reacts to discover more about the overall package. From now, it’s important we do our homework from this week and put it into the second test. We should have more parts to try out on the car next week, but we have a decent starting point to build off.”
Ricciardo added: “I’m starting to feel happier in the car and getting more of an understanding of my preferences with set-up. It’s been a good enough week, steadily increasing our ability, but you never turn it up to full during testing. It’s been useful trying different things, getting new feelings, so that’s been positive. There’s certainly more there, there’s a lot more potential still to extract. It’s all close at the moment, but we’re looking quite consistent. We’re still running a little bit conservative but we’ll see how it goes when we ramp it up.”
It was a difficult few days for Haas, who saw the VF-19’s running time limited by problems. Romain Grosjean was out of the garage early on Monday morning, but soon found himself sidelined after a fuel pressure loss. Kevin Magnussen shared the driving duties with test driver Pietro Fittipaldi on Tuesday, the only team to use a reserve driver during this test. Magnussen was the second quickest on Tuesday morning despite a few small issues preventing them running in the opening two hours, before an issue with his seat fitting after the lunch break cut his outing short. Fittipaldi continued alongside Grosjean on Wednesday, and was going well in the morning session testing tyre compounds before an ignition-coil issue forced him back to the garage. Grosjean took over after lunch but an electrical fault kept him in the pits for two hours before he managed to get on track for some long stint running towards the end of the day. Grosjean and Magnussen were both in the car on the final day of the test, with the Frenchman working on understanding the new Pirelli tyres in the morning before Magnussen was back in the car after lunch.
After Thursday’s running, Team Principal Guenther Steiner said: “The end was better than the beginning of our test week. We’re happy with the mileage achieved, happy with the results. We ran our full program today, the first time we’ve been able to do that this week, so it feels like we’ve got something back that we lost at the beginning of the week with our technical gremlins. They seem to be sorted now. We’re pretty upbeat and we look forward to test number two next week.”
Magnussen added: “I was happy to get a lot of laps in this afternoon, and more importantly, I felt comfortable in the car. We can see how the car’s improving and we enjoyed some consistent running today through both sessions. Of course, there’s plenty more work to do, but I’m looking forward to driving the VF-19 again next week. We’ve definitely got something positive to build on as we prepare for the second test.”
Grosjean set the team’s fastest lap of the test on Thursday, posting a time of 1:18.563, which was quicker than the fastest times of both Red Bull drivers.
McLaren have an all-new driver lineup for 2019 as rookie Lando Norris will race alongside new signing Carlos Sainz. It was the Spaniard who got to drive the MCL34 first. After an uneventful first morning, Sainz’s progress was halted when he reported a loss of drive caused by a loose cable. However, not much time was lost and the team reported it was able to complete almost every planned test on the opening day, with Sainz finishing the day with the second quickest time. Norris was behind the wheel on Tuesday, working on aero correlation and data capture before looking at longer runs and pitstop practice after lunch, completing over 100 laps. Sainz lost some start at the start of Wednesday as the team made changes to set up, before he looked at long runs in the afternoon. Norris returned for the final day of the test and had a brief excursion into the gravel due to low track temperatures and cold tyres early on. He bounced back quickly though, completing 132 laps while conducting set-up and aero tests before focussing on race simulation in the afternoon.
At the end of the test, Norris said: “I think today I did the most laps I’ve ever done on a test day. It was also the cleanest day we’ve had in terms of consistent running this week, so it was very productive. We did some more race simulation today and I’ve definitely learned a lot over my two days in the car. We’ve found some improvements over the week, but there’s still a lot to work on. Overall, it’s been a good week. The guys have done a solid job over the winter putting the car together and the test has gone pretty smoothly. We now have a better idea of the direction we want to work in with the car, and its strengths and weaknesses, and we’ll try to work on those weaknesses next week.”
Sporting Director Gil de Ferran added: “In summary, we’ve had a productive and valuable first test, and pleasingly this means we have nothing much to report! We’ve done some good mileage, completed our test programme and learned a lot of useful information about the MCL34, the 2019 Pirelli tyres and our new drivers. The work we’ve completed this week has been another good step in our preparation for the start of the season, and we hope we can continue this momentum into the second and final week of testing.”
Norris set the fastest time of the test for McLaren with a lap of 1:18.431 on day four, just 0.1s quicker than Sainz’s best effort on day one.
SportPesa Racing Point:
There were some teething problems on the first day for the former Force India team, with Sergio Perez managing just 30 laps on day one. The team admitted the first day was basically a shakedown for the RP19 before Lance Stroll came into the car on day two, looking at aero data gathering. There were issues for the Mexican again on Wednesday as he lost power in the afternoon, but managed to get the car back to the pits. However, he did manage to continue to team’s aero data gathering programme and work on race set up. Stroll was hindered by an oil leak on Thursday, meaning the team wasn’t able to complete as much mileage as it had hoped in the opening test.
Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough said: “Today was another valuable day of testing. We focused mostly on set-up work and understanding how our car works, having completed the majority of our data gathering tests over the last three days. We were also able to start working on our long runs. We are making good progress with the balance, but unfortunately the day was cut short by an oil leak we spotted in the data, something we are currently investigating. Overall, this week has been a productive one even though we didn’t complete all the mileage we wanted. Nonetheless, we have some important data and we are looking forward to another productive test next week.”
Stroll added: “My confidence and comfort with the team have grown: they have given me all the tools I need as a driver. They have been very supportive and this is what helps me get the best out of myself and the car. I am looking forward to next week and doing more set-up work so that we can bring the quickest possible car to Melbourne.”
After his final run on Wednesday, Perez said: “I’ve done two days in the car now and I’m generally feeling happy. The balance was good from day one and that’s important. I’m not testing again until next week, but if we keep working like this I will be happy with my preparations for Melbourne.”
Having not had as much track time as they’d hoped for, only Williams were slower than the SportPesa Racing Point pair over the four days.
Alfa Romeo Racing:
It’s a new name and a new lineup for the team formerly known as Sauber this year, with Antonio Giovinazzi joining Kimi Raikkonen at the team. Raikkonen had the dubious honour of causing the first red flag of testing with a trip into the gravel trap. There were no such teething issues for Giovinazzi as he managed 101 laps on his first day in the car, with a focus on aero and set up work. The Finn was back in the car on Wednesday looking at the new tyre compounds and continuing to assess the car’s aero before Giovinazzi looked at short and long run pace on the final day of the test.
Speaking at the end of the test, the Italian said: “After another full day in the car, I am satisfied with the progress we have made this week and overall our team is feeling motivated by our recent learnings. I feel comfortable in the car as well as in the team itself and we are all working together constructively. We have another week of testing ahead of us which we will use to focus on making further progress and learn even more about our new car. I am already looking forward to being back on track.”
Raikkonen finished the week with the quickest time of any driver in a Ferrari-powered car, with a lap of 1:17.785 on day three, placing him fourth overall. Giovinazzi was a little off the pace of his more-experienced teammate, 0.8s adrift.
Another team with a new look driver lineup, Toro Rosso arrived at Barcelona with rookie Alexander Albon and returning driver Daniil Kvyat, who is on his third stint with the team after a year out of F1. It was the returning Russian who had the honour of opening the test for the team. A few niggles kept the car in the garage longer than the team would have liked, but Kvyat managed to carry out some basic tests before moving on to longer runs and function checks on the 2019 Honda power unit. Albon made his Toro Rosso debut the following day, and found himself spinning early on while on cold tyres. However, he was able to put in 132 laps on his first day as an F1 driver, with Honda focusing on finding the right power unit settings to match his driving style. Kvyat was back in on Wednesday, looking at how different compounds reacted to longer stints before turning to shorter run tyre tests, while Albon’s week ended with set up related tests as well as figuring out how best to use the Pirelli tyres over short runs.
Toro Rosso are one of the few teams who’ve openly said they were working on short run pace at this test, with most stating they were focussed on longer stints at this stage. It paid off for Toro Rosso though, as Albon’s best time on Thursday was the second fastest of the test, just 0.3s behind Hulkenberg’s quickest, while Kvyat finished the week third overall thanks to his efforts on Wednesday.
Team Principal Franz Tost said: “The first pre-season test in Barcelona was a successful one for Toro Rosso. The car ran well throughout the four days and we saw good results from both the performance side and the reliability. It was the first time in the STR14 for Daniil and Alex, who both did a very good job and gave positive feedback about the car and the Honda Power Unit. There is still a lot of work in front of us to further improve the car. The team did a great job as we ended the first test with a total of 482 laps. This gave us a lot of data and we now have a long list of test items for next week to make further steps forward. The weather was very good in Barcelona this year as the wind wasn’t blowing so heavily and we reached reasonably good track temperatures, which allowed us to get some productive running – especially in the afternoon sessions. This means the test results are quite valid for the start of the season in Melbourne.”
Albon added: “My first two days of F1 testing completed and I really enjoyed it! We had a good day today topping the timesheets in the morning session, I know it’s still early days and we don’t know what everyone else is doing but it’s a good sign for the future. The first day began with a tricky start, but the team made me feel comfortable after that and we were able to get on with the programme. I think everything is going to plan quite well, we’ve hit our mileage target which is important for the guys back at the factory, and of course at the same time, I’m still learning the car. The grip is so high that it took a while for my head to adjust to it, it’s been a big learning curve! I’m still not fully in the rhythm yet but I think after next week I’ll be there and ready to race.”
There were issues aplenty for Williams before the test began as the team revealed less than 24 hours before the start of day one that the car wouldn’t be ready. They were optimistic of being on track on Tuesday, but didn’t actually make it out of the garage until Wednesday afternoon. George Russell managed to complete some install laps and gather some data for the team before aiming for a full day of running alongside Robert Kubica on Thursday. Data Gathering and testing the aero were the main aims for day four, but a fault while Kubica was in the car in the morning cut short his run, and meant Russell was late out in the later session. The team managed just 88 laps in total at this year, and finished at the bottom of the timesheets.
Russell, who is making his F1 debut this year after winning F2 last season, said: “It was very important to get some mileage under our belt and get a feel for the car. It gives us a good understanding of where we are at, our limitations and what we need to work on next week. The car felt stable and I had a good feeling, but I am still yet to reach the full performance from the car. We are all excited to get back out on track on Tuesday but first we have a lot of work to do to make sure that the car is in the best possible state, that we have no issues and we can get the laps because we have some catching up to do.”
Kubica added: “It was my first time out in the car, so it does not feel like day four of testing, but day one. This morning we spent the time gathering data, signing off tests for the engineering department and trying to put mileage on the car. I had 12 performance laps in the car, so it is too early to talk about feelings, those will become clearer next week. It would be better to have more time in the car as Australia is not far off, from both a driver and a car point of view. Everybody has their own job in the team and I must concentrate on mine to ensure that we are in the best possible shape for the first race.”