Everything was coming up roses for Ferrari on Thursday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with the penultimate day of pre-season testing seeing both impressive pace and solid reliability for the SF70H.
After a morning that saw many teams and drivers set personal bests in pre-season testing to date, the afternoon session quickly settled down into long-distance race simulation runs.
Sebastian Vettel once again led the way, setting some of the best times on heavier fuel loads as he piled on the laps with unimpeachable consistency. As well as holding on to the fastest lap of the day with his morning time of 1:19.024s, Vettel also completed a grand total of 156 laps without issue.
Ferrari’s biggest headache at the end of the day was denying speculation that they were now favourites for the 2017 championship. Vettel – who looked as if he could have gone even faster in the morning than he did – insisted that Mercedes still had the edge.
A red flag had prevented Lewis Hamilton from settling the discussion when it thwarted his opportunity to best Vettel’s time in the morning. His Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas had no chance to go faster after taking over at the wheel in the afternoon. The Finn ended the day eighth fastest with a time of 1:21.819s after completing 95 laps.
The top four times from the morning were unchallenged in the afternoon, but Haas’ Kevin Magnussen did improve to fifth with a late lap of 1:20.504s to go ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
After the morning session concluded with two red flags in quick succession due to an electrical problem on the McLaren, the MCL32 sat out the first half of the afternoon before rejoining the fray for limited running. It closed out the day in seventh place on 1:21.348s having completed a mere 48 laps, the lowest of any team.
In McLaren’s absence on track, it was Toro Rosso that was the cause of the third stoppage of the day. An apparent gearbox issue saw Daniil Kvyat grind to a halt at turn 5 after 90 minutes. Kvyat – who was fourth fastest in the morning – was able to return to action in the final hour. He ended the day with a morning-best time of 1:20.416s after a total of 94 laps.
Another Renault-powered car caused the final red flag of the day an hour later, when Jolyon Palmer’s RS17 suffered an unspecified technical issue. Having already enudured limited running time in the morning, Palmer had to pull off into a run-off area at turn 10 having completed 53 laps for the day.
Palmer was pipped to eighth place in the standings by Pascal Wehrlein’s 1:22.347s, the German having completed 44 laps in the afternoon to add to his team mate Marcus Ericsson’s session-best haul of 88 in the morning.
After an impressive showing on Wednesday, it was a quieter day on Thursday for Williams with Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll propping up the timesheets albeit with 165 laps in the books between them, more than any other team.
The final day of Formula One pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya gets underway tomorrow morning at 9am local time, 8am GMT.
Fernando Alonso admits that McLaren-Honda is now very much on the back foot just two weeks from the start of the 2017 Formula 1 season.
Following another difficult day of testing which demonstrated once again the limitations of Honda’s power unit, the Spanish driver derided the Japanese manufacturer, insisting that big decisions at the top are now necessary to resolve the situation.
“It [progress] will depend a lot from the big decisions that have to be made at the top,” he said.
“I believe the main goal is to get to Australia in the best possible conditions, something that we haven’t be able to achieve in the first six days of testing.
“We have two days left, one per driver, to try fundamental things in the car and start to unlock the power we have inside the engine, to arrive in Australia with a medium/high level of reliability that will allow us to finish the race with as few problems as possible and with as much engine power available as we can get out of it.
“The second priority is to be competitive, to eventually be in the battle for the top five, get to the podium and win races – everything we dreamed off for this year.
“For that, hopefully we get the big decisions that will change this situation. I expect an incredible and immediate reaction from the team.”
Niki Lauda agrees with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas that Ferrari’s relative performance in pre-season testing has been impressive.
The F1 legend and non executive chairman of Mercedes was on site yesterday at the Circuit de Catalunya, a keen observer of the cars out on the track.
While it was an unsatisfactory end of the session for Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen hitting the barriers at Turn 3, the SF70H’s speed and attitude did not escape Lauda’s notice.
“The Ferrari looks the fastest,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
“It is like on rails. Our Mercedes is a little tighter in the corners. Ferrari is at the top of my list,” Lauda insisted.
As for Red Bull Racing, Lauda agreed that the Milton-Keynes outfit is yet to show its true potential.
“So far, they are not the big surprise,” said the Austrian.