Can Ferrari challenge Mercedes at the season opener in Australia?
Image Source: Sky Sports
After eight days of testing spread across two weeks at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain, there is one question in the mind of many Formula One fans; Can Ferrari challenge Mercedes for the title in 2017?
Ferrari at the Front
If the lap times are anything to go by, they certainly can. Kimi Räikkönen managed to the fastest time on the final day of the second test during a qualifying simulation on super-soft tyres. This was almost seven tenths fastest than Mercedes’ fastest time at the hands of Valtteri Bottas, using the faster ultra-soft tyres.
It is worth pointing out that there are several variables to consider, such as the fuel loads in the cars and that both teams were backing off on potentally faster laps to hide their full potential.
Kimi Räikkönen – pictured here at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in Italy – set the fastest lap time during Winter Testing.
Image Source: The Telegraph
In addition, Mercedes did struggle with some of their upgrades during testing. “Some (upgrades) have been over-performing, some have been maybe slightly under-performing” stated Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
However, the lap times were enough for many drivers, including Bottas’ teammate Lewis Hamilton, to suggest that the Scuderia will being alongside the Silver Arrows.
Fastest Lap Times per Team from Winter Testing at the Circuit de Catalunya
- Kimi Räikkönen, Ferrari – 1:18.634 (super-soft tyre)
- Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes – 1:19.310 (ultra-soft)
- Felipe Massa, Williams – 1:19.420 (ultra-soft)
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull – 1:19.438 (super-soft)
- Carlos Sainz Jr., Toro Rosso – 1:19.837 (ultra-soft)
- Nico Hulkenberg, Renault – 1:19.885 (ultra-soft)
- Sergio Perez, Force India – 1:20.116 (ultra-soft)
- Kevin Magnussen, Haas – 1:20.504 (ultra-soft)
- Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren – 1:21.348 (ultra-soft)
- Marcus Ericsson, Sauber – 1:21.670 (super-soft)
Where are Red Bull?
Red Bull aren’t too far behind their championship rivals in 2017.
Image Source: Red Bull Racing
In the early stages of winter stages, Red Bull seemed to demonstate signs that they were closer to Mercedes and Ferrari, despite their Renault engine suffering from reliability issues.
However, on the final day, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completed a race simulation at the same time as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The data after showed that on average, that Ricciardo was a second slower per lap.
“We certainly haven’t showed Ferrari’s pace yet,” said the Aussie, adding “So if you were going to put some markers down you’d say Ferrari at the moment are their (Mercedes’) closest challenger. That is fair”.
It is believed that the Renault was detuned to help overcome the reliability issues that they’d experienced. Add the fact that the French manufacturer are planning to bring a massive update to the engine in Australia suggests you can’t count them out yet.
Behind them, the midfield looks competitive. Williams comfortably look well placed behind the top three teams, whilst Renault seem to have made the most progress, as they aim to improve upon last year’s ninth place in the constructors’ championship.
Renault to have made a huge step over the winter with their car, but still have some issues with their engine.
Image Source: motorsport.com
McLaren-Honda: Going from bad to worse
McLaren only recorded 425 laps in winter testing, whilst early pace setters Mercedes and Ferrari recorded more than double that figure.
Image Source: Formula 1 Official Website
Since returning to the sport as an engine manufacturer in 2015, Honda have suffered in two crucial areas; power and reliability. Unfortunatley for McLaren, the data from winter testing demonstrates its likely to be more of the same in 2017.
Despite a newly designed combustion engine, the Woking based team recorded the least amount of mileage across the two tests. The most laps they managed before breaking down was 11 laps, one sixth of the average race distance, leaving them without much needed data for the first race in Australia.
Suggestions of a crisis within the team were raised, which weren’t helped by technical director Eric Bouiller recently stating McLaren would be winning races if they were currently using Mercedes engines, sparking rumors the relationship between the two has reached an all time low.
McLaren Honda and Fernando Alonso look set to struggle once again in 2017.
Image Source: Sky Sports
And what is going through the mind of Fernando Alonso? After claiming he talked with Mercedes about replacing 2016 champion Nico Rosberg after the German’s sudden reitrement, the Spaniard must be regretting he decision.
“We have only one problem which is the power unit,” said Alonso. “There is no reliability and there is no power. We are 30kph down on the straight.”
Bouiller also admitted McLaren are powerless to stop Alonso leaving should they remain uncompetitive.