The first test was notable for bad weather (which is not one of Spain’s usual traits). Cooler temperatures reduced early running and then a whole day was lost to the Beast from the East. Correspondingly, teams ran a lot more on a wet and cool final day than they otherwise might have, but this did at least give them a chance to play with full wets and inters (slicks coming on later).
What did we learn from the first test? Not much. But, engine reliability was generally good and breakdowns relatively few. Vettel suggested Mercedes were still fastest but that it would be very close between them.
The second test had better weather and more running from everyone. Red flags did appear, but this is to be expected. It might alarm McLaren fans that they had relatively many breakdowns. Toro Rosso did likewise, but this is testing so it’s not surprising. Did we learn much? No. Pace is very very hard to judge by testing times (for example, Mercedes didn’t take any hypersofts at all). If pace were to be judged, then Ferrari and Red Bull looked quick, but we won’t find out until the first race.
Right now my view is that reliability is generally good. McLaren and Toro Rosso had the most break downs but it wasn’t a horrendous number, and I don’t expect either to be as bad as McLaren was last season.
Mood music consensus is that Mercedes may well be fastest again but that Red Bull and Ferrari may be very close behind. The battle for 4th could be very tasty, with Force India, McLaren and Renault all in with a shot.
Haas is a weird one. They’re getting lots of parts, the legal maximum, from Ferrari. This isn’t especially new for them, but at times they looked really quick (though testing times are notoriously of little value, so maybe they just emptied the fuel tank). Their performance has always been a bit hit and miss, and judging their prospects is tricky.
Williams may be a shade embarrassed that Kubica looked, if anything, faster than Sirotkin and Stroll. Key to their hopes is improved aerodynamic performance, without which best of the midfield will be the height of their realistic ambitions.
Sauber I’m expecting to improve significantly. Intrigued to see how Leclerc performs. I still think they’ll be towards the bottom end in performance terms but with a diminished gap enabling them to nibble at points more often, and benefit more in races with high attrition rates.
I brilliantly misread the third test, which is in-season, at the same circuit as the pre-season tests but in May, so there were only the two pre-season tests, not the three I was expecting.
The surface of the Barcelona track has been relaid, and is smoother and grippier this year. There’s also less degradation, so teams might be caught out on other tracks the first time particular compounds are used.
Incidentally, the Williams and Sauber look very alike, especially head-on. The most obvious difference is the darkness of the Williams rear wing and lightness of the Sauber, otherwise I’m expecting commentator confusion galore.
The first track is Australia, a street circuit. This shouldn’t be the ideal (or the worst) type of circuit for Mercedes. If they dominate the weekend, that may by the Constructors’ title done and dusted. However, if others are close/better, we could be in for a competitive season.
Also worth noting drivers have their own preferences. Hulkenberg is good at free-flowing circuits like Interlagos but I’d expect Sainz to best him in Australia, for example.
Weather permitting, I’m anticipating good reliability. There weren’t a huge number of red flags over the two pre-season tests, although there’s always the chance of a start line pile-up or driver error later on.
At this stage, I think the Bottas bet might come off but I suspect McLaren are going to be battling with the midfield rather than having a title tilt.
I did check the markets (titles up, races not, spreads not) just to see what was there. As expected, Bottas’ odds have tightened, Alonso’s lengthened. Intrigued that Raikkonen is 34 for the title (Ladbrokes, 41 with boost). I’m tempted each way (fifth the odds for top three). If the Renault/Red Bull is a bit unreliable that’s plausible, although I do think Mercedes will again have two cars in the top 3. Decided against backing it, but it’s worth consideration.
My plan is to wait and see if the spreads go up. If they do, I’ll put my thoughts on them in a new article between now and the season’s start, possibly with some other suggestions if race markets are up and running too.
Otherwise, I’ll adopt my usual three articles per weekend approach, covering pre-qualifying, pre-race, and post-race analysis. I have propitiated the Greek gods Tyche and Nike, and Saint Cajetan, so hopefully the title race will be both competitive and profitable.