F1 2017 Pre-Season Testing – Week 1 recap, analysis and Week 2 preview.

As the 2017 Formula 1 season draws near, many fans flock to F1-related pages in order to keep up with the latest developments as teams test their new cars before the season starts officially on March 24th, 12:00h local time in Melbourne, Australia – when the lights for the first free practice session of the Australian Grand Prix turn green. In these series of posts, I will transcribe the most important stuff happening on track on an hourly basis, and follow it up with an analysis based on 2016 testing results.

This post will wrap up the most important notes to take away from the first week of testing which took place February 27th until March 2nd on the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Furthermore, this post will provide an analysis of what happened on and off track, complemented with a preview to the second week of testing, taking place from March 7th to March 10th.

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Recap of Week 1

First, we will start out by recapping what happened during last week’s testing efforts. If you want to see the full post detailing that day’s worth of testing, clicking the subtitle to the specific day will take you there. If you are wondering what this testing is all about, I advise you to read my preview to this first week of testing.

Day 1 (full article)

Day 1 started with Valtteri Bottas being the first to post a lap time in his Mercedes, and McLaren the first to report a problem with their car. An oil distribution problem meant that they were out of contention for a long time on day 1. The first red flag was caused by Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull was forced to park on track due to a defective sensor. Magnussen’s Haas is the second to park on the track, but his problem is quickly fixed. Haas’ problems didn’t end there, as Magnussen parked his nose into the barrier not an hour later. Ricciardo was able to commence testing for real in the afternoon session, not long after followed by Alonso whose power unit had been replaced by his mechanics, meaning they could still get some valuable laps in before the flag dropped.

As the dust settled in Barcelona, it was Hamilton with the fastest time (having taken over testing duties from Bottas in the afternoon session), closely followed by Ferrari’s Seb Vettel. Williams was not far off, and then a small gap to Haas and Red Bull. Force India was somewhat off, but Toro Rosso, Renault and the plague-riddled McLaren. Sauber was problem-free on day 1, but their lap time was miles off the pace.

Day 2 (full article)

Today was the day Lance Stroll, the Canadian rookie, made his debut for Williams – as did Antonio Giovinazzi filling in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber. Stroll’s debut was short-lived, as he spun his car through the gravel at high speed, damaging parts that Williams had no replacements for. Renault had problems keeping their car in their pit box for the entire morning, but made up for it in the afternoon. Vandoorne ran into the same oil distribution problem Alonso had experienced the day before, cutting his day short as well. Meanwhile, the top teams had a problem-free day. In terms of distance driven, Magnussen put in a magnificent 116 laps in total.

Raikkonen was the on to top the charts on day 2, but the difference with Hamilton is negligible. Red Bull and Haas were over a second from the top runners, followed by Force India and Toro Rosso. Renault and Sauber kept a reasonable distance, while McLaren and Stroll never really got the opportunity to set a proper lap time.

Day 3 (full article)

The first incident of Day 3 is caused by Palmer spinning his Renault into the gravel. McLaren seem to have fixed their problems today as Alonso is able to put in much needed laps to develop the McHonda. The spotlight is once again on Lance Stroll, however. After a small hiccup spinning into the gravel during the morning session, Stroll puts his Williams into the barrier nearing the end of the day. His third and final misstep means that Williams will be unable to participate on Day 3. The rest of the field is able to continue pushing the limits on their cars. After 139 laps driven and with just a few minutes left on the clock, Vettel’s Ferrari decides enough was enough stopping on track.

Mercedes and Ferrari kept pushing for faster times. Vettel came close to Bottas’ fastest time set in the morning session, which was nearly an absolute record. Renault and Sauber showed today that they are not going to give up without a fight, posting surprisingly good lap times. Force India was slowest today, but their entire day was used to give 3rd driver Alfonso Celiz Jr. his contractually obligated hours in the car. McLaren doubled their total laps driven, having fixed their engine issue.

Day 4 (full article)

Day 4 started without Williams, but they weren’t the only ones unable to test today, as Kvyat quickly returned to the garage ending their day after just an out/inlap. Mercedes (finally) ran into a (electrical) problem of their own, meaning that Hamilton was unable to participate as Bottas took the wheel in the afternoon session. Day 4 was dedicated to testing Pirelli’s wet-weather compound. 250.000 liter water was used to wet the track for the morning session, which was dried up after just a few hours. This prompted Pirelli to use the lunch break to dump another load of water on track. After Day 3’s fireworks, Day 4 was mainly used for long stints which is resembled in the lap chart.

Ferrari were well on top, followed by rainmaster Verstappen. Renault showed their worth with Palmer at the wheel, while Mercedes did not attempt to drive fast laps at all judging from the 1:23.443 Bottas posted. Haas, Sauber and Force India had decent days, while McLaren’s two day streak of not running into engine problems seemed like nothing short of a miracle after the first two days.

Summary

Those were the first days of testing. Now, just before we start doing any analyses, lets look at the top times set by each driver. Mercedes and Ferrari seem tied for the first four spots, followed by Red Bull and Renault. Then, the midfield consists of Sauber, Williams and Haas. Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso seem to be, based on this first week, the ones most likely to be backmarkers next year. Will that be the case? Well, read on in my analysis!

Analysis

First, we will look at how this year’s fastest times per team hold up to last year’s times. The graph below shows the data; transparent resembles the 2016 times, solid color the 2017 times. On average, teams are 3.73% faster than last year. Mercedes seems, at first glance, to have made the biggest step forward, but as it turns out, they were heavily sandbagging last year intentionally setting slow lap times. Force India seems to barely have made any progress as to last year’s first week of testing, but that might also be deceiving as they might not have shown their true pace yet.

Toro Rosso is slowest, followed by McLaren. In both cases, their schedules for testing were severely disrupted by mechanical problems. Coincidentally, they also posted the lowest top speeds in the speed trap at the end of start/finish straight. The Mercedes engine has traditionally been the fastest engine, and reports state that is still the case. I suspect that at least Mercedes themselves have not been running at 100% power output. McLaren’s trouble, next to having by far the slowest top speed, is perhaps better illustrated by the graph below, showing the amount of laps each team has driven during this year’s first day of testing:

Mercedes are comfortably ahead in laps driven. Their 556 laps equal nearly 2600km driven on the 4,665m long track. Ferrari is second with an equally great distance to Sauber in third. Haas follows closely to Sauber, while Red Bull and Renault are some way behind. Williams, McLaren and Toro Rosso are way behind, but in the case of Williams this is no cause for concern as their problems were caused by a lack of spare aero parts. Toro Rosso have the same engine as Renault and Red Bull, meaning their problems are more easily fixed than McLaren’s, whose engine trouble for a third year in a row since moving from Mercedes’ power unit to Honda’s is starting to become stale.

Looking at daily performance for each team, take a look at the following graph:

Mercedes and Ferrari look to set the pace. Williams started out great with Felipe Massa behind the wheel, but Stroll’s many mistakes obscure the fact that they might very well be in third, before the Red Bull. Renault and Red Bull came close in the final two days, but I reckon there is a lot Red Bull isn’t showing us yet. The data, as shown above, seem to suggest there is no clear backmarker, which might make up for some fun races behind the leaders.

However, since privately owned teams (Force India, Williams, Haas and Sauber) seem to punch above their weight during testing last year which came clear from my preview analysis. With the exception of Haas, who made their debut last year, these teams showed better pace than they actually had when the season started.

Predictions for Week 2

The teams who did the least amount of testing this week will be among those driving the most amount of laps next week, barring any further mechanical problems. Mercedes and Ferrari will most likely spend most time driving race simulations and long stints, and testing different aero-parts – specifically front wings. I expect Williams to make a strong comeback, possibly setting some fastest times on the boards while Ferrari and Mercedes are not pushing their limits.

Red Bull have not shown their hand yet. I suspect their car will look decidedly different this week compared to last week. They haven’t tested a T-wing for instance, and their car has a lot of room for extra aero parts. It will be interesting to see whether McLaren can put their issues to bed.

If you compare Week 1 of 2016 to Week 2 of 2016, especially Red Bull kept their cards close to their chest. The discrepancy between testing positions and eventual classification in the 2016 WCC was a lot smaller in week 2. This means that week 2 will be a better way to discern trends for the upcoming season, but it is far from perfect. This won’t stop me (and many like me) from posting wild theories about the upcoming season.

As far as my predictions go, I’d say Mercedes are likely to dominate the season again, followed by Ferrari and Red Bull battling for scraps. Williams and Renault will comfortably finish in the points, while Haas, Force India, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Sauber will battle for the final few points. More will become clear in the coming week though.

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Testing will resume for the second (and last) week ahead of the Australian Grand Prix on Tuesday, March 7th, until friday March 10th. I hope to be able to post the analyses immediately following the independent sessions again as I did the last week. If you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, feel free to support me by (for instance) sharing it on facebook or retweeting it. You might even consider whitelisting me from your adblock which helps me a bit (I get about 20cts for a click, and about 1ct per 100 views. I have made about €2 from a week-long hard work). You can also give me an upvote in the reddit thread, which helps with the exposure on /r/Formula1!

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