In Depth

Ferrari fastest in testing as McLaren horror show continues

Kimi Raikkonen records lap time of 1m 18.634s, but Fernando Alonso breaks down twice on final day

Ferrari laid down a marker on the final day of testing ahead of the new F1 season, with Kimi Raikkonen stealing the fastest lap time from team-mate Sebastian Vettel at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

His time of 1min 18.634secs was 0.39secs quicker than Vettel's time on Thursday and more than half a second quicker than anything Mercedes have produced, although Lewis Hamilton was due out on track on Friday afternoon.

"It underlined the impression that Ferrari could be a real threat at the first race in Australia on 24-26 March," says the BBC.

"Pre-season testing times are notoriously unreliable indicators of true form because there are so many possible variables in the specification of the cars. But the growing feeling within F1 is that Ferrari may start the season with a genuinely competitive car for the first time since 2008."

That is certainly not the case for McLaren. The "former F1 heavyweight fallen on hard times, has been plagued by repeated problems with its Honda engine during the eight days of tests near Barcelona", says the Daily Mail. "And back-to-back stoppages during the session when teams want to be priming their cars for the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks is alarming."

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso managed just 16 laps before hitting trouble. "After being hauled back on a flatbed to the garage, the former champion ventured out again, only to provoke a second red flag when his car stopped after only two more laps," says the Mail.

"Alonso and new teammate Stoffel Vandoorne have endured several stoppages and a demoralizing lack of speed throughout testing."

McLaren later cancelled a media briefing because of "logistical reasons".

That has prompted more speculation over its use of Honda engines. Even before the latest problems, there had been a round of "fresh speculation over the long-term future of the partnership", says Sky Sports.

Speaking on Thursday, McLaren chief Zak Brown rubbished talk of a "crisis", adds the broadcaster, saying "that the two sides will work through their problems and return to competitiveness".

F1 testing: Mercedes vs Ferrari and other talking points

3 March

After the first week of testing ahead of the new F1 season, champions Mercedes still seems to have the edge.

Lewis Hamilton's new team-mate Valtteri Bottas recorded the fastest lap over the four days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in second and third.

Hamilton, the favourite to take the title won by Nico Rosberg last season, was fourth, but appeared to have the best times when tyre compounds are taken into consideration.

A technical problem on day four kept the British driver off the track in artificially wet conditions and may have exposed a chink in the Mercedes armour.

Here are the main conclusions from the first round of testing:

Mercedes out in front

"The strongest, most irrefutable conclusion from the first pre-season test is a statement of the glaringly obvious: Mercedes once again look very, very formidable," says Sky Sports. "The Silver Arrows juggernaut dominated at the Circuit de Catalunya, setting the two fastest laps and completing more mileage than any other team. The rules may have changed but the team in front probably hasn't."

The team suffered reliability issues on day four of testing which could give their rivals some hope, but testing is designed to allow teams to iron out any problems with their new cars.

"Mercedes will introduce an upgraded engine for the season-opening Australian GP on 26 March, meaning that while Bottas and Hamilton's lap times in the W08 are already impressive, there is likely to be even more performance gains to come from the world champions - if the engine is reliable," adds Sky.

How good are Ferrari?

Looking at the lap times, it would appear Ferrari are in the same league as Mercedes. "Ferrari showed impressive pace throughout the week," says website Planet F1. "The Scuderia’s SF70H also demonstrated good reliability with Vettel and Raikkonen hitting the 500-lap mark."

However, the optimism could be short-lived, says Sky. "There is, though, no way of knowing what the teams' true performance actually is," it warns. "Engine settings, fuel loads and run programmes are a closely-guarded secret, making the timesheets a notoriously unreliable barometer. And Ferrari, who were fastest of all at Barcelona 12 months ago, have a habit of flattering to deceive in winter testing."

More misery for McLaren

"After two years of building, two years of teething and two years of immense pain, this was supposed to be the season that McLaren-Honda gelled, the year that podiums and maybe even a win would finally come their way. But not if pre-season form is any indication," warns Planet F1.

Fernando Alonso is reportedly unhappy and there have even been reports the team could ditch engine supplier Honda before the first race of the season in three weeks' time. 

"Reliability is once again failing Honda’s redesigned V6 engine while pace is also lacking. Timed laps may have been the name of the game, but it wasn’t a game that McLaren-Honda was winning."

Keep an eye on the youngsters

Max Verstappen was the breakout star of 2016 and the Red Bull team are talking up his chances of challenging for the title this season.

The teenager backed that up on the final day of testing. "With the track drying and multiple exhaust issues seemingly fixed, he went out on the soft tyre and started logging some proper lap-times to remind us all that Red Bull are competitive in a week where Mercedes and Ferrari have peppered the top of the timing sheets," says the Daily Express.

It was a different kettle of fish for new Williams driver Lance Stroll, who, at 18, is a year younger than Verstappen. He left the track three times during testing, at one stage putting the car into the tyre wall, bringing a premature end to Williams's week.

"The Canadian is said to have brought a massive amount of financial backing with him in the shape of his billionaire father - they’re already starting to spend that money on new bits his son has snapped off," says the Express.

Will there be overtaking?

The new-look cars are certainly faster than last season and, as Rosberg said, the drivers must be "gladiators" to control them, but does more speed mean more thrills? Hamilton is not so sure. 

"The three-time former world champion has hailed the new cars as the best-looking for a number of years and the fastest he has ever driven, he fears the increase in downforce could lead to fewer overtakes and worse racing," reports the Daily Telegraph.

Pirelli has tried to improve the performance of their tyres in the wet, but they too could be adding to the problem. "On top of that lack of overtaking, Pirelli have taken the directive of tyres that do not degrade to heart, putting out durable rubber with little drop-off," says Planet F1.

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