Crucial final week of F1 testing underway before teams set sail for Australia

Whilst the first week of pre-season testing was all about gaining mileage, checking base set-ups and evaluating the new Pirelli tyre compounds, the final test session could reveal where teams really stand before the opening grand prix of the season.

McLaren fans will certainly be happy that Lando Norris finished on top of the lap times, the young Brit’s 1m17.709s mark only 0.4s off last week’s benchmark time but that doesn’t tell the entire story of another intriguing day.

Norris’ time was set on the C4 Pirelli compound, the second softest and grippiest tyre with second placed Pierre Gasly second quickest after his 136 laps but on the harder C3. McLaren may also be slightly concerned with a couple of technical issues that caused Norris to stop on the circuit.

Racing Point will no doubt be happier with their day, Lance Stroll setting the third fastest time but impressively on the hardest C5 compound. That put the Canadian flyer ahead of four-time champion and many people’s favorite for the title Sebastian Vettel, the German’s time set on the C3.

“It was our smoothest day of testing so far and we completed some valuable mileage,” said Stroll afterward. “The car felt good, so I think we are heading in the right direction. These days are about building confidence and getting to grips with the new car, but also getting used to this new environment.

“I am getting on really well with the crew in the garage. They’re great people and everyone is working so hard. We ran on a mix of different tyres today and tried a lot of test items. There’s a good atmosphere in the garage and I’m feeling pleased with the work we did today.”

Williams will likewise be content with a trouble-free day of track time with George Russell completing 119 laps, only the third driver to break the century mark.

“It was a good day of testing with George driving the car,” commented Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer. “We completed 119 laps without any significant reliability issues, so we achieved the entire programme that we had planned from the start of the day. We completed a mixture of data gathering and performance running at low and high fuel on a range of different tyre compounds.

“It is early days with our familiarisation with the car, so there is a lot of work to do to understand what we have got and the directions that we need to take. We have already identified some opportunities though, and we will keep pushing through the remainder of the week to prepare ourselves for Australia. Well done to the team, a great job by everybody to get a car that can do the laps without incident to make a solid start to the second test.

So, what of Mercedes and world champion Lewis Hamilton?

Those with a keen technical eye would have been keeping a close eye on Craig Scarborough’s excellent technical analysis of all this season’s contenders.

And the Silver Arrows arrived with what appeared fairly significant changes to the important front section of the car on the nose and wing. Hamilton ran for 83 laps in clocking only the 12th quickest time of 1m20.332s.

No such luck for Valtteri Bottas, who was forced to stop with a hydraulic issue that meant a lengthy engine overhaul and just seven laps on track.

Rivals Ferrari themselves weren’t without their own troubles, Charles Leclerc completing only 29 laps on the C3 after a cooling system issue.

Testing resumes on Wednesday and concludes on Friday.

Top image: George Russell during the Formula One Testing, Day 1, Barcelona, Spain. © Williams Racing F1.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.