Ferrari impresses on day 2 of F1 testing but are teams bluffing in Barcelona?

There is an intriguing ‘cloak and dagger’ aspect to pre-season Formula One testing. Always has, always will be.

In this multi-million-dollar game of motorsport poker, where so much is at risk, no team wishes to show their hand too early. That would surely be a foolhardy thing to do. Or would it?

Journalists will always try to dig deeper into things to drum up early excitement, generate online page impressions and sell magazines. And why not. This certainly seemed to be the case on day 2 in Barcelona.

Ferrari was fastest again, and by a margin. New Ferrari recruit Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets with a 1m18.247s lap on the same C3 Pirelli tyre compound that Sebastian Vettel finished quickest on Monday, albeit a tenth slower than the German’s time.

It all theoretically leads to the assumption that the famed ‘Prancing Horse’ has come out of the box extremely fast and has a big advantage over the opposition, even at this early stage of proceedings. Especially as reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton was only tenth fastest after completing 74 laps, also on the same C3 compound as Vettel and Leclerc. The Frenchman also ran for longer, so his 157 laps (more than any other runner) was almost certainly on a higher fuel load. And his tyre was also harder than second-placed Lando Norris’ C4 compound, the McLaren new boy completing 104 laps for his 1m.18.553s lap time.

Ferrari surely already has it in the bag… Don’t they? Not so fast, guys. Many things do need to be taken into consideration in this early game of ‘call my bluff’. No team knows what the other is doing regarding aero settings, and especially fuel loads.

Testing is a time for trying out numerous settings and pushing the limits, new Toro Rosso recruit Alexander Albon possibly trying to impress too soon and spinning off after only three corners. Yet he still managed substantial mileage, finishing a respectable fourth fastest after completing 132 laps.

And there were also some more high-profile casualties to spare Albon’s early blushes, Pierre Gasly snapping out of control and putting the back of his Red Bull into the barrier at Turn 13 and Daniel Ricciardo losing the upper element of his Renault rear wing on the pit straight at close to 200mph – certainly a  worrying moment but better to happen on a relatively empty test track than in the heat of a grand prix with traffic all around.

And that, really, is what testing is all about. Either pushing the limits to evaluate possible weaknesses, running race distance fuel loads to judge tyre wear or both.

F1 testing now also televised event, allowing fans to get even closer to the action, cars running hulking great ‘aero-rakes’ dotted with Kiel probe sensors to evaluate speed and efficiency as well as eye-catching luminescent ‘flo-vis’ paint to also measure aerodynamic efficiency. Both are hardly conducive to fast lap times.

For Acronis partner team Racing Point, it was the first chance for new recruit Lance Stroll to get behind the wheel of his new RP19 car on a day that was dominated by aerodynamic data gathering, as Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullogh explained.

“Overall, today was a positive day in which we had a reliable car and managed to achieve the objectives we had set out in our plan,” said McCullogh. “Most of our focus was on understanding the car and catching up on some of the time we lost yesterday. Our run plan was dominated by aero data gathering, which is essential with a new car. We ticked all the boxes and we have lots of data to analyze as we continue in this learning process.

“It was Lance’s first day in the RP19 and he hit the ground running. It was the first chance for him to get up to speed with the car and our procedures. The extensive simulator work during the off-season helped prepare him to have a valuable first day and to build the relationship with the team members who will work with him this season.”

Lance Stroll of Racing Point F1 during Barcelona Testing Days 2019. © Racing Point F1.

Stroll, who completed 79 laps of the circuit, was also upbeat about his first day at the office.

“It’s a special feeling when you head down the pit lane for the first time in the new car and release the pit limiter,” said the Canadian. “The general first impression is positive, and we worked through the programme covering lots of laps with good reliability.

“It’s early days working trackside with the team so I’m still building up my relationship with some of the crew and understanding how the team likes to approach things, but I already feel comfortable. I didn’t really get a good feel for the new aero rules on these cars yet because I didn’t run in traffic very much, but that’s something I will understand better over the next few days.”

For the record, Stroll posted the 11th quickest time of the day. But, as you may have guessed, you can’t really read too much into lap times on the second day of pre-season testing.

Top image: Charles Leclerc during the Day 2 of pre-season testing in Barcelona. © Ferrari F1.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.