Formula One cars return to action at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

For all fans of Formula One, the winter break can be a painfully long one. It has been just over three months since the final grand prix of an exciting season that saw Lewis Hamilton close his emphatic championship-winning season in style in Abu Dhabi.

Last week’s car launches provided welcome respite, showing how the new machines will look with their new liveries and interpretation of the technical regulations.

But the first official test session in Barcelona often provides the first small clues about what may be the pecking order in the months to come. Yet with mileage and new Pirelli compound tyre testing always the name of the game, it is often difficult to read too much into pre-season testing lap times.

The first of four days of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, however, was certainly an interesting one. Many eyes were focused on the newly branded Alfa Romeo Racing team, with Kimi Raikkonen back behind the wheel of a team (albeit then in Sauber guise) where he began his F1 career back in 2000.

It wasn’t a great start for the 2007 world champion, the popular Finn completing just five corners before losing the back end of his C38 and beaching in the gravel trap to bring about a red flag.

But it wasn’t only Raikkonen who struggled to get to grips with his new steed on the first morning, Romain Grosjean grinding to a halt after losing fuel pressure in his Haas before Carlos Sainz also stopped his McLaren at the end of the pit lane.

Such teething troubles are often commonplace, however, and the majority did manage valuable track time. Not least Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari, who topped the time sheets with a 1m18.161s lap from 169 laps which put him ahead of Sainz, the Spaniard recovering from his early setback to clock a 1m18.558s effort from 119 laps.

Grosjean, likewise, can take encouragement from setting the third fastest mark despite only completing 65 laps in anger with Max Verstappen fourth fastest on Red Bull’s first outing with Honda power. Next was Raikkonen’s Alfa followed by the returning Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat.

Racing Point driver Sergio Perez was seventh quickest in the fan-favourite ‘Pink Panther’ livery, ahead of the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton with the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and new teammate Daniel Riccardo rounding off the list of Monday’s runners.

Despite only completing 30 laps due to an oil leak, it was an encouraging start for the Acronis partner team.

“It was a typical first day of testing, with a lot of checks and not a lot of running,” said Perez afterward. “It was effectively our shakedown and, even though the day was a bit shorter than expected, I felt quite happy with the car straight away. The mileage wasn’t great, but I think it was still a promising start. I am happy with the performance we managed to get out of the car and with its balance.

“The conditions weren’t great: the track was quite cold and green to begin with, but I end the first day feeling positive. It was important to start understanding the car as much as we could and for me to make myself comfortable with it as a driver.”

Lance Stroll takes over the controls of the RP19 on Tuesday as the team continues its important pre-season preparations.

Some of the doom mongers had forecast a significant reduction in the speed of the 2019 machines opposed to last year’s counterparts as a result of the new regulations, especially concerning the front wings.

Encouragingly this was not proven the case, Vettel’s time significantly quicker than the 1m20.179s benchmark set on day 1 of pre-season testing at Barcelona in 2018.


Top photo: Sergio Perez during the F1 testing in Barcelona. © Racing Point F1 Team.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.