Is a pecking order established before Australia as F1 testing in Barcelona ends?

After eight days and hundreds of laps on differing fuel loads, aero settings, track temperatures and tyre compounds around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, teams have packed up and made their separate ways home.

The next stop is the vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Melbourne, Australia, where the 2019 Formula One season springs into life. It should be another gripping season, but do we really have any idea of where the respective teams stand before the real racing begins in earnest?

As always seems the case, the answer, after the second four-day test ended, is maybe. Maybe not. The final lap times told the story that Ferrari was quickest again, as they often have been, Sebastian Vettel’s benchmark 1m16.221s effort pipping title rival Lewis Hamilton’s effort by just 0.003s.

Testing is always a very cloak and dagger affair. Teams often like to send out false messages, driver interviews bigging up their rivals in a game of bluff and double bluff before the hands are shown, in a certain degree, in the opening race. Fuel loads are circumspect, with nobody knowing precisely what other teams are doing.

Long distance running can provide a guide, as can tyre compounds. And with Mercedes often focusing on longer runs and testing harder tyres for the previous days, it was interesting that they narrowed the gap considerably on Friday when pumping in quick laps on the softest C5 compound, Bottas third quickest on a 1m16.561s ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault which was marginally quicker than Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso. The feisty Faenza-based Italian unit has shown surprising pace at times and could be a dark horse to watch.

Although all of the quickest times, bar Max Verstappen’s, were set on the softest C5 tyre, teams experimented with different rubber during the day. And it may be worth noting that Vettel tried out the C3 compound before lunch, only a fraction quicker than the Mercedes on the softer C4 but when the track was cooler. It adds to the assumption that there will be little to choose between the bookies’ favorites when the lights go out in Melbourne.

So, what of the rest? Carlos Sainz was fifth quickest for McLaren after completing the most mileage (134 laps) from Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.

It looks encouraging for Sainz and the famous British team, who have encountered fewer pre-season testing woes than in years gone by with the returning Honda PU.

But Red Bull endured a testing day of testing. After Pierre Gasly’s big accident on Thursday, the team faced a lengthy rebuilding job and Verstappen’s final day was hampered further by a gearbox issue that meant just 29 laps of the circuit.

As reported by Motorsport Tech during the opening test in Barcelona, you can never read too much into lap times before Melbourne. And, realistically, with no new parts or development before the European season kick off in earnest, it will only be then that a true picture starts to develop.

Top image: Sergio Perez of Racing Point F1 during a pit stop in Barcelona. © Racing Point F1.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.