New season but same feel as Hamilton easily tops day 1 of Barcelona test

There was very much a ‘back to school’ sense of occasion on the opening day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona on Wednesday as drivers posed for photos in their new outfits before getting down to work.

But some things never change, not in this classroom at least, as Lewis Hamilton topped the lap times from teammate Valtteri Bottas and the impressive BWT Racing Point of Sergio Perez. Perhaps even more ominous for the competition, even at this early stage, was that Hamilton’s mark of 1m16.976s was set on the slower harder compound tyre, whereas the rest of the top 5 were on the medium rubber. He was still 0.337s quicker than his teammate.

“We got everything done as planned, the car feels good so a really nice starting point. I’ll be back in the car tomorrow afternoon and then Friday morning,” Bottas told Sky Sports. “Everyone is just doing their own thing and trying to maximize the learning. When we started with this car it was not far off what we expected. For sure it has weaknesses, but this is a good track for testing. We have some things to work on but that is why we are here.”

Unusually for an opening day of testing, there were no red flag incidents due to technical issues or off-tack excursions, perhaps an early pointer that the stability of the rules before the more radical 2021 changes will again lead to uniformity of the grid.

Perhaps a close challenger to Hamilton this season will be Max Verstappen, the Dutchman fourth quickest in his Red Bull, ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s stunning-looking Alpha Tauri, Carlos Sainz’s McLaren (H), Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.

After the trials and tribulations of last year, when Williams missed the best part of the opening two and a half days, George Russel had an encouraging day of running, finishing ninth fastest and completing 73 laps for the Acronis partner team.

“It’s feeling good. It’s definitely an improvement on last year,” Russell is quoted by BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson. “It’s difficult to get a read so far but from within it feels nice to drive. Obviously lap times are the important thing and we’ll only know by the end of next week how that is.

“Last year was far from ideal and the team have done a really great job to achieve that and the build quality of the car is so much better standard compared to last year. Things fit properly and the car looks better from a design perspective, so I think overall it’s been a very positive morning. It was definitely a character-building year last year and I’m confident we can go racing this year and have a bit more fun than last year, and that’s what we are all hoping for.”

The newly rebranded BWT Racing Point team also enjoyed a productive day, with Lance Stroll 10th fastest ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had to shoulder the load of Wednesday’s running due to Sebastian Vettel feeling unwell.

Williams new boy Nicholas Latifi was 12th, ahead of the man he replaced, Robert Kubica, now running for Alfa Romeo, as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi rounded off the runners.

Testing continues on Thursday and concludes on Friday.

Nicholas Latifi (CDN) Williams Racing FW43.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Wednesday 19th February 2020. Barcelona, Spain.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.