The penultimate day of testing saw five teams set their fastest times of this pre-season, as the cars are beginning to be stretched on performance runs. However, teams are still evidently reluctant to show their full hands.
Ferrari were once again today’s star performers, with Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheet, despite evidently backing off in the final sector on his fastest ultrasoft attempt. The SF70H was stunning all day, once again proving fast and reliable, and providing more supporting evidence to the theory that Ferrari is the real deal in 2017.
Here are FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED on day seven of pre-season testing…
Ferrari rapid, especially on the soft tyre
Sebastian Vettel topped today’s timesheet and leveled the score between Ferrari and Mercedes for pre-season testing. Both teams have now finished three days on top of the pile this winter.
Vettel’s 1:19.024 fails to tell the full story. In reality, Ferrari were on course for a comfortable 1:18, before Vettel visibly backed off in the final sector, ceding some lap time in one of the most obvious examples of sandbagging to date. It was still the fastest time of pre-season and the quickest lap at the circuit for eight years.
More impressive even, was Vettel’s rapid times set on the soft compound tyre. The German recorded a 1:19.341 on the yellow marked rubber, a full half a second faster than anyone had managed on the same tyre all week.
Ferrari have historically loved the soft compound and this trait seems to have continued into 2017.
Ferrari seem aware of their own false dawn’s
Soon after the Scuderia stunned the paddock with these remarkable times, they took to Twitter to temper fans’ new-found optimism for the season ahead.
This tweet indicates that the team are somewhat aware of previous ‘false dawn’s.’ Ferrari have made a conscious effort here to diffuse the growing speculation that they are Merc-beaters in 2017, and this runs parallel to Vettel’s comments over the past few days.
It is a smarter approach to pre-season. If they lock-out the front row in Melbourne, Ferrari fans will have been delivered a great present. The best presents are always surprises.
It’s not just Honda struggling with reliability
Following Fernando Alonso’s scathing attack on Honda yesterday evening, his mood will most certainly have not been improved by today’s performance, as Stoffel Vandoorne’s day was restricted to just 48 laps after two electrical failures.
Honda continues to look like the “amateurs” as Alonso described them. However, they are not the only engine manufacturer who will be nervous of reliability gremlins heading to the curtain raiser.
Renault suffered another tricky day, with both their works RS17 and customer Toro Rosso bringing out red flags after stopping on track. These failures come after Max Verstappen reported MGU-K issues being the hindrance to Red Bull’s progress yesterday.
Honda are surely Renault’s best friend at the moment. It is Honda’s seismic dramas and deteriorating partner relations that are deflecting attention away from what is a shaky Renault package.
Inability to follow might be a car specific issue
Martin Brundle was trackside for Sky F1 today and offered his usual fascinating insights into what the pre-season mileage has indicated so far.
Brundle provided some promising news regarding the topic of cars being able to follow in 2017. With the increased downforce and higher cornering speeds, more potent turbulent air has been reported to be a factor that will inhibit close racing this season. However, Brundle believes that the effect of this turbulence is car specific, with some teams finding their package to be more susceptible, while other teams are not finding the same issues when following.
“I’m getting mixed messages about what they’re like to follow, how easy it is to follow and catch another car,” Brundle said. “And it seems like that might be a little car specific, with the front wing setup and the sidepods, particularly the way they use the shark fin on the back.”
This is good news. If some cars are more adept at dealing with turbulence than others, teams will be forced into solving their own problems in order to allow themselves to clear traffic on track. No team wants to carry any deficiencies versus their opponents into what is being billed as a hugely competitive season.
Grosjean wants to see new brakes at Haas
Haas will no doubt be frustrated at the fact that their biggest pre-season story has been their recurring brake issues. A hangover from their debut season, neither Romain Grosjean nor newcomer Kevin Magnussen have had confidence under braking.
Having already been fighting this battle for a year, Grosjean is clearly running out of patience. The Frenchman has stated that the team need to change suppliers as soon as possible.
“I’m not going into detail, but I don’t like it,” he told Motorsport.com. I can’t wait to get back to something different.” That “something different” being Carbone Industrie brakes as opposed to the Brembo material that Haas have maligned over the course of the past year.
Whether Haas will make a change before Melbourne remains to be seen.