F1

6 things we learned from the Spain F1 test

Who shone, who shocked and who sandbagged across the first four days of the 2019 pre-season in Barcelona last week.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Formula One teams with fast cars that want to look slow. Teams with fast cars who do little to mask their speed. Teams with middling cars and scarce sponsor stickers who make surprise appearances at the sharp end of the timesheets. Teams struggling to put a car on track at all … As the 2019 F1 pre-season roared into life at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona last week, it was easy to see all 10 teams were present (eventually, we’ll get that that); what was harder to ascertain was which teams fell into which of the afore-mentioned categories. Ask said 10 teams for their views, and you’d get 100 different answers …

The annual F1 ‘phoney war’ of testing is unique; for what is effectively pre-season training in any other sport you can think of, conclusions are drawn and assertions are made on things even the teams themselves don’t completely understand yet. The raw stats tell us one thing; how those stats were achieved and why carries more weight as the clock ticks down towards when it all matters for real for the first time, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Over four days at Montmelo, a new-look F1 emerged from the fog that provided a dramatic backdrop to the start of each day of running; the cars themselves looked different with aerodynamic tweaks including a wider front wing compared to their predecessors, and the driver line-ups were cause for more than a few double-takes, just two teams retaining the same pair of pilots from last season, and four outfits jettisoning both drivers after the 2018 campaign.

Add three rookies into the mix (Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso, George Russell at Williams and Lando Norris at McLaren), and the annual ‘school photo’ at Albert Park in a few weeks’ time will look jarringly different to the one that preceded it.

Halfway through the February testing phase for 2019, what do we know about the season set to take off on March 17? A little, and a lot. Here’s six snippets to consider.

1. What the stopwatch said …

Testing, we’re always told, isn’t always about the stopwatch … but to paraphrase the old saying, if winning isn’t important, then why do we keep score? Both Renault and Toro Rosso would likely concur, with both drivers from each team ending up in the top five on the overall timesheets after four days.

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg set the best time of the test (1min 17.393secs) on the final afternoon, with new teammate and star signing Daniel Ricciardo ending up fifth overall, just 0.4secs slower in his first official outing for his new squad.

Between the two yellow fellows? Albon, his teammate Daniil Kvyat, and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, not a sentence you would have expected to be writing when the pit lane went green at 9am on the first day.

Signs of speed are one thing in testing, but reliability might be more important – and on that front, Ferrari packed up at the end of day four in a class of one, Sebastian Vettel (303 laps) the busiest man in Barcelona for the week, and new teammate Charles Leclerc (295) sitting right behind him on the most laps list.

Ferrari’s 598 combined laps were well clear of the next-best return (Alfa Romeo with 507), while at the other end of the scale, Williams managed just 88 laps between Russell and F1 returnee Robert Kubica, its FW42 car not ready to run before the afternoon session of the first day, a predicament deputy team principal Claire Williams called “embarrassing”.

Russell and Kubica, unsurprisingly, were the two slowest drivers for the week in Spain, meaning there’s little sign last year’s wooden-spooners in the constructors’ championship are set to improve in the short-term.

2. … and what those numbers told us

So it’s set to be a Renault vs Toro Rosso fight for this year’s world championship, is it? Much as Australian F1 fans wouldn’t mind that, let’s pump the brakes. The devil in the details of the top (or bottom) lap times can be found in what tyre compound each driver set their benchmark time on, with Pirelli bringing five different specifications of tyres to Barcelona.

Thankfully for common sense and to end the endless confusion about tyre names (supersoft, hypersoft or super-duper sticky softy-softs, anyone?) that have been a feature of F1 coverage for the past few years, Pirelli’s tyres in Spain were simpler to understand. The C1 tyre was the hardest available, the C5 the softest. Pirelli’s data revealed the C2 tyre was 0.6 to 0.7-seconds faster than the C1, with similar gaps between each compound up to the one-lap qualifying specials that were the C5s. Early indications suggest the gap between the fastest and slowest tyres in the range could be over three seconds per lap.

So back to that list of fastest laps … and while reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh overall for Mercedes, he was the fastest runner on the C4 tyre, setting a 1:17.977 on the final day that was 0.584secs behind Hulkenberg’s best time of the test on the stopwatch, but, arguably, faster given the rubber he did it on.

Vettel, eighth overall, was less than two-tenths behind Hamilton and on the even slower C3 rubber, as was teammate Leclerc in ninth as Ferrari elected not chase a headline time late in the test.

Elsewhere, Alfa’s Antonio Giovinazzi was 11th overall, but less than a second behind Raikkonen on a tyre two steps harder, an impressive start to his first full F1 season. And lurking in 15th and 16th of the 20 race drivers who participated in the test? Red Bull Racing pair Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, neither of whom set a fast time on anything other than the middling C3 tyre.

The numbers don’t lie, but sometimes they can conceal the truth behind them …

3. The eye test can override the data

Sometimes it’s good to ignore the numbers for a moment and let your eyes tell you who is fast, who is pushing and who is sandbagging in pre-season testing.

Standing trackside, it was noticeable how planted Ferrari looked out of the slow-speed corners, the SF90 jumping out of the big stop at Turn 10 at the end of the back straight like a scalded cat as much as a Prancing Horse.

Mercedes looked mega when its drivers pushed in the high-speed corners, but the team admitted its drivers were more focused on gathering long-run data than really stretching the legs of the W10.

Red Bull’s RB15 had a distinctive bark emanating from its new Honda engine and looked planted in the sweeping curves that define the Circuit de Catalunya, while Raikkonen and Giovinazzi took very different approaches to achieve the same goal, the Finn’s consistency of car position contrasting starkly with the Italian’s more flamboyant style.

Ricciardo’s signature late braking, while nowhere near its Red Bull race-winning pomp yet as he beds into his new surrounds at Renault, was on show from the get-go, while Albon was keen to find the limits in the Toro Rosso in his first pre-season test, the Brit impressing more by the day after a shaky start when he dropped the STR14 in the gravel on the second morning.

4. The fight at the front might not change …

So what are we to make of the pecking order after four days of running? Mercedes and Ferrari look set to pick up where they left off at the end of 2018 as the sport’s two fastest teams, but in which order?

Avoiding pre-season favouritism is as much of a sport as F1 itself, so when Bottas said after his final stint in the car that he felt Ferrari was “a bit ahead” of Mercedes after four days in Barcelona, Leclerc was quick to hose that notion down, suggesting the Silver Arrows had much more to show.

“The performance has no sense for now because it’s testing, they are not pushing and we are not either,” the Monegasque driver shrugged.

“We don’t know how much the others are sandbagging. We’ll see at the first race.”

Leclerc is right about that, but right now, that race might start with a Ferrari or two on the front row of the grid, even considering Hamilton’s incredible qualifying prowess in Melbourne, where he’s started on pole for the past five years.

And what of Red Bull? Team principal Christian Horner was delighted with the progress the team made over the four days as the marriage with Honda got off to a reliable start; only three teams (Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso) did more laps than Red Bull’s 475, and those laps largely went off without a hitch other than Gasly clouting the wall at Turn 13 on the second day and costing the squad an hour’s worth of track time.

5. … but the midfield will swing wildly from race to race

Behind the top three teams and down to Williams in a clear 10th place in the pecking order for now, assessing who sits where in a massed midfield pack is much harder to ascertain after most teams had their moments in Barcelona.

We’ve mentioned Renault and Toro Rosso; elsewhere, McLaren finished second on the first (Carlos Sainz) and second (Norris) days, the young Brit ending the test 10th overall. And while Haas had its fair share of reliability woes for minor technical issues, there’s pace in the VF-19 when it works, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both enjoying top-three times on the first two days.

Alfa, with its distinct front wing design that turned heads, looks set to make a step after leaving the Sauber name behind this season, thickening what should be a lively midfield brew.

6. The new aero rules are a work in progress

Will the new wider front wings and more simplified rear wings for 2019 slow the cars down as intended and make overtaking easier? On the evidence of the first four days of the pre-season, it doesn’t look likely.

“There’s too many smart people in this sport to make the cars slower,” Ricciardo laughed after his first run in the RS.19 with other cars on track to follow.

“The lap times are still fast – the front wings look a bit more basic, but there’s still a lot of load being produced. I hope we can follow (other cars) closer, but for a feeling, if I didn’t know there was a new front wing on the car before I got in, I couldn’t tell.

“The way the cars develop over the year … they’ve had a few months to develop over winter, so even if you lose a bit there, you’re going to gain elsewhere. They (engineers) will find ways to make the front wing work even better.”

The Circuit de Catalunya, for all of its benefits as a testing venue with good weather in the northern hemisphere winter, isn’t the best track to assess if a change instigated to increase passing will work, given the annual procession that the Spanish Grand Prix typically is most seasons. Until we get to some different tracks with different characteristics, the jury will remain out.

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Renault, Toro Rosso tussle for top spots in Spain

Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo finish Thursday inside the top three in Barcelona, while Mercedes offers a glimpse of what might be coming in Melbourne.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON GRANDPRIX.COM.AU

Nico Hulkenberg and Renault ruled the day as the first Formula One test of the 2019 season wrapped up in Spain on Thursday, the German topping the timesheets with the fastest lap across the four days at the Circuit de Catalunya this week.

Hulkenberg’s week one benchmark of 1min 17.393secs, set with 80 minutes remaining in a session held under cold but sunlit skies, saw him finish 0.244secs ahead of 2019 rookie Alexander Albon, Toro Rosso enjoying its second straight strong day of form in Spain after Daniil Kvyat led the times on Wednesday.

Capping a promising day for Renault was Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian ending up with the third-fastest time of Thursday and the fifth-quickest of the test in all as the RS.19 found its feet after a troubled first two days of running.

Hulkenberg’s car finished the test on the back of a recovery vehicle after it broke down at Turn 13 on his first lap out of the pits immediately after setting his best time, the German managing just 24 laps in the afternoon after Ricciardo completed 34 before the one-hour mandatory stoppage for the session midway through the day.

Ricciardo wasn’t ready to read too much into Renault’s pace or reliability gremlins that appeared across the four days, but felt life at his new team after five seasons with Red Bull Racing had started on the right foot.

“On the whole, I think good enough,” Ricciardo said when asked for his assessment of the test.

“It’s hard to ask too much in testing as far it never runs perfect … at least I have never been in a perfect lot of testing pre-season.

“The runs we were doing, they were shorter runs with more set-up changes, so that naturally took a bit more time.

“I think yesterday and particularly this morning was quite useful for me, just going through set-ups and feeling like they actually did something to the car. That was quite positive.

“When a car is numb and doesn’t respond to changes, that normally isn’t a good sign. So after these four days, it feels pretty positive.”

Ricciardo finished three-tenths shy of his new teammate’s time, with Hulkenberg, Albon and the Australian setting their best times on the Pirelli C5 tyres, the softest of the compounds available at the test.

After three days of concentrating on data gathering with long runs, Mercedes finally offered a glimpse of the inherent pace most experts believe is in its new W10 chassis, Valtteri Bottas taking fourth spot on the C5 rubber, but appearing to have plenty in reserve as he finished half a second off the pace.

Teammate and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton joined Bottas in the top five, his best lap of 1.17.977 coming in the morning session, and on the harder-compound C4 Pirellis.

Ferrari’s new signing Charles Leclerc completed 163 laps en route to finishing sixth on the final day, while the busiest driver on Thursday was Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian racking up a mammoth 154 laps to finish 1.1secs off the top time in eighth.

Bottas said on Thursday that he felt Ferrari was “a bit ahead” of Mercedes after four days in Barcelona, but Leclerc felt the reigning world champions had spent the opening salvos of 2019 masking their true pace.

“The performance has no sense for now because it’s testing, they are not pushing and we are not either,” the Monegasque driver said.

“We don’t know how much the others are sandbagging. We’ll see at the first race.”

After only appearing on track for the first time at the test on Wednesday, Williams had both drivers in action on the final day, Robert Kubica getting his first meaningful running of 2019 in the morning before handing the FW42 over to rookie George Russell in the afternoon.

The pair completed 65 laps between them and occupied the bottom two spots on the timesheets, meaning Williams has plenty of work ahead of it at next week’s second and final test in Spain before the Australian Grand Prix from February 26 to March 1.

Pierre Gasly answers the call at Red Bull Racing

The Frenchman’s promotion to one of F1’s top-tier teams was unconventional, but mirrors a rise from out of sight to front of mind that’s happened at breakneck speed.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It was the phone call Pierre Gasly had been wishing would come one day – and it was a call he missed. Twice, as it turns out. Last August, after Daniel Ricciardo had dropped an F1 bombshell by announcing he was leaving Red Bull Racing to move to Renault for 2019, Gasly had found out the hard way that mobile phones and water don’t mix. Which isn’t ideal when you’re a Toro Rosso driver wondering if you’re set to become the Australian’s replacement at Red Bull’s senior team …

“I broke my phone, so I didn’t have any phone for a couple of days,” Gasly recalls as he sits in the Red Bull Racing hospitality area at the Circuit de Catalunya, site of this week’s first pre-season test in Barcelona.

“For three to four days I didn’t have time to get a phone, so I sent an email to (Red Bull motorsport advisor) Helmut (Marko) to tell him my best friend’s number. Then my friend misses two calls from Helmut’s office … finally I managed to get to him two hours later.

“Finally he told me the news that I would drive for Red Bull, so it was a really special moment. My best friends followed me in karting, all the formulas, and they know how important it is for me. So it was actually really great to get the call that way and to be able to celebrate with all my closest friends.”

Gasly can laugh about how he learned of his biggest career moment to date, but given how has career has panned out in the past two years, maybe he shouldn’t be surprised that things weren’t exactly straightforward. It’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old has driven in just 26 Grands Prix, and that even in that short space of time, his path has diverged wildly.

There was no room on the F1 grid in 2017 for the previous year’s GP2 (now F2) champion, meaning Gasly instead went to Japan to race in the Super Formula series. But that September, Gasly was summoned back from Japan to race for Toro Rosso in the Malaysian Grand Prix, Daniil Kvyat making way. Gasly competed in five of the final six races of the season, missing the US Grand Prix in Austin as he returned to Japan to compete for the Super Formula title in a race that never happened because of the threat of a typhoon at Suzuka, and was retained for the 2018 F1 campaign. And then things really got interesting.

In just the second race of his first full season, the Frenchman stunned the F1 paddock when he stormed to fourth in Bahrain, scoring his first 12 F1 points in one fell swoop. Ten races and two more points finishes later, Ricciardo announced he was leaving Red Bull Racing after five seasons, and Gasly was promoted to take his place. Whirlwind doesn’t even begin to describe it.

“It’s been a pretty crazy past 15 months for me from doing Super Formula in Japan to getting the first opportunity at Toro Rosso at the end of the year, thrown in the car with no testing,” he reflects.

“And then then halfway through the first season for Toro Rosso I get promoted (to Red Bull) … I’ve not had time to think of all the things, to be honest. Sometimes it’s good to take a few minutes and realise all of the things that have gone on. It’s been a pretty exciting last 15 months.”

Gasly is learning quickly that moving from a team where points finishes are worthy of podium celebrations to an outfit that has won four world titles and 59 Grands Prix comes with different expectations, attention and scrutiny. His first official day of 2019 in Spain ended with a respectable lap time (1min 19.814secs) that was just over three-tenths of a second slower than vastly more experienced teammate Max Verstappen managed the day before, but backwards and in the barriers after losing control of the RB15 with an hour of the session remaining. Testing is about finding the limits and pushing as close to them as you dare; the size of the press pack waiting for his explanation after tip-toeing past those limits varies depending on who you’re driving for.

Gasly, who immediately put his hand up for his mistake, says the chance to drive for a top-tier team allows him to concentrate on the small details rather than the bigger picture.

“It’s more exciting than putting pressure,” he insists.

“You are in an environment that is so professional with so much knowledge – they know how to deal with everything. So my main focus is to focus on myself, make sure that I’m 100 per cent ready when I jump in the car to deliver the best performance that I can.

“At the same time I’m only in my second year, and I know I will develop in the next few years because I don’t have much experience. The more I will race, the better I will be, but I just want to make sure I learn as fast as possible to be competitive. By the end of the year, I will double my experience working in F1.”

He’s almost right about that – 21 races this year will raise his career tally to 47 – and while he may be the new Bull in the pen, Gasly is something of a wise old head with one aspect of his new gig. With Honda coming on board as Red Bull’s engine supplier this season, Gasly is more well-versed than many at his new address at working with the Japanese, given his Super Formula season with Team Mugen and his time at Toro Rosso, the 2018 STR13 propelled by Honda power. It’s experience that he feels can hold him in good stead.

“It’s what I try to give, with working with the Japanese the last two years,” he says.

“The Japanese have their own mentality and their own way of communicating and working … it’s all about respect. Once you understand it, you need to be patient before the trust is real between everyone. That’s what I try to give to the team.”

Once eight days of testing in Spain are over, Gasly will head to Melbourne for his first outing with Red Bull Racing at the Australian Grand Prix, which will have a different feel for the team this March. Not since 2007, when Mark Webber joined Red Bull from Williams, has the Albert Park race been run without an Australian driving for the team, Ricciardo succeeding Webber when the latter retired at the end of 2013.

Gasly grins at the notion that be might be considered an honorary Aussie for the season-opener given Red Bull’s history, but doesn’t need to be reminded that replacing a seven-time Grand Prix winner, not to mention being partnered with Verstappen, brings a level of pressure he’s never come close to experiencing.

Rather than verbalise his expectations for the season ahead, something Ricciardo good-naturedly baulked at doing when he was in the same seat, the Frenchman stresses that he’s keen to keep a sense of reality about his near-vertical career progression into one of the sport’s grandee teams.

“It’s more about always trying to do my best,” he eventually says about 2019.

“If I don’t feel I’ve delivered my best performance, I’m not satisfied with it. I’m the kind of guy who is always trying to find the little thing that didn’t go well and thinking ‘I could have done this or that better’, and trying to always improve myself.

“The main thing for me is to take experience from Max, from the team, to develop myself through the season to feeling stronger and more comfortable, so I’m able to show the speed and the talent that I have.

“The more I’m going to race, the better I’m going to be.”

Russian rules, Ricciardo on the rise

Daniil Kvyat gives Toro Rosso an unexpected headline time, while Renault has its strongest Spanish showing yet with its new star signing.  

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON GRANDPRIX.COM.AU

A late lap by Formula One returnee Daniil Kvyat has given Toro Rosso bragging rights at pre-season testing in Spain, the Russian topping the timesheets with the fastest time of the first three days of the 2019 pre-season in Barcelona.

After Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) looked set to cap a strong day of work with his name atop the leaderboard, Toro Rosso sent Kvyat out on track shod with the softest-compound C5 tyres, and the effect was dramatic, the 24-year-old firing in a 1min 17.704secs flyer with 13 minutes of the day remaining.

Kvyat finished 0.058secs faster than Raikkonen, who completed the most laps of day three (138), while Daniel Ricciardo shook off a slow start to life at Renault with an encouraging showing in the afternoon session, completing 80 laps and finishing third on the timesheets, 0.460secs behind his former teammate at Red Bull Racing, Kvyat.

“We lacked some running on day one, so we definitely bounced back today,” Kvyat said.

“Now it’s important to go on working hard without getting caught up with where we finished on the timesheets, even if it’s quite pleasant to end up where we did.”

While Kvyat and Toro Rosso became the first team to show their pre-season hand at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, Mercedes continued to put kilometres into its new W10 machine, Valtteri Bottas (11th, nearly three seconds off first place) and Lewis Hamilton (12th, 3.1secs adrift) content to complete long runs for the reigning world champions over a combined 182 laps, more than any other team. Mercedes is yet to use the two softest-compound tyres at the test as it keeps its powder dry ahead of the season-opener in Melbourne.

Ricciardo had endured a difficult first two official on-track days at Renault, his second day curtailed when the DRS flap on his RS.19 machine broke as he approached the high-speed first corner, only the Australian’s reflexes keeping his new car from clattering into the outside wall.

Teammate Nico Hulkenberg ran a conservative program in Wednesday’s morning session, the team electing not to use DRS as the German recorded a time that stood for sixth place at the end of the day.

The Australian hit the track at 2pm local time and immediately set to fine-tuning his car’s set-up on harder tyres, and a late run with DRS enabled inside the final 30 minutes on Pirelli’s C4 rubber saw Ricciardo record a time that was comfortably the best Renault has managed across the test.

“I’m happy to get some solid laps in,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a positive as we’ve been lacking that rhythm in the car over the last few days. We tried three different compounds of tyre so that was also good to go through and understand.

“I’m keen to get stuck into it to see where we can keep improving. The main thing was driving 80 laps, that was really important.”

Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel was fourth for Ferrari after the Prancing Horse dominated the opening two days, the German recording the fastest time on Monday before new teammate Charles Leclerc did likewise 24 hours later. Vettel completed 134 laps to bring Ferrari’s tally to a mammoth 460 in three days with barely a hitch, proving the SF90 is both fast and reliable as it attempts to find a way to loosen Mercedes’ five-year stronghold on the sport.

Max Verstappen was fifth and concentrated on long runs after a delayed start to the day for Red Bull, while Wednesday proved problematic for Haas, which had its drivers in the top three on the first two days of testing.

Test driver Pietro Fittipaldi crawled to a halt in the morning session with an electrical problem, while Romain Grosjean stopped on track twice in the afternoon, the final time with four minutes remaining to cause a red flag that saw the session finish prematurely.

Grosjean was seventh overall, but the Frenchman has completed just 134 laps in two days of running so far.

The only driver slower than Bottas and Hamilton on Wednesday was British rookie George Russell, but day three was little more than a glorified shakedown for Williams after its FW42 machine finally hit the track after missing the opening two days. Deputy team principal Claire Williams described her eponymous team’s late start to 2019 as “embarrassing”, something it can ill-afford after finishing last season at the bottom of the constructors’ standings.

“It’s not a situation we ever wanted to find ourselves in,” Williams told reporters.

“It’s embarrassing not bringing a race car to a circuit when everyone else has managed to do that, particularly for a team like ours that has managed to deliver a race car to testing for the past 40-odd years.”

Russell completed 23 cautious laps and was nearly five seconds slower than Hamilton, and will hand the car over to teammate Robert Kubica for the morning session of Thursday’s final day of the first test of the year.

Ferrari on the double as Ricciardo’s wings clipped

Charles Leclerc makes it a Prancing Horse quinella in Spain, while Daniel Ricciardo finishes in the gravel after a rear wing failure.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON GRANDPRIX.COM.AU

Ferrari flew for a second day as Formula One pre-season testing continued in Spain on Tuesday, but for Daniel Ricciardo, a flying rear wing made for a second consecutive low-key outing for the Australian as he gets acclimatised at Renault.

After Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets and lap count on day one of the lead-in to next month’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, his new teammate Charles Leclerc repeated the feats on day two, the 21-year-old Monegasque setting a session-best time of 1min 18.247secs and racking up 157 laps on an incident-free day.

Leclerc’s time was 0.086secs slower than Vettel’s day one benchmark, which slashed more than one second off the fastest time set at the equivalent Barcelona test 12 months ago.

A late soft-tyre run by British 19-year-old Lando Norris saw the McLaren rookie finish second on the timesheets, 0.306secs adrift of Leclerc, while Kevin Magnussen (Haas) rounded out the top three.

Norris, who completed 10 laps, lapped 0.005secs faster than teammate Carlos Sainz managed on Monday, both drivers setting their best times on the C4 Pirelli tyre, the second-softest of the five compounds available at the test. McLaren’s pre-season reliability woes of past years have disappeared at this test so far, both drivers totalling over 100 laps on their day in the car, and both being headed by only Ferrari on the timesheets.

After his first official on-track day at Renault ended with him at the bottom of Monday’s timesheets, Ricciardo made steady progress on Tuesday, taking to a cold, foggy track a little after 9am and immediately improving on his times from the previous day, slotting in behind pace-setter Leclerc for much of the morning session.

His run ended abruptly a little after 11am local time, when the top flap of his rear wing fell off as he thundered down the start-finish straight, the resultant spin pitching him into the gravel trap at Turn 1, where he managed to avoid the wall.

Ricciardo ended the day in ninth place, lopping 2.1 seconds off his best time from Monday, and finishing 0.049secs behind new teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who competed a full race simulation as part of a marathon 95-lap run in the afternoon.

Despite his dramatic off, Ricciardo said he was encouraged by the progress between days one and two.

“When it was on, it was OK … when it broke, it’s like going into the corner with DRS open,” he said of the rear wing.

“As soon as I braked, I lost the car and spun. I lost the rest of the morning, but this is what testing is for.

“Before I had the DRS failure, I did a long run, 15 laps or something, and I was quite encouraged. The way I was able to bring the times back towards the end of the run, that was good.

“That’s really my own real impression for now; yesterday I got a few more laps in and did some set-up changes. The run this morning was more representative. We haven’t done low-fuel running or anything like that; we’re still running quite conservative. From a competitive feeling, I don’t know where we stand.”

Ricciardo’s successor at Red Bull Racing, Pierre Gasly, was responsible for the biggest incident of day two, the Frenchman backing his RB15 machine into the fence at Turn 12 with a little over an hour of track time remaining for the day. Gasly, who finished seventh overall and completed 92 laps, was unhurt in the shunt, but didn’t take any further part in proceedings.

Elsewhere, British rookie Alexander Albon capped a dramatic first day of 2019 with the fourth-fastest time; the Toro Rosso driver spun on his out lap as soon as the track opened and beached his car in the Turn 5 gravel trap, had another slow-speed pirouette at the final chicane, and then had a near-miss with Hulkenberg’s Renault in the pits inside the final 15 minutes.

Conspicuous by their absence from the sharp end of the timesheets for the second day running were world champions Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas (sixth, 1.288secs off top spot) taking over the W10 for the afternoon after Lewis Hamilton (10th, 1.681secs behind Leclerc) completed 74 laps in the morning. The team spent much of its 163 laps on the C3 tyre, completing long runs with consistent lap times that sends an ominous portent for their race pace come Melbourne.

Day three of pre-season testing kicks off at 7pm AEDT on Wednesday, where Williams hopes to be able to join the fray after missing the opening two days of testing as its new car, the FW42, wasn’t competed on time.

The car is expected to arrive at the track in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and will turn its first laps for 2019 in the afternoon session with Robert Kubica and George Russell.

Ferrari flies, baby steps for Ricciardo

Sebastian Vettel has the Prancing Horse galloping in Barcelona, while Daniel Ricciardo makes a quiet start to life at Renault.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON GRANDPRIX.COM.AU

History suggests that reading too much into the timesheets on day one of pre-season Formula One testing is folly, but how else are we to interpret what Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari did in Barcelona on Monday as the 2019 season roared into life?

After nine hours of testing under cold and clear skies at the Circuit de Catalunya, Vettel was fast – his morning lap of 1min 18.161secs standing as the fastest of the day – and relentless, his 169 laps some 41 more than any other driver’s tally. What’s more, the all-new SF90 ran like clockwork, the German’s one sour moment of note coming with a small spin at the final chicane in the morning session.

Monday was quite the statement of intent for Ferrari and Vettel, with the Scuderia hoping this year’s car is the one that snaps a world championship drought that, remarkably, extends back to 2007 when Kimi Raikkonen saluted for the Prancing Horse.

“We couldn’t have hoped for a better day, it was unbelievable,” Vettel said afterwards, doing little to hide his excitement.

“The car was working well, we had no issues slowing us down, and I feel comfortable. It’s very early, it’s the first day, but huge compliments to everyone back in the factory. What they put on track today was very close to perfection.

“I certainly got enough laps today, I’ll sleep well tonight.”

Vettel’s day-topping time was 0.397secs faster than McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who used Pirelli’s second-softest compound to record a strong showing on a good day of reliability for his new team, racking up 119 laps. Romain Grosjean (Haas) rounded out the top three with a late lap 0.998secs off Vettel’s benchmark, the Frenchman bouncing back strongly after fuel pressure problems curtailed his running in the morning session.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo had a low-key start to life at Renault, finishing the day as the slowest of the 11 drivers who were on track, his best lap of 1:20.983 just three-thousandths of a second behind new teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who handed the RS.19 machine over to Ricciardo for the afternoon.

Monday was all about miles rather than milestone times for Ricciardo, who did longer on-track stints on harder-compound Pirelli tyres rather than chasing a standout lap time. Renault will reverse its day one running order on the second day of the test, Ricciardo driving in the morning before handing the car over to Hulkenberg to finish the day.

“It’s important to be open and transparent in testing,” Ricciardo said of sharing feedback and data with Hulkenberg.

“You need to give the team everything you know now.”

Elsewhere, Valtteri Bottas won the race to be first car out on track for 2019 when he sent his Mercedes down pit lane as the track went green at 9am local time, while fellow Finn Raikkonen was the cause of the first red flag of 2019 when he beached his Alfa Romeo in the Turn 5 gravel trap on his out lap, a less-than-auspicious start to life at his new team after switching from Ferrari in the off-season.

Bottas completed 69 laps in the morning before handing the Mercedes W10 over to reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon, the pair finishing eighth (Bottas) and ninth (Hamilton, just 0.008secs slower than his teammate) overall while recording 150 laps between them.

Mercedes, which has won every drivers’ and constructors’ championship since F1 switched to the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, was a long way off the red rockets of Ferrari on the timesheets, but team principal Toto Wolff wasn’t perturbed.

“We are all keen to be on top of the leaderboard and looking at lap times, but it is not the purpose of this test,” Wolff said.

“You want to look at the parts, see what the sensors and data tells you.”

Elsewhere, Max Verstappen was fourth-fastest for Red Bull on an encouraging day of reliability in the early stages of its relationship with new engine supplier Honda, while Raikkonen was fifth-quickest for Alfa and the fourth driver to amass more than a century of laps (114) for the day.

One team missing on Monday was Williams, which has reluctantly chosen to sit out the first two days of testing as its new car, the FW42, is yet to be completed, the car still being worked on at the team’s English factory in Grove. Returnee Robert Kubica and 2019 rookie George Russell will have to wait until day three of testing at the earliest before tasting the new car for the first time, a significant blow for the team as it attempts to get back on track following last year’s last place in the constructors’ championship.

Ricciardo starting to feel at home at Renault

Same, but different; Australia’s F1 ace is settling in at his new address after the big switch from Red Bull Racing.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THEAGE.COM.AU

The smile is familiar, the turn of phrase typical, the propensity for mischief still intact. But something is different about Daniel Ricciardo. For one, there’s a lightness to his mood that wasn’t often present last year as his Formula One season unravelled with a slew of mechanical breakdowns in a Red Bull car he felt was “cursed”. And then there’s the eye-catching brand-new yellow shirt, colours of his new team for 2019, Renault, and an outlook towards a new F1 start that he hopes will be even brighter.

Ricciardo, who turns 30 in July, stunned the F1 cognoscenti last year when he elected to turn his back on Red Bull, the only F1 family he’d known across his eight-year tenure in the world’s highest-profile motorsport category, to head to mid-grid Renault, which finished fourth – and a long way behind third-placed Red Bull – in last year’s constructors’ championship.

Leaving a team that won four races last season to join a rival that never finished better than fifth in a single race, on paper, seems like an enormous risk. But Renault is counting on Ricciardo’s spirit, leadership and renowned ability to coax top-line results out of cars that have rarely been at the front on merit to eventually have it join the fight at the sharp end with Mercedes and Ferrari, two other teams who develop their engines and chassis in-house while Red Bull aims for the world title with purchased Honda power plants.

Being introduced as a Renault driver after representing Red Bull Racing for the past five years and Red Bull’s sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, for the two seasons before that has been different. But Ricciardo has integrated himself into his new surrounds quickly, visiting the team’s factory in Enstone in the UK last December before returning this week for the unveiling of the team’s new car, the RS 19.

“I think I have got used to it,” Ricciardo says of his new address and new wardrobe.

“The last few days I’ve spent here at the factory, getting familiar with that title and the colour, the yellow. It’s starting to feel like home.

“It definitely feels different, in a good way. The reality is that I’m going to go pretty much through the same processes, but different environment, there’s different energy, a different atmosphere, and different expectations from a lot of people on the outside. I’m looking forward to it.”

Renault revealed the car Ricciardo and new teammate Nico Hulkenberg will use for the 2019 season on Tuesday night (Australian time), and the RS 19 will turn its first laps in anger at next week’s four-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya, outside of Barcelona.

F1 drivers will always prefer racing to pre-season testing, where they’ll be on and off-track for four straight days as engineers run through a raft of performance and reliability programs aimed at having the cars as bullet-proof as possible for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park next month. This year, at least, Ricciardo describes his feeling ahead of the annual sojourn to Spain as “excitement”.

“Testing actually isn’t, for any driver, the most fun time of the year,” he admits.

“But seeing the car for the first time and rolling out of the pit lane, that’s always fun – absolutely more so now with being in a new team.

“I get … partly emotional when I see my name on a new car, and with the new livery, new sponsors, new team, seeing my name for the first time in Barcelona on that car is going to feel pretty cool.”

By the end of last year, Ricciardo admitted to being “mentally cooked” after a season that started with so much promise quickly fell apart. With two wins in the opening six races, a barnstorming charge through the field in China preceding a controlled masterclass of defensive driving in an ailing car at Monaco, the Australian was being spoken of as an outsider for the world championship against the might of Mercedes’ reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, and Ferrari’s four-time title winner Sebastian Vettel.

But from Monaco onwards, he was barely in races long enough to fight for anything. No driver had more non-finishes than Ricciardo’s eight, seven of which were for mechanical breakdowns, the other coming in the intra-team fight in Azerbaijan with teammate Max Verstappen, where both Red Bulls crashed into one another after the Dutchman moved across on Ricciardo under braking into the first corner, an incident the team elected to blame on both drivers.

After a trying year on-track and a taxing one off it as his contract negotiations meandered into August, Ricciardo was keen to “reset my body and switch off my brain” as he escaped to the familiarity and anonymity of Perth in the off-season, too far away from F1’s beating heart in Europe to be noticed, and under the summer sun while the northern hemisphere shivered through winter.

“To spend that time with friends and family and not even think about racing for a bit, let the chaos of 2018 settle, that was really good for me,” he says after a year where he admitted to being “jaded and not completely enjoying F1”.

“It was the first time in a while I’d been able to fully relax. Those next few weeks to follow after (the season finale in) Abu Dhabi are so important. It’s quite a relief to actually get some time off. It’s important to get that time.

“Australia is so far from Europe which … is not great during the season because I don’t really get back. But the good thing is that once the season is done and I do get back, it’s so far detached from the European motorsport scene that I can really switch off.”

The beginning of phase two of Ricciardo’s career will come into sharper focus in Melbourne next month, which will have a decidedly different look for the first time in more than a decade. Ever since Mark Webber moved from Williams to the fledgling Red Bull outfit for the 2007 season, the English-run Austrian-owned team has employed an Australian driver for the opening Grand Prix of the year, the Albert Park grandstands sporting a blue hue as the local fans got behind one of their own. Might Melbourne be awash with Renault yellow in March? It’s a thought that widens Ricciardo’s signature high-wattage grin.

“There’s significance with my colours this year and the green and gold for Australia’s sporting colours – if we see a lot of yellow around Albert Park, that’ll be cool,” he says.

“It’s a privilege having a home Grand Prix – not everyone does. Opening the season at home, it’s awesome, but it’s also chaos. It’s such a busy week that I love it, but I also feel a real relief once Sunday arrives. It’s very intense.

“Being the only Aussie on the grid and knowing any Australian flag I see in the crowd is for me … a lot of people say that adds a lot of pressure, but for me, it’s awesome that I’ve got this support. It gives me some extra fight.

“To picture (Albert Park) being covered in yellow, that would make me pretty proud, and pretty pumped.”