Lewis Hamilton

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.

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.

6 storylines to watch in F1 for 2019

New rules, almost unprecedented driver movement and plenty of change means there’s no shortage of talking points for this F1 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Like your sport to have a significant shake-up between seasons? Then Formula One 2019-style is for you. The Australian Grand Prix grid in March will look very different to the one that formed for the final race of 2018 in Abu Dhabi last November, with just two of the 10 teams retaining the same drivers as last year, and the cars set to look strikingly different when they launch in Barcelona for pre-season testing in February.

Will it make any difference to the competitive order? That we don’t know, but what we can say with some assurance is that the picture will look very different in 2019. Other than world champions Mercedes and improving midfielders Haas, there’s at least one new face at every other team, while four squads have jettisoned both drivers from last year’s line-up for myriad reasons.

That, combined with regulation changes relating to the appearance (and effectiveness) of front and rear wings this season, means we have no shortage of storylines to immerse ourselves in for 2019. Who and what can’t we wait to see on track? What has us excited, optimistic, even a little wary? Here’s our top six storylines to watch for the 21-race season ahead.

6. Kubica’s comeback

There’s not a person in F1 who won’t want to see Robert Kubica’s return with Williams enjoy some degree of success in 2019, after the Pole defied the odds to make it back to the grid for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. His devastating right arm injury sustained in a rally in Andorra in early February 2011 looked to have cut short a fledgling career that had him mentioned in the same breath as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, but Kubica persisted and persisted, eventually finding his way back into the paddock as Williams’ test driver in 2018, and earning a race seat alongside F2 champion George Russell in an all-new line-up for one of the sport’s most famous teams this year. It’ll be tough sledding for Kubica (and Russell) if 2018 is any indication after Williams fell to dead-last in the constructors’ championship and managed just seven points all season, but just making it back to a race seat and bucking the odds is a triumph in itself for the 34-year-old. Is this comeback something more than a feel-good story? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, Kubica’s progress will be well worth watching.

5. Bottas under the microscope

A seat at Mercedes is the one every driver would openly (or secretively) covet, and 2019 was barely a week old before team principal Toto Wolff verbalised what everyone else already knew; that it’s time for Valtteri Bottas to step up his performances if he’s to stay alongside world champion Hamilton at the sport’s dominant team of the V6 turbo hybrid era. The 2018 stats don’t deliver complete context, but the gap between the two drivers in the same car (Hamilton had 11 wins to Bottas’ zero and outscored the Finn by 161 points) might have been a bigger story if Mercedes had lost the constructors’ championship to Ferrari, which fumbled late in the year as Hamilton surged.

With Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon cast aside by Racing Point Force India at the end of last season for Lance Stroll (after Stroll’s father Lawrence headed a consortium that purchased the team), Mercedes has a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings if Bottas doesn’t raise his game.

“Valtteri knows exactly where he needs to be,” Wolff told Autosport in early January. “He needs to have all the bad luck gone and perform on a level with Lewis. That is what is needed. He knows very well that, and he has that in him.”

Should Bottas get off to a tardy start, expect Wolff’s phone to be running hot with drivers putting their hand up for his seat.

4. The hunt for F1’s next race winner

New F1 race winners don’t come around all that often – Bottas was the 107th and most recent victor in the 69-year history of the sport when he won in Russia two seasons ago, and just six drivers have won their maiden race in the past 10 seasons. Who’s next? With respect to Pierre Gasly and his move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing this season, Charles Leclerc would have to be odds-on to be number 108; the 21-year-old Monegasque was mightily impressive in his rookie year for Sauber in 2018, and expectations are high after he was named to replace Ferrari stalwart Kimi Raikkonen at the sport’s most famous team. You’d back him to win a race or two; how will incumbent Ferrari driver and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel cope with a fast young upstart in the sister car if Leclerc can string a series of strong results together in the season’s first half?

This is a pairing that has the feel of Hamilton joining Alonso for his rookie season at McLaren in 2007, or Vettel himself playing second-fiddle to Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014. The established champion versus the rising star; can Ferrari manage that while challenging Mercedes for the big trophies once more?

3. Ricciardo + Renault = ?

Australian fans will be more interested in this one than most, but the F1 world will be watching to see whether the affable Aussie’s trademark grin dims a little as he moves away from the only F1 family he’s known to Renault, which finished just one place behind Red Bull in the 2018 constructors’ championship, but nearly 300 points adrift.

Ricciardo knows he has to play the long game, and, as he approaches his 30th birthday this July, realises that any world championship aspirations won’t be the work of a moment. What would constitute a good year for the seven-time Grand Prix winner? Defeating teammate Nico Hulkenberg over the course of the season and helping a rebuilding Renault maintain that fourth place in the teams’ chase, while narrowing the gap to F1’s ‘big three’ teams? Neither of them easy tasks, but neither out of reach either. There’ll be a lot of eyes on Ricciardo this season, and not just at his home season-opener at Albert Park.

2. Red Bull’s marriage with Honda

Max Verstappen is fast enough, experienced enough, combative enough and blessed with that ‘it’ factor that leaves few in any doubt that he could win a world championship before too long. He’s won races in each of the past three seasons, and from the mid-point of last year onwards, only Hamilton had his measure as the Dutchman finished six of the final seven races on the podium. Can that translate to a title push in his third full season with Red Bull Racing?

The team’s new partnership with Honda will largely answer that question; there’s huge optimism on both sides after Honda worked with Toro Rosso last year after switching from McLaren, and Red Bull has been making plenty of positive noises about the Japanese manufacturer’s engines in the lead-up to testing.

Lap times in the pre-season won’t tell us everything, but an early display of speed and reliability will have the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari looking over their shoulders, and the rest of us wondering what a championship battle that features Verstappen from the jump will look like.

1. New look, new rules, same results?

More simplified front and rear wings for 2019 will, at a very basic level, make it easier for cars to follow one another and cars behind not being so susceptible to the turbulent air being generated from the one in front, therefore aiding overtaking. The wider, deeper front wings represent, to Williams’ technical boss Paddy Lowe at least, the biggest aerodynamic change to the sport since 2009.

We have three rookies (Lando Norris at McLaren, Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso and Russell at Williams, plus a near-rookie in Sauber’s two-race ‘veteran’ Antonio Giovinazzi), two returnees (Kubica and Daniil Kvyat at STR) and race-winners like Ricciardo (Renault) and Raikkonen (Sauber) switching squads between seasons. There’s a lot of flux, but will any of it matter?

Hamilton and Mercedes will hope not, and the 34-year-old comes into 2019 within sight of two of the sport’s records that were thought to be untouchable – the seven world championships and 91 race wins achieved by Michael Schumacher in his glittering career. Hamilton has five of the former and 73 of the latter; he’s just 18 victories behind the German great, and has won 20 races across the past two seasons. Seeing who, if anyone, steps up to stifle his steamrolling of F1’s record books promises to be THE storyline to follow in 2019.

Who won the F1 teammate battles in 2018?

Some were close, some weren’t in the same stratosphere … F1 teammate fights were many and varied this season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s the battle within the battle in Formula One. Sure, every driver wants to win the world championship, but only one does that each year, and often the season starts with three-quarters of the grid knowing that being number one overall is out of the question. But what about being top dog within your own team? Now that’s something worth battling for …

We’ve had all kinds of F1 teammates this season; drivers at front-running teams who played little more than support roles (whether they wanted to or not); teammate fights that started one way before wildly swinging in the other direction; tandems where the drivers played nice and worked together to move their squad forwards; and teammates in name only, as the dustbin full of broken carbon fibre bits from on-track skirmishes mounted by the race …

Here, in constructors’ championship order, is how all 10 sets of F1 teammates fared against the driver in equal equipment in 2018.

Mercedes

In 2017, the first year of the Lewis Hamilton-Valtteri Bottas axis at the sport’s benchmark team, Hamilton took nine wins to Bottas’ three, and both had 13 podiums as Hamilton snared the title, Bottas finishing third and just 58 points adrift. This year, as Hamilton upped his game, Bottas couldn’t keep pace, despite being denied a pair of wins through horrid luck (a late puncture while leading in Azerbaijan) and, in hindsight, heavy-handed management (being told to gift a win to Hamilton in Russia for a title the Briton eventually won by 88 points). Hamilton’s fifth championship might have been his best yet; the gulf in almost every metric to his teammate will cause Bottas to do some soul-searching over the northern hemisphere winter.

Qualifying H2H: Hamilton 15, Bottas 6
Race H2H (both finished): Hamilton 16, Bottas 3
Best result: Hamilton 1st (11 times), Bottas 2nd (seven times)
Points: Hamilton 408 (1st), Bottas 247 (5th)
Podiums: Hamilton 17, Bottas 8
Avg. grid position: Hamilton 2nd, Bottas 4th
Avg. race finish: Hamilton 2nd, Bottas 4th

Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel’s season was one of high highs (five wins in the first 13 races) and deep lows (numerous on-track mistakes and zero wins in the final eight races), while Kimi Raikkonen’s year was more steadily consistent without ever threatening to challenge his teammate on raw pace, as their qualifying chasm suggests. Both had 12 podiums, but when you consider that eight of the Finn’s were for third place, it’s plain to see Vettel was Ferrari’s undisputed number one for the fourth and final year of this pairing.

Qualifying H2H: Vettel 17, Raikkonen 4
Race H2H (both finished): Vettel 9, Raikkonen 8
Best result: Vettel 1st (five times), Raikkonen 1st (once)
Points: Vettel 320 (2nd), Raikkonen 251 (3rd)
Podiums: Vettel 12, Raikkonen 12
Avg grid position: Vettel 3rd, Raikkonen 4th
Avg. race finish: Vettel 3rd, Raikkonen 3rd

Red Bull Racing

Judging this early in 2018, Daniel Ricciardo held sway, and it wasn’t close – the Australian won two of the year’s first six Grands Prix, while teammate Max Verstappen was spinning, hitting rivals or barriers, and generally finding new ways to squander points. From then on, the Dutchman delivered; 37 points behind Ricciardo’s tally after Monaco, he out-scored him 214 points to 98 the rest of the way, aided to some degree to Ricciardo’s six retirements (to two) for the remainder of the campaign. One-lap pace was all Verstappen too, finishing the year well ahead of Ricciardo despite qualifying behind him in two of the final three races.

Qualifying H2H: Verstappen 15, Ricciardo 6
Races H2H (both finished): Verstappen 8, Ricciardo 3
Best result: Verstappen 1st (twice), Ricciardo 1st (twice)
Points: Verstappen 249 (4th), Ricciardo 170 (6th)
Podiums: Verstappen 11, Ricciardo 2
Avg. grid position: Verstappen 7th, Ricciardo 7th
Avg. race finish: Verstappen 3rd, Ricciardo 4th

Renault

Carlos Sainz doesn’t lack for raw pace, so it says much for how good Nico Hulkenberg was this year that the German out-scored, out-raced and out-qualified the Spaniard in their one full season as teammates before Sainz heads to McLaren for 2019. The points gap between them, on pace, should have been far greater, but seven retirements for Hulkenberg to his teammates two made the difference 16 points and three places in the standings. After making mincemeat of Jolyon Palmer and seeing off Sainz in his first two Renault seasons, the arrival of Ricciardo will up the stakes for Hulkenberg in 2019.

Qualifying H2H: Hulkenberg 13, Sainz
Race H2H (both finished): Hulkenberg 7, Sainz 4
Best result: Hulkenberg 5th, Sainz 5th
Points: Hulkenberg 69 (7th), Sainz 53 (10th)
Avg. grid position: Hulkenberg 11th, Sainz 10th
Avg. race finish: Hulkenberg 8th, Sainz 9th

Haas

Kevin Magnussen scored 60 per cent of Haas’ 93 points that saw the American team achieve its best constructors’ championship finish (fifth), but the contest between the Dane and teammate Romain Grosjean was closer than that. This was the closest qualifying head-to-head on the grid (11-10 to Magnussen, with an average gap of just 0.009secs), and while Magnussen scored more often, Grosjean finished better when both drivers saw the flag. This is a well-matched mixture of styles and personalities, which probably explains why Haas is one of just two teams (along with Mercedes) to retain the same drivers next season.

Qualifying H2H: Magnussen 11, Grosjean 10
Race H2H (both finished): Grosjean 6, Magnussen 5
Best result: Grosjean 4th, Magnussen 5th (twice)
Points: Magnussen 56 (9th), Grosjean 37 (14th)
Avg. grid position: Magnussen 11th, Grosjean 10th
Avg. race finish: Magnussen 10th, Grosjean 11th

McLaren

For much of 2018, McLaren was only faster on raw pace than Williams, which finished dead last in the constructors’ championship and had its drivers occupy two of the final three places in the standings. So how did McLaren finish sixth overall? Stoffel Vandoorne’s pace was underwhelming but largely representative of what he was driving; teammate Fernando Alonso bent the machinery he was given to his will by out-qualifying Vandoorne in every race (and 37-3 in two years in the same car) and scoring 81 per cent of his team’s points despite six retirements to the Belgian’s two.

Qualifying H2H: Alonso 21, Vandoorne 0
Race H2H (both finished): Alonso 6, Vandoorne 2
Best result: Alonso 5th, Vandoorne 8th (twice)
Points: Alonso 50 (11th), Vandoorne 12 (16th)
Avg. grid position: Alonso 13th, Vandoorne 17th
Avg. race finish: Alonso 10th, Vandoorne 13th

Racing Point Force India

Sergio Perez scored more points than Esteban Ocon for the second year running, and snaffled the only podium for a driver outside of the ‘big three’ teams (Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull) when he came third in Baku, the chaotic type of race he always seems to shine in. So why did Ocon have the Mexican’s measure? The Frenchman’s head-to-head advantage in qualifying was significant, and while both drivers only finished in the same race 13 times, Ocon was usually seeing the chequered flag first. Five non-finishes for Ocon compared to his teammate’s two does much to explain their narrow points gap after 21 Grands Prix.

Qualifying H2H: Ocon 16, Perez 5
Race H2H (both finished): Ocon 9, Perez 4
Best result: Perez 3rd, Ocon 6th (four times)
Points: Perez 62 (8th), Ocon 49 (12th)
Podiums: Perez 1, Ocon 0
Avg. grid position: Perez 11th, Ocon 10th
Avg. race finish: Perez 10th, Ocon 9th

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson was rarely described as slow in his five-year F1 tenure; inconsistent, perhaps, but there’s no denying the Swede can be rapid. Which is why so many, including Ferrari, were so excited about what Charles Leclerc did in his rookie season alongside Ericsson. After a so-so start, Leclerc finished sixth in Azerbaijan in round four, and didn’t see Ericsson for dust much thereafter. The final qualifying tally and margin between the two (Leclerc was 0.327secs on average faster, the second-biggest gap between teammates behind Alonso-Vandoorne at McLaren) was impressive; spearheading Sauber’s climb from the foot of the constructors’ table as a debutant might have been a greater achievement.

Qualifying H2H: Leclerc 17, Ericsson 4
Race H2H (both finished): Leclerc 6, Ericsson 3
Best result: Leclerc 6th, Ericsson 9th (three times)
Points: Leclerc 39 (13th), Ericsson 9 (17th)
Avg. grid position: Leclerc 12th, Ericsson 16th
Avg. race finish: Leclerc 10th, Ericsson 12th

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Remember what we said about teammates playing nice? That definitely wasn’t the case at Toro Rosso with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley (just Google their radio exchange in Brazil), while the standings paint an equally nasty picture for Hartley, the New Zealander losing his F1 drive at the end of the season while Gasly was promoted into Ricciardo’s vacated Red Bull cockpit. Gasly scored 88 per cent of Toro Rosso’s points (the largest contribution by one driver to their team’s tally), and his fourth place in just the second race of the year in Bahrain meant this inter-team fight was over early.

Qualifying H2H: Gasly 15, Hartley 6
Race H2H (both finished): Gasly 6, Hartley 4
Best result: Gasly 4th, Hartley 9th
Points: Gasly 29 (15th), Hartley 4 (19th)
Avg. grid position: Gasly 13th, Hartley 15th
Avg. race finish: Gasly 11th, Hartley 13th

Williams

How far and how fast did Williams fall in 2018? The year prior, the team finished fifth in the constructors’ championship with 83 points; this season, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin scored seven points total between them as Williams finished last, with one point fewer than the team managed in the first race of 2017 in Australia … It’s tempting to say there were no winners here, but Stroll just gets the nod by virtue of scoring more points (largely through his annual strong showing in Azerbaijan) and retaining a spot on the grid for next year with Racing Point Force India thanks wholly to his father’s acquisition of the team.

Qualifying H2H: Sirotkin 13, Stroll 8
Race H2H (both finished): Stroll 9, Sirotkin 8
Best result: Stroll 8th, Sirotkin 10th
Points: Stroll 6 (18th), Sirotkin 1 (20th)
Avg. grid position: Stroll 17th, Sirotkin 17th
Avg. race finish: Stroll 13th, Sirotkin 15th