Lewis Hamilton

Great Briton, greatest ever?

Lewis Hamilton first offered a sign that he could be something special one corner into his first Grand Prix; since, his speed and sense of timing could soon see him become the best driver in F1 history.


What if you could be both lucky and good? Lewis Hamilton has emphatically proved himself to be the latter; 73 Formula One wins and five world titles have this Great Briton on the podium in any conversation debating the ‘best-ever’ question in the world’s highest-profile motorsport category.

But fortunate? If being in the right place at the right time is any indicator of success, Hamilton is the modern-day master of F1; combine ferocious talent with infallible timing, and the result is a period of dominance that, by the end of 2019, the 70-year story of the sport may have never seen.

Mercedes arrived in Melbourne for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix with Ferrari in its crosshairs; not just at the first race of the year, after the Scuderia established itself as the team to beat after 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona last month, but in the sport’s history books. From 1999-2004, a Michael Schumacher-led Ferrari led the famous Italian team on a red rampage, annexing six F1 constructors’ titles and five drivers’ championships in succession to turn what had been a ‘big three’ along with Williams and McLaren into a one Prancing Horse race.

By the end of this season, Hamilton and the Silver Arrows can match that haul, and in a manner that could see the 34-year-old on the way to overhauling Schumacher-set records that seemed unattainable when the German great took the chequered flag for the final time at the end of 2012. Or were they?

It took all of 249 metres, the distance from the start-finish line to the first corner at Albert Park, for Hamilton to offer a portent of what might follow in his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne in 2007. The McLaren rookie turned heads when he qualified fourth on Saturday; fast-forward 24 hours, and Hamilton finished on the podium in third, ambushing McLaren teammate and reigning two-time world champion Fernando Alonso into the tight first turn, his first corner of his first lap of his first F1 race. Even now, it’s a memory that Hamilton holds dear.

“I remember the build-up to the Grand Prix and all the pressure, so in that way the first corner couldn’t have gone better,” he said.

“If I’d started first, it wouldn’t have been as epic. I started fourth, went back to fifth, and came out third into turn one, and overtook the two-time world champion at the time. As a rookie, it couldn’t have been better.

“I thought there was no way to stay inside so I went left, and managed to out-brake everyone and get a couple of places.

“I had Fernando behind me for a long time and it’s pretty tough when you have a two-time champion behind you, especially in the first race.

“In many ways that was the first stepping stone to being where I am today, the first chapter of the story. To be in F1 is a dream, but to go in your first race and have a third is something that you don’t expect.”

As he prepares to start his 13th Formula One season this afternoon, Hamilton has every reason to expect that – and more – after being the lynchpin of Mercedes’ masterclass ever since F1 ditched normally-aspirated V8 engines for V6 turbo hybrid power plants in 2014.

Today’s cars are the fastest, if not the loudest, in F1 history, and Hamilton has used his to devastating effect over the past five years, which have yielded four championships to add to his sole success at McLaren in 2008. He’s rapidly assembling a set of statistics that make for depressing reading for the rest of the field.

Of the 100 races contested since the new era dawned in Melbourne 2014, Mercedes has won 74, Hamilton taking 51 of them. For context, Alain Prost, the French great who won four world titles, won 51 in his entire career. Prost’s bitter rival Ayrton Senna, the driver who inspired Hamilton as a karting prodigy and whose striking yellow helmet colour the Briton adopted when he made it to F1, won 10 fewer Grands Prix before his death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

Prost, like Senna, did plenty of his winning for McLaren, the once-great team that has fallen on hard times after – and perhaps not coincidentally – Hamilton left for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season. That 2012 finale in Brazil, won by Hamilton’s teammate and compatriot Jenson Button, was the most recent of McLaren’s 182 Grand Prix victories; not since Australia 2014, where Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification opened the door for Button to join rookie teammate Kevin Magnussen on the podium, has a McLaren driver finished a single race inside the top three.

McLaren has used Mercedes, Honda and now Renault engines in the years since Hamilton’s departure and re-employed double world champion Alonso after his stint at Ferrari went sour in 2014, but has taken a pair of podium finishes in the time Hamilton has amassed 85 top-three results and four championships, the two British giants heading in opposite directions.

Hamilton equalled Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio as a five-time world champion last year, an achievement that left the often-loquacious Mercedes man struggling to find the right words, while praising the efforts of his team to help him match the sport’s earliest maestro.

“When you think of Fangio, who for me is the godfather of racing drivers, he had five world championships and I have five as well … it doesn’t connect at the moment,” he said.

“It doesn’t feel real, but I am humbled and grateful to all the people around me, because there have been a lot of them along the journey.

“I feel like I can drive anything and I feel I can take the car to places that nobody else can, but to do that, you have to get the car in the right place. That means you’ve got to work with the team, help unleash what’s great within them so that you can unleash the greatness in yourself.”

Can that greatness eventually become greatest? Nico Rosberg, who retired immediately after edging teammate and former childhood friend Hamilton to the world title in 2016, cast his mind towards Schumacher’s 91 victories and seven titles the moment Hamilton took his fifth crown in Mexico last October.

“He can seriously go for Schumacher’s records now,” Rosberg, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports in the UK, said.

“He’s got two more years on the contract, and ‘Schumi’ is only two titles away, under 20 race wins away. That’s possible in two years.

“It’s amazing. He can really try to become statistically the best of all-time, which is unreal. But it is a possibility, and I’m sure he’s going to be motivated by that.”


Pole for Hamilton, anguish for Ricciardo

Mercedes world champion experiences the joy of six in Melbourne, while Renault’s local hope misses the top 10 by the slimmest of margins.


The more things change, the more they stay the same in Formula One in Melbourne; after an off-season of regulation changes concocted to slow the cars down, altered driver line-ups throughout the grid and Ferrari laying down a formidable marker in pre-season testing, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes again stepped to the fore when it mattered on Saturday, the five-time world champion taking his sixth consecutive Albert Park pole position.

Now for the tough part; converting it when it counts.

After leading all three practice sessions in the lead-up to qualifying, Hamilton went to a new level when it counted on Saturday afternoon, his eighth Melbourne pole setting a new circuit record, a 1min 20.486sec lap coming with his final blast as the chequered flag fell.

Hamilton’s eighth Australian pole matches Ayrton Senna’s eight poles at Imola and Michael Schumacher’s eight at Suzuka for the most poles by one driver at one circuit in F1 history.

For all of that speed, the 34-year-old Briton has won just twice in Australia; in a period of dominance where Hamilton has won 51 of the 100 races since the advent of F1’s V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, the Mercedes man has won just once (2015) here in the past five years.

On the strength of Saturday’s showing, Hamilton’s rivals will have to hope his love-hate relationship with Albert Park extends for another year.

“Coming from winter testing we had no idea where we would be,” Hamilton said.

“I felt good that we had a decent package to work with, but we were aware that we might be slightly behind (Ferrari). From then to now we have not changed the car, we have understood it more. It’s a real shock, when you look at the GPS and the mid-speed corners, and the data from Barcelona. I am really, really grateful for where our car is … the guys at the factory have been working so hard.”

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who played second-fiddle at Mercedes last year after not winning a race while Hamilton took 11 victories, was just 0.112secs adrift after taking provisional pole before Hamilton’s late improvement.

While Mercedes were exultant, Ferrari was left crestfallen after its pre-season pace from testing in Barcelona proved to be a false dawn. Sebastian Vettel was third on the grid, but light years behind his long-time title foe Hamilton, the German finishing over seven-tenths of a second adrift.

New Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was fifth and nearly a full second behind Hamilton, the two Ferraris split by a last-gasp lap by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who slotted his Honda-powered machine into fourth place, but half a second from pole.

“I am certainly surprised, everyone is, probably even themselves,” Vettel said of Mercedes’ pace.

“There’s homework for us to do to understand. We should be better than this, but tomorrow is a new day. The gap is there today, it was a surprise, we didn’t expect it coming here.

“I don’t think the straight line (speed) is a problem, I think we are just losing in the corners.”

For Verstappen’s former teammate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, qualifying came to an agonising end, the Renault driver missing the final top-10 shootout for pole by just 0.038secs, meaning he’ll start Sunday’s 58-lap race from 12th on the grid. The 29-year-old was out-paced by new teammate Nico Hulkenberg by 0.008secs, but there were few smiles at Renault after last year’s fourth-best team failed to have one of its drivers make Q3.

Mercedes and midfield team Haas were the only teams to not switch one or both drivers over the off-season, while new rules brought in for 2019 mandating wider, higher front wings and more simplified rear wings hoped to reduce downforce and make the cars slower, and easier for drivers to follow one another in an attempt to overtake. Ferrari estimated before the pre-season that cars would initially be slowed by 1.5secs per lap as the teams got their heads around regulations, but nobody clearly told Mercedes, Hamilton’s pole lap was nearly seven-tenths of a second faster than the fastest lap of the 5.3km Albert Park layout he set in qualifying 12 months ago.

While Hamilton’s lap confirmed theories that Mercedes had been keeping its powder dry in pre-season testing, Vettel and Ferrari could take some solace in the fact that race day is what counts, and the Scuderia has shone on Sundays in Australia for the past two years, Vettel winning both races.

Last year’s race featured just five on-track overtakes in 58 laps, suggesting that winning pole is more than half the battle, but Vettel jumped Hamilton in the pits during a mid-race safety car period to steal his fourth victory in Australia.

Ricciardo, like his former Red Bull teammate Vettel, will be pinning his hopes on race day, and his Melbourne history suggests he has reason to be optimistic. In every race he’s completed at home, he’s finished ahead of where he started, and Renault’s encouraging long-run pace in Friday practice should see him aiming for solid points in his first race for a new team in six years.

“Half a tenth (of a second), you can always find that as a driver, so I blame myself before I blame the car,” Ricciardo said, explaining that he didn’t feel he had the necessary grip to really attack Albert Park’s tricky first corner on his final qualifying lap.

“I just felt the tyres were a bit cold; opening the lap I didn’t really have that much confidence getting into turn one, so I lost the time there. In hindsight, I think the grip was there to go quicker. It’s always painful when you know you haven’t got 100 per cent out of it.

“I race first and foremost for myself, but part of me was bummed for the crowd. I know they would have loved to see me in Q3, and I came up short for them.”

While matching his career-best result in Australia with a fourth place appears to be a bridge too far for Ricciardo in Sunday’s race, he’s bullish that he can move forward.

“I definitely think we can be in the points, points plural rather than a point, so better than 10th. I think we have the car for it; if we could have got into Q3, we had a car good enough for eighth today. That’s what we’ll target in the race.”

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.


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.

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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.