With the final pre-season test of the 2020 F1 season complete, here’s what the first running of the new season showed us about each of the teams.
The world champions demonstrated impressive performance in the first test: Valtteri Bottas’s 1’15.732 on day three remained unbeaten throughout the second week – no one else got within half a second of it. But over the final three days a potential chink in their armour appeared.
Customers Williams had already been forced to change their M11 power unit twice when Lewis Hamilton suffered a session-ending glitch on the fifth day of running. He said afterwards the team had a “difficult winter” with its power unit.
“I think we’ve had a good winter test,” he said. “It’s not been perfect. I think we found that we’ve got plenty of problems that we’re trying to iron out. I don’t know how long it will take to iron out, but that’s never a bad thing necessarily to discover them through testing.
“Otherwise I think our performance has been good in the sense of laps we’ve got, the mileage, apart from [Thursday] and the actual process and the things we’ve discovered along the way. I have no idea where we stand compared to others, the team probably will have a better idea of that.”
Their rivals probably have a good idea as well. There wasn’t a point throughout the test when it didn’t look as though Mercedes were capable of laying down a session-topping time if they chose to.
The W11 departs from its predecessor in a few significant respects, including its revised sidepods, overhauled rear suspension and, of course, innovative and boundary-pushing Dual Axis Steering system. By the end of the test, Hamilton felt he had a good handle on the new car, which doesn’t bode well for those hoping to keep him from a record-equalling seventh world title.
“I think I understand the car,” he said on the final day. “I’m comfortable, confident in terms of getting into the car in Melbourne and knowing that I’ll be able to attack an extract the most from it. Whether that’s going to be enough to be ahead of others, we’ll find out.”
From the outset Ferrari said the goal of the SF1000 was for it to produce more downforce. This appears to have been achieved – Charles Leclerc pointed to their improved performance through the slow, twisty final sector, which bodes well for their performance at tracks where they struggled last year.
But that nagging question over their straight-line performance remains. Team principal Mattia Binotto stressed they are not the pace setters, but after the disappointed they suffered last year after a strong winter showing, he has every reason to play down their potential.
“I said [in week one] was not as was as optimistic as it was last year,” he said on Friday. “I think I can confirm it. We are certainly not the fastest car at least here in Barcelona during winter testing.
“I think our main competitors are certainly faster. But again, as I said last year, I think it’s only the start of the long season. There would be time I think to address in terms of develop where we believe that we are eventually in two weeks.
“We have been overall quite reliable, which was one of the goals. Obviously this session is not concluded but I think overall, that’s where we putting all the efforts through the winter and in that respect it’s positive.”
When the chequered flag came down on the test Ferrari was the only team which had not lapped quicker than either last year’s race or grand prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
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[smr2020test]Red Bull left it until the afternoon of the final day of testing to tap the performance of their RB16. Once they did, they produced the kind of pace which many long suspected they had up their sleeves.
Max Verstappen did a series of runs on progressively softer tyres. His lap on C5s did not produce a session-topping time, but his C4 lap left him within touching distance of Bottas’s Mercedes.
That said rather more about the car’s potential than Verstappen did all week with his brief and vague comments. The only driver who gave less away about his car was Kimi Raikkonen, and that was because he kept cancelling his media appointments.
“I think it’s been a pretty positive pre-season for us,” summed up team principal Christian Horner. “We did plenty of mileage last week. This week we’ve been focussing on looking at some development bits and pieces, but generally it’s been a very positive experience.”
The outward signs bore that out. The car ran reliably on the whole, though one Honda power unit was changed as a precaution in week one. The team which finished the first race of last year runner-up to Mercedes look at minimum capable of doing the same again in two week’s time.
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The McLaren drivers are wary of the threat from the ‘pink Mercedes’ and ‘white Bull’. Lando Norris struck a cautious note about the MCL35 after a tricky day in the car on Thursday, when conditions were particularly windy.
“I’m very happy with things and the progress we’ve made since last week,” he said after his last run in the car, “but because of other things like the wind it’s been very hard to get a good feeling of what the car’s like.
“But at the same time, if this is a race weekend and it’s this windy, then it’s just something you’ve got to deal with. And I think that’s one of the areas we have to work on as a team because from what I see, it’s hard to know, the other teams have strengths or less weaknesses in those areas.”
While Carlos Sainz Jnr improved the team’s lap time on Friday, the team’s concerns about the potential of Racing Point at least appeared to be borne out. Norris drew encouragement from the team’s understanding of its weaknesses.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I think we have an understanding at least of what the car’s good at, what it’s not good at. And those areas that we have to work on I think is very clear.”
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Daniel Ricciardo’s lap of 1’16.276 put Renault in among Red Bull and Ferrari at the end of testing. But that effort will look like a glory run if they’re still mired in the midfield come Melbourne. Team mate Esteban Ocon put in a lap within two-tenths of a second of his team mate, however.
Renault’s run plan apparently involved less lapping than their rivals, though they ended up neck-and-neck with Red Bull in terms of the amount of laps covered. The beginning of their 2019 campaign was badly compromised by power unit problems, but the signs are they should be in better shape this year.
“The RS20 ran well and pretty much as we expected, courtesy of the progress made by Enstone and Viry over the winter to ensure all parts were delivered to the track to a high standard and in good time,” said team principal Cyril Abiteboul. “This preparation meant we were well placed to complete all major test items with little fault over the two weeks.
“We initially concentrated on assessing the main characteristics of our package and determining reliability levels across chassis and engine, before working through different set-up options with some ideas proving interesting and others not. We can be very pleased with the reliability of the engine with one power unit being used for each us and our customer, McLaren, throughout the six days.”
The RS20 is visibly a major departure from its predecessor. Renault say their goal for this year is to begin the season having made a major step forward which will allow them to switch their efforts to the 2021 programme earlier.
Abiteboul insists the team has made the progress it expected. “Our absolute performance level is in line with our expectations from the winter gains,” he said, “a positive sign of the correlation level between our development facilities and the track, something that will be crucial for the very aggressive development plan we have in place.”
AlphaTauri showed little outward sign of improvement compared to 12 months ago (when it was Toro Rosso). Team principal Franz Tost said the AT01 is “a reasonably good car from the mechanical side” and they are “quite satisfied from the aero side.”
“Maybe we have to find something against the under-steering,” he added. “But generally speaking, the car is working as expected.”
The team expects to pick up where it left off last year in the thick of the midfield.
“It’s too early to say exactly where we think we are relative to the top three,” said technical director Jody Egginton. “But the midfield is fantastically tight and we believe we’re right in that mix there.
“Exactly how that pans out it’s difficult to say. As it was difficult to say last winter as well. But it’s a big, tight midfield, that’s for sure.”
Racing Point’s change of philosophy from a Red Bull-style high-rake concept to a clearly Mercedes-inspired design is a gamble for the team. But everything it has done since Lawrence Stroll took over the team in mid-2018 has been with this goal in mind.
The team is more than quietly confident that the risk has reaped rewards. “I’d be lying if we said we weren’t happy with where we were,” said technical director Andrew Green. “We are happy.
“The level of performance that we’re seeing from the car is sort of as we expected after we got the data out of the tunnel and put it in the simulator. When the drivers drove the car a couple of weeks ago, they were massively enthusiastic about it. So they were prepared for what was to come.
“We were just unsure whether we were going to realise the full potential of what we’d seen in the simulation work. Everything that we’ve seen so far suggests that we’ve transferred across from the model side to full size.”
The car’s potential has not been lost on its rivals, either. “Racing Point have been very quick the whole of the two weeks,” said Sainz. “They hit the track on the first day and they did a 17.3. And since then they haven’t improved much because I don’t think they wanted to. But that 17.3 on the first day I think impressed all of us and there are going to be quick, very quick.”
Robert Kubica raved about the joys of experiencing downforce again after his run in the Alfa Romeo on Wednesday, when he set the team’s best time of the entire test, an outcome which must have pleased new major sponsor PKN Orlen.
However the rest of the picture is more mixed. The team ran quite reliably – which is vital as they are still operating without a simulator – but lost some running on Thursday when Antonio Giovinazzi backed his C39 into a barrier.
Both Ferrari customers ended the test at the bottom of the times, which adds more weight to the theory that the latest Maranello power unit has lost some of its edge compared to last season.
Haas has been especially cautious with its approach to testing after losing its way soon after the start of last season. There is some cautious optimism that they may have avoided falling into the same tyre performance trap as they did with the VF-19.
“It is difficult to compare because the car is different,” said team principal Guenther Steiner, “but it seems to be a lot more manageable, the tyre, with this car.
“We need to go through the data to see what did what because we started slow, we started fast and now we just need to analyse. But it seems to be a lot more you can manage it better.”
Kevin Magnussen added to the impression that however the VF-20 is, the most important thing is it’s a departure from what they had last year.
“It’s a new car, so they react different and there’s something to learn there,” he said. “But it’s kind of a good sign that it’s different, it’s not just the same.”
“It seemed like we were very, quick in the first laps and then fell off, which I guess was a little bit like last year,” he continued. “But not really, because we were very, very fast in the first couple of laps and then on one stint I held back a little bit on those first laps and then my standard was way more consistent, which wasn’t really possible last year.
“So it is different. And there’s a lot to learn because it’s different, we need to learn where we are and how to manage it.”
If Williams really are the seventh-fastest team in F1 now, as the raw times indicate, that is a massive improvement over last year. Realistically, they may have at least brought the midfield back within range, which will be a relief.
Losing a considerable amount of time due to a series of problems with its Mercedes power unit, which Williams insist were completely out of their hands, took the shine off their testing performance. But after the nightmare they went through last year, this was at least a respectable showing.
The team has addressed the major weaknesses of last year’s car with a design which is a polish evolution of it. “Certainly the one of the biggest differences is the build quality as has changed dramatically from this time last year,” said deputy team principal Claire Williams. “That’s been really great to see, bringing a car that’s in really good shape, that comes out the box to a very high standard of which we should be proud at Williams.”
The drivers gave slightly more mixed feedback. But unlike 12 months ago, Williams seems to be back in the running, instead of occupying a third tier of its own, lagging well off the pace.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
2020 F1 season
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41 comments on “What the final test told us about each of the teams”
Pinak Ghosh (@pinakghosh)
29th February 2020, 9:41
Mercedes has again produced a fast and fairly reliable car. Its a question of who comes next.
29th February 2020, 9:59
Same old same old nobody really knows owt till 1st race. Hopefully merc doesn’t walk away with it all again.
29th February 2020, 12:00
Fast chassis; not so reliable PU (yet), @pinakghosh.
Pinak Ghosh (@pinakghosh)
29th February 2020, 12:42
Most Laps In Testing
466 – Hamilton
446 – Sainz
442 – Leclerc
441 – Perez
437 – Bottas
414 – Verstappen
Three Mercedes powered drivers. That’s encouraging in terms of mileage. But yes there were technical issues too.
29th February 2020, 15:56
It’s not the drivers who are unrelable but the PU, @pinakghosh.
Do a miles per PU and your table looks different.
29th February 2020, 15:50
My pecking order:
Alfa Tauri/Alfa Romeo
29th February 2020, 9:50
lmao, Verstappen never ever ran the C5’s. Great journalism
29th February 2020, 11:50
JI, you will find that Verstappen is widely reported as using the C5 tyre compound on the final day, with several members of this forum also commenting on Verstappen’s performance on the C5 tyre as well (noting that he’d looked competitive when he did his run, only to then have a rather poor final sector).
29th February 2020, 15:48
Verstappen said in an interview with Ziggo yesterday, that he only used the C4..so if you don’t mind, I tend to believe Verstappen in this one
1st March 2020, 20:51
He only ran C4. Still his C2 lap was most impressive…only 2 tenths off.
29th February 2020, 13:07
Agreed, there was a short mention of a C5 during the test. But the tire was shown as c4 later.
So i agree, no C5 used by RBR.
29th February 2020, 13:22
Another thing to note is that while there was an engine change at one point. It was precautionary and changed back immediately afterwards when they found no fault in it.
2nd March 2020, 10:27
I also read multiple reports he lifted a bit on the two straights on his C4-runs.
Stephen Crowsen (@drycrust)
29th February 2020, 10:04
I’m looking forward to seeing how Racing Point perform at Melbourne.
29th February 2020, 10:38
I just think Ferrari learned points aren’t scored pre-season.
Mercedes has been sandbagging for years and always turned out to be fast in Melbourne. Ferrari was fast in testing and then let the hypetrain derail immediately. in 2016, they didn’t even win a race, in 2017 and 18 they fell away over the season, and in 2019 they weren’t that competative either. I’m expecting them to show their true pace in Australia.
29th February 2020, 12:02
I’m expecting all teams to enter through the open door and ‘show their true pace in Australia’ ;)
1st March 2020, 9:25
Nah, backdoor and they will all sandbag for the first race :-P
2nd March 2020, 20:35
Apologies for the pedantics, @justarandomdutchguy, but I don’t think Merc has sandbagged in preseason testing at all. I think they have a different focus than setting purple sectors. If they are testing long-term reliability, correlating wind tunnel and CFD data with track data, or otherwise ensuring that they know what they need to know about the car–then I’m not sure that really qualifies as sandbagging.
I don’t think most people think the top teams sandbag during Q1 each weekend. If they don’t have to turn their power units up to 11, why would they?
I get what you are saying, that they aren’t showing their hand, right? But again, why would they?
2nd March 2020, 20:46
The last few years Mercedes have been actively playing down their chances though and they’ve regularily looked less threatenging in pre-season testing than in season, regardless of reason.
Just look at last year. Ferrari looked like the team to beat; they got curbstomped for 2/3 of the season and were a very distant second in the championship, with both drivers losing out not only to Bottas and Hamilton, but also Verstappen. They were also the fastest in 2016, 17 and 18. They did not even win a race in 2016. Ferrari has always looked superfast, and they frequently dissapoint. Mercedes has no reason to show just how good they are, but neither had Ferrari. And what I’m implying is that they might’ve learned that lesson. I’m fully expecting them to be good once the season starts.
Mercedes probably has their reasons to not run superfast times. Who knows, who am I to judge
29th February 2020, 11:22
I estimate this the pecking order:
Mercedes / Red Bull
McLaren / Pink Mercedes / White Bull
He is the one
29th February 2020, 13:25
Pink Merc or Copy Point
29th February 2020, 16:02
2nd March 2020, 8:49
Srdjan Mandic (@srga91)
29th February 2020, 11:51
Alfa Romeo/Alpha Tauri (isn’t that a coincidence :-))
29th February 2020, 12:43
My 2 cents:
Red Bull (very close to the Merc though)
Ferrari (but closer to RB than many seem to think right now)
Pink Mercedes (cause its a pink Mercedes, although I do like the name Tracing Point for this team)
McLaren & Renault
Haas (though as an American, I hope they get their shit together. And they can start by dumping both drivers)
From Tracing Point (love it) down, it will be very very tight. And as much as I do not care for either of Tracing Point’s drivers I would love to see them upset Ferrari the first few races.
29th February 2020, 21:30
As an American F1 fan, I also hope Haas does well. Perhaps they are now about where they should have been all along. Their earlier successes were partly down to other mid-pac teams doing really badly for a few years, like McLaren, Renault, Williams and Sauber. Now those are back to more their normal levels of performance Haas is a bit behind them, but not much. The Ferrari engine issue is troubling, perhaps not our strongpoint anymore. Our drivers are about average, experienced but not that quick. Trading up would be expensive, but for next year.
1st March 2020, 10:31
Tracing Point, lol
Pinak Ghosh (@pinakghosh)
29th February 2020, 12:45
Is Renault going to keep an all black livery?
29th February 2020, 14:20
@pinakghosh Unless I’m mistaken, I think it was implied at their launch that the black was just a testing livery and that they’d be going back to a primarily yellow livery again come Australia.
Pinak Ghosh (@pinakghosh)
29th February 2020, 14:36
I hope so.
1st March 2020, 10:32
Me too @pinakghosh
1st March 2020, 7:45
Ocon mentioned in week two testing that they were unveiling a new sponsor and livery before the Aussie GP.
29th February 2020, 17:21
Despite being happy to see Force India being saved I can’t help but despise the idea that ultra richs always buy their way through the fields without shame, should it entirely plagiarize another one’s idea.
But they’re part of the same brutal F1 where massive outspendings are a ticket to win. Hopefully 2021 will bring some fresh air and Stroll will have to show more talent than money at some point.
1st March 2020, 17:06
@spoutnik I don’t think Lawrence Stroll really was responsible in any way for Racing Point’s car design and philosophy.
1st March 2020, 19:50
@mashiat perhaps, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence either? He’s got the millions, whoever with little ethics suggested a carbon print and he agreed. Just wanted to point that he came, then something expensive and borderline ethical is happening. Money wins everything. I reckon I may have been a bit sour but it was my feeling.
29th February 2020, 21:37
Williams new car is a polish evolution? So Robert’s input really was important then.
29th February 2020, 22:05
The guys at Haas doesn’t look too confident, do they?
It’s like they could barely solve the issues of the previous car.
Srdjan Mandic (@srga91)
1st March 2020, 8:10
Don’t judge them by their performance runs! They don’t mean anything.
Grosjean had a very strong race sim on the final day, which was comparable to those of RP and McLaren. Haas are a whole lot quicker than the laptimes suggest!
1st March 2020, 9:29
Hope the mid field gets some podiums, and is Seb going to crack under pressure again this year..looking forward to the ocon/Ric battle.
1st March 2020, 15:00
I wonder if this year will be the tightest field ever? As in least difference between fastest and slowest?
1st March 2020, 17:07
@balue Very much doubt it. Will be hard to beat the likes of 2009.
Comments are closed.