As new eras in Formula One go, the 2017 season didn’t look all that different from its predecessors when it got underway in Barcelona today.
Right from the off, new Mercedes signing Valtteri Bottas made it clear the Silver Arrows would not be caught napping this year, as he piloted his new W08 to a total of 79 laps and respectable sixth-fastest time of 1:23.169s.
Nor were things any different when the Finn handed his car over to Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon. As the track conditions improved, Hamilton brought Mercedes’ total lap count up to 152 and clocked a 1:21.765s lap—the eventual benchmark of the day, and a full second faster than the best time of last year’s entire testing season.
If that sounds like gloomy news for Mercedes’ rivals, it should be—from the outside, it looks as though nothing has changed for the defending champions.
But there were promising signs from Ferrari, even if they didn’t top the timesheets as they did last year. All in all, the first impressions of the SF70-H are that it is a much less finicky machine than last year’s Prancing Horse, judging by Sebastian Vettel’s 122 laps and the mere tenth of a second separating him from Hamilton’s standard—even more noteworthy considering Vettel’s time was set on harder tyres.
Also impressive was Williams, with Felipe Massa eschewing retirement in some fashion to finish the day third fastest and just three tenths off the pace.
But on the other end of the scale, Monday was a trying start to the season for Red Bull and McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo’s morning was blighted by sensor and battery issues with his RB13 that limited him to just four laps before lunch, whereas Fernando Alonso lost almost the entire morning to a problem with his Honda engine’s oil system.
Sergio Pérez also had his running hampered when his VJM10’s exhaust broke in the afternoon, and finished just seventh fastest with 39 laps on the board. Behind him, fellow midfielders Toro Rosso, Renault and Sauber lined up more or less as they had in 2016—although Kevin Magnussen punched above his weight in his first outing for Haas, with a late run on softs lifting the Dane up to fourth.
James Matthews, Editor-at-Large