F1 2018: French Grand Prix Returns After 10-Year Absence

The French Grand Prix returns to Paul Ricard this week, ten years after the last race in the country was held. Spare a thought for all the teams, who will no doubt be bracing themselves for the prospect of Formula One’s first ever triple-header, with the French, Austrian and British Grand Prix all taking place over the coming weekends.

Last time out in Canada was something of a shock to the system for many. Past form would have suggested Mercedes were set to dominate the weekend, but that was not the case at all. It may not have been the most exciting race in the world – it was really so very, very far from that – but Sebastian Vettel was sublime all weekend and he cruised to victory from pole position, followed home by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. With Lewis Hamilton in P5, it means that Sebastian Vettel is now in the lead of the championship, by just one point.

Ferrari won the last French Grand Prix – which was held at Magny Cours in 2008 and was won by Felipe Massa – and Kimi Raikkonen is one of only two drivers on the current grid, the other being Fernando Alonso, who have won the Grand Prix before. The power unit upgrades Ferrari introduced for Canada proved fruitful, and with Paul Ricard’s long straights you can expect the team to go very well again this weekend.

Mercedes, meanwhile, are set to finally introduce the power unit upgrades that were originally meant to be brought in for Canada, but were ultimately delayed because of quality control issues. There is no getting away from the fact that they were very underwhelming in Canada, and will definitely be grateful for the upgrades in France given the nature of the track.

Max Verstappen finished P3 in Canada – the first race this season that he has put in a weekend without incident – continuing Red Bull’s tradition in the hybrid era of performing better there than otherwise might be expected of them. With Daniel Ricciardo also finishing in the top five, and both drivers happy with the upgrades introduced, there is no apparent reason to suggest that Red Bull won’t be able to replicate that sort of performance in France.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon’s first win in a single-seater was actually at Paul Ricard, and he believes that he is potentially on for a good result this weekend. “On paper, the track should suit us,” he said, “with a long straight and some slow corners where we can use our car’s mechanical grip really well. It’s a track which will be new for everyone and we’re usually good at finding a set-up quickly, so I’m not too worried.”

Renault are currently enjoying their best start to a season since they returned to F1 as a works team in 2016, and they head into their home race having been bolstered by the power unit upgrade they brought in Canada. They are a respectable P4 in the WCC, 16 points ahead of McLaren. If both Renault and McLaren perform in France as they did in Canada, expect that gap to grow considerably.

Last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix, Haas introduced a new front wing and floor plus a revised bargeboard, and they are optimistic that these will suit the layout of the Paul Ricard track after two consecutive races of not getting either car into the points. This will actually be Romain Grosjean’s first home race in F1 – his rookie year was in 2009, a year after the last French Grand Prix took place – so expect him to be especially keen for a good result.

Both Toro Rosso drivers are similarly optimistic about what they might be able to achieve in the race. Pierre Gasly, for whom this is also a first home race in F1, has either won or at least gotten on to the podium every time he has raced at Paul Ricard, and Brendon Hartley, who crashed out of the last race in Canada along with Lance Stroll after contact between the pair, has said: “Paul Ricard is a circuit I know well, although not in a Formula 1 car. We did a lot of testing there with WEC in the LMP1 car and I won the LMP2 category in 2013. It was always a popular track for endurance testing and I’m also pretty handy round there in the night-time, although that’s not going to come into play in a Formula 1 car!”

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Sunday 10 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, on the grid.
Image courtesy of  Andy Hone/McLaren ref: Digital Image _ONZ4265

Speaking of the World Endurance Championship, there is no doubt that the majority of the off-track spotlight will be on McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, fresh from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside his #8 Toyota co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakijima. However, it may be a case of coming back to reality with a bump for Alonso, as well as for team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. They struggled around Canada – Vandoorne finished two laps down in P16 and Alonso retired – and with Paul Ricard’s long straights it may unfortunately be more of the same for the Woking-based outfit.

Charles Leclerc is on a very impressive run of performances at the moment. In Canada he finished ahead of Gasly, both Haas cars, the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and even Sergio Perez in the Force India, and managed to hold off Fernando Alonso in several wheel-to-wheel duels before the Spaniard retired from the race.

Williams’ Lance Stroll is a lot more muted about the track than some of his rivals. “I know [it] from when I drove in Formula 3. I had a good time there and won a race, but I have to be honest because I can’t say I like it,” he said in Williams’ race preview. “It is just run offs everywhere and I am not a big fan.” As mentioned, he crashed out of the Canadian Grand Prix on the first lap – that just about sums up the luck he and the Williams team have been having this year – but maybe don’t expect the French Grand Prix to be the best place for a turn in fortunes.

Featured Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

F1 2018: Canadian Grand Prix Preview

The Formula One circus will soon begin its busiest period of the year, with the prospect of four races in five weeks looming on the horizon, kick-started this weekend by the Canadian Grand Prix.

On the face of it, it would seem that there is no greater contrast on the calendar than the jump from Monte Carlo to Montreal. The former is known for its slow speeds where downforce is king, whereas the latter boasts one of the highest average speeds of any race on the calendar, with 45% of the lap spent at full throttle. There are, however, more similarities than you might think. Like Monaco, Canada has areas where there is virtually no run-off with the walls only a whisker away. Controlled aggression is the name of the game, and any small mistake could prove extremely costly.

Red Bull arrive at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve off the back of a strong showing in Monaco. Yes, Max Verstappen may have binned it in FP3 but he was the source of the most overtakes during the race, and you could not fault Ricciardo for his race-winning performance up front.

Unfortunately, it is likely that the Australian will be receiving a grid penalty after his MGU-K failure during that race. Each driver is only allowed two MGU-Ks per season, and Ricciardo has already used up both of his. Using a third merits an automatic ten-place grid penalty. Furthermore, he has also used up his allowance of batteries and control electronics, which would mean an additional five-place penalty for each should they have to be changed as well.

Red Bull have in recent years gone better in Canada than perhaps would have been expected of them, given their Renault power unit’s deficiency to both Mercedes and Ferrari. Last year, for instance, Ricciardo finished P3 ahead of both Ferraris and both Force Indias, and Canada is of course the place where he scored his first F1 victory back in 2014.

It is arguable that this is a must-win race for Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton has a fourteen-point gap to Sebastian Vettel in the championship, and the next few races are probably more suited to the Silver Arrows than the Scuderia. Ferrari haven’t taken the top step of the podium since Bahrain back in early April, and it was at this point in the season last year that things began to slip away from them.

A single podium, in 2016 courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, is the highlight of the team’s trips to Canada in the hybrid era – surprisingly, even Red Bull have more podium finishes than that – although it is worth noting that in 2017 Vettel managed to recover to P4 after dropping to the back of the grid when contact with Verstappen on lap one broke his front wing.

If there has been one constant in Canada in recent years, it’s that this is Mercedes’ race to lose. There has only been one Canadian Grand Prix since the hybrid era began – the aforementioned race in 2014 – that Mercedes have failed to win. This is one of Lewis Hamilton’s best tracks on the calendar – he won the race in 2010, 2012, and every year between 2015 and 2017 inclusive – and it was here last year that he matched Ayrton Senna’s record for the number of pole positions claimed.

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas also has good history with the track. He finished on the podium twice when he was racing for Williams, and also last year in his first year with Mercedes. He also qualified an amazing P3 in his rookie year in 2013, in a car that only finished in the points once in the entire year.

Further down the grid, Toro Rosso will be hoping for a better showing than last year, when both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz retired. Brendon Hartley in particular needs to put in a good performance, with questions about the safety of his seat continuing to be asked.

Williams have gone well in Canada recently. As mentioned, Valtteri Bottas finished on the podium twice during his stint driving for them, and in 2017 it was one of home favourite Lance Stroll’s best races. They struggled around Monaco, but they will be crossing their fingers that the long straights of Canada will better suit the design of their car and enable them to add to their meagre haul of points so far this year.

Force India will also be expecting good things – Sergio Perez scored a podium back in 2012, and Esteban Ocon will be keen to keep up the momentum from his P6 finish in Monaco.

Haas have claimed to have solved the braking problems that have plagued them seemingly since they joined the sport in 2016 and for that they will certainly be grateful, as a lot of time can be found around the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve just through having confidence on the brakes. They only have one points finish to their name in Canada so far, but there is a fair chance they will be able to add to that this weekend.

Renault are another team who have been on the bubble of being able to score points in Canada in the past. According to Cyril Abiteboul they are scheduled to introduce the next stage of their power unit development along with some aero upgrades, but with Canada’s long straights there will be no place to hide if those updates don’t prove fruitful.

McLaren – who will also be receiving updates from Renault – will be hoping that won’t be the case, but they are nonetheless bracing themselves for a difficult weekend.. Sunday’s race will be Fernando Alonso’s 300th in F1, but the track will not be one of McLaren’s best with its slow corners and long blasts at full throttle.

Finally, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc will be keen to bounce back from the brake failure he suffered in Monaco, and he believes Canada will be one of the best races of the year for himself and team-mate Marcus Ericsson, with both believing that the worst races are over and done with.

Australian Grand Prix: Race Preview

In a few days’ time, F1 will be back for 2018 and racing around the streets of Albert Park for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

After a fortnight of pre-season testing confused by rain and snow, this will be the first chance to see who’s settled where in the pecking order over the winter.

Ferrari Media

Much of the focus will of course be on Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, as both drivers are gunning to become the first of their generation to win a fifth world title.

After testing many are tipping Hamilton as having the advantage again, with Mercedes’ focus on long runs in Barcelona hinting at a daunting degree of race pace.

But that’s not to say Mercedes will have the race all to themselves this weekend. The record-breaking lap times set by Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen in testing may have been a little flattered by low fuel loads, but still suggest there’s enough speed in Ferrari’s SF71H to give the Silver Arrows a real challenge in qualifying.

And then there’s Red Bull, whose RB14 looked dependable on track and much closer to the top two than its predecessor. The Austrian outfit hasn’t won in Melbourne since 2011, but could Max Verstappen or homeboy Daniel Ricciardo have the machinery to buck that trend this year?

Add that to the paddock talk from Barcelona that Mercedes is once again finding it difficult to unlock pace on the softer tyres, and the reigning champions could be facing a real headache on a weekend favouring the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft rubber.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Nor is it just the top three who might be in for a tough scrap in Albert Park—the race to take first blood in the upper midfield battle looks to be equally tight.

At present, Renault looks favourite to be best-of-the-rest in Melbourne. The Enstone team has been one of the most-improved this winter, judging by a consistent presence high up the time and mileage leaderboards in testing, and their two drivers have a history of delivering good results in Australia.

But Renault aren’t the only ones expected to make a solid start to their 2018 campaign. Haas made a big impression in pre-season testing and have been tipped by champions Mercedes to be this season’s dark horse. And the hype isn’t without good reason, either—Haas ended testing as the fifth fastest team, and with Kevin Magnussen as the sixth-fastest driver.

And speaking of surprising testing performances, Honda will be hoping their respectable showing in Barcelona translates to their first points finish in the season opener since 2006.

Together with new partners Toro Rosso, the Japanese marque ended pre-season testing with the third-highest number of laps per team as well as setting some decent midfield times.

But form in testing is one thing—the true proof of Honda’s 2018 campaign will come when the STR13 takes to the race track this weekend.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

F1 testing: Raikkonen leads Alonso on final day

Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.

Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.

The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.

As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.

However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.

Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.

Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.

LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.

Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.

That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.

Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.

Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.

The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.

However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.

Andrew Hone/Williams

F1 testing: Ricciardo breaks lap record; Renault nears 200 laps

Daniel Ricciardo lowered the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s unofficial lap record during Wednesday’s testing session, setting a time of 1:18.047s on the new hypersoft tyre.

The Australian’s lap was more than three tenths faster than the previous record set by Felipe Massa during testing in 2008, and nearly six tenths below last year’s fastest testing time, set by Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were close behind the Red Bull. Their best flying laps, both set on the ultrasoft tyre, were four and five tenths adrift of Ricciardo respectively, but still comfortably within the 1:18s.

These times came as teams focused on performance runs during the morning session, the result being that many of Wednesday’s laps were among the quickest of 2018 testing so far.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel. The German was given an unexpected extra session on Wednesday morning as teammate Kimi Räikkönen was unwell, but opted to concentrate on long runs rather than challenge Red Bull and Mercedes on the hypersoft—however, he did manage to lap within a second of third-placed Bottas despite running on the soft compound tyre at the time.

Three tenths behind Vettel came Brendon Hartley and Fernando Alonso, both setting closely-matched 1:19.8s on the ultrasofts. Alonso had looked set to enjoy McLaren’s first trouble-free day of testing so far when he ran among the pacesetters during the morning and notched up 47 laps early on.

However, an oil leak before midday resulted in an engine change that cost Alonso over six hours of track time—the Spaniard was only able to fit in another 15 minutes of running at the end of the day, bringing his Wednesday lap count up to 57.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Carlos Sainz was seventh fastest, being the first driver above 1:20s and the only one of the day to set his time on the medium tyre.

Although Sainz’s best lap was ultimately two seconds off Ricciardo’s benchmark, he did contribute to Renault leading the way in terms of mileage on Wednesday. The Spaniard logged 88 rounds of the Barcelona track during his morning in the RS18, before teammate Nico Hülkenberg added a further 102 after lunch.

Their combined 190 laps puts Renault second so far in the number of testing laps completed per team, with 602 to Mercedes’s 658.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Romain Grosjean was eighth-fastest on a 1:20.237s. Haas ended the session with the second-lowest lap total when an oil leak on Grosjean’s car limited him to 78 laps across the day.

Räikkönen, who recovered to run in the afternoon, and Hülkenberg, were the lowest-placed manufacturer drivers in ninth and eleventh respectively, split by the Williams of Lance Stroll.

Force India, Sauber and Williams occupied the bottom spaces on the leaderboard with Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin.

But although the three midfield teams were an average of three seconds off Red Bull’s pace, they were all much higher on the day’s lap charts. Leclerc’s 160 and Ocon’s 130 were beaten only by Ricciardo in terms of laps done by an individual driver, while Stroll and Sirotkin recorded 143 for Williams between them.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

F1 testing: McLaren troubles continue into second week

McLaren suffered another day of limited mileage on Tuesday as F1 testing resumed in Barcelona, finishing the day bottom of the lap charts and with the second-slowest time.

After minor mechanical faults cost the team valuable track time last week, McLaren was left again on the back foot when Stoffel Vandoorne’s MCL33 broke down twice in the morning with a pair of battery failures shutting down his Renault engine.

And although McLaren seemed to resolve those issues in time for the afternoon, Vandoorne was not out for long before this session was also cut short—this time, owing to a hydraulics problem.

In total, Vandoorne completed just 38 laps across the whole of Tuesday, and finished last-but-one on the timesheets with a best of 1:21.946s.

Ferrari Media

While McLaren struggled, their rivals took advantage of the prime conditions in Barcelona to embark on the long run programmes traditionally seen in the second week.

Sebastian Vettel recorded the most individual mileage of the day with 171 laps, as well as ending the day fastest by two tenths from Valtteri Bottas.

However, Mercedes ran the furthest of any team on Tuesday, surpassing Ferrari by six laps by combining Bottas’s 86 laps in the morning with Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon total of 91.

Max Verstappen—who split Bottas and Hamilton to be third fastest—lost running in the final hour of the afternoon when his Red Bull stopped on track, but nevertheless logged 130 laps to be Vettel’s closest challenger.

Sauber, Renault and Williams also broached the 100-lap mark (the latter two teams splitting running between both of their drivers), while Haas and Force India came close with 96 and 93 laps respectively.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

In an unexpected turn, Toro Rosso and Honda endured the first difficult day of their new partnership on Tuesday. After accomplishing a respectable 53 laps in the morning session with Pierre Gasly at the wheel, an unknown issue kept the STR13 confined to the garage for most of the afternoon, with Gasly adding only a single lap to his total after lunch.

But despite those troubles, Gasly still managed to end the day fifth fastest and best of the rest with a 1:20.973s, putting the Frenchman less than six tenths off Vettel’s benchmark.

Kevin Magnussen was sixth and the last of Tuesday’s drivers to be within a second of the pace. He finished ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz, who were separated by just 0.023s despite setting their laps on different tyre compounds.

Sergey Sirotkin enjoyed more profitable running than his first week of F1 testing, and was the highest-placed Williams in ninth. Two tenths separated the Russian from Sergio Pérez in tenth and Marcus Ericsson—who notched up 120 laps for Sauber—in eleventh.

Lance Stroll was Tuesday’s slowest runner behind McLaren’s Vandoorne, even though his 1:22.937s was set on the hypersoft tyre. However, with the Canadian making it to 86 laps despite sharing his day with Sirotkin, it’s likely Stroll’s programme was focused more on distance than outright pace.

Andy Hone/Williams F1

Hamilton fastest on busy end to first F1 test

Lewis Hamilton set 2018’s fastest testing time yet on Thursday, as the first week in Barcelona ended with its busiest day so far.

In total, 15 of this year’s 20 race drivers enjoyed track time at the Circuit de Catalunya on Thursday, with most teams opting to run both their drivers to make up for time lost during the week’s weather disruptions.

Only Ferrari, Haas, Force India, Red Bull and Toro Rosso chose not to split their day’s running.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The final day of testing began with yet another damp track, but higher temperatures compared with previous days meant meaningful running was not an impossibility.

When the track dried enough for slicks around midday, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hülkenberg took the opportunity to trade times at the top of the leaderboard, until McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne beat them both with a 1:19.854s on the pink hypersoft tyre.

Vandoorne’s time—one of only four to dip below 1:20s this week—was good enough to hold onto the top spot for most of the afternoon, until Hamilton went half a second quicker on mediums with an hour to go.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

As well as finishing second-fastest on the strength of his hypersoft time, Vandoorne was also among Thursday’s busiest drivers, with 110 laps to his name.

Only two drivers recorded more mileage than the Belgian. Sebastian Vettel, who was third-fastest behind Vandoorne, made it to 120 laps, while Pierre Gasly signed off a solid week for Toro Rosso and Honda with 147 laps.

Kevin Magnussen also had a profitable day, despite not joining Gasly, Vettel and Vandoorne in triple figures. After finishing bottom of both the time and lap charts with his first taste of the Haas VF-18 on Tuesday, the Dane bounced back on Thursday by logging 96 laps and the fourth-fastest time.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Fernando Alonso, taking over from Vandoorne for the final few hours of Thursday, added another 51 laps to his week’s total and snatched fifth by just 0.010s from compatriot Carlos Sainz. Lance Stroll was a few tenths slower in seventh.

Sergio Pérez, driving Force India’s VJM11 for the first time, had a slow start to the session but eventually logged 65 laps and was classified eighth.

He was ahead of Max Verstappen, who by contrast had another trying day behind the wheel of the RB14. Having chosen to sit out the wet morning running, the Dutchman lost further track time with a fuel leak and a spin into the gravel later on—as a result, Verstappen recorded the lowest number of laps of the day (35) and ended the day nearly three seconds off Hamilton’s pace.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Thursday’s longest runner Gasly was tenth-fastest ahead of early pacesetters Hülkenberg and Bottas. The two Saubers were the last of the representative runners, with Charles Leclerc heading Marcus Ericsson by a second thanks to the afternoon’s faster track, although with 59 laps to Ericsson’s 79.

Lastly, Williams’ rookie Sergey Sirotkin spent another day at the bottom of the timesheets. The Russian handed over his FW41 to teammate Stroll in the afternoon and as such didn’t set a time on slicks, explaining his 12.646s gap to Hamilton at the front.

F1 testing resumes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya next week, running from Tuesday 6th until Friday 9th.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Vettel lowers benchmark on second day of testing

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished top of the timesheets on day two in Barcelona, setting the fastest lap of the test so far in a day of weather-limited running.

The German’s best effort, a 1:19.673s set on soft tyres, was half a second faster than Daniel Ricciardo’s Monday benchmark, and made Vettel one of only two drivers to lap within the 1:19s on day two.

The other was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Having posted a best of 1:20.325s in the morning, the Finn was the early pacesetter until Vettel’s soft run knocked him from the top spot—but despite improving in the afternoon to join Vettel below the 1:20s barrier, Bottas remained 0.303s adrift by the close of day.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Outside of the top two, no other driver today posted lap times below Monday’s fastest, as near-freezing temperatures once again held back representative running.

Stoffel Vandoorne was the third-fastest runner of the day, 0.652s off Vettel’s pace with a best lap of 1:20.325s. The Belgian’s time was the first of the test logged on Pirelli’s new pink-walled hypersoft tyre.

Max Verstappen failed to post a time in the morning after being sidelined by a fuel leak, but improved in the afternoon to finish fourth, just 0.001s behind Vandoorne on the medium tyre.

Next up, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Williams third driver Robert Kubica all lapped within a few tenths of each other in the 1:21s. Kubica’s teammate Sergey Sirotkin and Force India’s Esteban Ocon were a little behind again, closely matched in the 1:21.8s.

Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc had a difficult first day driving the Sauber C37 with a spin in the afternoon and finishing more than three seconds off the pace, but was spared ending the day at the bottom of the timesheet at the expense of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Jerry Andre/LAT Images/Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

The cold weather also meant that no driver managed to surpass Ricciardo’s first day total of 105 laps, although Vettel and Bottas came closest with 98 and 94 laps respectively.

Gasly held the next-highest total, putting in 82 laps in his STR13 to prove that Toro Rosso-Honda’s mileage yesterday was no fluke, while Leclerc made up for his early error with 81 laps to his name in the end.

At the other end of the lap charts, McLaren suffered another low-mileage day with an exhaust issue keeping Vandoorne in the garage from midday onwards, unable to add to his tally of 37 laps.

However, that was at least one more than Haas achieved across the day. With his programme interrupted by two off-track moments—one of which nearly ended in the barriers—Magnussen was prevented from making up for lost time when reports of snow at the end of the day brought running more or less to an end, and the Dane finished the day bottom of both the timesheet and the lap count.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Haas F1 Team

Ricciardo tops first 2018 test; Honda nears 100 laps

Daniel Ricciardo set the pace and topped the lap charts on the opening day of Barcelona testing, while Honda showed a remarkable improvement in reliability to log 93 laps with Toro Rosso.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

This time last year, Honda ended the first day of testing firmly at the bottom of the lap charts, with then-partners McLaren achieving only 29 amid a spate of engine-related issues.

But after a concentrated effort to improve reliability with its 2018-spec power unit, Honda more than tripled that amount on Monday, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley only missing out on a century of laps when rain interrupted running late in the afternoon.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Renault also look to have made strides with their reliability compared with last winter. The factory outfit achieved a total of 99 laps over the day, splitting running between Nico Hülkenberg (73 laps) in the morning and Carlos Sainz (26 laps) in the afternoon.

The French marque’s combined total stood for a while as the most of any team, until Ricciardo edged his Renault-powered RB14 into triple figures with a few late runs in the wet before the chequered flag.

McLaren ended the day some way off its fellow Renault customers with only 51 laps recorded, although this was due to a wheel tether issue which kept Fernando Alonso in the garage for much of the morning session.

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

As expected, the lap times from day one gave little away about the pecking order for 2018, as the general consensus among teams was for reliable rather than representative running.

In addition, dropping track temperatures and a rain shower late in the afternoon session meant there were few real improvements in pace after lunch.

Ricciardo’s benchmark 1:20.179s—over 1.5s slower than last year’s fastest overall testing time—established him as the quickest driver of the morning over Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas by just under two tenths.

The Australian’s lap came as part of a last-minute flurry before lunch, in which Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen went fastest from Hülkenberg, before Bottas and then Ricciardo jumped them both in turn.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Alonso finished the day fifth-fastest and was the only driver to improve their position in the afternoon, rising from ninth on the timesheets as he made up for his morning delay.

His compatriot Sainz ranked sixth ahead of defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who took over from Mercedes teammate Bottas after lunch. These two also ended Monday at the bottom of the lap count along with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin—who was likewise sharing driver duties—as the worsening conditions prevented any of the afternoon drivers from completing more than 30 laps each.

Hartley and Toro Rosso finished eight-fastest in the end after running as high as fifth before lunch. Behind him came Lance Stroll, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

Force India development driver Nikita Mazepin sat out the whole of the afternoon session and remained twelfth, while Sirotkin’s weather-curtailed running meant the Russian rookie did not set a representative time.

Sam Bloxham/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Haas juniors Maini and Ferrucci form Trident F2 lineup

Trident Motorsport will field an all-Haas junior F2 lineup in 2018, with Arjun Maini graduating from GP3 to partner Santino Ferrucci.

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Maini finished ninth in the standings in his first full GP3 campaign last year, taking his first series win at the sprint race in Spain and a further podium in Abu Dhabi. He was signed to the Haas F1 junior ranks as the team’s test and development driver in May 2017.

At F2’s post-season test in Abu Dhabi, Maini drove for both Trident and Russian Time.

“I’m very excited to be competing in the FIA Formula 2 championship,” Maini said. “I felt we were very competitive during the post-season test and given the series is using all-new cars for the coming season, I’m quite excited for the year ahead.

“Trident is a very strong team and I’m sure if we work hard we’ll be in for some strong results during the course of the season.”

Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Maini’s new teammate Ferrucci will be contesting his first full F2 season in 2018. The 19-year-old American joined Trident for the final five races of 2017 after a mid-season move up from GP3, and scored points at Hungary and Spa.

Trident team owner Maurizio Salvadori praised Ferrucci and Maini as “two undoubtably valuable prospects who have all that it takes to be among the future stars of motorsports for the years to come.

“It is certainly not by chance that [Haas F1] selected them to join their junior development programme.”