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Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettet, Mercedes, Ferrari

Barcelona Test 1: Behind the smoke and mirrors

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It’s been a long time coming, but after months of speculating just what Formula 1 in 2017 would look like, we finally have something to go on.

Four days, at the Circuit de Catalunya of hot laps, race simulations and Lance Stroll in the barriers have made it clear the future is here, like it or not.

What can we take away from the first test in Barcelona? Read on to find out.

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Mercedes still on top, but not without their issues

Picking up more-or-less where they left off last season, the Silver Arrows look primed for another year at the top of the standings. Leading the way in mileage with a combined 538 laps, the team got plenty of time to put the W08 through its paces, while Valtteri Bottas was given ample time to adjust himself to the car.

Consistently at the top of the time sheets, pace clearly isn’t an issue either – but reliability might be. An electrical fault suffered on the final morning has to be a concern for Mercedes, and particularly the intern who deals with all the anti-Hamilton conspiracy theorists on their Facebook page.

Rough start to Stroll’s F1 career

Spending as much time getting to know the Williams FW40 as the marshals, Lance Stroll’s F1 career is off to a fairly ignominious start. With two crashes, plus another off-track excursion in his first two days on duty in Spain, the 18-year-old Canadian has done himself no favours in endearing himself to either his team, especially after his final mishap cost them a whole day of testing.

Having had a worldwide tour of F1 circuits with a 2014 Williams bankrolled by his father, Stroll was about as well-prepared for his debut as possible – and yet, the only thing he looks prepared for is to fill the Maldonado-sized hole in our hearts. There’s already a “has Stroll crashed yet” website, and he needs a clean second test to avoid becoming a running joke.

Strong first impressions have Ferrari fans dreaming again

If Ferrari is indeed poised to return to the realm of respectability in 2017, the early signs are looking good. Topping the timesheets on two of the four days is never a bad thing, but it’s particularly encouraging given they refrained from using either of the two softest tyre compounds.

Further building steam for the hype train was their impressive pace on race simulations, matching extremely well with Mercedes – case-in-point, two comparative stints on mediums on day three saw Sebastian Vettel average a 1.25.06 (13 laps), to Lewis Hamilton’s 1.25.08 (10 laps).

And while there’s so many variables with testing that it’s no certainty this will hold up come next week, let alone Melbourne, tifosi have to be cautiously optimistic.

McLaren-Honda still stuck in the mud

Known either for their racing or production cars, perhaps it’s time McLaren started making treadmills, because they’ve proven to be masters of running in place. Three years into the Honda team-up, and the power unit remains as underpowered as it is unreliable, going through a reported five engines over the four-day test, which is one more than each car has for a season.

At least without the token system Honda should be able to make improvements rather quickly, but at this point, you have to wonder if their engineers are even capable of correcting what seems to be a fatally flawed design.

This comedy of errors would suggest it was built by Naoyuki Oi, not the company that provided six consecutive championship-winning engines in the 80’s and 90’s, and it seems their hopes of getting anywhere near the front in 2017 are already shot to hell. Consider the panic button well and truly hit.

Pirelli delivers on 2017 tyres

Perhaps the most definite takeaway from the first test, Pirelli’s new rubber has delivered exactly what it promised. Thanks to the excellent work of reddit user /u/whatthefat, we can see that lap times are indeed 4-5 seconds quicker, and more importantly, the 2017 tyres provide a much lower and linear degradation rate.

That means less of both drivers hitting the artificial “cliff”, and softer tyres having little to any pace advantage over their more durable counterparts. Whether it will improve the racing remains an unknown, but at least the drivers have something to smile about – and some of them *cough*Fernando Alonso*cough* certainly need it.