Day six of Formula 1 preseason witnessed drivers unleashing the true performance within their respective cars on an intriguing day in which Daniel Ricciardo showed Red Bull’s pace by lapping the Circuit de Catalunya faster than anyone since the track was reconfigured in 2007.
Overnight all the teams found an extra two seconds around the Spanish Grand Prix venue but it was Ricciardo, at the wheel of the Red Bull RB14, who set the best lap time of 1:18.407, set using the Pirelli hypersoft compound tyres, which was the best of all on a day in which he racked up 165 laps.
The time lit up the timing screens and was more than a second quicker than Lewis Hamilton’s 2017 Spanish Grand Prix pole position of 1:19.149 for Mercedes, and also quicker than any lap in last year’s winter testing. Track records set in testing are deemed unofficial.
Four-times world champion Hamilton, who was fastest last week, was second on the timesheets with a lap four-tenths of a second slower with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas third quickest and tenth of Hamilton’s best. The pair set their fastest times using ultrasoft tyres.
Mercedes technical head James Allison told Sky Sports, “There are three quick teams and no doubt Red Bull are going to be people that we are going to be fighting with this year.”
“There’s clearly no doubt about that… there’s still some blurriness, it’s still not possible to say for sure whether we’ve got our nose in front of them or they’ve got their nose in front of us. But you can say it’s close.”
Sebastian Vettel, who did 171 laps on Tuesday when he was fastest, was drafted in for the morning after teammate Kimi Raikkonen felt unwell. The German was fourth quickest using soft compound tyres bolted on to the SF71-H and did 66 laps in the process.
Raikkonen was back in action in the afternoon managing to complete 49 laps during his stint and set the ninth-best time on soft Pirellis.
Raising eyebrows again with a good showing were Toro Rosso and their first Honda-powered car, with Brendon Hartley completing another very positive day for the outfit, ending his day in the car fifth-fastest with 119 laps recorded.
Earlier in the day McLaren’s Fernando Alonso featured at the sharp end of the timing screens and completed 47 laps before pulling over with smoke coming from the car.
The team detected an oil leak and decided to change the Renault engine, costing the Spaniard several hours of much-needed track time. He did emerge on track with ten minutes to go, but all-in-all it was not the kind of day they wanted.
“Even when you have a small problem, the world is watching,” said McLaren’s executive director Zak Brown of a stoppage that revived painful memories of the now-terminated Honda partnership with its regular engine failures.
“We know what the issues are, they’re all easily fixed. Of course, you’d like to do more laps but we don’t think we have any problems. So we’re not concerned,” added Brown.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz was seventh quickest and handed over to Nico Hulkenberg in the afternoon with the German finishing 11th. Between them the pair racked up the most mileage for a team with 190 laps covered.
Sauber new recruit Charles Leclerc also had a solid day, completing 160 laps, though the Monegasque driver brought the red flags out at the end of the session when went off track at Turn 12.