Formula One roared back into life this week for the opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Here, we assess the action from Spain with a little more than three weeks to go until the season gets under way in Melbourne on March 26.
Who has had a good week?
Mercedes. The sport’s dominant team has covered more ground than anyone else and posted the fastest time. The new car looks the slickest of all the new designs and has been bulletproof in its reliability, too. Ferrari, following their lacklustre campaign last term, have also impressed. But the famous Italian constructor looked good at this stage 12 months ago and failed to deliver when the season started. Nevertheless, encouraging signs.
Who has had a week to forget?
McLaren were full of optimism at the launch of their new car last week in their desperate bid to end the leanest spell in their history. But the opening day was nothing short of a disaster – Fernando Alonso completed just 29 laps owing to engine problems – and there was further trouble ahead on day two as reliability issues continued to hamper their progress. While Alonso managed 72 laps on Wednesday he was still nearly three seconds adrift of Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes.
What about rookie Lance Stroll?
McLaren can be thankful that the 18-year-old Canadian diverted some of the negative attention away from their camp. Stroll, whose rise in motorsport has been funded by his billionaire father, suffered three crashes this week. The first restricted Williams to just 12 laps of testing on Tuesday, while the damage sustained in his final incident on Wednesday afternoon forced the British team to sit out the entire final day. Stroll is scheduled to run in just two further days of testing before the season starts later this month.
Are Red Bull any closer to Mercedes?
On the evidence of this test, no. Reliability troubles limited their running on the opening day, and while both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen eventually got a number of laps under their belt later in the week, they appeared to be off the pace of both Mercedes and Ferrari. Expect their pace to improve however, at the final test which starts on Tuesday.
How do the cars look?
Lewis Hamilton and Alonso, who have both been critical of the sport in recent times, have given the cars the thumbs up. They certainly look better and are much faster, too. The overhaul in regulations however, was introduced to spice up the racing, but Hamilton fears the introduction of more downforce on the cars will actually make it much harder to follow this year and lead to fewer overtakes.
Will the order be different this season?
Do not hold your breath. It had been hoped that Mercedes, who have won 51 of the last 59 races en route to three consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships, would be toppled off their perch, but after the first test that seems unlikely. Many neutrals will be hoping that Bottas, the new man at Mercedes, will be able to provide Hamilton a stern challenge this year.