Ferrari SF70H - quick, but about as pretty as a warthog with acneToro Rosso STR12 - pretty but slowMcLaren MCL32 - love the orangeMercedes W08 - pretty AND quick  Despite all the technical changes that occurred over the winter, at first glance it doesn’t appear that there has been any great change in the balance of power in F1 so far. A little disappointing but not really surprising. After the first four days of testing at Catalunya the same old big three were at the top of the time sheets. Only it was Ferrari that actually looked to have the upper hand. Not with the outright fastest time but that their fastest times were set on theoretically slower tyres that those used by Mercedes.


   The best times set by both Raikkonen and Vettel were on the Soft compound tyres while those set by Bottas and Hamilton were on the Ultra-soft. And reports are that the Mercedes did not look as composed as the Ferraris on the harder rubber. So maybe it won’t be another Silver-wash in 2017 after all. And after a disjointed start, again due to “issues” with their Renault engines, Red Bull steadily improved to lock out the next two places on the time sheets with Ricciardo just a couple of tenths off Hamilton’s best effort. But that’s what Red Bull usually do when they have a good year. Start quietly and build up speed without being noticed until all of a sudden…..


  The big improver from last year was the factory Renault squad that ended with 7th and 8th places just two hundredths behind Verstappen. It may well be that Hulkenberg’s move from Force India was a very good one after all. The Sauber was nervous through the quick stuff but Ericsson’s best time was still just another tenth back from the Renaults while Antonio Giovinazzi didn’t disgrace himself on his real F1 debut in the second Sauber with the 14th best time, just half a second shy of Ericsson. Giovinazzi has done some laps in a 2015 Ferrari earlier this year but his outing here, replacing Pascal Wehrlein who injured his neck in a Race of Champions roll, was his first outing in an official test. It’s a little hard to say just where Williams are after a drama filled test. Massa’s best time came on the slowest (first) day when he was only three tenths shy of the best time of the day but he ended tenth thanks to rookie Lance Stroll throwing the FW40 at the scenery just once too often ending Williams test a day early with damage they couldn’t fix at the circuit.


  The Williams sandwiched the Haas boys who were within a tenth of each other and just a tenth behind Massa. However both Haas drivers were hampered by braking inconsistency, a problem that seems to have carried over from last year and one that will not amuse Romain Grosjean. Force India seem to have taken a step backwards but again, like Red Bull they are rarely quick in their first tests. More problematic is that they didn’t cover too many miles during the four days – 278 laps as compared to Mercedes 558 – a fraction under half the distance. Similarly afflicted was the New Orange McLaren who could rightly consider the first two days as a complete right-off. An oil tank problem curtailed day one while their Honda engine went POP on day two. I can’t imagine King Fernando was too impressed. On another note with McLaren, now that Ron has been shown the door, it has finally done away with the MP4 moniker. What always bemused me about that was that MP4 stood for Ron’s old Formula Two team name – Marlboro Project Four. It always struck me as odd that even after Marlboro was no longer their sponsor, especially when it was replaced with a rival tobacco brand (West) that the MP4 tag stayed. And welcome back to the McLaren Orange which has not been seen in a Grand Prix since the small patches that remained on the Yardley M23 in 1974.


  Finally, really struggling for both pace and reliability were the Toro Rossos, which only completed 183 laps and were a worrying half a second off the McLaren pace and a whacking 3.2 seconds off Bottas’ best time. That’s in the Manor league of last year. Report card says “Could do better”. Sort of like mine used to…..


For full test results go to  http://www.mmmsport.com.au/index.php/the-database/formula-1-races/2010-2019/2017-formula-1


Sam Snape