As February turns to March, the sound of F1 engines begins to fill the air in Spain, as the now customary Barcelona pre-season tests get underway. With only eight days this year, four days less than what the teams have had previously, it was crucial for the teams and drivers to complete as many laps as possible, with new regulations promising to make the cars significantly faster and harder to drive than last season.
Mercedes have had a monopoly on championships since the hybrid era began, and this season looks like it will follow the same pattern, with Lewis Hamilton and his new teammate Valtteri Bottas managing over 850 laps across the first six days. Ferrari and Red Bull once again look like their closest challengers, with the Italian team showing good pace so far. However, they’ve flattered to deceive before, as they looked to be the team to beat 12 months ago, before failing to win a race all season. The midfield battle looks closer than ever, with Williams, Force India, Renault and Haas all hoping that this year’s car will be good enough to be a consistent points scorer, and maybe even secure a podium if others slip up. Toro Rosso may have a pretty car, but they’ve struggled for reliability, whereas the year-old Ferrari engine in the back of Sauber seems to consign them to a year of slow, albeit consistent, running.
One team who would give anything for consistent running is McLaren, with their Honda power unit once again proving to be underpowered, and unreliable. After a poorly designed oil tank caused an engine failure on day one, they’ve yet to manage more than 11 laps in succession, and have gone through six engines so far, two more than they’re allowed for the whole season once racing starts. As well as this, there has been rumours that the car isn’t handling as well as they were hoped, although these were dismissed as ‘fake news’ by the team, with McLaren not being the first orange object to rubbish any negative stories in 2017.
Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen frustrations grow at McLaren because of their engine, which has ruined any chance of wins, or even podiums. Honda attempted to copy Mercedes with their design for 2017, but this has failed miserably so far. No-one is more annoyed than double world champion Fernando Alonso, who seems to have finally lost patience with the car. He has demanded an ‘immediate response’ from McLaren, stating that the team is ‘ready to win, except Honda’. Some of the Spanish media has reported that the team are ready to ditch the engines before the start of the season, although the chances of this happening are remote, as it would require a complete redesign of the rear of the car.
With better career choices, it is possible that Alonso could have won more titles and races than any other driver in history. It has now been more than four years since the Spaniard won a race, and at the age of 36, it is unlikely he will want to stay around too much longer to see if Honda can get their act together.
Featured Image: Morio