Ahead of the curve

Ahead of the curve 02

First of all, let’s place all the cards on the table: one day of testing, with brand-new cars wearing Pirelli tyres that are 25% wider than before for the first time, is not enough to establish any sort of sensible pecking order. 

But the timesheets after the first day of testing in Barcelona, which will host a total of eight days testing between now and 10 March, have already suggested a few things. And it’s going in the direction that everyone was expecting and hoping: we’re in the presence of some of the fastest Formula 1® cars ever created.

Ahead of the curve 01

Here are the raw statistics from Monday 27 February in Barcelona: the first day on track of the 2017 season. Lewis Hamilton set fastest time for Mercedes with a 1m21.765s; just behind him was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with a 1m21.878s. In total Hamilton completed 73 laps while Vettel did 128: all of which augurs well when it comes to mechanical reliability. But when you look at the tyre choices, it gets really interesting. Lewis set his best time on the soft compound, Sebastian on the medium. You would also need to know what each car’s fuel load was to appreciate the significance of that fact, and sadly that’s a piece of information that the teams choose to keep to themselves…
Here’s something that can categorically be proved though. A year ago, at the end of day one of testing (so starting off with the same ‘green’ track, devoid of rubber and grip) it was once more Vettel who went fastest, again on the medium tyres. But on that occasion his best time was 1m24.939s: 3.1 seconds slower than this first taste of the 2017 season.
By the end of last year’s pre-season Barcelona tests, the absolute best time was 1m22.765s: again set by Ferrari, but this time courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen. That came on the ultrasoft tyre, while Vettel’s best time on just the first day of testing this year (beaten only by a tenth, thanks to Hamilton’s Mercedes) was on the medium… 

Ahead of the curve 03

So it just goes to show how fast the 2017 season might turn out to be. And we’re not only talking about top speeds either: those headline-grabbing figures set at the end of the straights, before the drivers stand on the brakes for the next corner.
This year, with increased aerodynamic downforce and wider Pirelli tyres, the leap in performance truly comes through the corners themselves. It’s no coincidence that the Montmelò circuit, with its array of corners that vary in length, radius and incline, provides a fantastic showcase for this latest trend in Formula 1®
Put simply, the new technical regulations mean that cornering speeds are a lot higher than they used to be. At the end of Montmelò’s famous Turn 3 – the flat-out uphill right-hander that follows the chicane after the pit straight – the cars are expected to be travelling around 30 kph faster than they were this time last year. Thirty kilometres per hour: a staggering figure in Formula 1®. And that takes place not on a straight but through a corner, where the difficulty and physical fatigue increases exponentially for the drivers.
No doubt about it: this year is going to be a memorable one…

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