The numbers speak for themselves and the tone was already firmly set on the first of the four test days in Barcelona, from February 27 to March 2. Already on Monday 27, Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes to a fastest time of 1m21.765s, while just behind him was the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel on a 1m21.878s. Lewis was on the soft tyres, Sebastian was on the mediums. But this still leaves a lot open to interpretation: the fuel load that each car was running at the time is key to understanding those numbers – which is a vital piece of information that the teams keep to themselves.
One thing was clear though. In 2016, at the end of the first day of pre-season Barcelona testing (so in identical conditions, with a little-used track over the winter leading to a dirty surface and minimal rubber to provide extra grip) Vettel was once more fastest, again using the medium tyres. But back then his benchmark time was 1m24.939s: so 3.1 seconds slower than his best with a first taste of the 2017 car and tyres. Casting further light on the progress made is the best time of all from the eight days of pre-season testing in Barcelona last year, again set by Ferrari but this time courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen: 1m22.765s. That came on the ultrasoft tyres, while Vettel’s best time on Monday this year was set on medium tyres.