The fastest-ever
Formula 1® cars!

The fastest-ever formula 1 cars! 01

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.

The fastest-ever formula 1 cars! 02

So it was clear from the very first day that Formula 1® was going to set new records this year. The second day of running, on Tuesday, brought another improvement: Raikkonen and Ferrari heading the field thanks to a 1m20.960s on soft tyres. Wednesday witnessed the lap time that was set to become the fastest of the whole test: 1m19.705s, delivered by Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes on the ultrasoft tyres.
And there it's worth pausing, as that has written a small chapter of history: the fastest lap time ever run around the Circuit de Catalunya in its current configuration (with the chicane preceding the corner that leads onto the pit straight). Before that was built, the track featured a rapid downhill corner there instead, meaning the best lap times got down to around 1m14s.
The chicane that was installed in 2008 put a stop to all that. The following year, during Q2, Rubens Barrichello lapped his Brawn in 1m19.954s: a time destined to remain unbeaten until today. But those 2009 cars, powered by V8 engines that put out approximately the same 900 horsepower as today’s hybrid machines, weighed around 120-130 kilograms less than the current cars (excluding the weight of the driver). Considering that every 10 extra kilograms on an F1® car adds around 0.4s to a lap time, it’s easy to see the significance of the record set by Bottas and Mercedes at this first test.
So we’re heading towards a 2017 that will truly take place at full speed. The drivers have said so themselves: everyone from Hamilton to Vettel to Ricciardo to Alonso has pointed out that 2017 aerodynamics and Pirelli tyres that are 25% wider than a year ago have led to truly monstrous loadings through the corners. And with that extra downforce and speed, lateral loads – measured by g forces – are on average two higher than previous seasons. This year, the leap in performance comes through the corners. At the end of the famous Turn 3 in Barcelona, the climbing right-hander that follows the chicane after the pit straight, the cars were registering 30kph more than they were in the same place just a year ago. Thirty kilometres per hour: an enormous figure in Formula 1®. And we’re only just beginning: faced with such a significant rule change, we can expect the cars to improve by another second and a half per lap during the course of the season…

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