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Everyone jostling for position as first day of 2018 F1 testing gets underway

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Everyone jostling for position as first day of 2018 F1 testing gets underway
Feb 26, 2018, 3:15 PM

The start of the new F1 season is the Australian Grand Prix in a month's time, but for the F1 teams and millions of fans around the world, today is...

The start of the new F1 season is the Australian Grand Prix in a month's time, but for the F1 teams and millions of fans around the world, today is the real start.

It's the moment that the 10 teams release their cars onto the track for the first time and everyone scrabbles around to try to make sense of it; what's the best looking car, the most innovative, the fastest?

I have always taken testing seriously. I work on the principle that everything in F1 is important; the massive complexity of this sport is made up of thousands of details and history shows that the team and driver that get the most details right win races and the championship.

People say that you can't tell anything from testing, but that's not true. You can learn a lot; from the body language of the team to the consistency of the lap times and the variants between low and high fuel runs. And from standing trackside and watching the driver's level of confidence in the car.

I'll post next week on what I think are the key areas that teams will need to get right if they are to knock Mercedes off the perch they have sat on now for four seasons.

But what we have seen so far is that most teams have built on their 2017 cars, added in some ideas and design cues from top teams - especially Ferrari - and have focused on making a reliable car and engine package. Getting an engine to last seven Grands Prix is no mean feat and you learn nothing with your car up on jacks in the garage while the others are racking up the kilometres.

It was ironic on the morning of Day 1 that Fernando Alonso had a wheel come loose which meant little track running, while the Honda engined Toro Rosso covered 72 laps. After the problems Honda had on Day 1 last season with McLaren getting the engine to run, you couldn't make up a story like that.

But it's only Day 1 of eight days of running; there's a long way to go. Each team with their single car test units should expect to achieve between 4,000 and 6,000km of testing between now and March 9.

Week one is usually about cooling, reliability, systems and aerodynamics checks as well as gaining an insight into the new softer Pirelli tyre range and this year, into the new track surface at Barcelona. Pirelli's simulations say that the lap times will be around 2 seconds faster than last year - once the track is in the right operating temperature window for the tyres!

It's also cold in Europe this week, as the 'Beast of the East" cold front from Siberia freezes many parts of the continent. The temperature at the track is just 7 degrees this afternoon.

Then next week is about adding more performance parts to the cars and starting to really extract the speed. In the past the cars that finished the final test would often have the aerodynamic parts that were destined for the first race, but nowadays with the advances in production and development, we don't see the finished article at a Barcelona test. That comes in Melbourne.

Red Bull were the first top team to reveal their car and to run it in a Silverstone shakedown and they hit the ground running in Barcelona with Daniel Ricciardo setting the fastest time of the first morning on the medium compound tyre (based on the 2017 Pirelli soft tyre).

Force India revealed its 'new' car in the pit lane this morning (above), but technical director Andrew Green managed expectations when he said,

"The DNA of the car is still very much that of last year’s car.

"We took the decision, quite a while ago, that the launch specification of the 2018 car would be based around our understanding of the 2017 car, but with all new structures required by the regulations in place. It is a starting point, a good reference from which to introduce changes quite quickly; it gives our aerodynamics department more time to develop a car for the first race in Australia, rather than having to release parts early for testing.”

What to watch for

There are many stories to look out for in the winter testing fortnight, but here are some that I have a particularly close eye on:

Is the new Renault car a real step forward, enough to propel them close to Red Bull and the coat tails of Ferrari and Mercedes? Ditto McLaren

How do the Renault powered cars look through the speed traps compared to the Mercedes and Ferrari?Have they had to compromise much on performance to ensure reliability of that engine?

How are the Williams drivers coping? Do they look like they are struggling and how involved does Kubica get in setting the baseline for the car?

How big a step has Sauber taken? They should be the most improved team from the end of 2017 to start of 2018, given the low start point and the amount of resource that has gone in. Not to mention adding a high quality driver.

You can follow testing from Barcelona live here

All photos: LAT Images

What is of most interest to you this testing season? What are you looking out for? Leave your comments - and questions - in the comments section below
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