Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set a blistering pace on the opening day of Formula One pre-season testing in Barcelona on Monday.
The German, bidding to bounce back from an error-prone campaign that enabled Lewis Hamilton to sew up the championship with two rounds to spare, was half-a-second quicker than anybody else.
Lap times in Formula One testing should be treated with caution – indeed Hamilton finished ninth of the 11 runners as his Mercedes team focused on mileage rather than speed – but Vettel’s eye-catching effort was impressive nonetheless.
The Ferrari team, who like their number one driver were guilty of making mistakes last season, are under new management this term.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was sacked last month, with former technical chief Mattia Binotto now heading up their challenge.
At Ferrari’s car launch in Maranello last week, Binotto said F1’s new rules – adaptions to the front and rear wing designs to spice up the racing – could be a game changer.
And Vettel clocked up more laps (169), and a time (one minute 18.161 seconds) that was faster than any driver managed in the opening winter test at the same Circuit de Catalunya venue last year.
Mercedes star Hamilton, who clocked 81 laps, and team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who completed 69 laps before lunch, were two seconds off Vettel’s pace.
There was encouraging signs for McLaren. Last year a series of issues plagued their winter running before they went on to endure a painful campaign, too.
But on Monday their new driver, Carlos Sainz, finished behind only Vettel, half-a-second slower than the Ferrari car.
British teenager Lando Norris will get his first proper taste of the new McLaren on Tuesday.
For Williams, the news was rather more bleak. The British constructor were the only team absent from running on Monday having failed to get their car ready in time.
And deputy team principal Claire Williams confirmed that her outfit – which finished rooted to the foot of the constructors’ championship last year – will now not be in action until at least day three of this week’s four-day first test.
“This is obviously extremely disappointing, but it is unfortunately the situation we are in,” she said.
British rookie George Russell and the returning Robert Kubica were already playing catch-up, and following this week’s test, there will be just four further days of running before the new season starts in Melbourne on March 17.