The new Formula 1 season gets underway in Australia on March 17 – but before the teams head down under, two weeks of pre-season winter testing awaits. Two months on from the last time we saw on-track action, Barcelona will welcome the teams and drivers for the first test of 2019 next week. So, why should you be excited for the next two weeks? Let us explain...
A real first-look at the 2019 challengers
While the car launches are certainly reason to get excited for the upcoming season, teams tend to keep things under wraps until the first test, meaning we’re yet to get a real look at the challengers that will line up on the grid in Australia.
There’s various reasons for this, with one being to reduce the time available for rivals to potentially copy their design – and it ultimately means that Day 1 of the Barcelona test will be the first time we get a proper look at the 2019 versions.
Will the simplified front wings make a big difference? How will the drivers look behind the wheels of their new cars? And will anyone don a new-look helmet? We’ll find out on February 18...
The drivers will have been busy getting experience under their belt in the simulator, but that’s nothing like the real thing – and Barcelona testing will be the first time they’ll get to drive their cars in anger in 2019.
It’s all about gathering data and ironing out any problems or setbacks so that come Australia, the teams have a good base car which they can adjust and improve over the season.
And the best way of doing that is clocking up the laps in pre-season testing, allowing the drivers to secure as much lappage as possible. Last year it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who notched up the most mileage, a whopping 643 laps over the eight days.
Who will take the crown for most laps this year? It really is anyone's guess - though you suspect it won't be a Williams driver, after the British team declared their absence from the first day of running.
A team set to cause a surprise
Who will be this season’s surprise package? Last year, Haas stunned the paddock when their car emerged as the fourth fastest, and they were able to bring that form into the season – although it was ultimately Renault who came out on top in the battle for ‘best of the rest’.
And remember 2009 pre-season testing when Brawn, despite a lack of track time, left their rivals speechless when Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello displayed the sheer pace of the Brawn BGP 001, going over a second quicker than the rest of the field?
Often, there’s always one team that does a better job than everyone expects. Could it be Sauber, re-christened as Alfa Romeo for 2019, who progressed as the 2018 season went on? With Kimi Raikkonen now back with the Swiss squad, who knows what they could achieve in Barcelona...
There’s plenty of reason for optimism at Red Bull. Having parted ways with Renault, the switch to Honda power units marks a new era for the four-time world champions – and they’ll be hoping to reap the rewards of that new tie-up.
Relations between Red Bull and Renault had grown increasingly fractious in the years following their dominance together, with reliability issues hindering their 2018 campaign and ultimately leading to their break up.
Honda showed signs of progress with junior team Toro Rosso last year, and that was enough to persuade Red Bull to take a punt with the Japanese engine supplier. But there’s no guarantee that it’s a match made in heaven – remember how the Honda-McLaren partnership ended...
Ferrari vs Mercedes
At points in 2018, Red Bull were indomitable, but the team ultimately had to watch from the sidelines as Mercedes and Ferrari enjoyed yet another fascinating scrap at the head of the constructors’ standings.
Mercedes were making some big noises at the launch of the new W10 about having made their power unit even more efficient for 2019, while Ferrari boast a new Team Principal in the form of Mattia Binotto, and a new driver, in the form of 2018’s Sauber super-rookie Charles Leclerc. Which team will deliver the first blow in Barcelona to take the psychological advantage heading to Melbourne?
F1’s glamorous, isn’t it? Well not all the time. Barcelona in February can get pretty chilly, with 2018’s winter testing living up to its name when snow arrived, throwing a spanner in the works of all the teams’ run programmes. If that happens in 2019, it will be bad news for all the squads, but especially for the less prepared ones, who would have been counting on a full eight days of testing to sort out any niggles ahead of Australia.
Rain is not unheard of either, and while cars can still run when it’s wet, the ideal conditions for teams to find out as much as they can about their new machines is when there’s bone-dry tarmac and clear blue skies.
How will the rookies fare?
There’ll be quite the bumper crop of rookies for 2019, with George Russell, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris – as well as near-rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, who was a last-minute call-up to start two races with Sauber in 2017 – making their first testing appearances as fully-minted F1 drivers. That will be a particularly daunting task for Alexander Albon, given that Toro Rosso’s Thai driver has never driven a Formula 1 car on a circuit before...
At the Circuit de Catalunya, Albon and his fellow rookies’ chief tasks will be trying to put as much mileage on the board while keeping their lovely new Formula 1 cars out of the barriers. A good first winter test can do wonders for a rookie’s confidence heading into their inaugural season. Let’s hope the young’uns can avoid the Spanish gravel and make it out of Barcelona still in their new team boss’ good books...