Last year’s midfield battle was a fierce-fought contest, with Renault, Haas, McLaren, Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber all getting in the mix. It was Renault who came out on top – but the team’s new driver Daniel Ricciardo admitted it would be hard for them to repeat the feat in 2019, judging by the pace seen so far in pre-season testing.
Following the second day of Week 2 of testing in Barcelona, it was McLaren’s Carlos Sainz heading the time sheets with a 1m 17.144s, trumping Ricciardo’s Renault team mate Nico Hulkenberg’s previous best, a 1m 17.393s set at the end of last week. And even though Ricciardo conceded that the top three teams of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull looked to still have the advantage over the rest, he still had to admit that the pace in the midfield had been strong so far.
“It definitely looks like it’s close in that midfield group,” he said. “I would assume now the top three teams still have a bit of margin on the others.
“[But] if you look at Sainz’s time, even if that’s softest tyre, low on fuel – I’m not sure, but if it is, it’s still a 1m 17s so it’s fast. But, again, because we’re not all out at the same time on the same fuel loads... so realistically, we’re not going to know until qualifying in Melbourne when everyone’s same fuel, same tyres, same track conditions. But I would, at the moment, just say that midfield group… it looks close, because everyone’s able to do a low 17s, so it’s close. Which is good for you guys, but I want to get away from that!”
“I’d like to think that we’re at the front of [the midfield],” he added, “but there’s no hard evidence yet that we are.”