Formula 1 2018 will burst into action this week when winter testing begins on Monday at Barcelona, with the threat to Mercedes’ recent domination and McLaren-Renault’s public track debut the overriding focus of attention.
The teams will gather at the Circuit de Catalunya just outside of Barcelona for the first of eight days of pre-season winter testing before the new campaign officially starts on March 25 in Australia.
The second of two four-day tests, also held at Barcelona, will commence next week.
What to expect at Barcelona
On the back of four consecutive title doubles, Mercedes will start 2018 as the clear favourites but are expected to face stiff opposition from Ferrari and Red Bull.
McLaren, meanwhile, will be opening a new chapter in their history after swapping Honda for Renault power. Monday will be the first time a McLaren car will run a Renault engine in a timed session as the team strive to return to the podium for the first time in five years.
Following their own engine swap, the Toro Rosso-Honda partnership will also make its full track debut at Barcelona, with the team’s new car set to be unveiled early on Monday morning shortly before the track action begins.
While testing is considered to be a notoriously unreliable barometer of the pecking order heading into a new season, last year’s running at Barcelona provided an honest and near-comprehensive account of each team’s standing, from Ferrari’s narrow early-season pace advantage over Mercedes to Renault’s struggle on long runs and the grim breakdowns of the McLaren-Honda which would ultimately end in the partnership’s divorce.
How to follow the test on Sky Sports
Sky Sports will be covering the test from trackside and there are a host of ways you can follow all the action.
From dawn to dusk, the Sky F1 Digital team will be running a live blog of the track action complete with news and views from inside the paddock.
On Sky Sports News, Craig Slater will be in attendance on all eight days of winter testing to provide live updates and reports.
How to follow Test One on Sky F1 Monday February 26 Sky F1 digital live blog, SSN updates 9pm: Paddock Uncut 9:15pm: Ted’s Notebook Tuesday February 27 Sky F1 digital live blog, SSN updates 9pm: Paddock Uncut 9:15pm: Ted’s Notebook Wednesday February 28 Sky F1 digital live blog, SSN updates 9pm: Paddock Uncut 9:15pm: Ted’s Notebook Thursday March 1 Sky F1 digital live blog, SSN updates 9pm: Paddock Uncut 9:15pm: Ted’s Notebook
9pm will then become the TV time of choice for Sky Sports F1 viewers. First up after every day of track action will be Paddock Uncut, pulling together the best of the day’s interviews and reaction from the drivers.
And at 9.15pm Paddock Uncut will then be followed by the essential viewing that is Ted’s Notebook.
Both Paddock Uncut and Ted’s Notebook will also be made available in full on Sky Sports F1’s Digital platforms following their broadcast on the Sky Sports F1 channel.
A first look at the 2018 cars
Three months after the chequered flag fell on the 2017 season in Abu Dhabi, testing will provide a first look at the 2018 F1 cars on track in an official session.
Broadly speaking, the introduction of the Halo device around the cockpit – a fixture made mandatory by the FIA in a bid to improve the sport’s safety – marks the most radical variation from 2017 to 2018.
But every team will have made extensive tweaks to their cars over the winter. Ferrari have extended the length of their car in a bid to gain further aerodynamic performance while Mercedes are expected to run the W09 with an experimental higher rake than its W08 predecessor.
The new Red Bull’s front suspension will also be a particular focus of attention when it hits the track for the first time.
Why does F1 always test at Barcelona?
The Circuit de Catalunya has become F1’s established winter base over the past two decades and every team and driver will already be minutely aware of its challenges and variations.
Situated on the northern outskirts of Barcelona, the circuit’s location is one of its most attractive qualities. Relatively cheap and accessible, the teams can easily ship in spare parts overnight to be ready for the next day’s running without undue hassle.
The weather in northern Spain is also a factor. While the mornings are decidedly chilly, it rarely rains even in mid-winter in Barcelona, although the forecast for next week is unusually unsettled.
But it’s the circuit itself which perhaps offers the single most powerful reason for its ubiquitous presence on the winter calendar.
Although notoriously lean on overtaking opportunities when it hosts the Spanish GP, the Circuit de Catalunya is recognised as offering an all-round test of a car and its aerodynamic prowess with a mixture of left- and right-handed corners alongside a range of slow- and high-speed corners and a long start-finish straight.
When will the drivers know if their car is quick?
Analysis from Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson:
“You can hide lap times with fuel loads and so on, but a driver will always still know if his car is quick or not.
“I think some people seriously underestimate how much ‘feel’ a racing driver has for his car at this level. These cars really talk to you when you’re inside them and a driver is so well connected with the car that he will be able to feel the smallest detail – a 5psi difference in tyre pressure, for instance, will be felt by a driver at this level – and so he will definitely know very quickly whether in general they have a better car than last year.”
Barcelona Test One – Driver line-up Team Day One Day Two Day Three Day Four Mercedes Ferrari Red Bull Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen Force India Nikita Mazepin Esteban Ocon Sergio Perez Nicholas Latifi Williams Renault Toro Rosso Haas Romain Grosjean Kevin Magnussen Romain Grosjean Kevin Magnussen McLaren Fernando Alonso Stoffel Vandoorne Sauber
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