FORMULA ONE cars at speed are like nothing else. Forget the arguments on Power Units, of a monotone exhaust note, halos and too many aero aids… these cars are just stunning when they are driven hard.
WORDS: Dale Rodgers IMAGES: Red Bull Content Pool
Turn 14 at Albert Park offers a keen eye an insight into the differences between the driving styles and aero grip that the 2019 F1 contenders offer up. It is a fifth gear, 220km test, where many driver has come to grief over the years.
Does the analysis point to a race winner? Probably not, but it demonstrates clearly those who have already produced a chassis that will be at the front of the grid.
Lewis Hamilton is quite sublime. He apexes late but leans on the Mercedes to turn and punch him out for the short run to Turn 15. Rarely does he hit the saw tooth curb on the exit. Teammate Valtteri Bottas also looks strong, but not as committed as Hamilton.
The Ferrari pair are quick. Charles Leclerc looks every bit as confident as Sebastian Vettel, but both take a more traditional apex than Hamilton. Make no doubt, the Scuderia’s latest is glued and very quick.
Then comes Max. The Red Bull design team is renowned for brilliant chassis even if they have been down on power. But Verstappen seems on many occasions to have to make one or two bites to get the RB15 turned in. On the exit he pounds the saw tooth and brings up the dust lap after lap. He is still third fastest behind the two Mercedes.
Team mate Pierre Gasly looks quick also, but his Red Bull Honda looks more settled.
Toro Rosso refugee Danny Kvyat showed why Franz Tost had faith. He is fast and often ragged and hustles the STR14 all the way up to Turn 15.
Kimi Räikkönen is the surprise of the day with a sixth place in P2. As always Kimi is smooth, no fuss and lap after lap runs this section of track quickly and efficiently. He is the classic driver who does not look that fast, until you check the time sheets. The Alfa Romeo looks to be a very good package in 2019.
And so to Renault. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg has some niggly, ‘first day of school’ problems, but the cars look settled but not in the league of the Mercedes and Ferrari. Hulkenberg looks to attack Turn 14 harder than Dan, but the #3 Renault looks smoother and every bit as quick.
A line astern finish in P7 and P8 points to where the team is in outright speed after Day 1.
Both HAAS drivers were almost inseparable through Turn 14. Similar lines, although Grosjean used more exit curb than Magnussen. The cars were less than 2/10ths apart on the time sheets.
Of the rest, the newly named Racing Point continued the good work of Force India with a package that looked like it had good directional change. Like the HAAS team, only a few tenths separate Stroll and Perez.
The McLaren and Williams are visibly difficult. Both Williams drivers look like they have to turn in early simply to rotate the car through the corner. They enter very shallow which does not translate to exit speed. Even with the early apex they are still banging the saw tooth curb on exit showing that the FW42 is a handful.
Not much better is McLaren. A lot of promise shown at Barcelona did not translate to speed at Albert Park. The car just does not have the speed and grip through the challenge of Turn 14.
So, the grid is largely the same at this stage as the sun set on 2018. Expect a Silver and Scarlet battle at the front. Red Bull are clearly third, with a big mid field battle developing with Renault, Alfa Romeo, HAAS and Toro Rosso.
Williams and McLaren will not bother the bookmakers in 2019.