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Hulkenberg tops timesheets but Renault doesn't convince

NEWS STORY
21/02/2019

The briefest glimpse at the Barcelona timesheets would suggest that Daniel Ricciardo made the right move, the Australian finishing third quickest today and his teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, quickest.

However, with just 58 laps completed in total, Hulkenberg stopping out on track an hour from the end and thereby causing the second red flag of the day, reliability is clearly an issue.

Ahead of the unveiling of the RS19 the team was determined to play down expectations, refusing to reveal season targets in terms of points, podiums or championship positions, while also unwilling to comment on expected performance gains.

This determination not to express targets naturally led to fears that the French team is not heading into the season with confidence, a feeling backed up by the lack of media interaction ever since Ricciardo's DRS failure on Tuesday.

While the French team was determined not to allow itself be drawn into comparisons with Honda, the fact is that after the opening four days of testing, where the Japanese power units have shown reliability and pace, Messrs Horner, Marko and Verstappen must be allowing themselves wry smile.

Sandwiched between the two Renaults at the top of the timesheets is Alexander Albon, the Thai driver having posted his time just before the lunch break.

With another 136 laps on the STR14, the car continues to show good reliability and pace, Albon and Daniil Kvyat second and third in the overall timings, behind the troubled Renault.

"My first two days of F1 testing completed and I really enjoyed it!" said the Thai driver. "We had a good day today topping the timesheets in the morning session, I know it's still early days and we don't know what everyone else is doing but it's a good sign for the future. The first day began with a tricky start, but the team made me feel comfortable after that and we were able to get on with the programme.

"I think everything is going to plan quite well, we've hit our mileage target which is important for the guys back at the factory, and of course at the same time, I'm still learning the car. The grip is so high that it took a while for my head to adjust to it, it's been a big learning curve! I'm still not fully in the rhythm yet but I think after next week I'll be there and ready to race."

Like his teammate Lewis Hamilton earlier, this afternoon Valtteri Bottas was allowed to stretch the legs of the W10, the Finn leapfrogging the Briton, albeit on the softer (C5) tyre that was also used by the Renaults and Toro Rosso with good affect.

Once again, the Ferrari looks to be the class of the field, the SF90 looking stable and enjoying strong pace and reliability.

While Charles Leclerc's best time was 0.6s off the pace but that was using the C3 rubber.

As on previous days, most of the teams concentrated on longer runs this afternoon, and the Ferrari, in particular showed consistency while allowing the driver to push that little bit harder.

While most tended to avoid kerbs like that at the inside of T9, the SF90 rode it without hesitation.

"For now, I don't want to say too much, because this is just testing" said Leclerc. "But the feeling from the car is very good. We did many laps, the reliability was good and every day we managed to complete our programme.

"I feel quite at ease in the car, even if there are still a few things I need to get used to, including how the team operates. But this is quite an easy car to drive. As Seb said, this doesn't feel like a new car, but more like one that is quite well developed. Driveability is very good, which shows that the team has done an amazing job over the winter to bring a very solid car here.

Having begun the day with a strange trip into the kitty litter, things got progressively better for Lando Norris.

By session end he was seventh on the timesheets, just a second off the pace, and with 132 laps completed. All in all, this was the Woking outfit's best day so far.

"I think today I did the most laps I've ever done on a test day. It was also the cleanest day we've had in terms of consistent running this week, so it was very productive.

"We did some more race simulation today and I've definitely learned a lot over my two days in the car. We've found some improvements over the week, but there's still a lot to work on.

"Overall, it's been a good week. The guys have done a solid job over the winter putting the car together and the test has gone pretty smoothly.

"We now have a better idea of the direction we want to work in with the car, and its strengths and weaknesses, and we'll try to work on those weaknesses next week."

Antonio Giovinazzi's day ended with two red flags, one when he stopped at the end of the pitlane, and the second a few minutes later after he'd got going again.

Normally this might worry the Italian and his team, but having completed a very, very impressive 154 laps, it is unlikely that Alfa Romeo will be losing too much sleep tonight.

Early days, but the C38 continues to look to be a real contender for best of the rest this year.

"After another full day in the car, I am satisfied with the progress we have made this week and overall our team is feeling motivated by our recent learnings. I feel comfortable in the car as well as in the team itself and we are all working together constructively. We have another week of testing ahead of us which we will use to focus on making further progress and learn even more about our new car. I am already looking forward to being back on track."

While one Ferrari-powered team improves by leaps and bounds, not so Haas, which really hasn't impressed thus far.

Once again, the American team split driver duties with Romain Grosjean handing the car over to Kevin Magnussen at lunchtime. Other than anything else, one cannot help but feel that splitting driver duties this way takes up unnecessary time and also interferes with the general flow. Just because it works – and how – for Mercedes...

While people still continue to rave about the livery, the fact is that in terms of what matters most, the Haas isn't looing likely to build on the success of 2018 at this stage. In the early stages of the afternoon, Magnussen was really struggling with the car, which suggests a few days of burning the midnight oil for the American team.

"It was a good morning," said Grosjean. "I pretty much did the whole program we had planned, even finishing earlier than scheduled, so that's good. There were no problems on the car, which was obviously something we were looking at after the first few days. The car still feels very good. We're still trying things, testing things, and getting the mileage in. I think we're fairly happy with where we are."

"I was happy to get a lot of laps in this afternoon," added Magnussen, "and more importantly, I felt comfortable in the car. We can see how the car's improving and we enjoyed some consistent running today through both sessions. Of course, there's plenty more work to do, but I'm looking forward to driving the VF-19 again next week. We've definitely got something positive to build on as we prepare for the second test."

Normally, being eleventh on the timesheets would be cause for concern, particularly for those perennial whingers at Red Bull, but clearly the Austrian team has a cunning plan, as it moves forward with its new partner, and another 146 laps for the RB15 is part of it.

Like the Ferrari, the Bull doesn't appear ruffled by the kerbs, unlike a number of its rivals.

Helmut Marko and Christian Horner are the first to admit that Ferrari has the edge, but there is a growing confidence about this team, and seemingly with good reason.

"It was a really productive day" said Gasly. "We managed 146 laps, so a lot of long runs but also a lot of tests done for the Team. The overall feeling with the car is really good. It doesn't show on the lap times today, but it is testing and we know what we're doing, so I'm pretty happy. This week has gone well. I managed to do a lot of laps, which was important for me, and I was able to get used to the car and my new engineer. We've done some good work in that regard this week and there's a lot more to come next week as we get ready for Melbourne."

Check out our Thursday gallery from Barcelona, here.

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1. Posted by Jol66, 22/02/2019 8:20

"Talk about bias to the so called top 3 this site should be called The Top 3 and the rest(to borrow your line) I thought journalists were supposed to write unbiased stories I guess I'm wrong. "

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