Daniel Ricciardo had a slow start to his time at Renault.
Daniel Ricciardo had a slow start to his time at Renault.

Cruel Red Bull claim as Ricciardo goes slow

FOR Sebastian Vettel, the opening day of the F1 pre-season couldn't have gone any better.

Vettel, the runner-up to the title last season, clocked the fastest time, was the busiest driver with 169 laps and, most importantly, felt right at home behind the wheel of his new Ferrari.

"We couldn't have hoped for a better day," Vettel said after setting a session-best lap time of 1 minute, 18.161 seconds. "It was unbelievable. The car was working very well. We had no issues slowing us down.

"It is obviously very early and this will be meaningless in a couple of weeks, but for now, a huge compliment to everyone at the factory. What they put on the track today was very close to perfection."

Vettel has the daunting goal of ending Mercedes' five-year dominance of F1. Defending champion Lewis Hamilton shared time behind the wheel for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas and ended up with the ninth-fastest time, but it is more very likely that Mercedes was not aiming to top the leaderboard.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff acknowledged that Ferrari looked quick, but downplayed the importance of lap times in the preseason.

"That is not what tests are about," Wolff said. "It's about going through all the parts and looking at all the data."

Carlos Sainz put in the second-quickest lap in his first ride with McLaren, followed by Haas' Romain Grosjean and Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, who joined the team from Red Bull, and Nico Hulkenberg put in the slowest times of the day, finishing more than 2.8 seconds slower than Vettel.

It won't be a big concern for Ricciardo given times aren't too important at this stage of preparation. It's more to do with getting used to a new car and the 29-year-old said afterwards he was looking forward to getting more laps under his belt and developing a better feel for things at his new outfit.

Renault may well have been holding something back, given the surprise of Ricciardo running slowest, but Red Bull's boast after testing won't exactly be music to the Aussie's ears. He left the energy drink team after a season plagued by mechanical dramas, which prompted Red Bull to change engine providers, ditching Renault and teaming up with Honda in 2019.

And according to team boss Christian Horner, the new power unit is already delivering.

"Power is a dominating factor, but I have to say that the installation of this engine into the chassis is probably the best one we have ever had," Horner said, according to Motorsport.com.

"When you look how neatly integrated it is into the chassis, it really is a thing of beauty.

"The whole engineering team collectively with Honda have done a great job in terms of installing what looks like a Swiss clock into the back of our chassis."

It would be cruel to Ricciardo if his former team found a silver bullet to put it in the race for a championship so soon after he decided to leave, but we'll have to wait and see how things play out.

Williams, which finished last in the team standings last year, missed the first day of testing and is likely to miss the next session as well. Alfa Romeo, previously known as Sauber, unveiled its new burgundy-and-white car in the pit lane before testing began.

Kimi Raikkonen, who joined the team from Ferrari, had the fifth-best time but also went off the track twice without damaging his car.

The main focus of these tests is for teams to adapt to rule changes for their cars' front wing design. The goal is to make racing more exciting by facilitating overtaking. The new regulations should reduce the turbulence hitting trailing cars, which has slowed them down and made passing more difficult.

Red Bull boss Chris Horner said that the new rules mean "there is a blank canvas this year". Testing will continue through Thursday and then again from February 26-March 1 at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 17.


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