Barcelona was again the focal point for Formula 1 fans last week, with 10 teams working around the clock at the well-worn Montmeló circuit, across the final four days of pre-season testing.
And the end result was a thriller, one that points to an even more intense battle at the front this year…
…with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel exactly three thousandths of a second up on Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, less than the blink of an eye, with just over three tenths covering the top four on the softest C5 tyre.
But Ferrari looks to have more time in hand, reckoned to be another three tenths. The SF90 an agile, predictable racer, despite a wheel rim issue on day two that put Vettel into the turn three barriers.
That means the challenge is on for Mercedes, the Silver Arrows bringing a substantial upgrade package, reportedly its Melbourne-spec to test two. The Brackley-based squad now in a race against time to understand its W10 better before touching down in Melbourne.
“This is going to be the toughest battle yet,” Hamilton said.
Red Bull Racing remains an unknown, having shied away from glory runs, Pierre Gasly shaken after a crash, his second of the test, at the quick Turn 9; while Max Verstappen ran laps on the harder C3 tyre.
Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg was fifth fastest, ahead of the two Toro Rossos, with the yellow team reckoned to head the mid-field at this stage, though 12th-placed Daniel Ricciardo said it’s far from guaranteed.
One thing that is certain, though, is Williams brings up the rear of the field at least for now. George Russell’s best time, a 1:18.130 - more than half a second behind Racing Point’s Lance Stroll. The real pace difference said to be more like 1.2 seconds, though the FW42 is far more benign.
Onto distance, and Mercedes completed the most, with 1190 laps, 193 ahead of Ferrari. The top eight all logging at least 800 laps; Williams, on 567, missing two and a half days.
…and reliability across the field was rock-solid with all 10 teams combined completing over 3000 kilometres more than in 2018, 6000 more than they did in 2017 - with over 40,000 kilometres logged in total…. which is equal to the circumference of the earth.
All of which builds hype for another stunning season, as the sport sets its sights on round one in Australia.