Winner - Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel completed the opening day just 0.113 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton's fastest time in the Mercedes. When you consider this was set on the soft tyre compound apposed to Hamilton's super softs, the new SF70-H looks quick. The following day Kimi Raikkonen took the helm of the Ferrari and was 0.023 seconds quicker than the Mercedes with the same tyre compounds. While we don't know for sure if the car was being run light on fuel, the Ferrari still looks like the hot ticket this season. Its times through the week were also consistent and Gary Anderson's track side observations report back on the SF70-H being the most balanced and stable looking through the bends. Even rivals Redbull have looked skittish and the Mercedes more hesitant to turn-in. The extreme sidepod design and barge boards seem to have materialised into great aerodynamic performance.
Loser - Mclaren Honda
Snowball affect - a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and also perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous (a vicious circle, a "spiral of decline")
Back in 2014 Ron Dennis applied pressure to upcoming partners Honda, requesting their engine be ready for the following season. The Japanese manufacturer had wanted another year to develop a successful power unit to suit the new regulations. McLaren were still hurting from their loss of major title sponsor Vodafone and so Dennis was eager his new partnership kick started life back into the brand as soon as possible. This ultimately cost him his job and 2015 became McLaren's worst points finish in 35 years. The Honda engine was the worst on the grid, with a 'size zero' brief leading to an over-ambitious design that didn't deliver. A tight axial compressor turbo embedded in the V of the engine struggled to generate power. To further compound issues the energy recovery simply couldn't deliver full power over a long straight.
Although Honda worked hard to improve things in 2016 McLaren are still no where near the position their heritage and size of operation should reflect. Honda's new chief Yusuke Hasegawa has overseen a redesign of the entire engine concept for the new season. The engine features a split turbo design more in line with Mercedes, with the turbo compressor at the front of the engine at the turbine at the rear. Abandoning a development route means two years of their work on the axial turbo is out of the window.
Unfortunately for Honda the unit has been problematic. Day 1 saw Fernando Alonso sidelined in the morning with problems with the oil system. The engine was shipped back to Japan for diagnosis which confirmed the issue to be the actual design of the oil tank. To rub salt into the wounds team mate Stoffel Vandoorne's unit suffered a big failure the following day. While head scratching continues, Hasegawa was clearly concerned when pressed on how these events would affect their first race:
"Oil tank, definitely not. The mechanical issue, I don't know, I'm yet to be confident about that, but of course I worry about that."
While its up to Honda to raise their game McLaren can't blame all its testing woes on the engine. The new MCL32 has looked to lack grip trackside according to Gary Anderson:
"Through that complex, the McLaren never looked good. Alonso couldn't get hard on the throttle out of Turn 2 - the car just starts moving - and I never saw him go into Turn 3 flat on the throttle. He's either having to lift big time beforehand, or just as he's coming into the corner. It's not understeer, just a lack of grip. McLaren can't really complain about Honda's engine, because there are still horses left in there that they're not using at the minute. It looks OK on the very softest tyres, but on softs and mediums - the most relevant tyres for this track - it's just not there."
Lets hope the Woking team can have even a little turn of fortune in the coming week...