We are now in the very short period between when the various Formula 1 teams are back at base after the 2018 pre-season testing days at the Spanish 'Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya', unusually interrupted by snow this year, and the first Grand Prix of the year at Melbourne.

Some of those team technical directors will be sitting at the head of their design office staff meeting wondering why they are not as quick as they thought they would be and others will be sitting comfortably thinking that everything that the hundreds of laps their cars and drivers completed, over eight days of testing, went pretty much to plan.

In the latter camp, once again, Mercedes seems to be the dominant force with over one thousand relatively trouble free laps completed in a car that the team says is a development of the 2017 version. No staggering new innovations, no mind-boggling, showboating fastest lap - in fact only seventh fastest overall - but giving the impression of a thoroughbred racehorse being held in check while training for an endurance event.

On this showing then Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have to be the favourites, yet again, for the new season.


The Ferrari, in the hands of Sebastian Vettel, won the fastest overall lap battle and also, with over nine hundred laps completed, second place in the endurance stakes, but that fastest ever lap at this track, set on the new 'hypersoft' Pirelli tyres, was not indicative of the general performance of the car in speed terms during the test.

The Scuderia will certainly be competition for Mercedes but just how close is debatable.

What is perhaps less debatable is the improvement of the Red Bull – Renault team with a quietly confidant Daniel Ricciardo, not one to often resort to hyperbole, saying the team "are there or thereabouts, I think we will be in the hunt". The number of laps completed, 783, and the consistent times certainly suggest that.

The raging bull with Ricciardo and the speedy – and speedily maturing - Max Verstappen could easily be the dark horses to regularly beat the 'Prancing Horse' of Scuderia Ferrari and maybe on occasion even blunt the Mercedes star.

Another team sitting down with some 'afterglow' from the testing was Toro Rosso. It must have been with some trepidation that the team approached the first day of the test, with a new Honda engine sitting comfortably in the back. After a disastrous three years with McLaren the performance and reliability of the latest Honda RA618H power unit – 822 laps completed – was simply spectacular and perhaps surprising in the extreme. Round and round it went, at a very decent pace and with hardly a hitch. A pleasant surprise for not only team boss Franz Tost but also a very encouraging sign for drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley.

If the car is as 'easy' to drive as the team claims and the Honda unit continues to be reliable and competitive, then surely Hartley will be in with a good chance of claiming the first F1 championship points, as a Kiwi, for more than a generation. A win perhaps? Stranger things have happened.

Slightly on the other side of the coin sits McLaren who seem to be constantly, for yet another year, in a state of unreliability. With, so it is said, one of the best chassis on the grid and a Renault power unit that is serving the Red Bull team so well, it must have been disappointing and frustrating for the team to have completed only 619 laps, the lowest number of all the teams. Fernando Alonso did actually manage to set the second quickest time of the test period (with an eye on potential new sponsors perhaps?) but I think there is an uncomfortable feeling about how the whole chassis / engine package will 'gel' as quickly as the team would like.

McLaren may well, eventually, become the 'best of the rest', but that is simply not good enough for this team, once the most successful in Formula 1 history.

Of the rest, the Renault squad had a 'solid' test with over 800 laps completed and some good consistent lap times but not yet in line to threaten the likely race winners.

Williams seem to be still wandering in a wilderness of wondering as the two inexperienced drivers, in Lance Stroll and newcomer Sergey Sirotkin, backed up by the returning Robert Kubica, struggled to find any performance. Over 800 laps completed but with the slowest of all the lap times and with those drivers on the roster, I fear that not even with the benefit of the best power unit on the grid will their be light to show the path out of that wilderness.

The Haas team, nearly 700 laps under their belt, had a good test period and have certainly made gains from 2017. This team is essentially a good one who are still getting to grips with Formula 1 in general but the signs are there that they may well be up amongst the top of the midfield teams sooner rather than later.

On the other hand the Force India team with just over 700 laps completed, and who were looking so promising in 2017, had a bad couple of weeks with a car that simply did not respond, in the opinion of the team, as it should have done. It was simply slow and leaves a lot of work to be done and quickly.

Sauber Alfa Romeo (read Ferrari 'B' team) completed nearly 800, mostly unspectacular, laps. Apart from being a regular visitor to the gravel traps that is. Yet again, this perennially underfunded team seem destined to be the regular grid 'tail end Charlies' but at least this year they have the most up to date Ferrari engine to help spur them on and with the Alfa Romeo commercial tie up, more funding.

So, what does it all mean?

Nothing really, until the race next Sunday when all, or some, shall be revealed.