In a good early sign for Ferrari in its bid to challenge Mercedes in Formula One, Sebastian Vettel was faster than reigning champion Lewis Hamilton on the first day of preseason testing on Monday.
Hamilton was the first car out, but Vettel had the quickest time at the Circuit de Barcelona. Hamilton was nearly half a second slower, and Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was third, more than a second behind Vettel. Valtteri Bottas of Williams was fourth.
Although test times often can be misleading, especially this early, it was clearly a positive start for Vettel, who was third in the standings last year and was the only driver to win races other than Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
“The first impression is good, the new car is a step forward,” Vettel said. “I felt confident enough, but we know there is still a lot of work in front of us.”
Seven other drivers tried out their cars on the first of four days of testing in Barcelona.
Rosberg will drive on Tuesday, as will two-time champion Fernando Alonso with McLaren, which last year endured dismal results under a renewed partnership with engine supplier Honda.
Alonso’s teammate, Jenson Button, had a promising first session for McLaren by running 84 laps and showing no apparent signs of the reliability issues that plagued the team last season. He was sixth fastest at the end of the day.
Hamilton was by far the busiest driver with 156 laps completed, more than double than Vettel, who ran 69 laps. A race at the Circuit de Barcelona is 66 laps.
Newcomer Haas, the first American-led team in F1 since 1986, faced a mechanical issue in its first run when the front wing of the car driven by Romain Grosjean fell off, but the Frenchman was able to return to the pits without further incidents. Grosjean completed only 31 laps, the least among all drivers. He was eighth fastest in the morning but only 10th in the afternoon.