Sebastian Vettel topped the first day of Formula One's preseason after Ferrari made an impressive start to testing.
Vettel was 0.4 seconds quicker than the next-fastest driver, Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, and completed the most laps with a total of 169. Vettel racked up a string of laps in the 1:18s towards the end of the morning session, using Pirelli's new C3 compound (the equivalent of last year's soft tyres) to set the fastest time.
Main rivals Mercedes had a relatively low-key first day of testing, but still completed significant mileage. Between Valtteri Bottas in the morning and Lewis Hamilton in the afternoon, the car covered 150 laps without any obvious issues. They finished eighth and ninth overall, respectively, in the standings, but Mercedes historically approaches testing on heavy fuel and harder compound tyres than its rivals. As a signal of intent, the world champions were first out of the garage in the morning and wasted no time in going straight into a multiple-lap run that was only cut short by a red flag.
That red flag was caused by Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo. He made it five corners into a hot lap before the rear of his car stepped out on corner entry and he spun into the gravel. With the Alfa Romeo beached, he had to abandon it there and wait for the marshals to arrive to bring the car back to the pits on a flatbed truck. Although it was an embarrassing moment on his first full day with his new team, no damage was done and he was soon back on track to set the fifth-fastest time by the end of the day with a total of 114 laps.
Three more red flags followed later in the day; one when Romain Grosjean lost fuel pressure in his Haas, another when Sainz's McLaren came to a halt at the end of the pit lane with a loss of drive, and a final one in the last minute when Raikkonen stopped on the pit straight. Haas lost out on a significant chunk of track time but still set the third-fastest time, while McLaren made a swift recovery, allowing Sainz to set his fastest time, 0.4s off Vettel's benchmark, using the C4 tyres (the equivalent of last year's ultra-softs).
Red Bull, which is hoping to take the fight to the top two teams with Honda power this year, finished fourth overall with Max Verstappen completing 128 laps at the wheel.
"I think Honda have had a good winter and certainly they are reducing that gap [to Ferrari and Mercedes] significantly, but of course what you don't know is what the others have done," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Monday. "If they have found another 50kw [of power] then we've got a big issue.
"We've been very impressed by the approach of Honda and the progress that they've made. For us it's a vital piece of the jigsaw to get us into a competitive position not just for this year but for next year and potentially beyond."
Of the teams running, Racing Point had the worst day with just 30 laps. The team put the lack of mileage down to first day teething problems after it didn't complete a shakedown like the majority of other teams ahead of the first day of testing. Sergio Perez's fastest lap was still good enough for seventh, however, behind the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.
Renault finished the day at the bottom of the timesheets after splitting its session between Nico Hulkenberg in the morning and Daniel Ricciardo in the afternoon. However, the two drivers completed 109 laps in total to gather a decent amount of data for the team.
Williams did not take part in the first day of the test due to the late arrival of its car and will also miss the second day on Tuesday.
Times at close:
1. Vettel, Ferrari, 1:18.161, 169 laps (C3)
2. Sainz, McLaren, 1:18.558, 119 laps (C4)
3. Grosjean, Haas, 1:19.159, 65 laps (C3)
4. Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:19.426, 128 laps (C3)
5. Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, 1:19.462, 114 laps (C3)
6. Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:19.464, 77 laps (C4)
7. Perez, Racing Point, 1:944, 30 laps (C3)
8. Bottas, Mercedes, 1:20.127, 69 laps (C2)
9. Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:20.135, 81 laps (C2)
10. Hulkenberg, Renault, 1:20.980, 65 laps (C2)
11. Ricciardo, Renault, 1:20.983, 44 laps (C2)
(Tyre compounds in brackets. Hardest to softest: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5)