Right now the Formula One circus is currently gearing up for the 2017 campaign with two weeks of pre-season testing in Barcelona. The early lap-times offer a tiny glimpse into how things may shake out this season, but history warns that any indicators must be taken with caution.
Teams will be doing all they can to keep their cards close to their chest, and we have no idea how much fuel any car is running in Catalunya this winter.
But in years gone by we’ve seen a few teams storm to the top of the timesheets, and they’ve then gone on to prove that pre-season pace was no fluke.
Ferrari – 2004
After Ferrari landed a fifth straight constructors’ title in 2003, beleaguered McLaren and Williams thought they had got it right in 2004.
Both British teams showed off some handy pace in pre-season – before the boys from Maranello raised the bar yet again.
The Scuderia waited a few weeks before they pitched their F2004 in a direct comparison versus their rivals.
But in just one day in Italy, Michael Schumacher went over a second faster than either McLaren or Williams could manage.
It was no fluke either. Ferrari and Schumacher won 12 of the opening 13 races en route to reaching a new level of dominance.
Brawn GP – 2009
This was – and remains – one of sport’s great fairytale stories, but the clues were there from the beginning.
After Honda pulled the plug on their F1 operation at the end of 2008, Ross Brawn stepped in at the 11th hour to rescue hundreds of staff – and Jenson Button – from unemployment.
On the back foot, the team made a quiet debut at Silverstone, but immediately Button was pleased with the BGP001.
When the reformed squad made it to Barcelona to see how they stacked up against the rest of the field, Button proved they were in good shape with fourth place on day one.
But the real marker lay on further in the week. Button went a second quicker than anyone else on the penultimate day, while team-mate Rubens Barrichello repeated the feat 24 hours later.
And we all know what happened next.
Button won six of the opening seven races – and the world championship – while Barrichello’s two wins later in the season proved crucial in ensuring Brawn landed the constructors championship too.
But sometimes what you see in pre-season isn’t always what you get…
Prost GP – 2001
Alain Prost was a world-class driver, but his stint as team boss was disastrous.
After a dismal 2000 season which saw his team finish last with no points, Prost had it all to do in 2001.
Under continued pressure from the French government, Prost’s eponymous team posted blistering lap-times ahead of the new season and it was whispered that it might just be their year.
But was it legit pace? Or was it a PR exercise to land vital sponsors?
Well, given that the AP04 picked up just four points all season, and the team folded at the end of the campaign, we fancy it was the latter.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing