Drivers have been forced to adjust their driving styles because of the changes. “In the last few years, it was more or less the same, it was not a big difference,” said Charles Leclerc of Ferrari. “This year it is, so it makes it very, very interesting for the drivers.”
Verstappen, the reigning world champion, said the increase in weight was the main drawback of the new cars, particularly in low-speed corners where the cars felt less agile. But he said they were still enjoyable to drive and appeared to be easier to follow.
“The balance through the high-speed corners is quite nice,” he said. “I’ve been following a few cars, it seems like it’s easier to stay behind. You don’t have this weird loss of down force where suddenly you have a lot of understeer or massive oversteer.”
Teams arrived at testing with subtle differences in their car designs, particularly around the side pods that aid cooling and direct airflow on either side of the car, which may prove crucial to gain an advantage at the start of the season. On the first day of testing, Hamilton stood outside the Red Bull garage to get a look at Verstappen’s new car.
“You just try and get a close eye to see what is different if there is anything, why certain teams have chosen a certain route in terms of side-pod design or front wing and rear floor,” Hamilton said. “You have absolutely no idea where you stand.”
Formula 1’s hope is that closer competition and more exciting racing will build on the surge in interest, particularly in the United States, where the “Drive to Survive” series on Netflix has been popular.
“Formula 1 is in a great place, and I think this is another great step,” Brawn said. “We’re going to be in a far better place going forward with the type of car we’re going to have than we had. There’s lots of optimism for the season.
“I think we’ll see some interesting results this year from some of these young hot shoes who are coming through. If they get the right car behind them, we can all have a lot of fun.”