Ferrari’s comeback season? Sebastial Vettel completed 169 trouble-free laps and was fastest in Monday’s opening preseason test at Barcelona. Picture: REUTERS
Ferrari’s comeback season? Sebastial Vettel completed 169 trouble-free laps and was fastest in Monday’s opening preseason test at Barcelona. Picture: REUTERS

Ferrari turned a page on its recent past last Friday as it unveiled the Formula One car designed to end an era of Mercedes domination and shatter Lewis Hamilton's dreams of a sixth championship this season.

The sport's oldest and most successful team, which last won a title more than a decade ago and finished runner-up last year, presented the SF90 with plenty of fanfare at their Maranello factory before Formula One testing began at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Monday.

"I'm looking forward to this year. I think the team is on the right path and hopefully we can continue improving," four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, winner of five races in 2018, assured the audience at last week’s car launch.

Vettel went on to set the quickest laptime in Monday’s opening preseason test in Spain that was attended by nine of the 10 teams, declaring himself very happy with the feel of the SF90.

The German has a new teammate in Charles Leclerc, replacing 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, and a new principal following the departure of Maurizio Arrivabene and appointment of Mattia Binotto.

"I'm extremely excited to start this new adventure," said Leclerc. "It's a dream since childhood. I've always been looking at the red cars, hoping to be one day in this car, so it's a very emotional day for me."

Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri said Raikkonen, now at Alfa Romeo, and Arrivabene would always be part of Ferrari's history but made clear the team was entering a new era. Noting that Ferrari had enjoyed its best season in 10 years, he said it had still fallen short of objectives in a setback that was never easy to swallow.

"I can assure you that we look ahead with strong commitment and determination," he said.

Camilleri said Vettel was as hungry as ever, and Leclerc a youngster with a great future.

Binotto said there were a lot of positives to take from 2018 but the new car was a step up.

"We simply tried to raise the bar, raise the level, tried to be as extreme as we could," he said. "Certainly we tried to push very hard, being innovative. The roll hoop is very narrow and very slim. The bodywork from the back, very slim.

The first race is in Australia on March 17.

Tanak wins Swedish WRC

Estonian Ott Tanak won Rally Sweden for Toyota on Sunday to take the lead in the World Rally Championship for the first time in his career.

Finland's Esapekka Lappi was second for Citroen, 53.7 seconds behind, with Belgian Thierry Neuville third for Hyundai and a further three seconds adrift in the second round of the season on icy and snow-covered roads.

Ott Tanak in a Toyota Yaris won last weekend’s snow-covered Rally Sweden. Picture: REUTERS
Ott Tanak in a Toyota Yaris won last weekend’s snow-covered Rally Sweden. Picture: REUTERS

Citroen's Sebastian Ogier, the reigning and six-times world champion who had led after winning last month's Monte Carlo Opener, lost hope of a top 10 finish after crashing into a snow bank on Friday and retiring.

The Frenchman returned to salvage two points in the final power stage won by Tanak. Tanak leads the championship on 47 points, ahead of Neuville (40) and Ogier (31).

Red Bull unveils its first Honda-powered car

Red Bull unveiled its first Honda-powered Formula One car last week with Max Verstappen driving the initial laps at Silverstone.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen tries out Honda power for the first time in Barcelona this week. Picture: REUTERS
Red Bull's Max Verstappen tries out Honda power for the first time in Barcelona this week. Picture: REUTERS

The former champions finished third overall last season, winning four races and well ahead of fourth-placed rivals Renault.

Red Bull ditched engine partners Renault at the end of last season, switching to Honda who also provide power units for sister team Toro Rosso.

Verstappen, who shared the victories with Australian Daniel Ricciardo last season, has a new teammate for 2019 in Frenchman Pierre Gasly.

Honda ended a difficult partnership with former greats McLaren at the end of 2017, with hopes of rekindling former glories ending in recriminations over a lack of performance and reliability.

Toro Rosso finished ninth of 10 teams last year with the Honda engine but Red Bull have sounded optimistic about the progress made by the Japanese manufacturer.

Mercedes: Brexit could favour Ferrari

Brexit is a major concern for Formula One world champions Mercedes who fear the “mother of all messes” could cause massive damage to Britain's motorsport industry while also helping rivals Ferrari, team boss Toto Wolff says.

Speaking to reporters on the first day of preseason testing in Barcelona, the Austrian said a chaotic British departure from the EU was the nightmare scenario for his team.

Mercedes, champions for the past five seasons, have their Formula One factory and engine operations based at Brackley and Brixworth near the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in Britain.

Seven of the 10 teams, including former champions Williams, Renault, Red Bull and McLaren also have factories in Britain with only Ferrari, Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso and Alfa Romeo based elsewhere in Europe.

"Brexit is a major concern for us and should be a major concern for all of us who and live and operate out of United Kingdom," said Wolff.

"The way we get parts and services is just in time, at the last minute into the UK and any major disruption in borders or with access would massively damage the Formula One industry in the UK.

"There is uncertainty at the moment whether the industry is going to be impacted by a no-deal Brexit, or a Brexit that is damaging to what for me is one of the outstanding industries in the UK. We have said before, the mother of all messes."

With just over a month left to Brexit, the ratification of the EU-UK divorce agreement has stalled in the British parliament, raising the risk that Britain could leave without an agreement in place to cushion economic disruption.

Formula One has 21 races this season, starting in Australia in March, with one in Britain and eight more in continental Europe including Monaco.