Mercedes continue to dominate – Day 1 analysis

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F1 Test, Barcelona, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Formula One has finally returned to action today when the official pre-season testing kicked off today at the favoured test and grand prix track of Barcelona-Catalunya. The first day saw Mercedes continue to demostrate its dominating form.

After eleven weeks without an official session for Formula One cars, teams and drivers headed to Barcelona, Spain to get their brand-new race machines out on track. The regulation has changed for this year with the number of days dropping from eight to just six. The reduction of test days prompts teams and drivers to avoid the slightest of mistakes if they do not want to waste the even more important track time.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes began the final phase of their preparation for the 2020 FIA Formula One World Champion in style after the Briton headed Mercedes 1-2 on the first day of pre-season testing. The world champions has continued today where they left off at the end of last year, indicting that their hunger for more success is intact. The Anglo-German outfit celebrated its sixth consecutive double last year and they seemingly want to expand that success to even further, helping Lewis Hamilton to equal Michael Schumacher’s record for seven world titles.

With testing reduced from eight days to six for 2020, lap counts were understandably high on Day 1. Max Verstappen notched up a total of 168 laps today to become the most diligent driver of the opening day. Of the teams, Mercedes has been the most active with covering 173 laps in total with its two drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

When it came to the times, it was once again the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport outfit to stand out. Lewis Hamilton headed Mercedes 1-2 with registering a lap time of 1m16.976 on Pirelli’s C2 compound, a step harder that most of his competitors used on their fastest lap. In the final part of the day, the Briton set even faster sector times in the first and second part of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya before he aborted that lap. Hamilton set the overall best times in the first two sectors while the final part of the track belonged to his teammate Bottas.

Of the engine-manufacturers, Mercedes registered the highest amount of laps with 419 while the Ferrari cars covered 376 laps in total. With Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, Honda achieved 284 laps while Renault covered 279 laps on the firs day of testing.

In terms of top speed on the start-finish straight, Ferrari was the slowest with only registering a speed of 307kph. In contrast to that, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton set a highest top speed of 318kph. The best top speed was recorded by Carlos Sainz with 329kph followed by Verstappen’s 327kph.

Late change to the plans

Ferrari was forced to make a late alteration to its plans after Sebastian Vettel felt unwell this morning. Speaking to the media in the lunch break, Charles Leclerc said that he got a phone call at 6.45am while he was still sleeping. Originally due to drive Ferrari’s new machine, the SF1000 for the first time on Thursday, the two-time grand prix winner had to stand-in for his German teammate.

Last year’s sensation, Leclerc had a low-key first day of testing after only finishing down in the 11th position with 1.313s off Lewis Hamilton’s pace-setting lap time. Talking about the team’s approach to pre-season testing, Leclerc said that it has changed after last year when the team predominantly focused on performance runs.

„We changed a little bit our approach compared to last year. Last year the testing was great but the first race was a bit less great and I think we’ve learnt a few things on this. This year we’ve decided to focus a bit more on ourselves and trying to learn the car as much as possible in these first days and then focus on performance a bit later on and we will see if that pays off.”

The Monegasque declined to comment on the characteristics of his new race car due to the programme of his team. „I can’t tell you because we didn’t push the car yet.”

Happiness at the reigning champions

Mercedes split the driving duties between its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to accomodate to the new challenges set by the congested pre-season testing programme. After a successful filming day and shakedown at Silverstone, the Brackley-based outfit has had an encouraging start to 2020 on the opening day of winter testing with recording the highest amount of laps of all teams.

Technical director James Allison was impressed with the on-track behaviour of the team’s new machine, the W11, labelling its handling characterictics as „sweet’. Hamilton has also praised the work of his team after a trouble-free running straight out of the blocks.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

“We will just take it one step at a time, getting good feedback from the car. We have a lot of data to download and analyse and we’ve got to keep pushing on,” he said.

Verdict: Better everywhere

Max Verstappen was behind the wheel of Red Bull’s new car, the RB16. The Dutchman finished the day fourth after racking up 168 lap in total, the most of any single driver on day one.

Commenting on an intense day’s work behind the wheel and in the garage, the 22-year-old said: “It’s been a good day. It’s always important to do as many laps as possible and today was a really good example of how you should do it, so I’m very happy.”

Verstappen was delighted by the improvements that his team has achieved with the new car compared with its predecessor, the RB15 „We have improved the car in the areas we wanted to over the winter and the car feels faster everywhere, which is great. The reliability has been good so far, so now we just have to do a lot more laps, test all the new parts and see where we can improve it further. Hopefully we’ll have done enough,” he said.