Thanks to Valtteri Bottas’s sensational lap, Mercedes continued to show its early dominance on Friday when the first week of testing concluded at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The early signs indicate that Mercedes could be on course to secure their seventh successive title double this year.
Mercedes with ominous race pace
The congested pre-season testing prompted most of the outfits to make alterations to the approach to their programmes. While teams tended to complete race simulation in the second week of testing in recent seasons, this week saw several squads cover a race run right in the first week of the winter testing. Mercedes has dedicated their second day of testing for race simulations with Renault, Red Bull and McLaren being the other teams to complete race runs.
The world champion team was the only one to have simulated a grand prix with both its drivers. Lewis Hamilton completed his simulation on Thursday morning, achieving a lap time average of 1m21.020. The Briton used three sets of C2 Pirelli compounds for his three-stint simulation which is of course not permitted during a grand prix as drivers have to use two different compounds at each race. His teammate Valtteri Bottas completed his race run on the same day, but in the afternoon session when temperatures were significantly higher. The Finn used the same compound for his similar three-stint run, recording an average lap time of 1m21.670. His simulation came to a premature end with five laps left when an ERS-related problem arose on the power unit of his W11.
When it came to the race simulation, Max Verstappen was the third fastest with an average lap time of 1m21.898. Using three C2 compounds, the Dutchman also completed two pit stops during his race run. The eight-time race winner covered the race simulation on Friday morning in similar weather conditions to the ones when Hamilton did his own run. Despite to the comparable conditions, Verstappen was around eight tenths slower than the Briton, losing similar amount of time in each of his stints.
With his all-black R.S.20, Daniel Ricciardo also completed a relatively successful race simulation. The Perth-born used the combition of C2-C3-C2 compound which adheres to the sporting regulations regarding the tyre usage during a grand prix. Visiting the pit for new tyres on lap 24 and 44, the Australian achieved an average lap time of 1m22.642.
McLaren was the only other team to simulate a race. The Woking-based team completed the run with Lando Norris on Thursday afternoon, but the young Briton’s simulation was not a real race trial as his car was fuelled up between the stints.
Bottas 81.670 (C2, Lap 23 C2, Lap 50 C2)
Verstappen 81.898 (C2, Lap 19 C2, Lap 40 C2)
Ricciardo 82.642 (C2, Lap 24 C3, Lap 44 C2)
Mercedes targets big engine gains
Not only as a constructor, but also as an engine manufacturer, Mercedes has stood out in the first week of testing. The Mercedes-powered cars, the works Mercedes, the Racing Point and the Williams machines logged a total of 1189 laps while the six Ferrari-powered contenders, the Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and the Haas machines notched up 1094 in total.
Honda and Renault covered similar mileages with 855 and 803 laps respectively which is a good achievement considering that both the Japanese and French engine-makers supply two teams with their power units apiece. Considering the number of cars and laps completed, the Sakura-based manufacturer ended up with the highest average completed per team of 427.5.
Although teams try to hold back any information regarding their engine useage, it has emerged that several engine manufacturers had to change their power unit during the first three days of testing. Honda had to make a precautionary change on the second day when a problem was detected on Alex Albon's power unit.
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari suffered an engine problem on the final morning of the first week of testing, forcing the team to make an engine change for the afternoon session. The power unit in question has already arrived in Maranello for further inspection to find out the roots of the gremlins.
Despite to their highly successful, dominant form, Mercedes also endured a slight hiccup with Valtteri Bottas when the Finn was completing his race simulation on Thursday afternoon. At first, the issue seemed to be a small electric problem, but it emerged as more terminal than originally indicated and the power unit had to be replaced for Friday. Williams also endured a small delay when the power unit in Nicholas Latifi’s car required changing.
Mercedes engine chief Andy Cowell explained that his group of people pushed the boundaries even more this year than before, achieving lots of improvements „across the whole power unit, on the ERS side, on the internal combustion engine side.”
Mercedes fastest with detuned engine
When the first week of testing concluded at Barcelona, Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas occupied the first two places on the list for the fastest laps. The Finn who won the qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix last year clocked a lap time of 1m15.732, only three tenths of a second slower than his 2019 pole position time.
The ominous sign for the field is that it has emerged while watching the onboard footage of Valtteri Bottas’s fastest lap that the Finn’s engine was ’detuned’ on his hot lap. The Nastola-born driver used the second lowest engine mode (STRAT 9) of his power unit while Mercedes’ qualifying engine setting is the STRAT 2 and the powerful race mode is STRAT 5, indicating that there is still much more to come from the W11.
Kimi Räikkönen followed the Mercedes duo with a time of 1m17.091 with which the Finn proved to be fastest on the second day of testing. All three drivers used Pirelli’s softest, C5 compound on their fastest hot lap.
Mercedes’ arch rivals Red Bull and Ferrari ended lower down the order, having decided to concentrate on modification to the set-up and correlation work.
Leclerc with unique approach
On the first day of testing, Charlec Leclerc has been spotted by holding a notebook and taking hand-written notes. When asked about his new approach, the Monegasque expained that he previously used a tablet for taking notes, but he wanted to go back to „the old stuff”.
"I've had a few times in the past where I load up all my notes, I arrive in the briefing at the end of the day after doing 150 laps, and then it's a bit confusing," he explained.
The two-time grand prix winner jotted down notes after each run on Wednesday and Thursday, registering feedback about different aspects of his new car, the SF1000 including the effects of set-up changes or tyre behaviour. He explained that with covering so many laps during a test day his notes are very helpful during debriefs with the engineers in the afternoon.
Williams with a more promising start
Following last year’s struggles during pre-season testing, Williams had a much more successful start to its pre-season testing. While the Grove-based outfit only logged 87 laps with Robert Kubica and Geroge Russell during the first four days of testing in 2019, the duo of Russell and newcomer Nicholas Latifi notched up 324 laps.
Of the ten outfits, Mercedes has been the most diligent with 494 laps just in front of Red Bull. Their arch rival Ferrari has only covered a total of 354 laps following several setbacks including an engine-related issue on Friday. After a successful start on Wednesday, Haas endured two problematic days, finishing last in the order for laps covered.
2020 cars with incredible grip
The forthcoming F1 season sees the last year of the current technical regulation before a totally revised set of regulation come into force. The 2021 technical regulations are expected to curtail the downforce level of cars, leading to a lap time loss of up to three seconds per lap.
The significant change to the technical rules also means that the coming season could be the last one in the foreseeable future when drivers can break track records. Renault driver Esteban Ocon expects drivers to set new records on most of the tracks after his first outings at his new office, the R. S. 20.
“I have never gone that fast in some corners before. So it feels good. It is definitely exciting because we are going to go faster and faster. We’re probably going to break all the records this year of lap times.
The Frenchman has already felt the increase in grip during his filming day with the car despite to the harder Pirelli compounds which teams are permitted to use during those days. “With the amount of grip there is already this year, if you take in account the fastest lap time, we are already faster than the fastest last year from the first day. The car is a revolving year-by-year, and it is hard to compare. The amount of grip I feel now I never felt before.”
Perfect start to the pre-season testing
Mercedes’ Technical Director James Allison has been in a seemingly perfect mood since the beginning of pre-season testing after the early signs indicated that the team’s new W11 is the fastest machine in the field combined with an almost perfect reliability. Despite to the initial impressive speed and technical innovations such as the Double Axis Steering or the bold rear suspension layout, the Briton thinks that there are still areas which could be improved for the near future.
„It’s been a good first week, the car has been broadly reliable, and the performance has been reasonably good throughout the week. There are, of course, many things to work on and we’ll be trying to do that in week two. But it’s a really good baseline. At the end of this first week, we start to get some sort of feeling for where all the teams are in the pecking order and especially now a few race distances have gone down.”
Both Mercedes drivers completed hot laps on Pirelli’s softer compounds and on lower fuel loads. Allison explained that Mercedes will have more sets of softer compounds availble next week and Friday’s running laid the foundation for more performance runs in the second half of testing. „Both drivers completed a programme of set-up work and an early look at the softer compound range. Just a very quick glimpse of that, but really useful preparation for the second week of testing where we have more of the soft rubber to bring,” the Briton added.