Mercedes with thrilling pace, Ferrari long way behind – Day 5 analysis

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F1 Test, Barcelona, Circuit de Catalunyaes

The timesheet may suggest differently, but Mercedes has once again demonstrated their impressive pace today despite their reliability issues that have hindered them on the penultimate day of testing.

When the pre-season testing arrived to its penultimate day on Thursday, Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap time, recording Ferrari’s best time over seven days. The German stopped the clocks with a 1m16.841s on the fastest C5 rubber in the final hour of the morning running. However, the considering the fact that Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver Robert Kubica recorded a lap time yesterday that was only a tenth of a secons shy of Vettel’s benchmark suggest that Ferrari have to find much more pace if it wants to mount a challenge on Mercedes.

Slow race simulation

Ferrari’s programme for today consisted of setup work and qualifying simulation on lower fuel loads and on softer tyres in the morning before the Scuderia switches its attention to race simulation in the afternoon. Although Vettel’s race run was interrupted by a red flag period caused by Lewis Hamilton, the first impression was that the SF1000’s race pace was far from encouraging.

Ferrari’s Team Principal Mattia Binotto confirmed that the rivals’ race simulations were depressing for the Scuderia. If you look at race simulation pace, it’s true that today [Lewis] Hamilton had an issue [stopping in the afternoon after 14 laps], but his initial stint – the speed he got was impressive. Is that, on our side, sandbagging? No doubt: no.”

In fact, Vettel covered 20 laps in his first stint, recording an average lap time of 1m24.05. In contrast, Hamilton started his own race run at the same time and achieved an average lap time of 1m23.0 during his first 12 laps before his work was curtailed by an engine problem. The Brit’s long run performance was similar to the one he showed last Thursday when he successfully completed a race simulation.

After climbing out of his new car, the quadruple world champion also indicated that Ferrari might be missing performance currently. “Right now we are not top of the timesheet everyday so probably not the favourites but let’s see where we are in Australia and take it from there.”

Useful running

Lewis Hamilton was forced to park his car on the track when his Mercedes W11 hit engine problems on the penultimate day of F1 testing.

The Brit was conducting a race simulation when his car lost all power coming out of Turn 5. Thanks to the work of the marshals, the car was quickly back at the team’s garage, but the engineers decided to bring the work to a premature end and focus on preparing the W11 for the last day of pre-season testing.

Despite to the hiccup, Mercedes Technical Director James Allison was delighted with the information that the team has gained during the day.

It’s frustrating when there’s only six days of winter testing, to be spending half of one day in the garage. But, nevertheless, we did some good work this morning with Valtteri. Furthermore, in the solitary run that we managed with Lewis this afternoon, we managed to get a very useful data point from the car.”

„We’re happy to have learnt more about its behaviour, and we’re reassured that in blustery conditions, that the car has still got a decent turn of pace. We’re looking forward to tomorrow, where we’ll have a good amount of time with both drivers on the softer tyre compounds; working on single-lap set-up and performance,” he said.

Gusty winds affect the programme

After yesterday’s strong winds, the weather continued to play against the teams today. With an overnight rain, the track was initially damp, then gusts of wind hampered the on-track work. Red Bull Racing decided to change its programme for today to accomodate to the conditions and get the best out of the running.

Head of Race Engineering, Guillaume Rocquelin said that the team was „quite cautious today and I think this was reflected in the amount of laps we completed. We wanted to make sure whatever we did was sensible, both in terms of not doing anything stupid so close to Melbourne, but also, if you’re testing you want to make sure you know what’s happening. So, we did short runs and changes that were suited to the conditions to make sure we got the most from the day.”

Rocquelin said that the last day of pre-season testing will be dedicated to Verstappen and Albon who can prepare themselves for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Tomorrow will be more or less a driver day for Max and Alex to get up to speed and comfortable so they know what to expect in Melbourne.