Mercedes questions Ferrari’s downbeat F1 testing assessment

If you were to base your expectations for the 2020 Formula 1 season on the face value of the opening week of testing, the outlook would be bleak.

Mercedes questions Ferrari’s downbeat F1 testing assessment

Mercedes swept to a one-two finish on Friday as both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton closed out the opening test with performance runs, closing on the track record set last year.

Amid the buzz of its dual-axis steering system debut, the underlying pace of the Mercedes W11 looks fierce as ever.

Contrasting Mercedes’ strength was Ferrari’s understated start to testing as it ended the test 2.6 seconds off the pace. While the team stressed there was no intention to chase outright performance in the opening week, the gap to the front has still surprised most.

But Mercedes knows all too well how quickly things can turn around. The team looked in big trouble at the end of the opening test in 2019, only to roar back in the second week with an extensive update package that paved the way for its double title win.

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In a feature recapping the opening test published by Mercedes on Friday evening, the team looked to give a clearer picture of the pecking order, but remained largely coy.

“No-one wants the egg on their face of claiming that they are faster than another team, because they can never know for certain what was hidden or what is coming next,” the piece reads.

“For example, will Red Bull bring a significant upgrade package to the second test?

“Why have Ferrari spent this test running their PU consistently at much lower levels than their partner teams?”

The final line is the stand-out point: as per Mercedes, the Ferrari power unit is nowhere near turned up to its full potential yet.

It’s an assessment that tallies up with the data. A close look suggests Ferrari may have been running its power unit as much as one second per lap off the pace - meaning the gap at the front is far from representative.

Ferrari’s top speed on the opening day (192.9 mph) was 7.2 mph down on the best set by customer team Alfa Romeo, and 9.3 mph off on Thursday. On the final day, Vettel popped up with a 204.4 mph recording at the speed trap - soon followed by his engine failure.

Vettel explained that Ferrari had not been looking to stretch the legs of its power unit - and said it may not look to do so at all through testing.

“You can play around a lot with engine modes, etc. I think right now the target is not to prove the maximum power of the engine, the target is to do as many laps as possible,” Vettel said.

“I think then ramping up the engine and so on, it's probably not something you want to do in testing and certainly not to show everyone. It's not on the agenda as far as I know.”

Vettel’s comments tie in with the understated message Ferrari has put out throughout testing, acting as the polar opposite to the hype that built around its performance in testing last year.

“We changed the approach to the testing and the programme,” team principal Mattia Binotto explained.

“We focused the first session – so all three days – in trying to map the car [in] various aero configurations, various mechanical configurations, without really trying to optimise the set-up and look for overall performance.”

But Binotto conceded he was uneasy about where Ferrari stood against its rivals: “It’s true last year I was more optimistic at that stage, because the lap time was easy to find out. It seems a bit more difficult.

“Our competitors are apparently very strong, but I think we should not forget the history of last year and let’s wait first for next week and Australia to better understand the true picture.”

But even with its times capturing the headlines at the front of the field, Mercedes has also been keeping things in perspective.

Valtteri Bottas was quietly satisfied with his first week of running, noting decent improvements in the new W11 car.

“It’s been a good feeling. No massive balance issues with the car, the behaviour has been pretty good, and I feel we’ve made good improvement every day with the car,” Bottas said.

“Even though there were no massive problems, there’s always things you’re fine-tuning with the balance, balance through different speeds and types of corners. We’ve been getting that better and better, towards where it should be.

“In general, it’s been quite good. But to say more than that as this point is a bit too early.

“But there are no real negatives compared to last year yet, so it’s positive.”

Mercedes may be leading the pack, but so long as Ferrari keeps its cards close to its chest, intrigue over the true pecking order at the front will remain - potentially until lights out in Melbourne on March 15.

Combined times from Barcelona testing

 

 

Pos.

 

 

Driver

 

 

Team

 

 

Engine

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Time Laps Time Laps Time Laps
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 1'17.313 79 1'19.307 77 1'15.732 65
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 1'16.976 94 1'18.387 106 1'16.516 73
3 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Ferrari     1'17.091 134    
4 Esteban Ocon Renault Renault 1'18.004 62 1'18.557 52 1'17.102 76
5 Lance Stroll Racing Point Mercedes 1'18.282 52     1'17.338 116
6 Sergio Pérez Racing Point Mercedes 1'17.375 58 1'17.347 145    
7 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda 1'17.698 116     1'17.427 62
8 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1'20.096 79     1'17.469 152
9 Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda 1'17.516 168     1'17.636 86
10 Daniel Ricciardo Renault Renault 1'17.873 56 1'17.749 41 1'17.574 93
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Honda     1'18.121 147 1'17.783 59
12 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren Renault 1'17.842 161     1'18.274 76
13 Alexander Albon Red Bull Honda     1'17.912 134 1'18.154 83
14 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari     1'18.154 73 1'18.384 100
15 George Russell Williams Mercedes 1'18.168 73 1'18.266 116    
16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 1'18.289 132 1'18.335 49    
17 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari     1'18.496 158 1'18.380 48
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 1'18.382 63     1'19.004 72
19 Robert Kubica Alfa Romeo Ferrari 1'18.386 59        
20 Lando Norris McLaren Renault     1'18.474 137 1'18.454 49
21 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1'18.466 106     1'19.708 4
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