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Testing – Mercedes and Ferrari Neck And Neck

Date published: 3rd March 2019

Friday was the day that despite his protestations of being half a second slower than Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton set a series of times that showed the Mercedes was far closer, if not quite evenly matched.

The two dominating teams were separated by just 0.003 seconds, but with Vettel’s Ferrari just edging it to top the leader board. His day was then ended early by an electrical issue, bringing out the red flag.

Red Bull’s action was cut short on the final day of testing by a gearbox issue, curtailing Max Verstappen’s efforts to 29 laps, and meaning that the team leave Barcelona without having set a low fuel lap time. We will have to wait until they return to the track in Melbourne to see their true performance gains.

Impressive times have also been set throughout the week by their sister team, Toro Rosso, so we wait with baited breath to see how both Honda powered teams fair in qualifying.

The midfield looks tighter than in previous years, so tight that it is hard to say what order the teams are sitting in. Won’t that make it exciting for “lights out” in two weeks time!

Photo Credit: Tom Hallam

Carlos Sainz completed the most laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, clocking up 134 in his McLaren, and bring the pre-season testing total to 873 laps for the team. This positive winter testing mileage bodes well for the Woking-based outfit, and represents the most successful winter test since moving away from Mercedes power. This foundation was something that Gil de Ferran told the assembled media meant they had met their test goals:

“From a competitive perspective, it’s really hard to gauge people doing different things, different engine modes, different tyres, different fuel loads, so it is really hard to gauge with precision our competiveness. Believe me, we’re trying!”

“We came here with a few goals in mind, and I think we accomplished most of them. We came here wanting to do a lot of laps and put in a lot of miles to ensure reliability, and sign off some systems, and I think we ticked that box. We came here wanting to understand our new car and making sure that it was doing everything that it said on the tin, and I think we accomplished that, and we gained a lot of understanding about the car and the new Pirelli tyres and so on. And I think, we wanted, and perhaps one of the most important things about this test, was to integrate our new drivers well into the team and to prepare them the best we could for the season. I think we ticked that box too.”

“So, as I look at those three categories, do we get a ten out of ten? I wouldn’t give ourselves ten out of ten but I think we have a decent score, and I think we go into Australia fairly well prepared and we’ll see how we stack up I guess by the end of Saturday!”

One thing that pundits and fans alike seem united upon at the end of testing is that Williams head to Australia with the slowest car. The team have done well to try and use their shorter testing period to do as much as they can from a fuller test programme, but speaking to the media after jumping out of the car, the body language from a dejected-looking Robert Kubica sadly said everything, and he followed up by stating that he is only “20 per cent ready”.

So, we say goodbye to the Circuit de Catalunya for now. Next stop Melbourne.

Don’t forget to create your Fantasy GP team for the 2019 season, and set your predictions for the Australian Grand Prix!

The Scores on the Doors at the end of Test 2, Day 4

  • 1:16.221 Vettel (Ferrari) C5 – Total 110 laps
  • 1:16.224 Hamilton (Mercedes) C5 – Total 61 laps
  • 1:16.561 Bottas (Mercedes) C5 – Total 71 laps
  • 1:16.843 Hulkenberg (Renault) C5 – Total 51 laps
  • 1:16.898 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) C5 – Total 131 laps
  • 1:16.913 Sainz (McLaren) C5 – Total 134 laps
  • 1:17.076 Grosjean (Haas) C5 – Total 73 laps
  • 1:17.114 Ricciardo (Renault) C5 – Total 52 laps
  • 1:17.239 Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) C5 – Total 132 laps
  • 1:17.565 Magnussen (Haas) C5 – Total 94 laps
  • 1:17.709 Verstappen (Red Bull) C3 – Total 29 laps
  • 1:17.791 Perez (Racing Point) C5 – Total 104 laps
  • 1:18.993 Kubica (Williams) C5 – Total 90 laps

What the drivers and teams had to say at their media sessions:

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“Testing is testing. There’s no reward for being quick in testing, so it doesn’t really matter. What matters is being the quickest you can be on Saturday in Melbourne.”

“Ferrari are currently the fastest.”

On confidence to develop throughout the season:

“Well, the cars do have the potential to progress, so it’s really the work that we do. I have the confidence that I have the team to do the job. We’re the most united that I think I’ve ever been.”

“This is going to be the toughest battle yet, so it will be exciting for all of you and exciting for all the fans. As I said, Ferrari, their pace is very, very good at the moment so the challenge is going to be with them.”

Following on from Charles Leclerc’s answer, who would he bet on this season?

“I don’t really gamble…but I’d bet on myself always if I did.”

Is Vettel his only opponent?

“No, I think at the moment, it is the 3 teams at the top, but also the other teams at the back have closed up, as far as I am aware, so the whole pack has closed up. I don’t know which team is 4th currently, but they’re a lot closer than they were in the past, before there was like a second gap and now I think it’s like half a second, or maybe less, which is awesome. Depending on how they develop, throughout the year, and whether or not they have the capacity to develop as the top 3 teams do will be the biggest question. It’s going to be exciting. Maybe you’re going to see some races where the Renault, or the Force India or Haas will be a lot higher than they have in the past.”

On the decline in viewers since Pay TV for F1:

“I didn’t know those numbers, that sounds terrible from a business point of view. That’s definitely not cool. I remember growing up and turning on BBC and watching the grand prix, it was awesome.”

“I don’t currently understand the pay TV situation, but it’s not my job to come up with the answers for that. But I do understand because it’s bloody expensive nowadays, with everything you have in a home, with all your insurance, and all the things you do end up paying for. Then on top of that, you’ve got to pay for a TV and a licence, which is ridiculous, so I can understand it.”

Gil de Ferran, McLaren

On what he has been focussing on improving:

“To understand the team better, to make sure that we take the talent that already exists in the team and make sure that we work more efficiently, to make sure that we deliver more improved communications, that we work better together as a team, and part of this was some reorganisation. We added some people in the team in the middle of last year, we reorganised a few things internally, and there’s more people coming. So I think we’ve been walking down this road.

“I was just asked outside what was the thing I’m most proud of at the team and I’m not so sure it’s about the test, but I feel like the team is working better together. Are we at Nirvana level yet? Nope, we can always improve on many counts and I think we continue to walk down that road, and my focus is exactly that – to make sure that the team is organised in the right way, making sure that we are having the right conversations, making sure that the right people are focussed on the right things, and trying to influence the culture of the team in the best ways that I can.”

I think we have just got to keep moving forward and results at the send of the day will eventually tell how well we are doing as a team. I think that one thing that is great about motor racing is that you get a test every two weeks on how well you are doing, and if we are on a good path, then I guess that we are doing okay.

On the structure at McLaren Racing and new hires:

“For me, it’s a very positive thing. Andreas is a very experienced and capable man so, once again, its been about making the team stronger. We have brought James Key in, and I think this will hopefully make the team better and better. It will allow me to step into the role that I was always meant to do, which is, together with Zak, to help oversee all McLaren Racing operations from a sporting perspective.”

On Lando’s rookie race:

“One of the aims of this test was to get our drivers as integrated into the test and as well prepared as they could, and obviously from our side, there was a strong awareness that this is going to be Lando’s debut. There was a lot of focus on that and trying to help Lando understand the difference between tyres, the different fuel loads, and so on. I guess the only comment I have is that we will try to walk that road together, arms tied, the best that we can, and we’ll see where we get to. I think if you have a good working relationship between driver and team, you can walk through difficult times and try to navigate those situations the best you can.”

Robert Kubica, Williams

On what has changed between last year and this to leave Williams on the back foot

“Nothing. It is not that things are happening from one day to the next. Of course, I think we faced a big delay, and some of the issues are a consequence of being in a rush. If you struggle to have a car for the week before, you will struggle for spare parts, and unfortunately, today we required to have a pit stop to replace them, and we couldn’t replace them. In the end, we did the maximum with what we had, but this maximum is not enough, as the day was far from optimum.”

Will the opening race in Australia, and races up until we get back to Europe just be a test sessions?

“Unfortunately, I think yes”

Is this what he wanted from his comeback to F1?

“No, but this is the situation and I cannot change it, so I have to make sure that we are doing everything that we can from my side. As I said, coming back after 8 years, I probably tested 20 per cent of the things that I should know before going to Australia. The rest is unknown. I haven’t done longer that a 15 lap long run, so there are a lot of question marks, but that is the reality, we cannot change it.”

“Here on track, we did the maximum with what we have, and as I said, we cannot change it, but there are some positive things. Actually, my last real run where I think I felt the car well was before yesterday afternoon, where the car did things that were a really nice surprise, so I got up a lot of confidence, but since then, my confidence has disappeared because the car was not in the right shape.”

“The priority for Williams, and I think every team, is to focus on performance, but first we have to fix our problems. I think it’s better that we have them now and in the first races, but we have to use this experience to get stronger.”

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