Hamilton doubts anyone will be ready in Australia

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He may have finished the final day of winter testing as the fastest driver, but Lewis Hamilton still believes that Mercedes has a great deal of work to do between now and the first race in Australia (March 16, live on NBCSN).

However, he is confident that the team won’t be alone, and that none of the other drivers will be completely ready for the start of the new season.

“This has definitely been the most challenging winter I’ve experienced and the car is still very much a work in progress, but we’ve learnt a lot over the course of these last few weeks and overall it’s been a good winter of testing for us,” Hamilton explained. “There’s been an incredible amount of work put in by the team back at the two factories and on track.”

With a raft of new technical regulations for teams to get their heads around, it has been a difficult winter testing period for all of the designers and engineers. For Hamilton, the first race of the season is simply a case of waiting to see where Mercedes stand, even if the team has dominated the tests in Jerez and Bahrain.

“There’s so much to learn with these new cars,” he said. “It’s just mind-blowing and I don’t think anybody can be fully ready for the challenge of this season. But I feel as ready as I can be and I’m looking forward to seeing where we are in Melbourne.”

Nico Rosberg was similarly coy about his chances in Australia, tweeting: “End of testing. Been good for us but challenge to get car 100% reliable for Oz. But if a team can do it it’s team Mercedes.”

The Mercedes works team has been dominant throughout the winter testing period, but it is set to be closely challenged by Williams and Force India (both of whom run with Mercedes engines), and also Ferrari.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.