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Lewis Hamilton: No benefit to sandbagging in F1 pre-season testing

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Lewis Hamilton sees no benefit to sandbagging through Formula 1’s pre-season test running, saying he put in the best time he could for Mercedes on Friday.

Hamilton enters 2017 as the favorite for the drivers’ championship given Mercedes’ recent dominance in F1, having claimed both the individual and teams’ titles for each of the past three years.

However, it was Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who ended the winter test program with the fastest time after a stunning lap on Friday that wasn’t far off the overall track record at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Despite Ferrari’s headline pace in testing, most in the paddock believe that Mercedes has more time in its pocket, including Sebastian Vettel who finished the week second-quickest for the Italian marque.

Speaking to reporters following the final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Hamilton was asked if there were mind games being played between teams when talking up their rivals.

“I don’t know if there’s mind games,” Hamilton said.

“Every year in testing the goal is not necessarily to go as quick as you can, it’s to find out what you have in the car. And sometimes there have been potentially some teams sandbagging in the past, but I don’t really see that as being a benefit to any team.

“Driving today, the time you saw was the time we could do. I didn’t feel when I got out that I could have gone faster.

“But of course there are all sort of things that come into play to bring the time down, such as fuel loads, engine modes, those kind of things.

“The great thing is no one really knows. It looks very positive for Ferrari, that’s for sure, and I don’t think that’s bluff. I think that’s true. They’ve done a great job.”

Hamilton admitted that he was yet to find the sweet spot with his new Mercedes W08 EQ Power+ car, so was unsure if he could match the pace of his rivals.

“I haven’t got into a good window yet, so I can’t tell you. I don’t know if we can go as fast as them, I really don’t,” Hamilton said.

“We’ll find out. We hope we can, but they’ve done a fantastic job as I said.”

All will become clear when the new Formula 1 season begins on March 26 in Australia.

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.