F1: Hamilton pleasantly surprised with Mercedes’ reliability in Jerez

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After their W05’s World Championship run in 2014, Mercedes’ new challenger, the W06, has a very tough act to follow in the 2015 Formula One season.

But during the last four days of F1 testing in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s new ride delivered particularly well in reliability.

As noted earlier today, both Mercedes men put in major mileage in Jerez. Rosberg logged 308 laps over his two days with the W06, while Hamilton logged 207 laps over his two days.

Hamilton, the reigning driver’s champion, turned in 117 laps on Wednesday and was third-quickest on the time sheets behind Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Wednesday wasn’t altogether smooth for Hamilton, who had a spin and also lost a small amount of track time in the afternoon due to a cooling problem. But at day’s end, he remarked that the Jerez test was a great one for the Silver Arrows.

“[Team technical director] Paddy [Lowe] just said it has been the highest week of mileage,” Hamilton told reporters in Jerez. “That’s a surprise for us all. Nico had good days with over 150 laps on each and I averaged 100 laps, so it’s great to see the work put in by all the guys in the garage.

“We’ve put some decent mileage on the car this week and although you always want more, the reliability has been pretty special.”

As for his perspective on the W06’s performance, Hamilton said driving the car feels much like driving the W05 that he won 11 races in last year. However, he would not determine just how strong it is yet.

“Every single time I’ve driven the car, it never feels good the first time because the car is at its worst – the tires are not good in the cold conditions here in Jerez,” Hamilton explained. “It never feels good the first time, that’s just how it is, but you know that’s the worst it’s going to be this year because it will get better throughout the year.

“Overall the car feels very, very similar to last year, so [it’s] very difficult to pick out any differences.”

But while Mercedes racked up the miles, neither Hamilton or Rosberg finished P1 in times throughout the Jerez sessions. Ferrari led three of the four days (Sebastian Vettel led Sunday and Monday’s testing), and Sauber led on Tuesday with Felipe Nasr.

Hamilton said he didn’t pay much attention to his competition, though.

“I’ve not really been looking to be honest,” he said. “I’ve just been focusing on doing my own thing. I’m sure they’re on different fuel loads to others, and they look like they’re doing shorter, more attacking runs – which we are not.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.