The penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona saw Lewis Hamilton finish at the top of the timesheets for the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, when he won his second world championship.
It wasn’t that Mercedes had been tardy or behind schedule throughout the winter, but instead that the German marque had been yet to truly show its hand.
However, it is now clear that, once again, the Silver Arrows will be the cars to beat in 2015. Nico Rosberg’s time on Friday was impressive, but the fact that Hamilton’s theoretical advantage over the rest of the field stands at 1.4 seconds is simply staggering – but more on that later.
Running in Barcelona was dry and cool once again, with only a couple of short red flag periods due to stoppages out on track. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Marcus Ericsson both required recovery in the final hour of the day, whilst Mercedes and McLaren both encountered problems with their cars that meant they could not break the 100 lap barrier.
The rest of the teams did manage to rack up over a century of laps on Saturday. Particularly impressive was Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India, with the German managing 157 laps despite the car being ‘like new’ after rolling out for the first time on Friday.
Rounding up all of today’s action, here’s the Paddock Notebook.
- Lewis Hamilton was the man to beat on Saturday in Barcelona, finishing two-tenths of a second clear of Felipe Massa at the top of the timesheets as Mercedes continued to impress in the final test.
NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK
- Manor Marussia is “very close” to racing in the Australian Grand Prix and returning to F1, according to team founder John Booth.
- 1978 F1 world champion Mario Andretti celebrated his 75th birthday today.
- Jenson Button says that the 100 laps that McLaren completed on Friday were worth 1,000.
- The Ferrari SF15-T may appear to be a marked improvement over its predecessor, but Sebastian Vettel is still pushing to get more out of the car in testing.
- Nico Hulkenberg was surprised that Force India was able to complete so many laps in Barcelona despite the VJM08 car only hitting the track on Friday.
- Felipe Massa’s testing programme came to an end in Barcelona today, but the Brazilian feels upbeat ahead of the new season.
- Kevin Magnussen revealed that he enquired about a drive at Le Mans with Corvette alongside his Dad, Jan, but was turned down.
- Carlos Sainz Jr. felt boosted after completing 132 laps on Saturday with only a few minor issues as his F1 debut draws near.
- Despite finishing on top of the timesheets, Lewis Hamilton didn’t think that his day was that impressive.
- Jean-Eric Vergne brought F1 back to Adelaide for the first time since 1995 with a show run at a V8 Supercar event.
THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK
When Lewis Hamilton pumped in his P1 lap time of 1:23.022, the entire F1 paddock took notice. Not only had he gone quicker than everyone else, but he had done so on a cold track and on a slower tire than the one Felipe Massa had used to set the previous benchmark. Quite clearly, Mercedes is the team to beat once again in 2015. However, Hamilton wasn’t so fussed, saying that it was a so-so day. The team cheekily bolted on a set of the super-soft tires in the final hour before a red flag brought an early end to the day, but had Hamilton been lapping in the right conditions, he could have – according to Pirelli – gone another 1.2 seconds quicker. That makes the theoretical gap to Williams, on the same tire, 1.4 seconds. In F1, that’s basically a lifetime.
Back to reality for McLaren
After completing 100 laps on Friday and appearing to have made a breakthrough, McLaren came back down to earth with a bump on Saturday in Barcelona as Kevin Magnussen could manage just 39 laps in the MP4-30. An oil leak forced the team to end its running after lunch, but the Dane was still happy with his efforts, even if he would prefer to be racing this year for McLaren instead of simply being its reserve driver. The team does not expect to be up to pace and really able to throw the car around until the beginning of the European season, but time will tell just how far behind it is.
In for the long haul
Today marked the final chance for a number of drivers to get in some lap time ahead of the first race of the season in Australia, making race simulations a key focus. After displaying an impressive short-run pace over the winter, Ferrari finally completed a race simulation with Kimi Raikkonen behind the wheel of the SF15-T. The Finn ran mainly on the unmarked Pirelli medium prototype tire, and laid down a very consistent pace that was comparable to that of Williams’ Felipe Massa, suggesting that the Italian marque has made a step forward over the winter. Marcus Ericsson was also completing a long run for Sauber, but his hard tire pace was far from impressive, suggesting that the Swiss team may be in for a rough ride once again in 2015.
Eyes on the ground
One of the advantages of actually being at testing is that you can make visual comparisons and deductions just by simply going out and watching the cars on track. I took some time out in the morning to head to turn ten and see how the different runners were faring, and it was interesting to compare it to the end of last year. Under braking, the Ferrari looks very impressive indeed, waiting quite late before getting on the brakes and staying planted through the corner. The Williams looks particularly smooth when getting on the power out of a corner, unlike the Force India and McLaren cars, whilst Sauber – and I really don’t want to seem like I’m picking on the team – seemed far less stable. The C34 still requires two or three turn-ins for a corner, looking ragged at the best of times. Just a few observations, but interesting nonetheless.
One day to go!
Just one day remains in the 2015 winter testing programme, and we finally appear to have some kind of pecking order shaping up. Mercedes is undoubtedly the team to beat once again, whilst an interesting battle for second between Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams appears to be on the cards. McLaren could yet get in the mix once its car is up to speed and problem-free, whilst Lotus has enjoyed an impressive testing period. Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India are likely to fight just behind, and although Manor may not stand much chance of finishing outside of the bottom two positions, its presence will be welcomed by all (well, maybe not Force India…).
We’ll be bringing you the final Paddock Notebook from testing in Barcelona tomorrow as the winter period wraps up. Just 15 days to go until the Australian Grand Prix now – where has the winter gone?