F1: Mercedes imposes its law while Ferrari admits concerns

Mercedes was in a class of its own on the final day of testing as three drivers, including Sebastian Vettel, brought out red flags.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton romped to a 1-2 at the Circuit de Catalunya on the third and final day of the first pre-season test.

Sebastian Vettel was down in 13th place and brought out the reds when his SF1000’s engine ran into trouble.

DAS is proving very good for Mercedes

Valtteri Bottas began the Mercedes party on Friday morning as the Finnish racer swapped to the softest of the soft tyres, the C5, for a fast run.

Posting a 1:15.732 in his DAS-fitted W11, Bottas’ time was a mere 0.3s shy of the absolute Circuit de Catalunya record.

As if Mercedes needed anything special to dominant the field, the team now has DAS – the dual axis steering – and it seems to working a trick.

Lewis Hamilton replaced his team-mate after the lunch break and he too went for a hot lap on the C5s.

A 1:16.516 put him 0.784s down on his team-mate’s best, although Hamilton’s time was set later in the day when the Spanish circuit had cooled a bit.

“It’s been a great effort from the team and great to see that the reliability is as strong as it is,” said the six-time World Champion.

“The car has felt pretty good out there.

“It’s been a solid first week and we’ve got some good mileage. It’s a true showing of all the incredible work everyone has done back at the factory and here at the track.

“I’m really proud of everyone. We’ve got to keep working hard, analyse all the data from this week and figure out how we can move the car forward and build on everything next week.”

An interesting mix behind

Rather than Red Bull and Ferrari sitting on Mercedes’ rear wing, on Friday it was Renault and Racing Point.

Both teams are intent on playing a role in the fight for ‘best of the rest’ this season and have been showing some pace in pre-season testing.

Of course we all know that counts for very little but for now it is looking good for Renault and Racing Point, especially Racing Point.

Esteban Ocon was third quickest in the RS30, 1.3s down on Bottas’ best, while Lance Stroll was a further 0.25s off the pace in his ‘pink Mercedes’ as the RP20 has been dubbed by the media.

Stroll’s team-mate Sergio Perez says he doesn’t mind the criticism from rivals as long as his RP20 “performs” like a Mercedes F1 car.

“I would hope it would perform like their car but I think it’s still very early days,” he said to Motorsport.com.

“I think we have so many things to go through. A lot of working [to do], and all the team is working flat out.

“But what is really good about this season is to finally have a car that is going to be very, very close to what we have in Melbourne. So that’s a very positive thing you know.”

Ferrari ‘not as fast’ as main rivals

Last year Ferrari won the pre-season championship but lost the war. This season the team says it has changed its approach.

That, though, doesn’t seem to be working for Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel was in action on Day 3 but stopped out on track two hours into the session.

The way the German was peering at the rear of his SF1000 made it clear this was not simply a case of running out of fuel.

Ferrari later confirmed it was an engine issue and the car required a new one.

No major drama and Vettel was back on track in the afternoon and brought his tally for the day to 100 laps.

Worryingly for Ferrari, his best time during those 100 laps, set on the medium tyres, was 2.6s slower than Bottas’ best.

Team boss Mattia Binotto admitted to the press pack at the track that all is not well.

“Looking at the delta pace and eventually what we may assess in terms of fuel load, which you never know in terms of engine modes, etc – looking at the picture relative to ourselves, I think we are not as fast as they are,” said the Italian.

“I’m not as optimistic as last year. The others are faster than us at the moment I believe.

“How much faster I think it’s really difficult to judge.

“We will go through all the data in the next days. But I don’t think we are as fast as them at the moment.

“Do we have any concerns? Certainly yes, when you are not as fast as you would like to be. But I think it’s really too early stage to define them and to understand.”

Magnussen causes a 30 minute-stoppage

After Romain Grosjean met the wall on Thursday, Kevin Magnussen went one better, and bigger, on Friday.

The Haas driver suffered a right-rear puncture on only his fifth lap in the afternoon session.

That pitched him into a spin and into the outside of the Turn 8 wall.

His day was over and the session was red flagged for 30 minutes as the marshals repaired the wall.

Team boss Guenter Steiner explained to Autosport: “The spacer between the wheel and the hub was broken, and then the wheel machined itself in bits and pieces, the air got out and the tyre went off and he went off.

“When you look at it, it’s a pretty simple failure, but it shouldn’t happen.

“I think we didn’t have any mechanical issues or anything.

“And the car was very reliable until that happened, and it’s easy to fix.”

The second red in the afternoon belonged to Ricciardo, who stopped out on track on the run to Turn 9.

Renault has not revealed the cause of the stoppage.

The lap times

1 – Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes – 1:15.732 – 65 laps
2 – Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:16.516 – 73 laps
3 – Esteban Ocon – Renault – 1:17.102 – 76 laps
4 – Lance Stroll – Racing Point – 1:17.338 – 116 laps
5 – Daniil Kvyat – AlphaTauri – 1:17.427 – 62 laps
6 – Antonio Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo – 1:17.469 – 152 laps
7 – Daniel Ricciardo – Renault – 1:17.574 – 93 laps
8 – Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 1:17.636 – 86 laps
9 – Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri – 1:17.783 – 59 laps
10 – Alexander Albon – Red Bull – 1:18.154 – 83 laps
11 – Carlos Sainz Jr – McLaren – 1:18.274 – 76 laps
12 – Romain Grosjean – Haas – 1:18.380 – 48 laps
13 – Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari – 1:18.384 – 100 laps
14 – Lando Norris – McLaren – 1:18.454 – 49 laps
15 – Nicholas Latifi – Williams – 1:19.004 – 72 laps
16 – Kevin Magnussen – Haas – 1:19.708 – 4 laps

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