Lewis Hamilton picked up where he left off last season, quickest on the opening day of pre-season testing.
The Formula 1 teams hit the track at the Circuit de Catalunya on Wednesday with running reduced to six days, making every minute more important than ever before.
All 10 teams managed over 100 laps with 14 of the 15 drivers separated by just 1.5s.
Mercedes 1-2, Verstappen spins
Unlike in past pre-seasons when Mercedes has downplayed its car’s prospects, focusing solely on reliability, this year they went for pace from the get-go.
Valtteri Bottas topped Wednesday’s morning session before handing the W11 over to Hamilton. It wasn’t long before he shaved three-tenths off his team-mate’s best.
The six-time World Champion posted a 1:16.976 to edge Bottas while Sergio Perez was a surprise P3 in the Racing Point.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen is one man hoping to challenge Mercedes this season and the first signs were positive.
He was fourth quickest with 1:17.516, only two-tenths slower than Bottas’ best.
His RB16 also showed reliability as he was the busiest driver on the track with 168 laps. That’s more than three full race distances at the Barcelona circuit.
He did, however, make a mistake or two as he had a couple of spins in the final sector.
“I touched once the gravel I think, that is why I spun,” he said.
“And once I lost it in the second corner, so these things can happen trying to find the limits with the car and what we can do.
“Luckily no damage, which at the end of the day is the most important thing.”
Subdued start from Ferrari
But while Verstappen was up there, the same cannot be said of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
He replaced Sebastian Vettel in the SF1000 for Wednesday’s running after Ferrari announced that the four-time World Champion was “not feeling great”.
Leclerc did 131 laps laps, not bad, but his best time, a 1:18.289, left him down in 11th place.
The Monégasque driver downplayed the times, saying Ferrari, winner of last year’s pre-season, has adopted a different approach fro 2020.
“We didn’t focus on performance but more about trying to know the car at its best before working on performance,” he said.
“We change a little bit our approach compared to last year. Last year the testing was great but the first race was a bit less great.
“We’ve learned a few things from this, so this year we’ve decided to focus more on ourselves, to learn the car as much as possible in the first few days, and then focus on performance a bit later on, and we will see if that pays off.”
Rivals unhappy with Racing Point’s RP20
Racing Point’s new RS20 was one of the last cars unveiled but already it is the most controversial.
According to reports rival teams have told Auto Motor und Sport that it is an “exact copy” of last year’s Mercedes W10.
Racing Point have used Mercedes engines for the past few years but it seems the relationship has become a little closer.
The RP20’s front wing, nose design and side air boxes all resemble last year’s championship-winning Mercedes. And the similarities don’t end there.
Racing Point’s technical director Andrew Green has defended the team’s relationship with Mercedes.
“We have been working in the Mercedes wind tunnel since May last year,” he told the German publication.
“Front and rear suspension and the transmission come one to one from the 2019 Mercedes.
“We are only now starting with the new car for 2021.”
Racing Point’s rivals might have reason to be wary of the RP20 was Perez was third fastest on Day 1.
Cathartic first day for Williams
After only venturing out after lunch on Day 3 last year, Williams put in the very first lap of 2020’s pre-season.
George Russell pipped Carlos Sainz to be the first to cover an official lap as he nipped ahead of the McLaren driver while Sainz was waiting to practice a start.
No such wait for Russell and Williams, they needed to be first out.
Russell went onto cover 73 laps with a best time of 1:18.168 while his new team-mate Nicholas Latifi was P12 with 63 laps on the board.
“Overall it’s been a very promising morning,” Russell said. “Definitely the general handling of the car is much better.
“From the first lap today I had confidence to push the car to the limit, whereas last year it wasn’t a nice feeling in the early laps and it was quite scary to drive in the opening laps.
“But a nice car to drive isn’t always fast, we just need to see if we’ve been able to smash enough downforce on the car to see if we can challenge those around.”
The lap times
1 Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:16.976 – 94 laps
2 Bottas – Mercedes – 1:17.313 – 79 laps
3 Perez – Racing Point – 1:17.375 – 58 laps
4 Verstappen – Red Bull – 1:17.516 – 168 laps
5 Kvyat – AlphaTauri – 1:17.698 – 115 laps
6 Sainz – McLaren – 1:17.842 – 161 laps
7 Ricciardo – Renault – 1:17.873 – 54 laps
8 Ocon – Renault – 1:18.004 – 62 laps
9 Russell – Williams – 1:18.168 – 73 laps
10 Stroll – Racing Point – 1:18.282 – 50 laps
11 Leclerc – Ferrari – 1:18.289 – 131 laps
12 Latifi – Williams – 1:18.382 – 63 laps
13 Kubica – Alfa Romeo – 1:18.386 – 59 laps
14 Magnussen – Haas – 1:18.466 – 104 laps
15 Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo – 1:20.096 – 78 laps