We all knew that Mercedes had reliability with their W05, but Lewis Hamilton’s excellent day today highlighted all of the car’s strength. The Brit recorded the fastest time of the session – a remarkable 1:34.263, set on the medium compound tyres. Despite a hydraulic issue this afternoon, the team managed long distance running to complement their performance tests from the morning. McLaren, Williams and Caterham also enjoyed excellent days, while Red Bull took a step backwards…
Mercedes spent the entirety of last pre-season downplaying their chances for 2013, while an excellent season was to follow. Consequently, it is unsurprising that their optimism this season has been interpreted as confidence and this confidence seems well placed after Lewis Hamilton recorded a remarkable time during his performance runs this morning. The mere fact that Mercedes are completing set-up work at this stage is beyond impressive – They undoubtedly have the high ground at the moment. “It was nice to put together a lap,” said Hamilton afterwards, “but it’s difficult to know where everyone is. We won’t know where we stand until we get to Melbourne.” While McLaren have also been tipped as early leaders, Kevin Magnussen’s timesheet topping attempt yesterday was 0.7 seconds down on Lewis’ time, set on the medium compound tyre instead of Kevin’s supersofts. Obviously times are very relative at this stage, but Mercedes’ jaw-dropping time today has cranked up the pressure and caused more concern for their principal rivals.
Meanwhile, the Mercedes powered McLaren team continued to enjoy a fruitful week, as Jenson Button took the Mr.Mileage award today, as the Brit surpassed a century of laps with 103. McLaren continued their supersoft evaluation today, as Button’s time was set on the same compound as Magnussen’s best attempt from yesterday. McLaren appear to be in a similar position to Mercedes – perhaps not quite so advanced in the programme, but they have definitely established the reliability and are now looking at both short and long run performance. Button’s day will forever be remembered by those close to him as the day in which he confirmed his engagement to his girlfriend Jessica Michibata. Congratulations to the pair of them!
Red Bull Rediscover Problems
After Sebastian Vettel’s 58 lap total yesterday, the team were far more optimistic that their problems had somewhat dissipated. While today was a success in comparison to Jerez, Daniel Ricciardo managed just 28 laps before the RB10 fell foul of yet another issue. An unspecified mechanical issue curtailed Red Bull’s progress today and the shutters were closed on another disappointing day with over an hour remaining. Until the issue, the programme was aggressive, packing as much as possible into every lap. Flow-vis paint was out in earnest as aero evaluation took place simultaneous to the reliability tests.
Concentrating on Saturday makes a lot of sense. The team have no time to chase lost causes this winter and rushing to solve a problem in order to clock an installation lap or two, would not make sense. While fixing the problems slowly, the team can examine and begin to understand every inch of the car. As Mercedes are finding out, if you understand the car fully, problems become much easier to solve.
Meanwhile, it was a mixed day for Renault. Lotus managed just 26 laps on their third day of official testing, as Pastor Maldonado stopped twice out on track. The mechanics worked hard to solve the issues but the team’s hard-earned 26 laps will not suffice if they want to regain the time lost by their Jerez absence. Lotus are however, making progress and are still in the early stages of their programme. However, Toro Rosso enjoyed a relatively good day, as Daniil Kvyat clocked 57 laps – a marked improvement, which has now taken the team’s total pre season lap count to 174.
Today was all about Mercedes. While it is far too early to suggest a possible pecking order, a number of drivers are beginning to identify Mercedes as the benchmark. They certainly look strong.