The penultimate day of pre-season testing was another story of mighty lap totals and Mercedes pace. The W06 was again the class of the field, as Lewis Hamilton completed his final session prior to FP1 in Melbourne, topping the timing screens for the first time in his 2015 testing experience. However, as Mercedes “experimented” with set-up within the confines of the garage, competitors stole a mileage march and among today’s big-hitters were Toro Rosso, Ferrari and astonishingly, Force India.
After six drivers recorded a century of laps yesterday, an impressive seven managed the feat today and rather surprisingly, the mighty Mercedes was one of the two who failed to clear 100 laps. Hamilton’s final day of pre-season testing in 2015 saw the Brit spend four hours in the garage as the team tinkered with “experimental” set-up changes. To me, this is a statement in itself from Mercedes – while the competition is relying on heavy mileage over the final two days, Mercedes are seemingly content with a lighter programme, at least in respect to tarmac time.
Speaking of tarmac time – Force India have had an incredible two days. After a sublime 79 lap haul yesterday, it was only to be expected that the VJM08 would run into technical difficulties today as the programme became much more intense. However, Hulkenberg was able to complete trouble-free lap after trouble-free lap to end the day top of the mileage stakes. Straight out of the box, the car has been as reliable as its competitors who have enjoyed nine days of additional track time. Congratulations to everyone at Silverstone who have managed to complete such a feat. They may not have been a fast 158 laps but they were 158 laps from a brand-new car nonetheless.
It was this kind of mileage that McLaren were desperately in need of today, yet Kevin Magnussen’s first day in the MP4-30 yielded just 39 laps. On the back of Jenson Button’s 101 yesterday, this is surely a huge blow to a team who looked to be moving into the next gear. The lack of running today makes tomorrow all the more important.
What should give McLaren fans hope is the manner in which Renault were able to turn their fortunes around before Melbourne last season. Thanks to a dyno test as part of plenty of additional work away from the race track, the French manufacturer managed to not only power three cars across the finish line in Australia, but allow Daniel Ricciardo to finish P2, (albeit prior to his disqualification due to a technicality) and Daniil Kvyat to grab his first points. More reliability woes tomorrow will not necessarily rule McLaren out of completing the distance at round one, but after their winter as a whole, making the chequered flag is going to be a challenge.
Elsewhere, Ferrari recorded their first race simulation of this pre-season today, during Kimi Raikkonen’s final day in the car. However, it was the SF15-T’s supersoft running which grabbed the attention of most, as Ferrari entered a duel with Williams, as Massa took to the track on the similarly red-banded tyre. Ultimately, Williams came out on top, but only by one hundredth of a second. The margin between the two is certainly a lot smaller than I would have guesstimated before today and after a few session’s under the radar, the penultimate day of pre-season testing his been another promising one for the Scuderia.