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Mercedes throws down the gauntlet

NEWS STORY
19/02/2020

On the face of it, Mercedes has - as feared - picked up where it left off in Abu Dhabi, with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas dominating proceedings from the outset of pre-season testing.

However, though the German team's pace and reliability was as impressive as ever, there were interesting things going on elsewhere.

With the Silver Arrows dominating from the outset, at least the tedious notion of sandbagging can be put to bed before we start, for clearly neither driver or team was pulling its punches today.

"It's been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break," said Hamilton. "So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.

"We will just take it one step at a time," he added, "getting good feedback from the car. We have a lot of data to download and analyse and we've got to keep pushing on. A huge thank you to everyone back in Brackley and Brixworth for the incredible effort that's gone in over the winter to make sure we come here and have a car that's reliable to start with so we can get this mileage done.

"I hope everyone back at the factory is happy with how the day went and we're just going to keep churning out as many miles as possible."

"I'm very impressed that we could start at 9am," added Bottas, "going straight out and doing some longer runs without any issues and really execute our plan for the morning perfectly.

"We could get everything done which is just impressive considering how much work goes into our cars. In the morning when it was still relatively cold, we focused mostly on aero tests with rakes on the car. Later on we did some work on set-up changes - bigger changes than we would normally do on a race weekend when it's more about fine-tuning. In testing you have the chance to do that and see how the car reacts to those big changes. I had a very good feeling, the car feels good and fast, but I'm sure we can make it a lot faster. It's been a really nice starting point, but it's early days, so it doesn't mean a whole lot."

Just along the pitlane, Max Verstappen completed a very impressive 168 laps - just 5 shy of Mercedes total - on his way to posting the fourth best time of the day.

Granted, there were a couple of spins and a trip through the gravel, but this was more about the youngster finding the limits than anything else.

"It's been a good day," said the Dutchman. "It's always important to do as many laps as possible and today was a really good example of how you should do it, so I'm very happy. We have improved the car in the areas we wanted to over the winter and the car feels faster everywhere, which is great.

"The reliability has been good so far, so now we just have to do a lot more laps, test all the new parts and see where we can improve it further. Hopefully we'll have done enough!"

Following the hype, in all honesty it was a pretty uneventful day, with no incidents of note and not even a hint of a red flag.

A couple of drivers spent more time in their garages than they might have wished - Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc spring to mind - but between them the 15 drivers on duty completed a staggering 1,358 laps.

While there might not have been any incidents of note, the F1 paddock wouldn't be the F1 paddock without a hint of scandal, and the similarity between the 2020 Racing Point and the 2019 title winning Mercedes was the cause of much muttering over the course of the day, though whether this will lead to a raft of those infamous technical directives remains to be seen.

Of course, if you're going to copy you copy the best, after all what would be the point of trying to recreate the 2019 Williams or Haas.

Clearly, Racing Point made the right move, for Sergio Perez ended the day third quickest, just 0.399s off Hamilton's pace, while teammate, Lance Stroll was tenth.

"My first impressions of the new car are positive," said the Mexican. "Obviously, there's still a long way to go with a lot of things we have to get on top of - but it's definitely a promising start.

"We spent the morning learning about the car and did a lot of aero testing with a couple of quick laps. Putting mileage onto the car is really important, especially with a limited amount of testing days available, and we have already gathered good information for the engineers. Hopefully we can keep improving in the coming days."

"I feel good but it's still early days," added Stroll. "We had a smooth afternoon and I completed over 200 kilometres of running without any problems. That's the best way to start a test. It nice to be back behind the wheel again after the winter break.

"The first day of testing is all about getting comfortable and clocking up the laps on the car. There's a lot of work ahead of us over the next couple of weeks - but there's a good atmosphere in the garage after day one."

A software issue in the morning was soon forgotten as Daniil Kvyat improved to fifth this afternoon, between them the Honda-powered drivers completing a very impressive 284 laps.

"I think it was a pretty comfortable day," said the Russian, "we didn't encounter any big issues and we ran reliably.

"The car felt like home pretty much straight away," he added. "We've completed the routine checks at the start of the day which made our morning a bit slow, but it's necessary for the team at the first test. Once that was done we were able to get some good laps in and understand the new car a bit better. We also worked on setup items, some of which you wouldn't really try on a race weekend.

"It's hard to comment too much on the progress made over winter because it's the first time we properly run the car and you certainly need more time to find the sweet spot."

As we have said before, this week's test is the equivalent of FP1 and FP2 - hence the abundance of sensors and flo-vis, but what better way to kick-start your programme and give your team a much needed boost to its morale than running faultlessly with barely a hint of trouble.

Though it is far, far too early to be talking pecking order, the fact is that the coming season will once again see the field divided into the big three, the midfield and the rest.

While we know the identity of the big three, it is going to be interesting to see who comprises the other groups. Certainly, the midfield battle is going to be as strong as ever, and even at this early stage one can see the likes of McLaren seeking to build on the foundations established last year.

Carlos Sainz completed 161 laps on his way to posting the sixth best time of the day, edging out the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.

"A very good job by everyone today," said Sainz, "it shows that hard work over the winter pays off. I managed to complete 161 laps, which is a very decent number for my first day. The car already feels a step on from last year. We aren't reading too much into the track times, but knowing that we're completing race simulations and pit-stops on the first day is a very good achievement."

"It feels awesome to be back driving a Formula 1 car," said Ocon. "I had a big smile on my face leaving the garage as it's been a while since I've had my own race car. It's really cool to think about the thousands of hours which have been put into creating this car and then feeling it come alive on track.

"In terms of our programme, we've made a solid start and we have a good base to work from. We know we have to keep working this week and make some improvements ready for the first race. We have to be precise in our work and make everything count. I'm looking forward to continuing the progress through the week."

"It's great to be driving again," added Ricciardo, "and I felt quite comfortable in the car from the get-go, which was cool. Esteban obviously warmed the car up nicely this morning, and I felt I was more or less straight back into it and in a rhythm when it was my turn in the afternoon.

"There are improvements on the car and we've obviously changed it a lot visually, which is quite clear when you look at the front nose. The improvements are there, and ultimately that's what we're targeting. It's too early to make any comparisons, but our reliability was pretty strong, and I would say it's promising. You can't ask for too much more from day one, so I'm happy with that."

Check out our Wednesday gallery from Barcelona, here.

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1. Posted by Kkiirmki, 19/02/2020 21:42

"Finally, after 6 seasons, Mercedes have decided not to play the underdog card. Considering they can only get better, everyone should be very worried."

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