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Ferrari quickest as Mercedes falter

NEWS STORY
27/02/2020

Not for the first time, testing brought to mind the old Johnny Nash song, as the penultimate day of running definitely posed more questions than answers.

At session end, Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets, as Ferrari finally fitted a set of C5 boots and allowed the German to show what the SF1000 could do.

Or did he?

While he posted the fastest time of the day, his best time remains 1.109s off the best posted by Valtteri Bottas last Friday.

And at a time we were all wondering if perhaps Mercedes was correct and Ferrari is running its power units at a lower performance level than its customer teams, the picture was further confused when the teams began their race simulations in the afternoon.

"This was a good day in terms of the number of laps we managed to do," said Vettel, "as well as for the fact that we got through the programme we had set ourselves. Having said that, I don't think today's times mean much, because, out of the five days of testing we have done here so far, today's track conditions were definitely the worst.

"The overnight rain had washed away all the rubber put down on previous days and, on top of that, the wind got much stronger right from early morning, making it harder to drive. I think we have done a good job, concentrating mainly on what we had to do, without thinking too much about lap times.

"We won't really get a clear picture until Melbourne, but maybe not even there, given that the track is pretty unique. Overall, I'm pleased with the way testing went."

Just two laps into Vettel's race sim, Lance Stroll headed out in the Racing Point, and it's fair to say that the pair's times were comparable. At one point the pair were running close together, and such was the similarity in pace that one has to wonder if what we were witnessing was a weaker than expected Ferrari or a stronger than expected Racing Point.

For good measure, Stroll posted the third best time of the day, just 0.277s off Vettel's pace, on the C3s.

"We put in a lot of laps, my neck's going to be a bit stiff in the morning!" said the Canadian. "We got held up a bit by the rain in the morning and it was really windy in the afternoon, which compromised running for everyone a bit. But all-in-all some solid running and the car felt pretty good out there.

"It's testing, so we don't know what everyone else is doing," he continued, "but what matters is that we've been making progress over the past couple of weeks. We've definitely improved the car in terms of the balance on both short and long runs and the team have done a great job of dialling it in more and more as the days have gone by. It's a bit weird having less time in the car compared to previous years, but I'd say this has been my best pre-season so far. I'm feeling fresh from all that off-season training and ready to go racing."

Pierre Gasly, who had spent the morning on longer runs, turned his attention to pace in the afternoon, and when he finally fitted a set of the C5s he went second with a 17.066, just 0.225s off Vettel's pace. With 139 laps completed it was a good day for the Faenza-based outfit.

"It was a pretty good and intense day," said the Frenchman. "The track was damp this morning which meant we had to do most of the work in the afternoon.

"We did over 100 laps after lunch which was great, and managed to do a race simulation and push the car a bit more to see what we've got.

"Compared to last week, the conditions were slightly more difficult because of the wind which made the car challenging to drive at times.

"There are a couple of areas we need to improve on," he admitted, "but I can say it was a decent test for me. I know we have a bit more left in our pockets and I'm pretty pleased with the car, however, Melbourne is quite different from Barcelona, so even if I don't want to get too excited, I'm pretty confident going to the first race."

Stroll's pace, combined with the fact that he competed 130 laps, is further proof, as if it were needed, that Racing Point is not only a serious contender for best of the rest this year, but could be hassling Ferrari and Red Bull in the right conditions.

However, amidst existing rumblings about the legality of the RP20, today's show isn't going to calm the waters at a time it is feared the situation could get nasty and legal come Melbourne.

While Vettel and Racing Point hogged the headlines, one of the true stars today has to have been Nicholas Latifi. While his best time - good enough for fourth - was missed by the TV cameras, the fact the Canadian was able to complete 160 trouble-free laps further suggests that the Grove outfit has made serious progress.

"Overall it was a positive day," said the Canadian, "and I got to experience the car in both trims that you would in a race weekend.

"We focused our morning on performance runs and I was finally able to feel the limits of the car," he added. "Unfortunately, the track conditions this morning hampered our running, and from that point of view our performance simulations weren't as representative as I would have liked.

"In the afternoon we moved on to conducting our race simulations and I was able to get a lot of laps on the board.

"I think today went well, we had no issues and I was able to make up for the lost mileage from the previous days. This was the last time I will have had the chance to drive the car, I am looking forward to arriving in Melbourne and making my debut with the team."

McLaren continues to frustrate by not allowing its drivers to bolt on the C5s and show their hand, but even so, Lando Norris, completed 113 laps on his way to posting the fifth best time of the day.

The Woking outfit is one of several teams yet to show what it can really do, though Carlos Sainz promises that he will be going for a decent time tomorrow.

"I'm happy with the day," said Norris. "We did a lot of laps, a lot of short runs and almost a full race run. We gained a good understanding of the car, both alone on track and following other cars - a bit of a mix really, which is usual at testing.

"It was a decent way to end the pre-season for me, giving us a good understanding of the areas to work on as we prepare for Australia."

At a time there is much talk about sandbagging, perhaps it is only right that some teams continue to tantalise us by holding out on their hot laps.

It wasn't the best of days for Red Bull, the Austrian team only completing 92 laps in total. Max Verstappen had a troubled morning, spinning twice, the second occasion seeing him beached in the gravel and causing one of the day's several red flags.

In the afternoon Alex Albon completed a further 61 laps, but, as was the case last year, the Austrian team is sticking to the mediums.

"It was a bit of a shame with the weather," said Verstappen, "so we couldn't really run as much as we wanted, but overall it was positive.

"We spent time driving with the aero rakes, gathering all the data we could and everything went well. Every day we are improving, learning more, and that's exactly what you want from testing.

"It was never the target to run as many laps as last week. I think we have done our long runs and now it's about checking parts and trying different things. It all takes time and the end result is fewer laps, but I think we tried everything we wanted to today.

"Regarding the spin I had this morning, I had a look back at the footage and I just clipped a little damp patch, which I didn't see, but yeah, I think I just tried to take a little too much road on the entry!"

"This afternoon was a little bit disrupted," added Albon, "mostly because of the wind, which was tricky, and it was hard to get a good read on balance, but otherwise it wasn't too bad today.

"Everything's going well, but of course we need to look at the data as it was not so easy to do direct comparisons today. I think tomorrow the weather should be a lot better. There's still work to do and that's what tomorrow is about – fine-tuning and chipping away at it.

"We have done a lot of running and I think the positive thing is that we know the direction we're happy with. We have got a good base heading into the start of the season."

Check out our Thursday gallery from Barcelona, here.

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