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Saturday timesheets don't tell the full story

NEWS STORY
13/03/2021

While Valtteri Bottas tops the timesheets on the second day of testing, the truth is that, unlike McLaren and Red Bull, Mercedes has yet to impress.

On paper it will appear that it's business as usual as a Mercedes driver tops the timesheets at close of play. However, other than the fact that the gap to runner-up, Pierre Gasly was only 0.124s, the fact is that the Finn's best lap was set on the softest tyre in Pirelli's range, and even then the performance was hardly convincing.

As ever the world champions have yet to show their hand, but the fact is that, all things considered, Mercedes appears to be making heavy going of testing and really hasn't appeared to grab the (Red) bull by the horns.

True, other that Hamilton's off this morning and a moment of overenthusiasm from Bottas this afternoon, it's been a trouble-free day for the world champions who completed 116 laps in total. But like a seagull - assuming you've seen one take flight - the world champions appear to be taking forever to get off the ground.

"It was a lot better for me than yesterday, for sure," said the Finn. "I finally managed to get some laps and some clean runs to really learn about the new car and try some things.

"It's always good when you learn and that's what testing is all about," he added, "the opportunity to run different things and see how the car reacts. As a driver you use that information in a race weekend so it's hugely important. If the set-up changes work or don't work, it's all valuable information.

"For sure it's windier here than we've had at a race but one of the bigger issues with the car is the rear end, it's quite snappy and unforgiving. With the new tyres, it's quite sensitive so we need to calm the car down a bit."

On topping the timesheetys, he said: "It's so difficult to say what that means. I can't be jumping around happy - it is only testing. As always, we are just focused on getting through our programme and maximising the learning. You never know what fuel loads people are running. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow, we will have a better idea of where we are.

"Testing is limited and a lot more compromised this year for everyone, you have less time in the car before the first race so I would be happy if we could just get through the final day tomorrow nice and clean. Today felt good and the times were pretty fast, so I just want more laps and more feeling with car."

"It was OK, better than yesterday - not so much sand," added Hamilton. "The track doesn't have a huge amount of grip and long runs aren't the easiest but at least the sun was out! The balance was slightly improved compared to yesterday but we're still working through certain things.

"For today the wind did a 180 degree shift so the track was very different, and you could push in certain places where you couldn't yesterday. It was very gusty as I found out at turn 13 and the rear doesn't feel particularly great with this new regulation change but we're still trying to find the sweet spot.

"I've done 60-odd laps today and Valtteri missed a lot of track time yesterday so it's not a lot compared to other tests we've had but we're trying to be as effective as we can. We have less mileage than some of the others like Red Bull but we're just trying to stick to our programme and manage the laps to try to be efficient. We're just focusing on understanding the car, there's no point in getting worried."

"It was a better day than yesterday and we were able to run to plan in both sessions," said Andrew Shovlin. "Lewis was in for the morning working on setup items and data collection and Valtteri continued with similar work in the early part of the afternoon. We then spent the latter part of the day doing qualifying simulations with Valtteri on the softer compounds.

"We've made progress on the setup today and the balance was more together by the end of the session, albeit in calmer and cooler conditions. But the car is still a bit of a handful in the warmer and windier conditions of the morning and that's something we need to get to grips with tomorrow. It's going to be a busy day; we've got more than enough to do so we're hoping for a trouble-free day."

After yesterday's sandstorm, today's much improved conditions allowed the teams to ramp it up a notch and this afternoon we finally saw some pace, courtesy of the red-banded rubber, while race sims also became the order of the day.

Impressive yesterday, AlphaTauri continues to shine, with Pierre Gasly finishing second to Bottas and only 0.124s behind. With Yuki Tsunoda in action this morning, between them the Faenza pair completed an impressive 144 laps, the AT02 looking like it will be up for the midfield battle that lies ahead.

At one point we saw Gasly following Latifi, the Frenchman seemingly unable to nail the Williams. However, it soon became clear that he was merely trying to understand how the AT02 reacts in dirty air. Indeed, once the 'experiment' was completed he left the Canadian for dead.

"It's been another really positive day for me," said Gasly, "with a lot of laps done this afternoon. We managed to complete all the high-fuel running that we wanted to at the start of the session and then some performance runs towards the end, with the softer compound. I feel really good in the car, especially compared to this time last year, so it's really positive for me.

"There are obviously places we still need to improve upon, but I think we're in a good place with one day left of running at this test. The Honda Power Unit is working really well so far and we haven't had any reliability issues which is great - I'm excited to get it out on track for the race. With only three days of testing - split between two drivers - I knew it would be difficult but considering how many laps we've been able to complete so far I'm feeling quite comfortable with the car ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix."

"I think for me on the driving side things are definitely improving each time I go out," added Tsunoda. "The weather again today has been an issue, particularly with the changes in wind direction, so it's definitely been a big learning curve.

"I'm really starting to understand the car and how it reacts with different tyre compounds now," he added, "my performance isn't perfect yet but I'm happy with how the test is going from my side. I'm also getting more confident in high speed corners, as I continue to understand the downforce levels of the car more with each run we do. It's good learning for the team, and also for myself, so hopefully we can put it all together tomorrow."

"Overall, we had a very productive day and were able to recover the lost kilometres from yesterday afternoon," said Jonathan Eddolls, the Faenza outfit's chief race engineer. "Yuki was on duty in the morning session, which started with a very dusty track from the high overnight winds, but this didn't impact the aero running we did with him during the first couple of hours.

"We then got into a block of mechanical setup items before closing the morning with his first experience of the new soft compound. He performed well and is in a good position for his last half day of testing tomorrow, before the first race.

"We swapped to Pierre for the afternoon and had a mixed plan of long runs and performance runs, again trying to learn about the 2021 tyres and how best to optimise the car for them. We found some interesting directions to analyse tonight and then we can explore these tomorrow. I'm happy with the progress we've made today, as we've been able to complete our plan and cover 144 laps across the two drivers.

"We still have some work to do tomorrow but we're on plan to complete all our testing items and be in a good shape ahead of the start of the season."

While gearbox gremlins sidelined Sebastian Vettel earlier, there were no such issues this afternoon for Lance Stroll, the Canadian finishing a strong third on the timesheets.

"Overall a very positive afternoon after a difficult morning for Sebastian where some technical issues limited our running," said the Canadian. "Track conditions were not so easy - it was still quite windy, but even in those conditions it felt great to be back driving and getting lots of laps under my belt.

"The afternoon programme went to plan: we completed the main jobs and ticked off the test items. There's still lots to catch up on tomorrow, but I'm feeling pretty pleased with a solid afternoon."

"It was not such a busy day for me," added Vettel. "We experienced a gearbox issue quite early on and that kept the car in the garage. The guys did a great job to quickly fit a new gearbox and we got back out just before the end of the morning session.

"Doing so few laps today wasn't ideal," he admitted, "because there is just one more day of testing before we come back here for the race and I am still learning about this new car. Fortunately, things went a bit better this afternoon for Lance giving us some important information. Hopefully, we can have a more straightforward day tomorrow."

McLaren continues to shine, and though it is still far too early to be making predictions could we be about to witness the Woking outfit giving Red Bull and Mercedes a hard time?

This morning Daniel Ricciardo set the pace, having done so yesterday, while this afternoon Lando Norris was just 0.297s off the pace despite using slightly harder rubber than the three drivers who went quicker.

"Another positive day," beamed Ricciardo, "it's been a good test so far and I'm looking forward to the evening session I'll be running in tomorrow.

"We've been able to get a lot of laps in and tick off every run we had planned, which is important for us in terms of reliability and starting to build my confidence in the car.

"All I'm missing now is that evening session, I've had two of the morning sessions when the track is hot and usually we come here at night. But tomorrow, I'm on track later on and I think I'll be able to push the car a bit more and get a better feeling of how comfortable I am, as well as a better understanding of how ready we are for two weeks' time."

"A good second day in the car," added Norris, "a bit cleaner and more straightforward today in terms of the weather conditions, which meant we could do more normal running.

"We did a mixture of aero runs for half of my session, and some shorter and longer runs to look towards weekend preparation. It's good to get an understanding of both types of running to assess areas we need to work on ahead of race weekends, but also for tomorrow on track.

"We'll go through everything tonight, come back tomorrow with some improvements and make sure we're as prepared as possible before leaving Bahrain after three days and heading into the first race."

"A useful day of testing," said James Key, the Woking team's technical boss, "it's good to get both drivers back in the car again after they've had some time to process and analyse what they experienced on day one. We had quite a varied programme today which we got through as we'd hoped, covering over 100 laps between our two drivers, who worked on a number of aero tests and measurements, looked at some different tyre compounds in a bit more detail than yesterday, as well as completed both one-lap configurations and longer running which will give a bit of a heads-up of what to expect in those conditions. Our set-up tests were useful in confirming some of the learning and direction we gained from day one when we had more difficult track conditions than today. We also were able to conduct some tests to sign off aspects of our new power unit installation and operation with our colleagues at Mercedes HPP, which were completed as planned.

Check out our Day 2 pre-season test gallery from Bahrain, here.

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1. Posted by kenji, 14/03/2021 1:13

"ATM I see no indications of a change to the past pecking order other than some swaperoos in the mid to lower mid field. Of course there is always the likelihood of some 'black swan' moments but I wouldn't be betting the sheep station on it !!!"

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