All eyes on Melbourne as pre-season testing ends with Mercedes quickest

After six days of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a blurry picture is slowly starting to become sharper as a pecking order emerges ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Of course, pre-season favourites Mercedes are quick, Valtteri Bottas emerging fastest of all on the final day of running, his 1m16.196s mark 0.073s quicker to that of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but set on the grippiest and quickest Ultra Soft compound tyre.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was third after the final day, ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, also on the same compound, although Hamilton played down the times after what he viewed as a far from perfect test.

Hamilton’s Mercedes ground to a halt with a Power Unit issue on Thursday, and the reigning champion said there were problems that needed addressing before the opening grand prix weekend of the season in Melbourne.

“Normally we end pre-season testing with a lot more confidence in the reliability so its not been perfect for us,” said Hamilton. “We are on our third engine already, or second engine so it’s definitely not an easy or relaxed environment for us but I have every confidence in the guys back in the factory that they will analyse and do the best that they can do in the next two weeks to try and make sure we start off again on the right foot.

“I think we have had a good winter test. Its not been perfect. We have found we have plenty of problems that we’re trying to iron out and I don’t know how long it will take to iron out but that’s never a bad thing, necessarily to discover them through testing. I have no idea where we stand compared to others, the team will probably have a better idea than that. I don’t know where everybody else is.”

Mind games from the champ? Quite possibly, but several reporters and journalists in the paddock also think Ferrari were holding something back, with engine settings turned down and fuel loads unknown.

One team that has certainly impressed on the basis of tyre compounds and lap times over the course of both Barcelona tests is the BWT Racing Point Team, Sergio Perez seventh quickest on Friday but on the medium compound rubber. The Acronis partner team will certainly be one to watch out for when the lights go out at Albert Park.

“We’ve learned a lot about the RP20 over the past two weeks,” commented Tom McCullough, Performance Engineering Director. “Now it’s a matter of ensuring we make the best possible use of that data ahead of the opening races. It’s been a busy winter for everybody trackside and back at the factory, with some long hours and an incredible amount of work going on behind the scenes. A big thank you to each and every member of the team.”

After the trials and tribulations of a troubled 2019 season, the ever-popular Williams team have seemingly also made progress, George Russell ninth quickest from Daniil Kvyat’s Alpha Tauri, Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.