During the four days of testing at Circuit de Catalunya, it is clear that Mercedes kept their powder dry as they ignored lap times and focussed intently on their data gathering programme which meant racking up as many miles as possible before turning their attention to performance on the final day.
On Thursday, observers out on track reported that although the Mercedes looked swift, it looked “stiff” through certain tighter sectors, suggesting that their drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were still hunting the setup ‘sweetspot’ on the W10.
Bottas admitted as much when he told reporters after his final stint in the car on Thursday, “It seems like, balance-wise, it’s a little bit on a knife-edge at the moment. We’ve been improving massively in the first three days… it’s nothing fundamentally wrong, I feel.”
“I think there is a lot of potential, but it’s not yet quite there. But I feel a sense in the team of a bit of an excitement to discover more about the car and to improve it – because at this point, it looks like we are not miles ahead of everyone.”
“It seems like… Ferrari are in a better place. So I think it motivates us, but obviously we would love to be ahead in Melbourne.”
“They do seem very strong, no matter which kind of fuel load or engine mode they’re running. Whatever you try to correct that for, in any case, they are quick – short runs and long runs. I think we feel, at this point, that they’re going to be a bit ahead but, obviously, it’s impossible to make a calculation.”
Traditionally Ferrari tend to be ‘hot’ out the box, while Mercedes tend to keep to mind their own business, before unleashing what they have and that is likely to happen only in Q3 on Saturday, 16 March in qualifying for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix
“With the new rules, it’s going to be a big development race. We don’t think anyone is going, with [the car they have] in this test, to the first race, including us – we do have new parts coming before the first race, but we can’t really know that it’s going to be enough. We need… to try and make it better, and quicker,” added the Finn.
Reading between the lines it would be fair to assume that the W10 has not been a rocket out the box like the Ferrari SF90 of their archrivals, but expect it to be a rough diamond which the World Champions are likely to shine up and will be a very different piece of kit when it is maxed out in Melbourne next month.
The World Champions finally got going, in terms of fast lap times, on the final day, with Bottas setting a best time of 1:17.857 at the end of the day which was a tenth faster than Hamilton’s best, and half a second shy of Nico Hulkenberg’s top time.
The Silver Arrows pair ended up fourth and fifth on the timing screens.