NEW rules. New cars. Same result. Mercedes dominated the first day of Formula One pre-season testing, sending a message that the overhaul of regulations may not derail the three-time defending champions.
While Lewis Hamliton aimed for speed, new teammate Valtteri Bottas went for distance as they shared time behind the wheel of the revamped silver arrow. Hamilton took over driving in the afternoon and clocked the day’s fastest lap, bettering Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari by 0.113 seconds.
In four hours of driving before lunch, Bottas outworked the rest of the field with 79 laps at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. That total surpassed the 66 laps of the Spanish Grand Prix at the same venue.
Only Vettel and Felipe Massa ended up with more laps, but that was in double the time following the entire eight-hour session.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo managed just four laps in his Red Bull in the morning session when it came to a sudden stop and he and the car were left to go back to the pits.
Thankfully for the Aussie Red Bull ironed out the problems and he was able to record 50 laps for the day, finishing with the fifth quickest time. “Today’s session was okay, I felt I got up to speed relatively quickly,” Ricciardo told the team website.
“We had a bit of a slow start this morning but the afternoon was better and the last two hours were more like a test. It’s nice to end the day on a bit of a positive.
“There’s still a lot more to come from the car and you have to remember that the track is cold and the tyres are probably not at their optimum temperature.” Ricciardo also suggested that the drop in times in the 2017 season were going to happen after seeing the pace of Hamilton.
“The times Lewis was setting today were already quicker than the times in qualifying last year, so it’s going to be faster,” he said.
It’s cool for now but I think we will get a lot quicker from where we are today. We’ll hope to make steady steps tomorrow when Max is in the car and then we can start to do some more trimming.” Mercedes’ rivals are hoping the regulation changes will help them make up ground on a team that has won 51 of the last 59 races.
Other than Vettel’s positive showing, there was little sign that the gap had closed.
Fernando Alonso was the driver left with the most frustrations, after rejecting an approach from Mercedes to replace Nico Rosberg, his McLaren again failed to do the job.
McLaren’s engine partners Honda blamed an oil system problem that took hours to fix — it made for a frustrated former world champion.
“It’s definitely not a perfect start of the winter testing,” said Alonso. “We are disappointed, we are sad to arrive to the first day and not be able to run. We know and are aware of the time we lost today, we have four days for each driver before the world championship starts and now one day is gone. “So I have three days to prepare a world championship. It’s not an ideal situation.”