|Two weeks of pre-season testing – or rather one week as the first was practically washed out by the weather – have left us with one clear conclusion: the usual suspects are still ahead of the field.
Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull won’t perhaps line-up in that exact order on the Melbourne grid, but they will likely remain in close contact with each other in race trim, and with a cushion of about a full second over their desperate mid-field followers.
While there were a few interesting performances in the second tier challengers, namely from Renault, Haas and McLaren (thanks to a last ditch effort from Fernando Alonso on a fully rubbered track Friday afternoon), there’s really no point in assessing this group’s chances given the superiority of the incumbent leaders.
But how did Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull actually compare with each other?
Sebastian Vettel delivered bragging rights to the Scuderia when he became the fastest man ever to lap the Circuit de Catalunya. Both Ferrari and Red Bull conducted qualifying simulations which yielded their respective fastest times, but Mercedes worked in isolation, avoiding altogether any attempts at outright performance. A sign that confidence levels are running high at Brackley.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas never even bolted on to their W09 a set of Pirelli’s Hypersoft tyres, the fastest compound available, choosing to focus instead on race simulation on the medium rubber, a tyre on which Valtteri Bottas was the fastest of all.
There is definitely more than meets the eye when one looks beyond last week’s fastest laps.
It’s a somewhat simplistic and empirical deduction, as so many other factors come into play, but based on relative performance in Barcelona, and barring exceptional or odd circumstances, the Silver Arrows duo looks set to lead the charge in Melbourne, at least on race day.
It likely won’t be a walk in Albert Park, it may even be just a marginal advantage for whomever – be it Hamilton or Bottas – reaches the checkered flag first. But chances are very strong that a Mercedes will prevail Down Under next week.
Then again, one can never dismiss Formula 1’s all too rare but glorious unpredictability…
Phillip van Osten
Editor of F1i.com