F1 Testing verdict: The big talking points from 2020’s Test One

Innovative Mercedes ‘win’ week one

The fastest times. The most laps. And perhaps already the innovation of the year. Could the first week of testing really have gone much better for Mercedes?

The detail behind the headlines is what usually really matters during pre-season – and 2020’s early performances will become much clearer in Test Two. Yet the early evidence from Barcelona is that F1’s world champions remain as fast and – significantly – relentless as ever.

What is obvious is that six consecutive championship doubles haven’t restricted the team’s creative flair, as evidenced by the W11’s innovative rear suspension layout or the Dual-Axis Steering system which proved the talking point of Test One.

“The most innovative car has also been the fastest here. Whether it’s short runs or long runs, it’s round one to Mercedes-Benz,” declared Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz.

But it is still only round one.

This time last year it was Ferrari taking the early plaudits, only for Mercedes to close in at Test Two – and then blitz the Scuderia by Melbourne. So while obviously satisfied with the W11’s early progress, it’s no surprise to find that Mercedes are not getting carried away yet.

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  • Get Sky Sports F1 for 2020 season

“It’s been a good first week, the car has been broadly reliable, and the performance has been reasonably good throughout the week,” said technical director James Allison. “There are, of course, many things to work on and we’ll be trying to do that in week two. But it’s a really good baseline.”

Valtteri Bottas, who clocked the fastest lap of week one, said the W11 had provided a “good feeling”, while world champion Lewis Hamilton described it as a “solid first week”.

But already within touching distance of Barcelona’s outright lap record, how much faster can Mercedes go in week two?

But how far behind are Red Bull?

The timesheets don’t necessarily reflect it, but Red Bull arguably enjoyed their best start to winter testing of the hybrid era this week. And Honda certainly did.

The second year of this partnership, which made great strides in 2019, promises more improvement in 2020 and Honda, so often having engine issues in previous years at testing, ensured Red Bull finished just behind Mercedes in terms of mileage in Barcelona – which was the team’s main focus as they look for the perfect platform for a title assault.

“It was not about lap times,” insisted Verstappen, who still finished with the ninth fastest time of the three days.

The fastest laps of winter testing per team

Despite the focus on longer runs, teams can still get an eye for the pecking order through data and the paddock appears in agreement that Red Bull would have been Mercedes’ main rivals if they had gone for a performance run this week.

“I think so far we are very pleased with what we have done,” added Verstappen. “Good amount of laps, everything is running very smoothly and that’s exactly what we wanted, so it’s going well.”

Viewed as a potential blockbuster title rival to Hamilton, Verstappen wasn’t giving anything away in terms of his confidence of beating Mercedes – but it’s clear Red Bull know they have a strong package.

“It’s now a development race from this point forwards to Abu Dhabi,” said team boss Christian Horner. Whether it’s strong enough, is another question entirely.

Familiar-looking Racing Point threaten unfamiliar ground?

If the new Mercedes caught the eye for its innovation, then the new Racing Point made headlines on grounds of familiarity – namely the resemblance of the all-pink RP20 to last year’s title-winning Silver Arrow.

Racing Point have readily admitted they have taken inspiration from the world champions’ tried-and-trusted concept, a no-brainer in many regards for an outfit that wants to return to the head of the midfield this year – particularly when you consider that they already use the champions’ engine and year-old gearbox.

Having decided to go away from aspects of their previous design philosophy that were “haunting us for many years”, technical director Andrew Green explained: “We tore up everything we knew about a high-rake car and the philosophy that we were running for the last few years and start[ed] it again.

“It is a big risk – it’s a massive risk. To not just take someone’s concept but to understand it and develop it is a huge risk. But I have a lot of faith in the team.”

And he was clear to point out: “What you see is what people have drawn from looking at pictures of Mercedes. The same as anyone else could have done, and I think they have done a cracking job.”

Seventh last year, fourth-quickest this week, how big a step are Racing Point about to make?

Ferrari not a ‘Mercedes beater’ – yet

Ferrari may not have been focusing on performance this week – an assertion backed up on the timesheets as they finished as the eighth-fastest team – but the Scuderia have already conceded that they have slipped behind Mercedes and Red Bull in the early 2020 pecking order.

“The others are faster than us at the moment,” said Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto. “How much faster I think is difficult to judge.

“Do we have concerns? Certainly, yes – when you are not as fast as you would like to be.”

It was an honest assessment and a worrying one for fans of F1’s most successful team who, after 13 years without a title, are desperate to get back on top. Their plot to do that this year is by playing the long game and focusing on developing their “very different” new car.

“I think Ferrari will be a beater when you consider the [whole] season, but will it be a beater already in Australia? Maybe not,” Binotto explained. “I’ve seen certainly that Mercedes and Red Bull are very fast on these first days.”

He added: “What will be important now is to develop the car in the right direction. It’s a very long season, with 22 races potentially, so I think there will be time to recover eventually.”

Neither Charles Leclerc nor Sebastian Vettel seemed particularly elated by Ferrari’s performance, either – especially compared to last year when they lit up the timesheets. Vettel did at least say that the new car had more downforce as intended.

“[Whether it’s] enough, we will see,” he said. “But it’s definitely a step up from last year. I think it is better in some places, in other places I think there are some similarities.”

McLaren’s start ‘close to 10’ amid competitive midfield

Without the reliability issues which have plagued some of their winters in the past, McLaren graded their test as “not far from 10” out of 10. Another team who didn’t light up the timesheets, McLaren opted for mileage and consistency – and were clearly delighted with their week.

“It was great to see we could do a lot of laps, reliability is great, and I think it’s by far the best start for McLaren into a winter testing campaign since many, many years,” heralded team boss Andreas Seidl.

Confidence from within seems to step partly from the fact they have a car which they believe they can develop a lot over the season – proved as early as Day Three when the MCL35 was fitted with a new front wing.

The most laps completed per team

But McLaren are also wary that their midfield battle may have got that bit tougher in 2020. Carlos Sainz said the car was a “step forward” but that “everyone is very quick – so everybody must have made a lot of progress”.

Racing Point and AlphaTauri in particular stood out, while Alfa Romeo and Renault set headline times. At the other end of the spectrum, Haas didn’t show their hand at all.

Williams, meanwhile, distant backrunners from 2019, believe they can get back to “racing” this season after banishing the demons from testing last year with an encouraging week – which was started by George Russell leading drivers out on Day One. A show of strength.

“We want to be going to races and fighting for, realistically, a Q2 position and then to fight for position in the race that brings our pride back,” said deputy team principal Claire Williams.

WATCH TEST TWO LIVE ON SKY SPORTS F1

For the first time ever, BOTH weeks of F1 Testing are being shown live – meaning you also won’t miss a minute of the second week of action at Barcelona.

Coverage of Test Two starts on Wednesday at 7.55am, with the track sessions running from 8am-12pm and then 1pm-5pm. Subscribers can watch on Sky Sports F1 and the Sky Sports app, while the Live Blog on our digital platforms will include the latest updates and free-to-view video clips across all three days.

Wednesday, February 26
7.55am-12pm: Test Two, Day One Morning Session
1pm-5pm: Test Two, Day One Afternoon Session
5pm-6pm: The Story So Far

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