BARCELONA • Last year, Ferrari dominated pre-season testing, only to splutter in the first half of the Formula One season, with Mercedes winning the first eight races of the campaign.
So this time round, the Scuderia are changing tack in a bid to make sure their preparations translate to tangible results on the track, starting with the March 15 season-opener in Melbourne, Australia.
Charles Leclerc, in their new SF1000 car, was only 11th fastest on the timesheets on Wednesday while teammate Sebastian Vettel called in sick. But that is all part of the plan, according to the Monaco native.
“We changed a little bit our approach compared to last year,” he told reporters. “Last year, the testing was great, but the first race was a bit less great (they failed to finish on the podium) .
“We’ve learnt a few things on this, so this year, we’ve decided to focus more on ourselves, trying to learn the car as much as possible in the first few days and focus on performance a bit later on.”
Leclerc was one of the few bright spots for Ferrari – winning two races to one for Vettel – in what was his maiden season for the Italian team.
Now enjoying equal status alongside the four-time world champion, he also revealed he was able to shape the direction of this year’s car to make it more to his liking.
“We have more flexibility in the car set-up this year, so this is always a good thing for both drivers because we can adapt the car to our driving,” the 22-year-old said. “We didn’t push the car yet but we know we’ve more flexibility. This is a fact. This can only be positive.”
With Ferrari opting to ease up, Mercedes set the pace in testing, with six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton recording the fastest lap in 1min 16.976sec.
The Briton did 94 laps at the Circuit de Catalunya on the soft C2 compound tyres, running untroubled after Valtteri Bottas completed 79 laps earlier.
Hamilton, who is hoping to equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles, was 0.337sec quicker than his Finnish teammate.
“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” he said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”
Technical director James Allison added both drivers talked up the “sweet handling characteristics” of the Silver Arrows’ new W11 car.
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