Mercedes remained the class of the field as Formula One testing concluded in Barcelona. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas finished their last runs at the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday, having put in some relentless running and pace across almost every one of the six days, with Bottas topping the timesheets.
At Williams, deputy team principal Claire Williams hit out at suggestions in Barcelona that the team’s recent poor performances were in any way attributable to her having a baby. Her British driver George Russell insisted that after the team had hit rock bottom last year they were finally on an upward curve.
When the final day of winter testing came to an end, Bottas’s day three run set on the softest tyres of 1min 15.732sec was still the quickest and the team completed the most laps with 903. The evolution of last year’s car which took Hamilton to his sixth title and Mercedes to their sixth consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ double, remains the one to beat.
Mercedes were also consistently quick in race simulations. They lost one afternoon of running when Hamilton’s car came to a halt with an oil pressure problem. The only apparent issue of any real concern for the team would be that the power unit may require some troubleshooting, with Williams having to use three Mercedes engines across testing.
“It’s a concern for sure,” said Hamilton. “Normally in this pre-season testing we’re much more confident in the reliability, so it’s not been perfect for us. I think we’re on our second engine already. It’s not been perfect and we’ve found that we’ve got plenty of problems that we are trying to iron out.”
Ferrari have been playing down their performance, with a car which they have attempted to make stronger through the corners. Team principal Mattia Binotto admitted they were not up with Mercedes as yet but on the final day the Scuderia showed better pace with Charles Leclerc setting good times and looking very solid in long run performances as the team completed 844 laps in total.
Red Bull, enjoyed one of their best testing runs for several years, looking competitive from the off. They were quicker than Ferrari for many of the sessions with Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon completing 780 laps.
Verstappen came within 0.073 seconds of Bottas’s time on Friday, when the Finn was also quickest. Racing Point appeared to have the advantage in the midfield below the top three, although their decision to build their car closely mirroring the design of last year’s title-wining Mercedes, has caused some discontent across the paddock.
For the last two years Williams endured their worst seasons in the 42 years of racing since Sir Frank Williams entered his team in F1. This year they have looked solidly on course to move closer to the midfield. The team, under deputy principal Claire Williams, have made major changes to their structure and practices over the course of the last two years, which Russell believed had begun process of coming back.
“Nobody was pleased, Frank was not pleased, Claire was not pleased,” he said of last year’s travails. “But sometimes in life you need to hit rock bottom before climbing back up. Last year the team could have continued in their ways and been mid-to-backfield team over the next three to four years but the sights are set higher than that.”
Williams have not won since 2012 and Williams has been in charge since 2013. She strongly disputed any suggestion that the team’s downturn in performance had anything to do with her becoming a mother in 2017.
“Maybe give me a rougher time because I am a woman,” she said. “I have had someone say to me that a lot of people in the Formula One paddock think that the team started doing badly when I fell pregnant and had a baby. Am I not allowed a child because I am a woman running a Formula 1 team? It is a disgraceful attitude, and a very 19th-century attitude.”
The first race of the season is set to take place on 15 March in Melbourne.