Mercedes topped the times on the opening day of pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya. Valtteri Bottas set the pace during the morning setting a 16.9 during his seventy-nine laps before his teammate Lewis Hamilton went three tenths faster during the afternoon to end the day fastest.
The opening day of testing was one where no team face any major drama, without any red flags and where all the teams managed to complete at least a race and a half worth of running. The car hit the track early on and were soon setting laps.
Bottas set the benchmark of a 17.3 when Hamilton came out on to track he went quicker within the first ninety minutes of the session before progressing to the 16.9 on the C2 tyre. The Finn managed seventy-nine laps where his fastest time came on the C3 tyre.
Despite the team’s dominance in the hybrid era, surprisingly its only the second time they have topped the times on the opening day of testing. The pace was over a second faster than what Sebastian Vettel managed on the opening day last year.
Bottas described the day as “a nice starting point” and said: “The car feels good.”
Going into this season it was expected the teams would produce the fastest cars in history was underlined by the early pace of the whole field, with the 10-team pack encouragingly separated by just 1.5 seconds.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was third fastest, going within four-tenths of the six-time champion during his morning run. The Mexican completed fifty-eight laps, before handing over to teammate Lance Stroll who added fifty-two laps ending the day in tenth.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth fastest half a second off the pace but finished ahead of the sister car of Daniil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was sixth fastest ending the day eight tenths off the pace.
Renault spilt their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo managed to go a tenth quicker than his teammate Esteban Ocon when he took over in the afternoon. They ended day one in seventh and eighth fastest ahead of the Williams of George Russell.
A positive start for the team, who last year missed the first two-and-a-half days of testing due to delays with the car build, Russell finished 1.1 seconds behind Hamilton and reported the new FW43 was already “much better” to drive.
He told BBC News, “It’s feeling good. It’s definitely an improvement on last year. It’s difficult to get a read so far but from within it feels nice to drive. Obviously lap times are the important thing and we’ll only know by the end of next week how that is.”
Russell’s benchmark lap from the morning was significantly quicker than Williams managed in Spanish GP qualifying last year.
His new teammate Nicholas Latifi drove the afternoon session ending the day twelfth fastest, two-tenths of a second off his teammate. Ferrari finished the day down in eleventh with Charles Leclerc, who deputised for the unwell Sebastian Vettel on the opening day.
Whether that was the team’s plan, Leclerc did not have the smoothest start after experiencing some understeer – lack of front grip – in the long-duration, low-speed corners on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Robert Kubica was thirteenth fastest on his first outing as Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver, he managed fifty-nine laps going two-second faster than teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The two were split by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.