Lewis Hamilton attempts to play down Mercedes' Day Three Barcelona test pace
Briton claims his strong time relative to rivals "doesn't really matter"
By James Galloway in Barcelona
Last Updated: 03/03/13 8:13am
Having attempted to manage expectations of what he can achieve in his first year with Mercedes since arriving at Brackley in early January - a strategy he maintained despite some encouraging times and long runs for the team across the first 14 days of testing - Hamilton's prodigious pace on Saturday morning at the Circuit de Catalunya has served to call his cautious predictions into question.
His best time of 1:20.558 was a full seven tenths faster than next fastest runner Felipe Massa could manage in the Ferrari, and much quicker than anything seen at Barcelona so far this winter.
But speaking to reporters at the end of the day, while Hamilton acknowledged it was a strong lap, he insisted there were too many possible variables in testing to read too much into it - the 28-year-old even pointing out that his expected 2013 rivals weren't in action on Saturday.
"Well it's a good lap of mine, it was a good lap," he told reporters.
"But again you don't know what people are doing. Fuel loads make such a big difference: you take ten kilos out of the car and you gain three tenths of a second. We tended to be on the light load, and others on heavy load today doing longer runs, so it really doesn't show much.
"You haven't got Jenson [Button] out there, you haven't got Fernando [Alonso], you haven't go Sebastian [Vettel]. So it really doesn't matter."
Prior to Hamilton's impressive Day Three form, his old McLaren team-mate Jenson Button had raised a few eyebrows on Friday night when he named Mercedes as the one top team he felt he had shown the most consistently strong pace during the winter tests.
Aware of his compatriot's observation, Hamilton insisted nothing had changed for Mercedes and there was still a lot of work ahead of them to get to where they want to be.
"You hear Jenson saying something, and you hear a couple of the others also before we'd get got to the test talking us up, I think it's important people just realise that when I came to the team, I said it's going to be tough, and it is going to be tough," Hamilton said.
"We're not being fooled by any short, low-fuel times or anything like that. We're working as hard as we can. We've got to improve and bring more downforce and improve certain areas of the car. We just have to keep doing that - I think people shouldn't get excited."
Asked by Sky Sports News' Rachel Brookes if he was now more or less confident for the season, Hamilton added: "Neither. We got through all the testing programmes we needed to do and tested the components and the updates today were a good step forward. The guys are working very hard back in the factory and also here. Overall very, very happy on a lot of levels."
Nonetheless, after an inauspicious start to life with their W04 at Jerez at the start of last month, Hamilton acknowledged the winter had gone well for the Brackley team at the end of what was his final day in the car before Melbourne.
"I've been really pleased with it," he admitted.
"Obviously the first couple of days was a little bit of a step backwards before we even really got out of the starting blocks. To be able to recover that - I think we are one of the top teams now in terms of mileage - and to see the reliability and also the steps forward we have been making throughout all these test days is a real positive."