F1 Testing: Do Ferrari have rivals worried with pre-season pace?
Ferrari turned their pre-season potential into outright pace on Thursday and Bottas admits Mercedes can't currently compete
By Matt Morlidge in Barcelona
Last Updated: 01/04/19 9:31am
Ferrari continue to turn heads at F1 Testing, with Charles Leclerc setting by far the fastest time of the winter on Barcelona's penultimate day of track action.
Leclerc's blistering time, a 1:16.231, was only a tenth of a second shy of the absolute lap record.
Although Mercedes and Red Bull have yet to attempt qualifying-style runs themselves, it was an ominous benchmark.
Valtteri Bottas, who last week admitted Ferrari held an early advantage over Mercedes and Red Bull, isn't changing his opinion at Test Two despite the world champions' significant aerodynamic overhaul of their new car.
"Between us [and Red Bull], the differences are not massive," the Mercedes driver told reporters. "But our feeling is that Ferrari are a bit ahead of us."
A cautious Bottas added to Sky Sports News: "I think we need to unlock more from the new package to be able to compete with them properly."
Red Bull also believe they are playing catch-up.
When asked if they could have matched the Ferrari time, Pierre Gasly admitted: "Honestly, no. To be fair, they are really fast and showed some good pace."
Ferrari: We can go faster
Although the pecking order in pre-season can prove misleading, Thursday offered compelling evidence that Ferrari are, so far at least, F1 2019's team to beat.
In a warning to the rest of the field, Leclerc admitted he was not even at full tilt when he posted his eye-catching time - which was faster than Ferrari managed in Spanish GP qualifying last year, albeit on softer tyres.
"We are not flat out," the Monegasque said. "There's still some margin but it's looking good for now."
Leclerc set personal best after personal best in a pre-lunch blitz in Barcelona, lighting the screens purple while Mercedes and Red Bull stuck to their testing programme.
Mercedes plan to up their pace with short runs on Friday, the final day of track action before the season-opener in Australia.
"I think we are looking strong at the moment," continued Leclerc. "Whether they are sand-bagging more, or less, we don't know and we will only know in Melbourne qualifying.
"But for now we are pretty happy with the job we are doing."
Mercedes improving, but is it enough?
While Mercedes didn't complete the typical low-fuel run on Thursday, Lewis Hamilton did set his fastest time, 1:18.097, on the second hardest tyre available, the Compound 2.
And there is also firm belief that Mercedes have made a big step with their heavily-revised W10, which has several new aerodynamic parts compared to last week's car.
The fastest laps of winter testing per team
|Ferrari||Charles Leclerc||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:16.231|
|Toro Rosso||Alex Albon||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:16.882|
|McLaren||Lando Norris||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:17.084|
|Red Bull||Pierre Gasly||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:17.091|
|Renault||Daniel Ricciardo||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:17.204|
|Racing Point||Lance Stroll||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:17.556|
|Alfa Romeo||Antonio Giovinazzi||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:17.639|
|Haas||Romain Grosjean||Day Seven||C4 (2nd softest)||1:17.854|
|Mercedes||Valtteri Bottas||Day Four||C5 (Softest)||1:17.857|
|Williams||George Russell||Day Seven||C5 (Softest)||1:18.130|
"It is better, but whether it's enough, that's the big question mark," Bottas stated.
"I definitely feel improvements since last week with the stability of the car and the overall downforce, but we haven't unlocked everything there is to unlock.
"Even though we are approaching the end of testing, we are learning still massively with each run and each day. We still need to make improvements."
He added: "It's not a perfect car yet but the potential is there."
All eyes will be on the Silver Arrows on Friday, when we should get more of an idea of that potential, and their standing in F1's deliciously-poised pecking order.
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