After all the talk of rivalry between Mercedes and Ferrari, it was actually a Williams that led the way on Wednesday at Montmelo, thanks to a time of 1’23’’022 from Valtteri Bottas on the supersoft tyre.
On Tuesday the flying Finn had gone second-fastest on the ultrasoft, underlining how the teams are now focussing on pure speed as well as reliability. The effort from Bottas today was not the fastest supersoft time seen so far in testing: that still comes courtesy of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg during the opening week.
But the two times were close, and that goes to show how the teams are currently looking to find those small fractions of a second that make the difference between qualifying at the front or somewhere in the middle.
Reliability has been impressive: there were no red flags at all until the final hour, when Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stopped. And this has enabled the drivers to further concentrate on extracting the last drops of performance.
With Lewis Hamilton having completed a race simulation for Mercedes on Tuesday, on Wednesday it was Nico Rosberg’s turn to do the same. One of the busiest drivers was Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz: whose famous two-time WRC champion father Carlos Sainz Senior was spotted having espresso in the Pirelli motorhome during the morning.
Sainz Junior was the first driver to clock up 100 laps and completed more than double a grand prix distance by the time his day was done: the sort of work ethic that he could only have learned from his father. When he was at the height of his rally career, Sainz Senior always tested more than any of his colleagues, often late into the night. If it were possible, Sainz Junior would still be driving laps of Barcelona right now…
Naturally, it’s never easy for a newcomer. The all-new Haas team struggled to achieve any meaningful running, although the car has been respectably quick when it has been on track. Such is the complexity of modern Formula 1® that there is no real shortcut to the learning process. But the fact that there’s so much to learn isn’t actually the biggest problem that the teams all face right now. It’s more that there’s so little time to do it in.