Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes currently estimate the gap to Ferrari at around half a second per lap, and says they don’t have any reason to think that gap will shrink before Melbourne.
Speaking to the press ahead of taking over the Mercedes W10 for the final afternoon of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Lewis Hamilton said that there’s no question over who has the advantage heading to Australia: “Ferrari are currently the fastest.”
“I think the gap is potentially around half a second or so. We will be analysing a lot from this test and there are mods that we can try before the race in Melbourne. Hopefully, between here and there, we’ll figure out at least another tenth or so just from understanding the car. The one here is old now, a bit worn and torn, so we’ll have new components coming along. It’ll be interesting, but we really don’t know because everyone has different power modes, different fuel usage – Melbourne will be the first sight of it and then a good four races before you really know where you stand.”
His comments were made right after Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc topped the timesheets on Thursday evening and Friday morning with the quickest times seen in testing so far. Vettel’s pace on Friday morning saw him put in a 1:16.221 on the C5 tyre. Valtteri Bottas, on the same tyre in the same conditions, put in a best time of 1:16.5. However, different setups and engine modes act as potential differentiators.
Hamilton said that he still believes Mercedes have the ability to pull it back as they are the ‘best team’ but that he’s not sure what he can do from a driving perspective to close the gap: “The cars do have the potential to progress and I have the confidence that I have the team to do that. We’re the most united we’ve ever been and this is going to be the toughest battle yet. Exciting for all the fans but Ferrari… their pace is very, very good at the moment so the challenge is going to be harder than ever.
“Last year, there were many occasions where I feel we were behind on performance and we had to overachieve on delivery. Now, we have to reach even further than we did, but we weren’t anywhere near as far behind then as we are now. We have to squeeze our performance even more, but we have to be careful not to go too close to the edge and develop faults. We’ve got the best team, it’s not a coincidence we’re World Champions, so we’ll stay diligent and balanced. As a driver, I’ve got to figure out how to pull more out, and I don’t have an answer for that yet.”
Ferrari and Mercedes have opted for different design philosophies for 2019, particularly in the area of the front wing and how the air is channelled down the length of the car. Popular opinion suggests that Ferrari, as well as Alfa Romeo, have nailed it by going for an ‘inwash’ design, while Mercedes & Red Bull are still with an ‘outwash’ philosophy. Hamilton says there’s no way of telling right now which is the better approach: “Currently, we don’t know. There’s a question mark over whether they or us have the right philosophy. The engineers with us, and Ferrari, they’ll be checking over both as that’s what they do. All the teams will look at other options. We know our car hasn’t been performing optimally in testing and we might tweak it. That does take time, and I don’t have an answer as to when that might be.”
As for whether he thinks Mercedes can close the gap before F1 heads off to Australia, he said: “I’ve no reason to expect that gap to come down. You’ve to take testing with a pinch of salt. We could get there and the gap could be more, less, or even equal. I really have no idea from just looking at GPS what fuel load or engine mode they’re on. They’re faster than us on the straights, for instance. Is that flexi-wings that drops drag? Are they turned up more than us? More efficient with less drag than us in general? We won’t know until we get to the race. We definitely hope the gap is less than what we see now but we can’t bank on that. We have to work on closing the gap we think is there.”