Mercedes were left scratching their heads after multiple issues and an ill handling W12 left them languishing down the order on the opening day of testing.
Mercedes had their worst start to testing in recent memory on Friday, the opening day of pre-season testing in Bahrain.
Having elected not to hold a filming day with their new W12 ahead of testing, the team headed out at the green light to put in an installation lap. However, following this solitary lap, Valtteri Bottas was withdrawn back into the pits and, shortly after, the screens went up to hide the Mercedes from view.
The team explained this was due to a hydraulic issue that resulted in Bottas missing three hours of track time before rejoining the action just before the lunch break. However, he didn’t get any meaningful running in and he completed just six laps of the Bahrain circuit. His best time was 6.2 seconds away from the best, set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“The whole team was looking forward to getting on track but on the install lap we noticed an issue with the gearbox so we had to localise the problem and change the gearbox which takes quite a bit of time,” explained Bottas after the session. “Only at the end of the morning session could we get back out for a few more laps before the red flag. A total of six laps for me, all with aero rakes on the car so not much running today and not an ideal start. ”
“In recent years things have been pretty much bulletproof so it’s not a familiar experience,” the Finn continued. “The good thing is that this year if you miss some running you can hopefully catch up because of the mileage limitation linked to the cost cap efficiencies. I am confident we can recover and I’m looking forward to two good days over the weekend.”
With track time divided equally between their two drivers during the test, Lewis Hamilton jumped into the W12 after lunch. The reigning Champion headed out on track but, almost immediately, withdrew again as he wasn’t happy with his pedal box, and requested a change. Following another stoppage, he rejoined, but struggled for grip and pace. His best time, set on the C2s late in the day, was good enough for P10, 2.3 seconds away from Verstappen. He managed 42 laps.
“Today definitely wasn’t the cleanest of days that we’ve had but these things are sent to try us,” Hamilton explained after jumping out of the car afterwards. “Everyone has worked extremely hard to get us here. We had that mishap in the morning which was very unfortunate for Valtteri in terms of losing time on track and the team is working hard to try and understand what that was. I think they did a great job to turn the car around. The second session wasn’t without its challenges, but we exist to find solutions to the problems we’re faced with. We just had a good debrief and we’ll keep working away.”
Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin said the team are holding their hands up, explaining that it was evident they hadn’t performed as well as you might expect from the sport’s standard bearers: “It’s been a poor start to the season from us today. We lost more or less the whole morning with Valtteri with a gearbox problem and our workload over lunch meant we were late joining the afternoon session with Lewis.”
“Once we got running it was clear we didn’t have the car in the right balance window and while we made some progress during the day, we’re not happy with how the car is performing and it’s pretty clear we have some work to do,” said Shovlin. “We’re quite a way behind on our test programme and need to find a bit of balance and speed but we have two days left and every opportunity to recover the situation.”
With just a day and a half each in the car before the season opening race on the 28th of March, the looming sandstorm didn’t stop play on Friday. But, potentially worsening conditions are a possibility over the remainder of the weekend, and Hamilton says this remains a threat as Merc aim to make up for their poor Friday.
“I’ve never seen a sandstorm come through here before in all the years that I’ve driven at this circuit,” Hamilton said. “The sand was moving like rain would move. Having sand on the tyres isn’t good for their longevity and getting consistency on long runs is difficult. Over a single lap it isn’t the worst, but you need lots of laps at this time of year to get data. ”
“We have no choice but to take the positives. I remember in 2007 during testing I had 10 days in the car and now it’s getting less and less. We only have a day and a half in the car before the first race, with different tyres and different aero modifications so it’s not easy but it’s the same for everyone. I’d like to think my nine years’ experience with this team will help me get the best out of it.”
- P10 – Hamilton, 1:32.912 42 Laps
- P17 – Bottas 1:36.850 6 Laps