Niki Lauda agrees with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas that Ferrari’s relative performance in pre-season testing has been impressive.
The F1 legend and non executive chairman of Mercedes was on site yesterday at the Circuit de Catalunya, a keen observer of the cars out on the track.
While it was an unsatisfactory end of the session for Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen hitting the barriers at Turn 3, the SF70H’s speed and attitude did not escape Lauda’s notice.
“The Ferrari looks the fastest,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.
“It is like on rails. Our Mercedes is a little tighter in the corners. Ferrari is at the top of my list,” Lauda insisted.
As for Red Bull Racing, Lauda agreed that the Milton-Keynes outfit is yet to show its true potential.
“So far, they are not the big surprise,” said the Austrian.
The Finn improved his benchmark from last week by nearly four tenths on Pirelli’s red-striped supersoft compound.
Bottas’ effort is over five seconds faster than Nico Rosberg’s 2015 Spanish Grand Prix pole position (1:24.681), with that year’s times used as yardsticks when drafting the new technical regulations.
The 27-year-old led Williams’ Felipe Massa, who finished 0.110s adrift on the ultrasoft tyre.
Both drivers will hand over testing duties to their respective team-mates in the afternoon, with triple world champion Lewis Hamilton and F1 rookie Lance Stroll scheduled after lunch break.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen slotted into third in the SF70H, though a fluid systems check limited the 2007 world champion’s running.
Fourth fastest went Red Bull ace Max Verstappen, with the Dutchman posting his best effort on the soft tyre.
Fifth quickest was Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, with the French manufacturer enjoying smoother running than 24 hours ago when engine problems hampered its progress. Team-mate Jolyon Palmer will replace the German this afternoon.
Following Tuesday’s electrical problem on team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne’s Honda power unit, Fernando Alonso’s performance was under close watch.
The Spaniard initially settled for installation laps in MCL32 but eventually clocked a few lap times, the best of which was only good enough for P10 and bottom of the timesheets, 3.7s off Bottas’ table-topping pace.
The purpose of F1’s new rules when they were defined was to take the cars up a notch, and based on last week’s first round of pre-season testing and drivers’ feedback, that target has clearly been hit, according to Red Bull Racing’s ‘Honeybadger’.
“On the first day it was a bit too early to say whether the new cars really ticked all of the boxes the rule changes had in mind,” Ricciardo wrote in a special feature for Red Bull.
“But by my second day in the car, day three, I think I realised more of the potential of what these cars could be.
“It made me realise that the high-speed corners will be as quick as they’ve ever been, maybe even quicker!
“Take Turn 3 at Barcelona for example – and we weren’t exactly cruising through there before – Turn 3 last week was completely flat, no lift off the throttle at all.”
The Aussie’s trademark large grin just got bigger on the realisation of the thrills he’s about to enjoy this year behind the wheel of the RB13.
“It’s a big jump, not a gradual one, and things will be coming at us pretty quickly at some circuits, that’s for sure,” he added.
“It’s going to increase everything… the intensity, the physicality, the fatigue factor, and I welcome that. It’s cool, and it’s what Formula 1 should be.
“We’ll all adapt,” he insists, “but there’s no masking that it’ll be a much more physical task this year, and that’s good for the fans and for us drivers.”