Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Fewest laps, least progress, but was Mercedes’ start to testing really that bad?

F1 testing data: Day one

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Following a disrupted first day of testing for the 2021 F1 season in Bahrain, Mercedes made it clear their limited running had been a significant setback.

Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin called it a “poor start to the season”. Not just because gearbox trouble confined Valtteri Bottas to a mere six laps in the morning – Lewis Hamilton wasn’t happy with the balance of his W12. “We’re quite a way behind on our test programme,” concluded Shovlin.

Mercedes always play a strong game when it comes to ‘expectations management’. No potential weakness on their part is overlooked, no strength in their rivals downplayed – even after seven consecutive championship successes. So are they really in trouble or is this all just spin?

It’s often said mileage matters more than lap time when it comes to testing. Mercedes didn’t look great by either metric today, but their tally of just 48 laps will surely cause the most concern. That’s less than a grand prix distance from eight hours of running at the home of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and the lowest total of any team.

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Unlike their rivals, Mercedes opted not to do a filming day to shake down their new chassis. Doing so wouldn’t necessarily have spared them from the gearbox problem which struck Bottas on the first lap (Haas ran their VF-21 yesterday and were also delayed by transmission trouble today) but it might have.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Mercedes’ new customer had a much better start to testing
But someone at Mercedes will be looking at a long checklist of testing jobs with nowhere near as many boxes ticked as they needed. With just three days’ running available, losing at least three hours is a significant setback.

“The programme these three days is fully-packed,” explained McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl today. “I would say the last thing you want is losing track time with an issue because it will mean that you will lose time to get through your test points.

“If it happens, you simply have to deal with it. You have to adapt. You need to prioritise in order to make sure you’ve still got the maximum amount in terms of preparation for the first race weekend. But as I said, it’s more crucial than ever before to have three smooth, solid days.”

Mercedes did not have a smooth or solid day. By the time they got on track to do some serious running, the conditions had taken a turn for the worse. Hamilton did much of his 42 laps on wind-blown and very sandy track.

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He logged the team’s best lap time of the day, which was only good enough for 10th in the overall classification. No team lapped quicker today than they managed during the race weekend at this track just four months ago, but Mercedes were further away than anyone else, lapping over five-and-a-half seconds off their best.

Red Bull, who are already within three seconds of their 2020 benchmark, are clearly further down the road in opening up the performance of their new car. That’s an encouraging result for a team which has too often begun championships on the back foot in recent years.

But there is one positive sign in the times for Mercedes as well. The team which is in the best position in terms of relative performance is McLaren, who swapped their Renault power unit for a Mercedes during the off-season. They were only 2.3 seconds off their 2020 Bahrain pace today. That’s good for them, and gives Mercedes cause to feel confident about the strength of their power unit.

In recent years Mercedes have developed a reputation for relentlessly cranking out huge mileages during tests. Seeing them at the bottom of the mileage table is highly unusual. It may not be a cause for alarm just yet, but as CEO Toto Wolff acknowledged today, with just two days of testing left, they need to avoid any further “stumbling blocks” over the weekend.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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9 comments on “Fewest laps, least progress, but was Mercedes’ start to testing really that bad?”

  1. Hamilton did much of his 42 laps on wind-blown and very sandy track.

    at the same time, others improved on their times!

  2. Didn’t Hamilton stick to hard tyres and high fuel loads which the others weren’t doing?

    1. Yes and no. Most teams ran c2 and c3. Hamilton ran c2. Some runs were very slow, some much quicker yet slow, this is key, this is what stands out yet this did not happen last year.
      Ham often went out on new tyres for hot laps, slow out lap, and then drs lap, however most of these runs were spoiled by mistakes.
      In the end speedtraps show mercedes ran on a very low PU mode, this paired with the fact Mercedes often run very high fuel means mercedes is much quicker than 2s off, that said, I’d say Mercedes is definitely not as quick as last season.

  3. This can only give us slightly better season that we were expecting. Honestly, I will be surprised by anything else than a good old Mercedes diligence, endless professionalism and 120+ laps tomorrow, but if these issues can bring their traditional opening advantage down by a few tenths, then things can get interesting. Red Bull are eally looking like they’re starting where they left off last year, and that’s a good sign for the possibility of having a title battle.

  4. Yeah sure. Mercedes is the only engine which serves 4 teams. The main team might not have gotten the data directly but definitely McLaren, Williams and Aston Martin data helps. It’s not the first, second or third time they claim to be in problems during testing and then disappear in the horizon since race 1.

  5. For detractors of Mercedes this is sadly as good as it’s going to get for us.

  6. A bit OT but it would be interesting to know what a test program contains. Is it mostly tyres that they want the 100+ laps for?

  7. Any chance Mercedes doing 2019’s attempt by releasing spec-B major overhaul car? But they have no more testing and straight compete on race day.

    1. you only have two tokens and they used both already. So no revision but only fine tuning.

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