Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set the fastest time seen so far in 2017 Formula 1 pre-sesason testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but was clearly keeping some time in reserve.
The German driver, who will hand over to his teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the final day of winter testing tomorrow, set a best lap of 1m19.024s, which is 0.286 quicker than the time Valtteri Bottas set yesterday to score the previous best time of testing for Mercedes.
Vettel’s time was set on Pirelli’s ultra-soft tyre shortly before the lunch break, but the four times world champion clearly, and audibly, backed off at the final corner, which suggests he could have gone even quicker. Earlier in the morning, he set a 1m19.314s on the soft compound tyre, while also backing off on the main straight. Vettel’s sandbagging at the final corner was confirmed by acoustic measurements carried out by a rival team.
Lifting at the final corner on his ultra-soft lap cost Vettel 0.3s in the final sector compared to his best time through that section of the track, which was set during his soft tyre running, so he could have gone at least half a second faster overall.
Ferrari has enjoyed a promising pre-season campaign this year, which earlier this week led Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to declare that the Scuderia was 2017’s favourite for the world championship.
But at a crowded media call during the lunch break attended by JA on F1 today, Vettel rejected that suggestion and insisted that Mercedes was still at the head of the pack.
He said: “The car is much better than last year because the nature of the formula has changed, and so far things are making sense, but it’s still early days.
“If you look at the amount of laps Mercedes has done, if you look historically how slow they go in the testing, how much they were able to ramp it up for the races, it’s clear they’re very fast if you look at their long-run pace. They’re the ones to beat.
“For us it doesn’t really matter where exactly we are now, we are growing, we need to work hard, and we know that we have to improve.”
In the afternoon running, most of the teams focused on long runs, and it was Vettel who ended the day with the most laps on 156.
Behind him, Hamilton, who drove for Mercedes in the morning before handing over to Bottas for the afternoon, also set his best time close to the lunch break. The British driver had topped the early running and bolted on his own set of ultra-softs shortly after Vettel.
When asked what he thought of Vettel’s times and antics at the final corner, Hamilton stated that he believes Ferrari was “bluffing” by hiding its true pace.
He said: ”I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They’re very close to us. It’s difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker.
“But they are very close, if not faster. Whatever the case, I can’t wait to go out and compete. Just a couple more weeks to go.”
But the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne expiring at Turn 10 compromised Hamilton’s final lap – although he was still able to set the day’s second best time with a 1m19.352s that was 0.328s slower than Vettel – just before the red flags came out to recover the stricken MCL32.
Esteban Ocon set the third fastest time for Force India during a late morning run on the ultra-softs, which was 1.137s slower than Vettel’s best effort. Daniil Kvyat was fourth for Toro Rosso as the Russian driver completed 94 laps despite causing a red flag around 90 minutes after lunch when his STR12 stopped at Turn 5.
Kevin Magnussen ended up fifth for Haas F1 after shaving 0.3s off his morning’s best time during an afternoon outing on the ultra-softs. Daniel Ricciardo finished in sixth for Red Bull, 1.800s adrift of Vettel on the soft tyres.
Vandoorne set McLaren’s best time of testing so far with a 1m23.348s on the ultra-softs during the morning session, which came before he caused a red flag by stopping at the end of the pit straight a short while before his issue at Turn 10 in front of Hamilton.
The Belgian driver did eventually reappear for the final two hours of the day after McLaren worked to fix an electrical issue, but he only added a further 15 laps to his morning total of 33.
Bottas was eighth fastest for Mercedes after concentrating on long runs in the afternoon, ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, who lost time due to an engine change during the middle of the day – which meant Nico Hulkenberg did not drive the RS17 today as planned.
Marcus Ericsson was 11th fastest, and Williams brought up the rear of the field with Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, as the pair shared the day at the wheel at the FW40. Both also concentrated on long runs and racked up 165 laps between them.
Barcelona test two, day three, results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m19.024s, 156 laps (ultra-soft)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m19.352s +0.328s, 52 laps (ultra-soft)
3 Esteban Ocon Force India 1m20.161s +1.137s, 137 laps (ultra-soft)
4 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m20.416s +1.392s, 94 laps (super-soft)
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 1m20.504s +1.480s, 119 laps (ultra-soft)
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m20.824s +1.800s, 128 laps (soft)
7 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1m21.348s +2.324s, 48 laps (ultra-soft)
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m22.038s +3.014s, 95 laps (soft)
9 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1m22.347s +3.323s, 44 laps (ultra-soft)
10 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m22.418s +3.394s, 53 laps (soft)
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1m23.330s +4.306s, 88 laps (soft)
12 Felipe Massa Williams 1m24.443s +5.419s, 80 laps (medium)
13 Lance Stroll Williams 1m24.863s +5.839s, 85 laps (soft)
What do you make of Thursday’s testing times and Vettel’s comments? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.