Lewis Hamilton’s world championship defense got off to a strong start with Mercedes leading the way on a busy first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Valtteri Bottas was first to drive for Mercedes on the opening day, and set the pace in the morning session with a 1m17.313s to edge out Sergio Perez by just 0.062s. Both were on the C3 compound, but Hamilton then took over after an hour-long lunch break and was immediately on the pace, dropping the benchmark down to a 1m16.976s on the harder C2.
Hamilton’s ultimate lap time would have been even quicker but the six-time world champion opted to back off more than one occasion after setting the fastest first two sectors.
Perez in third place made it a Mercedes one-two-three of sorts, with the new RP20 closely mirroring last year’s championship-winning W10, as Racing Point made significant changes compared to its 2019 car.
Max Verstappen was fourth quickest for Red Bull but suffered the majority of the major incidents on a day that remarkably ran without a single red flag. Stability in the regulations ensured strong reliability as all teams completed more than 100 laps, and there wasn’t a single on-track stoppage throughout the eight hours, but Verstappen suffered two spins.
The Dutchman first swapped ends after the lunch break when he dipped the outside wheels in the gravel on turn-in at Turn 13, unsurprisingly finding the car snapping away from him as he slid in to the run-off area. Later in the session, Verstappen spun at the same corner but this time when he suffered oversteer mid-corner and overcorrected. While he also took a trip through the gravel at Turn 8 when running slightly wide, on each occasion Verstappen returned to the pits without damage.
While a number of other drivers suffered lock-ups, Kevin Magnussen joined Verstappen in an off-track moment when he slid sideways at the high-speed Turn 9, catching the car on the outside of the corner and being able to continue around an escape road.
Magnussen ended up 14th of the 15 drivers to complete laps on Wednesday, but was just 1.4s off the overall pace as the whole field started the test closely matched. Only Antonio Giovinazzi appeared to carry out a very different schedule in the afternoon as he ended up 3.1s off the pace.
AlphaTauri’s first official day saw Daniil Kvyat fifth fastest, 0.7s adrift of Hamilton and a little over 0.1s quicker than Carlos Sainz in the McLaren and the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo — on the C2 compound — and Esteban Ocon. Ricciardo had the lowest lap count of any driver with 54 as Renault worked well beyond the lunch break before his first taste of the R.S.20, on of two brand-new cars — along with the RP20 — seen properly for the first time this winter.
Ferrari didn’t register near the top of the times after a late driver change, with Charles Leclerc taking Sebastian Vettel’s place on Wednesday morning due to the German feeling unwell. Leclerc finished 11th fastest overall, 1.3s off Hamilton but with 132 laps to his name as only Verstappen and Sainz managed more. Vettel is scheduled to drive on Thursday, should he have recovered sufficiently.
The smooth nature of the opening day and significant mileage meant there was little in the way of a major headline, with perhaps the most significant running coming from Williams. A year ago the team didn’t have a car built in time for the start of the test and it ended up well off the pace all season, but on this occasion George Russell was ninth fastest — 1.192s off Hamilton — and Nicholas Latifi 0.2s further back in 12th as Williams comfortably exceeded its mileage from the the complete first test a year ago.
Aside from Hamilton and Ricciardo, only Lance Stroll in 10th set his best lap on the C2 tire, with everyone else registering their times on the C3.