The top three drivers were covered by just 0.08s on the final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Valtteri Bottas quickest for Mercedes as the softest tire compounds were used.
Bottas’ time of 1m15.732s from the first week went unbeaten, but a number of drivers carried out a soft tire lap at similar times in the day. There was a flurry of activity in the morning when Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and George Russell all posted attempts on the C5 compound within a matter of seconds, with Leclerc edging out the Mercedes and Renault.
However, Ricciardo then lowered his best to a 1m16.276s with a time that would leave him fastest at the lunch break and would only be beaten by Bottas and Max Verstappen in the afternoon.
While Bottas also used the C5 tire to improve and get down to a 1m16.196s, Verstappen’s best lap was on the harder C4, as a 1m16.269s left him second overall.
The rest of the top seven all registered lap times on the softest compound and were covered by less than half a second as track conditions appeared slower than a week ago, but it would be foolish to expect anything other than the big three teams of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari to pull away in Melbourne. That was highlighted by an apparent lack of top speed betraying lower power unit modes, with Hamilton some 11kph slower than Ricciardo through the speed trap and Leclerc only 4kph quicker than the Mercedes.
With Ricciardo third, Leclerc fourth and Hamilton fifth, it was Esteban Ocon — in the Renault during the afternoon — and Sergio Perez who also posted quick times. Although the Racing Point has looked good throughout pre-season and ended up with a 1m16.634s, McLaren’s best time of 1m16.820s on the C4 tire was not its most eye-catching lap.
Carlos Sainz was immediately posting quick times during sunnier conditions in the opening hour and a 1m17.2s on C2 tires was a strong marker of the team’s pace. On this evidence, McLaren, Racing Point and Renault will all head to Australia targeting the title of best of the rest.
Sainz also enjoyed significant mileage, 163 laps being nine more than Perez and second only to Leclerc on 181.
Russell’s best time was within 0.7s of Bottas as Williams finished strongly, and 146 laps made up for some of the time lost to power unit problems during pre-season. However, there was still what was described as a “small issue with the engine” in the afternoon, and Russell believes the team remains the slowest on the grid.
Haas split running and Romain Grosjean was within a second of the ultimate pace while completing 86 laps, but Kevin Magnussen was hampered by a clutch issue early in his afternoon running. That kept the Dane in the garage for much of the session and he added just 29 laps to the total, partly thanks to a busy final half hour.
The opposite was true of Alfa Romeo — the only team not to get within a second of the fastest time of the day — as Kimi Raikkonen’s race simulation was cut short and the team opted to pack up early.