Lewis Hamilton finished his first afternoon in 2017’s pre-season testing at the top of the time sheet and a second quicker than 2016.
This season’s times were expected to be smashed due to the changes in regulations, with five seconds quicker being the figure bandied about. The first day didn’t quite produce that but the teams learnt a lot about themselves and the competition.
Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team used the session as an opportunity to push the car to its limit in an attempt to weed out any niggles before the season gets underway. Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas clocked up an impressive 152 laps without any visible glitch; the W08 has certainly proven itself to be a formidable contender.
“The car looks fantastic and it feels great,” said the three-time champion. “We did lots of laps and collected loads of information today, so we can try to improve the car as we move forward.
“We’ve not done any work to get the balance perfect yet, as today was all about ticking off the list of checkpoints and racking up the mileage.”
The new regulations have resulted in wider cars that produce more downforce and thus faster cornering. This results in the drivers experiencing a higher level of g-force, making 2017 the most demanding season mentally and physically in a number of years. Many of the drivers have shared their preparations online with fans, with their usual fitness regimes turned up to 11. But until they complete an actual drive, especially a long distance run like today’s test, they can’t be sure if they’re to the task or still have a way to go.
“I definitely put my body to the test today,” he continued. “These test days are like training. It was good to feel the wider, beefier car. It’s faster, more physical… it’s a beast! You’ve got to drive it a bit differently.
“The G-Forces are definitely higher. We’re pulling two more G than we’d usually pull around here. There’s so much more downforce, which is something you always want as a driver. You always want to go faster through the corners.”
Pirelli are also introducing a new tyre composition which is designed to degrade less than those used in previous years. Less degradation should provide drivers with more grip for longer periods of time, encouraging more overtaking during races, but will also cause a drop in the number of pit stops undertaken. Drivers’ experiences throughout the day appear to concur with these opinions, as Hamilton explained.
“The tyres are so hard that they don’t drop off. Most likely we’ll be doing more one-stoppers. Normally you get a lot of degradation with these tyres – but these ones don’t degrade.
“They’re very consistent, and there’s not a big difference between the feeling on the first lap and the last lap.”
The day appeared to go smoothly for the Woking-based outfit, and they have certainly shown why they are three-times-straight champions. But despite their favourable experience, the team are not one to rest on their laurels and will spend the next few days, and most likely everyday until Melbourne, improving the car however slight.
“Over the next few days we’ll start to look to improve the car,” he added. “I still think we’re the team to beat – but we have a lot of work ahead of us to do, the same as every single team on the grid.
“Right now we’re just focusing on our own job to do the very best that we can.”