Lap times in testing are not always the most important thing – because one never knows what teams are up to; and whether they are producing sensible results – or trying to give the impression that they are faster than is really the case. One can write learned treatises about this tyre and that tyre and fuel load calculations, but you still don’t know if drivers are lifting off to produce slower times than the cars are capable of doing and it’s hard to be sure if people are running underweight.
It is much more sensible to look at the number of laps covered to get an idea about which cars are troublesome and which seem to be behaving well. This covers both mechanical reliability and incidents caused by drivers fighting cars that don’t do what they want them to do.
Using this method one might be forgiven for thinking that Mercedes is not very competitive this year. That be a bit of a stretch as you cannot write off a team with a record like it has, but one can note that the four teams using Mercedes engines (Mercedes, Williams, McLaren and Aston Martin) have covered the least ground in the first two days.
The other teams have all done about the same, give or take 12 laps. Is this significant?
In terms of the most mileage, it’s effectively a tie with Alpine having done 257 laps, one more than Red Bull and Alfa Romeo, four more than AlphaTauri and 10 more than Haas. Ferrari is just two laps behind the US team and then there is a 30-lap gap back to the first Merc-engined team: Williams. McLaren is 20 down on that while Aston Martin might perhaps look lovely, but being 80 laps down on Alpine is not a great start. And Merc is 15 laps down on the green machines…
Laps are limited in F1 these days, more than ever, and so losing time is painful for two reasons: the drivers have less time to get to know (and tame) the cars, and there is less data for the engineers to scratch their heads over and to use for their simulation programmes.
In terms of lap times, Merc’s Valtteri Bottas leads the way with a 1m30.289s, ahead of Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) with a 1m30.413s and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) with a 1m30.460s. McLaren’s Lando Norris is next with a 1m30.586 and then we have Max Verstappen’s best from the first day at 1m30.674s in his Red Bull.
Let’s see how things change on Day 3, the final day of pre-season running – apart from a few filming days that are due.