Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Rob Lad­brook

Mercedes is ex­pect­ing a re­newed chal­lenge from Fer­rari dur­ing the sea­son-open­ing grand prix in Aus­tralia later this month.

Fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of eight days of run­ning over the last two weeks in Barcelona, Mercedes sits com­fort­ably at the top of the mileage counter with Nico Ros­berg and Lewis Hamil­ton, but topped the timesheets on just one day.

In con­trast, Fer­rari largely dom­i­nated the times, go­ing fastest on six of the eight days, with Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen shar­ing top spots.

While Fer­rari set out its stall to chase out­right lap time from its new SF16-H chal­lenger, Mercedes fo­cused on re­li­a­bil­ity with its F1 W07. The An­glo-ger­man team didn’t use ei­ther of Pirelli’s su­per or ul­tra soft com­pounds, and largely only ran on the medium tyre – bar­ring some short runs on the soft.

Pirelli es­ti­mates the lap time dif­fer­ence from the ul­tra soft to the medium to be be­tween 1.8-2.3 sec­onds.

Mercedes’ Ros­berg said the team had de­lib­er­ately held back from out­right speed runs in or­der to keep ri­vals guess­ing about its per­for­mance, but con­ceded Fer­rari had looked im­pres­sive so far. “We know that Fer­rari is very close, they’ve been very quick,” said Ros­berg. “All of the teams have their strate­gists, so we know more or less what fuel the other teams are run­ning and they know our fuel. So we know more or less where we are com­pared to Fer­rari, that’s why I say it’s close. But we’re not sure if we are ahead of them or be­hind them just yet.”

Com­par­ing race sim­u­la­tions be­tween the four Mercedes and Fer­rari driv­ers made for in­ter­est­ing read­ing, with Hamil­ton av­er­ag­ing the fastest stints, but less than 0.5s quicker than the slow­est Fer­rari on a sim­i­lar tyre run.

“We have to see if this car can be a win­ner, but I think the first im­pres­sion is very pos­i­tive,” said Vet­tel. “We are happy with the step we have made [over 2015], but in terms of re­li­a­bil­ity Mercedes seems very strong.

“We have tried to close the gap, which was quite big last year. I think we’ve done a good job dur­ing the last sea­son and now I think the new car can close the gap even fur­ther, but we have to be pa­tient a lit­tle longer to see.”

The one blot on Mercedes’ week came when Hamil­ton lost track time due to a trans­mis­sion is­sue on the fi­nal morn­ing. “Bet­ter to have it break now than in Mel­bourne,” said Hamil­ton of the fail­ure. “I’ve pushed the car here and there, but when we get to Aus­tralia we can re­ally open it up.”

Hamil­ton had fastest long run Vet­tel: quick

Pho­tos: LAT

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