Pre-season testing is well underway in Formula 1 as the 2020 season is now just a few weeks away. The first few days of testing have provided some interesting talking points, unsurprisingly centred around the big two of Ferrari and Mercedes.
The Scuderia are struggling to match their rivals’ times in the early going, which is causing team principal Mattia Binotto some concern.
Meanwhile, Mercedes have picked up where they left off from last year as they’ve had the fastest cars on track — cars that have one notable change this year.
Valtteri Bottas has even gotten the better of reigning champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton and has sent out a pointed message to Mercedes about his contract.
Get caught up with all of these top F1 news items with our detailed breakdown below.
Ferrari boss admits rivals are faster
Ferrari’s pre-season has not gone off to a great start. After being the darlings of pre-season testing in 2019, the Prancing Horse has fallen behind to Mercedes and Red Bull in the timesheets this time around.
Team principal Mattia Binotto has admitted that Ferrari are not as fast as their top rivals at the moment and that he has still has concerns ahead of the second and final pre-season test run next week.
“Looking at the picture relative to ourselves, I think we are not as fast as they are,” Binotto said. “I’m not as optimistic as last year. The others are faster than us at the moment I believe.
“Do we have any concerns? Certainly yes, when you are not as fast as you would like to be.”
Ferrari encountered further problems in Day 3 of testing after Sebastian Vettel’s car stopped on track due to an engine issue. After deeper inspection, it was revealed that the engine failure was due to a “non-structural problem with the lubrication system” and that it’s “not a cause for concern.”
Despite their early testing woes, SBOTOP odds still have the Scuderia slightly ahead of Red Bull at 5.00 as second-favourites to win the constructor’s title. But while there is still time to turn things around, this does not bode well for Ferrari’s chances of overthrowing Mercedes’ six-year reign as F1 champions.
Mercedes remain way ahead of the field in pre-season testing
Speaking of the Silver Arrows, despite early concerns about their engine, their pre-season testing has gone quite swimmingly. They capped off the first week of testing with a 1-2 after Valtteri Bottas came up with a blinding flying lap in Day 3.
Mercedes made headlines recently after their DAS (dual-axis steering) system was made known to the public. This new system is controlled by the driver pulling and pushing on the steering column and, in theory, should help on tracks with long straights.
The new system has garnered some mixed reactions, with some questioning its legality. But while Mercedes believe this is legal for 2020, it won’t be under the 2021 rules.
However, this change in their steering system hasn’t seemed to have negatively affected either reigning champion Lewis Hamilton or team-mate Bottas, who have been setting the pace atop the testing timesheets.
Hamilton and Bottas were head and shoulders above the competition last season, which is why it is unsurprising that the two of them are once again among the top favourites to win the driver’s championship according to the Formula 1 2020 betting odds.
It remains to be seen how much of an impact DAS will have on Mercedes’ performance, but the early signs are certainly promising as they prepare for another run of dominance this season.
Valtteri Bottas wants ‘smoother’ contract talks with Mercedes
Bottas has called on his Mercedes team to get his contract situation sorted out more quickly and smoothly this year than it did in past seasons.
Mercedes have usually waited until the second half of the season to renew Bottas’ deal even though the Finn has performed well for the Silver Arrows.
“For sure I learned things and the team also said they learned about how we handled [the 2019 talks]… and how we communicated it,” said Bottas. “I’m sure it can be done a bit smoother and with less things happening around [it] – less headlines.”
Bottas added that the uncertainty surrounding his future can become a distraction that can keep him from putting all of his focus on his job.
Bottas has finished in the top five of the driver’s standings in all three years in Mercedes and the top three twice. He had by far his best season last year, where he set a new career-high in wins (four), poles (five), and podium finishes (15).
It remains to be seen if Mercedes will heed Bottas’ call for a quicker resolution to his contract situation. But if he can add more impressive Formula 1 2020 highlights, starting with a successful defence of his Australian Grand Prix crown, a long-term deal could finally be coming.
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