Valtteri Bottas thinks Mercedes are “in their own league” at the moment with the double world champions topping the opening day of the final F1 pre-season test in Barcelona.
Despite sampling Pirelli’s new ultrasoft tyre in the afternoon, the Williams driver could not better Nico Rosberg’s morning benchmark – a 1:23.022 flyer that had been set on the soft compound. Bottas eventually finished two tenths adrift with 123 laps on the board in the FW38.
Asked about Mercedes’ performance and how Williams compared to it, the Finn candidly replied:
“They are in their own league. I think that is a fact at this stage in the season.
“At least, where we are now, it looks like it’s going to be quite tricky for anyone to challenge them at the beginning of the season.
“Mercedes is looking very strong, but also Ferrari and Red Bull. We are there or thereabouts with Ferrari and Red Bull, but it is difficult to say in detail.
“We are trying hard. It was a good sign to see that when we changed the programme, the performance worked and the lap time was coming down nicely.”
Like most teams, Williams focussed on reliability during the first test but with less than three weeks left until the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Bottas was pleased to switch his focus towards unlocking more pace. The 26-year-old adds that his first impressions on the new ultrasoft compound are positive.
“It felt nice. I’ve driven a car before that when you took the fuel out and out you on a softer tyre nothing happened with the lap time. Now it’s at least coming down, like it should in theory.
“I just enjoyed today doing shorter runs and trying to get a little more out of the car and from the laptimes. It was good fun, but we still have plenty of work to do with the set-up and everything.”
Bottas will return behind the wheel of the FW38 on Wednesday before handing the car over the team-mate Felipe Masse for the final two days of this year’s pre-season testing.